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THE CHURCHMAN IN PARLIAMENT.
“ The time has been, it seemed a precept plain
Of the true faith Christ's tokens to display;
That men have souls, and wait a judgment day.”
'Tis altered now
During the interval which elapsed between the election and the meeting of Parliament, the two friends had frequent conversations on the nature of the duties which devolved upon a member of the legislature. Ridley had long been accustomed to regard his friend in the light of a Mentor, and was not now disposed to depreciate the value of his counsel; though certainly Herbert's opinions with regard to the duties of statesmen were not exactly such as they them
selves, or the world in general, are apt to entertain. The following is an outline of his notions.
It has always appeared to me (said he) that when a member of the legislature takes his seat, there is one grand question which he should solemnly ask himself-Have the people, for whom I am about to legislate, souls to be saved, or have they not? On the practical answer to this one question must depend the whole complexion of his policy. If men are but mere material earthly things, and this poor life the sum of heir existence ;-if Resurrection and Judgment, Heaven and Hell, are but idle dreams ;-then the legislator's sole duty would be to provide for their temporal well-being, to make them wealthy and prosperous, and enable them to enjoy the present life; and Political Economy would be the only science which he need study. But, on the other hand, if this life be but a speck on the ocean of eternity, the mere door or antichamber to everlasting mansions ;—if the millions of earth's inhabitants are immortal, responsible beings, who are training for a neverending life of happiness or woe; and if the instrumentality of human aid is needed to bring within the reach of each soul the means of salvation,—then surely the first aim of the statesman's policy should be to furnish that important aid. This should be continually in his thoughts, and all things should give way to it, or, rather, tend towards it.
Now let us look more closely at the practical bearings of this question. Suppose, first, the great question answered in the negative; suppose a statesmen to decide in his own mind that religion was nothing else but priestcraft, and heaven and hell mere fables.-(I know not whether any statesmen, who has seriously set himself to inquire, ever did come to this conclusion, yet many seem at least to evince the entire absence of all spiritual thoughts and feelings.) In what manner would such a person legislate? He would adopt the language of the Achæan deputy, when the Jews brought St. Paul before him, accusing him that “he persuaded men to worship God contrary to the law.” “If this (said Gallio) were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: but if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge in such matters?: "
1 Acts xviii. 14, 15.
that is to say, I will provide for the safety of your persons or property, but as to your souls, if souls you have, you must take care of them yourselves. This, I say, would be the principle on which a straightforward infidel, like Gallio, would act.
But I can imagine a shrewder politician than this man, though equally worthless and irreligious, I can imagine a man who should say to himself, “ Though I care nothing for the religious differences of these people, yet their superstitious prejudices are too strong to be slighted. In truth, I do not see why I may not turn them to good account. I can make tools of these bigoted Papists, and raise myself on their shoulders to some eminence: or I can play off these troublesome Dissenters against the lazy Churchmen. If the Churchmen begin to rouse themselves, then I must change my tone a little, in order to pacify them.” Such would be the language of a shrewd player at the game of politics; and this man, with the same infidel principles as the other, and far more selfish and insincere in heart, might attain the praise of being a highly religious and liberal person.
I remember once being accosted by a beggar, who,-perceiving that I was a clergyman, but doubting, perhaps, to what denomination I belonged,-declared that he was very partial to all kinds of religious worship.” Is not this the creed of some of our modern legislators ? Perceiving in the country a decided bias for religion of some sort, but not knowing precisely whether the turbulent violence of the Papist, or the persevering cunning of the Dissenter, or the vis inertiæ of the Churchman will predominate, they profess themselves very partial to all kinds of religion ; or, in other words, view all with equal indifference. Alas ! I fear that many a statesman has fretted his hour upon the stage with principles little better than these; and has gone to his last account without having done intentionally one single act for the honour of God or the good of his fellow creatures' souls. And the reason of this worthlessness,—the cause of this utter neglect of the best interests of the people committed to his charge, has been the same as that which ruined his own soul;—he never seriously asked himself, What is truth ? He never decided the great question, Have these people, or have they not, souls to be saved ?