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To write the history of all the sects whichv
gave rise to the severe sanction's of kings, from the time of' the emperor Theodosius down to
the sixteen'th or seventeenth century, would be' .
to attempt writing a history of all the horrors and abominations of which abandoned man is capable. In this long space of time, the sects most free from any mixture of immorality, gave umbrage to the civil power, by their sedi
tious tenets and insurrections. .
Huss's doctrine, in Bohemia, sowed the seeds
* of civil wars. Wickliff's doctrine, in England,
was productive of srmilar fruits. The fagot did , not blaze in England until the Lollards began to overturn the state. In the sixteenth century, what wars, what commotions, in Germany, in consequence*of_fanatical delulion ! The most _moderate Protestant divines of that age, comz plain in their writings, of the Confusion introduced bysectaries. Heylin, in his cosmog'raphy, talks of some of them " begotten in rebellion, V born' in sedition, and nursed by faction." And doctor Walton, in the preface to his Poly
glote, says, that " Aristarchus heretofore could _
4" scarce find seven wise men in Greece : but *' " that, in his time, so many idiots were'not to ** be found: for all were divinely learned. " Hence," continues the doctor, " the bot-" tomless pit seems to have been set open :
" and' " and locusts are come out with stings,v-a nuV merous race o'f sectaries who have renewed " all the ancient heresies, and invented many
" monstrous opinions of their own." In ex- _ _
amining, then, the laws enacted against .here-. tics, and tracing them up to their origin,-in taking a review of the times and circumstances in which they were enacted, and the fenets of the persons against whom they were' levelled,-in weighing the emperor Constantine's words, already quote'd,-and observing the instability of his opinion, in the change of his laws,_we can, with every reason, presume that error in doctrine was never deemed a sufficient title to de
prive a man of his life or property, by the most _ '
pious and enlightened Christian legifiators.
Immorality or sedition, mingling with the speculative opinionunpunishable in itself by any civil tribunal, drew the vengeance of the laws upon the entire system' and its abettors : as the circulation of bad coin is punished by the magistrate, not on account of the particles of gold or filver, but on account of the base metal, which predominates and debases it. If
itime, civilization, commerce, a more exten
sive knowledge of mankind, and the rights of society, helped the mind to work off .the seculence of pernicious opinions, asv rough wines
work off their tartar-Freedomof thought,
its inalienable prerogative was at last reconciled
amongst most men witlrthe principles of morality, and the peace of society. Men have changed ; but 'long habit and' the power'of rule have fiill, in many places, kept up laws which confound mistaken notions of _ a spiritual nature, with practical principles which disturb the order of sOciCty; Heresy is of too indeterrtni'nate a signification, to become the object of legal vengeance. And to punish a man for Popery, is to punish him because another pronounces
a word of three syllables. Let the Hernia and .
the Papzst, who rob, steal, murder, preach up sedition, rebellion, immorality ; suffer like all other selons. But the' magilirate who punishes an honest, peace'able man, for followingthe religion of his edupation, and the dictates of his conscience; and the legislatorswho authorise him to do so ;-both forget themselves and the rights of mankind,
The heathen 'magistrates' punished none for worshipping many gods. But we read of a city whose inhabitants were all drowned, for adopting the impiety Of Diagoras whowas a declared atheist.'_ '
The Christian magistrate' will not punish a'
man who has no religion : 'ecause the versatile
conscience of such a man will'rnould itself into '
any frame.' But 'the upright man who, from E ' ' fear
fear of offending God, will not resign his way of thinking, but upon.a thorough conviction that he is in error; is deemed unworthy the protection of the laws. His conscience, which it would be a crime to' betray, is made a crime by positive institutions. Thus, Tiberius's artifice is revived-It was prohibited by the laws, in his time, to put a virgin to death. A virgin is accuscd of high treason ; and, on conviction, (an easy matter in his days), her virginity is pleaded, in bar to the execution os the sentence. He ordered the executioner to ravish her : and then the law took its course. Thus. guilt and punishment were reconciled.
The laws of God command me not to act against the immediate dictates of my conscience. The laws of man make this conformity to the dictates of my conscience, a'crime ; and I am accordingly punished.
Towards people confirmed in the prejudices Of their education, and the religion of their fathers, no severity, tending to deprive them of the rights to which'nature entitles them, should be used. It is theunanimous opinion of the fathers : and a large volume could be composed Of passages, extracted from the works of mo
dern writers of every denomination, in support OF the assertion.
** We know that faith may yield to persua
i" sion ; _but ' it never will be controlled;" *
" Remember that the diseases of the soul are " not to be cured by restraint and violence." T " Indulge every one with civil toleration." I A
If, to the spirit of the gospel, the authority of fathers, councils, the practice of the primitive times, and the opinions of the most learned of the modern writers, we add arguments drawn from the sources of divinity, we expect to disarm the magistrate, and to, prevail on him to sheath the sword which God never commanded him to wield against the professors of peaceable errors. - '
Faith is a gift of God, which it is not in the power of the state either to give or to take away. It depends chiefly on the change of the heart, the interior dispositions of the mind, and the grace of the Almighty, which it is in his pow
er alone to give, in greater or lesser abundance'
to his creatures. We do not pretend to open
the gate to error, or to' lull mortals asleep in an i
indifference to the truth. We only beseech the powers of the earth not to add to the calamities
a of Adam's children, by fines, confiscations,
poverty, restraints, or death, for abstruse and
at Flechier, bishop of Nisrnes.
E 2 spe_