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A Letter on Political Debate

Eaxton> Nov. 1, 178 k.

A LETTER

ON

POLITICAL DEBATE,

Printed in the Year 1793.

TO

The Rev. D**** W*****«***.

Dear And Reverend Sir,

THE kind present of your book, and your kind intention in addressing your sermons to me by name, deserved a more early acknowledgement. I am pleased with every mark of regard from a Christian brother, though I could have wished not to be held

up to public notice : and Mr. J 1, who likewise

meant well, has made the business a little more awkward to me by styling me Doctor, an honour which the newspapers informed me (for 1 have no official intelligence) has been conferred upon me by the college of Princeton in America. However, by the grace of God, I am determined not to assume the title of Doctor, unless I should receive a diploma from a College in the New Settlement at Sierra Leone. The dreary coast of Africa was the university to which the Lord was pleased to send me, and I dare not acknowledge a relation to any other.

I need not express my approbation of your sermons in stronger terms than by saying, that I have seldom met with any thing more congenial to my own sentiments and taste. I read them with great satisfaction.

Though I have very little time for reading, had your whole volume consisted of such sermons, I should have gone through it much sooner : but your lectures on Liberty, though ingenious and well written, were not so interesting to me. It was therefore longer before I could find leisure to finish them ; and this has occasioned the delay of my letter; for I thought it would be premature to write till I could say I had read them.

I hope I am a friend to liberty, both civil and religious, but I fear you will hardly allow it, when I sav, I think myself possessed of as much of these blessings, at present, as I wish for. I can, indeed, form an idea of something more perfect ; but I expect no perfection in this state : and, when 1 consider the Lord's question, " Shall not my soul ht "avenged on such a nation as this?" I cannot but wonder thai such a nation as this should still be favoured with so many privileges, which we still enjoy and still abuse.

Allow me to say, that it excites both my wonder and con; era, that a minister, possessed of the great and important views expressed in your two sermons, should think it worth his white to appear in the line of a political writer, or expect to amend our constitution or situation, by proposals of a political reform. When I look around upon the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me no less vain and unseasonable, than it would be to paint a cabin while the ship is sinking, or a parlour when the house is already on fire. My dear Sir, my prayer to God for you is, that he may induce you to employ the talents he has given you in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of everv existing evil, and to engage those who love and fear him, instead of losing them in political speculation, for which very few of them are tolerably competent, to sigh srnd cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, b\ prayer, that, if it may be, wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged. This, I think, is the true patriotism, the best, if not*

the only way, in which persons in private life can \ serve their country. For the rest, there will be always dead to bury the dead. The instruments whom the Lord employs in political matters are usually such as are incapable of better employment. All things and persons serve him ; but there are services under the direction of his providence which are not good enough for his own children. They belong to a kingdom which is not of this world ; they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and a part of their scriptural character is, that they are the " quiet in the land."

The reasoning for a more equal representation in parliament is specious ; but while infidelity and profligacy abound among rich and poor ; while there is such a general want of principle and public spirit among all ranks; 1 apprehend, that, whatever changes might take place in this business, no real benefit will follow. The consequence would rather be the introduction of perjury, bribery, drunkenness, and riot, into towns, which have hitherto been more exempted from them than the boroughs. As the numbers of buyers increased, so would the number of those who are willing to be sold. And I know that many judicious people in Birmingham and Manchester are so sensible of this, that they would be sorry to have elections among them, though there are exceptions. 1 have so poor an opinion of the bulk both of the electors and the elected, that, I think, if the seats in the house of commons could be determined by a lottery, abundance of mischief and wickedness might be prevented, and perhaps the nation might be represented to as much advantage by this as by any other method ; but these are not my concerns.

i be position, that, if the body of a people are aggrieved, they have a right to redress themselves, must be much limited and modified before I can reconcile it to Scripture. I am not fond of despots; but I think, if ever there was one upon earth, Nebuchadnezzar was a despot. Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down ; Dan. v. 18, 19. Yet Jeremiah declares, that the Lord had given him this despotic power, and had commanded all the nations to serve him. Surely, if you and I had been there (knowing what we know now), we should not have disputed this command, nor have excited the people, however oppressed, to shake off the yoke which God himself had put upon them : and if, for our sins, the Lord should put us under the power of the Russians, I should rather look to him than to man for deliverance. I think a heathen said, " The day which deprives a " man of his liberty, robs him of half his virtues.''— If I was a heathen 1 should say so too. But the Gospel teaches me otherwise. The apostle expected that believing servants, who at that time, I suppose, were chiefly bond-servants or slaves, would act from nobler principles, and aim at a more sublime end, than the conception of philosophers had ever reached to. That they would act from a regard to the glory of God our Saviour, and to the honour of his Gospel ; Tit. ii. 10. 1 Tim. vi. 1.; and elsewhere he says, 1 Cor- vii. 21. " Art thou called, being a servant? care not for it: but. " if thou may st be made free, use it rather." If Divine Providence offers you a manumission, accept it with thankfulness; if not, it is but a trifle to you, who are already the Lord's freedman ; and, in your most servile' employments, if submitted to for his sake, you are accepted of him no less than if you were placed in the most honourable and important stations. The Christian, however situated, must be free indeed, for the Son of God has made him so. On the other hand, you and F, dear sir, know how much they are to be pitied

who are frantic for what they call liberty, and consider not that they are in the most deplorable bondage, the slaves of sin and Satan, and subject to the curse of the law, and the wrath of God. Oh ! for a voice to reach their hearts, that they may know themselves, and seek -deliverance from their dreadful thraldom. Satan has many contrivances to amuse them, and to turn their thoughts from their real danger ; and none seem more ensnaring, in the present day, than to engage them in the cry, " Great is the Diana Liberty !" May you and I labour with success to direct them to the one thing which is absolutely needful, and abundantly sufficient. The Socinians are rather the most forward in this cry ; which 1 fear will have a baneful influence upon the power of religion among the more evangelical dissenters. An agreement in political sentiments produces much cordiality and intercourse between those who, in point of doctrine, have stood at the greatest distance. And already, in some pulpits (proh dolor!) a description of the rights of man occupies much of the time which used to be employed in proclaiming the glory and grace of the Saviour, and the rights of Cod to the love and obedience of his creatures.

As to the revolution in France, I suppose no human person was sorry when the Bastile was destroyed, and the pillars of their oppressive government shaken— The French had then a great opportunity put into their hands. I pretend not to judge of the political merit of their constitution ; but, if I approved it hi other respects, I durst not praise it so strongly as you do, while I knew it was planted in atheism, and has been watered with deluges of human blood ; while I knew it began in insult to Christianity, and aimed at its abolition.

However, their first admired constitution is now at an end, and has no more force than the repeated oaths by which they bound themselves to maintain it. And now, not content with pleasing themselves, they are aiming to force their schemes upon the surrounding nations. I should call this Quixotism in the extreme, if I did not consider them as saws and hammers in the hand of the I^ord. So far as they are his instruments they will succeed, but not an inch farther. Their wrath shall praise him tp the fu.ll extent of its acting, and be subservient to his designs ; the remainder of it he will restrain. And, when he maketh inquisition for the blood they have wantonly shed, and for their defiance of his great name, neither their phantom liberty, nor their idol Voltaire, will screen them from his notice.

I am sorry for your severe censures on the pre* sent administration. For, when I compare the state of the nation in the year 17$3, or at the time of the king's illness, with what it is now, I cannot but think that the providence of God raised up Mr. Pitt for the good of these kingdoms, and that no man could do what he has done unless a blessing from on high had been upon his counsels and measures. I speak simply ; having nothing to hope, or, as I think? to fear from men in power, 1 am not concerned to vindicate the conduct of ministry in the lump; but I believe, though it be easy to draw up theories and schemes in the closet, which may look very pretty and plausible upon paper, difficulties will occur in the administration of a great people, which can scarcely be conceived of by persons in private life. And, with respect to Britain at present, I believe, if the prophet Daniel was at the head of our affairs, or if all our ministers were angels, the corruption and venality of the times would labour hard to counteract their designs.

There is no new thing under the sun. When I read Sallust's account of the Jugurthine war, I seem to read (mutatis mutandis) our own history. The wealth and luxury which followed the successes of Lucvsllus in Asia soon destroyed all appearance of public spirit in Rome. Our acquisitions in the East have had a similar effect. I know some persons who, after giving full proof of their incompetency to manage their own private affairs, after haying ruined their families by dissipation, and stained their characters by fraud and bankruptcy, have presendy set up for national reformers. I am very sorry they should seem to have the sanction of such a name as yours.

I know not even the names of the gentlemen who compose the society of " the friends of the people," and consequently have no prejudice against their characters. But you yourself are sorry, and seem surprised that they should adopt an eulogium upon Mr. Paine. I am sorry likewise, but I am not sur. prised. Ex pede Herculem ! I rely more upon this feature, than on all their declarations. When you say that, allowing them to be men of penetration, nothing more is necessary to establish the purity of their intentions, it sounds very strange to me, when I consider it as the sentiment of the author of the two sermons which I have read with so much pleasure. Surely it cannot accord with your knowledge of human nature!

When our Lord was upon earth, he refused to be a judge or a divider. And he said afterwards, " My kingdom is not of this world ; if it were, then " would my servants fight." I should think, as Peter thought, that if any thing could have justified resistance in a disciple, that was the time when Jesus was apprehended by wicked men, to be condemned and crucified ; but his master rebuked his zeal. I think that, as Christians, we have nothing to expect from this world .but tribulation, no peace but in him. If our lot be so cast that we can exercise our minis. try free from stripes, fines, imprisonment, and death, it is more than the Gospel has promised us. If Christians were quiet when under the government of Nero and Caligula, and when persecuted and hunted like wild beasts, they ought to be not only quiet but very thankful now. It was then accounted an honour to suffer for Christ. Of late, the rights of man are pleaded as a protection from the offence of the cross.

Had I been in France some time ago, and if by going between the contending parties I could have reconciled them, I certainly ought to have done it. But to take a part in their disputes myself, and to beccmie openly and warmly a Jacobin or a Feuillant, would be ridiculous in me, if all my connexions and interests were in England, and I expected in a few weeks to leave France for ever. In this view I consider myself now. if I had wisdom or influence to soothe the angry passions of mankind, whether whigs or tories, I would gladly employ them ; but, as to myself, I am neither whig nor tory, but a friend to both. I am a stranger, and a pilgrim. My noAmw/xa, my charter, my rights, my treasures are, I hope, in heaven, and there my heart ought to be. In less than a few weeks I may be removed (and perhaps suddenly) into the unseen world, where all that causes so much bustle upon earth at present, will be no more to me than the events which took place among the antediluvians. How much then does it import me, to be found watching, with my loins girded up, and my lamp burning, diligently engaged in my poor calling ! For the Lord has not called me to set nations to right, but to preach the Gospel, to proclaim the glory of his name, and to endeavour to win souls. Happy is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find you so doing ! In the hour when death shall open the door into eternity, many things which now assume an air of importance, will be found light and unsubstantial as the baseless fabric of a vision.

I know not whether the length and freedom of my letter may not require an apology, as much as my long silence. But, as I give you full credit for what you say of your candour towards those who differ from you in sentiment, I am the less apprehensive of offending you. From the perusal of your sermons, I have conceived a great respect and affection for you. Though we may not meet upon earth, I trust we shall meet where all are'perfectly of one mind. In the mean time, I set you down in my heart as a friend and a brother. As I was forced to write, both duty and love obliged me to be faithful and free in giving you my thoughts.

I recommend you to the care and blessings of the great Shepherd and Saviour, and remain for his sake,

Reverend Sir,

Your affectionate friend and brother,

J. N.

FINIS.