I shall not here urge the sacred ties which you are under; ties, sufficient to bind any conscience, which is not past all tenderness and sense of feeling; ties, awful and solemn enough to restrain minds that any religion can restrain; and ties, from which no lawless breach of the Coronation Oath, nor any act of tyranny, has disengaged you; though, according to your own doctrines, your peculiar and favourite doctrine, so often thundered in the ears of Englishmen, No act nor acts of tyranny can dissolve the bonds of allegiance. But I would reason with you upon the point of more weight and moment with you, your secular state and interest.
Pray what violence has been offered to your dignities and immunities? What breach made upon your livings, and revenues? What good has been done to religion at your expence? What arbitrary indulgences have been granted to dissenters, or legal ones, besides that of worshipping God? Is it a sin against you, to suffer them to exercise religion in a way different from you; when every man who worships God, must worship him his own way, in the way which he thinks God will accept, else he cannot worship him at all? What other worship will God accept, but that which conscience dictates? Every other worship is hypocrisy; which is worse than a false religion proceeding from a good conscience. He who complies with a religion which he condemns or despises, worships not God, but the pride of priests; and is therefore their friend and favourite: while the upright man, who adores his God in spite of them, and will not dissemble in so nice and sacred a point, is reckoned a capital foe. The religion of oneís country, to any man who dislikes it, is cant, and no more than the religion of Lapland. Besides, would your own pride suffer any of you to comply with the religion of Scotland, or Geneva, if you were there? On the contrary, do you not constantly encourage there, what you constantly exclaim against as schism here, a separation from the established communion?
The state which makes you what you are, and gives you what you have, may by the same right and power confer what favours, privileges, and bounties it pleases, upon any other different bodies of men; nor could you in modesty, or common sense, complain, that a legislature disposed of its gifts and graces according to its own wisdom and discretion; and yet you have not even had this nonprovocation. What dissenter, what Presbyterian, has been preferred to the preferments of the Church, or any other, unless all who are faithful to the government and to their oaths, be dissenters? And will you pay dissenters this compliment? None but churchmen are preferred in the Church, or in the state. No preferments are continued vacant; the church revenues are not lessened, nor impaired, but every day increased. All the usual and legal advantages of the Church are secured to churchmen, and none but churchmen possess them. All their honours, all their emoluments, are in their hands, and they are protected in them; nor are any hardships done them, or suffered to be done them, but that of restraining them from putting hardships, distresses and shackles upon others; and that of confining a bishop, and some of his lower brethren, for treason against their God and their oaths, their religion and their King. And the outrageous and brutal resentments which they have shewn for this necessary, this legal proceeding, shew what friends you are to that establishment, which maintains and supports you in such ease, honours, and plenty; and which he, and such as he, would have destroyed: You indeed make it more and more manifest, that your greatest quarrel to the government is, that it will not put swords into your hands to destroy it. Will you after this complain, that the government will not particularly distinguish you, you only, and your deluded party with honour, trust, and esteem, for this your declared infidelity and enmity to the government?
But the Convocation, you cry, does not sit. This you think a crying evil: But before we agree with you in this thought, you ought to shew us what good their present sitting would do. And if you would shew too what good their sittings ever did, or ever can do, you would inform many who are in utter ignorance as to this great affair. Do convocations always, or at any time promote peace and indulgence, and the tender charity of Christianity? Have their furious contentions for ecclesiastical union ever increased Christian union? Has their fierceness for garments and sounds, and the religion of the body and the breath, had any good effect upon humanity, sincerity, conscience, and the religion of the soul! Have not some of them, and some not very late ones, gone to open war with moderation and common sense; and with such as only offended by reconciling religion with moderation and common sense, and by proving that our Saviour lied not when he declared that his kingdom is not of this world? How did the late Convocation particularly, and their champions, agree with their Head and Saviour, the great Bishop of souls, upon this article? Will such as you say, that for the interest of this government the convocation ought to sit? And ought it to sit for any other interest? Be so good to lay before us the services done, and the instances of zeal shewn by the late Convocations, to this Protestant establishment.
Another of your common-place cries is, that the clergy are contemned. What clergy, gentlemen? Are any contemned but the profane, the forsworn, the rebellious, the lewd, the turbulent, the insatiable, the proud, and the persecuting; such as will be unavoidably contemned, and ought to be contemned, by all who have conscience, virtue, loyalty, and common honesty? And will you say that the clergy, or the body of the clergy feel, or ought to feel, this contempt? Why should the just doom of the traitors to their order affect the credit of the clergy, or fill with apprehensions such as are not traitors? If they have their crimes, what credit or respect is due to the criminal? And if any of them respect the crime, what respect is due to them from those who abhor traitors and treason, which all good men abhor?
Your little regard to conscience, and your wanton contempt of oaths, are sad proofs how small power the Christian religion, or any religion, has over you. What can bind the man whom oaths cannot bind? Can society have any stronger hold of him? And are not they enemies to society, and to mankind; they who violate all the bonds by which societies subsist, and by which mankind are distinguished from wild beasts? You boast of your succession from the apostles: Do you do as the apostles did? Or would they have deserved that venerable name, or found credit amongst men, or made one convert from heathenism, if they had been the ambitious disturbers of government; and, by profanely trampling upon oaths, had published to the world by their practice, an atheistical contempt of all conscience and religious restraints? The apostles, rather than disown their faith and opinion, and dissemble a lying regard for the Gentile deities, for a moment, were miserable in their lives, and martyrs in their death; nor could racks, wheels, fire, and all the engines of torture and cruelty, extort from them one hypocritical declaration, one profession that their souls contradicted. Neither they, nor their pious followers, needed to have been martyrs, had they been guided by a spirit that taught religion and conscience to stoop to worldly interest and luxury.
You say, I have heard some of you say, that you are forced to swear. How were you forced? Can conscience be forced? You may as well say, that men may be forced to like a religion which they hate. Can any excuse be an excuse for perjury? Were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego forced to worship Nebuchadnezzarís golden image? Were the first reformers forced to adore a wafer for a god? Was St. Paul to be forced to offer incense, and worship idols? Or, if he had, would his preaching have been of any effect, or ought to have been? Either the gospel condemns the prostitution of conscience and religion to ease and interest; or such prostitution, if the gospel allowed it, would condemn the gospel. You must therefore either renounce the gospel, which in practice you do; or condemn yourselves, which I do not hear you do: And in honour to the Christian religion, the peaceable, the sincere, the conscientious and disinterested Christian religion, all men who are sincere Christians, or only honest moralists, must condemn you, and abhor your practices.
But how were you forced? Either you must swear fidelity to a government which protects you, and takes nothing from you; or you must quit the advantages, and not eat the bread of the government (for, that the government gives you all that you have, I am ready to prove whenever you please). Now if you have really tender consciences, you would not swear: But if your tithes and rents be dearer to you than your consciences, then it is plain that your consciences are not tender. It is a very hardened conscience that is not dearer to a man than his belly. Your perjury therefore is pure wantonness, and an utter absence of all honesty, conscience, and shame. Are these qualifications proper to direct the lives and consciences of others; and to promote in the minds and practices of others, the scrupulous and upright religion of our blessed Saviour?
Cease, for Godís sake, to use that holy name, or use it better. Can you bring people to him, by shewing yourselves daily apostates from him? Cease mentioning the holy martyrs, you who are a disgrace to martyrdom, and act directly contrary to the spirit of the martyrs; nay, would make a martyr of that religion for which they died. For shame rail not at atheism, speak not of atheists, you who give essential proofs of the blackest atheism. What is atheism but an utter disbelief, or, which is really worse, an utter contempt of the deity? And what is a stronger demonstration of that contempt, than a daring, a practical contempt of conscience, his deputy within us, and a wanton and solemn invocation of his awful name to hypocrisy, deceit, and determined falsehood? This is making the godhead a party to infidelity, and to treason against himself: It is mocking God, and abusing men, and making religion the means of damnation. What can equal this horrible crime, the root and womb of all crimes? Or what words can describe it? This, gentlemen, is your advantage: No language suffices to paint out your wickedness: You are secure that your picture can never be fully drawn, or the world see it in half its blackness and deformity.
Will you after this scold at the morals and impiety of the age? You, who lay the broadest foundation for all immorality and wickedness, by letting loose the minds of men from all the strongest bonds of virtue and of human society, the inviolable engagements of conscience, and the awe of the Supreme Being! After you have thus proclaimed, in the most effectual manner, that you have no religion, or that religion has no power over you, will you continue to fill the world and weak heads with canting conjectures and barren speculations, as if religion consisted in whims, dreams, and non-entities? And when you have, as far as your authority and example go, deprived Almighty God of the essential worship arising from social virtue, peace, charity, and good conscience towards God and man, will you be still adding further indignities to the deity, be representing him chiefly pleased with unmanly grimaces, words without meaning, the nonsense of metaphysicks, the jargon of logick, and the cant of mystery?
But this subject is too long for one paper: I shall therefore continue it in my next. In some following letters I shall shew my poor deluded countrymen, by what wretched guides in church and state they are conducted, and whose jobs they are doing, to their own undoing.
G I am, &c.