« PreviousContinue »
Author's manner of treating this important and interesting subject.
• The reformers dissented from almost every principle of the Church of Rome, but this the right of persecution: and though Luther and some others thought it rather too much to burn heretics, all agreed that they should be restrained and punished, and, in short, that it was better to burn than to tolerate them. The Church of England has burnt protescants for heresy, and papists for treason. The Church of Scotland, and the London ministers in the Inter-regnum, declared their « utter detestation and abhorrence of the error of toleration, patronizing and promoting all other errors, heresies, and blasphemies whatever, under the abused name of liberty of conscience.” In fine, all sects and parties who have claimed religious liberty for themselves, have no less earnestly refused it to their antagonists.* That creatures ought to serve their Creator, is a principle self-evident and incontrovertible; and if they do, it must be according to the light afforded them, from whatever source that may be derived. This obligation creates a right; for surely every man has a right to perform his duty to God, and to deny this is to dispute the Divine Authority. To worship God, is the first of moral duties: and there is no power upon earth that can invalidate or supersede it. But admitting that man ought to worship God, and that he ought to worship him according to the light afforded, I thence infer his right to religious liberty; or, in the strong language lately employed by a certain popular society, “that every man in every age and in every country, has a sacred unalienable right to worship God according to his conscience, which no individuals, or governments, or legislatures can, without injustice or oppression, directly or indirectly infringe:"-a principle which has recently been admitted by the highest names in this country, both civil and ecclesiastical: but it can derive no authority from them: it is from Heaven.' pp. 1-3.
The grand principles of religious liberty, are not, however, stated with sufficient perspicuity; and we think the Author would have done well, had be entered more fully into the grounds upon which he lays the claim to universal liberty of conscience. We shall lay before our readers a brief detail of those principles, which yet require a more powerful and philosophic elucidation. The first principle upon which we should be disposed to rest the claim to full and perfect liberty of conscience, is, the moral equality of all men. A right to dictate and enforce, implies either a natural or a conceded superiority. But in a moral point of view, this superiority can belong only to the Creator ; and it is an arrogant invasion of bis prerogative, to assume the right of dictation. He who admits the authoritative interference of a fellow-creature with his conscience, allows an impious innovation on the rights of the Deity, and consents to rob him of that intellectual and spiritual dominion which is peculiarly his province.
* We believe the Quakers, taken as a body, ‘are a decided exception. R.
A second principle is, our separate and individual accountableness, which implies a subjection exclusively to one, and that a supreme authority; and this corroborates our preceding principle, the moral equality of all mankind, or their universal subjection to the same common principles of moral government, and their consequent independence of each other. The intervention of any inferior authority over conscience, or a restraint exercised over it, is the height of injustice, and admits neither explanation nor palliation. Here, an infringement upon liberty destroys the inoral character of man, and produces anarchy of the worst sort among the works of God. For all our actious are good or evil, only as they have, or as they have not, their origin in liberty of choice.
A third ground on which every man ought to be allowed religious liberty, is the natural impossibility of controlling our convictions, and the consequent necessity of leaving every man, at least in a religious view, to act in accordance with those convictions, referring the final decision to the only lawful judge of the heart. We
e are far from asserting the innocence of mental error; nor would we countenance the notion that our wishes and our passions have no influence in the formation of our judgements. The contrary is too evident to be denied. But many ..convictions are forced upon us in spite of our passions, and in some cases conviction is produced by evidence, which our prejudices, our interests, and our wishes, in vain endeavour to resist. Who shall determine the degrees of guilt involved in corrupt and prejudiced judgements? or who shall pronounce in any given case, whether a man's convictions are genuine, that is, free from the influence of passion, and whether he ought, or ought not, to act upon them? The faculty of discriminating in all such cases, is not conceded to any man, or any set of inen. It involves a knowledge of some of the most profound secrets of nature. The infinite Intelligence alone can establish that finely graduated scale, by which the guilt of mental error shall be ascertained. We believe it therefore inpossible to interfere, either directly or indirectly, with conviction on religious subjects, without invading the sacred province of the Deity, and committing an act of flagrant injustice against a fellow-inan.
A fourth principle should be laid in the nature and requirements of revealed religion. It is wholly a personal religion. Its appeals are all directed to the conscience, and the heart, and the judgement of the individual. Its subjects must be willing. It must produce distinct personal conviction; and upon this ground it enforces the duty of personal obedience. It refuses, in the most explicit terms, those acts of religious service, wbich have human authority for their basis:“ Their fear towards me is tauglit “ by the precept of men.”- 18. xxix. 13. Much has been said of the innocence of certain human additions, and of the decency of those appendages to the service of the Church of Christ, which have been thought advisable by councils, and synods, and legislatures. They may be indocent and decent as mere acts, but as acts of religion, they can be neither decent nor innocent, when they are enforced as a part of Divine worship by the “ Precept of Men." • He that searcheth the heart,' rejects that fear which is taught by such precepts. Every particle of human addition to his commands, when it is enforced as a part of worship, is an inpious encroachment on his prerogative, a presumptuous association of what is imperfect, with what is holy, and a deterioration of the essence of Christian piety. There is only one principle upon which acts of religious worship can be atfirined to be acceptable to God; that is, when they are accordant with his will. To prove that they are not opposed to his will, or not forbidden by it, is mere trifling, and in reality proves nothing. The will of God is simply and plainly addressed io revelation to every individual. This revelation therefore implies and confirins the right of acting, the duty of acting agreeably to conviction ; that is, it implies a right to perfect religious liberty. We transcribe with pleasure some pertinent remarks on this head, from the third essay.
• Religion is a reasonable service. 6. Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord,” is the language in which Israel was ad. monished by the evangelical prophet; and in many other instances, we find Jehovah appealing to the reasoning powers with which he has endued mankind : " Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal ? “ Are not your ways unequal ?"- Jesus Christ himself appeals to the candid discrimination of his hearers : “ Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” And in another instance he thus argues with the most unworthy of them, “ Ye hypocrites, ye can “ discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it that ye “ do not discern the time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge
ye not what is right?” The prophets referred to the law and to the testimony as the sanction ; our Lord appeals both to Moses and the prophets or his authority : “ Search the scriptures, for in them ye ã think ye hive eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." • The great Apostle of the Gentiles exhorts Christians to “
prove all things," on which the illustrious Milton thus descants : “ St. Paul judged that not only to tolerate, but to examine and prove all things, was no danger to our holding fast that which is good.
How shall we prove all things, which includes all opinions at least founded on Scripture, unless we not only tolerate ther, but patiently bear them, and seriously read them? Is it a fair course for one to assert truth, by arrogating to himself the only freedom of speech, and stopping the mouths of others equally gifted? This is the direct way to bring in that papistical implicit faith which we all disclaim."* Indeed, nothing
* Milton's Prose Works, by Simmons, Vol. IV. p. 268.
can be more abhorrent to the creed of Protestants, than implicit faith and traditional religion: therefore, in another Epistle, St. Paul, like his Divine Master, appeals to the understanding, of his readers : “ Brethren, be not children in understanding.-I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say." St. John also exhorts Christians not to believe every spirit or every teacher that should come among them; but to try the spirits whether they be of God.” In perfect accordance with this advice, the first ecclesiastical historian, St Luke, commends not those Christians which received the truth without inquiry, but those who carefully examined the evidences with which it was accompanied. “ These (the Bereans) were more noble than those of Thessalonica, because they searched the Scriptares daily, to see if these things were so," that is, to see whether the Apostles were justi. fied in this appeal to the Old Testament, the only sacred Scripture then extant.' pp. 38–40.
In addition to these general and fundamental bearings of the grand question, we should be glad to see the political impolicy of restraining religious liberty ably stated, and fortified, as it might be, by an appeal to innumerable interesting facts in the history of modern Europe. Some valuable remarks upon this topic, may be found in a Sermon by Mr. Worsley, lately reviewed by us.*
There would still remain one point in which the subject of religious liberty should be viewed, in order to remove the real or pretended fears of civil rulers. There is no cry more common among the temporizing and the interested, than the danger to be apprehended to the State by the perfect equalization of religious sects and parties. We conceive, however, that no fear can be more unfounded. It clearly rests with States to make all their subjects their attached friends, by avoiding' religious' partialities, and scrupulously guarding the constitution against écclesiastical interference. We wish to see this point more fully discussed, for we are thoroughly convinced of the practicability of the full exercise of religious liberty by every subject, without interfering with the civil constitutions, or weakening any of the bonds of the social compact. Indeed, we might rather say, those bonds would be drawn still closer, and secure the affections of a greater number, to the enlightened principles of that government in which all are equally free, equally favoured, and might be equally liappy. We feel perfectly assured, that if governors in all countries would confine their attention to the legitimate objects and ends of civil legislation, and leave religion to take its own course, giving it sanction only in a moral point of view, they would have much less occasion to complain of the disaffection of any particular class of their subjects. But it is when governments advance beyond their province, and invade
* See Eclec. Rev. for Feb. 1817. Vol. VII, N.S.
the sacred rights of conscience, that disaffection is generated ; and dissent is the painful predicament into which the conscientious and independent mind is thrown, 'not voluntarily, but by the unjust and unnecessary interference of civil rulers.
And such religious liberty may, we think, be advocated, without necessarily implying a predilection for any particular form of civil government, but might exist under all forms. The Dissenters are about as much divided upon the question of the best mode of government, as most of their fellow countrymen. France, upder Napoleon, was assuredly a more absolute monarchy than it is now, but it cannot be denied that it enjoyed a far greater degree of religious liberty than at present. Indeed, it is well worthy of observation, that though he was one of the most tyrannical of monarchs, he always shewed himself the unvaried friend of toleration. He was too able a statesman not to see its political bearing. America is a republic ; and there the most unlimited religious liberty is found to be quite compatible with the interest of the state. Our own Government, which we readily admit is a mixture of what is good in all others, is, we trust, daily learning to equalize religious denominations, and will one day be convinced of the uprighteousness of supporting one sect at the expense of all the rest.
Mr. Williams merits our thanks for having performed an acceptable service in the cause of religion and of humanity. Though his essays are not distinguished by much depth of thought, or by great philosophic acuteness of discussion, they display considerable independence of mind combined with a supreme deference to the sacred authority of Scripture. He has not witbbeld his censures from every class of Christians who have been guilty of the heinous crime of intolerance. He does not appear to be a bigot to any party. He states his own broad principle of universal religious liberty with manly fimpess; excepting in the case of the Roman Catholics, whose claims he denies ; and cannot admit the propriety of their emancipation under existing circumstances.
It appears to us that the Author has erred at the outset of his subject. At p. 1, he says, 'Of all the doctrines of Christianity,
religious liberty, though one of the most important, has been
one of the last to be understood and acted upon.' We must make an objection to referring religious liberty to revelation, because it is manifestly one of the natural and unalienable rights of
It belongs to our constitution; and the chief principles upon which it is claimed, existed antecedently to revealed religion; and do exist wherever man is, whether possessed of revelation, or not. Religious liberty means precisely one modification of natural liberty, and it had its origio at the creation of man. It was conferred by that hand which formed and epdowert