Page images
PDF
EPUB

not alter the nature of its atrocities. The prelatical Church feels what the Dissenters should never lose sight of, that, let the nature of the infliction for recusancy be what it may, it is infliction; and that is an infliction which vindicates its attributes, and contains the essence of all infliction. Let the value of the goods spoiled be what it may, costly or cheap, ‘vessels of silver' or 'rugs,' it is a spoiling; and contains within itself the essence of all robbery. Let the amount of the torture be what it may, let but one groan be wrung or one tear extorted, it is torture; and contains within itself the essence of all torture. This the state-church knows right well; this it will strive to uphold against the aggrieved of all classes ; and in this it trusts to be maintained, by the wealth and chivalry of England. But with all its arrogance the Church is weak-weak in proportion to the very closeness of its alliance with the state-weak, demonstrably weak, in proportion to the nervous eagerness of its unceasing and terrified appeals to the magistrate,

These atrocities, committed against good men and peaceable citizens in the name of religion, and for the furtherance of Christ's kingdom, will not be endured. Such proceedings strike at the root of civil government. The policy defeats the end and object of all government. The ruler who persists in upholding this policy is not a ruler, but a despot; the subject who submits to the ruthless sway, is not a subject, but a slave. Protection and obedience are correlative duties. It is indisputably sound law that an Englishman owes no civil obedience to a political tyrant: and it is equally sound gospel that a Christian shall not yield one jot or tittle of spiritual obedience to an ecclesiastical oppressor. RESISTANCE (and would that the word were blazoned in letters of light, not only on every Englishman's Magna Charta, but on his holy Bible as well !)-RESISTANCE must be made to either or to both oppressors; but it will be the resistance which becomes an Englishman-it will be the resistance that becomes a Christian. That his resistance

may

become an Englishman, it will be political; that it may become a Christian, it will be religious. To be commensurate with his duties and his rights it will be both a political and religious resistance.

In offering a few suggestions as to the policy of the Dissenters, our observations will be limited to two points : resistance to church-rate, and the aggressive dissemination of the voluntary principle. We assume that the one is an iniquitous impost; and that the other is the only Christian mode of supporting Christianity.

With regard to the grievance of church-rate-it would be a mere waste of time to discuss its origin or nature-nor need we trouble our readers with a history of the many efforts for its abolition. We have had more than enough (if that be possible)

of discussion. If it be really meant that the impost shall be abolished, we must act. Were we asked for the reason why this trumpery tax is still retained, we should say because the bulk of the Dissenters still pay it. Were we asked the readiest way of ridding all parties of it, we should earnestly and respectfully answer, RESISTANCE TO ITS PAYMENT. The

sum and substance of our recommendation is this oppose the rate, if you please—vote against it in parish vestries, if you pleasedecline to recognize the court Christian,' and compel that court to render a legal account of your custody to the superior tribunals, if you please-agitate and petition against it, make it a test of your vote as an elector, if you please—but DO NOT VOLUNTARILY PAY IT. Judged of either as a mode by the test of expediency, or as a duty by the test of God's word,-resistance, passive resistance, is at once the simplest, surest, and purest course that can be taken for its eventual abolition. To adopt the language of our greatest Advocate, it is to measure wisdom by simplicity, strength by suffering, dignity by lowliness; this is the truly evangelical method, of confuting wisdom by foolishness, binding strength by weakness, vanquishing pride by despisedness. The conscientious nonconformist has only to imitate the highest examples—he has only 'to stand still’—he has, perhaps, yet to know that the most innocent as well as the most 'invincible of all powers, is the power of refusing to do.'

We wish to be understood as addressing ourselves to individuals, not to Societies. Let each look to himself. The best societies may be but indifferently managed; or they may feel some practical difficulty in recommending this course—but each individual can act for himself. What our case and our time need is not the mechanical aggregation of our fellow-citizens, associated together for the accomplishment of high objects. Such we have, and such we rejoice in,—but we want the excitement and stirring up of the dynamical power within the hearts

We want more self-reliance, and less gregariousness. We ought to ask at the year's end, not what has such or such a society done, but what have I done? Not what report has this or that association made to its constituents, but what report do I make to my conscience? Not what are its resolutions, but what are mine? Not what brilliant things have its orators said, but what self-denying actions have I performed? Let the society take its course—you take yours. If you differ, and the society should attempt to trammes your

free agency-if it should seek to put a yoke on you-renounce all connexion with it. Follow out as far as in you lies that course of action which will bring you, at any rate, into a direct and personal, though peaceful struggle, with the bad system. If you feel more in love with the system that spoils your goods, it

of men.

will be wonderful. Perhaps you would not oppose it the less zealously, consistently, or effectively, on account of seizures remembered, or seizures anticipated. Bear in mind that the 'most invincible of all powers is the power of refusing to do.'

But you will be told, and told by people of 'tender con'sciences' too, that it is the ‘law of the land' for you to pay; so it is, otherwise your resistance would be active, not passive. Were it not the law of the land, one would be justified in treating the priests' executioner as you would not hesitate to treat a robber or an assassin. The fact is, you honor the law of the land by submitting to its penalties. The law is not always to be actively obeyed, though it is always to be passively obeyed, except in certain extreme cases, which citizens can better define than jurists. The law of man may violate the law of God, by ordering that to be done which God has said should not be done, or by commanding that to be left undone which God has ordered to be done, or by bringing its physical sanctions to bear on that which cannot recognize them. Is the law of the land to be obeyed ? No. Is it to be resisted? Yes. How? Passively. It was by the unquestionable law of the land that our Saviour was crucified; it was the law of the land which inflicted torture and death on his apostles. Ask the noble army of martyrs, whence they came ?-and they will answer with one voice, that they suffered by resistance, passive resistance, to the law of the land.

Fear not, we would say to the individual nonconformist, that there will be any lack of sympathy. You will have this in abundance, if you deserve it. Look at the cases of John Thorogood, and William Baines. Their consciences prescribed the course which they followed. They resisted as citizens. They disputed the rate, as they had a right to do, before the magistrate ; they were cited into the prelatical court, and very properly took no notice of the citation; the court pronounced them in contempt, and they were sent to gaol. This is the brief history of their opposition to church-rates. Be it known, however, that if the promoters of this suit had not been actuated by vindictive feelings, they might have avoided the extremity of imprisonment. They had the OPTION, instead of taking their persons for the contempt, of getting them pronounced in contempt-of proceeding with the suit, as if they had appeared; and when they had obtained judgment, they had the option of taking either the goods or the person in execution. We mention the option as to prison or goods, because it will be recollected that the judge of the court boldly denied, in the face of the House of Commons, that any other course than imprisonment was open to the churchwardens ! But let this

There was no lack of sympathy. We pretend not to recommend their

pass.

precise course of conduct; neither shall we pretend to dispute it. We do not assert, as advocates of passive resistance, that it shall be mere and sheer passive resistance. We say not, away with habeas corpus writs; let the significavits take their merciless course; merge your birthright as an Englishman in your whimsies as a martyr. By no means. What the common law will do for you, avail yourself of, if you please. But such constitutional methods have been tried in both cases, and have not eventually succeeded; nor is success again to be looked for; because the prelatical courts have now been taught the knowledge of their own business. Still it was the sympathy of multitudes for these conscientious tradesmen that enabled them to resort to such proceedings, which have had the happy effect of attracting the attention of all classes to the iniquity of an impost which is the occasion of equal annoyance to all parties. It was sympathy which led a certain noble person,—who, however, was understood to have said in his place in parliament, that he approved of the incarceration itself,—to pay the costs which Thorogood was detained for-sympathy, or perhaps compunction, led him to do good by stealth,' and we hope he will not blush to find it fame.

Mr. WILLIAM BAINES is to remain for six months (it may be for life) in Leicester gaol. The parish of which he is a ratepayer is the only one in that large town where a church-rate can be made. He was not satisfied with simple enrolment in the lists of a society; he was pleased probably with its honesty, zeal, and progress—its resolutions and reports—its agitation and its petitions; he was not, however, to be enticed out of his individuality, or to be deprived of the most invincible of all powers, the power of refusing to do,' by the most flattering reports of dulcet interviews, and melting moments, and great gatherings, and splendid promises. He, as well as Thorogood, endeavoured to give vivid, personal actuality to his opinion. Determining to afford palpable evidence of sincerity, to himself at least, he determined to refuse to do.'

The course, the simple Christian course, which we have recommended may be adopted, whatever steps may be taken by the government, with respect to this tax." Lord John Russell and the bishops, who represent between them “Church and State,' propose, not to relieve Dissenters of the impost of churchrate, but to make its imposition and collection easier ; that is, the recommendations of the ecclesiastical courts commissioners' will be adopted. It will be collected by the magistrate's warrant; and in the event of a parish refusing a church-rate, it will be made at quarter sessions. There will then be no ecclesiastical court to deal with ; but the rate, the obnoxious payment, will not be abolished. We would beg of Lord John

RUSSELL to pause. We would appeal to him, as one of the most upright and influential of her Majesty's servants, to pause, before he commits himself to this scheme. For the sake of the country he rules, we beg of him to consult with his own conscience, and not to take counsel with the turbulent and tyrannous against the peaceable and free. We beg of him, by all that is reverend in the sanctities of religion, or majestic in the forms of virtue, not to become an instrument of torture-not to lend the weight of his talents, station, and office, to the work of desolating the homes and the hearts of the kindliest of his supporters, the most zealous of his wellwishers, and, perhaps, not the least loyal of her Majesty's subjects. But if he persist, as a politician, in perunitting the prelates to disturb the peace of the community, and, as a Christian, in countenancing the use of unhallowed weapons against the disciples of Christ, for the promotion of the Saviour's cause, we shall lament his determination more for his own sake than for theirsfor the course of the nonconformist is very plain. RESISTANCE there must still be—that resistance must be passive—and that resistance will be invincible. The nonconformist may resort, and that thankfully, to the laws of his country, but he finds a surer refuge in the laws of his God. He may gladly avail himself of the forms of the constitution; but he can remove his plea into a higher court, and leave the issue with a higher Power. He can refuse and yet comply; he can acknowledge and yet repudiate; he can resist and yet obey; and he conquers even when he falls.

To come to the other point to which we proposed to advert.

The agitation of every dissenting question raises the whole dispute as to the support of religion. A bold and honest statesman might have staved off this formidable discussion for half a century longer, by redressing and settling every practical grievance;' but such a politician has not yet appeared; and the consequence is, that the dissenter starts up as a voluntary, and the discussion wears the aspect of the final controversy.

This, we doubt not, is a most serious topic in the eyes of the establishment. So long as the Dissenter was content to invest his political energies in seeking the redress of practical grievances,' the hierarchy was placid, and the government complacent. A routine was gone through, of periodically asking' on the one side, and courteously 'postponing' on the other. We must protest here against the indiscriminate censure of the management of the dissenting political societies, as if there were treason in all their offices. In endeavouring to account for the stationary position or backward movement of dissenting interests, some have ventured on the hypothesis that they were sold to the Whigs. It must be shown that they were worth

« PreviousContinue »