[From Haining's Guide, 1822]
A brief Sketch of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of this Island, from, the earliest period to the present day
inhabitants, and the Statute Book of this Island is not disgraced by any penal laws to restrict our freedom in the worship of God. Judge Blackstone, in his Commentaries, defines the rights of mankind to be absolute and relative. The principal aim of Society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of their absolute rights which are vested in them by the laws of nature, but, which could not be preserved entire without that mutual assistance and intercourse which are gained by the institution of friendly and social communities ; hence it follows, that the primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of mankind. Civil liberty is described by him as no other than natural liberty so far restrained by human laws, and no further than is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public. But religious liberty is superior to this, and may be defined as the unalienable rights of mankind, to think for themselves in religion, and to worship the Most high God according to the dictates of their own minds. Conscience is only amenable to God, and is not a proper subject for human legislation : those who attempt to dictate to us what we are to believe, and prescribe for us the form in which we are to worship, are usurping the prerogative of Deity, and it is an act of tyrannical oppression, to deprive any man of his civil rights because of his religious opinions. The noble struggles of our ancestors to maintain their religious freedom, have secured to us the blessings of civil liberty; for even Hume, the tory historian, with all his inveterate prejudices against Christianity, has candidly acknowledged that we are indebted to the exertions of the puritans for all the civil liberty which we enjoy. These venerable men, however, did not regain all that had been wrested from them ; and England with all her boasted religious liberty, is surpassed by the Isle of Man. where no preacher, of any denomination, is required to obtain a licence for himself, or the place in which he worships. Here the Statute Book is not disgraced by the test and corporation acts ; and a mans being a dissenter is no disqualification for any civil employment.
We are informed, in the life of Bishop Wilson, that in his day there were no dissenters in the Diocese of Man, and the Wesleyan Methodists did not commence their labours in this Island until the year 1776. The opposition to them at first was very powerful, and they had many obstacles to surmount before their cause was firmly established. John Wesley, the founder of this sect, was a clergyman of the establishment, who professed the strongest attachment to it, and required all his followers strictly to adhere to this communion; but he himself did not submit to the jurisdiction of his diocesan, and exercised uncontrolled authority over the societies which he had formed. To this day the people have an uncommon veneration for his name, and implicit obedience is yielded by them to whatever is sanctioned by his authority. He visited this Island, and gave the following description of it :" We have no such circuit either in England, Scotland, or Ireland ; this Island is shut up from the world ; there are no disputers, no dissenters of any kind. The Governor, Bishop, and Clergy oppose not. They did for a season, but they grew better acquainted with us." After his death, the Conference professed to follow his plan, but granted permission to their societies to have preaching at canonical hours ; the Lords Supper was administered among them, and in England they gradually forsook the Establishment and became a distinct separate body. It was, however, judged to be good policy to allow the Methodists in this Island to remain under the protecting wing of the Establishment, until their minds were better prepared for a separation, and now they seem disposed to imitate their brethren in the mother country. They are remarkably zealous in making proselytes to their party, and seem to regard numbers as the distinguishing glory of their communion. When any religious denomination sacrifices purity for numbers, by receiving and retaining in fellowship those persons who would be a disgrace to a worldly society, then is the true glory of a Christian church departed.
A religious society was formed in Douglas, in 1808 of the protestant dissenters, commonly named Independents or Congregationalists. This name was derived from their maintaining that every particular congregation of Christians has an entire and complete jurisdiction over all the members, without being subject to the jurisdiction of Bishops, the authority of Presbyteries, or of any Ecclesiastical assembly composed of deputies from different churches. They maintain, that a religious establishment is incompatible with the Spiritual nature of the Redeemers kingdom ; that statesmen are not authorised to legislate in matters which are purely religious, and that the Church of God ought not to solicit the provision which the state can bestow. They object to Diocesan Bishops, and maintain that in the primitive state of the Church, there were many Bishops to one particular congregation ; but that now there are many subject to the jurisdiction of one Bishop, who is invested with political power as forming a part of the legislation of the kingdom.
They are equally hostile to any Council or Presbytery enacting laws for the government of the Church, which they consider independent of all legislation but that of Jesus Christ, the King of his people ; " in vain do they worship me," said Christ, " teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." This denomination, in support of their scheme of congregational churches, observe, that the word translated Church, uniformly signifies a single congregation or the place where a single congregation assembles. The Bible is the standard of their faith, and the only code of laws for their government as a body. No authority in religion is acknowledged as binding upon them but that of the Redeemer ; and this system which is distinguished for its simplicity and agreement with the apostolic model of worship, has many warm advocates in the united Empire, in America, and are rapidly increasing in the different quarters of the globe. They have a commodious chapel in Athol-street, Douglas ; a minister of this persuasion has been lately stationed at Ramsey, and they preach occasionally in the different villages and towns in the Island.
The Romanists have a small chapel, in the neighbourhood of Douglas, which was erected in 1814, and dedicated to St. Bridget, the founder of the Nunnery in this island, and is capable of accommodating about 300 people. The collections for the building were principally received from England and Ireland, and this place is supplied by a priest from the college of Maynooth. The hearers are principally strangers resident ìn the island ; and very few of the natives are of this persuasion .
An Auxiliary Bible Society, in connection with the British and Foreign Bible Society, was formed in 1814 ; and the friends of this valuable institution, having ascertained, from personal inquiry, that the inhabitants were very destitute of the Sacred Volume, highly approved of the simplicity of the plan to circulate the Scriptures without note or comment; and regarded the objection to this as an impeachment of infinite wisdom, by making human opinions a safeguard for inspiration. They considered this to be as great an absurdity, as for a man to plant willows around the oak, the monarch of the wood, to shield it from the blasts of the tempest. The system of exclusion did not meet with their approbation, for they rejoiced to see good men of different denominations, cordially uniting in this God-like work, to give a Bible to every descendant of Adam. Since the establishment of the Auxiliary, there have been twelve Bible Associations formed in different places, and five of these have been entirely under the management of the Ladies, who have distinguished themselves by the noble manner in which they have acted; and the inhabitants have been supplied with the word of God at greatly reduced prices. About 7,000 copies of the Scriptures in English have been circulated, and 5000 copies of the Manks have been printed by the Parent Society, and the interests of religion are likely to be greatly promoted by their distribution.
A Branch of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge has been formed a few years, the object of which is, not only to supply the poor with the Scriptures, but to circulate religious tracts. It is wholly confined to the members of the establishment; and no correct information has been obtained respecting the amount of the annual subscriptions, and the number of the various publications distributed.
The education of youth has not received that encouragement which its importance deserves, and the salaries of the parochial schoolmasters are not sufficient to induce men of talent and literary attainments to undertake the office. Vigorous exertions have been made lately by the various denominations, to establish and to support Sabbath schools. They have been conducted with great propriety, and the teachers have evinced ardent zeal in their labours of love. At present there are 46 schools, 344 teachers, 2837 children, and 24 adults are taught. Of these 1301 can read the English testament, and 612 have learned to read Manks. Wherever Sabbath schools have been introduced, the moral and religious improvement, of the lower classes of society has been greatly promoted. But the benefits resulting from this institution have been lessened, and the progress of useful knowledge retarded, from the want of liberality of sentiment among those who are concerned. An attempt was made to form a school union ; but owing to the operation of bigotry, the offspring of ignorance and the bane of religion, it did not succeed.