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It is agreed among naturalists, that a lion is a larger, a stronger, and more dangerous enemy than a cat; yet if a man were to have his choice, either a lion at his foot, bound fast with three or four chains, his teeth drawn out, and his claws pared to the quick, or an angry cat in full liberty at his throat, he would take no long time to determine.
I have been sometimes admiring the wonderful significancy of that word persecution, and what various interpretations it has acquired even within my memory. When I was a boy I often heard the Presbyterians complain that they were not permitted to serve God in their own way: they said they did not repine at our employments, but thought that all men who live peaceably ought to have liberty of conscience, and leave to assemble. That impediment being removed at the Revolution, they soon learned to swallow the Sacramental Test, and began to take very large steps, wherein all who offered to oppose them were called men of a persecuting spirit. During the time the bill against occasional conformity was on foot, persecution was every day rung in our ears, and now at last the Sacramental Test itself has the same name. Where then is this matter likely to end, when the obtaining of one request is only used as a step to demand another? a lover is ever complaining of cruelty while anything is denied him; when the lady ceases to be cruel, she
1 is from the next moment at his mercy: so persecution, it seems, is everything that will not leave it in men's power to persecute others.
There is one argument offered against a Sacramental Test by a sort of men who are content to be styled of the church of England, who perhaps attend its service in the morning, and go with their wives to a conventicle in the afternoon, confessing they hear very good doctrine in both. These men are much ofended, that so holy an institution, as that of the Lord's Supper, should be made subservient to such mercenary purposes as the getting of an employment. Now it seems the law, concluding all men to be members of that church where they receive the sacrament; and supposing all men to live like Christians (especially those who are to have employments), did imagine they received the sacrament in course about four times a-year; and therefore only desired it might appear by certificate to the public, that such, who took an office, were members of the church established, by doing their ordinary duty. However, lest we should offend them, we have often desired they would deal candidly with us; for, if the matter stuck only there, we would propose it in parliament, that every man who takes an
employment should, instead of receiving the sacrament, be obliged to swear that he is a member of the church of Ireland by law established, with Episcopacy, and so forth; and as they do now in Scotland, to be true to the kirk. But when we drive them thus far, they always retire to the main body of the argument, urge the hardship that men should be deprived the liberty of serving their queen and country on account of their conscience; and, in short, have recourse to the common style of their half brethren. Now, whether this be a sincere way of arguing, I will appeal to any other judgment but theirs.
There is another topic of clamor somewhat parallel to the foregoing: it seems by the Test clause, the military officers are obliged to receive the sacrament, as well as the civil. And it is a matter of some patience to hear the dissenters declaiming upon this occasion : they cry they are disarmed, they are used like Papists : when an enemy appears at home, or from abroad, they must sit still, and see their throats cut, or be hanged for high treason if they offer to defend themselves. Miserable condition ! woful dilemma! it is happy for us all that the pretender was not apprized of this passive Presbyterian principle, else he would have infallibly landed in our northern parts, and found them all sat down in their formalities, as the Gauls did the Roman senators, ready to die with honor in their callings. Sometimes, to appease their indignation, we venture to give them hopes, that, in such a case, the government will perhaps connive, and hardly be so severe to hang them for defending it, against the letter of the law: to which they readily answer, that they will not lie at our mercy, but let us fight our battles ourselves. Sometimes we offer to get an act, by which upon all Popish insurrections at home, or Popish invasion from abroad, the government shall be empowered to grant commissions to all Protestants whatsoever, without that persecuting circumstance of obliging them to say their
prayers when they receive the sacrament: but they abhor all thoughts of occasional commissions; they will not do our drudgery, and we reap the benefit: it is not worth their while to fight pro aris et focis; and they had rather lose their estates, liberties, religion, and lives, than the pleasure of governing.
But to bring this discourse toward a conclusion : if the dissenters will be satisfied with such a toleration by law as has been granted them in England, I believe the majority of both houses will fall readily in with it; further, it will be hard to persuade this house of commons, and perhaps much harder the next. For, to say the
406 LETTER CONCERNING THE SACRAMENTAL TEST.
truth, we make a mighty difference here between suffering thistles to grow among us, and wearing them for posies. We are fully convinced in our consciences, that we shall always tolerate them; but not quite so fully that they will always tolerate us, when it comes to their turn; and we are the majority, and we are in possession.
He who argues in defence of a law in force, not antiquated or obsolete, but lately enacted, is certainly on the safer side, and may be allowed to point out the dangers he conceives to foresee in the abrogation of it.
For, if the consequences of repealing this clause should at some time or other enable the Presbyterians to work themselves up into the national church; instead of uniting Protestants, it would sow eternal divisions among them. First, their own sects, which now lie dormant, would be soon at cuffs again with each other about power and preferment; and the dissenting episcopals, perhaps discontented to such a degree as, upon some fair unhappy occasion, would be able to shake the firmest loyalty, which none can deny theirs to be.
Neither is it very difficult to conjecture, from some late proceedings, at what a rate this faction is likely to drive, wherever it gets the whip and the seat. They have already set up courts of spiritual judicature in open contempt of the laws: they send missionaries everywhere, without being invited, in order to convert the Churchof-England folks to Christianity. They are as vigilant as I know who, to attend persons on their death-beds, and for purposes much alike. And what practices such principles as these (with many other that might be invidious to mention) may spawn when they are laid out to the sun, you may determine at leisure.
Lastly, Whether we are so entirely sure of their loyalty upon the present foot of government, as you may imagine their detractors make a question, which however does, I think, by no means affect the body of dissenters; but the instance produced is, of some among their leading teachers in the north, who, having refused the abjuration oath, yet continue their preaching, and have abundance of followers. The particulars are out of my head; but the fact is notorious enough, and I believe has been published: I think it a pity it has not been remedied.
Thus, I have fairly given you, sir, my own opinion, as well as that of a great majority in both houses here, relating to this weighty affair; upon which I am confident you may securely reckon. I will leave you to make what use of it you please. respect, sir, yotus, &c.
OF THE SEVERAL ATTEMPTS WHICH THE DISSENTERS OF IRELAND HAVE MADE, FOR A REPEAL OF THE SACRAMENTAL TEST.
HUDBLY INSCRIBED TO THE CONFORMING NOBILITY AND GENTRY OF IRELAND, 1731.
When the oath of supremacy was repealed, which had been the church's great security since the 2nd of queen Elizabeth, against both Papists and Presbyterians who equally refused it, it let in such a current of dissenters into some of our corporations, as bore down all before them.
Although the Sacramental Test had been for a considerable time in force in England, yet that law did not reach Ireland, where the church was more oppressed by dissenters, and where her most sanguine friends were glad to compound, to preserve what legal security she had left, rather than attempt any new, or even to recover what she had lost; and in truth they had no reason to expect it, at a time when the dissenters had the interest to have a motion made and debated in parliament, that there might be a temporary repeal of all the penal laws against them; and when they were so flushed with the conquest they had made in some corporations, as to reject all overtures of a toleration; and to that end had employed Mr. Boyse to write against it with the utmost contempt, calling it “a stone instead of bread, a serpent instead of a fish.”
When the church was in this situation, the clause of the Sacramental Test was happily sent over from England, tacked to the Popery bill ; which alarmed the whole body of the dissenters to that degree, that their managers began to ply with the greatest artifice and industry to prevent its passing into a law. But (to the honor of that parliament be it spoken) the whole body of both lords and commons (some few excepted) passed the clause with great readiness, and defended it afterward with as great resolution.
The immediate consequence of this law was the recovery of several corporations from the dissenters, and the preservation of others, to which that enterprising people had made very bold and quick approaches.
It was hoped that this signal defeat would have discouraged the dissenters from any further attempts against the law which had so unanimously passed both houses; but the contrary soon appeared;
for, upon meeting of the parliament held by the earl of Pembroke, they quickly reassumed their wonted courage and confidence, and made no doubt but they should either procure an absolute repeal thereof, or get it so far relaxed as that they might be admitted to offices of military trust; to this they apprehended themselves encouraged by a paragraph in his excellency's speech to both houses, (which they applied to themselves, which was, “ that the queen
, would be glad of any expedient for strengthening the interest of her Protestant subjects of Ireland.”
The advocates for the dissenters immediately took hold of this handle; and, in order to prepare the way for this expedient, insisting boldly upon their merit and loyalty, charged the church with persecution, and extolled their signal behavior in the late Revolution to that degree, as if by their singular prowess they had saved the nation.
But all this was only to prepare the way for the grand engine, which was forming to beat down this law; and that was their expedient addresses.
The first of this kind was from a provincial synod of the northern dissenters, beginning with high encomiums upon themselves, and as high demands from the public, “for their untainted loyalty in all turns of government, which,” they said, “ was the natural consequence of their known principles;" expressions, which, had they been applied to them by their adversaries, must have been understood as spoken ironically, and, indeed, to have been the greatest sarcasm imaginable upon them (especially when we consider the insolent treatment given to her late majesty in the very same address): for immediately after they pass this compliment upon themselves, they tell her majesty, they deeply regret the Sacramental Test; and frankly declare that neither the gentlemen nor people of their persuasion could (they must mean would) serve her, whatever exigencies might arise, unless that law was repealed.
The managers for the kirk, following this precedent, endeavored to obtain addresses to the same purpose from the corporations; and though they proved unsuccessful in most, they procured them from our most considerable conforming corporations; and that too at a critical juncture, when numbers of Scotch Presbyterians, who had deserved well in the affair of the Union, and could not be rewarded in England, (where the Test Act was in force,) stood ready to overrun our preferments as soon as the test should be repealed in Ireland.