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CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN DR. PERCIVAL AND ARCH
DEACON PALEY, ON SUBSCRIPTION TO ARTICLES
[Extracted from the Literary Correspondence of Dr. Percival : Works,
vol. i. p.cxlvi.-cli.]
TO THE REV. ARCHDEACON PALEY.
Manchester, June 20th, 1788. What apology shall I offer for the liberty I am now presuming to take with you? The very high respect which I entertain for your talents and character, operates upon me at once as an incitement and restraint; and whilst I am solicitous to avail myself of your counsel and assistance, I am diffident in requesting them, from a consciousness of having no claim to be honoured with either. But the occasion requires a sacrifice of feeling to judgment; and I shall trust to your goodness to excuse, if peculiar reasons do not justify, my present application to you.
My oldest son, whom I intended for the profession of physick, by his residence at St. John's college, and connex. ions in Cambridge, has had his views changed, and is now strongly inclined to go into the Church. But previous to his final decision, he wishes to settle his mind on several important topicks comprehended in the articles of faith. The chapter on religious establishments, in your excellent System of Moral and Political Philosophy, has had great weight with him; and he has this morning expressed to me an earnest desire to have the benefit of your personal instructions, on points so interesting to his future peace, prosperity, and usefulness. Is it possible for him to enjoy this
singular privilege, for the space of a few weeks ? I shall cordially acquiesce in any terms that you may prescribe, and with a grateful sense of obligation to you.
I am a Dissenter; but actuated by the same spirit of catholicism which you possess. An establishment I approve ; the Church of England in many respects, I honour; and should think it my duty to enter instantly into her communion, were the plan which you have proposed in your tenth chapter carried into execution*.
TO DR. PERCIVAL.
Carlisle, June 25th, 1788. I DESIRE you to accept my thanks for the many obliging expressions of respect which your letter contains. If the state of my engagements had allowed me to spare a few weeks to a personal conference with your son upon any subject of doubt which he should chance to propose, it would have been a pleasure to me to have complied with your wishes, from a sense both of private obligation and of publick esteem. As my time is at present very little in my own power, and my being at home very uncertain, I know not how I can contribute to your son's satisfaction in any
*“A comprehensive national religion, guarded by a few articles of peace and conformity, together with a legal provision for the clergy of that religion ; and with a complete toleration of all dissenters from the established church, without any other limitation or exception than what arises from the conjunction of dangerous political dispositions with certain religious tenets, appears to be, not only the most just and liberal, but the wisest and safest system, which a state can adopt: inasmuch as it unites the several perfections which a religious constitution ought to aim at-liberty of conscience, with means of instruction; the progress of truth, with the peace of society; the right of private judgment, with the care of the publick safety.” Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. vi. ch. 10. VOL. v,
better way than by sending you a few additional explanatory observations upon what I have written in my chapter, entitled, “ Of Subscription.”
1st, If any person understand and believe all the several propositions in the thirty-nine articles, and in the liturgy and homilies, which they recognize, there can be no place for doubt.
2d, If a person think that every such proposition is probable, or as probable as the contrary or any other supposition on the subject, there can be no just cause of scruple.
3d, If a person, after using due inquiry, understand some of the propositions in the thirty-nine articles, but not all, and assent to those propositions which he does understand, I think he may safely subscribe.
4th, If a person think any part of the discipline, government, rites, or worship of the Church of England to be forbidden, he certainly ought not to subscribe ; but certain parts of these being not commanded, or not the best possible, or not good and useful, or not reasonable, (for many things may be absurd, and yet very innocent,) is not, in my opinion, a sufficient ground of objection.
5th, If there be certain particular propositions in the articles which he disbelieves, although he assent to the main part of them, as well as to the lawfulness of the established government and worship of the Church, then arises the case in which the principal difficulty consists. And as to this case, I find no reason, upon much reconsideration, to question the principle I have laid down, viz. “ that if the intention and view of the legislature, which imposed subscription, be satisfied, it is enough.” But here comes a doubt, whether we can be permitted to go out of the terms of subscription, that is to say, the words of the statute, to collect the intention of the legislature, or not. If we look to the terms of
the subscription, they seem to require a positive assent to each and every proposition contained in the articles, so as that believing any one such proposition to be untrue, is inconsistent with subscription. If we may be allowed to judge of the design and object of the legislature from the nature of the case, and the ordinary maxims of human conduct, it appears likely that they meant to fence out such sects and characters as were hostile and dangerous to the new establishment, viz. popery, and the tenets of the continental anabaptists ; rather than expect, what they must have known to be impracticable, the exact agreement of so many minds in such a great number of controverted propositions*.
Now, concerning this doubt, viz. whether we may or not go out of the terms of the statute to collect the design of the legislature, (which question I think involves the whole difficulty), I can only say that a court of justice, in interpreting written laws, certainly could not, and ought not; for any such liberty would give to courts of justice the power of making laws; but I do not see that any danger or insecurity will be introduced by allowing this liberty to private persons. I mean, that private persons acting under the direction of a law may be said to do their duty, if they act up to what they believe to be the design of the legislature in making the law; whether their opinion of that design be founded upon the terms of the statute alone, or upon the nature of the subject and the actual probability.
If I had the pleasure of your son's presence, I know not whether I ought to say any thing more.
It is the office of
“The Articles of the Church of England," Mr. Paley used to say, "would be found, un dissection, to contain about two hundred and forty distinct and independent propositions, many of them inconsistent with each other."
an adviser in such cases to suggest general principles. The application of these principles to each person's case must be made by the person himself, who alone knows the state of his own thoughts. I have only to add, Burnet's seems a fair explication of the sense of the articles*.
SPEECH ON THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE, DELIV.
ERED AT A MEETING OF THE INHABITANTS OF
CARLISLE, ON THURSDAY, FEB. 9th, 1792.
Mr. Paley, on being called to the chair by the general voice of the company, stated, that the purpose for which they were assembled, was to petition Parliament for the abolition of the Slave trade, and informed them that a petition to the House of Commons, might either be drawn up in the usual form, or founded upon certain resolutions previously agreed to by the meeting. The last mode of proceeding being thought most eligible by the company, the chairman brought forward a series of propositions on the
* The Rev. Thomas Bassnett Percival, in whom the preceding corres. pondence originated, was, in the early part of his life, destined for the profession of physick; and accordingly, after residing two years at St. John's college, in the university of Cambridge, he proceeded to Edin. burgh, where he attended the lectures of the medical professors. But his distaste for these pursuits was soon inanifest, and he remained there during one session only. His preference for the clerical profession, which he had early indulged, began to increase in proportion as he relinquished other views; and he at length resolved on returning to Cambridge, where he pursued his theological and moral studies, without interruption, during three years. He proceeded to the degree of L. L.B. in the year 1789; and shortly after received ordination from his diocesan the Bishop of Chester. He died, much lamented, whilst chaplain to the factory of British Merchants at St. Petersburghi, May 27th, 1798, in the thirty-second year of his age.