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SUPPLEMENT TO SHEBAGO'S WHAT' IS GOD?.
I und the misfortune to receive what is called a religious education ; which, of all others, is the very worst that can be inflicted on youth, as it renders them unfit for either business or pleasure. It was enforced on me with the fear of God, and the rod, with precept and example. The example was perhaps one of the best I have ever experienced, naturally displayed by an uncle with whom I lived during my boyhood." He was a disseater both from Church and State. But he was pious without affectation; religious without hypocrisy; devout without ostentation, and sincere in every thing. He proudly paid the useless tax of tythes, and all other clerical impositions: yet never set a foot within the Church doors. He rode fourteen miles every Sunday to the meeting-house; paid for his seat there annually ; and had his own gospel teacher, who was an A.M. in holy orders, to come and christen bis children; not just as fast as they came into the world ; but lie deliberately made Christians of them when it suited his convenience and had one of his offspring died before the rites of baptism had been performed, I am certain he would have been under no concern for the safety of its immortal soul. In short, he was the first who taught me to despise superstition, as he was free from the worst part of it. I early began to think and I will tell you why. It was for ever sounded in my ears, that God made every thing; that he could do any thing; that he was Almighty; that he was a true spirit, that he made the heavens and all that in them is. Now, so early as at nine years
of age, I questioned my grandmother about this same God Almighty, and thought she could tell me who made him ; for that was my simple request
Who made God, said I, in the very simplicity of childish curiosity. The old lady considered sometime, and told me to ask the Rev. Mr. Holmes, when he came to christen my cousin William. I kept the secret of my problem to myself for four months. At length, Mr. H. came. It was always a holiday when he came, and several neighbours were invited to come and partake of our cheer and benefit by the spiritual counsel of Mr. H. In the evening, I hung on my uncle's chair, and whispered that I had something to say to his reverence, the parson. I was consequently encouraged to speak, both by the gentleman himself and the company. I bowed to the divine, and none knew what was coming. " I humbly asked him the confounding question :Pray, Sir, who made God? The whole company seemed to be struck dumb, and they who were before descanting with confidence about the divinity, his goodness and mercy, and all his other imputed attributes, were now dumbfounded before a boy
only nine years old. I was asked, who told me to put the ques. tion. I answered, no one ; but I only wanted to know who made God, because he made every thing. Mr. H. proved to be a prophet; he shook his head and said, I certainly should be an Atheist. I am one, and proved to make the declaration. · And that same question, that in childish simplicity I put to those who I revered and respected, I now put to those of whom I care nothing about. How strange that sensible men will vouch for that which they are totally ignorant of: for that, of which from sense, reason, observation, understanding, and experience, they cannot form the most remote idea. This is a standing miracle, equally absurd and degrading to civilized man. I hope the nature and degree of this narrative will atone for the liberty I take in reciting it.
(Continued from p. 544.)
It is well known in what manner the feeble and disjointed ministry, maintained by Queen Anne at the close of her reign, were dependent upon the church, and tools in its hands.' It is also well known what measures were in progress, and would have been successful, but for the premature death of the queen and the insane squabbles among her ministers, for the restoration of the Pretender, and the barter of the liberties of England, for privileges, alias persecuting powers, to the church,
One of the last acts of her reign was passing the bill to prevent the growth of schism, i. e. to persecute infringers of the monopoly. And the very day of her death was the day on which the act was to come into operation. In consequence of her death, it never came into operation, and for this and for many other reasons, the death of that weak, misguided woman, whom the Duchess of Marlborough characterized as "a praying, godly idiot,” was one of the events at which Englishmen have the greatest reason to rejoice.
If the progress of the public mind towards that strength, which was necessary to enable it succeessfully to assert for itself the right of thinking freely and freely uttering its thoughts on matters of religion, was promoted by the revolutionary goverument of William and Mary, it was still further advanced by the accession of the House of Hanover, whose stability on the throne of England could solely rest on the prevalence of those opinions by
which the pretensions of the Stuarts and of the church were exploded.
Sir Robert Walpole, who had been defamed and persecuted by the church party, wielded the powers of government so long, and so long repressed the efforts of the church, that a mode of thinking, utterly inconsistent with the claims of a monopoly of the religious influence, became babitual in the nation; and churchmen themselves could perceive that they had more to lose than to gain by contending against it. The same spirit has been constantly, of late rapidly, gaining strength; and the disposition of the church has been obliged to manifest itself chiefly in one way; in grasping vehemently the portion of monopolizing, or persecuting power which she had left, and resisting with the most vehement outcries, with scratching and kicking, every attempt to wrest an atom of it out of her hands. It is, however, not worth while to illustrate at much length proceedings, of little importance, except as evidence of the spirit from which they proceed ; and it is the less needful as a few instances will revive the recollection of others in the minds of all who are but moderately acquainted with our recent history.
One case, which includes the most of what we think it necessary to allude to, is the case of the Test and Corporation acts. The history of these laws is pregnant with evidence. It proves the fact not only of eager retention of monopolizing, in this case, persecuting power, but of the lowness and meanness of the spirit, which it is clung to, and held with a convulsive grasp, by the church of England.
The object of the Test and Corporation acts, speaking generally, is to prevent every body, except a member of the church of England, from holding office in the government or any corporation, by rendering communion with the church of England a necessary qualification. That is to say; when it became impossible, from the improving spirit of the age, to preserve in being the law which went to drive out of their country all persons not of the church, those laws were eagerly retained which go to exclude them from all places of influence, and to secure, by the allurements of power, all they can secure of a monopoly to the church, Against even these laws the spirit of the age has risen 80 triumphant, that the government neither dares nor wills to put them in execution ; and an annual act of indemnity passes, as a matter of course, to exempt all men from the effects of breaking them. They exist, therefore, to no purpose, but that of making an odious and mischievous distinction, and affording the means of many petty vexations, which gratify the spirit of persecution, though it attains none of its objects. Yet, and the fact is unspeakably instructive, no attempt has ever been made, and it has osten and perseveringly been made, to purge our legislation of this feculent matter, but it has been met on the part of the church
into his pages.
with all the opposition which their remaining influence on the minds of the community, exerted in every possible way, and in shapes the most odious, enabled them to raise.
We need not dwell on the evidence afforded by the no-popery cry, and the majorities in parliament, especially the upper House, against Catholic Emancipation. We need not quote the sermons, and more especially the charges, from the pens of the highest dignitaries in the church, enforcing the sinfulness of schism, that is, the sinfulness of following one's own convictions in matters of religion whenever they are not accordant with those which churchmen profess.
But the mention of the word schism brings to our recollection a passage of the celebrated work of Blackstone, which deserves attention. The evidence of the disposition of the church of England afforded by Blackstone, is of the greatest importance. Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, were originally delivered as a course of lectures at the head-quarters of church orthodoxy, the University of Oxford. Blackstone looked to his popularity in the university, and his interest with the church, for the promotion which was the grand object of his life. The sentiments of the clergy were therefore carefully transplanted - The reader will take notice, that in the following passages we quote from the first edition of Blackstone. Finding that the spirit of the age would not bear what the spirit of the clergy had suggested, Blackstone materially altered his phraseology in the succeeding impressions of his work.
Speaking of the statute, Ist Elizabeth, c. 1, he says [vol. iv. 49],“ Thus was heresy reduced to a greater certainty than before; though it might not have been the worse to have defined it in terms still more precise and particular.". Might not have been the worse, is the phrase by which, when a choice is given between two things, we denote that the one, if better at all, is but little better than the other. " It might not have been the worse," says Blackstone, "to have defined heresy in terms still more precise and particular, as a man still continued liable to be burnt, for what, perhaps, he did not understand to be heresy, till the ecclesiastical judge so interpreted the words of the canonical scripture.” It might not have been the worse, to have prevented men from being so burned. This was cool, in the year 1769. Quære : How far would those, who would just stop short of burning men for what they could not know to be heresy, go, for the punishment of those who could incur heresy, after being fully instructed what it was ?
The writ de heretico comburendo was abolished by the statute 29 Car. ii. c. 9. Upon this the Oxford commentator takes occasion to make a memorable declaration. “ In this reign, our minds were delivered from the tyranny of superstitious bigotry, by de
molishing this last badge of persecution in the English law." [ib.] All the powers which remained, and not only remained, but were often inhumanly exercised, of tormenting those who did not worship and profess to believe after the model of the church of England, are, in the opinion of this mouth-piece of the clergy, not to be called persecutiou. We see therefore what he means. Any powers of tormenting which the church of England possesses not, or despairs of getting, may be called persecuting powers. Whatever powers she possesses, and whatever use she makes of them, are always to be spoken of as good. He goes on;
“Every thing is now as it should be, unless"-what?" unless, perhaps, that heresy ought to be more strictly defined, and no prosecution permitted, till the tenets in question are by proper authority previously declared to be heretical. Under these restrictions” (viz. of defining the offence), “ it seems necessary for the support of the national religion, that the officers of the church should have power to censure heretics, but not to exterminate or destroy them.” Observe, that the word censure here is fraudulent. It means, punishment through that prosecution spoken of in the preceding clause; punishment confined and limited only by the words which follow, not to exterminate or destroy. What is here claimed, therefore, as necessary for the support of the national religion is, the power of punishing for diversity of opinion or worship, to any extent short of extermination and destruction. That this is insinuated, not plainly declared, does not diminish the weight of the evidence. The art of the rhetorician mainly consists of doing that by insinuation, which cannot be done so well by direct speaking. :
“ Another species of offences against religion, are those which affect the established church; and these are either positive or negative. Positive, as by reviling its ordinances ; or negative, by non-conformity to its worship." - Ib.
Observe, that non-conformity, bare non-conformity to the church of England's modes of worship, is treated of under the style and character of an offence, an act penally culpable. This is enough, admit this, and every thing follows. : Next, observe, that the word revile is here deceptious and fraudulent. It is a word which insinuates, what the author wished to be believed, but thought there might be inconvenience in affirming it. Reviling is a thing to be condemned ; it is a word which means not merely censure, but bad, wicked censure. It is a censure either wholly undeserved, or far beyond the demerits, and for an improper purpose. But is it only censure thus undeserved, and with this ill-intention, which the author means here to denote? Quite the contrary. It is the endeavour in any mode to show that the creed, the forms, the powers of the church of England are either wrong in point of reason, or mischievous