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fact of such or such doctrines having been taught in a Dissenting chapel, during the period prescribed by the Act,* is made conclusive of the right of teaching them within that edifice.
Her Majesty's Ministers introduced the Bill, and gave it their cordial and unwavering support. I can attribute this to nothing short of a sense of JUSTICE, which is always identical with Sound Policy and Wisdom. The servants of the Crown conducted themselves here as British Statesmen, whom I may describe in the spirit of Cicero's language to the Master of the World: High Station bestows on them no more enviable privilege than the ability of checking heavy wrongs: nor do their characters possess any more excellent quality than the disposition so to use their power." Participating in wishes truly Royal, anxious for "the social improvement, the contentment and happiness," of all the people of these realms, they have provided that, in future, no man, whatever name he takes, whatever pretext he urges, shall, as of course, wrest the chapels of Antitrinitarians from the hands of their occupants.
The reasoning and eloquence of the Parliamentary advocates of the Bill signalized its triumph. In both Houses the speeches of its friends were of the highest merit. This is not least true of those which adorned the discussion, at the second reading in the Commons. For the compass of it, I doubt whether a more interesting and powerful debate stands upon record. Personally, I remember none so able. No argument for the measure was left untouched; no objection brought against it unanswered. Whatever could be supplied by the principles of Law and Equity, whatever elucidation the subject admitted of from History, or from the dictates of a generous Policy, found a place in the addresses of honourable members. There was great variety, yet no dissonance, in the reasonings: philosophy, deep thought and observation, without formality and tediousness; wit and humour, devoid of any thing malignant and indecorous. Most of all, there was a clearness of statement, a comprehension of intelligence and mind, and a benignity of spirit, that could not fail of being eminently impressive and delightful.
A judgment will have been passed by the World on the opposition to the Bill within the walls of Parliament. The sources of the hostility might be seen without; where also the noise of the torrent was sufficiently audible. Had only numbers been counted-as to petitions and petitioners-nor characters and allegations weighed, JUSTICE would have suffered a defeat.
Dissenting Sects were in the van. The Church of England was not prominent: of the parties into which it is now divided, the evangelical clergy and their adherents were the most alert, relentless and persevering in the conflict. Not many of the regular and State clergy-few of the Tractarians-few of those who in doctrines or rites steer a middle course-joined the hostile ranks. In several districts and towns no small number of the laity, men of what are termed high sentiments in Church and State, petitioned for the Bill: they avowed their conviction that it was a measure of simple and urgent Justice; nor, even for a
* Twenty-five years.
+ Nihil habet nec Fortuna Tua majus quam ut possis, nec Natura Tua melius quam ut velís, servare quam plurimos.-Pro Ligar., sub fin.
moment, would they permit themselves to be looked upon as the friends of virtual Persecution.
The Roman Catholics, as was natural, supported the Act: for they know what is prompted by Gratitude and Sympathy and a love of Equal Justice.
I am ignorant of any interest having been taken in the affair by the Society of Friends; yet, probably, the Bill would be approved of by many of their members.*
Dissenters of the Baptist denomination were arranged, generally, on the adverse side; although far less united and untiring in their attacks than Congregational Nonconformists. This was to be looked for. their unmitigated zeal against the measure, the Independents were at least self-consistent. It was this sect which, at the first, had exclaimed "Our Party!" By this sect chiefly those steps had been taken, which made the Bill essential: and, in addition to doctrinal and other prejudices against the English Presbyterians, they had not totally abandoned the hope of coming in for a share of the spoil.‡
I take my leave of them for the present. A yet more numerous, compact and formidable phalanx was in the battle-field. I speak of the Wesleyan Methodists; to a few passages in the Minutes of whose last Conference § I shall refer, in illustration of their enmity.||
The Wesleyan Conference thinks the Dissenters' Chapels Bill" an unhappy measure:" their reason is, that it injuriously affects Christian faith and virtuous integrity.
*It is likely that some of their names may have been affixed to what I shall call general Petitions: and this, I dare say, was the fact as to individuals of the Hebrew body.
+ See the extract from Mr. Robertson's pamphlet.
"my vote was counted in the day of battle, but I was overlooked in the division of the spoil." ("Memoirs of my Life and Writings," by Gibbon.) Can the Independents ["our Party"] with reason say, as he does, "There were many claimants more deserving and importunate"?
§ P. 90, the thanks of the Conference are "cordially presented" to the Committee, &c., for their vigilant attention, and their Christian, prudent and vigorous exertions in opposing the Dissenters' Chapels Bill:" and in p. 178, "the able assistance" which the Irish Deputation received from the same Committee, in their attempts to defeat this Bill, is gratefully recognized; in answer to which letter from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Conference says, "The course pursued by our Committee of Privileges, in reference to the unhappy measure to which your letter alludes, was prompted by a pure regard to the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and to the claims of virtuous integrity. On this occasion of anxiety and suffering, the honoured Church which you represent has our deep and most affectionate sympathy. Disappointed, but not disheartened, we shall still be ready, in our proper sphere, and in conjunction with our Christian brethren of other communities, to employ every effort that may be required by our professed allegiance to Christ, and to the truth which is after godliness."
The spiritual tyranny exercised by the CONFERENCE-the genuine fruit of the laws creating that body-seems to have no parallel in Christendom. Numbers of the Wesleyan Methodists would otherwise have withholden their signatures from the hostile Petitions: nor is it unlikely that, if left to their individual judgments and feelings, they would even have petitioned for the Dissenters' Chapels Bill. What the Conference and its Committees either prescribed or forbade was implicitly hearkened to,-was forthwith either done or declined, in accordance with the injunction.
I deny the correctness of this statement altogether. The Bill involved no question of religious faith: that had been settled previously. By the Relief Act of 1813, Parliament had already placed Ântitrinitarians within the pale of Toleration. What remained was, to make the boon (or, I would rather say, the deed of Justice) complete, and to provide against the threatening ills of a defect in the Laws, and of inadvertency in the revision of them.
But does the Bill assail "virtuous integrity"? When the Conference sympathizes with such integrity, to whose righteous firmness, to whose equitable "claims," does it look? To those, real or supposed, either of the General Assembly of Presbyterians in Ireland, or of the alleged Orthodox English Dissenters; or to those of both combined. In doing this, it assumes what it cannot prove-namely, that the Founders and original Benefactors of chapels now occupied by Antitrinitarians, built and endowed those fabrics for Trinitarian worship in all time to come. Is there any ground for the assumption? Open the several deeds of these chapels. If, upon the face of the documents, it appears that Trinitarian worship has been rendered the condition of the holding, then the recent Bill leaves the case exactly as It found it. Virtuous integrity has no trial here: this is no "occasion of anxiety and suffering." Where the deeds are silent, the Legislature has, at last, interposed, and enacted that their silence shall not be construed to the wrong and ejectment of the worshipers in these chapels. The interposition is as just as it was needful. În truth, it recognizes the principle and the spirit which actuated most of the Founders, and which should be respected and exemplified by all Protestant Dissenters. Their principle was, NONSUBSCRIPTION. It was their settled judgment, not to bind down their posterity, in matters of religious faith and worship; not to arrest the progress of Knowledge and Inquiry. There is abundant evidence of this state of mind having characterized English Presbyterian Nonconformists, from the beginning of the eighteenth century.
A fact upon which the Relators laid great stress, was the illegality of Antitrinitarianism, down to the passing of Mr. Smith's Bill. This was their reasoning in the Courts below, and at the Bar of the House of Lords: nor was it overlooked by the Judges.‡ "When the Wolverhampton Chapel was founded and endowed, and when Lady Hewley executed her Trust-deeds, Antitrinitarians were proscribed by Law. How, then, could they be rightfully possessed of the several properties in question?" The argument was successful. Technically, it was deemed resistless.
"The authority which binds in religion, that on which the truths of Christianity are to be received, is a Divine authority; and this we find not in the opinions of our predecessors, but in the Word of God."-Robertson, James, on Religious Liberty, &c., p. 49.
- at the
Opinions, &c., Tuesday, May 10, 1842. Mr. Justice Maule was the only dissentient (pp. 4, 5). For the sentiments, respectively, of Mr. Justice Erskine, Mr. Justice Coleridge, Mr. Baron Gurney, Mr. Baron Parke, and Lord Chief Justice Tindal, see pp. 10, 16, 21, 26, 31. The Chief Justice says, time of the execution of these very deeds [Lady Hewley's], such persons [those who preached Unitarian doctrines] could not avail themselves of the benefit of the Toleration Act." Baron Gurney, who must be particularly well acquainted with Statutes affecting Nonconformists, appeals to the Blasphemy Act.
What, however, shall we think of the "Party" that instructed their Counsel to use it?* Here we have men styling themselves Christians, Protestants, Protestant Nonconformists-men who are loud in professions of attachment to Civil and Religious Freedom, and extremely sensitive to encroachments, or supposed encroachments, upon their own-and yet these very persons shall recommend an appeal to those intolerant Statutes, of other times, by means of which Antitrinitarianism, and they who avowed and taught it, were brought under the ban of Law. True; the Statutes which I speak of, had been formally rescinded. They could no longer have a prospective operation. "But," say the relators, "it is sufficient for our purpose that they were in existence, and not quite a dead letter, at the period of the erection of the majority of your chapels. If, at that period, therefore, some of the severest punishments awaited impugners of the Trinity, the chapels in dispute must have been built and designed exclusively for Trinitarians." The reasoning is retrospective. Our relators plead the intolerancethe gross intolerance and injustice-of centuries gone by, in proof of their right to occupy chapels and chapel-property which, in the lapse of years, is possessed by Antitrinitarians. They have aimed at shewing the intention of the founders, by shewing that some religious opinions were treated as criminal. Losing sight of the intrinsic equity and merits of the thing, they have recognized the authority of the Magistrate in cases of faith and worship. Is it too much to affirm that had they lived in the days of their remote fathers, they would gladly have partaken with them in framing and executing these inhuman Laws? Must I not regard the fact of their reliance, even in argument, upon such Statutes, as implying some approbation of annexing penalties to an obnoxious faith-of visiting its sincere professors with imprisonment, fines, exile, confiscation ?
The Legislature, in its wisdom and justice, has answered these inquiries satisfactorily. It has pronounced its judgment on the blind, mistaken zeal both of a past and of the present generation. In despite of the arts and efforts of virulent opposition, it has decreed the same measure and kind of right for the chapel-property of ALL classes of Dissenters: it has saved that property, in many instances, from actual or contemplated aggression; and it has endangered the equitable claims of none. The Dissenters' Chapels Act is to be hailed as a national and public benefit, on account of the peace and order and safety which it assures. Not improbably, it will be so viewed, after no long time and reflection, by even those whose hostility it provoked. Meanwhile, it may not be
who are these nine Dissenting Ministers, that propose to try the spirits' by the maxims of the common law? I should have thought that men in their situation would have for ever remembered the outrages committed against the 'illegal' professors of Unitarianism in 1791, and with the fiery beacons, and the desolations of their neighbourhood, admonishing them of the consequences of attaching an obnoxious character to men on account of their religious opinions, would have eternally abstained from tampering with intolerant laws."-J. Robertson [ut sup.], p. 24.
"What enlightened and consistent friend to Christianity, and to Scriptural methods of maintaining its interests, would ever write in the following manner? We certainly are not prepared to place truth and error on the same footing, and to give the same advantages to the cause of Christ and Antichrist.'"-Robertson, ut sup., pp. 24, 25.
unbecoming to ask, why numbers of estimable and amiable menpersons of knowledge, talent, worth and usefulness-were so inimical to the Bill? It is not enough to allege the weakness of our common nature, or the mixed and often very unfriendly influences of a world, in which all of us are placed. Less general causes must be assigned.
There is a class of men who confound early and strong impressions with judgments formed upon inquiry and evidence. They take for granted, likewise, that their own sympathies, in respect of points of doctrine and discipline, are, or should be, shared by all the members of other religious communities. In a vast number of cases, this assumption does not fall short of a claim of personal infallibility: the means are thought to be warranted by the end; and when these habits of mind are put forth in joint efforts-when the possessors of them act in a body, and raise a party-cry, and this for attack, rather than defence-is it astonishing that Passion, not Reason, has ascendancy, and loses sight of the Justice universally due from Man to Man?
By such considerations I explain the hostility which even Dissenters shewed to the Dissenters' Chapels Bill; the bitterness and intolerance of spirit pervading the Resolutions and Petitions of a very large class of its opponents.
Happy are they who "have not so learned Christ." I can with difficulty conceive that men, who, on this subject, are so uninstructed, so injudicious, so passionate, and yet so confident, have any superior advantages for ascertaining Christian Truth; for the diligent, impartial, successful investigation of the Scriptures.
The passing of the Bill affords them an opportunity of reviewing their conduct, in relation to it: and, from the bottom of my heart, I wish that this may be one of the effects of a measure so auspicious.
Where "Righteousness" or Justice is neglected, still more where it is grossly violated, there can be nothing which deserves the name of RELIGION. In such a lamentable state of Morals, in the absence, in the denial, of JUSTICE, it is not possible for nations to be prosperous. The great excellence of this Bill, therefore, is, that it recognizes JUSTICE: the benefits which it promises and confers, are those which grow out of righteous and equal Laws: the benefits of freedom, security, defence, peace and union.
They by whom these advantages will principally be experienced, foster a warm attachment to the constitutional rights and liberties of their country; their love of which gains strength and ardour by means of this new Act of Toleration. It might be easy to shew that our mixed frame of Government is not a little favourable to such acts of Legislation; that it adapts itself with particular ease and safety to those improvements in the Law, which Public Opinion and the Public Exigencies call for.
Let Antitrinitarians recollect that they come under civil and under religious obligations, both of which they should be exemplary in fulfilling. As subjects of the State, they will be zealous in returning allegiance for protection: as worshipers of God and disciples of His Son, may they be more diligent than ever in studying the Holy Scriptures, and in encouraging the study of them; in avowing what they conscientiously think Divine Truth; in observing Christian ordinances; and in cultivating and exercising a Christian temper-the spirit of Holiness,