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By which it appears, that of the lords present at the debate, a majority of one was in favour of the bill; and the proxies being added, leaves a majority of five only against it. By this small majority was this bill, which had been sanctioned by the other branch of the legislature, finally defeated. That the votes of the bishops have given this majority it is important to bear in mind; not forgetting, at the same time, that the more enlightened and liberal members of the spiritual bench, were in its favour; and how any sincere friends to the church or to religion, can reconcile it to themselves to dissent from the sentiment expressed in the debate by the ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, we are at a loss to discover. His lordship said—
"He agreed to the bill upon these grounds, because it not only went to give relief to the consciences of Unitarians, but also to the ministers of the established church. He believed, in that temper which became the Christian school-that the scruples of the Unitarians were sincere; and he wished for ever to remove, so far as respected this evil, THAT UNHALLOWED EQUIVOCATION which had been TOO LONG practised with regard to this ceremonial of the estublished church."
It is not our intention to present to the reader any general report of the debate in the House of Lords on this occasion, as the sentiments expressed were for the most part the same with those delivered in the debate during the former session, and on which we have sufficiently remarked in the article under the same title in the present number. As, how ever, our own body, the Freethinking Christians, was, for the first time, introduced by name into the debate, and as the learned and distinguished prelate, by whom we were thus so especially noticed, appeared so desirous of doing justice to our labours and consistency with regard to the marriage ceremony, we cannot do less than insert some extracts from the report of his lordship's speech on this occasion-which, though it was a speech in favour of relief, ended in a vote against it. Should his lordship's next vote upon this question be, as we are entitled to expect, in favour of our claims, we shall accept it with gratitude, even though his speech should be against us.
"The bishop of Chester said he should make very few observations, and those only that the vote he should that evening give might not be liable to a misconstruction. He thought that the difference of opinion which existed between the established church and the Unitarians, was as to one of the most
fundamental and vital articles of their belief. There could be no question of the vast importance of their scruples if they thought that the doctrines of the Trinity had no foundation in the scriptures, if they thought that divine honours were not justly paid to it, and therefore could not be married according to the ceremonies of the church without worshipping the Trinity, and thus violating their conscience. If they had such scruples, he sincerely thought they ought to be relieved. On so important an article of faith it would be unjust to accuse them of insincerity and hypocricy. It was only at a recent date that the Unitarians had thought of the present matter. They had been goaded and lashed into the present application by certain persons calling themselves Freethinking Christians. This fact he hoped he should be able to prove to the satisfaction of the house. He knew not whether it was customary to read extracts from books, but if he was permitted he should do so. (Cries of Read.) The paragraph he should read was from a periodical work, published by those Freethinkers, and called the 'QUARTERLY REGISTER.' He gave them the title of Freethinkers, or Freetalkers, but as for being Christians, there might be some inclined to doubt their right to the title, as the very first article in their publication was directed against the public worship of the country. The extract he should read was from a very clever article on the Marriage ceremony, which made him the more regret that the author had disgraced it with some most illiberal abuse of the clergy. (The right reverend prelate here read a long extract from the above work, urging the Unitarians to make the present application.) This passage he quoted to show that the present claims were of very recent date, and that if it should be deemed expedient to defer the question, no great greviance would be imposed, as it had been borne with so much patience for so long a period. He thought that some persons might not acknowledge the doctrine of the Trinity, who yet would have no objection to the marriage ceremony as performed by the established church. He himself knew several Unitarians, who, had they thought it a defection from their principles, would not he was sure, have submitted to it. He also thought that there might be some men who disbelieved the Trinity, and had objections on that account to the marriage ceremony of the church of England. This bill would relieve the latter, and he thought they were entitled to relief. But this measure would not only relieve Unitarians, but also the church establishment itself; for few things, he knew by experience, could be more painful than to be required to administer ordinances to persons who not only scoffed and derided at them, but totally disbelieved them. He should therefore willingly place the Unitarians on the same footing with the Quakers before the passing of the Marriage Act, which compulsory regulation he would take that opportunity to state the church had nothing to do with. It was not their desire to impose their doctrines on those who rejected them; but he thought that the present bill was not sufficiently calculated to provide against clandestine marriages which the peculiar conformation of the Quaker's society did. This was one of his objections to the present measure, but he still thought that means might be devised to relieve those contemplated in the bill. It was to the form of the present bill that he objected; in short to the whole machinery of the bill, and as that could not be remedied in the committee, he should therefore vote against it. He had already stated that Unitarians denied that there was any thing sacred in the marriage ceremony, and considered it merely as a civil contract. He now held in his hand a protest, signed by two persons named Fearon and Thompson, in which they declared marriage to be merely a civil contract. They disclaimed the interference of the church in this most important point, and contended that it ought to have no concern with it whatever, and that they ought to be married like the Quakers,
but under the cognizance of the state, through the medium of its civil funetionaries. The difficulty was to provide for the relief of the Unitarians and the church, and at the same time guard against clandestine marriages. It was upon these considerations that he should be obliged to oppose the bill in its présent form."
We are gratified to learn that the bishop of Chester is a reader of our Register, and as he is pleased to ascribe merit to our pages, we trust his lordship may not only be enlightened but improved by their perusal. Addressing his lordship, then, as one of our readers, may we be permitted to suggest, how little befitting it is, either in the scholar or the Christian, to call names, or to enlist in his support a popular prejudice, by means of an obvious play upon words. A "Freethinking "Christian" must be a Christian; a "Freethinker" may be an unbeliever, and, by common acceptance, the term is so understood. In the denomination of our body," Christian” is the substantial character-Freethinking the circumstance, only, by which it is distinguished. In a word, we are believers in Christianity, and we are peculiarly so from freethinking, with regard to its evidences, its principles, and its doctrines. It is not so with the bishop of Chester; a bishopric and a rich city living are sore obstacles to freethinking in matters of religion. But if his lordship does not approve our principles, or our name, he need not misrepresent the one or pervert the other. Neither is it liberal to refuse to our body the character of Christian, because, after serious examination, we are compelled to deny that public social prayer is authorized by scripture, or sanctioned by the authority or example of Jesus. Far more characteristic would it be of a liberal mind and an honest cause, to examine and to answer the arguments exhibited in our Register, against the scripture authority of public social prayer, than to insinuate disbelief in revelation, on account of our rejection of a practice, unsupported, as we maintain, by revelation. It has been stated, upon the authority of a gentlemen, present at the debate in the House of Lords, that the learned prelate in his speech on the above occasion, thought fit to allude to the trade of an esteemed member of our body, whom his lordship was pleased to describe as our founder or head: we will hope, rather, that our informant was under some mis-apprehension, as we find no such allusion in the newspaper reports of his lordship's speech. Should, however, which we would feign disbelieve, should such an allusion have been made, we beg to state that our founder, the head of our body, was not of
the trade reported to have been named on this occasion;— he was, it is true, of humble origin, but by trade a carpenter. -Does this offend your lordship? What then if we should confess, that among the pillars of our church, we rank a tent-maker of Tarsus, and a fisherman of Galilee? Oh! if in that most august assembly of the realm, clothed in the vesture of earthly grandeur, and pressing forward towards the mark of the prize of his high calling, a bishop should be found to allude in terms of disparagement to the worldly calling of the founder of our church, we should more than suspect, that his lordship had "stedfastly set his face
"to go not "to Jerusalem," but to-DURHAM! But the
bishop of Chester is, we should have expected, too enlightened, too liberal, too well read in the history of Him, who was "despised and rejected of men," to have hazarded the reflection which, in the way of report only, we have alluded to; nor can we doubt but that upon reconsideration, his lordship will feel how little appropriate to the occasion it was to insinuate a charge of infidelity against our body, when the very grounds of our objections to the marriage ceremony, depend upon and arise out of our conscientious belief in the divine authority of the Christian religion.
In noticing the speech of the bishop of Chester it is gratifying to find his lordship is favourable to the principle upon which relief is sought from the present operation of the law with regard to marriage, and if the Unitarian body should persevere in their just claim, that relief cannot be long delayed. We close this supplemental article by subjoining the spirited address published by the Unitarian body, on the occasion of the rejection of the bill for their relief by the House of Lords.
"UNITARIAN MARRIAGE BILL.
"At a special meeting of the committee of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, held the 9th June, 1825,
"Resolved, That this society feels sincere gratitude towards that branch of the legislature which has unanimously admitted and (as far as lay in its power) redressed the complaint of the Unitarian dissenters, with regard to the arbitrary requirements of the present marriage law; as well as towards those members of the other house who have once more lent their assistance in the promotion of the principles of liberality and justice.
"That this society again publicly pledges the body which it represents, to seek from session to session that redress, which it asks not as a boon, but as what ought to be the right of every citizen of a free state; and to appeal, at every opportunity, to the good sense and justice of the British Public, for the decision of the question, whether it be either wise or consistent with
the honour and character of a church, claiming to be founded on the principles of religious liberty, to impose upon a class of dissenters, whom it professes to tolerate, a vexatious system of compulsive conformity, destructive of the only rational object of a religious ceremonial, and unwarranted even by the plea of civil expediency.
"That in the mean time the scandal will not lie at the door of the Unitarian dissenters, if the altars which they are compelled to attend, become the scene of PUBLIC PROTESTS from which they have, as a body, hitherto refrained from feelings of delicacy towards those ministers of the church whom the law compels to be the instruments of this species of religious coercion, and from a reliance on the candid and liberal dispositions of those whose opinions they could not but conceive would have great weight_with_the legislature.'
THE two volumes of the Freethinking Christians' Quarterly Register are now complete, and may be had in boards, at the office of our Printer, Price 8s. 6d. each. Unlike most periodical publications, these volumes consist generally of subjects of permanent interest and importance to the inquirer after religious truth.
To our Subscribers generally, and to various Correspondents, we have to apologize for the delay in the publication of the present Number.
In our strictures on the Female Committee of Newgate, contained in our last, we professed an expectation that, if the parties felt themselves aggrieved, they would come forward by some "authorized agent," to state in what we have wronged them. None such have appeared. Two unauthorized communications have, however, been received; the one signed H. S. the other from the pen of our friend J. F. Both the writers are evidently very angry, and consequently very unfit, in that state, to be entrusted with the defence of the lady whose cause they espouse. By this time, indeed, we feel little doubt they must be so far restored to good humour as to feel their obligation to us for not setting their intemperance in type, or stitching their recrimination within our wrappers, to evidence their lack of argument. Besides, we are much mistaken if even the lady herself, whose conduct they undertake to defend, has not the good sense to confess the justice of our criticisms; for who now hears any thing of the Public follies of MRS. FRY?