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I have gone as far as I am able in qualifying myself to be such a moderator: I believe I am no bigot in religion, and I am sure I am none in government. I converse in full freedom with many considerable men of both parties; and if not in equal number, it is purely accidental and personal, as happening to be near the court, and to have made acquaintance there, more under one ministry than another. Then, I am not under the necessity of declaring myself by the prospect of an employment. And lastly, if all this be not sufficient, I industriously conceal my name, which wholly exempts me from any hopes and fears in delivering my opinion.
In consequence of this free use of my reason, I cannot possibly think so well or so ill of either party, as they would endeavour to persuade the world of each other, and of themselves. For instance; I do not charge it upon the body of the whigs or the tories, that their several principles lead them to introduce presbytery, and the religion of the church of Rome; or a commonwealth, and arbitrary power. For why should any party be accused of a principle, which they solemnly disown and protest against? But, to this they have a mutual answer ready: they both assure us, that their adversaries are not to be believed; that they disown their principles out of fear, which are manifest enough, when we examine their practices. To prove this, they will produce instances, on one side, either of avowed presbyterians, or persons of libertine and atheistical tenets; and on the other, of professed papists, or such as are openly in the interest of the abdicated family. Now it is very natural for all subordinate sects and denominations VOL. VIII. 2 B
in a state, to side with some general party, and to choose that, which they find to agree with themselves in some general principle. Thus, at the restoration, the presbyterians, anabaptists, independents, and other sects, did all, with very good reason, unite and solder up their several schemes, to join against the church; who, without regard to their distinctions, treated them all as equal adversaries. Thus, our present dissenters do very naturally close in with the whigs, who profess moderation, declare they abhor all thoughts of persecution, and think it hard that those, who differ only in a few ceremonies and speculations, should be denied the privilege and profit of serving their country, in the highest employments of state. Thus, the atheist, libertines, despisers of religion and revelation in general, that is to say, all those who usually pass under the name of freethinkers, do properly join with the same body; because they likewise preach up moderation, and are not so overnice to distinguish between an unlimited liberty of conscience, and an unlimited freedom of opinion. Then, on the other side, the professed firmness of the tories for episcopacy, as an apostolical institution their aversion to those sects, who lie under the reproach of having once destroyed their constitution, and who, they imagine, by too indiscreet a zeal for reformation, have defaced the primitive model of the church; next, their veneration for monarchical government in the common course of succession, and their hatred to republican schemes: these, I say, are principles which not only the nonjuring zealots profess, but even papists themselves fall readily in with. And every extreme here mentioned, flings a general scandal upon the whole body it pretends to adhere to.
But surely no man whatsoever, ought, in justice
or good manners, to be charged with principles he actually disowns, unless his practices do openly, and without the least room for doubt, contradict his profession; not upon small surmises, or because he has the misfortune to have ill men sometimes agree with him in a few general sentiments. However, though the extremes of whig and tory seem, with little justice, to have drawn religion into their controversies, wherein they have small concern, yet they both have borrowed one leading principle from the abuse of it: which is to have built their several systems of political faith, not upon inquiries after truth, but upon opposition to each other, upon injurious appellations, charging their adversaries with horrid opinions, and then reproaching them for the want of charity; et neuter falso.
In order to remove these prejudices, I have thought nothing could be more effectual, than to describe the sentiments of a church of England man, with respect to religion and government. This I shall endeavour to do in such a manner, as may not be liable to the least objection from either party, and which I am confident would be assented to by great numbers in both, if they were not misled to those mutual misrepresentations, by such motives, as they would be ashamed to own.
I shall begin with religion.
And here, though it makes an odd sound, yet it is necessary to say, that whoever professes himself a member of the church of England, ought to believe a God, and his providence, together with revealed religion, and the divinity of Christ. For beside those many thousands, who (to speak in the phrase of divines) do practically deny all this by the immorality of their lives, there is no small number, who in their conversation and writings,
directly, or by consequence, endeavour to overthrow it; yet all these place themselves in the list of the national church, though at the same time (as it is highly reasonable) they are great sticklers for liberty of conscience.
To enter upon particulars: a church of England man has a true veneration for the scheme established among us of ecclesiastic government; and though he will not determine whether episcopacy be of divine right, he is sure it is most agreeable to primitive institution, fittest of all others for preserving order and purity, and under its present regulations best calculated for our civil state: he should therefore think the abolishment of that order among us, would prove a mighty scandal and corruption to our faith, and manifestly dangerous to our monarchy; nay, he would defend it by arms against all the powers on earth, except our own legislature; in which case he would submit, as to a general calamity, a dearth, or a pestilence.
As to rites and ceremonies, and forms of prayer, he allows there might be some useful alterations, and more, which in the prospect of uniting Christians might be very supportable, as things declared in their own nature indifferent; to which he therefore would readily comply, if the clergy, or (though this be not so fair a method) if the legislature should direct: yet, at the same time, he cannot altogether blame the former, for their unwillingness to consent to any alteration; which, beside the trouble, and perhaps disgrace, would certainly never produce the good effects intended by it. The only condition, that could make it prudent and just for the clergy to comply in altering the ceremonial, or any other indifferent part, would be a firm resolution in the legislature to interpose, by some strict and effectual laws, to prevent the ri
sing and spreading of new sects, how plausible soever, for the future; else there must never be an end: and it would be to act like a man, who should pull down and change the ornaments of his house, in compliance to every one, who was disposed to find fault as he passed by; which, beside the perpetual trouble and expense, would very much da mage, and perhaps in time destroy the building. Sects in a state, seem only tolerated with any reason, because they are already spread; and because it would not be agreeable with so mild a government, or so pure a religion as ours, to use violent methods against great numbers of mistaken people, while they do not manifestly endanger the constitution of either. But the greatest advocates for general liberty of conscience will allow, that they ought to be checked in their beginnings, if they will allow them to be an evil at all; or, which is the same thing, if they will only grant, it were better for the peace of the state, that there should be none. But while the clergy consider the natural temper of mankind in general, or of our own country in particular, what assurances can they have, that any compliances they shall make, will remove the evil of dissension, while the liberty still continues of professing whatever new opinion we please? Or how can it be imagined, that the body of dissenting teachers, who must be all undone by such a revolution, will not cast about for some new objections to withhold their flocks, and draw in fresh proselytes, by some farther innovations or refinements?
Upon these reasons, he is for tolerating such different forms in religious worship as are already admitted, but by no means for leaving it in the power of those, who are tolerated, to advance