Графични страници
PDF файл

that of treating men with severity, and speaking of them as outcasts."*

At a time when it was not so common as it is now, for clergymen to tell their minds freely from the pulpit or the press on such subjects, Dr. Macgill boldly reminded the affluent and the gay, that their idleness and extravagance, irreligion and profligacy, had produced sad “havoc" among the humbler classes, and that thereby they had contributed both to corrupt the general manners, and to ruin individuals; and he boldly called upon rulers and statesmen, landed proprietors, merchants, manufacturers, and masters of trades, nay, on our literary men, and our instructors of youth, who are apt to look on such things as beneath their notice, to consider what example of attention to religious principles, and ordinances, and duties, they had for many years given; and he plainly tells them not to be surprised if they should now see some portion of the fruit of their own conduct appearing among the people. It was Frederick the great of Prussia, who, in the last year of his life, expressed, but without avail, his earnest wish, that he could restore his people to those principles, and those habits, in which he had found them, and which he and his associates had laboured through life to destroy.

The following admirable exposè of Lord Kaimes and his philosophical theories on the poor may be quoted in this place, as not unsuitable to the state of opinion and of practice in regard to the poor at the present day.

* Discourses on subjects of Public Interest, by Dr. Macgill, pp. 403-405.

Many years ago, Lord Kaimes, in his Sketches on Man, considered, in a separate chapter, the subject of poor laws; and from him succeeding writers have very liberally borrowed. Like several of his writings, this contains many useful facts and observations, hastily and indiscriminately brought together, mixed with many dangerous errors, not only on this subject, but on others of great importance. One advantage attends him—he is candid and open; draws all his conclusions without shrinking, and is quite above the dishonest and insidious warfare of some of the philosophers of his time. The case of those aged and helpless human beings, who, to their ruin, have wasted their better days, he considers on his scheme, not as wholly desperate; for he leaves them, not to persons whose character deserves praise, and whose conduct he encourages men to imitate, but “ to such tender-hearted persons as are more eminent for pity than for principle.” And though a few should thus occasionally, from neglect or oversight, die of want, he seems to think it would be of no great importance, nay, probably, that it would be an advantage; for the example of such unhappy persons left to perish, “ will tend,” he adds, “more to reformation, than the most pathetic discourse from the pulpit.” His Lordship should have extended his plan, and given to the higher ranks the benefit of his ideas, as well as the class of the labourer. Among them also are to be found, the idle and in


temperate; frail and aged persons, who have been indolent saunterers, or thoughtless squanderers, or profligate livers, whose wasted forms, crying for food, or perishing in the agonies of hunger, might give more general effect to his Lordship's scheme of reformation."

Dr. Macgill was not one of those puling sentimentalists who imagine that a protestant minister has nothing to do with the great public events of the times, or the influence of civil government on the habits and condition of men. It was during the period of his residence at Eastwood that certain political opinions were extensively circulated among the people, the tendency of which appeared to him and to many others, unfavourable to the peace and prosperity of the country. His views of the French revolution had been greatly modified by events; and expectations which he, in common with many intelligent and liberal men, may at one time have cherished, were speedily blasted. Anxious for the best interests of his people, he published, in 1792, a small tract entitled “ The Spirit of the Times,' addressed specially to “ the people of Eastwood.” There are seasons when pious and faithful ministers ought to depart from their ordinary round; yea, even to leave the retired and peaceful walks of pastoral duty, in order that they may, by methods somewhat unusual, endeavour to do good to their fellow citizens. Dr. Macgill felt himself so situated, and he lifted up a seasonable warning against prevailing anarchy, infidelity, and crime. While he was far from inculcating “passive obedience,” or the divine right of kings to govern wrong," he inculcated the lessons of wisdom and brotherly love. It is possible that later events and growing experience, may have modified his views on some points; but taking it as a whole, his address abounds in sound maxims on the subject of established government, and the dangers of anarchy and a revolutionary spirit; while the acquaintance it exhibits with the history of the English constitution, as contrasted with the government of France under the Bourbon dynasty, is exceedingly creditable to his intelligence and his judgment at this early period of his life. There is reason to think that the practical effect of the publication was beneficial; and certainly no man dared to charge its author with the fault of stepping out of his appropriate province in putting it forth. One of the ablest tracts on the question of the American war was published by the eminently pious and learned Dr. Erskine of Edinburgh; and Dr. Witherspoon, the President of New Jersey College, was the author of "an Essay on Money," a work which, at the distance of seventy years, is still appealed to as replete with the wisest maxims of commercial policy. If a minister of Christ may with perfect propriety inculcate on his people the duties of submission to the powers that be, and in so doing, enumerate to them as grounds of gratitude the blessings, civil and religious, which they enjoy; may he not also point out the means

* Discourses on subjects of Public Interest, pp. 386, 387.

by which their physical condition may be improved, and plead for the repeal of impolitic and demoralizing statutes which stand in the way? There are great questions of political economy which ought to be viewed apart from all low partizanship, and in connexion exclusively with the general social welfare of mankind. A protestant clergyman ought to be the most enlightened of citizens. In ordinary times, indeed, he may safely leave the details of public measures to those whose habits qualify them better for their developement; but at no time should he be ignorant of great principles, or indifferent to their practical application.

There was one subject on which Dr. Macgill always held very decided and truly liberal sentiments; I refer to the Test and Corporation acts. It is well known that these acts owed their existence to the well-founded jealousy of the House of Commons in 1673, in regard to the

pretensions of the Roman Catholic party. When Charles II. resumed the throne of his ancestors, he was personally inclined to favour the Presbyterians who had been his best friends, and had mainly contributed to his restoration. He had given them, when at Breda, very solemn assurances of his favour, and he did not altogether forget these promises when restored to power. He felt his honour implicated in them; and had the same spirit which actuated the Convention Parliament which restored him, continued to breathe in their successors, concessions might possibly have been made in fa

power and

« ПредишнаНапред »