« ZurückWeiter »
the encouragement of true merit, diverted into a wrong channel : this point enlarged on.
These are the steps by which division corrupts the manners and morality of a nation. And what hopes are there of seeing a people grow great and considerable, who have lost the sense of virtue and of shame; who call evil good, and good evil; and who are prepared to sacrifice their true interest and that of their country to their own and their leaders' resentment?
These general observations might be justified by numberless instances, drawn from the late times; but to do justice to the subject and the solemn occasion of the day, it is necessary to take one step into their history, and to view the works of division in its utmost rage.
It is difficult to speak of any thing relating to the unhappy period which this day calls to mind, and truth can hardly be borne on either side; yet testimony must be given against the unnatural and barbarous treason, and the acts of violence which prepared the way for it; a treason long since condemned by the public voice.
The subject illustrated by some examples, which the history of the late times affords, and which reach to the full extent of “the text, that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
To put a stop to innovations, correct abuses, and redress grievances by the known rules of Parliament, is the true and ancient method of preserving the constitution, and transmitting it safe to posterity ; but when this wholesome physic came to be administered by the spirit of faction and division, it was so intemperately given, that the remedy inflamed the distemper, and the unhappy contest which began about the rights of the king and the liberties of the people ended in the destruction of both.
The contest about civil rights was rendered exceedingly hot and fierce, by having all the disputes and quarrels in religious matters, under which the nation had long suffered, incorporated
with it: thus conscience was called in to animate and inflame the popular resentments : the effect was soon felt, for the church of England fell the first sacrifice.
The bishops of those days were generally inclined to save and support the crown; the consequence thence drawn was, that episcopacy itself was an usurpation; and the bishops were excluded, not only from the House of Parliament, but from their churches also.
But why mention this, when so much more fatal a blow was given to the liberties and constitution of England, by the House of Lords itself being declared useless, and the peerage excluded from a share in the legislature?
The nobility were not free from the infection of those times ; and yet to their honor be it remembered, that the execrable fact of this day could not be carried into execution so long as the peerage of England had any influence in the government: when once they were removed, the crown and the head of him that wore it fell together.
It is said that very few persons comparatively were wicked and bold enough to dip their hands in royal blood. But then, how fatal to kingdoms is the spirit of faction and division, which could in the course of a few years throw all the powers of the kingdom into the hands of a few desperate men, and enable them to trample on the heads of princes, the honors of the nobility, and the liberties of the people!
Could these acts of violence, and the causes which produced them, be suffered to lie quiet in history, as so many beacons, we might be wiser and better for the calamities of our fathers ; but if we permit their passions and resentments to descend on us; if we keep alive old quarrels by mutual invectives, what else are we doing but nursing up the embers of that fire which once consumed these kingdoms?
The application of what has been said is so natural and obvious, that were it pardonable to omit it on this occasion, it would not be mentioned.
There is no pleasure in viewing the follies and distractions of former times; nor is there any advantage, unless it be that we may grow better and wiser by the examples which history sets be ore us. In the present case we have the experience, which cost the nation dear, to warn both rulers and subjects how carefully they should avoid all occasions of division. The true way to act is, for each side to maintain its own rights without encroaching on those of the other; for the constitution must suffer whenever the rights of the crown, or the liberties of the people, are invaded : this point enlarged on. Concluding observations.
Preached before the House of Lords at Westminster Abbey,
Jan. 30, 1733,
MARK, CHAP. III.-VERSE 24.
If a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
Though these words are read in the gospel, yet they have not their authority merely from thence; but for the truth of the observation contained in them, there lies an appeal to common sense and experience. Our Saviour indeed, by using this maxim, has approved it; and he could not appeal to the judgment of all men in this case, without, at the same time, declaring his own.
As observations of this kind depend on a great number of facts, so are there in the present case a great number to support it. The many kingdoms and countries weakened or ruined by intestine divisions, are so many proofs on record of the truth of this assertion. And did we of this country want to have this truth cleared by such instances, it would be but reasonable to produce the proofs. But we have examples of our own growth, and stand in need of no assistance from foreign history, This island has often changed its inhabitants; but the new ones never got possession till the old ones made way for them by their mutual hatred and animosities; and the nation has, under very unpromising circumstances, maintained itself against foreign enemies, whenever it was so happy as to preserve peace and tranquillity at home. The late unhappy times of Charles the First were attended
with this almost peculiar felicity, that no foreign nation was at leisure to take advantage of our divisions. Europe was in arms; and the great powers too much in awe of each other, for any one to conceive hopes of success, had his ambition inclined him to lay hold of the opportunities which our distractions offered. But though there was no enemy to ruin us, yet ruined we were. Such is the malignity of intestine division !
When national quarrels grow extreme, and appear in arms, it is easy to foresee the sad consequences; and the coldest imagination may be able to paint to itself the miseries that must follow. And whoever looks back on the many years of distress under which this country labored in the late times; let him view them with impartial or with partial eye; will see enough to convince his judgment how fatal a thing it is for a kingdom to be divided against itself. It will therefore be of little use to enlarge on this part of the argument; and I the more willingly pass it over, as it will save you and me the pain of viewing various scenes of woe, which that time, fruitful in misery, would present before us.
But there are other evils, less discernible, which spring from the same bitter root, and naturally prepare the
for the greater mischiefs to follow after: they are the first symptoms of public confusion; and as they influence greatly the virtue and morality of a nation, they are in a more especial manner the preacher's care.
National divisions are sometimes founded in material differences, such as affect the well-being and constitution of a government; and sometimes owe their rise to accidents, and trifles unworthy of the concern of the public. In this respect therefore every case must stand on its own bottom, and is subject to no general observation. But all divisions, how different soever in their commencement, grow in their progress to be so much alike; partly from the common depravity of men,
who have not virtue enough to act honestly in an honest cause ; partly from the cunning of designing men, who seldom want the art to direct the public dispute to the service of their private views ; that there are evil effects which may be generally ascribed to all divisions, as the fruit which they naturally produce.