Page images

presents, or any body else suggests, they embrace it immediately, run hastily away with it; and soon grow

too vehement, ever to consider, whether it be not impracticable or ineffectual, unjust or pernicious. Indeed to be absolutely against all changes, is either great folly, or great wickedness. Things may have been wrong constituted originally: they may have degenerated since: they may be attended now with different circumstances ; and alterations may both be reasonable to cure present complaints, and necessary to prevent worse disorders. But still the

general presumption should always be in favour of what is established : and no innovations, greater than need, ought ever to be attempted. Interest, opinion, resentment, warmth of temper, place different things before different persons, in very strong lights: too strong perhaps to see them distinctly; at least, to observe every thing connected with them. On these views however they boldly act: heat one another, sometimes by concurrence, sometimes by opposition: doubt nothing in themselves, suspect nothing in those who join with them, pardon nothing in those who differ from them: destroy the quiet of numbers who have not deserved it, as well as their own: and all to do mischief, it may be, instead of good; even though they intend good. For not only projects, that look plausible to such persons, may be very hurtful notwithstanding; perhaps to themselves, perhaps to others, who have an equal right to be considered : but supposing them innocent, supposing them beneficial; yet attempting them rashly, may do unknown harm, should they miscarry; and cost infinitely too dear, should they succeed. If a nation is to be put into a ferment for them; and the multitude called in, to be vehement about matters, of

[blocks in formation]

which they are no judges : this in itself is a dreadful evil; and may possibly rise to a destructive height. For in some circumstances it is much easier to inflame persons, than to foresee when they will cool : and there is one point of yet greater importance than reforming faults, preserving reverence to authority. If this be once lost, possibly a blameless conduct of affairs, which yet nobody can ever promise, may not restore it: and unless it be restored, every thing will be levelled. Sooner or later indeed, God knows how long it may be first, some sort of order must return: but, without the peculiar interposition of a kind Providence, the beautiful order of a free government will not. And it ought to be well considered, that persons who begin with moderate and most laudable intentions, may forget themselves, may be entangled with others, may be led or driven into doing what they greatly disapprove; or may lose all power of stopping mischief, when it is once set to work; and have nothing left, but to perish with the ship, in the storm which they have helped to raise. These dangers indeed cannot be reasons for complying with every thing: for in vain will Heaven have restored to us our happy form of government, if we suffer it to be a form only. But they are powerful reasons for thinking coolly what deserves opposition, and opposing it with temper : for considering who are the persons really to blame, in what degree upon the whole they are so, and how difficult it is not to be so: for redressing grievances by no other than regular methods; and waiting for opportunities, not forcing them: for examining faithfully the purity of our own intentions ; for asking ourselves often, how far we mean to go; and observing carefully, what those persons aim at, with whom we

are engaged: for weighing well what remedies the public constitution will bear, under what it will be likely to sink; and seriously recollecting, how great multitudes have their fate involved in that of the whole. There can be no cautions more evidently just than these; though we had not had experience to teach us so awfully, that for want of regarding them in the times now before us, no one scheme ended as it was designed at first. Every thing was proposed to be reformed into perfection: every thing, instead of that, was completely brought to ruin: and happy did men think themselves, with very good cause, when at last they were able to get back into the situation, which they had imagined before to be so intolerable. Now all these things happened unto them, for ensamples : and they are written for our admonition *.

Nor let it be replied, that though the bold attempts for reformation and liberty miscarried then, they may succeed another time. Let us rather reflect, that though the confusion and slavery, which they. introduced, proved but temporary then, the next trial may perpetuate them. Liberty is a blessing of such unspeakable value, that no wonder if the very name of it be dear to men : but the name misapplied was fatal to our forefathers; and may be so to us. Licentiousness of speech and writing, a favourite and most entertaining species of liberty to the inconsiderate, had the effects amongst them, which it must have every where; not only of injuring particular persons in the most sensible manner ; but of destroying that regard to stations and offices, ranks and orders of men, which must be preserved, or society must be dissolved. For when once contending parties, by their mutual accusations and aspersions, have taught the people to think ill, or meanly, of all persons that are, or can be their governors; what remains for them, but to think in the same manner of government itself, and treat it accordingly ? Considering indeed, how artfully men have learnt to disguise these enormities, there may perhaps be no effectual method of restraining them by law, without very great danger of hurtful consequences from the restraint. But to take this advantage for being guilty of them, is a most ungenerous use of freedom against such as wish it well; and a most unwise one, against such as do not. All good men therefore should labour unanimously to keep down this bad spirit, each on his own side; for in vain do we exclaim against what we indulge: and to discountenance it so strongly by expressing their private abhorrence of it, that there may be no reason, and no pretence, if possible, for a public provision against it. Liberty cannot be supported, any more than power, but by exercising it with moderation. And they that overturn either, by carrying it to extravagant heights, after such warning as Providence hath given us, must neither expect any remedy, nor much pity.

* 1 Cor. x, 11.

But indeed there are persons, who seem almost to think, that liberty cannot be extended too far; that every diminution of authority is so much gain, every increase of it so much loss, to the community. Now if this be true, laws and government are a public nuisance. And if not, men ought to consider, what restraints are requisite, as well as what may be abused; and remember, that a right to do things, necessary to be done, must be vested somewhere, and must be exerted. Authority indeed is of a growing nature : but so is aversion to authority : and freedom unrestrained is power unrestrained. No tyrannies have been more insupportable, than those of the multitude: nor can any persons be more justly dreaded, than they who declaim for liberty, in the spirit of persecution; and demand it with insolence, in the midst of the enjoyment of it. Such behaviour plainly shews, that not content with being free, they want to rule: and since they cannot plead, that any harsh treatment hath provoked them to these outrages ; they are so far less excuseable, than some of their predecessors in the times of our troules.

But however strongly we are cautioned against licentiousness, by the sufferings of former days; there hath arisen notwithstanding in our own, one very shocking kind of it, almost peculiar to this nation: that of publicly treating religion with contempt; and after magnifying morals, merely in opposition to it, explaining them away to just nothing. Setting the world at large in these respects, appears to be a principal point, which some have at heart: whose character in Scripture might surely have given a more general suspicion of them, than it hath : that while they promise others liberty, they are themselves the servants of corruption *. And too many, who have no design of contributing to the progress of irreligion, see it however with great tranquillity. Let men think, let men act, just as they will, provided they are not bigots, but persons of free principles; the public is safe, and all is well. But is it safe, that they should be bigots to atheism, bigots to profligateness? Or can it be a matter of indifference, whether they have a good and right rule of

* 2 Pet. ii. 19.

« PreviousContinue »