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question we are not furnished with an answer. The following fact, however, is deserving of notice. Previous to the formation of this plot, it was only occasionally that a book was printed, or a sermon preached, against the sectaries; but ever since, both the press and the pulpit have been constantly bewailing the miseries of Methodism and the dangers of the Church. The alarm which has been sounding so long in Zion, has, at last, terrified some weak minds. By perpetually hearing frightful stories, some people are filled with dread. Tell a child about hobgoblins, and it will soon imagine it sees them: If you want to drive a man mad, confine him
The conduct of high Churchmen for some years past, has had very much the appearance of a systematic plan, to render all classes of dissenters odious to the nation, and to prepare
way for an abridgment of their religious privileges. In numbers of pulpits the manyheaded monster, Methodism, which comprises all the sectaries, has been manfully encountered by the doughty champions of the Church ; but though it has been roughly handled, and often triumphed over as an expiring foe, yet, like the beast in the Revelation, its deadly wound has healed again, its enemies have been dismayed, and the ominous cry has rung through the country,
“ Its progress must be stopped! Something must be done! The Church is in danger ! Prelates have made many a furious charge at it; pamphleteers have been employed to pelt it with dirt, and to make it look hideous and frightful; and nearly the whole corps of reviewers have been pressed into the service of our aged and venerable mother, to protect her from injury, and to excite public indignation against the terrible enemy which threatens her destruction.
Though innumerable visitation sermons, pamphlets, and books have been published against Methodism, within the period alluded to, yet the dissenters have
seldom written a line in defence of their opinions, practices, and liberties. They were ignorant of the Episcopal plot; and the works of their adversaries were either contemptible for their ignorance and dulness, or, ridiculous for their impotent malice and absurdity. Take a specimen: A “Christian Advocate at Cambridge wrote against the Methodists, and was incautious enough to confess, that he did not understand their principles. Another divine endeavoured to awaken the sensibility, and to rouse to action the torpid powers of the Archbishop of Canterbury, by predicting his Grace's martyrdom, if something were not speedily done to check the progress of fanaticism. And a canting fellow, from a learned criticism on Ephes. vi. 1), shrewdly insinuated that the devil is a Methodist, and the father of the sect, and loudly called upon his clerical brethren to “put on the whole armour of God, that they might be able to stand against the Methodism of the devil.”
From such representations as these, many people, who can swallow anything spoken by a priest, find it difficult to believe that these arch-heretics belong to the human species. A friend of the author's was some years ago at an inn in Stamford, where the company were conversing about the Methodists.
While some were describing the extravagances of the sect, he observed one man to listen to the discourse with apparent astonishment. His curiosity was at last excited to such a pitch, that he could hold in no longer, but inquired with great eagerness, “Pray_what sort of things are they? for I do not know that I ever saw one of them in my life !” The reader may judge of his surprise, when he learned that these monstrous things were two legged animals like himself.
Though so much pains had been taken to prepare the public mind for it, it was still a nice and critical affair to introduce a bill into Parliament. For after all that had been said about the enthusiasm, fanati
cism, heresy, schism, and Jacobinism of the sects ; after all the dreadful alarms that they had polluted the altar, and endangered the throne; after all the vehement demands, that, like troublesome“ vermin, they must all be caught, killed, and cracked," or the Archbishop and his tribe would be martyred ; after all the mighty pother from books and sermons, from newspapers, magazines, and reviews ;—it was still doubtful whether any measure of restriction would be carried. The subject was announced with the utmost caution; the Act of Toleration and dissenting ministers were panegyrised; and nothing more was intended than to promote the respectability of the dissenting body, by laying under restraint a few hot-headed ignoramuses, who would not submit to the regulations of any religious community. Generoushearted souls !
The next difficulty was to find a suitable time for introducing the bill into the house. Two things stood in the way, or it would have been brought forward at an earlier period : First. The king was known to be averse to it. Secondly. Our public men had so much political business upon their hands, that they had no time, even had they been disposed, to turn their attention to Methodism. At length the auspicious moment arrived. His Majesty was just laid aside through indisposition; and the Prince, though his acquiescence was doubted, had not been tried. Our affairs abroad, which for a long time had worn an aspect gloomy as Methodism, had recently taken a favourable turn. The enemy had been beaten, and the national exultation on the occasion was raised to the highest pitch.
A visionary could not have dreamed that an intoxi. cated people, singing with enthusiasm the song of victory, would be sober time enough to perceive all the bearings of the bill, and be capable of sufficient sympathy with the meditated victims of intolerance, to unite with them in crushing the demon of persecution at its birth.
But the greatest difficulty was to quiet the apprehensions of the dissenters. This required the most dextrous management. When so many writers had charged them with disaffection, and called so loudly and peremptorily on the government for some act of coercion or restriction; and when it was so well known that some periodical publications were devoted to the work of vilifying their character, and holding them up to the public as suspicious and dangerous persons, it is truly astonishing, that any of them could be deceived. To prevent alarm, however, the bill was introduced by a layman. His Lordship honoured the principal dissenting ministers with several interviews, bowed and scraped, and was all politeness. He assured them that he revered the rights of conscience, and the Act of Toleration which secured them; that nothing was further from his intention than to abridge their religious privileges, etc., etc. Many were lulled to sleep; but the utmost address was insufficient to remove the jealousy and allay the fears of a few timorous souls. When the bill was published, all delusion instantly vanished; and the dupes of artifice, by their subsequent zeal, made ample atonement for their past credulity.
Many have accused the framers of this bill of ignorance; but this is unjust. However deficient it may be in the harmlessness of the dove, it certainly contains a pretty large portion of the wisdom of the serpent. But its pernicious influence on the interests of the dissenters is now so well known, that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it here.
One object of the bill, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, was, “To secure a more respectable description of teachers to the dissenters than they have at present.” The dissenters must be under infinite obligations to the bishops for their benevolent intentions and indefatigable exertions. Shameful ingrates ! that the thanks of the body have not been returned to their Lordships. The reader will take it for granted, as a matter of course, that no ignorant or immoral ministers are to be found in the Establishment, or these Episcopal gentlemen would lie open to the imputation of being more concerned for the respectability of the Conventicle than the Church. The clergy are all grown as meagre and squalid as Pharaoh's lean kine, by mortifying the flesh with watchings and fastings, prayers
and penances. They are never seen at balls, assemblies, or theatres, dancing attendance on the ladies ; nor hunting, shooting, racing, or drinking with bons vivants. It is much to be regretted, therefore, that dissenting ministers, who are notoriously guilty of these practices, and are scarcely ever to be found in their studies, should so obstinately resist this laudable attempt to reform them, by their wise, pious, and virtuous neighbours.
The most puzzling part of his Grace's speech is, where he disclaims the character of a prophet, and yet predicts a period when the Church of England shall be no more. How is this? Is it necessary,
in order to prolong her existence, that the Act of Toleration should be better explained, and dissenting teachers improved ? — An actor spoils all, when he loses his mask!
When the fate of the bill was perceived, all parties were ready to disown it; like a company of unlucky boys, detected in a mischievous action, every one eagerly cried out, “It was not me!” The Archbishop of Canterbury was sure, that so long as the Church of England should endure, she would not disturb the dissenters.” But if his Grace be really a warm advocate for religious liberty, and be quite sure that the Church of England is grown as harmless and innocent as a lamb, how happened it that neither him