HC Deb 26 January 1832 vol 9 cc895-903
Mr. Perceval

being called on to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, rose, and said, I perceive that strangers are in the House.

The Speaker

strangers must withdraw.

The officers of the House proceeded to clear the gallery.

Mr. Hume

I presume I may move the suspension of the Standing Order.

The Speaker

Strangers must withdraw.

The gallery was then cleared, and the House proceeded, with closed doors, to take into consideration Mr. Perceval's Motion for a general fast. The hon. Member is reported to have spoken as follows:—

Mr. Perceval

said, that he had moved the absence of strangers on three accounts; first, that he might have more freedom of speech himself, and the House be more ready to hear him, than under the eye of strangers; secondly, that no man might suppose that he was looking to approbation of any party out of that House, to compensate for the disapprobation he feared to encounter within; thirdly, that as the Motion had been objected to, as likely to lead to scandal in the debate, he would take away all temptation to blasphemy, or at least prevent any going forth to the country. He closed himself in with his fellow-commoners, face to face, and could speak freely in the presence of baptized men. He rose to address them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, who was exalted King of kings, and Lord of lords. He called on them in the glory of his name. God, too, was present amongst them, and he would witness all that passed. In the name of God, the Highest, he appealed to the House; and as it was written in his Word, that he who rejected one that appeared in the name of God despised him that sent him, he that rejected him (Mr. Perceval) rejected his God, in whose name he appeared. He therefore, implored the House to attend with reverence. He would risk being tedious, in order to be understood. No man could deny, that the state of the nation was truly deplorable Nothing had altered his opinion since he last addressed the House on this subject. The nation trembled on the verge of destruction—no man could calculate on subordination in any society—in every district there were disorders. There was also the frightful collision of the two Houses of Parliament. The houses of the nobles and gentry were entered and pillaged, and one of the great cities of the nation had been plundered and devastated by the mob. Two parties were threatening a conflict so manifest, that, amidst all these things, every body, of considerate mind, should consider their ways, and mend them. Shall we not bow down before that God whose hand is on us, consider our ways, and go down on our knees to supplicate that mercy which is gone from us. The prosperity of a nation, like that of an individual, is of God. He only was the author of all the prosperity which the nation had ever enjoyed; and as obedience to God was the cause of a nation's prosperity, was not our disobedience to God and his ordinances the cause of his wrath and vengeance? He would read from the Holy Book the promise and the denunciations of God's mercy and judgments. That was the Magna Charta of nations—the words which God spoke to Israel. And, bearing in mind the un-changeableness of God, and the mutability of man, this nation seemed to stand in that position towards the Almighty in which Israel formerly stood. It had been the seat of true religion, and had reared up the finest system of civil polity that ever existed; and if they were as Jerusalem was, they must suffer equally, 'Woe unto 'thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida; for if the mighty works which were done in you, were done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, at the day of judg'ment, than for you.' As you have known more, and sinned more, ye shall suffer more: that was God's language of threatening. Then came God's promised mercies to such as observed his ordinances; And all these blessings shall come on thee and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. 'Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.' &c. [The hon. Member read a number of other extracts from the Bible to the same effect] Great and glorious had been the name and conduct of England, when she trusted in Almighty God, and when one of her Admirals wrote home thus, announcing a victory over her enemies, "It has pleased Almighty God to bless his Majesty's arms with a signal victory." But this was one of the last departing signs of the solemn faith of their forefathers. He would next refer them to God's denunciations, some of which were these:—'But it 'shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his 'statutes which I command thee this day, 'that all these curses shall come upon thee 'and overtake thee. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be 'in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket 'and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of 'thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy 'sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when 'thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke 'in all that thou settest thy hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land whither thou goest to possess it,' &.c. [The hon. Member read more extracts of the same description, and then went on] 'The curse of God was on the land, and it had overtaken the people.' That pestilence was in the land, and we ought to hasten to address the throne to proclaim a fast, and day of humiliation in the land, that we might avert this dreadful wrath. We had here the truth—we had departed from our God, and God had departed from us. And unless this nation went on its knees, destruction would be on it. But if we return to God's ways we might expect forgiveness and blessedness. The judgment might, perhaps, yet be averted. For God said, "him that honoureth me will I honour;" and though we have, as a nation, departed from his ways, Yet as his judgments, so are his mercies; "for the Lord is gracious; his mercies are everlasting, and his truth endureth from generation to generation." If we would yet bow down, there is in our God that fathomless store of mercies, that peradventure he will relent, and our glory will return. Nothing, however, but such a course would restore to us that glory. England was no longer the country of peace, glory, and strength, that it had been, and we ought to repent and return from our evil ways. Although we deserved the punishment of our sins, yet, if we repented, God's mercy was abundant, and we might yet be saved. He spoke on authority not to be denied. The word of God had expressed it, even when a curse against a nation had been given. 'If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do 'unto them.' Innumerable were the instances of God's mercy—as when the prophet went against Ahab, but he humbled himself, and God withdrew the judgment. There was the same fact in the case of Jonah in Nineveh. 'Yet forty days, and 'Nineveh shall be overthrown.' If these applied to heathens, how much more would God's mercy be shown to a nation of Christians? [The hon. Member then read the proceedings respecting Nineveh.] 'So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be 'proclaimed and published through Nineveh '(by the decree of the king and his nobles), saying, "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed nor drink water." But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God; yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, and we perish not. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented him of the evil that he had said he would do unto them, and he did it not.' So would it be with England, if we faithfully, humbly, and sincerely repented. He trusted to be able to set before the nation the truth of its weakness—first, the increase of crime showed the absence of religion and piety; secondly, the oppression of the poor was beyond his conception. He was lost in astonishment to account for it, and was wholly unable to point out human remedies. This was a matter surrounded by tremendous danger. The rich lived in luxury and plenty; the labourer was in a state of actual starvation, and a degree of distress that ought to harrow up their very souls. He could not point out the causes, but the fact was glaring. He appealed to the hon. member for Boroughbridge (Mr. Sadler) to point out the sufferings of the children of the poor. The heathens made their children pass through the fire to their God, Moloch—we make our children pass through misery for our gain. These things proved the sins of the land, and that God's curse was upon it. The destruction of Bristol was a sample of God's wrath when abroad. Passing that and the pestilence, which they were told, "goeth before him," the state of the poor was enough to induce that House to address the Crown to order a fast. It must not be supposed that he was a fool to call on that House, which he did, as a body, only in love and truth. He did not rise to make personal attacks, but to lift up his voice in the name of God. "You sit here (said the hon. Member), like a race of infidels—you do not consult your Maker. This House meets here, and talks on public affairs as if there was no God. Let every man answer for himself. You have no more consideration than if you acknowledged no God. You are all infidels. Look at the public Press, the march of intellect,—the spirit of the day is sheer idolatry. You forget God, and think of doing every thing by capital, by machinery, by laws; boasts are daily made of the liberal mind that is marching through Europe, and which arrogates to itself all the blessings that are enjoyed by man: but you are acting on a wrong principle. All those acts of ungodliness have been practised by other nations. For example, the French left, out that "the king ruled by the grace of God;" denying thereby their fealty to that power by whom alone kings reign and princes deal justice, and from whom cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding.'" Then they had also that blasphemy in England, "that all power was from the people"—sheer blasphemy,as all power was from God, and the duty of man was to submit find to obey! Let every soul, said the Holy Writ, be subject unto the higher powers, fur there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, 'therefore, resisteth that power, resisteth 'the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil: wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the Minister of God to thee for good; but if thou do that which is evil, be afraid: for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the Minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.' See what is going on in France and England. It is blasphemy to attribute power to the people. He defied the noble Lord to point out a word in the Bible that power was from the people! that slavish bowing to public opinion had robbed the noble Lord of all his honesty and manhood. In the councils of the nation they wore slaves to that blasphemy; but power was only from God. He was aware that he was speaking loud and with warmth, but not with violence; he was sincere, and was urging these truths in his usual way, when he was under an influence. The Motion belonged to each Member individually, as every man had been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and could not disobey the precepts and laws of their God. They might disregard the laws—father and brother—but would they refuse the precepts of God? "I was taken up," said the hon. Member, "on the death of my father, by the nation, which abundantly provided for me and mine; and it is in gratitude for that kindness that I call on the House to address the Crown to issue a proclamation for a fast. It has been done before by Parliament, and I do not admit the objection, that this place is not a fit and proper place. Are we not chosen to meet and advise what, as Christians, we ought to advise for the good of the nation? Are we to leave all religion at the door of the House, and listen to the wiles of Satan? No. I stated it last year, and I will repeat the character of infidelity that pervades the public mind. At that time there was the blasphemous proposition to admit the Jew into this House. If our Saviour was raised, and is now in Heaven, at the head of his Church, are we to admit a Jew to our councils? The Edinburgh Review—the fifth sign of the infidelity of the times—defended that. It said, that 'it was as absurd to talk of Christian government, as of Christian cookery. Man is a fool in his heart, and sayeth those things. It is enormous, that this body of Christians should say, we are not inclined to consider of God's greatness and mercy; if so ungodly as to entertain the question, what a state was the nation in! The bent of the human mind is now to set aside kings and priests, and to set up the people as the sovereigns; and I would call on the nation to humiliate themselves, and avert such evils. If the House reject the Motion—although Government may afterwards order the Fast—yet in that case the House will have dissociated itself from the act, and will give room for infidels and scoffers to say, 'Aye! Let the kings and priests, and 'those who are fools enough to be led by 'them, go out with this last piece of mum'mery before they are expelled for ever. 'We, the nation, will have none of it. 'We know better; and so do our Repre'sentatives.' If you agree to my Motion, I will request the House of Lords also to supplicate for a fast, and we all shall then be bound up together in one solemn act." He would not withdraw his Motion (the hon. Member continued) as he did last year; he would not give way, but would divide the House. He would force the House of Commons to declare whether they would bend their knee to their God. If they would not, the nation should know their refusal. He would have the whole nation, the Lords, and Commons, to join in the act of humiliation. The Ministers had not done it—the House of Commons had put it aside. But, by that anointed name by which he acted, he would appeal to them, and it must be done. Moving the previous question would not do: the House must reject the Motion. "If it does reject it, all Europe will see (said the hon. Member) that ye reject your God's authority. You cannot escape this charge. By the name, and by the blood of that Saviour, I implore you to support this Motion. But I have been told formerly, that in this blasphemous and unhallowed atmosphere I ought not to have used that name. But it is in that blessed name—the name of that living God and Saviour, who now sees us and is amongst us—that I alone appeal and act. Christian men should love to hear me call on the name of Him in whose name they were baptized. Cast not off the reverence due to that name: beware of that infidelity that is creeping on you on both sides of the House, and depriving you of your manhood; for the safety of your own souls, I call on you to honour that name. I have done my duty to avert the evils that are coming on Christendom, preceded by the pestilence. Beware of the wrath that went forth on the plain against Sodom and Gomorrah —and that is a type of the judgment that is fast coming upon Christendom. My cry is, that God's mercy may be on us if we humble ourselves. Let all the people praise and sing for joy, and the desolating force of God shall pass by." The hon. Member concluded by moving, that an humble Address be presented to the King, to order a day for a general fast and humiliation.

Mr. John Wayland

seconded the Motion.

Lord Althorp

stated that discussion on such a topic was highly inexpedient. He disclaimed being tinctured with infidelity; but he was of opinion that such discussions did not tend to the honour of religion. The Motion was neither desirable nor necessary. He gave the hon. Member who had brought the question forward credit for good intentions. He meant no disrespect to him by not following him in his argument, and should move the previous question; by which he intended that the House should express its opinion, that questions like the present ought not to be taken up. It was the intention of Government to appoint a day of fasting.

Mr. Hunt

could not avoid reading two or three verses from the Bible. The hon. Mover had talked of Sodom and of Bristol, and had called us infidels, idolaters, and what not; but had the hon. Member forgotten this passage of Isaiah?—'Is it such a fast that I have chosen—a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen—to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh.' What the hon. Member (Mr. Perceval) wanted was not a real fast: a real fast was one that would feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

Mr. Goulburn

understood the noble Lord to say, that the object would be accomplished without going to the vote. If the noble Lord did not make such a promise, he hoped the Motion would be pressed.

Sir Thomas Baring

would vote for the Motion, if a fast-day were not to be appointed.

Lord Althorp

It is the intention of the Government to appoint a fast-day.

Mr. Briscoe

heard the declaration of the noble Lord with pleasure, and it was to him an additional reason for affording his support to the present Government.

Mr. J. E. Gordon

said, it was a question highly fitting to occupy the attention of the House of Commons; and that the House of Commons in former times was often occupied with such discussions.

Mr. Perceval

, in answer to the member for Preston, observed, that a fast of hypocrisy was in no way acceptable to Him that judgeth the human heart. But which of the two was more likely to observe the fast of mercy—he who set aside, as unnecessary, all signs of public contrition, or he who, consenting to such public acts, acknowledged the impropriety of ungodliness when going through the fast of humiliation? He should not state what he felt, if he did not say that the tardy consent at length given to the appointment of a day for a general fast showed him with what reluctance the Government at length assented. He thought that this was done more for the sake of getting rid of the question than from any conviction of the danger impending from God's judgments over the land. He must confess that he was unwilling to force the House to an act which might accelerate those judgments; and, under that impression, he would decline dividing the House. With leave, therefore, he would withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Strangers were then re-admitted, and the business proceeded as usual.