I once lived near a church-yard in London, where there is, what they call an excellent set of bells; and I would, from my own experience, advise those who love quietness or study, to keep at a good distance from churches.
|PART II. On the State of Religion.|
|On the State of Religion in general,||Page 265|
|On the Episcopal Church,||278|
|On the Dissenters in general,||349|
|The Church of Scotland,||375|
|Baptists and Sabbatarians,||400|
|Unitarians, Arians, Socinians, Arminians,||407|
|Atheists, Sceptics, Indifferentists, Deists,||473|
|Fanaticism and Superstition,||483|
In the German original, Religion came before Education and the Arts, making up the third of four volumes. In the English translation, Religion was shifted back to become the second half of the second volume.
Judging by the content of this section, Lutherans by that name simply did not exist in England. There may be a hint of them in the German original; Volume Three concludes with a chapter about the religious position of foreigners in London (Von dem kirchlichen Zustande der Ausländer in London), omitted from the translation.
ENGLAND, since the Reformation, has been a country of many sects. The two principal of them, the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians, have been frequently the cause of civil commotions, particularly during the reign of Charles I. Happily, good sense has got the better over old animosities and prejudices; and though there still subsists a jealousy between the established church and the Dissenters, yet it does not, at present, break forth in open acts of hostility and persecution. The peace is kept, a civil unanimity prevails, and appears at least outwardly. The wise principles which government, within this century, has adopted, and the lenient measures it has pursued, have undoubtedly much contributed to this; perhaps more than might have been otherwise expected, on judging by 266 the experience of former times, from the ideas of toleration, and mutual forbearance, which do no credit to the different religious parties, and the generality of their respective clergy. It was the more easy to render these principles, and the measures founded upon them, efficacious, as England contains such a variety of sects; for had there been only two, they would have been continually at variance, and would have attempted alternatively to crush each other. The prerogatives and the revenues of the church are so well secured and protected by government, that there is but little fear or danger, at present, of its continued duration. The best and the most enlightened part of the episcopal clergy are very tolerant; and though their church does not give itself any trouble in making proselytes, yet it gains more and more ground, because its members enjoy temporal advantages, whilst the interest of the Dissenters is rather sinking. The revolutions recorded in history, which have happened in religion and politics, sufficiently demonstrate, that length of time lessens the authority and value of opinions in churches and in states. The opposite parties, when two or three generations are dead, lose much of their ardour and zeal, particularly, in regard to religion, that sect which has not 267 the advantage of temporal interest on its side. Polemical writings, to the honour of humanity and good sense, begin to sink into contempt; and those that were published a century ago, by the old theological wrestlers, who fought for the entertainment of their different parties, are long ago forgotten, and sold by weight, as waste-paper, for the convenience of shopkeepers to wrap up in them,
“Quicquid chartis amicitur ineptis.”
However, though theological publications, at present, are not much sought for, and polemical ones held in a kind of contempt, there are, notwithstanding, some of both, which appear from time to time, but they hardly create any noise, much less alarm. I remember when, some years ago, application was made by the Dissenters to parliament, to be released from subscribing the thirty-nine articles, that controversial writings then appeared without number; and another inundation happened, when the Confessional of archdeacon Blackburn appeared. Fanatical and enthusiastical writings meet with success among people inclined that way; and there are more than might be believed, who prefer the mystical, the marvellous, and the incredible, to the plain, sensible, and rational. The writings of our German shoe-maker, Jacob 268 Boehm, or Behmen, as he is called in England, have found more than one English translator, and have passed through several editions. Swedenborg’s works have met with still greater success, and he may be looked upon as the founder of a new sect, which holds his writings almost sacred. This proves, that the notion of enlightened times is much to be restricted, and to be taken in a confined sense. It falls to the lot of only a few in an age, to be truly enlightened, and in any nation the generality continue much as usual: the character of the great bulk of mankind remains always the same. It is varied only by the different shades, which are produced by dark ignorance and a little glimmering of knowledge; by more or less glaring vices, and some, here and there, scattered virtues; by the constitution of government, by events, by manners and fashions, which are more or less favourable to the appearance of morality or immorality. On these things the character of times and generations depends; and the effect which they produce taints the judgment of the generality of the people, as well as the writings of the age. Many instances will occur, in what I am going to mention, about the state of religion in England, which will prove this general observation 269 to be just, and fit to illustrate many things which I shall relate, in regard to the various sects, that would otherwise appear rather unaccountable.
An opinion prevails abroad, that the generality of the English care but little for religion; and, upon the whole, those who think so, are, perhaps, not much mistaken. However, after a long residence among them, I have found, that the effects, which the doctrines of Christianity are intended to produce in life and in society, are in this island, in many instances, more visible, and more frequent, than in countries where more pride is taken in maintaining doctrines which are called orthodox, than in practising virtue, and in shewing the power of religion in actions which are laudable and useful, arising from principles and motives founded upon reason and humanity. Charity, toleration, and mutual forbearance, in regard to religious opinions, are greater in England than in any other part of the world, the United States of America excepted. The sabbath-day is kept in England with more outward decency, than I have seen in many countries; and in churches and meeting-houses, outward decorum and seeming devotion, are very observable, particularly in the country, at some distance from the metropolis. About London, the public 270 houses are on Sunday very full indeed; but the ear of the passengers is not struck with music and dancing, as is too much the case abroad; nor is there card-playing, except that of late some houses of people of quality, at the west end of the town, have, on a Sunday, resounded with musical concerts, and card-tables have been in use. Upon the whole, Voltaire’s description of the manner in which the Sunday passes in London, contains much truth, when he says, “Point d’opéra, point de comédie, point de concert à Londres le dimanche; les cartes même y sont si expréssement défendues, qu’il n’y a que les personnes de qualité, et ce qu’on appelle les honétes-gens, qui jouent ce jour-la; le reste de la nation va au sermon, au cabaret et chez des filles de joie1.”
Let the stricter observance of the sabbath-day in Great Britain arise from what causes it may, there is no doubt, but that it keeps awake an outward reverence for religion. Many of those who make their exit on the gallows in London and in the country, will frequently, just before they close the scene of life, address the crowd of spectators, and, among other things, exhort them to keep the sabbath-day 271 holy, because their neglecting this was, as they say, the cause of their coming to so untimely an end. Without supposing that such a speech, and the mentioning of the sabbath-day, might have been suggested by the clergyman, who attended them in the prison and at the execution, it is very natural, that these wretches, who are generally young people, should ascribe the cause of their misfortune to their profanation of the sabbath; for on that day, being at leisure, and without proper employ, they pursued in idleness their pleasure, and got into bad company; they became initiated in, and afterwards familiar with vices, that led them to commit the crimes which at last brought them to the gallows. This very observation shews the necessity of setting apart, in the state of society in which we live, such a day as Sunday, to remind its members that are come to a mature age, of their moral duties, and instil good principles into the minds of the younger ones. The English, therefore, are to be commended for keeping up a stricter observance of the sabbath-day, than is generally to be met with in other Christian countries on the continent, in order to excite, and to keep up a sense of morality. The case is different, with regard to the savage Indians, as they are called, for they 272 have no property, but subsist on the chance of hunting and fishing; they, therefore, are not so much in want of a sabbath-day as we are.
The holydays which are kept in Roman Catholic, and even in some Protestant countries, are not observed in England, except at the custom-house, and in some departments of the state. To the detriment of commerce, and to the inconvenience of those who have business to transact in such places, no attendance is given on these days, which, in the almanacks are marked with red types, for the benefit of those who then may choose to indulge themselves in idleness and pleasure. On such days prayers are read in the episcopal churches only; for as to the Dissenters, they have no divine service at all on them.
That outward regard in which the sabbath-day is held in England, cannot be very well reconciled to that carelessness, which, as I have already mentioned in another place, is too manifest in the administering of oaths, which are mostly taken with the greatest unconcern, and I may say, in many instances, with levity. If, for a moment, the great influence of an oath in the concerns of society were set aside, and it were only considered, how much depends on this religious act in England, where a single 273 oath decides on life and death in criminal cases, it would appear almost inconceivable, why it is not made more solemn, and why the numberless instances, wherein it is required, are not lessened. Indeed, whoever were to judge of the religious character of the English by the frequency with which oaths are administered, and by the carelessness with which they are taken, would certainly think very unfavourably of them. I have seen many persons, taking oaths at the custom-house, and in courts of judicature, who appeared to me as ignorant, and as totally uninstructed with respect to religion, as can easily be conceived.
To prevent such ignorance, and to promote religious knowledge among the common people, many charity-schools have been instituted in England and Wales, which undoubtedly have produced much good. They have instilled, at least, a few good principles into the minds of many children, and have excited some sense of morality, without which they would have grown up like savages. It is said, that even now, in the remotest parts of Ireland, whole families are to be met with, that know, perhaps, little more of Christianity than the inhabitants of Monomotapa.274
For the advancement of religion, societies have also been instituted, of which one of the principal is The Society for promoting Christian Knowledge. It had its origin in the year 1698, when some well-wishers to religion united among themselves to promote its interests, and those of virtue, which are so closely connected. This society was afterwards made a corporation, and its views are chiefly the two following: first, by erecting such charity-schools in England and in Wales, as I have mentioned before, to advance the interest of religion and virtue among the poor children as well as grown persons; secondly, to promote Christian in Great Britain, as well as in foreign parts, by means of distributing Bibles, Common-prayer books, and short religious tracts. The number of the members of this society may amount, perhaps, to eight hundred. They are divided into subscribing or contributing, and corresponding members, of which the former constitute by far the greater number. Almost all the dignified clergy of the established church are to be found among them. The revenues of this society are reckoned to be between five and six thousand pounds annually. But it is said, that this subscription money would not be sufficient to defray all the expences 275 of the society, if legacies were not sometimes bequeathed towards the promotion of its designs.
Out of this society another has arisen, which is called The Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. As the first directs its views towards erecting charity-schools in Great Britain and Ireland, and the sending missionaries to the East Indies; so this takes care, that the West India islands and the British colonies in North America, are provided with episcopal clergymen and schoolmasters. It is, therefore, in the accounts, which are annually published by the society, expresly mentioned, that those who wish to be employed for such purposes must be members of the established church. Even in the royal charter given to the society in the year 1701, express mention is made, that the contributions of this society shall be employed towards the maintenance of learned and orthodox clergymen, (by which those of the episcopal church are meant), in the British colonies. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at, that no Dissenters are among the subscribers.
I shall mention only two societies more, whose intention is the promotion of the Christian religion. The first is a society in Scotland for 276 Propagating Christian Knowledge. The ignorance among the inhabitants of what are called the Highlands, and of those isles near Scotland, which, on account of their Situation, bear the name of the Western Islands, was, even in the beginning of this century, very great. To remedy this evil, the above mentioned society was, under royal patronage, instituted, and government seeing the benefit of it, even in a political light, supported it. The manners of the inhabitants of the Highlands, and the Western Isles, it has been observed, are, since this institution, become milder, and their character, as subjects of the present government, is rendered more loyal than it was before. The other society was established in Ireland about the year 1730, to put a stop to ignorance in religion, and to the growth of immorality, by establishing charity-schools. George I. granted this society a royal charter, to make it a corporation; and the contributions, towards promoting the intentions of the society, became very considerable. But, as I have been informed, those which came from England exceed those collected in Ireland. The Irish society is connected with another here in London, which goes under the name of The Society corresponding with the Incorporated Society in Dublin, 277 for promoting English Protestant Working Schools in Ireland. The schools established by this society are called Charter-Schools. Thirty-eight of them are for the education of popish and other poor natives, and two, called Ranelagh Schools, admit only the children of Protestants. Complaint has been made, and I fear justly, that these excellent charities are much neglected, and that, instead of proving a source of much good, they are, by mismanagement, rather rendered an evil. Many of the children of the Roman catholics in these schools, are trained up in the Protestant religion; and it is said, that this was one of the first intentions which entered into the views of this society, which, indeed, is very commendable.
1 Oeuv. de Voltaire, tom. xiv. p. 61. ed. 4to.
England, since the Reformation, has been a country of many sects
[As we all know, England has sixty religious sects and just one sauce—Quel pays!]
Happily, good sense has got the better over old animosities and prejudices
[Except when it comes to Catholics. Not long ago I watched a British television documentary about the future of the monarchy. It suggested that if there were no monarch at the head of the Established Church—apparently Prince Charles has expressed some perfectly understandable reluctance on this point—the Pope could once again take control of the church in England. As far as I can make out, the writers were absolutely serious.]
The prerogatives and the revenues of the established church
text has estab-/blished at line break
expréssement défendues . . . et ce qu’on appelle les honétes-gens
[The German has expressément, which seems more plausible. See here or here for something closer to what Voltaire meant to say. I have left all diacritics as printed—or not printed.]
to promote Christian knowledge in Great Britain
text has knowlege
AS I am not to write the ecclesiastical history of Great Britain, or to give an account of the changes which religion has undergone in this island, I shall content myself with giving here only a short account of the episcopal church, and its present state. When, by means of the Reformation, Popery was abolished in the kingdom, this church was to stand in its place, and to be the only established one. For this reason it is called the English church, or that which is established by law; and the Puritans were the first who gave it the name of Episcopal church, because it retained bishops similar to those in the Romish church. Presbyterianism constituting the dominant religion in Scotland, it is called there the established church, and in contradistinction to the English church, the Church, or the Kirk of Scotland.
The English episcopal church was formerly divided into the high and the low church. Those who were for extending the authority and the power of bishops, so as to render them and the 279 church almost independent of the state, went under the former denomination; those, on the contrary, who were for extending the power of the king in ecclesiastical matters, and over the bishops, came under the denomination of the low church. The former might be compared to the tories in the state, and the latter to the whigs. I believe, however, that at present the distinction of these church-parties is extremely faint, since in modern times the convocation, or as it may be called the church parliament, is immediately prorogued as soon as it meets, and is as it were almost abolished. The sentiments of the low-churchmen1 prevail, and very few, it may be supposed, maintain at present those principles which formerly distinguished high-churchmen in the stricter or more eminent sense. The supremacy of the king, as it 280 is called, is acknowledged, and the jus circa sacra is allowed to be vested in the king and parliament. The hierarchy is said to belong to the episcopal order, but always in subjection to the king. No man can, in the British dominions, legally be made a bishop, without the king’s consent. He nominates to the chapters the persons to be chosen, and confirms afterwards the election. Charles II. even wanted the bishops to keep their dignity only during his pleasure; but he could not carry the point, though the same was done in the time of Edward VI. and it was inserted in the new commissions of the bishops then, that they held their office during pleasure. The English constitution makes the king the head of the church; and it has been asserted, that he may preach, and administer the sacraments, if he pleased; for which reason, some of high tory principles have compared the king of England to Melchizedek king of Salem.
Regulations in regard to church affairs have been made, during my residence in England, by acts of parliament relating to toleration, to tithes, and other ecclesiastical matters of consequence. Besides, all suits for divorces are brought before the house of lords, and appeals 281 from judgments, pronounced in ecclesiastical courts, lay open to the same as the highest tribunal.
The principal distinctive marks of the English episcopal church, are the Thirty-nine Articles, the Common-Prayer, the Book of Homilies, and the Book of Canons.
Whoever has not been brought up in the English church, will not think himself much edified, when he attends in it for the first time divine service. The Common-Prayer book contains some very excellent prayers; but as they are read all the year round, and frequently without much devotion in a hasty manner, with a voice not always sufficiently loud and intelligible, it is no wonder, that the congregation should appear rather tired, and without many signs of fervent devotion. The alternative reading verses of the Psalms, by the clergyman and the congregation, the loud repeating of the Litany, the Creed, and other parts of the service by the latter, makes it rather resemble a Jewish synagogue. The frequent repetition of the reading of the prayers, and the psalms, is the cause, that many of those who constantly attend the church, know both by heart; and therefore their thoughts seem to be much absent, when they recite this part of the 282 service. It is said to have been the intention, at the time when the Liturgy received the sanction of authority in the reign of queen Elizabeth, to give the divine service in the established churches a kind of solemnity; but, I confess, that it seems to me, not to produce such an effect, at least not in an eminent degree. There is nothing which strikes the eye; the singing is generally not very harmonious; that recitation of some parts of the service, which, as I have observed before, is divided between the clergyman and the congregation, is done in a manner that betrays rather carelessness than attention; the perpetual motion of kneeling and rising again, that monotony which prevails, and that inanimated manner in which the sermons are commonly delivered, have, in my opinion, nothing of solemnity in them, and can hardly promote edification and devotion. I do not mention this as a censure, or as if I were a great admirer of solemnity, or a friend to external shew in divine worship, though I think it for several reasons rather necessary; but I confess, paradox as it may appear, that a silent congregation in a Quaker’s meeting, is, in my eyes, more solemn than the most pompous celebration of divine service.283
The subjects of the sermons preached in episcopal churches are generally of the moral kind, which certainly is much to be approved. Tillotson, in his time, had some reasons to bring the controversies of the Romish church into the pulpit, but there is probably less occasion for it at present. That the episcopal clergymen preach no longer than about half an hour, if even so long, is much to be commended. Superfluous declamation, which in sermons that require an hour in delivering is almost inevitable, may, by these means, be avoided, if care be taken; and the impression which the discourse should make upon the hearers, may, by being short, though without obscurity, be the more certain and the stronger. Few clergymen deliver their discourses without looking often into their notes, and they are commonly, for that reason more esteemed; but the generality come under that description which I have given above in my short account of the state of pulpit-eloquence2.
According to the Rubrick, which is printed before the Common-Prayer-book, the rector or vicar of a parish should catechise the children in the afternoon of the Sunday; but, useful as this would be, it is neglected. The catechism of the church of England, as it is inserted 284 in the Common-Prayer-book, is very short, and takes up but three or four pages. It may be deemed, therefore, the more necessary to explain it to the children, who, if ever they learn it by heart, recite it without understanding it. Several clergymen of the church of England have written explanations or commentaries on this Catechism; and that of archbishop Wake has been much approved, and therefore, passed through many editions. He wrote it when he was bishop of Lincoln, and dedicated it to the clergy of his diocese. In this dedication, he gives a short history of the English church Catechism, and of catechising: he laments, that the latter is totally neglected on Sundays, and that the parishioners hire a preacher, under the denomination of an afternoon-lecturer, who is to preach according to their fancy.
The English churches, and what belongs to them, are generally kept very neat, and in good repair; which is the more easy to be done, as the churchwardens have a right, under acts of parliament, to make assessments, and raise taxes, called church-rates, for the repairs and the necessities of the parish-church. The laws of the land have so well taken care of the established church, and the clergy who are in possession of livings and preferments, that they cannot want, as long as there are inhabited 285 houses and cultivated lands in the parish. Not only the episcopal inhabitants, but Quakers, Jews, and all denominations of Dissenters, must serve parish offices, and pay their church-rates and tithes. The ground upon which a church is to be built, or which is only designed for a church-yard, is previously consecrated by a bishop; and it cannot afterwards be used for any profane purposes, except permission be obtained by an act of parliament. In former times, such consecrated grounds were deemed to be very holy; for there is a law, which, not being repealed, may even now be put in force, that if any person strikes another in a church, or a church-yard, with a weapon, or only draws the same with an intent to strike, he is, upon conviction, not only to be excommunicated, but also to lose one of his ears. Parish or episcopal churches alone are intitled to a steeple and bells, which, therefore, is not the case with places of worship belonging to Dissenters. As the English are very fond of ringing bells, the churches are frequently furnished with a set of them, that may be rung in some musical manner; which, though it makes an intolerable noise, is, nevertheless, thought by many highly entertaining. Besides, what with prayers, burials, and other occasions, the bells are every day as frequently in motion, as in the 286 monasteries and churches in Roman catholic countries. I once lived near a church-yard in London, where there is, what they call an excellent set of bells; and I would, from my own experience, advise those who love quietness or study, to keep at a good distance from churches.
It is not exactly known, when the division of England into parishes took place; but they are undoubtedly of a very ancient date, and it is certain that such a division was made before the twelfth century. Tithes were introduced before the beginning of the ninth. The parishes are very exact in marking their boundaries, and the school-boys are to wander round them, on Ascension-day, that they may, when grown old, give evidence in case of any dispute which may arise between parishes. There are said to be ten thousand parishes in England; consequently, there should be as many livings; but numbers of them produce so small an income, that a clergyman cannot subsist on it. Dr. Burn gives the following account of the poorer livings, taken from the book of rates, made in the reign of Henry the Eighth: 1071, are not above ten pounds a year; 1476, not above twenty; 1126, not above thirty; 1049, not above forty; and 884, not above fifty. At this rate there would be 5597 287 livings not above fifty pounds a year. It ought, however, to be remembered, that since the time, when these estimates were made, many livings have greatly increased in regard to income, though others have not.
Before the Reformation took place, the income and the tithes of all ecclesiastical and livings, when they became vacant, were to be paid, under the name of first-fruits, for a year to the pope, those of ten pounds value only excepted. After the Reformation, this kind of revenue was annexed to the income of the crown, until the reign of queen Anne, when, by an act of parliament, it was ordered, that all livings under fifty pounds should be exempted from paying the first-fruits; and that those which produced more should pay them, but the emoluments arising therefrom, should go to a perpetual fund, then established, to increase the incomes of those livings that were under fifty pounds. However, notwithstanding this good and generous regulation, the incomes of the poorer livings are not much raised; and it has been calculated, that 500 years would be required, before they could be raised to sixty, and 339 before they would amount to fifty only. Dr. Watson, the present bishop of Landaff, proposed, therefore, in a 288 late publication, that the richer benefices should be somewhat lowered, to increase by these means those that are very poor; but it seems as if this plan of the worthy bishop would not meet with success.
As many of the livings are so very poor, that they alone cannot maintain a clergyman, it has been necessary to unite for this purpose more parishes; and I am inclined to think, that in England hardly three thousand clergymen of the episcopal church are provided with ecclesiastical preferments. The value of livings depend on the number and the circumstances of the parishioners, and the tithes. The church and its clergy, considered in connexion with the state, is esteemed very rich, on account of the landed estates, and the tithes which it has in possession. Supposing the tithes to be really and fully paid to the clergy, it may be said, that the church has every ten years the whole produce of the national lands. And how much greater would its income be, if at the time of the Reformation, so many monasteries had not been secularised! The cathedrals still enjoy very rich estates, which then were not taken from them, and the value of their lands is since the Reformation risen five, nay, in some parts of the kingdom, as it is said, ten times higher 289 than it was then. Those livings, therefore, which have large tithes, are very valuable, and more so than those where the rector has his income from assessments upon the houses in his parish. The tithes, whether they be taken in kind, or according to value, keep always in proportion with the prices of things as they are in succession of time; and when agriculture and rural œconomy increase in a parish, the income of the living increases likewise. Where the parish-priest has his revenues merely from taxes upon houses, the income generally remains the same, unless the parishioners, who are liberal, become wealthy, or the number of dwellings increases.
The Dissenting clergy may perform any clerical function, except that of marriage, which, by an act of parliament, is limited to parish-churches and the episcopal clergy only. But as this act does not extend over Scotland, those who cannot lawfully be married in England, run away to that country, and mostly to a place called Gretna Green, where connubial knots are tied without any previous licence, and without the assistance of a clergyman of any church, marriages by a layman being legal in Scotland. It may be supposed, that government could easily put a stop to this kind of 290 marriages; but as it has been thought proper to pass so strict a marriage-act, as that of the year 1754, a hole is, for many reasons, to be left for those who want to avoid it; and if the road to Scotland, on such expeditions, were to be barred, the enchanted couple would find the way to the continent, to have the rites of the church performed there, which, from policy, is to be prevented, by keeping the road to Scotland open.
No taxes are collected, and no demands exacted in England with greater rigour, than those of the established church. Excommunication, seizing of goods, or even imprisonment, are the means by which payments of this kind are inforced. The ecclesiastical courts are likewise complained of as very severe. It is said of Dr. Johnson, a great admirer of the established church, that when he had communicated a part of his tragedy called Irene to a friend to read, he returned it with bestowing much praise upon its author; expressing, at the same time, his fear, that the catastrophe, in the last act of the play, would not be sufficiently tragical, the doctor having exhausted himself too much in the preceding acts. But Johnson gravely answered, “Sir, I have materials enough for my purpose; for in the last 291 act, I intend to put my heroine into the ecclesiastical court of Litchfield, which will fill up the utmost measure of human calamity.” The law-suits in an ecclesiastical court are tedious and expensive; the witnesses are not examined before a jury, which is to decide; but their depositions are taken in writing, and afterwards argued upon in court before a judge who decides.
The English ecclesiastical law resembles somewhat a chaos, for it consists of some fragments of the Roman and the canon law, the former of which is to give way when it comes in collision with the latter, and both are to yield to the statute law, whenever they are in opposition to it. In the year 1603, when king James I. came to the throne, the clergy, under the authority of the two archbishops of Canterbury and of York, drew up a number of constitutions and canons, intended to serve as a kind of ecclesiastical law, which were confirmed of the king for himself and his successors; but they are of no great authority. Lord Hardwicke, in a cause, where they were said to be transgressed, gave it, in the year 1737, as his own opinion, and that of the rest of the judges, that they were not binding for the laity, though they might be so for the clergy; and the principal 292 reason which he alleged, was, that they had not received the sanction of parliament. Dr. Gibson, before he became bishop of London, published in the year 1713, in two volumes folio, a Collection of English Ecclesiastical Laws, but the work appears to me too prolix, and the method by which he has digested it, not very convenient. Dr. Burn’s Ecclesiastical Law, in four octavo volumes, is much better adapted for the purpose, the materials being disposed in alphabetical order, in form of a Dictionary.
Among the ecclesiastical tribunals, the convocation was formerly the first and highest, but it is not so now. It had its origin, if I am not mistaken, about the year 1295, under Edward I. and was, as it seems, intended for a kind of ecclesiastical parliament, chiefly with a view to grant the subsidies that were demanded of the clergy, who were, in those times, looked upon as distinct from the state or the political body. This appears to me to be the reason, why a person in priest’s orders is supposed to be incapable to have a seat in the lower-house of parliament; for the bishops, as I have already observed elsewhere, do not sit in the upper-house in their clerical character; but as barons of the realm. In the reign of king Edward IV. the 293 lower-house of convocation applied for the liberty of sitting with the commons in parliament; but the demand was rejected. At present the clergy having given up their right of taxing themselves in convocation, under Charles II. are taxed, with the rest of the nation, by parliament, and the rectors and vicars have a vote at parliamentary elections, though not in their clerical character, but because their livings are considered as freeholds. As often as a new parliament is called together, a convocation is likewise convened by royal proclamation; but almost as soon as it has met, it is prorogued from time to time; and it may be said, that from the year 1718, the convocation has held, properly speaking, no sessions3.
The clergy of the established church is, in regard to rank, divided into dignitaries and the inferior clergy. In the former are included the archbishops, bishops, deans, canons, and archdeacons; and in the latter the rectors, vicars, and curates. Another distinction arises from the different ordinations. The first of them is for deacon’s orders, the second to become a priest, and the third a bishop. England has 294 two archbishops and five and twenty bishops. They all have their seats in the house of lords, except the bishop of Sodor and Man, because he has his dignity not from the king. It was William the Conqueror, who raised the landed estates belonging to bishopricks into baronies; and it is for this reason, as I have already mentioned, that they sit in parliament. If we were to judge of the incomes of the bishopricks, by the sums which are put down in what are called the king’s books, they would appear very small, and rather apostolical; but as they are increased by revenues arising from other ecclesiastical lucrative places4, they amount to five or six times the value of what they are put down for there. I have seen calculations of the expences of the nation, for the support of the established church, which fix them at very near three millions annually; but I have read lately, in a publication of the bishop of Landaff, another estimate, according to which the whole, even the two universities included, does not amount to more than a million and a half; but, whether the value of the tithes be included in this sum, I do not know.295
It is not very difficult to obtain orders in the church, particularly in the dioceses of some bishops; a few recommendations, even of laymen, may often procure them. This has been frequently complained of, and it were to be wished, that the character and the learning of those who request ordination, were more strictly enquired into. The regulations, which were made in the year 1724, respecting the candidates who wished to take orders, are extremely good, but I believe they are not strictly adhered to. Much less are they regarded, when the object is, if I may so call it, foreign service. Thus a bishop of London, Dr. Terrick, ordained a German journeyman jeweller, of a very indifferent character, and of no learning whatever, who, after having created much mischief in one of our German congregations, wanted to go as an episcopal clergyman to America, and obtained his wishes. The church and the army are great resources for the younger sons of people of rank; and it therefore often happens, that many of the best livings, and lucrative places in the church, which are almost sinecures, are bestowed upon them, though they are, perhaps, destitute of learning and merit. As they get into possession of them, by means of their relations and powerful patronage, 296 it is no wonder, that admission into orders is not rendered difficult, either by means of rigorous examinations, or a strict inquiry into moral character.
Whether many of the established church think, in these more enlightened times, so highly of their episcopal ordinations as some have done formerly, I am unable to determine. In conversations which I have had upon this subject with some worthy and learned clergymen, who enjoyed church preferments, I have asked them, whether they believed in an uninterrupted succession of their bishops since the times of the apostles? whether they were sensible, that they had, at this moment of their ordination, received some extraordinary spiritual gifts from the hands of the bishops who ordained them, he being endowed with certain peculiar χαρισματα, derived from the supernatural gifts which were bestowed upon the apostles, at the first promulgation of Chistianity? They smiled at my questions, and answered them as men of good sense and probity would do. The inferences, however, which were drawn from the suppositions I have just mentioned, seem to be still in force. Clergymen, not ordained by the hands of bishops, are deemed unqualified to officiate in a clerical character in English churches of 297 the establishment. Those who have received their ordination from the hands of a Romish, a Greek, or a Lutheran bishop, are not re-ordained, when they go over in a clerical character, to the church of England; but all other protestant clergymen, though they have been ordained with ever so much solemnity, and under the highest authority, are to undergo this ceremony again, before they can officiate as clergymen in an English church under the establishment. Very few, however, if any, will be found at present, who would seriously assert the invalidity of ecclesiastical functions, performed by clergymen not ordained by bishops, or who would entertain such an opinion, as the celebrated Dodwell did, who asserted that episcopal baptism was not only absolutely necessary for salvation, but the very means by which immortality was conveyed to the soul of man. That tenet of the Romish church, which declares the character acquired by episcopal ordination to be indelible5, has been adopted likewise in the church of England; but, from some instances, which have happened during my residence in England, I have reason to think, that it is not 298 so strictly supported and adhered to, as would, perhaps, have been the case, in the beginning of this century.
According to some ecclesiastical canons, no person should receive deacon’s orders before he has attained the age of twenty-two, nor priest’s orders before twenty-four; but I believe this is not always strictly observed. In queen Elizabeth’s time, a deacon could, according to some statutes then made, be put in possession of a living when he was twenty-three years of age; but this was altered in the reign of Charles II. and it was ordered, that no person should be introduced into a living, without having previously obtained priest’s orders. With us, in our protestant churches in Germany, hardly any body is ever ordained, except he be previously called to, or provided with a living. In the English church it is not so, for a person may be ordained, if he only shews to the bishop, from whom he is to receive orders, a certificate from a clergyman possessed of a living, that he will employ the candidate for orders, as his curate or substitute. Sometimes, even such a certificate, as it is said, is dispensed with; but I believe, that this is not frequently done, for the bishop, who ordains a person without such a security, may stand a chance, according to 299 some ancient laws, either to maintain a person thus ordained, if he should be indigent, at his own expence, or provide him with a living.
The highest and last of ordinations is that of a bishop, which does not take place, unless the person to be ordained is previously presented to a bishoprick. Suffragan bishops, or chorepiscopi, are not at present in England. Formerly, when bishops were made high chancellors, or even sent on foreign embassies, it was more necessary for them to have substitutes than now. It is likewise very seldom that an archbishop or bishop is provided with a coadjutor, on account of great age. The old custom, according to which a newly chosen bishop was to pretend great reluctance in accepting a diocese, and to exclaim, nolo episcopari, is now, as a strange farce, for well known reasons, laid aside. There are, however, instances, though very seldom, where the acceptance of a bishoprick has been actually refused; and I believe Dr. Samuel Clarke was the last who did it. Among the present bishops are several who have raised themselves to that dignity by merit, and the excellence of their character; but it is said, that bishopricks are more frequently obtained by the patronage of the great, or by high family connections. Translations from 300 one episcopal see to another are very frequent6, and are occasioned either by death, or deprivation. An instance of the latter kind has not happened, since the time of Dr. Atterbury, the bishop of Rochester. A new bishop, at the time of his ordination, is to make oath that he acknowledges the king for the head of the church, and that he will obey his archbishop. Whether he is to promise as formerly, that he will always reside in his diocese, I do not know; probably it is laid aside, because, as the bishops attend the parliament, it is almost impossible for any of the bench to perform such a promise, except the bishop of London. After the ordination of a bishop, a grand dinner or entertainment used to be given by him, which custom has given rise to that calumny, related by several writers, and particularly by Voltaire as a fact, that Dr. Parker was ordained an archbishop in the Nag’s-head-tavern in Cheapside. It is to be regretted, that such idle tales should be repeated, for diversion’s 301 sake, as truth, when Voltaire knew whilst he wrote it, or at least should have known it, that this absurd story was refuted even by Puritans themselves7. Though a plurality of livings is suffered in the English church, yet I need hardly mention, that no bishop ever holds two bishopricks.
A chapter, with a dean at their head, was instituted with a view to be the bishop’s council, and to assist him with advice in the religious as well as the temporal concerns of his see. But as affairs have greatly altered since, and there seems at present very little occasion for such chapters, it has been proposed, if not totally to abolish them, at least to diminish their revenues, in order to mend the poor church-livings with the deduction. Wholesome as such advice might be, and however patriotic the intention of those who proposed it, yet I think, in the present situation of things, it will hardly be adopted, unless a reformation should take place, in which the clergy find themselves under the necessity of being only passive.
Besides the deans of chapters, there are prebendaries or canons, archdeacons, rural deans, 302 rectors, vicars, and curates. It would be superfluous to speak of these different ecclesiastical characters more amply here, as they are well known, and as there are so many books which treat of these matters very circumstantially8. I shall content myself with a few observations relative to curates. This class of ecclesiastics is entirely unknown in our protestant provinces in Germany, or in Denmark, Sweden, or Prussia. In England they are men who generally have received an education in one of the two universities, and being without a living9, though they have taken orders, are hired by other clergymen to officiate for them, because they have either more preferments, or are, from various reasons, not inclined to do their duty themselves, notwithstanding they are well paid for it. The parishioners see, perhaps, their rector or vicar only once or twice a year, when he comes to collect his revenues; nay, I have heard that in some parishes the pastor never appears any more among his flock, after he has taken for the first time possession of the living. Among the curates are many learned and deserving men, who merited the best 303 preferment, instead of drudging all their lives for the benefit of others who enjoy the fruit of their labours. They are frequently oppressed with cares for the support of a family, because those who hire them to do all their duty, allow only thirty or forty pounds, if even so much, for their annual stipend, out of their sometimes large incomes. This, indeed, is a great grievance a considerable part of the episcopal clergy labours under, and which can by no means promote the dignity of the clerical character, as many of these curates, on account of their small allowance, will degrade themselves to do things which cannot possibly increase their respect among the parishioners, who are entrusted to their care.
In regard to clerical functions, there are two, which in the English church, can only be performed by bishops; and these are the of clergymen, and the confirmation of children. The rest falls to the share of the other clergy; such as preaching, reading prayers, administering the sacrament, baptizing, marrying, visiting the sick, and burying the dead. Marriages, as I have before observed, can at present only be solemnized in parish-churches, and those who want to be married, are either to have the banns published on three 304 successive Sundays, in a parish-church, or they must produce a licence for that purpose, from the bishop’s court, to the clergyman who is to marry them. Funerals are in England generally very expensive; but the pomp with which they are performed, has, in my opinion, hardly any thing that could produce sensations in the minds of those that attend them, suitable to the sight which they have before them. Every thing seems to be done with perfect indifference; and the English, in regard to such a shew, and the expences it requires, are unmindful of the good advice which Pythagoras insinuated, when he spoke against cypress-coffins.
Excommunication, as a sentence pronounced in a spiritual court, was formerly of more consequence than now; yet those who are under it, are, as Blackstone says10, disabled from serving upon juries, from giving evidence in any court, or bringing an action, either real or personal, to recover lands or money due to them. Nay, if the excommunicated person does not submit to the sentence of the spiritual court, within forty days after it is given, he may be imprisoned, till he is reconciled to the church, and such reconciliation certified by 305 the bishop. However, such sentences of excommunication are now very seldom pronounced; and how far the required reconciliation to the church could take place, if a Dissenter were the culprit, I do not very well conceive. Lord George Gordon has been, within these few years, the only one that I remember, who was excommunicated; but he seemed to regard it very little, and I believe that no reconciliation between him and the church is ever to be expected. Indeed, if excommunication were to follow in all those instances, where it is to be inflicted according to the ecclesiastical law, in cases of perjury, heresy, adultery, fornication, and similar transgressions, I am inclined to think, that at least one third of the inhabitants of England, and many who think themselves of consequence in church and state, would labour under the inconveniencies of excommunication.
I shall conclude this article relative to the episcopal church, with a few remarks only. As to the learning and erudition of its clergy, it can boast of many eminent men. However, the Tillotson’s, the Sherlock’s, the Potter’s, the Clarke’s, the Mill’s, the Whitby’s, the Durham’s, the Middleton’s, the Pococke’s, the Jortin’s, the Lowth’s, the Watson’s, begin 306 to be scarce. The number of those who excel in the knowledge of ancient languages is not great; and, perhaps, those who are much skilled in modern languages still less. Theological knowledge, as Dr. Prideaux observes, is not much cultivated. “Young men,” he says, “frequently come to the university, without any knowledge or tincture of religion at all; and have little opportunity of improving themselves therein, whilst undergraduates, because the course of their studies, inclines them to philosophy, and other kinds of learning; and they are usually admitted to the first degree of bachelors of arts, with the same ignorance as to all sacred learning, as when first admitted into the university; and many of them, as soon as they have taken that degree, offering themselves for orders, are too often admitted to be teachers in the church, when they are only fit to be catechumens there11.” I have already mentioned, that the fundamental doctrines of the English church are contained in the Thirty-nine Articles, and whoever is introduced to a living, or accepts of any ecclesiastical preferment in the same, is obliged to subscribe to them, and if he be rector or vicar of a parish, to read them publicly 307 at the time of his induction. Some years ago it was thought, that the episcopal clergy had an intention of revising and altering these articles, and by expunging what savoured too much of Calvin’s doctrine, to admit a greater latitude for Arminianism; but nothing of this kind has hitherto happened. Whether it be true, as I have heard it asserted, that a great and the most learned part of the episcopal clergy, are inclined either to Arminianism or to Socinianism, I am unable to decide. Some of the more conscientious clergymen of the church have, of late years, resigned their livings, and declared themselves publicly to be Anti-trinitarians; but it may be well supposed, that many more, from political and reasons, do not think it adviseable to follow such an example. In this respect they have even bishop Burnet for an advocate, who is of opinion, that every one who subscribes to the Thirty-nine Articles, has a right to interpret their meaning as he thinks proper, and consistently with his private opinions.
There are among the episcopal clergy many worthy, learned, and exemplary men, but I fear, that there is too great a number of an opposite character, and who contribute very little to keep up the dignity of their order. A 308 living author, whom I have before quoted, and who was himself bred in one of the English universities, says very pointedly, “The public have long remarked with indignation, that some of the most distinguished coxcombs, drunkards, debauchees, and gamesters, who shine at the watering-places, and in all public places, but pulpits, are young men of the sacerdotal order12”. No dissenting clergyman, whilst I have been in England, was ever punished with death as a criminal; but more than one of the established church have suffered on the gallows. The greediness with which some of them are in pursuit of many livings, or church-preferments; the severe manner in which others collect and exact their tithes, besides many other glaring blemishes, are exposed publicly in satirical prints, in writings, and on the stage, but, as it seems, to little purpose. The great want of subsistence and poverty of some, contrasted with the prodigality and affluence of others, contribute too much to the lessening of the esteem of the clergy among the people. Many, if I may so express it, are burthened with preferment and income, whilst others, sometimes deserving men, are almost starving 309 with their families, for want of the necessaries of life. The trade which is carried on with livings and advowsons, and the advertisements in the public papers relative to it, are things which a protestant foreigner, when he comes over to England, can at first hardly credit. Whoever possesses, as a layman, the right of disposing of a living, regards it generally either as a part of his revenue, or as a provision for one of his children. The prices of an advowson, or a living, are regulated by the value of the flock, and the income of the shepherd. There are, it is true, proper laws against simony, but I am apprehensive, that they are frequently and easily evaded.
If the selling and buying of ecclesiastical preferments be liable to censure and blame, the plurality of livings, in the hands of one person, is not less, if not more so. Whoever has the most powerful patrons, or the most numerous friends, or who can spend the most money, may be sure of having the best preferments; when, in the mean time, the deserving, the learned ecclesiastic, for want of patrons, family connexions, or money, may be condemned to pass his whole life as a poor curate, and to lament, that industry, integrity, and knowledge, are not always the means for a man to advance 310 himself in this world, where merit and virtue are often spoken of highly, but still oftener neglected. According to the ecclesiastical laws, a clergyman who has more livings than one, should, within the year, reside on each at least thirteen weeks; but this, I believe, is not much observed. By the same laws, if different livings are in the possession of but one clergyman, they should not be above twenty miles distant from each other; but this likewise is often dispensed with.
1 A meaning has been annexed to the appellation Low-churchman, different from that in which I take it here. It has been sometimes applied to those who contended, that the difference between the Episcopal and other Protestant churches, was of no great moment, for which reason some strict high-churchmen did not hesitate to reckon them among the Latitudinarians. It is to be hoped, however, that there are, in these enlightened times, but few, if any, among the clergy of the established church, who mould seriously maintain the old exploded doctrine: extra ecclesiam, meaning their own, nulla datur salus.
3 An account of the ecclesiastical courts in England is given in the German original, but as many English books treat of them very amply, it is not translated.
4 The bishops of London have had seats as commissioners of the board of trade, the income of which was put down in the Court Calendar at 1000l. per annum.
5 Si quis dixerit, eum, qui sacerdos semel fuit, laicum rursus fieri posse; Anathema sit. Concil. Trident. Suff. xxiii. c. 4. Canon iv.
6 The worthy bishop of Landaff, Dr. Watson, in his well-known Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, proposed several years ago to render the incomes of bishopricks more equal to each other, that the frequency of translations from one see to another might be prevented. He gives the best reasons why his advice should be adopted; but hitherto nothing has been done.
7 Neal’s History of the Puritans, vol. i. p. 142.
8 Among many others I may refer the reader to Blackstone’s Commentaries, book I. chap. xi. vol. i. p. 376.
9 Some few perhaps may have small livings.
10 Commentaries, vol. iii. p. 102.
11 Life of Dr. Prideaux. London, 1748. p. 91.
12 Knox’s Essays, vol. i. Essay xvii. p. 90.
When, by means of the Reformation, Popery was abolished in the kingdom, this church was to stand in its place
[For a given definition of “by means of”, anyway. Henry VIII was not theologically a protestant; in fact he once published a pamphlet critical of Luther. But the Reformation movement enabled him to do something that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier: break away from Rome, if only to suit his personal convenience.]
it is nevertheless neglected
text has neverthess
any dispute which may arise between neighbouring parishes
text has neigbouring
the income and the tithes of all ecclesiastical benefices and livings
text has bene-/nefices at line break
I shall content myself with a few observations relative to curates.
[Short version: The curate does the work; the vicar gets the money.]
these are the ordination of clergymen
text has ordina-/nation at line break
Lord George Gordon has been, within these few years, the only one that I remember, who was excommunicated
[Not—alas!—to be confused with George Gordon Byron, who was born in 1788. Here we are dealing with George Gordon (1751–1793), youngest son of the Duke of Gordon, hence “Lord George”.]
I believe that no reconciliation between him and the church is ever to be expected
[No, probably not; after his 1786 excommunication, Lord George Gordon converted to Judaism. Just a few years earlier, he had been instrumental in inciting the anti-Catholic riots of 1780 (see page 454 in this volume). Complicated man.]
from political and financical reasons
[The Dublin edition spells it the same way.]
the ecclesiastical laws . . . not much observed.
[The Clergy Residence Act took effect in 1803—at least on paper. The Archbishop of York didn’t get around to enforcing it until 1808; the Archbishop of Canterbury took still longer.]
[Footnote] Page 89.
[Eloquence was discussed near the end of the long section “On the State of Learning in General” in the first half of Volume Two.]
THIS sect, considering its origin, is an excrescence out of the church of England, which is the reason why I introduce it here immediately. Whitefield and Wesley, its founders, were both members of the university of Oxford, and both received an episcopal ordination. Besides, many esteemed men among the Methodists, such as a Romaine, a Madan, a Rowland Hill, and others, are of the episcopal church.
Mr. John Wesley has published, on half a sheet of paper, A Short History of Methodism1, which, indeed, is but a very imperfect sketch. He says, “that in November 1729, he himself and his brother Charles, with two other students at Oxford, began to spend some evenings in a week together, in reading chiefly the Greek Testament. In the next year, they were joined by about four other students, and in 1732 by about six or seven more. The late Mr. Whitefield was permitted to meet 312 with them in 1735. The exact regularity of their lives, as well as their studies, occasioned a young gentleman of Christ-church to say, Here is a new sect of Methodists sprung up; alluding to some ancient physicians who were so called. The name was new and quaint, so it took immediately, and the Methodists were known all over the university. They were all zealous members of the church of England, not only of her doctrines, but of her discipline. They were likewise zealous observers of all the university-statutes, because they conceived it was bound upon them by the Bible, it being their own desire and design to be downright Bible Christians. They were charged with being righteous overmuch, and abundantly too scrupulous. In October, 1735, Mr. Wesley, accompanied by his brother, and Mr. Ingham, left England, with a design to go and to preach to the Indians in Georgia. But the rest of the gentlemen continued to meet, till one and another was ordained, and left the university. By which means, in about two years time, scarcely any of them were left. In February, 1738, Mr. Whitefield went over to Georgia, with a design to assist Mr. John Wesley; but Mr. Wesley just then returned to England. 313 Soon after he had a meeting with Mess. Ingham, Stonhouse, Hall, Hutchings, Kinching, and a few other clergymen, who all resolved to be Bible-Christians at all events, and, wherever they were, to preach with all their might, plain, old, Bible-Christianity. They began to be convinced, that men are saved by grace through faith, and this salvation by faith became their standing topic. In a short time, they became popular preachers, the congregations were large, wherever they preached, and the gentlemen, with their followers, were intitled Methodists. Mr. Whitefield being returned, in March 1741, to England, entirely separated from Mr. Wesley and his friends, because he did not hold the decrees. Here was the first breach, which warm men persuaded Mr. Whitefield to make, merely for a difference of opinion. There were now two sorts of Methodists, so called; those for particular, and those for general redemption. Not many years passed, before William Cudworth and James Relly separated from Mr. Whitefield. They were properly Antinomians, absolute, avowed enemies to the law of God, which they never preached, or professed to preach, but termed all Legalists who did. Yet these were still denominated Methodists, 314 also differing from Mr. Whitefield, both in judgment and practice, abundantly more than Mr. Whitefield did from Mr. Wesley. In the mean time, Mr. Venn and Mr. Romaine began to be spoken of, and not long after Mr. Madan and Mr. Berridge, with a few other clergyman, who, although they had no connexion with each other, but as Bible-Christians, were soon included in the general name of Methodists. In 1762, George Bell, and a few other persons, began to speak great words. In the latter end of the year, they foretold, that the world would be at an end on the 28th of February. Mr. Wesley, with whom they were then connected, withstood them both in public and private. This they would not endure; so, in January and February 1763, they separated from him, under the care of Mr. Maxfield, one of Mr. Wesley’s preachers. But still Mr. Maxfield, and his adherents, even the wildest enthusiasts among them, go under the general name of Methodists. At present, those who remain with Mr. Wesley are mostly church of England men. They love her articles, her homilies, her liturgy, her discipline, and unwillingly vary from it in any instance.” This is the substance of Mr. 315 account of Methodism, which I have given in his own words. What a true church of England man thinks of them, may be guessed from the character which the late bishop of Bristol, Dr. Newton, has drawn of them, in his works, published after his death. “Every tabernacle of Methodists,” he says, “is in truth a school and seminary for papists; and the teachers, whether they know it or not, are agents and factors for popery: and they seem to be possessed of the same spirit, as they aspire to the same dominion and lordship over God’s heritage; affect the same powers, privileges, and prerogatives; excel in the same arts of sophistry and evasion, equivocation and mental reservation; make the same merchandise of the word of God, usurp the same authority over the purses and conferences of their disciples, drain the few rich and wealthy of their substance, wring even from the hard hands of the poor labourers and servants their small pittance, and by all means make their religion their gain, or it would be no religion for them.” I confess, that this picture appears to me much over-charged, and rather to prove what some have accused the bishop with, that he was a weak and bigotted man. A foreign gentleman, 316 when he visited England on his travels, asked a Presbyterian clergyman, what sort of people the Methodists were, and he gave for answer, “They are a kind of madmen, who talk a great deal of justification by faith, speak of a perfection of sanctity and holiness to which a poor mortal, in this world, may arrive, and arrogate to themselves a kind of spiritual and ecclesiastical authority.” There is some truth in this answer, and he might have added, that some of them are rank enthusiasts.
The Methodists cannot be called a sect by itself, in the strictest sense of the word; for they are, if I may use the expression, incorporated into almost all other sects in England, the Quakers excepted. Mr. Wesley will by no means allow, that a Methodist is distinguishable by his doctrines, when he says, “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point2.” On the contrary, he gives the following description of a Methodist, when he asks, “What is a Methodist 317 according to your own account?” I answer, “A Methodist is one, who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto him3.” As I freely own, that this description is unintelligible to me, I forbear to make any remarks upon it; but I cannot help observing, that Mr. Wesley, in saying, that a Methodist is not to be distinguished by his opinions, seems to have forgotten, that he himself, in his short account of Methodism, which I have before mentioned, enumerates different sorts of Methodists, distinguishable by their opinions, some of whom he calls Universalists, others Particularists, some Antinomians, and others False Prophets. Mr. Wesley styles himself an Arminian, and has published what he calls “The Arminian Magazine;” though some, who are acquainted with the history of Arminianism, might have good reason to think, that he was not well informed of the tenets of that sect, by his having intimated in his Magazine, as well as in another small publication4, that the doctrine of Calvin differed from that of Arminius, only because the former asserted absolute 318 predestination, and the latter conditional.
At first, the doctrine of the founders of Methodism, was exactly that of the church of England, and even in the old style, strictly orthodox; but it soon became tainted with fanaticism, which appeared both in their sermons and their writings. Whoever will attend sermons in their tabernacles, or peruse Mr. Whitefield’s Journal and several of Mr. Wesley’s publications, will soon be convinced of this. A brief Narrative of the Revival of Religion in Virginia, in a Letter to a Friend5, is now before me, in which almost every page abounds with proofs of the most glaring enthusiasm, which sound reason never will call the revival of religion. I shall, however, transcribe only part of a letter, in the 17th page, which is signed Thomas Saunders, where he says, “It is common with us, for men and women, to fall down as dead under an exhortation; but many more under prayer; perhaps, twenty at a time. And some that have not fallen to the earth, have shewn the same distress, wringing their hands, smiting their breasts, and begging all to pray for them. With these the work is generally quick, some getting through in less than a week, some in two or three days, some in one, 319 two, or three hours. Nay, we have an instance of one that was so indifferent, as to leave her brethren at prayers and go to bed. But all at once screamed out, under a sense of her lost estate, and in less than fifteen minutes rejoiced in God her Saviour.” If this may not be called frantic enthusiasm, I do not know what deserves that name. There is likewise a class of Methodists in Wales called Jumpers, who, at the time of divine worship, have a custom to make loud groans, and to bawl out, “Glory to God!” leaping up and down in all manner of postures.
I have attended many times divine service in methodistical tabernacles, or meeting-houses, and I have listened to the harangues of those who preached in fields. As they are generally delivered without previous meditation and preparation, it may easily be guessed, that, as such sermons frequently last an hour, or sometimes longer, much confusion, prolixity, repetition, and nonsense, must be met with in them, particularly if the preacher, as is too often the case, happens to be an illiterate man. Much and very various matter, is in haste collected from all quarters;
Unus et alter
Some dogmatical tenets, some moral doctrines, some violent invectives against the manners of the times, some ludicrous and some marvellous stories, are kneaded together, not in the most elegant language, and thus laid, as bread of life, before the needy souls that attend. Among the favourite topics with which their discourses are filled from the beginning to the end, are the doctrines of original sin, of justification, and what they call the lost and undone state of man by nature, and the eternal damnation of those who are not of the elect, or of unrepenting sinners. When they treat of human nature, they blacken poor mortal man to such a degree, and describe him as such a monster of innate wickedness and depraved disposition, that a well-meaning man might ask, How it was possible that God could create such a race of miscreants? They degrade all human virtue, which, as they call it, is not the offspring of faith, so much, that a prudent person, when he finds himself in a crowd, whilst they preach, will take care of his pockets. But the greatest eloquence they display, when they speak of the punishment of sin and eternal damnation; when they bring, with great vociferation and gesticulation, the devil and hell nearer in sight of their audiences. Often have I heard them, 321 with great emotion, address their hearers with that emphatic phrase, “You will be damned;” and it is singular, that the people should like those preachers best, who frequently, in an angry tone, announce everlasting damnation, and shew them hell-fire at no great distance, as if those could be called virtuous and praise-worthy people, who abstain from openly criminal actions, in consequence of being frightened from committing them by the sight of the gallows and of punishment. Whitefield, however, as one of the founders of the sect, was more addicted to this way of preaching than John Wesley, who, to his credit, endeavours more to persuade his hearers to be good, than to frighten them from doing evil.
Mr. Whitefield had a particular talent for preaching charity-sermons, and used to call himself, “The Lord’s pick-pocket.” Indeed, the collections which he has made, and the contributions he raised from his audiences, must have been very considerable, for had they not been such, he never would have been able to erect so many edifices of various kinds as he has done, or live and travel in the manner that he did. When he died in 1770, in America, leaving no family behind, he left by his will, 322 all that belonged to him, some legacies excepted, in the hands of two trustees, and he who survives, is to have the whole, the value of which is not known. Many wondered, why Mr. Whitefield made such a will; but it seems that he has not failed in what were supposed his intentions, for every thing relating to his sect is kept up, as if he were still alive; nay, perhaps, better. The money-collections are carried on as before, and what he wanted for his own support, which I presume was not inconsiderable, goes now to the fund, by which the buildings and the preachers are supported. I have even heard, that the latter are at present better paid than in Whitefield’s time, who used to allow them but a small pittance. The antipathy, which subsisted formerly between the followers of Mr. Whitefield and those of Mr. Wesley, continues still, and neither of the parties seem much inclined to be nearly connected.
It is the custom among the Methodists, to interrupt their preacher during the sermons, with saying loudly, Amen, when they think that something affecting or striking has issued from the lips of the person that occupies the pulpit. Whitefield was particularly fond of 323 this kind of applause; and a number of women receiving weekly alms, attend at the time of worship, where they are generally the foremost in sighing this Amen. I have not been able to learn, whether the Stichomantia, or the consulting of the Bible, by opening it at random, and fixing the eye upon any verse that comes first in sight, to learn before hand the success of an undertaking, is still, as it was formerly, in use among the Methodists. Time, which produces alterations in all human things, does the same in superstitious customs; and, perhaps, this kind of oracular answers may be now in disuse. Whitefield was a great friend to the casting of the lot. Even in disputes, about speculative and theological points, when the parties as usual, could not agree, he used the lot as a means of arbitration, and would not permit any appeal from such a decision. This, indeed, is, in my opinion, the best and the easiest way to preserve unanimity; and I think it might not be amiss, in order to avoid unedifying controversy, and uncharitable disputes, to adopt sometimes this method of deciding doubtful matters, which cannot be settled with any certainty. For as such opinions have no connexion with truth, and do not promote human 324 happiness, reason, properly speaking, has nothing to do with them, and whoever attempts to apply it in such instances, may address himself in the words of Terence:
. . . . . Nihilo plus agas
Quam si des operam ut cum ratione insanias.
It is a pity that Mr. Whitefield did not, by this good method, decide his disputes with Mr. Wesley, who, however, shewed great moderation, and bestowed many encomiums upon Mr. Whitefield, when, at his death, he preached his funeral sermon, which is printed.
There is more order and regulation among that party of Methodists which is on Mr. Wesley’s side, than among those of Whitefield. The former keeps his great flock, which is dispersed over all England, under close inspection. In the principal towns, those who are of his sect are divided into societies, and these again into classes, which regularly meet every week more than once. They communicate to each other freely and plainly, as they call it, their spiritual affairs, and the true state of their souls. They send an account of the result of these meetings to their spiritual guide in the place where they live, who transmits afterwards their confessions to the chief society in London, where Mr. Wesley, if he be present, generally himself reads the dispatches 325 which are received, without spectacles, though, at present, very near ninety years of age, being a myops. These classes, which hardly ever exceed twelve in number, receive likewise the charitable donations, which by their leader, as he is called, are transmitted weekly to Mr. Wesley’s steward in London. The two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, published, so long ago as the year 1743, a small pamphlet, intitled, “The Nature, Design, and general Rules of the United Societies in London, Bristol, Kingswood, Newcastle upon Tyne, &c.” which contains very curious questions, to be proposed in these meetings.
From this it may be supposed, that the Wesleyan Methodists have introduced a rather severe discipline among themselves; and, indeed, Mr. Wesley keeps his missionaries or preachers, as well as their flocks, in very great order and subordination. All the chapels or preaching-houses in the country are connected with the grand tabernacle or chapel, in London, and are from thence provided with missionaries or preachers, who are obliged to transmit to London, from time to time, proper accounts of the state of their flocks, and the revenues of their preaching-houses or chapels. They receive their salaries not from their congregations, but 326 from the society in London. Mr. Wesley changes his missionaries in the country frequently, for fear, as it is said, that they should become too much beloved among their flocks, and make themselves independent of him.
The number of Methodists in England increases, and it was said some years ago, that they amounted to near eighty thousand. They are not only numerous in the church of England, but among the Dissenters also. That party which is connected with Mr. Wesley, and adopts the doctrine of universal redemption, is the strongest. The Whitefieldites have all those among the Dissenters who adopt Calvin’s doctrine, and favour at the same time Methodism, on their side. Mr. Wesley and his followers maintain that strange doctrine of moral perfection, to which man, according to their opinion, may arrive in this life, much stronger than the Whitefieldites; but the imperfections, even of the great leaders of the sect themselves, have been so visible, as to make it quite unnecessary to refute an assertion which is contradicted by all experience, and is inconsistent with human nature.
Whether it be true, that both Mr. Whitefield and afterwards Mr. Wesley had an eye upon the American colonies, before they acquired 327 independence, to establish there bishopricks, and become themselves, under the authority of the British government, the first bishops, it is not in my power to determine. It was said, that when Mr. Whitefield went over to America in 1769, that he was supported by some bishops in England, and sent thither, as a popular clergyman to the Americans, to feel their pulse, in regard to an episcopal establishment; but dying there soon after, the matter is said to have dropped, and the design, if there was any, cannot be ascertained by the event. Mr. Wesley, during the late American war, shewed himself a strenuous advocate for the measures of the then ministry, and defended the measures which were adopted against the colonies in more than one small pamphlet. Nay, he went so far as to assume a prophetical character, and predicted the subjugation of the colonies; but the event has proved, that he is not endowed with the gift of prophecy. On account of his great forwardness in encouraging the subjugation of the colonies, it was alleged against him by his antagonists, that he aimed at a bishoprick, to be erected among the Americans after they had been subdued. This charge, however, cannot be proved; but I believe, that religious liberty would have been 328 in distress in America, if Mr. Wesley had obtained there a power in ecclesiastical affairs; for I confess, that I have no great confidence in the spirit of toleration among the Methodists.
What may be the fate of Methodism, it is not in my power, nor in that of any body else, to foretel. This, however, I believe, that after Mr. Wesley’s death, the distinction between Whitefieldites and Wesleyans will gradually drop, and the sect of Methodists will not only continue, but even increase as long as there are people, who, in their way of worship, require something austere and which affects the senses; whilst, at the same time, they have a propensity towards enthusiasm. People of this stamp will never be wanting, particularly among the English; and the Methodists will grow more numerous if the carelessness and indifference, so visible among the episcopal clergy, instead of lessening, should rather increase.
I shall conclude this article, with mentioning a school, established, as I suppose, by Mr. Wesley, and his late brother, in Kingswood, near Bristol, for the education of youth. I have read an account of it6, by which it appears, 329 in many respects, to be well calculated for the purpose, though three masters only can hardly be a sufficient number to give lessons in so many different things, to eight classes of boys, from very early in the morning till evening. The method which is proposed, at the end of this short account of the school, to those who design to go, within four years, through a course of academical learning, is rather singular; and in the collection of books which are recommended to be read by the young scholar, several should be left out and the rest be better arranged. Though not a word of an able instructor, or tutor, is mentioned to assist the young student, the account concludes very emphatically with these words, “Whoever carefully goes through this course, will be a better scholar than nine in ten of the graduates at Oxford or Cambridge.” This may possibly be true. Lady Huntingdon, the great patroness of the late Mr. Whitefield, has instituted in London an academy for preparing young men as methodistical preachers; but, it is said, that it is not attended with any great success.
1 London, 1774, 8vo.
2 The character of a Methodist, by John Wesley, 3d edit. It is but half a sheet.
4 The Question: What is an Arminian? answered, by Lover of Free Grace. Bristol. 1770. Only half a sheet.
5 London, 1779, 4th edit.
6 A Short Account of the School in Kingswood, near Bristol. Bristol, 1768.
This sect . . . is an excrescence out of the church of England
[Harsh words. But I think he just means, etymologically, “outgrowth”. In the US you sometimes come across churches identifying themselves as “Methodist Episcopal”.]
Mr. John Wesley has published, on half a sheet of paper
[The footnote says “8vo”. That would mean the entire work is just eight smallish pages, not the sixteen of a full octavo quire. The passage Wendeborn quotes runs a bit over three pages—also octavo, though that could mean anything. (Compare the Dublin edition of A View of England, which has a much lower page count although it is printed in duodecimo.) The next few footnotes make it plain that a half-sheet, octavo, was John Wesley’s favorite size.]
they foretold, that the world would be at an end on the 28th of February
[i.e. 1763. Can’t help but notice that the world is still here.]
This is the substance of Mr. Wesley’s account of Methodism
text has Westley’s
[The catchword spells it correctly, as does the Dublin edition.]
part of a letter, in the 17th page
[I take it back. Wesley did not publish exclusively in half-sheet octavo.]
he who survives, is to have the whole, the value of which is not known
[Mr. Whitefield independently invents the tontine.]
[Footnote] by a Lover of Free Grace.
text has by a / a Lover at line break
BEFORE I proceed to speak particularly of the Dissenters, it will be proper, to make some previous observations concerning the state of religious toleration in England.
After the Reformation, which took place under Henry VIII. and under queen Elizabeth, it was appointed by law that one church only, that which the government acknowledged, should be tolerated in the kingdom. By subsequent acts of parliament kings themselves were prescribed what religion to profess. All other sects were excluded, and that alone which was appointed by law, with its highly privileged clergy, was acknowledged as the established church1. Against those who did not profess the established religion were very harsh laws 331 enacted, by no means consonant with the doctrines of the founder of Christianity2.
It must be acknowledged by every one who has even but a moderate acquaintance with history, that the establishment of a predominant church, has frequently given rise to the greatest animosities in a country; and has been highly prejudicial to the peace and welfare of its inhabitants. To be convinced of this, let any one compare those nations where a general religious toleration, without restrictions, is allowed, with those where it is denied. It is possible, that at first the requisition of a strict uniformity in religious opinions was made to prevent contentions and quarrels; but whoever has any knowledge of the human heart, whoever is convinced of the right every man has to think for himself, though there are many who renounce it, whoever has remarked the impression which a superstitious education makes upon mankind, how it weakens the understanding, fosters holy pride and pious hatred; whoever attends to the great abuse, which many of those who call themselves ministers 332 of the true church frequently make of exclusive privileges which the law confers upon them, will readily acknowledge, that it would be much better for the community, if every man were permitted, without interruption, to serve God to the best of his knowledge. The love of virtue, rectitude, and justice, should be made the grand foundation of religion, excluding every thing that relates to mere opinion; and those alone should be deemed heretics, worthy of excommunication, who, by persisting, without any hopes of amendment, in those vices which invade the rights of society, disturb the public welfare, which cannot exist without that virtue, which both reason and inward feelings will prescribe.
That education which nature dictates, is simple and innocent; when, on the contrary, that which may be called artificial, is frequently the cause why false notions, which take their rise from assumed authorities, self-interest, folly, and other pernicious sources, are received as truths, and propagated as such with and warmth, and too often forced upon others by the most oppressive measures. As dogs and bears may be taught to dance, and game cocks be disciplined to the fight, thus 333 may the human species be trained up by education in such a manner, that they shall, according to the doctrines proposed and impressed upon them in their infancy, knit their brows, place their bodies in certain attitudes, grin contempt upon those of different sentiments, threaten with their fists, and put their threats into execution! Neither the benevolent Father of mankind, nor the nature he has given us, but perverse education alone, and pernicious habits, instigate men to the subversion of all peace and happiness, to oppose their antagonists in speculative opinions, not only by speech or by the pen, but by offensive weapons, even with fire and sword! It is, therefore, the first and principal indication of a wise legislature, to take care that those whose heads and hearts are spoiled by education, should be taught the doctrines of moderation and of mutual indulgence; that the warm and the choleric, who are so apt to foam at the merest trifles, should be kept at a secure distance from each other, or be separated by a superior force as often as they grapple together, to prevent their fury from becoming contagious, and to preserve public tranquillity; and finally, that the principles of mutual benevolence, and of mutual 334 toleration, be inculcated upon the mind, from the earliest youth.
Immediately after the Reformation, religious toleration was, as I have before observed, in a very imperfect state. An ancient ecclesiastical law, De Hæretico comburendo, was still in force, without even a suspicion being entertained that such a law was inhuman and impious, and without specifying what was to be understood by heresy, or who could be declared guilty of the charge. Henry VIII. declared opposition to the papal chair to be innocent, and at the same time enacted, through the medium of a servile parliament, that the doctrine of transubstantiation, communion by one element alone, the celibacy of the clergy, monastic vows, the mass, and auricular confession, should be retained as articles of faith. Those who denied transubstantiation were to be burnt for heretics; but whoever did not believe the five other articles, should simply be hanged as a felon. How humane and Christian-like this!
The glorious times of queen Elizabeth deserve no praise respecting religious toleration. The laws I have mentioned concerning the burning of heretics, which excited such horror 335 in the preceding reign of queen Mary, continued in force. Two unfortunate Baptists were condemned to death, and fell victims to blind and impious zeal. Queen Elizabeth made several other regulations which were not very consonant with the spirit of Christianity. It was, for instance, enacted, that every one who should speak or write disrespectfully of the ceremonies of the established church, particularly of the Common-prayer, should, for the first offence be imprisoned twelve months; and for the second, he should be sentenced to perpetual imprisonment.
Though some apology might be made for these punishments, on account of the bold and violent attacks made by the clergy at Geneva, and that of the Roman catholic persuasion, upon the new form introduced into the English church, yet at the bar of humanity, and of unbiassed reason, such laws will appear too severe. But this is generally the case when the party injured becomes an umpire in its own cause.
Under the wretched administration of James I. the law De Heretico comburendo, still remained in force. Two unfortunate men, who were called Arians, suffered death for their opinions in the ninth year of his reign. This offering 336 was thought due to the benevolent Creator of mankind, whose honour was supposed to be endangered by the opinions of men. And since this merciful Being did not treat such persons in the light of offenders, or visit them with judgments, those who called themselves professors of the orthodox faith, laid their hands upon their brethren, and slew them; by which they fully evinced, that they thought themselves better acquainted with the execution of vindictive justice than the God of heaven and earth!
In the licentious days of Charles II. the Habeas Corpus act was made, which secured the English from all arbitrary imprisonment; and by another act, which wrested the power of punishing heretics out of the secular arm, and consigned the supposed offender to church-censure, they were relieved from the horrors of religious persecution. But still several ancient laws of an oppressive nature continued unrepealed. A law still exists, which subjects to perpetual imprisonment, any one who should deny, or openly oppose, the doctrine of the Trinity. This law is not yet repealed, though it is never enforced. There is no nation in Christendom where Anti-trinitarians and Socinians abound more than in England. They teach, and publish their opinions in the most 337 open manner, without molestation, as will more particularly appear hereafter: yet this freedom wears the aspect of mere connivance, and even the present century has furnished some examples where the secular power has been employed against those who had opposed the doctrines of the established church. Among other instances, Woolston died in the year 1737 in the King’s-Bench prison, where he was committed on account of his treatise against the miracles, and also subjected to a fine of an hundred pounds. It is not thirty years since one Peter Annet was punished for a miserable attack on revealed religion. In the present day, authors of this class are free from molestation.
As many towards the close of the last century rather abused the liberty that was restored to them under king William, and propagated principles which were deemed to threaten the subversion of virtue and morality, an act was passed in parliament to check this apprehended evil3, by which it was ordained, that whoever had been brought up in the Christian religion, and had made a public profession of the same, and afterwards openly attacked the 338 Bible, whether in print, or in conversation, for the first offence should, upon conviction, be declared incapable of holding any public-office; for the second offence, he should be deprived of the privilege of pleading his cause in a court of judicature, of purchasing lands, and of becoming a guardian: he was, moreover, sentenced to suffer three years imprisonment. The following restriction was, however, subjoined; if the offender became convinced of his error, and made an open recantation of it, in some court of judicature, he should be declared exempted from all the above punishments.
The present age is certainly the most happy and the most favourable to the cause of humanity. In the year 1779, some of the most severe laws, which had been enacted against the Dissenters, were repealed. Before this period, the dissenting clergy were required by law, to subscribe all the articles of the established church, those concerning church-government and baptism only excepted, before they were qualified for teaching; but now they are free from any obligation to do this, and are simply required to make a general declaration to the following purpose, “I receive the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as containing 339 a revelation of the mind and will of God, and I receive it as the rule of my faith and practice.” Though this declaration is so general, yet some of the dissenting clergy are not satisfied with it, conceiving, that making even such a declaration is an acknowledgment of the right of the civil magistrate to interfere in matters of religion, which they contend is no part of his province. But the generality were of opinion, that, as the declaration contained nothing but what they all believed, such a submission to the power of government could not be criminal, and they very justly thought that the act, passed in 1779, was too great an augmentation of religious liberty to be refused; though they were likewise of opinion that religion was not the province of the civil magistrate.
The Dissenters were formerly, under a very severe penalty, to register all their places for the instruction of youth; nor was any one permitted to keep a school without taking out a licence; this, with many other harsh and unreasonable laws, is now repealed. They are, however, excluded from all offices under government, though they may sit as members, either of the house of peers, or the house of commons. By the test act, which was passed in 1672, it was 340 enacted, that all persons who were admitted into any office under the crown, should publicly receive the sacrament on a Sunday in the episcopal church, and be furnished with a certificate of the same from the clergyman and the churchwardens. Though by this the Catholics were particularly aimed at, yet it was extended to the Dissenters also. Before this act another had been passed in 1661, called the Corporation-act, which is still in force, and by which it was enacted, that no persons should be elected as magistrates or officers in any cities or corporations, who had not received the sacrament according to the rites of the church of England, within one year before such election.
There are sometimes Presbyterians who will not scruple to qualify themselves for offices, but I believe their number is not great. Burdensome, and unprofitable parish-offices, the Dissenters are not only permitted, but even compelled to serve when elected to them. The troublesome duty of a church-warden falls upon every parishioner in rotation, who is obliged to serve two years, under a penalty of fifteen pounds, payable to the parish. Many prefer paying this fine. I know, however, an instance, in which a Jew was elected to the office 341 of church-warden, in the parish in which he was a house-keeper, merely for the purpose of drawing the fine from him; but he deceived the electors by accepting of this new employment, and with his Christian brother-church-warden, attended regularly the duties of his office.
In reality, the established clergy possess every thing which they can reasonably desire. England, as I have already observed, is divided into a certain number of dioceses, and each diocese is again subdivided into its respective parishes. The lands of the Dissenters are indispensably subjected to pay the tithes to the established clergy, and every house in the parish, whether it be inhabited by Presbyterian, Quaker, or Jew, must pay the clergyman’s dues and the church-rates. The dissenting minister himself, resident in the parish, as well as the other Dissenters, must pay his guinea, or any other sum, according as his house is rated, to the parish officers, when they go about to collect the rector’s or the vicar’s dues. Should he refuse, the adage Clericus clericum non decimat will not avail him; a seizure is made of his effects to the amount of the sum; nor are any laws put into execution with greater rigour in England than those which regard the claims 342 of the church, or the crown. It is true, the Dissenters are not compelled, in the present age, as they were in the time of queen Elizabeth, to frequent their parish-church on a Sunday; it is true, that the Dissenters of every denomination have liberty to build places of public worship, in every parish, where they please; but then must pay dearly for it. The meeting-houses of Dissenters, which are built within the precincts of a parish-church, are considered as common buildings, and must pay taxes in the same manner as dwelling or other houses. They are exempted from the window-tax alone; but this is also exacted whenever a bed-chamber belongs to a chapel, or when they are built over warehouses or cellars, which are let out, to temporal uses. That the meeting-houses have neither bells or steeples, I need not mention. The dissenting ministers may baptize, and bury in their own grounds, but they must not marry. This ceremony must be performed in the parish-church, and by the episcopal clergy alone. As the clergyman of the parish will generally refuse to register in the church-books, the children that are not baptised according to the rites of his church, though certificates of baptism are frequently demanded in cases of inheritance, and 343 sometimes to be produced by the poor who seek to be assisted or supported by the parish in which they west born; the residentiary librarian of the public library in Redcross-street, belonging to the Dissenters, keeps a register of births and baptisms, where every parent may have the name of his child inserted, on paying six pence to the librarian. It was with difficulty that the Dissenters obtained an act of parliament, by which a certificate produced from the above register, should be as valid in law, as those given by the parochial clergy.
Whoever imagines that reformation, or religious liberty, can proceed either from the head or the heart of the majority of the ruling church, believes what every fact upon record in church-history has uniformly contradicted. All assemblies of divines of opposite parties, in order to bring about a reconciliation, and to restore peace and harmony, have not had the effect which was intended. Though I never have been in any part of my life, nor ever shall be, an advocate of despotism, or of religious compulsion, yet I am convinced, that in contests about mere opinions, I speak not either of religion or the principles of morality, the authority of the prince or the magistrate often proves the 344 most effectual means to quench religious animosities, for the maintenance of public tranquillity. The late emperor Joseph has accomplished, in a few years, more in regard to religious toleration than all assemblies or councils of the clergy could have effected, had they sat in holy convocation an hundred years together! Who could have dreamed, twenty years ago, that a spirit of toleration, so honourable to nature and religion, would have been diffused in so short of space, over all those countries, to which these regulations extended! Where is religious tolerance and mutual forbearance, protected by the wisdom of the king, so generally diffused as in the Prussian dominions4? In what country of Europe, comparatively speaking, is a greater number of learned and moderate divines to be found, than in the realms of this great monarch? In his dominions no one church is exclusively the predominant one; and, consequently, toleration cannot, properly speaking, be said to extend itself to any one in particular. No one church considers it as an instance of condescension, and of meritorious forbearance, to live in amity with another, 345 as is the case in England, and in many other countries. In fact, a toleration which restrains a more potent sect from persecuting, enfeebling, and oppressing a weaker, ought not to exist and to have a name among Christians. The spirit of their religion should be, according to the intention of its founder, reciprocal love and charity. Since the first establishment of Christianity, a fairer opportunity has not presented itself, for the complete introduction of religious liberty, and for solving the question, Whether government cannot subsist without granting exclusive privileges to any church in particular? than that which the liberated states of America now enjoy. Time will shew, whether they make the proper use of this opportunity, and what will, in the process of years, be the result.
In the mean while, since, in the present state of things, as so many sects are existing, toleration may be considered in the light of a necessary evil, by which greater evils are prevented, it must be confessed, that the toleration enjoyed in England, is preferable to that of any other country, the American states excepted, as it is more general, and, whilst it comprehends every sect, stands upon a surer basis, and 346 therefore cannot be endangered or disturbed by chicanery, or abolished by despotism. Though there be an appearance as if the episcopal church knew of no Dissenters in its parishes, and that the creed, in regard to the parochial taxes and tithes, must be absolutely adopted by every parishioner without any distinction; yet, thank heaven, there is no compulsion, in any other article, and conformity is not forcibly exacted, except in that which respects the pecuniary claims of the church. Every one may think, speak, and write, as he pleases. The act of toleration protects each religious community and place of public worship. Every sect may, in the most open manner, and without fear of molestation, worship God according to its own rites; under no other restriction than that the worship must be in public with open doors; and that free admission must be given to every one who conducts himself with decency. Every congregation of sectaries may build a place of worship, when and where they please, or hire a room for such a purpose, which is to be licensed at the quarter-sessions, which licence the magistrates may be compelled to grant. By such regulations, peace and harmony are preserved, and every species of persecution 347 suppressed. Each sect publish their sentiments with freedom, and in their own way, and without alarming others. The zeal to propagate opinions decreases daily, and no body stares at another with astonishment, because he thinks differently from himself. Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, Sabbatarians, Socinians, Arminians, Deists, Quakers, Jews; in short, every denomination follow their respective occupations near and with each other. They live together as neighbours, shake hands as friends, conclude commercial bargains, without the least concern about each religious sentiments, without harbouring a thought, that the man who does not frequent the episcopal church, may not be as good a member of society, and as upright, as he who uses the Common-Prayer, and repeats the Athanasian Creed after a man in a white surplice. All sects meet at the Exchange, and at places of public diversion. In each place the influence of toleration is very conspicuous. The theatre in particular is a public evidence of a patient and of a tolerant spirit. Comus points his wit at the follies of each sect indiscriminately; and laughter-loving Satire smiles with impunity at peculiarities of the episcopal clergy, as well 348 as at those of the Puritan, Methodist, Baptist, or any other sectary. Men of every persuasion enjoy the joke alike, and join in the good-natured laugh, except those who are satirized and must say to themselves, de te fabula narratur.
1 This privilege extends so far that the parochial churches alone bear the name of Church throughout England. The other religious buildings are called Meeting-houses, Chapels, Preaching-houses, &c.
2 The laws that were made against the Dissenters from time to time, and the indulgences afterwards allowed them, may be found in Burn’s Ecclesiastical Law, vol. i. article Dissenters.
3 It was made in the 9th year of king William’s reign and entitled, An Act for the more effectual suppressing of blasphemy and profaneness.
4 This was written when Frederic the Great was still alive. The times have since greatly altered, and things wear a different aspect at present.
and propagated as such with earnestness and warmth
text has earnest-/nestness at line break
The late emperor Joseph . . . . in the Prussian dominions
[You can either have an emperor named Joseph, or you can be in Prussia, but you can’t do both. Prussia was in the middle of a long succession of Fredericks, both simple and compound: Frederick II “the great” died in 1786, to be succeeded by his nephew Frederick William II. (The footnote in the English translation implies that Frederick William was not so great as his uncle.) Meanwhile, Joseph II (1741–1790) was Holy Roman Emperor—or, if you prefer, emperor of Austria-Hungary.]
Time will shew
[In view of 20th-century events, it is a good thing he is no longer talking about Germany, where the paragraph started out.]
Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, Sabbatarians, Socinians, Arminians, Deists, Quakers, Jews
[The implication is that members of the established church would sooner shake hands with a Jew (at the very end of the list) than with a Catholic (not listed at all).]
each others religious sentiments
[It seems as if there ought to be an apostrophe, but the Dublin edition has the same thing.]
UNDER the general denomination of Dissenters is comprehended every religious sect in England, that does not conform to the episcopal church. They were called Nonconformists, as they refused conformity to the established church; but this name, as well as that of Recusants, (which was given them upon their refusing to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles), is commonly changed for the general appellation of Dissenters. They are farther distinguished by the name of Protestant Dissenters, from those who, though they are Nonconformists, are not Protestants, and are yet termed Dissenters by the episcopal church; such as the Roman Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Mahometans. Arians, Arminians, Socinians, Unitarians, Methodists, Deists, do not form themselves into distinct sects; they are fostered in the episcopal church itself as well as among the different classes of sectaries, 350 so that they cannot, strictly speaking, be considered as belonging to the Dissenters.
The number of Dissenters in England is said to diminish. Daniel Neal calculated that in his time there were about 150,000 dissenting families in England; but I believe that at present they hardly amount to 100,000. We may estimate the number of their , in and near London, within the bills of mortality, at not more than perhaps an hundred; and of these the majority are very small, and many are upon the decline. Several dissenting ministers of whom I have enquired what might be the proportion between the Non-conformists of every class and those of the establishment, account them as one to five. Many are the causes of this decline of the dissenting interest, and the following may be considered as some of the principal. It is a fact clearly established by history, that zeal for opinions becomes in course of time more moderate, if its warmth be not kept up by opposition. The posterity of those who have been severely persecuted for sentiments which they most strenuously maintained, will not scruple, after the lapse of three or four generations, when the fury of persecution and of opposition is abated, to exchange the creed 351 of their ancestors, if it be not deeply impressed by education, and enforced as of the utmost moment, for other sentiments which are better calculated to advance their temporal interests. Honours, distinctions, and wealth, have too much influence over frail mortals. Indifference about religion, and licentiousness of manners, prevail more and more; and it is no subject of surprize, that men forsake that sect in which they have been born and educated, and profess sentiments more favourable to honour, promotion, riches, and worldly grandeur. Even parents, who mind only the temporal welfare of their children, will give them an education which prepares them for conformity. In later times several, who left the Dissenters, have been promoted to the dignity of bishops and archbishops; and some who have renounced the principles of Puritanism, have enjoyed the most honourable and lucrative posts in the state. This must, doubtless, make a deep impression upon the mind, and encourage imitation. Besides, the Dissenters in general, and many of their clergy in particular, have thrown off much of that stiffness and zeal which distinguished their ancestors. They begin to imitate the general manners, and to conform to 352 the prevailing sentiments of the present age; which is likewise a very potent cause of their decline. Other causes will be occasionally assigned, when I treat of particular sects among them.
It must not be expected of me to trace the origin, and write a regular history of the Dissenters in England: this is not my object. I mean only to describe their present state. Nor is this so easy a task as many may be apt to imagine. Though I am acquainted with several learned and well-informed persons in this country, and particularly among the Dissenters, yet I have been obliged, in several instances, to apply for information to more than one, before I could obtain it; nor has it always been full and satisfactory. Mosheim1 has 353 taken notice of this difficulty, and I have experienced it much more than he has. Fanatics arise from time to time, and may obtain a number of ignorant followers without their being formed into a sect. Their fantastic notions cease to be novel; their propagator and his proselytes die away; and all is buried in oblivion: so that Mosheim well observes, that the names of many of these sects are unknown with us in Germany, and that the knowledge of most of them is superficial and obscure. Nay, many even here, are ignorant of the names of several of the sects, which have strongly attracted the attention of the Germans. They and their opinions leave the world together, and it requires much pains to collect authentic information concerning them; particularly in a country where the learned themselves entertain but little curiosity concerning this subject. New sentiments in religion, and the diversity of opinions relative to them, do not in the present age attract much notice, and people in general give themselves but little trouble to enquire about either the one or the other. Dr. Priestley2 observes, in one of his 354 late publications concerning the Dissenters, “that if his treatise should have no other merit, it would, at least, have that of a book of travels, written to inform people of the manners and customs of those to whom they were strangers.” These strangers whom he means to inform are his own countrymen of the Episcopal or established church. He says farther, “We sometimes meet with instances, even in genteel life, and among persons of a liberal education, of such absolute ignorance of the Dissenters, and of their principles, as afford us great diversion.” In my enquiries about religious sects, I have very frequently been silenced where I expected satisfactory replies, by being answered, Indeed, sir, I cannot tell; I know hardly any thing about it. Yet many persons in Germany, who think themselves perfectly well acquainted with English affairs, entertain the opinion, that it is the most easy thing in the world to get minute information about all these matters. Many sects publish nothing about themselves, and if sometimes such publications exist, they either are little known, or are by all-devouring time, become so scarce that, when they are not to be met with in public libraries, they may be enquired 355 after at half the old book-shops and stalls in London, without being procured. On making enquiries by members of the different sects themselves, about their tenets, their present state, and their opinions, I have found them frequently shy and reserved.
1 Summa ceterum Angli quum licentia fruantur libere cogitata sua proferendi, et Deum ita colendi, uti justum cuique videtur; fieri haud aliter potest, quin variæ passim sectæ oriantur et controversiæ de rebus ad religionem pertinentibus nunquam cessent. De his vero tam sectis quam litibus nemo facile sic egerit, ut desiderari nihil queat, nisi aliquamdiu ipse inter Anglos vixerit, & in fortunatæ gentis opiniones, jura, leges, factiones præsens inquisiverit. Sectarum plerarumque ne nomina quidem ad nos perferuntur: multarum notitiam habemus qualemcunque, sed parum absolutam & luculentam. Moshemii Institut. Hist. Eccles. p. 1032.
2 A View of the Principles and Conduct of the Protestant Dissenters, &c. Preface, p. 6.
We may estimate the number of their meeting-houses,
text has meeting-/ing-houses at line break
it is no subject of surprize, that men forsake that sect in which they have been born and educated, and profess sentiments more favourable to honour, promotion, riches, and worldly grandeur
[Consider the Disraeli family, who converted to Christianity when young Benjamin was 13. If they had not done so, he could not have entered politics under the law as it then stood.]
THE English Presbyterians of the present age, are carefully to be distinguished from the Scottish. The former have, in a great measure, forsaken the opinions and the manners of the Puritans in the last century, while the latter retain them in a considerable degree.
The chief articles in which they dissent from the episcopal church, are, according to the statement of Dr. Priestley1, the following: First, they disclaim all human authority in matters of religion; they believe that the whole of their religion is contained in the New Testament; and that it is every man’s personal concern to learn his faith and duty from thence, by the diligent use of his own faculties. Secondly, they are offended at the hierarchy. Christ and his immediate followers, they allege, were unacquainted with it. Titles, dignities, rank, large incomes, pluralities, and 357 such things, are, as they apprehend, essentially contrary to the genius of the religion of Christ, and fatal to Christian humility. They, therefore, are against distinctions of honour among the ministers of the gospel. Thirdly, they are displeased with the garb of the episcopal Church, which they consider as one of the remains of popery; they reject many of its ceremonies, which they look upon as superstitious, and think them a disgrace, as Dr. Priestley expresses himself, to the good sense and understanding of Englishmen to retain them. In the foregoing things he believes the generality of the Dissenters are agreed; but he adds, “that though the greater part of those who dissent from the established church still maintain the same general doctrines; others of them, whose number is increasing, and who are the most distinguished for learning and freedom of enquiry, are persuaded of the falsity of the following doctrines, which the founders of the English establishment deemed to be the most fundamental: the doctrine of the Trinity, the sentence of everlasting damnation, as expressed in the Athanasian creed; the addressing prayers to Christ; the doctrine of original sin, and that of absolute predestination.” Thus the doctor describes 358 the difference between the Dissenters and the established church, adding at the same time, “the most learned and respectable members of the church of England have been foremost in their labours to explode the Thirty-nine articles; and a great majority of those who are candid and inquisitive among them, believe as little of what are generally called the orthodox opinions as we do.”
The religious sentiments of the dissenting clergy are very different. A few think like Dr. Priestley, many are Arminians, some Arians, others Socinians, or Anti-trinitarians, and not a few zealous sticklers for Calvinism. Every one has a right to think as he pleases, and nobody assumes an authority over another to controul him, or to be his judge in matters of faith. Whilst, however, this liberality of sentiment spreads itself among the Dissenters, and old prejudices wear off, the more indifference in regard to the religious tenets of their forefathers must increase, and consequently, the interest of the Dissenters, as a sect, decrease. Many of the laity among them become more accommodating; they consider conformity to the church as a trifle, and do not scruple to educate their children in the principles of the establishment, in order to secure, as they imagine, 359 a happier lot for them in this world; this goes sometimes so far, that whole families forsake the Dissenters. There is no doubt, but that if, on the contrary, the Presbyterians were the predominant church, their numbers would increase, in the same proportion as the episcopalians do now.
The stiff, formal character of the Puritans, which prevailed even in the beginning of the present century, and which every man of sense must view with an eye of compassion, if not with contempt, was, perhaps, better adapted to keep up the interest of the sect. A modern dissenting minister2, draws their character in the following manner: “The diligent and impartial enquirer, however candid, must acknowledge that the Protestant Dissenters, in less time than even half a century past, were in general austere in their temper and manners; that they painted religion with a gloomy aspect; betrayed a spirit of singularity and opposition in trifles; were excessive and almost indiscriminate in their invectives against pleasure; laid too much stress upon modes and opinions, made too little 360 allowance for human infirmities; fixed too high a value on long and frequent retirements for the sake of devotional exercises in private; placed as much too low the standard of moral virtues, those especially which are humane, generous, and of all others the most engaging; confined almost all their approbation and good-will to the people of their own sect; discovered an over-weening conceit of their own spiritual attainments; and, what is still worse than all the rest, that there were undoubtedly instances of those who put on the semblance of rigorous piety to atone for, conceal, and give success to heinous immorality. It is with all readiness acknowledged, that there are upon record many exceptions to this heavy charge, but the above mentioned may, I think, be exhibited as some of the principal outlines in the character of those who were, or affected to be, amongst the best and most religious persons of the last age. Nay, farther, if a diligent and impartial enquiry were now made into the prevailing temper of large bodies of Protestant Dissenters, in several different parts of the kingdom, it would be found that something of the same spirit is still remaining among us.” And now, to 361 make the contrast between the old and modern Dissenters, appear the more striking, I will add immediately another picture of the latter, drawn by Dr. Priestley, who is of great respectability among the Dissenters, and describes those of the present age, in the following manner: “The present race of Dissenters,” says he, “have little, or nothing of that stiffness and rusticity of behaviour, for which their ancestors are generally, though not altogether justly, supposed to have been distinguished. With a moderate share of wealth, they are by no means deficient in the politeness of modern times; and we apprehend that their ministers, though, in general, inferior to the clergy of the established church in classical knowledge, are not inferior to them in philosophical knowledge, and are probably, superior to them with respect to theology and an acquaintance with the Scriptures. This is owing chiefly to the circumstance of our being the inferior party, and the necessity that, in this situation, we are under to distinguish ourselves, in order that, without the advantage of numbers, we may appear in a respectable light in the community. Besides, it may be well supposed, that all the unthinking part of the nation, will in general 362 go with the establishment, whatever it be. No body is ever asked a reason why he goes to church. Any person would be thought impertinent who should seem to expect a reason in this case. The members of the established church, therefore, have no occasion to trouble themselves about the reasons of their conduct; but Dissenters are often in the way of discourses upon that subject, so that they cannot help giving some degree of attention to it, and also to every other subject of controversy. Children and young persons among us are exposed to the insults of their companions who go to church; which rouses their faculties, and puts them upon an enquiry, that they may have something to reply, when they are attacked upon the subject of religion. In this situation, our youth can hardly help getting a taste for reading. And I think it is evidently fact, that Dissenters in general are not possessed of less knowledge than churchmen of the same class and rank in life; it is rather probable, that they are possessed of more. Dissenting ministers are much more carefully educated than the generality of clergymen. And not only are they obliged to study the subject of religion more closely; but, if the constitution of our 363 seminaries of learning be attended to, it will appear that the business of education, in respect to those who are designed for the ministry, is much more extensive and liberal among us. The method in which clergymen are educated at the English universities, is certainly less adapted to make them divines than the discipline and course of study, provided for Dissenters; besides that many of our students, after attending the usual time at our English academies, finish their studies at Edinburgh or Glasgow. Dissenting ministers, are also, in a manner, obliged to use their own prayers, and to make their own sermons; which makes reading, thinking, and composing, necessary and habitual to them; whereas it is very possible for a clergyman to go through his duty without particular observation or censure, if he can do little more than read, and be able to acquit himself with tolerable propriety in common conversation. Besides, dissenting ministers are under much more restraint with respect to decency and strictness of behaviour. Levities, that are hardly noticed in clergymen, would be the cause of expulsion to many dissenting ministers. In this situation not being at liberty to indulge themselves 364 in the fashionable pleasures and dissipation of the age, they are under a necessity of having recourse to reading and study. In this manner a considerable number of them, a number much greater in proportion than of the clergy, acquire a habit of severe application to study, so as to have no taste for any other method of spending their time. A set of men, thus formed by their education and manner of life, cannot but be of service to the community, especially with respect to the clergy, and the state of literature in general. It must be owned, however, that the moderation of the present age has occasioned a very great change in the manners and peculiar distinctions of the Dissenters. As the politeness of the times prevents all well-bred people from offending one another, by introducing any conversation upon topics, on which they differ, the present race of Dissenters are by no means so well versed, as their ancestors were, in the grounds of Nonconformity; and with respect to reading and knowledge of every kind, they are sinking fast to a level with the members of the established church. The consequence of a free and easy intercourse between Dissenters and churchmen is likely to prove much more fatal 365 to the dissenting interest, than all the persecution they underwent in former times. The decrease of bigotry has been attended with the decrease of just zeal. The rational Dissenters, being more free from bigotry, have, in general, the least zeal; and though it be evident, that they have the most reason to dissent from the church of England, yet they attend to these reasons so very little, that they have hardly any weight on their minds, or any influence on their conduct, so that, in many cases, the most trifling inducements in the world are sufficient to carry them into the church. But those who act in this manner are, evidently, persons with whom religious motives in general have little weight; so that their leaving us, is only a loss of numbers and wealth, and by no means of just reputation. Dissenting ministers, also, and especially those of the rational part of them, have lost almost all their preciseness and strictness of behaviour, and are hardly to be distinguished from the more decent clergymen. Still, however, nothing approaching to immorality would be allowed in them; and with respect both to polite literature and all the branches of useful science as well as theological knowledge, they have 366 greatly the advantage of their ancestors, and of the Dissenters of the other persuasion; and they are distinguishing themselves more every day. Yet, in consequence of mixing more with the world at large, dissenting ministers of this stamp often come to lay but little stress on the peculiar principles of Nonconformity; and the few that are tempted with the prospect of advancing themselves, to conform to the established church, are almost entirely of this class; but as it is not pretended, that their opinions in matters of religion are changed, no person can be at a loss what kind of conformity it must have been. It is the reputation of the men, and not that of the cause, that is brought into question by those conversions3.”
Here we have a portrait of old and modern English Dissenters, drawn by two of their own clergy; and I have given this long quotation from Dr. Priestley for two reasons; first, because he may be supposed to enjoy the best opportunity of being acquainted with the character of his brethren, and to possess both penetration and liberality sufficient to delineate a faithful resemblance; and, secondly, because he contrasts the established church, and particularly 367 their clergy, with that of the Dissenters and their clergy, giving a comparative view of both; and what he has here advanced, appears to me to be well founded.
Public worship among the Dissenters is performed without shew. Their meeting-houses have neither images, nor altars, nor organs, nor steeples, nor bells. They have externally no church-like appearance, nor do their ministers wear any particular dress, except that they are commonly dressed in black, and when they officiate generally wear bands, and some of them gowns. They sing psalms, and in some congregations hymns, of which the singing of the latter is by far more melodious than the former. The prayers of the ministers in the pulpit are very long before, and rather shorter after the sermon. They last often a quarter of an hour, and are frequently very tiresome, because they are generally full of repetitions, and oftentimes delivered in a melancholy monotony. Their discourses are very different from those which were preached by the Presbyterians in the last century; and even in Scotland the style of preaching has changed much for the better. There are, however, some scattered instances in England of dissenting ministers, who still follow the ancient mode, and whose sermons are a rhapsody of mysteries, allegories, and unprofitable 368 controversy. These are principally to be found among those who are somewhat methodistically inclined, and who, being deficient in a regular education, are excluded from the stated assemblies of the presbyterian clergy. Most of the dissenting ministers read their sermons, but not so literally as to have their eyes immoveably fixed upon their notes. The methodistical class, on the contrary, bawl away for hours together, without either notes or premeditation. I have heard many discourses of dissenting ministers, that may be considered as models for pulpit compositions. Some young ministers among them, from their dress and manners, might be mistaken for French abbés, and sometimes their pulpit eloquence is in the same character. Their manners, however, are perfectly agreeable to the younger sort of their audiences of both sexes, who move and dress in a much gayer style than their zealous progenitors.
A minister is seldom ordained among the Presbyterians; or, indeed, among the Dissenters in general, unless he be called to some particular congregation. Yet, young men, furnished with proper certificates of their abilities and moral conduct, are permitted to preach to any congregation, at the request of their 369 minister, as soon as they leave the academy. Five or six clergymen are generally appointed to conduct an ordination. One of them preaches an introductory sermon; another gives the charge to the young minister, but without assuming himself any authority; merely advising him as a friend or brother. The other ministers engage in prayer. Sometimes the ceremony is accompanied with imposition of hands; sometimes it is omitted. The candidate is generally asked, what his reasons and motives are for taking upon himself the office of a minister; these he answers, and adds, sometimes, a summary view of his religious sentiments. This, however, is left entirely to his own discretion, and many content themselves with a general declaration that they are Christians.
The incomes of dissenting ministers are but small, and if a congregation affords for the maintenance of its pastor an hundred and fifty, or two hundred pounds, it is thought to be a very good place. Yet many of the dissenting clergy live with a very small income, often more comfortably, and with more decency, than some of the established church with two or three livings. The stipend of dissenting ministers is sometimes precarious; it depends on the largeness, opulence, and generosity 370 of their congregations; and if it should happen, that the congregation decays, or leaves their pastor, his place and his ministerial function are at an end; for the contributions for his support are not collected by coercion of the law, as those of the parish-priest, but depend on the liberality, attachment, and good-will of his congregation. There is a fund from which those ministers, whose salary is not sufficient for their support, receive small donations, but I have reason to think, that it is not very ample. The congregation in Crutched-friars, which was once so respectable, and had Dr. Lardner and Dr. Benson, two celebrated divines, for its pastors, exists no more, the members dying off, or going to other congregations. The present principal Presbyterian congregations and meeting-houses in London, are those in Salter’s-hall, in the Old-Jewry, in Carter-lane, and one in Princes-street, Westminster, which, at present, has the worthy and learned Dr. Kippis for its pastor.
Presbyterian congregations are entirely independent of each other. Every one of them has, exclusive of the minister, its elders, or deacons; but they have no general president or head. Each community superintends its own affairs, and neither the people nor the 371 minister are subject to any consistory. It is true, that the most considerable ministers among the Dissenters in London, whether they be Presbyterians, Independents, or Baptists, hold annual meetings, or oftener, if urgent business, relative to the general welfare of the dissenting interest, should require it; but this assembly never interferes with the concerns of particular congregations, or their preacher. From this assembly, or, if I may term it so, this synod, those ministers are excluded, who either are deficient in learning and education, or known to be Methodists. Those who belong to it call themselves collectively, The general Body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers of London.
Experience has convinced me, that the Presbyterian clergy, though those of the established church think them to be reserved and austere, are more easy of access, and more friendly in their manners, than most of the episcopalians. I know among the latter clergy, the most deserving, well-bred, and affable men; but the generality, at least of those who are in possession of church benefices, shew a kind of hauteur, founded merely upon the supposed security of their prerogatives and emoluments, as they are established by law. The dissenting clergy, on the contrary, consider themselves as 372 an oppressed part of the state, and seem to resent the haughty spirit of the former. This may be one reason, why they manifest less national pride in their conversation with strangers. Their sentiments relative to the affairs of church and state, are much freer than those of the episcopal church, whose hierarchy is so intimately connected with the civil government; for which reason they judge much more mildly of the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance, which every liberal-minded Englishman regards as a most detestable doctrine. Most Dissenters are partial to republican principles, or at least to those of liberty; and the late revolution in North-America is a proof, how strongly the present generation of the Anglo-Americans has adhered to the tenets and spirit of republicanism, to which their forefathers were so much addicted.
The Presbyterians and other Dissenters have established, in different parts of England, academies for the education of youth; particularly those who are intended for the ministry. These dissenting academies are in a very different state from those in foreign countries, which are distinguished by the same name. They have no permanency, but flourish and die away within the space of a few years, as 373 must be the case with all institutions that have no permanent fund. The most considerable academical institution, at present subsisting among the Dissenters, was founded in 1786, at Hackney, and is generally known by the name of the New College, Hackney. Large sums have been expended upon the building, which is spacious and has convenient grounds. A fund has been raised for its support, by voluntary subscription; and by means of this fund a limited number of young persons are supported and educated for some years, on an establishment. Other young men, who are not upon the foundation, are likewise admitted into these seminaries, and educated with the rest, at the expence of their parents. The academy at Hackney supports a number of students, and they remain there about five years, generally from the age of seventeen to two and twenty. It has at present seven tutors, in the different branches of literature and science. At Warrington, in Lancashire, was lately an academy established upon a very liberal plan; but it is, like many others, dissolved, though some time after re-established at Manchester. Formerly, it was not uncommon for English presbyterian students, when they had quitted their academies, so go to Scotch universities, to finish their studies, 374 and sometimes to foreign Protestant universities; but this now happens less frequently. I have known young men, educated in these academies, who, after they had left them, and even had preached as divines, quitted their theological profession, and studied physic at Leyden or Edinburgh.
The Presbyterians have a kind of public library in Red-cross-street, in London, which was founded by Dr. Daniel Williams, an opulent Presbyterian clergyman. Of this library a catalogue was published in 1727. Some donations of books have since been added to it; but there being no particular fund appropriated to the purchase of new books, it has not been much enlarged. The library is placed in a spacious house erected for the purpose, where there is also a large room, in which the dissenting clergy hold their annual and occasional meetings.
1 View of the Principles and Conduct of the Protestant Dissenters, p. 7, &c.
2 On Religious Zeal, with a comparative View of the Protestant Dissenters of the last and present Age. By Richard Godwin. Three Discourses, London, 1780. 8vo.
3 View of the Principles and Conduct of the Protestant Dissenters, &c. p. 82, &c.
those who put on the semblance of rigorous piety to atone for, conceal, and give success to heinous immorality
[And to think that The Scarlet Letter is more than half a century away. (The words are not Wendeborn’s own, but he would not have quoted at such length if he did not fundamentally agree.)]
SCOTLAND being the true seat of Presbyterianism, I give it a place here immediately, though the Scotch church cannot be classed among the English Dissenters, it being by law, in that kingdom, the established church. In the same manner as the Episcopalians in England call the Presbyterians Dissenters, so on the contrary, the same denomination is given to them in Scotland; for the orthodoxy of the inhabitants of a Christian country depends always on the education which they have received from the clergy of the established religion, which looks upon its adopted articles of faith, as a deed by which its income and temporalities are secured. It is, therefore, very natural that they should proclaim these articles as very sacred, and stigmatize those with denominations to which an idea of degradation is annexed, who dissent from them; particularly if by these means they can keep them at a distance, so as not to partake of the emoluments of church and state, which are so eagerly sought for.376
Before Presbyterianism gained the ascendancy in Scotland, it was divided into two archbishopricks, and twelve bishopricks. The nonjuring clergy in Scotland, who are of the episcopal church, still keep up among themselves the denomination and empty titles of these formerly existing bishopricks, and even now an episcopal college exists in that country, consisting of six members, who style themselves bishops of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dumblane, &c.
All Scotland, with the adjacent islands, is divided into eight hundred and ninety parishes, each having its own minister: for pluralities and non-residence are not permitted in that country, the law having wisely provided against them. Most of the parishes are under a patron, and there are but few where the right of presentation is centered in the . This gave, a few years ago, occasion to some disturbances, the people attempting to extend their privileges, in which, however, they did not succeed. A considerable number of parishes belongs to the king, and are, therefore, termed royal boroughs. The patron is to appoint a clergyman to a vacant church, within six months; and if he fails in doing it, the presbytery nominates a minister in his stead; yet this does not extend over the royal boroughs, 377 for the king is not confined to any limited time.
The parishes are divided into sixty-nine presbyteries, which are formed by twelve, eighteen, and sometimes twenty-four of the neighbouring parishes. The minister or presbyter of a place elects from his congregation eight or ten of the most sensible and respectable members, to the office of elders or rulers of the church, and one of them is appointed ruling elder. These elders, together with the minister, have a weekly meeting, in which the latter presides, and these weekly assemblies are called kirk-sessions. The rights of their church, the state of their poor, and other concerns of the parish, are the objects of deliberation in these meetings. The ministers of each parish, together with their ruling elders, meet every month, in the chief town of their district, and this assembly forms, strictly speaking, the Presbytery. They have cognizance of all the church-affairs under their jurisdiction, but not beyond the limits of their district. The clergymen belonging to such a presbytery are not all present, and excuses, on account of absence, are readily admitted. The most important business which engages the attention of these assemblies, is the ordination of young ministers 378 for vacant parishes, which is generally performed with much solemnity. Church censures, marriages, and things of a similar nature, fall under their cognizance. The laws of the Scottish church against adultery and fornication are extremely rigid. A man or woman proving guilty of these offences, besides other penalties, must sit upon what is called a repenting-stool, before the whole congregation, whose devotion can hardly be encreased by such a strange exhibition. This uncommendable practice, however, is become less frequent within these twenty years, as it appeared that the murder of bastard-children was thereby promoted, and rendered more prevalent in Scotland than in any other Christian country.
The above presbyteries stand under the jurisdiction of the provincial synods, of which there are fifteen in all Scotland. They assemble every half year in the principal town of the province, and are composed of twelve, or more, of the neighbouring presbyteries. Appeals may be made from the decrees and decisions of these synods, to the general assembly, as the highest ecclesiastical court in the kingdom, which meets annually in the city of Edinburgh, in the month of May, and sits for about ten days. To this respectable assembly, the king nominates a lord 379 commissioner, who is one of the first nobility, and represents, as president, the king’s person. If this meeting should become tumultuous, he enjoins peace and order; and if any thing should be proposed against the royal will, he has the power of dissolving the assembly, which has sometimes happened.
The clergy in Scotland differ, in their general character and manner, much from those in England. In what may be called scholastic and theological knowledge, the former is no doubt superior to the latter, and Scotland has, within these thirty years, among its divines, particularly those who reside in universities, very able writers in various branches of literature, who might excite the envy of the English of the same order. Though Dr. Johnson judges of Scotch learning, and Scotch schools and universities, in his usual way, very roughly and unfavourably, yet some are of opinion, that the Scotch education in schools and universities, contributes greatly to that merit which I have mentioned. The Scotch clergy are, in regard to their morals, much stricter, and in their conduct more serious than the English; nay, many of them still bear the character of the old Puritans. They would by no means appear at the performance of a play, 380 or in the circle of a rather gay assembly. It has even been related to me, that a clergyman at Edinburgh was blamed for attending a musical concert. The Scotch clergy are said to be in conversation more polite, obliging, and affable than the generality of those in England; which I suppose must be confined to those who are resident in their own country.
The best livings in Scotland are worth no more than a hundred or a hundred and fifty pounds; but there are none so poor as many in England, for no living is under fifty pounds. It is, however, said, that the generality of the Scotch clergy, though no pluralities are allowed, live happily and contentedly, being at the same time very hospitable, and educating their children in a better and more proper manner than many of the English clergy, who enjoy the revenues of more than one church preferment. But it is to be feared, that, as luxury and fashionable living are advancing from the South into Scotland, and making great progress in the country and among its inhabitants, this happiness and contentment will get into decrease, and lessen in proportion as modish wants, dearness of living, and taxes, increase.381
The Scottish clergy have been divided, for many years past, into what are called the orthodox party, and the preachers of morality. The first party endeavoured to instruct and preserve the people in that pure orthodoxy, which they suppose particularly and exclusively adapted for the salvation of souls, by which they mean that system of theology, which, about two hundred years ago, was digested by the divines of Geneva for the benefit and the rule of faith, of what is called the reformed church. The other party had merely in view to make the people, who were intrusted to their pastoral care, better, and to incline their hearts to virtue and morality. They likewise differed from the other party by adopting that, by every orthodox party, controverted opinion of St. Peter the apostle, “that in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” The softer tone, and the persuasive invitations of the latter party, are said to have found more ingress, and to be more liked by sensible people, than the high tone, and the menacing voice, in which the former are used to threaten their flocks, and to exhort them to be upon their guard against the venom of heresy. However, the fiery zeal, and the cordial hatred, which the orthodox 382 party bore to the other, have, within these twenty years, much abated. The last persecution by which they signalized their faith, was directed, in the year 1767, against a worthy clergyman of the name of Fergusson1; but their honour and credit getting, on this occasion, in great danger, they were luckily relieved by the death of the object of their persecution, and from that time processes for heresy have got into disgrace; at least, I have not heard that the watchmen of the Scotch Zion have sounded the trumpet of persecution so loudly since.
From what I have just mentioned, it appears very plain, that many in Scotland are found zealously devoted to Calvin’s doctrine. They are connected with those in England, that are of the same way of thinking, among whom may be comprehended the generality of Independents, and the Particular-baptists, though neither they, nor their congregations with their teachers, are, in any respect, depending on, or subject to the general assembly in Scotland. The English episcopal church, as well as the Presbyterians, particularly those, who call 383 themselves Rational Dissenters, are averse to the more rigid part of the Scotch church, and use the appellation of Calvinists as a kind of degradation. I have likewise observed, in some English literary Reviews, when theological publications, written in the old hyper-orthodox style, pass their critical tribunal, that they dismiss them without much ceremony, by saying, that they contain Calvinistical nonsense.
As strongly, however, as a part of the Scottish church adheres to Calvin; yet there are some who think that it is not done strictly enough, and, therefore, they have formed congregations upon the original plan, on which Calvin reformed the churches of Geneva. Those that belong to them are called Seceders, of which there are likewise two small congregations in London. They are not numerous even in Scotland; and, upon the whole, comparatively speaking, but few Dissenters are to be met with in that kingdom, though toleration, under an act of parliament, is there enjoyed to a greater extent than in England, the clergy of every sect being at liberty to perform every sacerdotal function, marrying not excepted.
At the time of the Revolution, many of the episcopal church in England, who were on the 384 side of James II. went to Scotland and established themselves there. They refused to swear allegiance to king William, and would not pray for him at their divine service; for which reason they received the name of Jacobites and Nonjurors, under which denominations they have existed until the year 1788, when, in the month of April, at a meeting of their bishops, at Aberdeen, they unanimously resolved to pray, in express words, for the present royal family in their chapels, so that it may be said that now Jacobites and Nonjurors exist no more.
1 See The Religious Establishment in Scotland examined, London, 1771. In the Preface to this book, a narrative of this prosecution is given.
In the German, this section is subtitled “The Seceders, Nonjurors and Hutchesonians”.
In the same manner as the Episcopalians in England call the Presbyterians Dissenters, so on the contrary, the same denomination is given to them in Scotland
[I am reminded of the Canadian noun “Separate”, which designates a school district associated with the other church—whichever one it may happen to be in that province.]
Before Presbyterianism gained the ascendancy in Scotland, it was divided into two archbishopricks, and twelve bishopricks.
[How on earth did they swing this, when all of England—with ten times the population—only ever had two archbishops?]
where the right of presentation is centered in the parishioners.
text has parishoners
At the time of the Revolution
[Not the “real” Revolution, in which Charles I.’s head was chopped off, but the laughably named “glorious revolution” of a generation later.]
THE reason why I assign to this sect a place here, is because it originated in Scotland, and may be regarded as an offspring of the Scotch church. Its original founder, John Glass, was a clergyman of the Scottish established religion; but being accused of heresy, he was deprived by the synod of his living, and expelled from the established church. He now formed a congregation of his own, which adopted his opinions and received him as its minister1. This happened about the year 1728, from whence the origin of this sect is to be dated. Several other congregations formed themselves soon after, upon the same plan, and those who belonged to them were called Glassites, which name they have hitherto retained in Scotland.386
Robert Sandeman, a layman and elder of Mr. Glass’s congregation, published, in the year 1755, letters against the late Mr. Hervey’s Theron and Aspasio, in which he advances, among other things, that the word faith, as used in the New Testament, means no more than a simple assent to what is said, under divine authority, of Jesus Christ, and that all the other notions, adopted according to Calvin’s doctrine, of justifying faith, are erroneous and unfounded. Those of the Glassites in Scotland, who were addicted to Calvin’s Scripture-explanations, began a controversy with Mr. Sandeman, who was then in London, where he had collected a congregation, that adopted his notions, and whose members called themselves Sandemanians. The dispute, however, was, on both sides, carried on very amicably, and the Glassites in Scotland keep up a strict communion with the Sandemanians in London, though both decline being connected with other churches. There is, as far as I know, but one place of worship where the Sandemanians assemble in London, which is in St. Martin’s le Grand, and the congregation consists of not much more than a hundred members. They seem to be rather reserved to those who make enquiries after 387 the state of their sect; but give them to understand, that they have congregations not only in England and Scotland, but also in North-America. I have been, however, informed, that such congregations are only a few persons, or, perhaps, a single family, which have adopted the religious opinions of the Sandemanians, and are connected with those in London merely by correspondence. Some years ago, a member of that congregation which assembles in St. Martin’s-le-Grand, published, in a letter to a friend2, an account of their religious tenets, of which the following is the substance. They take the words and precepts of Christ and his apostles in the most literal sense; they follow the practices of the primitive disciples and churches, as far as they can learn them from the New Testament, and avoid every thing carefully for which the first followers of Christ were reproved, either by himself or his apostles. On Sundays they meet, pray, sing psalms, preach, and explain the Scriptures. In the interval between the morning 388 and afternoon service, they have love-feasts, of which every member partakes, by dining at the houses of such of their communion who live sufficiently near, and whose habitations are convenient for that purpose. Every one who belongs to the congregation, poor or rich, is not only allowed, but even required, to partake of them. On this, and other opportunities, they salute each other with the kiss of charity, which they think to be a duty expresly ordered in several passages of the New Testament. The Lord’s-supper is administered every Sunday by one of the elders, in the most simple form, which is preceded by a collection for the support of the poor, and defraying other expences. They have church-meetings on Tuesdays and Fridays in the evenings, when exhortations are given. They practise pædobaptism, and agree in the unlawfulness of eating blood, and creatures strangled, or suffocated in their blood. They think the washing one another’s feet necessary, and that this is commanded in the gospel; they believe it unlawful to lay up treasures on earth, by setting them apart for any distant, future, uncertain use. The lot they esteem to be a sacred thing according to Scripture3, and therefore 389 judge the using it for diversion to be unlawful, for which reason they are also against playing at cards and dice. They make no distinction between elders, pastors, and bishops, and have a plurality of them in each of their churches, as they are of opinion, that the primitive churches had the same. If a member is justly charged with a scandalous crime, an immediate excommunication takes place, which is done in the presence of the whole church; but if such a person shews full and true repentance, he may be received again. In all their church transactions they deem unanimity absolutely necessary.
From this account which I have given nearly in the words of the above mentioned letter, it may easily be seen, that the intention of those with whom this sect originated, was no other than to form its congregation entirely upon the plan of those in the times of primitive Christianity; which plan they had laid down according to their own ideas and explanation of Scripture. But since times, circumstances, and situations, produce changes, though not in what relates to the essentials of religion, yet in matters relative to externals and accidentals, it is very evident, that these people suppose many 390 things to be essentials of Christianity, which in fact, were merely accidental in some primitive Christian assemblies, and occasioned by local circumstances, and by that situation in which the first Christians found themselves, in regard to such as made no profession of, or were averse to Christianity. I have observed before, that the Sandemanians are not numerous; and it cannot be well expected that their sect should much increase, since their church discipline, and their moral tenets, are by far too severe for the great majority of our pretended Christians. Among all Christian nations, and particularly among the English and their republican neighbours the Dutch, not many will be found, who would insert that doctrine into their creed, that it was unlawful to lay up treasures on earth, by setting them apart for any distant future use; though the British ministers of finance, and some other classes of people, are of course to be excepted. Very few, likewise, will agree, that dice and cards are too sacred things to be used at play, and that the lot is to be drawn, or to be cast, only in dubious matters, relative to religious affairs. Government receives too welcome a revenue from the lot being drawn at the annual lotteries; and the 391 number of those who make their exit on the gallows, would be greater in London, if many did not save themselves from such a fate, by means of cards and dice, when fortune favours them at the gaming-table; at least they obtain a temporary respite.
1 The works of John Glass are published in four vols. 8vo. and contain, among the rest, an account of himself and his doctrines.
2 A Plain and Full Account of the Christian Practices, observed by the Church in St. Martin’s-le-Grand, and other Churches in Fellowship with them. In a Letter to a Friend. London, 1767. Second Edit.
3 Prov. xvi. 33.
The reason why I assign to this sect a place here, is because it originated in Scotland
[This seems to have been a last-minute inspiration on the author’s part. In the German original, Sandemanians come a bit later, between the Arminians and the Quakers.]
St. Martin’s le Grand . . . . St. Martin’s-le-Grand
[The Dublin edition has the same inconsistency.]
They practise pædobaptism
[The old man was asked if he believed in infant baptism. He replied, “Believe in it? Heck, I’ve actually seen it done!”]
it cannot be well expected that their sect should much increase
[Surprisingly, the Sandemanians or Glasites (usual spelling) held on longer in Scotland than in America: 1984 as opposed to 1890. One of their best-known adherents was Michael Faraday—at least until he was kicked out in 1844.]
TO form an idea of the original of those who are called in England Independents, I shall only mention what follows. When the parliament party acquired the ascendency in the reign of Charles I. an ordinance was made in 1643, appointing an assembly of clergymen and laymen, to meet in Westminster-abbey, to be consulted by the parliament, for settling the government and liturgy of the church of England, and ascertaining its doctrine. Among the divines who constituted a part of this assembly, were five who came from Holland, where they had their congregations, consisting of such English as had left their country during former reigns, when the Nonconformists were much oppressed. Those ministers, however, and their congregations, were not Presbyterians, but such as were called Congregationalists in Holland, and had received in England the name of Independents. The rest of the Nonconformist divines, who were members of the assembly, could not agree 393 in several religious opinions with those five, and much complaint was brought against them. Upon which they drew up an Apologetical Narrative and presented it to the assembly, after they had signed it with their names, which were Goodwin, Nye, Bridge, Sympson, and Burroughs. Among other things, they give the following account of their religious belief, and the constitution of their churches. “We consult,” they say, “the Scriptures without any prepossessions. We look upon the word of Christ as impartially and unprejudicedly as men of flesh and blood are like to do, in any juncture of time that may fall out.” The principles upon which they founded their church-government were, according to this narrative, “First, to confine themselves to Scripture precept and precedent, without any supplemental intermixtures of ancient practice, or novel invention. Secondly, not to be confined to their present resolutions, without room for alterations, upon farther views and enquiry. They thought it was not impossible, time might inform them better in several particulars, and that it was by no means prudential, to tie themselves up from improvement; and, pursuant to these grounds, they held a middle course between 394 Presbytery and Brownism. The first they counted too arbitrary and decisive, and the other too floating and undetermined.”
It appears from this declaration, that they rejected all human authority in matters of faith, keeping, in their own way, only to the Bible, and that they wanted to establish their congregations entirely upon a plan, which they formed, according to their own opinions, from the Scriptures of the New Testament, not caring for the constitutions and the church government of other churches and sects, neither of the first centuries, nor in later times, on a supposition that they were no rules for them to go by, and that there subsisted no obligation to conform to them. The chief characteristic of this sect, however, was the independence of their churches or congregations. They rejected all ecclesiastical establishment; they were against the divisions into parishes and dioceses; they denied all authority of spiritual courts, of councils, of synods, and would by no means allow the interposition of the magistrate in religious concerns. No congregation was to be, in any respect, dependent on another; each composed, within itself, a separate church, which had its own church-government and church-discipline, the censure 395 being confined merely to admonition, and this failing in success was followed by excommunication. The public officers of a church were a pastor, a teacher, and a ruling elder, which were ecclesiastics, and deacons. The election of the congregation was fully sufficient to impart a sacerdotal character.
Though the Independents, by what I have said, would not admit any fixed creed, or any symbolical books, yet they remained, in the principal points, addicted to the doctrines of the reformers at Geneva, and even at this time most Independents are Calvinists.
Among the clergy of the Independents some men of learning and abilities are to be found; but there are likewise others, who, on account of their want of a proper education to support a clerical character, are excluded from that assembly of the general body of Protestant Dissenting ministers in London, which I have already mentioned. Dr. Doddridge, whose writings are well known with us in Germany, was minister of a congregation of Independents at Northampton, and his name may be considered as an honour to his sect.
Formerly no particular ceremony was required to constitute a minister or teacher of an Independent congregation; but there are now 396 some that have adopted the same manner of ordination which is used by Presbyterians and Baptists. It is sometimes done by imposition of hands, sometimes without it. In this, however, those who have adopted such a kind of ordination distinguish themselves from the Presbyterians, by requiring of the person who is to be ordained, a more explicit confession of his faith, though the words and expressions, in which it is conceived, are left to his own option. This requisition appears to me not altogether consistent with the original plan mentioned before, upon which the first congregational churches were formed.
Formerly the Presbyterians were more numerous than the Independents; but, at present, the case is reversed. What Mosheim therefore asserts of the sects of the Independents requires some alteration. “Hodie,” he says, “superstes quidem est, verum timida et attrita; qua infirmitate sua impulsa est, ut Wilhelmo III. rege, A. MDCXCI. societatem cum Presbyterianis Londini et in agro Londinensi degentibus, salvis institutis suis iniverit1.” The reason why this increase of Independents has happened is, because they still adhere to Calvinistical principles, which were maintained by the old Presbyterians, and resemble them much 397 in their manner of preaching. The modern Presbyterians, on the contrary, have abandoned the Calvinistic doctrines; their sermons are more moral and rational than those of their predecessors, though in their ideas of church government they differ very little from the Independents. The loss, therefore, of Calvinistical orthodoxy has lessened the number of Presbyterians, and the strict adherence to it has increased that of the Independents. This, however, is to be understood only when both sects are compared with each other; for there is reason to suppose that both, as Dissenters, have decreased, though the one more than the other.
It is a singular fact, as Mr. Hume observes, “That of all Christian sects this was the first, which during its prosperity, as well as its adversity, always adopted the principles of toleration; and, it is remarkable, that so reasonable a doctrine owed its origin, not to reasoning, but to the height of extravagance and fanaticism2.” How far the latter part of this observation may be strictly true, I will not here enquire; from that declaration in the Apologetical Narrative which I have quoted in the beginning of this article, it does not appear that those who drew it up were tinged with so 398 much fanaticism as Mr. Hume seems to lay, without restriction, to the charge of this sect.
Some writers of English history, particularly that part of it, which relates to the civil war in the reign of Charles I. have given the Independents a very bad name. Both Rapin and Hume draw the character of this sect in very unfavourable colours, but by others they are represented in a better light. Without entering into any examination of the truth of the charge brought against them, the conjecture of Mosheim seems to me to be not without foundation, that the religious Independents were accused of many things which ought to have been attributed to those who, in political and civil matters, entertained and supported principles, from which they might be styled state Independents3; principles which now are maintained by political writers of acknowledged ability and considerable reputation. The religious opinions of this sect, which I have mentioned, are certainly not such as Rapin describes them, “That they 399 were contrary to those of all the rest of the world;” nor can it, in my opinion, be said, consistently with that spirit of toleration, for which they were known, “That their other principles were very proper to put the kingdom in a flame, as they did effectually4.” Those who were called Independents in religion, I believe, were not justly liable to such a charge.
1 Moshemii Institut. Hist. Eccles. p. 977.
2 Hume’s Hist. of Great Brit. vol. vii. p. 20.
3 Lubens, ut arbitror, fatebitur, cui libros et formulas sectæ æqua mente inspicere et ponderare licuit, multa ei crimina temere tribui, et fortassis Independentium civilium, id est, hominum regiæ potestati inimicorum et immodicæ libertati studentium, facinora ad Independentes religiosos incaute translata esse. Moshemii Institut. Hist. Eccl. p. 973.
4 Rapin’s History, Vol. II. p. 514.
Since “Independents” is the name of a particular sect, the German calls them Independenten rather than, say, Unabhängige.
To form an idea of the original principles
text has princi-/ciples at line break
THE English Baptists are divided into general and particular Baptists. The former are almost all of a liberal way of thinking, and great friends to Socinianism. For this reason, several men eminent for learning, such as Emlyn, William Whiston, and Dr. Foster, have been of their party. The particular Baptists are zealous Calvinists, and very orthodox in their way. They are much more numerous than the former, and it may easily be supposed, from the great difference of their principles, that the two parties are but little connected. Of general Baptists only two congregations exist, at present, in London, which are very small; but the other party has, as I have been informed, about fifteen meeting-houses within the bills of mortality, and very near two hundred in all England. In North America, and mostly in Connecticut, the particular Baptists are said to be very numerous. They were formerly in a closer connexion and correspondence with those of their party in England 401 than at present; though even now something of this kind is kept up.
The ordinations of their ministers are performed almost in the same manner, as among the Presbyterians; but as Methodism seems lately to have much prevailed among many of the particular Baptists, it is not uncommon for unlearned men to preach among them, or even to become ministers of a congregation, when they feel, as they express themselves, an inward call for it. A late eminent clergyman of a Baptist meeting in London assured me, some years ago, that seven people of his own congregation, though they never pursued any studies, and had always been only illiterate tradesmen, officiated with signal success, as ministers of Baptist congregations. There being no fund out of which the salaries of the minister can be paid, they are supported, like the other dissenting clergy, by the voluntary contributions of their congregations, and their incomes depend on the smallness or largeness, and the liberality of their flock. There is a kind of fund established among the particular Baptists, to assist those of their preachers whose income is not sufficient for their support; but the produce of this fund being not very large the assistance given from it cannot be very great.402
The chief characteristic of this sect is their act of baptism, in which they use the immersion of the whole body, and baptize adults only. In London they have for this purpose, in the principal of their meetings, proper Baptisteries; but in the country, where they have no such conveniences, they baptise in rivers. I have seen an act of baptism of this kind, which was performed in a small river before the town in which the Baptist meeting was. The ceremony took place very early in the morning, between five and six o’clock, in order to avoid a concourse of people from other sects, who, in all probability, would have disturbed the devotion. When the clergyman, with those who were to be baptized, and a considerable number of his congregation arrived at the river side, on the spot where the ceremony was to be performed, he addressed them in a short speech suitable to the occasion, and then went with those who were to receive baptism, one after the other, into the water, till it reached their breast, he himself being dressed in a morning gown, and the candidates for baptism in their old clothes. Coming to the proper depth, he took the person whom he was going to baptize by his cloaths, at the neck, bent him backwards under the water, pronouncing, at the same time 403 the following words: “After a true confession of faith, and repentance from sins towards God, I baptize thee, sister or brother, N.N. in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This being done, he conducted the baptized person back to the shore; and took another in the same manner, till he had dipped them all, there being at that time, four in number. I confess, that before I saw this baptismal act, I had no great expectation of its exciting much devotion; but I found the contrary. Never could any act of baptism have a nearer resemblance to those performed in the river Jordan, nor consequently better assist the imagination of those, who had read the accounts of baptisms in the Bible with any veneration, than this imitation: indeed, I observed some of those who were present shedding tears.
As to the schools and academies among the Baptists, they are of the same kind, and upon the same plan, as those among the other Dissenters. Thomas Crosby, who was the author of the best history of the Baptists, kept such a school, and got his livelihood by it. Though he was one of the general Baptists, his history is nevertheless acknowledged, even by the particular Baptists, to be written with great impartiality. 404 There is a Baptist school at Bath, which has some fund for the education of a small number of youth. At Horsleydown they have a charity-school, in which about sixty children are instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic. At Bath the Baptists have a kind of a public library, which, as it is said, contains many good books.
There is a third class of Baptists, called Sabbatarians, because they celebrate, besides Sunday, Saturday likewise, as the Jews do the sabbath. Their number is exceedingly small in London, and I have not heard that there are any others besides them in any part of England. It is supposed, that within a few years this sect will be extinct; and I wonder it has subsisted so long. Some Baptist congregations are not fond of singing in their public worship, but they are said to be very few in number.
The German includes a third group, Familisten. Or, at least, the chapter heading leads us to expect a third group. They get a total of four lines—plus a five-line footnote referencing Mosheim—explaining that there is no longer any trace of them in England.
he himself being dressed in a morning gown
[I don’t believe dressing gowns ever went by this name in English; at least I can’t find any mention of it in the OED. But instead of the expected Morgenrock, the German actually has einen alten Schlafrock. The word sounds as if it should mean “nightshirt”, but does in fact mean dressing gown—an old one, at that. Thrifty of the clergyman.]
THE English Antinomians are not to be confounded either with those who bore this name in the fourth century, or with them that created so much disturbance in Germany at the time of the Reformation. Those who go under this name in England, are people that have carried Calvin’s doctrine of predestination to the very utmost extent, and have shewn how deeply men may sink into errors and folly, notwithstanding the loud contradictions of reason. The name of Antinomians was given them by others, with which they were, at first, not much pleased. They differ in their religious opinions among themselves. Some pretend that those who are elect, or predestinated to salvation, do not sin, though they commit the greatest crimes, because such an elect person can never do wrong; and if he were pronounced by the world to be guilty of enormous sins, yet he is not so in the eye of God. They, therefore, deny, in this respect, all morality in human actions. Others contend that 406 it is quite unnecessary to preach the law, because those who are elect do not want it, and those who are predestined to eternal damnation can reap no benefit from it, though they were ever so carefully instructed in God’s commandments. Hoornbeeks1 has given a pretty circumstantial account of the origin and the opinions of these people, and I must refer to him, those who wish to have more information concerning them. The learned Thomas Gataker and John Flavel, wrote, in the last century, according to the custom of the times, thick books against this nonsense; but their voluminous writings on this subject, have been long since forgotten. This sect, for the honour of reason, is decaying very fast; and it is to be hoped, that it will be soon extinct.
1 Summa controversiarum, Lib. x. p. 816, seq.
THE doctrine of the Trinity has met in England, particularly during this century, with much opposition. I believe, that it is rejected by many of the established church, though they do not openly declare themselves, for fear it might endanger their temporal subsistence, and deprive them of their incomes. There are, however, several who freely declare their sentiments in regard to this doctrine, though they find themselves under a necessity of using the liturgy, and of reading the Athanasian Creed before their congregations. Others have, in later times, resigned their clerical functions, and their livings, renouncing the communion of that church in which they were bred. Among the Dissenting clergy, as I have before observed, the generality of those who call themselves Rational Dissenters, are Antitrinitarians, or, as they rather choose to call themselves, Unitarians; and many are Arians. Dr. Priestley, in his writings, charges the established 408 church publicly with idolatry, on account of its adopting the doctrine of the Trinity, and he thinks this to be the chief reason, why a separation from it is just and proper. In his Forms of Prayer for the Use of Unitarian Societies, he expresses himself thus: “Such a corrupt mode of religion enjoined by the civil powers, under which we live, will no more authorize or excuse our conformity to it, than the same considerations would have justified the primitive Christians in conforming to the rites of the Pagan worship, which were enjoined by the laws of the Roman empire.” As Dr. Priestley is a man of great eminence among the Dissenters, and a minister of a congregation, it may be easily supposed what, in regard to this article, the sentiments of those are who hear and regard him. He endeavours to make proselytes to his Unitarian doctrine, and exhorts those who adopt it, not to frequent, but to leave the congregations, where the doctrine of the Trinity is thought to be a fundamental one. For Sunday’s , if it were even but in one family, he has composed the above mentioned book of prayers, and added forms for baptism, according to the Unitarian principles, which may be used by any person who wants to perform that 409 ceremony; for, in his opinion, the clerical order is by no means necessary, and laymen may administer baptism and the Lord’s-Supper, as well as clergymen. To remove the difficulties of preaching, he recommends several collections of sermons, among whom, however, many are written by Trinitarian divines. As for the externals of divine worship, and matters relating to church-government, he leaves that to be regulated as it may be found expedient; “Let them,” he says, “unite only upon that single great principle of Christian faith, that there is one God, and Christ is the creature, the servant, the messenger of God.”
It does credit to the present times, that Dr. Priestley was not at all attacked, or called to an account for writing in this manner by any civil or ecclesiastical power. Two hundred years ago, he could not have dared to do so without endangering his life; for within that space of time, the English history mentions several Unitarians, Socinians, and Arians, who have suffered at the stake, on account of their religious opinions.
William Whiston and Dr. Samuel Clarke ought to be reckoned among the Arians; and by means of their authority, particularly of the 410 latter, it happened, that many of the dissenting clergy adopted Arianism. But as all things take their turns, and old ones are laid aside and forgotten, so I believe that, within these twenty years, Socinianism has got the better over Arianism; a few, perhaps, excepted stick to the latter, and assert the pre-existence of Christ. Dr. Clarke, on whose judgment some have hesitated to pronounce favourably, was, nevertheless, a man of learning, a worthy character, and a man of an excellent heart. It is said, that he declined accepting the episcopal dignity when it was offered to him, merely because he could not demand the subscription of the Thirty-nine Articles at the ordination of candidates, when he himself did not believe every one of them to be founded in truth. It is asserted that sir Isaac Newton was one of his disciples in Arianism. Many of the episcopal clergy, and even, as it is said, bishop Hoadly, the friend of Dr. Clarke, have adopted Arianism, and there may be now some who do the same. But as every thing grows old, and the repute and admiration of an eminent man ceases soon after his death, the Clarko-Arian system is almost sunk into oblivion, and Socinianism has succeeded 411 in its place. Among the Dissenting clergy many have adopted Dr. Clarke’s system. There are, here and there, in the country, and in London, some Dissenting congregations that are Arians, and if all who frequent such a meeting-house are not of that persuasion, the minister is at least; but as such congregations are unsettled, and the minister dies away, nothing with certainty can be said about them. I have heard that there is a Dissenting congregation at Exeter, which publicly professes Arianism. Those of the episcopal clergy who entertain Arian principles, do not profess them openly, for fear they should endanger their income wherewith they support themselves.
The present state of Socinianism1, or as it is called in preference, of the Unitarian doctrine 412 and worship, may be learnt from a late publication of Mr. Lindsey2. He was till the year 1773, vicar of Catterick in Yorkshire, but resigned his living, because he found the Thirty-nine Articles of the church in which he was educated, not altogether conformable to truth, and thought it inconsistent with his conscience and the duties he owed to the only true God, to read the liturgy of the established church, and particularly the Athanasian creed, before his congregation3. After his resignation he came to London, where he established a chapel in Essex-street, in which divine service is performed, and a liturgy used upon Unitarian principles. His brother-in-law, Dr. Disney, took afterwards the same step, quitted the church of England, and since the year 1782, assists Mr. Lindsey in his chapel. Dr. Disney shewed his disinterestedness, and his 413 conscientious sincerity, by resigning two livings which he held in Lincolnshire. The reasons for so doing he has likewise published in a manner which does him great credit. Both Mr. Lindsey and Dr. Disney intimate in their publications, relative to the reasons why they left the Church of England, that they know several clergymen of that communion, whose sentiments, in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity, are similar to their own, but who still continue in the church, because they would, if they resigned their livings, be deprived of their subsistence. Of those, who as learned men, professing what is called Socinianism, were then living, when Mr. Lindsey published his Historical View, Dr. William Robertson, Dr. Jebb, Dr. William Chambers, Mr. Tyrrwhit, Mr. Evanson, Mr. Harries, and Mr. Maty of the British Museum, are mentioned. Most of these gentlemen enjoyed preferments in the Church of England, which they resigned, one only excepted; and it is rather remarkable that most of them have been members of the university of Cambridge. It is understood that the late Mr. Blackburn, archdeacon of Cleveland, who is so well known as the celebrated author of the Confessional, was an Unitarian; but be did not think it necessary 414 to resign his preferments, and died not long ago, at the age of eighty.
It may easily be imagined, that those who call themselves Unitarians, agree with Socinus in regard to the doctrines of redemption, satisfaction, and others that are connected with them, though, perhaps, they do not espouse all his opinions. These doctrines, however, are even in episcopal pulpits, seldom treated according to the orthodox system; much less are the controversies mentioned which they have excited.
The Account of the Unitarians given by Mr. Lindsey relates mostly to those of the episcopal church; but their number among the Dissenters is far greater, and rather increasing than diminishing, not only in London, but in the country also. Many congregations, I believe, have ministers, who are disciples of Socinus; but whether the members of them are of the same opinion, is not easily ascertained; the generality, I suppose, are not, but rather inclined to Arianism. They, however, do not seem to be offended at the Socinian or Unitarian belief of their minister, if he be otherwise a deserving man, and a good preacher, who teaches sound moral doctrines. Few of the Dissenting clergy, 415 who have adopted Socinian principles, enter much into this subject in the pulpit, but rather follow the example of the late Dr. Lardner, who, among his friends, made no secret of his Socinianism, but never mentioned any thing relating to it in his discourses before a congregation.
As to Arminianism, I believe that the number of those who have adopted it in England is very great, particularly among the clergy, and not only that which is called Arminianismus prior, but also that which goes under the denomination of Arminianismus posterior. Yet, according to the difference of the sects, each takes from Arminianism what suits it best, for there are no particular congregations that assume the name of Arminians. Mr. Wesley, as I have before observed, chooses to style himself an Arminian, but he refers to Arminianism, merely the five points or articles that were condemned by the synod of Dort, and which were, in fact, the doctrines of Luther. Among the Dissenters, as well as the episcopal clergy, the more enlarged Arminianism is adopted by those, who are neither decidedly orthodox, nor Socinians, nor Deists. They do not think the doctrine of the Trinity 416 an article of faith; they deny what is called original sin, and adopt most of the Arminian opinions, which are condemned by those, who think themselves exclusively in possession of the true faith, or of orthodoxy.
1 I am far from using the terms Socinianism, and Socinian as a reproach; but as abroad we very seldom use the word Unitarian, and that of Socinian is well understood by us, I have in the German original generally made use of the latter, which is the reason that I retain it in the translation. The Jews and the Mahomedans are all Unitarians; and I believe that many a good and thinking man, professing the Christian religion, may have reasoned himself into Socinianism and the doctrines connected with it, without having ever heard the name of Socinus, much less read his works. Verba valent ut nummi, the doctrines and opinions of Socinians are well known, and whenever they are met with, I do not see any harm, nor any reflexion conveyed, in calling them Socinianism.
2 An Historical View of the State of the Unitarian Doctrine and Worship, from the Reformation to our Times. By Theophilus Lindsey, A. M. London. 1783. 8vo.
3 The Apology of Theophilus Lindsey, M. A., on resigning the Vicarage of Catterick, in Yorkshire. London. 1774.
For Sunday’s devotions, if it were even but in one family
text has devo-/votions at line break
but who still continue in the church, because they would, if they resigned their livings, be deprived of their subsistence
[This is unnervingly similar to the position of modern-day clergymen who realize that they no longer believe in God, but who know no other way of making a living.]
[Footnote] The Jews and the Mahomedans are all Unitarians
[Hmm . . . I guess “There is no god but Allah” counts as unitarian, if you’re content to define it like that.]
IT is to be regretted that this sect is rather on the decline. In church-history very few, if any, I believe, will be found, where the purity of morals, and that rectitude and virtue, which are so indispensably requisite to the happiness of human society, have been shewn more strongly and more generally, than among the Quakers. When I first came to England, I entertained all the prejudices which are so prevalent against them among other sects. I viewed them in much the same light with which they are generally regarded abroad, from ignorance and pious pride, by the zealots of all the three religious sects which are predominant in Germany. But how great was my surprize, when, after more enquiry and acquaintance, I found them better formed after the spirit of true Christianity, than those who make it their business to decry them. I by no means intend to pronounce a panegyric upon the Quakers; I do not approve many of the opinions which are said to be theirs. The pretensions to the moving, 418 or the impulse of the spirit, they should have renounced long ago; for it seems to be a slur upon that good sense which is otherwise so prevalent among them. But their morals, their education, their early subduing the passions, their conduct in life, their principles, and their manner of thinking—in short their moral character; how much were it to be wished, that it might become general, and be adopted by all sects whatever!
If this sect had originated formerly among the ancient Greeks, and if Fox, the shoemaker, had been the founder of a philosophical sect of antiquity, instead of a religious one in modern times, he would have acquired a great name, and his followers would have been deemed the best among all philosophers. Supposing we forget for a moment, that we are speaking of the Quakers, and related what follows as the tenets of ancient philosophers, who not only taught but really practised them:—all men are to live in peace and unanimity together, which not only their reason but even their feelings demand of them. To teach this we have no occasion to support a particularly-dressed class of people, and feed them with the tenth of our industry. Every one is to set a good example, and to become a teacher of that virtue which promotes 419 his own happiness, and that of the community. What we wish men should do to us, we should do even so to them. We are to avoid those things which perplex the understanding, and do not mend the heart, but produce altercation and strife; for, as our time is so short, we ought to make the best use of it, and apply it to the best purposes, for our own happiness and that of others. We are to combat and to subdue our passions early, and to accustom ourselves to patience and self-denial, for we have much occasion for both in the course of our lives. We are to be charitable, and to assist, if we have it in our power, the infirm and the necessitous, without being forced to it by law. We are to speak the truth from inclination, sincerely at all times, without calling the Deity to witness, to remove the suspicion of uttering falsehood and untruth. Men are all by nature equal, and possessed of the same rights, and every one is to endeavour to do good; nobody, therefore, is to oppress another, and to encroach upon his rights from arrogance. Men are not come into the world to destroy each other; but they are to live together peaceably and with forbearance, without training up a class of men for the purpose of slaughtering others. We are to dress ourselves according to cleanliness and decency; 420 but not to betray the vanity of the heart, and the emptiness of the head, by folly and idle shew. On the day which is weekly set apart for divine worship, we are to assemble with brotherly affection towards each other; we are to collect our thoughts, to meditate and to examine our lives, and to engage our devout attention in contemplating the perfections of the Deity, and his kindness towards us; we are to remember our frailties and our transgressions, and being ashamed of them, we are to renew our good resolutions and intentions, endeavouring to improve, by daily practice, in virtue and in true happiness. Supposing we met in Plutarch, or in Diogenes Laertius, with an account of philosophers who professed not only such doctrines, but practised them with unremitted care; would it not be said, that they really deserved that name? And this sect arose only in the last century, and continues still; and their chief religious tenets are those which I have just mentioned.
It is true, that in every flock some rotten sheep are to be found; but they are not very frequent among the Quakers, and when they are discovered they are separated. There are in London two sorts of Quakers, the dry and the wet, which names, I believe, are given them by 421 way of joke. The first class consists of the old, genuine, serious, and stiff Quakers; the other of those who have laid aside a great deal of the manners and formalities of the former, and do not scruple to adopt some of the fashions and the follies of the times and of other sects. Among the former, whom I may call the orthodox Quakers, some, however, may be found who are as vain and proud of their old simple dress, with a few buttons and a few folds only; of their small buckles and their carefully brushed broad-brimmed hats, as a modern macaroni of his modish and fantastical dress. In regard to the other sex, it is comparatively the same. It is said, that the honest patriarch of the Quakers, George Fox, was not a little proud of his apostolical habit, which was all of leather, and that he was to touch and to pull off his skin-cap for any body, as the present prim Quakers are to take off their hats.
I have long observed the moral character of the Quakers, and that which the majority of them maintain, appears to me to be very commendable, and worthy of imitation. As long as I have resided in London, I have never heard of one instance wherein a Quaker, as a criminal, was condemned to death, or to suffer corporeal punishment; nay, even at the Old Bailey, not 422 one, so far as I know, has been arraigned within these twenty years1. Suicide, which is so common among the English, has not been committed by a Quaker, whilst I was in England; at least I never heard of any instance of the kind. Quakers are liable to all human frailties and transgressions as well as other men; violations of the matrimonial vow, neglect of chastity, selfishness, stubbornness, and other faults will take place among them; but I am confident, that they are by no means so frequent as among other sects. The Quakers maintain their own poor, and no beggars are to be found of their community; they do not send them to the parish, or the workhouse, to which they must pay according to law, but they support them by their own voluntary contributions. Quarrels and disputes are not frequent among them, and whoever, not being of their sect, enters with warmth into a dispute with them, generally gets the worse, particularly on becoming animated; for the Quaker has a great advantage from his coolness, and by having learnt to keep his temper. No swearing or cursing is heard 423 among them; they do not make oath, but only affirm, which in law, except in criminal cases; stands as good as a solemn oath. Many a culprit has by this means saved his life; for if a Quaker happens to be the chief evidence, and refuses the oath, the delinquent gets clear, though it be ever so evident that he is guilty.
That there are no particular teachers among the Quakers, who are paid by the community, resembling the clergy of other sects, I need not mention; but there are some, who, without fee or salary, as more able speakers than others, will hold forth in their meetings, and, therefore, resemble a kind of preachers. Thus, some years ago, the brother of the late Dr. Fothergill, was regarded as an eminent preacher among the Quakers. Many of their meetings are held without speaking, and such silent meetings, as they are called, are most frequent. Sometimes a few words only are spoken, and it is seldom that any body entertains the congregation longer than five minutes, or, at the utmost, fifteen; and what is then said, is delivered in so slow a manner, that there is a pretty long pause, between every word which is pronounced. It happens likewise that a man or a woman rises, as if going to speak, but on second consideration sits down again, without uttering a syllable. 424 Those who are in expectation, that the spirit will move them for speaking, will now and then seat themselves on a place which is peculiarly designed for the speakers.
In the month of May, about Whitsuntide, Quakers, from all parts of the world, where they are to be found, resort to London, and it is then, that the best opportunities offer, for hearing some speeches in their meetings. In London, Westminster, and Southwark, as I have been informed, are about six Quaker-meetings. Formerly there were more, but the sect rather decreasing, some meeting-houses have ceased, and some have been united with others. In the country, almost in every town, Quaker-meetings are to be found, which distinguish themselves by their simplicity and their neatness within. Nothing but seats and benches are to be seen, which are painted in such colours as the Quakers generally choose for their clothes. No altars, no communion-tables, no baptisteries, no ornaments, no prayer or hymn-books are to be seen, for they do without these things, being chiefly satisfied with silent devotion.
Marriages are concluded among them in the most simple manner. After an enquiry has been made, whether no impediments are to be found, to prevent two people from marrying, 425 they meet at an appointed time in their meeting-houses, where the bridegroom declares before the congregation, that he will take the woman present for his wife, and be faithful to her, which declaration is likewise made on the side of the bride. They sign afterwards their names in a book kept for that purpose, and as many of those present, as choose to do it, add their names as witnesses. Sometimes an elderly Quaker will make a prayer on the occasion, or give an exhortation to the married couple, but it is neither very common nor requisite; every thing is done without ceremony, and no clerical fees of any kind are demanded or paid. From this it may easily be supposed, that no divorces between Quakers can take place in an ecclesiastical court of the established church, as their clergy has nothing to do with Quaker marriages; whatever, therefore, of this kind happens among parties of this sect, must be done by voluntary separation on both sides. But, if such kind of divorce is agreed upon, among themselves, the parties thus separated, are not permitted to marry again during the life of either; for Quaker marriages are, in the eye of the English law, as valid, as if they were celebrated in a parish church.426
The burials among the Quakers are without the least shew or pomp. They carry their dead to the grave without ceremony. Their burying-places are without tomb-stones, or monuments with ostentatious inscriptions, not always conformable to truth; for the honesty, as well as the modesty of the Quakers, does not admit of such things. Neither do they go into mourning for deceased relations, being, in this respects, too deficient in pride and hypocrisy.
The Quakers educate their children for trade, or other useful professions. To train them for preachers, lawyers, or soldiers, is out of the question with them. The medical art is the only one of what are called the liberal professions, which is pursued by some of them, and though they are against all titles, that of a doctor in physic is the only one which they admit. To study this salutary art, and to take the academical degree, they generally go to a Dutch university. During my residence in London, some eminent physicians have been Quakers.
That stiffness and formality which are rather too common among this sect, have frequently been made a topic of ridicule; and, perhaps, not without some reason. But this very affectation, as it is called, has tended to preserve 427 them against being contaminated by the world, if I may thus express myself; and, in proportion as this stiffness wears off, as it begins to do, the sect itself will more decrease. It may, however, be said in excuse of that reservedness of character so conspicuous among the Quakers, that hypocrisy and affectation have not so great a share in it as is supposed by many. Their manner of educating their children, contributes much towards that disposition of character, which inclines to seriousness, reservedness, and formality. There are among other sects, many, who, on account of their dignities, their dress, or rank in society, adopt an air of gravity and seriousness, which is frequently the offspring of pride and hypocrisy. They come under that description of Juvenal,
. . . Curios simulant et Bacchanalia vivunt,
which, I believe, can seldom be applied to the Quakers. They have, however, several singularities about them which deserve censure, and the mildest denomination that can be given them is that of real affectation. Thus, for instance, they will not call a church a church, but a steeple-house; they reject the common and in general adopted names of the months in the year, and the days in the week, calling 428 them rather the first or the second months or the first or second day of the week, &c. In their slow and solemn manner of speaking, something affected likewise appears; but I am doubtful whether it can be classed among their faults. If in our education we followed the example of the Quakers, and were strictly kept to speak slowly, and to utter our thoughts deliberately like them, there is no doubt but peace in society, and tranquillity of mind within us, would be infinitely better kept than is now the case.
It is said, that the number of Quakers in England, at present, amounts to between sixty and seventy thousand; but I do not know whether this calculation can be depended upon. These people support themselves by industry, and following some profession or trade, by which many acquire riches.
The Quakers, considered as a society, have established the best regulations among themselves. Their religious concerns are, without canonical law, without ecclesiastical courts and consistories, taken care of in a more regular, equitable, and peaceable manner than in those countries, where the honour of the Deity and the purity of religion, together with the salvation of souls, is intrusted to high tribunals, 429 and tremendous inquisitorial courts, whose members are amply paid, and do not live in the practice of abstinence and self-denial. The meetings of the Quakers, for regulating the concerns of their society, are various. Some are weekly, others monthly, and others quarterly. That which is kept annually in London, in the month of May, as I have already mentioned, might be called the grand synod of the Quakers. They then assemble from all parts of the world where members of this sect are settled. A letter, concerning the state of the whole community for the year past, is then published by the synod, written in a simple unadorned style, which carries a kind of intrinsic evidence of truth along with it, and, on account of its neatness, is generally inserted in the public Newspapers, by their editors. Their sufferings, by which they mean the tithes, and some other taxes, which they are very unwilling to pay, are particularly noticed in this epistle.
Many Quaker-schools are established in London as well as in the country. The boys in them are not so educated as to lead them to be proud of erudition, nor the girls to excel in modish follies. They are taught reading, writing, some arithmetic, cleanliness, decency, to controul their passions, to be silent, and in 430 short all those virtues which promote the happiness of life, and render them useful members in society. Singing, catechizing, long prayers, and such other things, as are the occupations in which children in other schools are employed, are, as may easily be imagined, not common in those of the Quakers. Yet these two kinds of schools, when compared to each other, make a singular contrast; for, whoever observes the children in the common schools in England, might be inclined to think, that the generality of them never prayed or received any instruction in religion; when, on the other side, the quiet and regular conduct of those in Quaker-schools, has the appearance as if their occupations were nothing but saying their prayers, and learning as well as practising a strict and orthodox catechism. The saying of Seneca, Brevis via per exempla, longa per præcepta, is in this instance very visible. The school-masters and school-mistresses among the Quakers, together with the parents, recommend by their example, what they teach them as doctrines and rules of conduct. At Ackworth the Quakers have a very respectable school, which the late Dr. Fothergill has remembered in his last will, by considerable legacies. The buildings are neat and very convenient. About 200 boys 431 and 140 girls are educated there, under the care of five school-masters, and three school-mistresses, who are subject to an overseer. Besides the number of children above mentioned, others of opulent Quakers are educated in this school at the expence of their parents.
At Clerkenwell in London, the Quakers have a well regulated school and workhouse. Charitable institutions of the same kind, belonging also to this sect, are to be found in other parts of England.
1 It was mentioned in April, 1786, in the public papers, that a poor wretch, said to be a Quaker, had been condemned at the Chester assizes, for poisoning his wife; but it was soon after publicly denied that he was of that sect.
It is to be regretted that this sect is rather on the decline.
[No worries, Gebhard. They’re still around.]
he was as unwilling to touch and to pull off
text has asunwilling
THE question, whether the interest of the Roman Catholics is rising or sinking is very differently decided. Some, from motives of fear and selfishness, have represented it as dangerously increasing; others, who seem to be better informed, declare it to be decaying. The principal of these reasons are, first, because several English noblemen, and others of rank and fortune, whose ancestors were of the Romish persuasion, have, from motives of temporal interests, which may be from the emoluments and honours to be enjoyed by conforming to the established church, or from conviction, left the religion of their forefathers, and turned Protestants; by which means many of those who were connected with, or depended on them, have followed their example. Secondly, because the Roman Catholics, as well as the Protestants, grow more and more indifferent about matters of religion.
As far as I am acquainted with the character of the English Roman Catholics, the generality 453 of them are quiet, peaceable, and industrious people, who, as good citizens, are intitled to all the protection of government. It was, therefore, perfectly agreeable to humanity and justice, that certain hard and severe laws, which were formerly made against them, have been repealed by later acts of parliament.
It is very true, that within these forty years, none of them have been put in force; but it was owing to mere connivance, and every evil-minded person might have turned informer against them, in which case, those laws and penalties must have been put in execution. For this reason, several lords and other gentlemen of rank and fortune, who profess the catholic religion, presented, in 1778, an address to the king, in which they returned thanks for that indulgence hitherto shewn to them, and recommended themselves, and their English Roman Catholic brethren, to the wisdom and farther kindness of government. A few weeks after this, sir George Savile made a motion in the house of commons, that several severe laws, made in the reign of king William, against the Roman Catholics, might be repealed. This was granted, but Mr. Fox’s motion, to free them from paying a double land-tax, did not 454 succeed. The common people, however, no doubt at the instigation of some who wanted to persuade them that an unlimited toleration was to be granted to the Roman Catholics, shewed a discontent, which first broke out in Scotland, by disturbances and outrages committed against them. A new-built Roman Catholic chapel at Edinburgh was set on fire in the year 1779, and several houses of inhabitants, who were of that persuasion, shared the same fate. As a beginning of such popular tumults was thus made in Scotland, it propagated itself, under the auspices of lord George Gordon, into England the following year, when the ever-memorable riots happened in London, to which I myself was a witness. But as these things are so recent in memory, I forbear giving here an account of them, and content myself with observing only, that certainly no premeditated plan was previously formed by the rioters, though this was supposed, even by some who were then in the administration of government. Lord George Gordon himself, I am convinced, when he began to assemble the mob, never dreamed that matters would be carried to such a height; nor was there the least foundation for a rumour, which then prevailed, that it was well known 455 long before at Paris, and even at Philadelphia, that such things were to happen in England. The French grand fleet was at that time actually on the British coast, and had the commanders of it been in possession of the least previous intelligence of these tumults, which produced so much consternation, they might have turned it greatly to their advantage; for all London, and the then ministry itself, were in such a panic, as I have never before seen in my life, and hope I never shall be witness to again. If government had not slighted lord George Gordon’s advertisement to assemble such a multitude, or even, when it was assembled, had immediately shewn proper exertion and spirit against the rioters, one troop of dragoons might have dispersed the whole mob, which consisted mostly of apprentices and other boys, and the tumults would have been quieted the instant they began, before they rose to such a height, and did so much mischief. However, after public peace and tranquility were restored, lord George Gordon’s intention, and that of his mob, to infringe upon the laws of religious toleration, did not, for the honour of the times and the country, succeed; and the Roman Catholics have since remained unmolested.456
About that time a well-written pamphlet1 made its appearance, which gives the best account of the present state of the Catholics in England. The author himself is, as he says, an English Catholic, educated in an English college abroad, and he writes as a man of candour and of a liberal mind. According to his representation, by an arrangement which took place in the reign of James II. England was divided into four districts, and a bishop was appointed to preside over each. A salary of a thousand pounds per annum was settled on every one of them, payable at the exchequer; which, however, continued only till the Revolution, when they were reduced to the necessity of supporting themselves, and one hundred pounds per annum, is, at present, more than equal to the revenue of their episcopal see. This number of bishops has hitherto continued, and as they have no place of residence allotted, each of them chuses his own place to live, and in as centrical and convenient a situation as possible. Their office is to attend the small concerns of their respective districts; to administer confirmation, and provide the different congregations 457 with priests from abroad; for they do not ordain any in England from political reasons.
The number of priests which were employed, at the time when the pamphlet was written, amounted to about 360. The northern district, which takes in the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Durham, York, Lancaster and Chester, contains the greatest number of priests and catholics, of which the former were 167. Some of them, however, are only chaplains to private gentlemen, where there are no congregations. The western district, comprehends the western counties and Wales. The catholics being there not numerous, have only 44 priests. The London district comprehends nine counties towards the east and south. It has 58 priests, and the catholic interest is declining there very fast. The midland district contains the counties which are situated in the middle of the kingdom, and has, comparatively speaking, the greatest number of Catholics, though there were forty years ago a third more than now. At present they are calculated at 8,460, which are under the care of 90 priests. It appears from the foregoing, that the number of the latter, in all the districts together, does not much exceed 350. Some of them are chaplains in gentlemen’s families, and 458 have the care of the little congregations around them; others reside in towns, or in some country places, where funds have been settled for their support. The chapels are in their own houses. Twenty pounds per annum is thought a very handsome salary for a gentleman’s chaplain; and if the rural curate has twenty more to keep himself, his horse, and his servant, it will be said that he is well provided. Some of the manufacturing and trading towns, as Norwich, Manchester, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, have chapels, which are rather crowded.
The whole number of Catholics in England at present does not exceed 60,000. Among them are counted the following six lords: the earl of Shrewsbury, lord Stourton, lord Petre, lord Arundel, lord Dormer, and lord Clifford. Lord Surry, now duke of Norfolk, and lord Teynham, have conformed within my time. There were nineteen Catholic baronets a few years ago, but some have lately turned Protestants also. Of esquires and gentlemen there may be about 150, but the greater part of them have no more than a thousand pounds per annum in landed property. The eldest sons of the Catholic gentry do not engage in trade, and the younger ones either remain 459 among their relations and friends, or engage in the service of some foreign prince; few take to the profession of medicine, or that of the law.
As to the Catholic schools, there are but three of any note in England. One is in Hertfordshire, one near Birmingham, and a third near Wolverhampton in Staffordshire. The latter is by far the most numerous; for the two others have generally no more than twenty or thirty boys, of the age of twelve or fourteen.
In foreign countries, the English Catholics have several colleges, monasteries, and nunneries. The college at Douay is the most considerable, and that of the Jesuits at St. Omer’s is united with it, since the annihilation of that order. This college of the Jesuits was the most celebrated in its time, as a great school for classical improvements, and the English Catholics were supplied from thence with many ecclesiastics. On their being obliged to quit France, they erected an academy at Liege, which is at present in great estimation, and the richer English Catholics send their children thither for education. There are, besides, English colleges at Paris, at Rome, at Lisbon, and at , in Spain. Many English 460 monasteries of the Franciscan, Dominican, and Benedictine order, are to be met with abroad; and at Lamspringe, in Lower Saxony, I have seen a fine English Benedictine monastery, where the monks find themselves very comfortably situated. No less than twenty-one English nunneries are reckoned abroad, which are mostly in France and in the Low Countries.
In Ireland the Roman Catholics are very numerous; so much that the proportion between Protestants and Catholics is said to be one to five. A few years ago, a scheme was in agitation, to erect at Carlow, in Ireland, a Catholic college, for educating youths of the Romish persuasion, to prevent their money being spent in foreign countries; but I have not heard that it has succeeded.
1 The State and Behaviour of English Catholics, from the Reformation to the Year 1780; with a View of their present Number, Wealth, Character, &c. London, 1780.
Partway through this section—beginning a new signature—the printer goofed and put “453” when the page number should have been 433. By the time he noticed the error, if he ever did, it was too late. The chapter on Catholics is therefore not nearly as long as the Table of Contents leads us to expect, and the whole volume is correspondingly 20 pages shorter.
which may be derived from the emoluments and honours
text has derivd
under the auspices of lord George Gordon
[Lord George Gordon was previously mentioned in the section on the Episcopal Church; see notes.]
This number of bishops has hitherto continued
[It has since gone back up to 22, including Wales. The established church has about twice that number, including—yay!—four women.]
and at Valledolid, in Spain
THIS sect, which had its origin in Germany, is known among us under the denomination of Herrnhuthers. In England they are called Moravians; but they themselves prefer the name of Moravian or United Brethren. According to the design of this work, I am to confine myself merely to their state in England, without retrospect to that in other countries. Mr. la Trobe, minister of the Moravian chapel in Fetter lane, who died not long ago, has translated from the German, a little work1, relative to this subject, written by Mr. Spangenberg, who not only as a Moravian bishop, could give the best account of his sect, but may be supposed to have really done so, from the character which he bears, even among other sects in Germany, as a man of probity.462
When count Zinzendorff, the founder of this sect, endeavoured to establish it in England, he met at first with considerable success. He found friends not only among the lower class of people, but also among the great; nay, even among the episcopal and dissenting clergy. Unluckily, however, for the count, a Mr. Rimius, a native of Germany, who resided in England, thought proper to translate and give extracts in English, from German publications, against the Moravians, and accompanied them with translations of some of their hymns. The effects which this publication produced, were very mortifying to the count. All his expectations, and his great hopes of the success with which, as he imagined, he should meet in Great Britain, appeared at once highly precarious; and there is no doubt, but that the publication of Rimius gave a mortal blow to Moravianism in England.
The Methodists and the Moravians were most intimate friends in the beginning. They erected in 1738, a chapel in Fetter-lane, which was to be common to both. John Wesley, who had got acquainted with some Moravians, who were in the same ship that carried him to America, shewed a great predilection for them. 463 However, disputes and quarrels soon taking place between both parties, prognosticated that this friendship would not be of a long duration. Count Zinzendorff came over to England himself, in 1741, and he soon fell out with Mr. Wesley. The Methodists and the Moravians now separated; the latter keeping the chapel in Fetter-lane, and the other erecting a tabernacle in Moorfields, under Mr. Wesley, who shewed himself, from that time, a warm adversary of the Moravians. If it were not a fact which history confirms in so many instances, that two people, who both instigated by ambition, want to be the head of a party, will never agree, it would appear rather singular that Methodism and Moravianism, which both, in their leading features, are so much alike, could not unite and agree in harmony for their common success and prosperity. It might have been supposed, that this could have been done with the greater ease, as both parties pretend that they, by no means, want to form a distinct sect, but wish to be incorporated into others, and subsist among them.
The Moravians, or, as they rather choose to call themselves, the United Brethren, are not numerous in England, and their congregations are but small. But, they ought, as they say, 464 according to their constitution, to be so. The brethren, as they express themselves, are scattered over the whole globe, and make altogether but one congregation.
It appears from the above mentioned account of Mr. Spangenberg, that their present state in England is the following; for in all Scotland no Moravians are to be found, except a few in Air. In London they have the chapel in Fetter-lane, as I have mentioned before, to themselves, since the year 1742. There was formerly preaching every Sunday in German as well as in English; but now the former is dropped, and the whole service is in the latter language only. At Chelsea they have a chapel likewise, with a burying-ground; but the great house, which they possessed there, was disposed of several years ago. Besides these they have in England several chapels and congregation places, as they call them2. One of the principal is at Fulneck in Yorkshire, where they have a congregation-house, in which is the chapel. There are also houses for the single brethren, single sisters, and widows, with œconomies or schools, in which the children of labourers, who cannot take proper care of them, are educated. At Bedford, Northampton, 465 Ockbrook in Derbyshire, at Pudsey near Leeds, at Wyke not far from Halifax, at Thirfield in the neighbourhood of Wakefield, at Little Gumerfall, at Leominster in Herefordshire, at Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, at Tetherton in Wiltshire, at Apperly in Gloucestershire, at Froome in Somersetshire, are Moravian chapels, congregations and societies. In some principal cities and towns, such as Bath, Bristol and Plymouth, they have the same. From the chapel at Bristol depends another at Kingswood; and at Duckenfield in Cheshire, they have a considerable establishment, a new chapel, two choir-houses, one for single brethren, and one for single sisters. A lately-erected chapel at Bullocksmithy, two miles from Stockport, is provided with preachers from Duckenfield.
These preachers are from different nations, Dutch, Swiss, Germans, Danes, and I have reason to suppose, that only a few English and a few Irish are to be found among them, though the foreigners preach, as I have been told, all in English, as well as they are able. The Moravians have a bishop who superintends their sect in England. The last was Dr. Wilson bishop of Sodor and Man, whom they had chosen for their bishop also, and which office he accepted. 466 Who succeeded him, after his death, I have not been able to learn.
The Moravians are generally industrious people, but they do not so much keep together in England in communities among themselves, as they generally do in Germany. They carry on different trades to which they have been brought up, or which they have learned; they employ themselves in manufactures, and endeavour to earn their bread in the best manner they can. The idea which has prevailed, of their having a community of goods, is, at least at present, unfounded. Every one is master of his own property, and if he has any to dispose of, he does it as he thinks proper.
The heavy accusations of great immorality which this sect was formerly loaded with, have much subsided, and they bear, at present, wherever they are settled, the character of a sober, industrious set of people, who refrain from luxury and immorality. As for their speculative doctrines, I believe many of them to be inconsistent with common sense, and tainted with fanaticism; but those hymns, which formerly gave so much offence, and were thought to be compositions in the Fescennine taste, have been set aside and disused3.
1 A Concise Historical Account of the present Constitution of the Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of the Evangelical Brethren, who adhere to the Augustan Confession. Translated from the German, with a Preface, by the rev. B. la Trobe, London 1775, 8vo.
2 Concise Historical Account, &c. p. 11-14.
3 Concise Historical Account, p. 62.
In the German original, Moravians (Herrnhuther) are the last denomination with a chapter of their own. They come after Jews, who in turn come after the atheists and fanatics.
IT seems to be rather improbable, that there should have been no Jews in England before William the Conqueror, as has been asserted by some. Perhaps they never enjoyed so many privileges before, when compared with those, which were granted them by the sovereigns of the Norman line. They had not only permission to build a synagogue in London, but had even an Alabarcha, or a supreme magistrate of their own, by whom they were governed and judged according to their law, who went, in England, by the name of Episcopus Judæorum1. They were, however, much disliked by the nation in general for their usury, their clipping the coin, and for other reasons. This aversion and animosity broke out afterwards in horrid persecutions, of which particularly two, that under Richard I. about the year 1189, and that under Edward I. in 1290, bear marks of much cruelty. In the last mentioned year, they were obliged to quit the 468 island entirely, and it is supposed that then above 15,000 emigrated2. Under Cromwell they made an attempt to establish themselves in England again, and offered a considerable sum of money to the protector to obtain his leave; but, though he was, perhaps, inclined to do so, finding that the nation was against it, he gave it up. Under Charles II. several Jews settled in the kingdom, without any permission, and finding that they were connived at, and met with indulgence, others did the same. From that time the Jews have enjoyed full liberty of conscience in England, though they are not included in the Toleration-Act. Nay, in 1752, it went so far, that, in hopes of drawing many rich Jews from Portugal into the kingdom, leave was given, by an act of parliament, for their obtaining naturalization like other foreigners. Such violent opposition, however, was made to this act, that the year following it was repealed.
The number of Jews in England, women and children included, amount to no more than about 12,000. Of these, 11,000 reside in London, and the remaining 1000 in other towns, 469 particularly Falmouth, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Exeter, Chatham, and Liverpool. In most of these places they have synagogues, or at least a large room, where they assemble for divine service. The Jews in London may be divided into two classes, the German and the Portuguese Jews, of which the latter is by far the smallest. In the former class are included all those who come from the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and from the North. The Portuguese, whose number may be about 4000, consist of such as come from Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Barbary, and the Levant. That thousand, who live in other English towns, is made up by German Jews only, for the Portuguese are not fond of leaving the metropolis.
These latter have but one synagogue in London, in Heneage-lane, near St. Mary-Axe, which has a rabbi, and an assistant rabbi. Besides, the Portuguese Jews have a kind of academy or college, in which about twenty young students are instructed in rabbinical learning. The rabbi of the synagogue is the head of this college, and has several under-masters to assist him. I have reason to think, that among the Portuguese Jews, more learning is to be found than among the others. Even the pronunciation of the Hebrew, in the Portuguese synagogues, 470 is, at least, in my ears, more pleasing than that in the German, though I am myself accustomed to the latter. Comparatively speaking, the moral character and the manners of the Portuguese, are much superior to those of the German Jews; they are richer and more fond of cleanliness than the latter; these wear their beards, which the others do not, who therefore have not so much of that Jewish appearance, which otherwise is so easily observed. The Portuguese take care to maintain their poor; and though the German Jews likewise make some provision for their’s, yet some of them, particularly Jewesses, are frequently seen begging in the streets.
They have three synagogues in London. One is in Duke’s-place near Aldgate; the second in Church-row, Fenchurch-street; and the third in Leadenhall-street. The German Jews, as well as the Portuguese, are all Rabbinists, who receive the Talmud, and no Karaites are to be found in England.
The Jews here support themselves by some sort of traffic, as they do in all other countries, though they have people of almost every profession among them. The German Jews of the better class are much engaged in negotiating bills of exchange, and those of the poorer wander 471 through the streets of London, which they fill with their noise in calling for old clothes, which they buy up, and mostly send abroad.
The praise which is due to the generality of the Portuguese, relative to their manners and morals, cannot be bestowed upon the majority of the German Jews. They are great sticklers for their old tenets and usages; but they allow themselves great liberties in regard to their morals. I believe few burglaries, robberies, and false coinages are committed, in which some of them are not, in one shape or other, concerned. They steal not only themselves, but assist Christian thieves by receiving their stolen goods, and buying them at a very reasonable price. In Duke’s-place, where hardly any but Jews live, during the whole night furnaces are ready to melt the stolen silver and gold as soon as the thieves bring it, that it may be rendered indistinguishable before day-light.
At Mile-End, they have two considerable burying-grounds, where some poor Jewish families live that have the care of them. I remember that a rich Jew, some years ago, made a pilgrimage to the Holy-Land, and returned from thence with large boxes full of holy earth from Jerusalem. He ordered in his will, that 472 his grave should be well-lined with this superior clay, and the rest be thrown upon his coffin, to prevent its being touched by English earth. He believed that thus interred, he should be the more certain of being received into Abraham’s bosom.
1 See Prideaux’s Connexion, &c. vol. iii. p. 359. note w.
2 Dr. Tovey, in his Anglia Judaica, &c. gives an ample account of the fate of the Jews in England, and to him I refer those who wish to be more particularly informed.
two classes, the German and the Portuguese Jews
[Otherwise known as Ashkenazi and Sephardi.]
IT is hardly to be credited, that there ever were men who, in the full use of their senses, and their rational faculties, should seriously have denied a first cause which gave existence to all things. When Diagoras of Melos, whom antiquity has stigmatized with the name of Atheist, denied the exigence of their gods, because they did not punish a perjured fellow who had robbed him of some insignificant poems in praise of Apollo, he might be deemed for this a fool, but not an atheist from conviction. When the parliament of Toulouse pronounced a sentence upon Vanini, at which humanity shudders, notwithstanding he had proved, in a strong and moving manner, to his judges, the existence of a Deity from a straw which he had picked up at the bar before them, it is no wonder, that after he had heard it, he should talk like a man bereft of his senses. But this does not prove that he died a convinced atheist. Indeed much may be said 474 in justification of human reason, when it is degraded by those, who are marked in the annals of mankind with the denomination of Atheists. A man who makes proper use of his sound senses, must easily observe the hand of an omnipotent and all-wise Being, when he contemplates with any attention the world and the works of which it consists. The English generally make use of their reason, and I, therefore, am inclined to think, that there are but few, who pretend to be in their senses, and yet ascribe the existence of the universe to mere accident. Indeed, I originally supposed, that there were no professed Atheists in England; but this opinion I must retract, since a Mr. William Hammon, of Liverpool, has publicly declared himself to be one1. Whether by sound reasoning he came so far as to deny a first cause of all things, which is commonly called Deity, I much doubt; for his declaring publicly, upon his honour, that he is a proper 475 Atheist, creates a suspicion that the faculties of his reason were, at that time, not so perfectly sound as might be wished. That there are numbers in England, as well as in other countries, who, in contemplating the Deity, will exclaim with the prophet, “thou art a God that hidest thyself2;” or acknowledge, with the heathen Simonides3, “Quanto diutius considero, tanto mihi res videtur obscurior,” I readily believe; but, for this they cannot be blamed. People, who live and act as if there were no God, are in great abundance in England, and this sect is, without doubt, the most numerous over the whole globe.
More Sceptics are probably to be found in England than in most other countries, because the liberty of thinking and the liberty of the press, are so unrestrained, and because the generality of the English are not so much given to dogmatising as the generality among other nations. There are, indeed, here and there, and particularly among the clergy, some who will talk in a decisive tone, and give their opinions rather in an oracular manner; but their number is not very great, and the more sensible people let them talk without regarding them. 476 Those only will turn Sceptics, who know the weakness of human understanding, and the mistakes we are so liable to fall into; those only who are acquainted with the history of human errors and follies, and of the many ridiculous opinions that have been maintained for centuries together, and which were the cause of animosities, wars, and persecutions. The true Sceptic knows the narrow limits of human knowledge, and in many instances where others give themselves an air of being acquainted with every thing minutely, he will say with true modesty, “I do not know.” Many of this enlightened character are to be found among the better sort of the English. And if this way of thinking had prevailed in the republic of letters, since arts and sciences have been cultivated, the annals of religion and literature would not contain so many scenes and transactions which put humanity and reason to the blush, and prove the want of good sense, and the depravity of the heart of those who pretended to be more enlightened than others. The stupid and obstinate Sceptic is here entirely out of the question. When Pyrrho pretended that life and death were equally indifferent to him, and yet anxiously hid himself behind a tree, for fear of being bitten by a dog, we can hardly forbear 477 laughing at the fool; but when Socrates modestly says, “that he only knew, that he knew nothing4;” the humility of the wise and his scepticism deserve admiration.
Of Indifferentists, according to the meaning of the word in the heretical catalogues, a great number are to be found among the English laity and clergy. Luxury which rises from time to time higher, and extends itself more and more, taxes which encrease at an enormous rate, produce an indifference about religion and virtue, among thousands, though not with regard to money and increase of fortune. Those who are not ashamed of professing that they respect religion as the means of promoting morality, let them be of whatever sect they will, Methodist and some others, perhaps, excepted, have generally imbibed the principles of toleration so well, that they do not exclude any body, by their own arbitrary decision, from the rewards of virtue, which men expect from the merciful hands of the Deity. This way of thinking and judging begins to prevail more and more in England; but whoever, as formerly was too much the case, would from thence draw the 478 inference that the English were Indifferentists, in that sense which the makers of heretics have annexed to the word, would betray the weakness both of his head and his heart.
There are, I believe, many Deists in England, though deistical writings appear, at present, not so frequently as they did about fifty years ago. Perhaps one of the reasons of this may be, that the subject has been much exhausted, and that the public in general care but little for publications relative to religion, which makes the booksellers rather cautious of hazarding the printing of them. Some, however, of this kind, have appeared within my time; but they have not excited that attention, or met with that opposition, which they probably might have been the cause of in an earlier part of this century. David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, created more noise abroad than they did in England. The Antiquity and Duration of the World, by G. H. Toulmin, M. D. has roused the zeal of several orthodox men on the continent; but among his own countrymen he has, so far as I know, met with only one adversary, who published a pamphlet against him. Charles Crawford wrote, as a student at Cambridge, in the year 1773, a Dissertation on the Phædon of Plato, in 479 which he violently attacked the doctrine of the immortality of the soul; but I have not heard that any body took the trouble to answer him in writing. What Mr. Gibbon has advanced against Christianity, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has been honoured with a number of publications against it; and a View of the internal Evidence of the Christian Religion, by Soame Jenyns, has likewise met with many opponents. Besides these, other writings have appeared, which, either directly or indirectly, have been levelled against the Christian religion; but I will not recall them from that oblivion into which most of them are sunk long ago. I shall only observe, that the rev. Mr. David Williams opened, in the year 1776, a chapel in Margaret-street, in which the devotion was to be conducted on the general principles of piety and virtue. Divine worship was there performed without retrospect to any supernatural revelation, or any doctrines peculiar to Christianity. For this purpose, he composed and used a liturgy on the universal principles of religion and morality. It was thought in the beginning that this institution would meet with much obstruction, particularly from the clergy of the established church; but, for the honour of religious toleration, it 480 remained unmolested for four years, when it ceased, as I believe, for want of proper support.
Dr. Leland remarks5, that the Deists are classed by some of their writers into two sorts, mortal and immortal; and adds, “it is to be feared, that the latter are the most numerous of the two.” I believe, that of the immortal Deists, there are, at present, but very few, if any, and that Deism in general makes much progress in England, though by no means equal to what it does in France. Formerly, the attacks of the Deists against the Christian religion, were principally directed against the sacred writings, and the fundamentals of its faith founded upon them; but the modern Freethinkers persuade themselves, that they have at last compleated what lord Herbert of Cherbury, the father of the English Deists, attempted unsuccessfully to do, for reducing Deism to a system. They believe, that they have found the true principles, derived from reason and experience, by which they can overthrow all kinds of established religion. They, therefore, think that the attacks upon the Bible are entirely useless, and that, by defending and adhering to their pretended system and adopted 481 favorite principles, they set all that authority effectually aside, which hitherto the professors of Christianity have attributed to their sacred writings. Though, at present, the Hell-fire club exists no more; yet, if a new one were to be erected, I believe there would be by no means a want of persons who are abundantly qualified for such a fraternity.
It cannot be proved, that the life of theoretical Deists, who are become such by reasoning, is, in general, more immoral, than that of many others, who only profess religion outwardly. The latter too frequently indulge themselves in every vice and immorality, in the hope that at last they shall be reconciled to virtue and to God, by using those means which the Christian religion offers for obtaining the pardon of transgressions, and the remission of their punishments. Among the number of those who within the course of a twelve-month, are condemned in London to the gallows, not a dozen leave the world as hardened criminals; and the instances are very scarce indeed of any one of them dying as a theoretical Deist, who had reflected and reasoned on the subject of religion. Most of those who expiate their crimes with the forfeiture of their lives, and who never cared for, or troubled themselves about the excellent moral 482 precepts of Christianity, call out, the moment that they are turned off, Lord Jesus have mercy upon us, and think that from that moment they shall get into full possession of those future rewards, which religion promises to the virtuous. There are, no doubt, Deists who are unmindful of the obligations to which they are bound by reason, by the law of nature and by their own feelings; but, at the same time, there are others, who, in regard to their moral character, might deserve those encomiums which were so liberally and so justly bestowed on Anthony Collins, one of the most celebrated English Deists, for his humanity and general benevolence. It is true, St. Austin would give to the virtues of a heterodox man the name of splendid vices; but it were much to be wished, that many who assume the name of Christians were guilty of them.
1 Mr. William Hammon says: “Whereas some have doubted, whether there ever was such a thing as a proper Atheist; to put that out of all manner of doubt, I do declare, that, upon my honour, I am one. Be it therefore remembered, that in London, in the kingdom of England, in the year of our Lord 1781, a man has publicly declared himself an Atheist.” Dr. Priestley’s Letters to a Fhilosophical Unbeliever.
2 Isai. xlv. 15.
3 Cic. de Natura Deorum, lib. i. cap. 22.
4 Eo præstare ceteris, quod illi, quæ nesciant, scire se putent: ipse, se nihil scire, id unum sciat. Cic. Academ. Quæst. lib. i. c. 4.
5 View of the principal Deistical Writers, vol. i. p. 2, 3.
In the German original, this and the following chapter come immediately after Roman Catholics, before the Jews and Moravians.
A man who makes proper use of his sound senses, must easily observe the hand of an omnipotent and all-wise Being
[Righty-ho. Onward . . .]
I HAVE had several times occasion to mention, in the foregoing account of the different sects, that several of them are tainted with fanaticism and enthusiasm; but there are some that deserve the name of Fanatics in the strictest sense of the word. In the English ecclesiastical history of former times, many more which come under this denomination were to be found then at present. Of the Fifth Monarchy Men, who, about the year 1661, went to work like madmen, none, nay, even hardly the remembrance of them, is left. The same must be said of those who were called Ranters, and resembled much in their fanatic opinions the Antinomians, though they surpassed them in the practice of a most immoral life. Seekers, who pretended that the true church, the true ministry, and the true administration of the sacraments were lost, are likewise no more. The followers of the taylor Muggleton are also extinct. This man, by sitting much as a taylor, 484 had contracted habits of a bad digestion, and by too much studying the Revelation, he had hurt his brains. He believed himself to be one of the two witnesses, who, clothed in sackcloth, were to prophesy a thousand, two hundred and threescore days; and he actually persuaded his friend John Reeve, likewise a taylor, that he was the other witness, upon which they both prophesied. Though many laughed at their folly, yet there were crazy people who became their devoted disciples. However, the prophets being dead, and their prophecies remaining unaccomplished, the admirers of Muggleton and his colleague are extinct. Of the French Prophets, who made in their time much noise, no more is to be heard. Millenarians, I believe, are at present but few in number, and the dreams of a Millenium seem to be pretty well over.
That Jacob Behmen and his writings have found great admirers in England, I have mentioned before. His Life, and a high panegyric upon him, were published but lately1. Few German authors have been more successful in acquiring celebrity among the English, than this countryman of ours. Among our writers of 485 any class, of which we may have reason to boast, there is, perhaps, none, who is half so well known in England, as the ignorant cobler of Old Seydenburg. The fame, of authors, indeed, is rather precarious!
Swedenborg, however, has now acquired more celebrity than Jacob Behmen. His strange writings, his visions, and his religious opinions, have met with so many admirers, that he, after his death, has become the founder of a religious sect, which takes its denomination from him. There is even a chapel, in London erected, which is called The New Jerusalem Chapel, in which, as I have been informed, the writings of Swedenborg are read and quoted with as much veneration and authority as the Bible.
Superstition is, perhaps, more prevalent in England than might be expected; and here and there, even some of that kind still subsists, upon which Mr. Addison makes serious observations, in his seventh number of the Spectator. Gypsies meet still with encouragement in their prophesying talents. Young girls present them their hands for inspection, to tell them their various fortunes. A Mrs. Corbyn professes herself, in public advertisements, to be a second Pythia; and, from the frequency of the 486 invitations she gives in the newspapers, which require money for being inserted, it is reasonable to suppose that she has not a few customers, and is well paid by them. Muralts’ observations, therefore, reflecting on the curiosity of English women, appear not to be without foundation2. In Wales and in the Highlands of Scotland, a kind of superstition, which is called second sight, is very common. Many a Welshman would grow warm, if he were contradicted or smiled at, when he relates, that in his country funeral processions are to be seen several days before a patient dies, proceeding in their completed form, from the house where he lies ill to the church-yard.
It was not long ago, that I called upon an apothecary, a friend of mine, when I found him in deep meditation, endeavouring to decypher a kind of Abracadabra, written on a small piece of paper. We soon discovered it to be an old spurious tradition relating to Christ, which was written in English but backwards, with this addition, that whoever was afflicted with an ague, and wore that little scrap of paper, should be 487 cured of it. My friend had taken this mark of superstition from a poor boy, who had laboured a long time under this illness, and had come to him for advice. The boy, on being asked, told him that his mother had gone with him to a man, who had cured many people of the ague, by hanging that bit of paper, in a little silken bag round his neck, but that it had availed him nothing, though he had worn it for several months. Curiosity prompted us to make a little enquiry after this conjurer, and we found that he lived in the neighbourhood, and had numbers of customers among the common people, who paid him rather more than their circumstances would well allow. Some stories of apparitions, and of disturbances said to be created by spectres, have happened within my time, and found, among numbers of people, more belief than I expected. They were related in some newspapers with all possible gravity; particularly one where the mischievous ghost had chosen his scene of action at Stockwell. Many people believed all these things not only to be true, but were even displeased at those who smiled at what they so seriously related. Sometimes I have diverted myself like Democritus in a playhouse, by watching the eyes and the Countenances of the spectators, when some of 488 Shakespeare’s plays were acted in which ghosts and spectres, witches and conjurors, are introduced. Surprize, fear, even horror were visible in many countenances to such a degree, as if the scenes which they saw had been real, and ghosts and spectres had appeared before them in a magic circle,
As spirits do t’ a conjurer,
When in their dreadful shapes th’ appear.
Magnetism, this new fashionable superstition, has been, within these few years, introduced from the continent, and with far more success than could have been expected among an enlightened nation. It is, however, to be hoped, that it will not be of long duration. When criminals are executed on the gallows, there are generally some people present, who rub the wens on their throat with the hands of the dying malefactors, under a persuasion, that this will take away the protuberance they wish to get rid of. There are many other shapes in which superstition appears in England, not only in the cottages of the poor and ignorant, but even in splendid mansions, among persons who lay claim to education, and who think themselves sharp-sighted enough to point out, and to laugh at the follies of others.
1 Memoirs of the Life, Death, and wonderful Writings of Jacob Behmen, by Francis Okely. Lond. 1780. 8vo.
2 He says in his Lettres sur les Anglois, p. 14. of the English women: Elles sont curieuses de l’avenir, avides de prédictions et crédules. But it may be asked, are the women in England only so?
The last page—488 in the London edition—was missing from the scans I used. The text is filled in from the Dublin edition. If there was an Errata page, as in the first volume, it too is missing.
In the German, this chapter was followed by the chapters on Jews and Moravians, in that order.
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.