Reasons for joining the Norfolk & Norwich Protestant Association by William Hull

REASONS FOR JOINING
THE
NORFOLK & NORWICH
PROTESTANT ASSOCIATION

IN

A LETTER

TO A CLERICAL FRIEND.

BY THE REV. WILLIAM HULL,
MINISTER OF ST. GREGORY’S. NORWICH.

NORWICH:
PRINTED BY JOHN STACY, OLD HAYMARKET.

MDCCCXL.

p. 3A LETTER,
&c.

My dear Sir,

You have not stated the nature or the grounds of those scruples which prevent your immediate adhesion to our recently-formed association;—nor will I attempt to conjecture what they may be; especially since you avow your cordial approbation of every well-timed effort in defence of our Protestant faith and liberties against the malignant aggressions of Popery.  I am not able to imagine any substantial objection on the part of a truly Protestant mind.

Believing, as I firmly do believe, that our National Church is founded on truth, and that the Protestant ascendancy involves the temporal and spiritual welfare of the people of these realms,—believing also that the agents and emissaries of Popery have, for a series of years, been actively employed in embroiling the affairs of this kingdom, with an ultimate view to the restoration of the popish priesthood, together with their dark superstitions and inhuman despotism,—believing that new and unwonted energies must be called into action, in defence of our national religion, or that, by secret undermining and open assault, “our holy and beautiful house where our fathers p. 4worshipped” will soon be levelled with the dust, “and all our pleasant things laid waste,”—I hail the formation of the Protestant Association as a propitious event, and deliberately, from the religious conviction that I am in the path of duty, enrol my name as a member.

In stating thus freely my own forcible impressions, I disclaim any intention of impugning the motives of those who are not, equally with myself, convinced of the expediency or utility of this association.  Whatever may be the ground of your hesitation, I have entire confidence in the purity and integrity of your principles.

Nevertheless, allow me to say, with deference, that your indecision, in this case, does not for a moment cause me to waver in my own convictions, since I cannot but suspect that your doubts originate in an imperfect conception of the perils to which our religion and our country are exposed.  Were these dangers of less appalling magnitude, I also should have strong scruples against this or any similar association.  They are justifiable on no other ground than that of absolute necessity.  They bring with them many incidental evils.—They lead into collision adverse parties, and produce impassioned controversies; they create evils which no man can be right in abetting, even indirectly, but with a view to ward off others which are more injurious to the public welfare.  Besides which, no man of feeling would rashly hazard the obloquy which will be cast upon him by his opponents in this age of low-minded invective and scurrilous defamation.  Nor is it a small evil to p. 5lose the favourable regards of upright and conscientious persons who take an opposite view of the exigencies and the duties of the times.  For myself, I have no sickly ambition for this species of martyrdom.  I sacrifice with painful reluctance the esteem of the wise and the good, from whom it is my misfortune, at any time, to be separated by conflicting opinions and irreconcileable interests.  But there are occasions which call for higher duties than those of conciliation or friendship,—when private affections must be merged in a holy patriotism, and when the strength of our principles must be proved, not by the extinction of our finer sensibilities,—God forbid!—but by their yielding, with whatever bitterness of grief, to a commanding sense of Duty.  I am strongly impressed with the conviction, that such an occasion presents itself in “this day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy.”

Far from having my own apprehensions allayed by the numbers of those who are insensible to the pressure of great and imminent danger, my fears are awakened by nothing so much as by that very consideration; by no other fact am I so deeply convinced of the extreme necessity of supporting the Protestant Association, as one means, among others, of diffusing information, and thus arousing in our countrymen a spirit of determined resistance to Popery, corresponding with the power and the artifice of that unrelenting adversary.

The policy of the Papists has ever been, to the last degree, subtle, profound, and unscrupulous,—varying with the changeful phases of society, p. 6and adapting itself with fiend-like sagacity to the peculiar character of individuals and of nations.  But never did that policy show itself more triumphantly than in the late rapid march of Popery towards a paramount dominion in this kingdom; and in the skill, the cunning, the profound strategy by which it has covered its progress, lulling into false security the people of this betrayed and devoted country.

I lay comparatively little stress on the number of converts openly professing themselves to be proselytes to Popery: the report may be exaggerated or it may not.  I am not startled, as some are, by the increase of popish chapels, monasteries, and colleges.  I fear nothing from the open teachers of popish doctrine, nor would I enter into a fiddle faddle controversy with a Jesuitical priesthood, who are not bound by the laws of honourable warfare, and who, when defeated in argument, always take refuge in their insolent assumption of infallibility.  The naked dogmas of Popery carry with them their own refutation.  They originated in the dark ages of barbarian ignorance and public confusion, when the Roman empire had been swept by the northern hordes, and savage warfare left no leisure, no disposition, to cultivate those departments of knowledge which expand and invigorate the human mind.  Popery can never make converts in an enlightened nation like England, but from among the most feeble in intellect or sordid in character, the uninstructed vulgar, nervous women, or intellectual profligates.  True, she has advocates both subtle and learned; p. 7but they are men who were cradled in her errors, and whose early discipline and youthful associations—designed for the suppression of the manly mind—have combined, with the interested motives of after-life, to fix them in her faith.  I give no credit to the more notorious of popish agitators for sincerity in their religious attachment to the cause they serve.  Popery is their stepping-stone to distinction and power.  They laugh in their sleeve at that lucrative fable while they derive power, as political incendiaries, from the distresses and superstitions of an abject people.

But while naked Popery is simply despicable for its absurdities or detestable for its intolerance, I fear every thing from the unwearied and versatile genius of Romish policy, which, without having proselyted to the popish faith Protestant England, has contrived, by a series of manœuvres, so to dislocate the frame of British society, that instead of combining to crush, as they might easily do, the common foe, Protestant is arrayed against Protestant, while the only party really to be dreaded by all, is looked upon without suspicion and without fear.  If the present course of events is suffered to proceed,—while one class of Protestants is tamely looking on, and another section is actively and zealously employed in seconding the designs of the papacy,—I see no impossibility that is to prevent the entire power of the State from falling, at no distant period, into the hands of the popish faction.  And what use they will make of that power is not a matter of difficult conjecture.  History is not “an old p. 8almanack,” unless to fools and desperadoes; and history denounces papal intolerance in characters of horror and of blood.

Allow me to repeat it,—for this is the very gist of the argument,—from naked and avowed Popery little was to be feared; but from Popery carrying on its wily projects through the means of Protestant agency, or, under Protestant colours, conducting a piratical warfare, every thing is to be dreaded.  And this is exactly the way in which we are now assailed.

If you look to the State, you behold the ministers of a Protestant Queen, who are sworn to uphold the Protestant religion, bound hand and foot by popish demagogues and traitorous agitators, and impotent to carry any great measure against the assent of their masters, who can on any day effect their dismissal from office.  Their policy is entirely popish.  The Privy Council is thrown open to popish intrigue; the army is largely recruited from the popish peasantry of Ireland; popish bishops are appointed and salaried by government in the colonies; the popish faction holds the balance of parties in the Commons house of Parliament.

The aspect of the Church is scarcely less alarming.  The “Oxford Tracts” are said to represent the sentiments of a considerable number of our devout clergy and laity.  Of these very remarkable productions, enforcing the practices of a superstitious devotion, and denouncing, with a papistical jealousy of free enquiry, every manly exercise of the human mind, when religion is the p. 9subject of investigation, it is sufficient to say that they have been read with grief and astonishment by many of the most sound divines of the Anglican Church, and hailed by papists with a sneer of triumph.  For the principles of the Protestant faith, they are by far

“Too ceremonious and traditional.”

And, if the spirit of servile superstition which some of these tracts breathe,—if the gloomy intolerance they sanction,—can be shown to harmonize with the doctrines and usages of our Church, dissent needs no better vindication.  Happily these noxious principles are the growth of another soil; but they who embrace them are not far from the worst dogmas of Popery.  They are already in the vestibule—a few more steps will carry them to the altar of that desecrated temple.  It has been suggested, and the suggestion is not at variance with Christian courtesy and candour, that these Tracts have originated in a Jesuitical conspiracy to pollute the stream of orthodox truth at the fountain head.  Looking only at the internal evidence, the suspicion is fully justified.  At any rate, they prepare the way in a manner most satisfactory to the Papists, for a close alliance with the apostate church, whose spirit and whose errors they so nearly resemble.  They are indefensible as the productions of Protestant divines.

Perhaps you will pronounce this opinion arrogant and harsh, considering who are the writers.  But in a case such as the present the public have a right to judge the work itselfindependently of the p. 10writers, of whose individual characters few readers can be supposed to know any thing.  I judge as one of the public,—I look at the “Tracts” apart from their authors, and my conviction is, that no personal worth, no amiable qualities, no piety, no erudition can vindicate the estimable authors of these “Tracts” from having done, with whatever purity of intention, great injury to the Protestant cause.  Here is Popery, indirectly at least, promoted by the professors of a university, whose name has hitherto been regarded as the symbol of pure orthodoxy.  The times are fearful when the whisper goes forth, even among the most devoted friends of the church—“Popery at Oxford!”  From another section of churchmen, scarcely less danger is to be apprehended: they are smoothing the way for popish ascendancy.  I mean those whose ultra-liberalism embraces every interest but that of their own communion—whose latitudinarian candour regards with complacency every erroneous form of doctrine or worship, as if, all that we tolerate we were bound in duty to approve,—who look with special favour on every deviation from the sound orthodoxy of the church,—who hail every irregularity as a commendable exercise of freedom,—and who reserve their censures and their frowns for those who conscientiously adhere to “the good old way.”  By this anomalous order of churchmen—the growth of modern days—all the assailants of the sacred cause are held in honour for their presumed freedom from prejudice,—all its defenders are condemned as mercenaries or bigots.  Of this description of persons, p. 11it may be presumed, many are prepared to sit down, quite at ease, under the mild sovereignty of the papacy.  Their special predilection for that persecuted race of patriots and Christians, who are agitating for an Italian despot and the Holy Inquisition, is only preparatory to their own sworn allegiance to Rome, the moment that haughty power obtains dominion and can command submission.  They are waiting for the flood-tide.  To say the least, the men whose liberalism can rejoice in Popery, can have no motives for becoming martyrs to Protestant truth and liberty.

And now let us look at THE COUNTRY AT LARGE.  Judging from the tone of our popular literature, and from the spirit of the public press, which can only subsist by responding to the sentiments of the day, I cannot but think that infidelity and profligacy abound to an alarming extent among the reading classes.  The Protestant church, it is plain, can have no hold on the disciples of Voltaire, of Hume, of Gibbon, of Paine, of Byron.  She will never compromise her pure morality.  In the bosom of the Mother of Harlots they may revel with impunity: confession, and absolution, and extreme unction, will reconcile them to her ascendancy.  Among the paradoxes of the human mind, none is more common than the junction of profane scepticism with credulous superstition,—the impious reviler of the Bible making his last peace with heaven by taking his viaticum from a popish priest.  Popery is the religion for all men who would indulge the hope of heaven, after doing their utmost to convert the present world p. 12into a hell of impiety and crime.  Already they are in political alliance with the man of sin.

But there are others of less discreditable character than these, from whom the Protestant cause derives no aid in this day of trial.  I mean that large class of easy, worthy, unsuspecting persons who have imbibed unguardedly the sentiments of modern liberalism, without its malignity, and in ignorance of its designs.  They see Popery only in the mild and subdued form which it puts on while restrained by the usages and the laws of a Protestant community.  They find nothing in their popish neighbours but what is humane and social, and, perhaps, intelligent, honourable, and devout; and, reasoning from what they see and hear themselves, they give credit to the idle tale that Popery is REGENERATED,—that the lion is become a lamb, and the serpent a dove,—and that, under the future reign of the Papacy, no longer perfidious, intolerant, sanguinary, no materials will be supplied for another “Book of Martyrs”—let it therefore take its unmolested course!

Add to these, many persons of aristocratic rank and fortune, whose principles are wavering, and who, on supposition that the Church of England must fall a prey to the motley gang of modern revolutionists, are prepared rather to side with Popery, which is essentially aristocratical and monarchical, than with Protestant dissent, which is plebeian, levelling and democratical.  They know that the pretended liberalism of Popery means nothing more than that “she stoops to conquer;” p. 13and they will prefer her custody of their titles and estates, to that of a national convention of chartists or roundheads.

And now, my dear Sir, if this is not a mistaken view of things, we are led to an appalling conclusion.  If the popish faction, ever vigilant while others sleep, should succeed, by a coup d’état, in grasping the power of the Executive government, they have so stealthily and successfully prepared for the event, that a large mass of the professedly Protestant community would hail their accession to power; other important bodies would be so far neutralized as to offer no resistance; while the portion of our church and nation who remain “faithful among the faithless” will have to maintain a conflict for truth and righteousness, under circumstances of fearful inequality.  I need not suggest what the power of the state can do, when wielded by men of unscrupulous principles, and devoted to their cause with the zeal of a morbid superstition.

I do not say that this catastrophe is inevitable; but it is not impossible.  The mine is prepared although it may not be sprung: but if the match should be applied, the explosion will be far more tremendous, and the desolation more complete, than even the “Gunpowder Treason” would have caused, if Providence had not detected that most foul conspiracy.  The authors of that crime would have fallen, at once, victims to popular indignation; but the conspirators of the present day will have secured themselves from instant destruction by previously tampering with the public mind, p. 14and corrupting its principles.  They have already carried Popish objects by Protestant agents; and when the real combat is at length to be fought, pro aris et focis, the dupes of their insidious policy will find themselves unarmed or in confusion on the field of battle.

We may smile at popish miracles—the chapel at Loretto—the blood of St. Januarius—the healing art of the Abbé Paris—and all the low trumpery by which the pretended vicar of Jesus Christ stoops to deceive and destroy: but here is a master-stroke of policy, all but really miraculous, displaying not less of satanic skill than malice, and at sight of which the stoutest of British hearts may for a moment quail.  The events of these times will supply our posterity with the most humiliating page in the history of their country—Great Britain, invincible in arms, disorganized and convulsed by the infernal arts of the Jesuits!

These dangers must be met by extraordinary measures of defence.  If the government did its duty, not a Jesuitical institute would be suffered to pollute the land: these agents and subjects of a foreign power would not be allowed to tamper with the peace and the liberties of England.  But, deserted by the government, itself enslaved by an ignoble faction, and powerful only for mischief, we must look to our own resources, and, among others, to the Protestant Association.  I see nothing in its constitution or principles to justify the fear, that it may not hopefully look for the blessing of Almighty God upon its exertions.  It has not been instituted by a section or party in the church.  It p. 15overlooks minor distinctions, and enrols among its members persons of every shade of sentiment or opinion, who are willing to make a common cause on behalf of our venerable church and our holy religion.  The moment it is made the instrument of party, let it fall!  The name of the Noble Lord who is its president, is a pledge that its objects are truly British; and the clergy and laity who are its members, can have united for no purposes less holy than the preservation of that sacred light which Popery had extinguished—which the reformers re-kindled—and which, by God’s grace, shall never again be put out in England.

In looking at the aspect of the times, I am not sanguine in my hopes, nor do I yield to despondency.  It is ours to do our duty, and leave the consequences with the Great Arbiter of human destinies.  If we are disappointed in our efforts to save our country, we shall have the consolation of having made a stand under circumstances which required some degree of moral courage, and a lively faith in the God of Truth, whose servants we are, and in whose cause it will be no dishonour to fall.

In the mean time, it is a reflection not to be evaded, however painful to indulge, that great national guilt could alone have reduced us to the embarrassments and perplexities of these times—times of degeneracy so rapid and infatuation so blind, that to this tormented kingdom may be applied the fearful description of the historian of the Roman empire:—

p. 16“Labente deinde paullatim disciplinâ, velut desidentes primo mores sequatur animo; deinde ut magis magisque lapsi sint; tum ire cœperint præcipites:—donec ad hæc tempora, quibus nec vitia nostranec remedia pati possumus, perventum est.”

And now, my dear sir, I have acted upon my own convictions of duty in thus plainly stating my motives for upholding the Protestant Association: judge them as severely as you please.  They have at least this claim to calm consideration: they are the reasons of an individual whose personal interests and prospects would have dictated another course of action, but who deems it his greatest happiness to have his fortunes blended, “for better or for worse,” with that hallowed cause in which Latimer and Ridley and Hooper and Cranmer died.

Yours faithfully,

WILLIAM HULL.

EatonDec. 10, 1839.

THE END.