Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

senters in the point of subscription to the church articles, sundry reflections were thrown out against that people, importing, " That they themselves are of a persecuting intolerant spirit, for that when they had the superiority, they persecuted the church, and still persecute it in America, where they compel its members to pay taxes for maintaining the presbyterian or independent worship, and: at the same time, refuse them a toleration in the full exercise of their religion by the administrations of a bishop."

If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practise it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England. To account for this we should remember, that the doctrine of toleration was not then known, or had not prevailed in the world. Persecution was therefore not so much the fault of the sect as of the times. It was not in those days deemed wrong in itself. The general opinion was only, that those who are in error ought not to persecute the truth: but the possessors of truth were in the right to persecute error, in order to destroy it. Thus every sect believing itself possessed of all truth, and that every tenet differing from theirs was error, conceived that when the power was in their hands, persecution was a duty required of them by that God whom they supposed to be offended with heresy. By degrees more moderate, and more modest sentiments have taken place in the Christian world; and among Protestants particularly all disclaim persecution, none vindicate it, and but few practise it. We should then cease to reproach each other with what was done by our ancestors, but judge of the present character of sects or churches by their present conduct only.1

Now, to determine on the justice of this charge against the present dissenters, particularly those in America, let us consider the following facts. They went from England to establish a new country for themselves, at their own expense, where they might enjoy the free exercise of religion in their own way. When they had purchased the territory of the natives, they granted the lands out in town

• * "Toleration in religionj though obvious to common understanding, was not however the production of reason, but of commerce. The advantage of toleration for promoting commerce, was discovered long before by the Portuguese. They were too zealous Catholics to venture so bold a measure in Portugal; but it was permitted in Goa, and the inquisition in that town was confined to Roman Catholics." Lord Kaitnes's Sketches of the History of Man, Vol. II. p. 474.

ships, requiring for it neither purchase-money nor quit-rent, but this condition only to be complied with, that the freeholders should for ever support a gospel minister, (meaning probably one of the governing sects) and a free-school, within the township. Thus, what is commonly called Presbyterianism became the established religion of that country. All went on well in this way while the same religious opinions were general, the support of minister and school being raised by a proportionate tax on the lands. But in process of time some becoming Quakers,' some Baptists, and of late years, some returning to the church of England (through the laudable endeavors and a proper application? of their funds by the Society

1 No person appeared in New England who professed the opinion of the Quakers, until 1656"; (i.e. about 36 years after the first settling of the colony;) when Mary Fisher and Ann Austin came from Barbadoes; and soon after, nine others arrived in the ship Speedwell from London." They were successful in their preaching: and the provincial government, wishing to keep the colony from them, attempted to send away such as they discovered, and prevent the arrival of others. Securities, fines, banishment, imprisonment, and corporal punishments were instituted for this purpose; but with so little effect, that at last "a law was made for punishing with death, all such as should return into the jurisdiction after banishment. A few were hanged!" (See the History of the British dominions, 4to. 1773, p. 1. 8. 120.) B. V.

* They were to spread the gospel, and maintain a learned and orthodox clergy, where ministers were wanted or ill-profor Propagating the Gospel), objections were made to the payment of a tax appropriated to the support of a church they disapproved and had forsaken. The civil magistrates, however, continued for a time to collect and apply the tax according to the original laws which remained in force; and they did it more freely, as thinking it just and equitable, that the holders of lands should pay what was contracted to be paid when they were granted, as the only consideration for the grant, and what had been considered by all subsequent purchasers as a perpetual incumbrance on the estate, bought therefore at a proportionably cheaper rate; a payment which it was thought no honest man ought to avoid under the pretence of his having changed his religious persuasion. And this I suppose is one of the best grounds of demanding tithes of dissenters now in England. But the practice being clamored against by the episcopalians as persecution, the legislature of the province of Massachusetts Bay, near thirty years since, passed an act for their relief, requiring indeed the tax to be paid as usual, but directing that the several sums levied from members of the church of England, should be paid over to the minister of that church, with whom such members usually attended divine worship, which minister had power

vided; administering God's word and sacraments, and preventing atheism, infidelity, popery, and idolatry.

VOL. I. »

given him to receive, and on occasion to recover the same by law.

It seems that legislature considered the end of the tax was to secure and improve the morals of the people, and promote their happiness, by supporting among them the public worship of God, and the preaching of the gospel; that where particular people fancied a particular mode, that mode might probably therefore be of most use to those people; and that if the good was done, it was not so material in what mode or by whom it was done. The consideration that their brethren the dissenters in England were still compelled to pay tithes to the clergy of the church, had not weight enough with the legislature to prevent this moderate act, which still continues in full force; and I hope no uncharitable conduct of the church towards the dissenters will ever provoke them to repeal it.

With regard to a bishop, I know not upon what grounds the dissenters, either here or in America, are charged with refusing the benefit of such an officer to the church in that country. Here they seem to have naturally no concern in the affair. There they have no power to prevent it, if government should think fit to send one. They would probably dislike, indeed, to see an order of men established among them, from whose persecutions their fathers fled into that wilderness, and whose future domination they may possibly fear, not knowing that their natures are changed. But the non

« ZurückWeiter »