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than among their order generally. We should probably overrate their numerical strength, if we were to estimate them at a tenth part of the priesthood. Yet it will scarcely be denied that there were among them as many men of distinguished eloquence and learning as could be found in the other nine tenths. Among the laity who conformed to the established religion the parties were not unevenly balanced. Indeed the line which separated them deviated very little from the line which separated the Whigs and the Tories. In the House of Commons, which had been elected when the Whigs were triumphant, the Low Church party greatly preponderated. In the Lords there was an almost exact equipoise; and very slight circumstances sufficed to turn the scale. The head of the Low Church party
William-. was the KinS- He had been »ic». con- bred a Presbyterian: he was, weieaiutu from rational conviction, a c«i poihj. Latitudinarian; and personal ambition, as well as higher motives, prompted him to act as mediator among Protestant sects. He was bent on effecting three great reforms in the laws touching ecclesiastical matters. His first object was to obtain for dissenters permission to celebrate their worship in freedom and security. His second object was to make such changes in the Anglican ritual and polity as, without offending those to whom that ritual and that polity were dear, might conciliate the moderate nonconformists. His third object was to throw open civil offices to Protestants without distinction of sect. AH his three objects were good; but the first only was at that time attainable. He came too late for the second, and too early for the third.
A few days after his accession, he _ took a step which indicated,
Burnet, . r , . i_ ■
Biibopof in a manner not to be missaiiibury. ^jjen, n;s sentiments touching ecclesiastical polity and public worship. He found only one see unprovided with a Bishop. Seth Ward, who had during many years had charge of the diocese of Salisbury, and who had been honourably distinguished as one of the founders of the Koyal Society, having
long survived his faculties, died while the country was agitated by the elections for the Convention, without knowing that great events, of which not the least important had passed under his own roof, had saved his Church and his country from mil. The choice of a successor was no light matter. That choice would inevitably be considered by the country as a prognostic of the highest import The King too might well be perplexed by the number of divines whose erudition, eloquence, courage, and uprightness had been conspicuously displayed during the contentions of the last three years. The preference was given to Burnet. His claims were doubtless great. Yet William might have had a more tranquil reign if he had postponed for a time the well earned promotion of his chaplain, and had bestowed the first great spiritual preferment, which, after the Bevolution, fell to the disposal of the Crown, on some eminent theologian, attached to the new settlement, yet not generally hated by the clergy. Unhappily the name of Burnet was odious to the great majority of the Anglican priesthood. Though, as respected doctrine, he by no means belonged to the extreme section of the Latitudinarian party, he was popularly regarded as the personification of the Latitudinarian spirit. This distinction he owed to the prominent place which he held in literature and politics, to the readiness of his tongue and of his pen, and above all to the frankness and boldness of his nature, frankness which could keep no secret and boldness which flinched from no danger. He had formed but a low estimate of the character of his clerical brethren considered as a body; and, with his usual indiscretion, he frequently suffered his opinion to escape him. They hated him in return with a hatred which has descended to their successors, and which, after the lapse of a century and a half, does not appear to languish.
As soon as the King's decision in known, the question was every where asked, What will the Archbishop do? Sancroft had absented himself from the Convention: he had refused to sit in the Privy Council: lie had ceased to confirm, to ordain, and to institute; and he was seldom seen beyond the walls of his palace at Lambeth. He, on all occasions, professed to think himself still bound by his old oath of allegiance. Burnet he regarded as a scandal to the priesthood, a Presbyterian in a surplice. The prelate who should lay hands on that unworthy head would commit more than one great sin. He would, in a sacred place, and before a great congregation of the faithful, at once acknowledge an usurper as a King, and confer on a schismatic the character of a Bishop. During some time Sancroft positively declared that he would not obey the precept of William. Lloyd of Saint Asaph, who was the common friend of the Archbishop and of the Bishop elect, entreated and expostulated in vain. Nottingham, who, of all the laymen connected with the new government, stood best with the clergy, tried his influence, but to no better purpose. The Jacobites said every where that they were sure of the good old Primate; that he had the spirit of a martyr; that he was determined to brave, in the cause of the Monarchy and of the Church, the utmost rigour of those laws with which the obsequious parliaments of the sixteenth century had fenced the Royal Supremacy. He did in truth hold out long. But at the last moment his heart failed him, and he looked round him for some mode of escape. Fortunately, as childish scruples often disturbed his conscience, childish expedients often quieted it. A more childish expedient than that to which he now resorted is not to be found ffl all the tomes of the casuists. He would not himself bear a part in the service. He would not publicly pray for the Prince and Princess as King and Queen. He would not call for their mandate, order it to be read, and then proceed to obey it. But he issued a commission empowering any three of bis suffragans to commit, in his name, and as his delegates, the sins which he did not choose to commit in person. The reproaches of all parties soon made
him ashamed of himself. He then tried to suppress the evidence of his fault by means more discreditable than the fault itself. He abstracted from among the public records of which he was the guardian the instrument by which he had authorised his brethren to act for him, and was with difficulty induced to give it up.*
Burnet however had, under the authority of this instrument, been consecrated. When he next waited on Mary, she reminded him of the conversations which they had held at the Hague about the high duties and grave responsibility of Bishops. "I hope," she said, "that you will put your notions in practice." Her hope was not disappointed. "Whatever maybe thoughtof Burnet's opinions touching civil and ecclesiastical polity, or of the temper and judgment which he showed in defending those opinions, the utmost malevolence of faction could not venture to deny that he tended his flock with a zeal, diligence, and disinterestedness worthy of the purest ages of the Church. His jurisdiction extended over Wiltshire and Berkshire. These counties he divided into districts which he sedulously visited. About two months of every summer he passed in preaching, catechising, and confirming daily from church to church. When he died there was no corner of his diocese in which the people had not had seven or eight opportunities of receiving his instructions and of asking his advice. The worst weather, the worst roads, did not prevent him from discharging these duties. On one occasion, when the floods were out, he exposed his life to imminent risk rather than disappoint a rural congregation which was in expectation of a discourse from the Bishop. The poverty of the inferior clergy was a constant cause of uneasiness to his kind and generous heart. He was indefatigable and at length successful in his attempts to obtain for them from the Crown that grant which is known by the name of Queen Anne's Bounty, f He was especially careful,
* Burnet, ii. 8.; Birch's Life of TUlotson; Life of Kettlewell, part iii. section 62.
t Swift, writing under the name of Gregory Misosarum, most malignantly and dishonestly when he travelled through his diocese, to lay no hurden on them. Instead of requiring them to entertain him, he entertained them. He always fixed his headquarters at a market town, kept a tahle there, and, by his decent hospitality and munificent charities, tried to conciliate those who were prejudiced against his doctrines. 'When he bestowed a poor benefice,—and he had many such to bestow,—his practice was to add out of his own purse twenty pounds a year to the income. Ten promising young men, to each of whom he allowed thirty pounds a year, studied divinity under his own eye in the close of Salisbury. He had several children: but he did not think himself justified in hoarding for them. Their mother had brought him a good fortune. With that fortune, he always said, they must be content. He would not, for their sakes, be guilty of the crime of raising an estate out of revenues sacred to piety and charity. Such merits as these will, in the judgment of wise and candid men, appear fully to atone for every offence which can be justly imputed to him.*
When he took his seat in the House of Notting- Lords, he found that assembly vicwl'con 'Dusie<i m ecclesiastical legisceming lation. A statesman who was 3e»i well known to be devoted to i»uty. tne church had undertaken to plead the; cause of the Dissenters. No subject in the realm occupied so important and commanding a position with reference to religious parties as Nottingham. To the influence derived from rank, from wealth, and from office, he added the higher influence which be
represents Burnet as grudging this grant to the Church. Swift cannot have been ignorant that the Church was indebted for the grant chiefly to Burnet's persevering exertions.
* See the Life of Burnet, at the end of the second volume of his history, his manuscript memoirs, Harl. 6584, his memorials touching the First Fruits and Tenths, and Somers's letter to him on that subject. See also what Dr. King, Jacobite as he was, had the justice to say in his Anecdotes. A most honourable testimony to Burnet's virtues, given by another Jacobite who had attacked him fiercely, and whom he had treated generously, the learned and upright Thomas Baker, will be found in the Gentleman's Magazine for August and September, 1791.
longs to knowledge, to eloquence, and to integrity. The orthodoxy of his creed, the regularity of his devotions, and the purity of his morals gave a peculiar weight to his opinions on questions in which the interests of Christianity were concerned. Of all the ministers of the new Sovereigns, he had the largest share of the confidence of the clergy. Shrewsbury was certainly a Whig, and probably a freethinker: he had lost one religion; and it did not very clearly appear that he had found another. Halifax had been during many years accused of scepticism, deism, atheism. Danby's attachment to episcopacy and the liturgy was rather political than religious. But Nottingham was such a son as the Church was proud to own. Propositions, therefore, which, if made by his colleagues, would infallibly produce a violent panic among the clergy, might, if made by him, find a favourable reception even in universities and chapter houses. The friends of religious liberty were with good reason desirous to obtain his cooperation ; and, up to a certain point, he was not unwilling to cooperate with them. He was decidedly for a toleration. He was even for what was then called a comprehension: that is to say, he was desirous to make some alterations in the Anglican discipline and ritual for the purpose of removing the scruples of the moderate Presbyterians. But b' was not prepared to give up the Test Act. The only fault which ho found with that Act was that it was not sufficiently stringent, and that it left loopholes through which schismatics sometimes crept into civil employments. In truth it was because he was not disposed to part with the Test that he was willing to consent to some changes in the Liturgy. He conceived that, if the entrance of the Church were but a very little widened, great numbers who had hitherto lingered near the threshold would press in. Those who still remained without would then not be sufficiently numerous or powerful to extort any further concession, and would be glad to compound for a bare toleration.*
* Oldmixon would have ns believe that Nottingham was not, at this time, unwul'.fijr
The opinion of the Low Churchmen concerning the Test Act differed widely from his. But many of them thought that it was of the highest importance to have his support on the great questions of Toleration and Comprehension. From the scattered fragments of information which have come down to us, it appears that a compromise was made. It is quite certain that Nottingham undertook to bring in a Toleration Bill and a Comprehension Bill, and to use his best endeavours to carry both bills through the House of Lords. It is highly probable that, in return for this great service, some of the leading Whigs consented to let the Test Act remain for the present unaltered.
There was no difficulty in framing either the Toleration Bill or the Comprehension Bill. The situation of the dissenters had been much discussed nine or ten years before, when the kingdom was distracted by the fear of a Popish plot, and when there was among Protestants a general disposition to unite against the common enemy. The government had then been willing to make large concessions to the Whig party, on condition that the crown should be suffered to descend according to the regular course. A draught of a law authorising the public worship of the Nonconformists, and a draught of a law making some alterations in the public worship of the Established Church, had been prepared, and would probably have been passed by both Houses without difficulty, had not ■Shaftesbury and his coadjutors refused to listen to any terms, and, by grasping at what was beyond their reach, missed advantages which might easily have been secured. In the framing of these draughts, Nottingham, then an active member of the House of Commons, had borne a considerable part. He now brought them forth from the obscurity in which they had remained since the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, and laid them, with some
to give tip tlio Test Act. But Oldmixon's assertion, unsupported by evidence, is of no freight whatever; and all the evidence which he produces makes against his assertion.
slight alterations, on the table of the Lords.*
The Toleration Bill passed both Houses with little debate. This celebrated statute, long con- icration* sidered as the Great Charter Bl"' of religious liberty, has since been extensively modified, and is hardly known to the present generation except by name. The name, however, is still pronounced with respect by many who will perhaps learn with surprise and disappointment the real nature of the law which they have been accustomed to hold in honour.
Several statutes which had been passed between the accession of Queen Elizabeth and the Revolution required all people under severe penalties to attend the services of the Church of England, and to abstain from attending conventicles. The Toleration Act did not repeal any of these statutes, but merely provided that they should not be construed to extend to any person who should testify his loyalty by taking the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, and his Protestantism by subscribing the Declaration against Transubstantiation.
The relief thus granted was common between the dissenting laity and the dissenting clergy. But the dissenting clergy had some peculiar grievances. The Act of Uniformity had laid a mulct of a hundred pounds on every person who, not having received episcopal ordination, should presume to administer the Eucharist. The Five Mile Act had driven many pious and learned ministers from their houses and their friends, to live among rustics in obscure villages of which the name was not to be seen on the map. The Conventicle Act had imposed heavy fines on divines who should preach in any meeting of separatists; and, in direct opposition to the humane spirit of our law, the Courts were enjoined to construe this
* Burnet, ii. 6.; Van Citters to the States General, March i. 1089; King 'William's Toleration, being an explanation of that liberty of conscience which may be expected from His Majesty's Declaration, with a Bill for Comprehension and Indulgence, drawn up in order to an Act of Parliament, licensed March 25. 1C89.
Act largely and beneficially for the suppressing of dissent and for the encouraging of informers. These severe statutes were not repealed, but were, with many conditions and pre cautions, relaxed. It was provided that every dissenting minister should, before he exercised his function, profess under his hand his belief in the Articles of the Church of England, with a few exceptions. The propositions to which he was not required to assent were these; that the Church has power to regulate ceremonies; that the doctrines set forth in the Book of Homilies are sound; and that there is nothing superstitious or idolatrous in the ordination service. If he declared himself a Baptist, he was also excused from affirming that the baptism of infants is a laudable practice. But, unless his conscience suffered him to subscribe thirty four of the thirty nine Articles, and the greater part of two other Articles, he could not preach without incurring all the punishments which the Cavaliers, in the day of their power and their vengeance, had devised for the tormenting and ruining of schismatical teachers.
The situation of the Quaker differed from that of other dissenters, and differed for the worse. The Presbyterian, the Independent, and the Baptist had no scruple about the Oath of Supremacy. But the Quaker refused to take it, not because he objected to the proposition that foreign sovereigns and prelates have no jurisdiction in England, but because his conscience would not suffer him to swear to any proposition whatever. He was therefore exposed to the severity of part of that penal code which, long before Quakerism existed, had been enacted against Roman Catholics by the Parliaments of Elizabeth. Soon after the Restoration, a severe law, distinct from the general law which applied to all conventicles, had been passed against meetings of Quakers. The Toleration Act permitted the members of this harmless sect to hold their assemblies in peace, on condition of signing three documents, a declaration against Transubstantiation, a promise of fidelity to
the government, and a confession of Christian belief. The objections which the Quaker had to the Athanasian phraseology had brought on him the imputation of Socinianism; and the strong language in which he sometimes asserted that he derived his knowledge of spiritual things directly from above had raised a suspicion that he thought lightly of the authority of Scripture. He was therefore required to profess his faith in the divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and in the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments.
Such were the terms on which the Protestant Dissenters of England were, for the first time, permitted by law to worship God according to their own conscience. They were very properly forbidden to assemble with barred doors, but were protected against hostile intrusion by a clause which made it penal to enter a meeting house for the purpose of molesting the congregation.
As if the numerous limitations and precautions which have been mentioned were insufficient, it was emphatically declared that the legislature did not intend to grant the smallest indulgence to any Papist, or to any person who denied the doctrine of the Trinity as that doctrine is set forth in the formularies of the Church of England.
Of all the Acts that have ever been passed by Parliament, the Toleration Act is perhaps that which most strikingly illustrates the peculiar vices and the peculiar excellences of English legislation. The science of Politics bears in one respect a close analogy to the science of Mechanics. The mathematician can easily demonstrate that a certain power, applied by means of a certain lever or of a certain system of pulleys, will suffice to raise a certain weight But his demonstration proceeds on the supposition that the machinery is such as no load will bend or break. If the engineer, who has to lift a great mass of real granite by the instrumentality of real timber and real hemp, should absolutely rely on the propositions which he finds in treatises on Dynamics, and should make no allowance for the imperfection of his materials, his whole apparatus of beams, wheels, and