« PreviousContinue »
especially Christians, in the ties of social harmony, by establishing toleration on its proper grounds.
The history of the calamities occasioned by difference in religious opinions, is a sufficient plea for undertaking the task. But time does not allow me to enter into a detail of those melancholy scenes, which misconstrued religion has displayed. The effects are well known: but it is high time to remove the cause.
The mind shrinks back at the thoughts of the cruelties exercised against the Christians by the heathen emperors, for the space of three hundred years. Scarce did the Christians begin to breathe, under the first princes who embraced their religion, than they fell out amongst themselves, about the mysteries of the scriptures. Arianism, protected by powerful sovereigns, raised, against the defenders of the Trinity, persecutions as violent as those raised formerly by the heathens. Since that time, at different intervals, error, backed by power, persecuted truth. And the partisans of truth, forgetful of the moderation which reason and religion prescribe, committed the same excesses. with which they upbraided their oppressors. Sovereigns, blinded by dangerous ?eal,, or
guided by barbarous policy,- or seduced by
odious odious counsels,—became the executioners of their subjects who adopted religious systems different from those of their rulers, or persevered in ancient systems, from which their sovereigns had receded.
Had those horrors been confined to one sect of Christians only, infidels would not have been so successful in their attacks on the system at large; though religion disclaims the odious imputation. But all sects execrated and attempted to extirpate one another. Europe became one wild altar, on which every religious sect offered up human victims to its creed.
The ministers of a religion that had triumphed over the Cæsars, not by resistance, but by suffering, became the apologists of calamities that swept from the face of the earth, or oppress to this very day, God's noblest imagesupright, virtuous, and dauntless men. Like the warrior in the scriptures, they stept into the sanctuary, to grasp the barbarian's sword wrapt up in the ephod. The code of temporal laws, teeming with sanctions against robbers and murderers, was swelled, to the surprise and destruction of mankind, with additional decrees against heretics and papists. The inoffensive citizen who from an apprehension of offending the Deity, by acting against his conscience
was confined in the fame dungeon, or doomed to the fagot or axe, with the parricide who laid aside every restraint of moral obligation: and the scriptures were adduced in justification of the sanguinary confusion. The wreath and the rod have been held forth, not to crown the worthy, and punish the pernicious, but to scourge to conformity, candid and steady virtue. The priest gave the sanction of heaven to the bloody mandates of the civil magistrate: and the civil magistrate unsheathed the sword to vindicate the cause of the God of Heaven, who reserves to himself the punishment of man's conscience. No person has a greater respect for the clerical order, of every denomination, than I have. I am of the number, and feel myself wounded through their sides, when the Deist and Free-thinker, who hold them all in equal contempt, contend " that in all ages, and in ** all. countries, the clergy are the main props "of persecution. That had they been as soli"citous to heal, and conciliate men's hearts, "as they have been to inflame and divide them, "the world would by this time bear a different '* aspect. That they should have left the laity ** in peaceable possession of good neighbour"hood, mutual charity, and friendly confi"dence. That instead of informing the great "principles of religion, the very basis whereof ** is charity, peace, and love, they are ever and