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L E T T E R II.
UNIFORMITY IN RELIGION.
Jura. Sed Jupiter audiet. Eheu Baro! regustatum digito terebrare salinum Contentus perages, si vivere cum Jove tendis. Persius.
LET T E R II.
LEGISLATION is doubtless a sacred thing: it is a divine imitation of the government of mankind, and is deservedly assigned to the first in birth, property, and skill: but, the history of all nations will prove, that in parliaments, as in paradise, the serpent has found a way to corrupt and deprave. Ignorance or interest, negligence or pride, have too often prevailed over the generous principles which ought to influence these gods of mankind; and one age has been driven to repeal the laws of a former: so that perhaps legislation would furnish a large history of the extravagancies of the human mind, among which an ACT OF UNIFORMITY would appear one of the greatest. Britons boast of their laws, and in general with great reason; but some of them blush for their country when they read a law intitled an act of UNIFORMITY.
It would be foreign from the present purpose to enquire the origin of this law,
To whom related, or by whom begot, it may be more proper to show that religious uniformity is an impossibility, and that a law of this kind can neither be argued from the light of nature, nor from the holy scriptures. The idea of uniformity is neither the idea of a philosopher, nor of a christian. The fabricature of this law therefore by men who had a just right to both these titles implies a moment's absence:
Sound policy requires a legislature to preserve its dignity; but the dignity of a legislature is never more prostituted than when impracticable edicts are issued. The dignity of legislation depends more on inforcing than on inventing a law: the latter may be done by a pedant in his study, but the first must have power, property, magistracy, penalty, in a word, authority to support it; and this energy
is its dignity. Where a tax is levied which the people cannot pay; where a kind of obedience is required which the people cannot yield; the legislators are forced to dispense with the obedience required. And what follows? the people despise a folly which could not foresee, a narrowness of. capacity which could not comprehend, a timidity which dare not, ora weakness which cannot inforce its decrees. Did not all Europe deride the absurdity of those magistrates, who, in the reign of Mary, cited by their commissioners, Fagius and Bucer, who were both dead and buried, to appear and give an account of their faith? and, as if that was not quite ridiculous enough, caused their bones to be dug up out of their graves and burnt for Non-APPEARANCE!
Aut nunquam tentes, aut perfice, * is an excel
* Either never attempt any thing,or go through with it. The motto of his grace the Duke of Dorset; and nobly exemplified in that ancient and illustrious family.
lent motto, and no where more rationally applied than in the matter of law-making. Had this been attended to, (but who that attends to the transactions of the year 1559, can wonder that it was not?) an act of uniformity could never have been passed. The impossibility of inforcing it might have been foreseen; nor ought it to be wondered at if five years after, “her Majesty was informed, that
some received the communion kneeling, others
standing, others sitting. Some baptized in a "font, some in a bason; some signed with the sign “ of the cross, others not.” In vain the queen attempted to inforce the act by penalties; in vain have succeeding princes endeavoured to inforce it; in vain were the formidable forces of oaths, subscriptions, fines, and prisons brought into the field; cruelty and lenity, madness and moderation, the gentleness of the eighteenth, and the rage of the seventeenth century have been employed in vain; the act stands disobeyed and unrepealed to this day.
Make religion what you will; let it be speculation, let it be practice; make it faith, make it fancy; let it be reason, let it be passion; let it be what you will; uniformity in it is not to be expected. Philosophy is a stranger to it, and christianity disowns it.
A philosopher holds that the system of the universe is perfect; that the duty and glory of man is to follow, not force nature; that moral philosophy is nothing but a harmony of the world of spirit with the world of matter; that all the fine descrip