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Cartesius, in a stove, by remarking the motion of the smoke that rolled from his pipe, gave the first shock to Aristotle's barbarous philosophy, that kept the world in ignorance for so many ages. Succeeding geniuses improved upon the new plan; until at last Sir Isaac Newton dispelled the mist, and made the light shine forth in its full lustre. I in my cell, reflecting on the revolutions that religion has occasioned, not for the good, but for the destruction of mankind—■ revolutions in their morals, by inspiring them with mutual hatred and aversion, by making them believe that they were dispensed with the unchangeable laws of love and humanity, and deluding them into a persuasion, that the death or oppression of a fellow-creature on account of his error, was an agreeable sacrifice to the Divinity—t also, by a feeble attempt to overthrow the altars of an idol, that has put Jesus Christ on a level with Moloch, and whose false oracles persuaded mankind, that the ears of a God of compassion and tenderness, were pleased with the groans of victims tied to the stake, or famishing in dungeons, or hovels, —may induce others to enlist under the banner of benevolence, and pave the way for abler hands to raise the structure ol human happiness, on the ruins of religious frenzy.
Locke has handled the subject as a profound philosopher; Voltaire as a partial satirist in a declamatory style, more with the view to censure the scriptures, than to establish it on its proper grounds: I am confined to the province of a divine, and in that quality shall arraign at the bar of religion itself, the calamities to which the mistakes, or passions of men, have given rise, under pretence of vindicating the Deity. The bigot will consider me as a latitudinarian, to whom all religions are indifferent; and as one who writes in su"h a manner, as dispense men with the obligations of submitting to the church. He is mistaken: I am not an architect who would build the edifice of my faith on different plans; nor an ambassador who would sign two contradictory treaties in my legation. Every person is bound to enquire after the truth, and when he finds it, to embrace its dictates. If he neglected it, let the blame lie at his own door. Let charity and zeal induce his neighbour to instruct, and.
persuade him, \\j}gn tljere is a probability of reclaiming him from error. But let not violence, oppression, and wanton insults be used in order to compel him. God has given him free will, and liberty of chusing either fire or water. The sanguinary divines, who think it lawful in the supreme magistrate to inflict a capital punishment, on misguided religionists, (for they do not allow one individual to kill or oppress another, on account of difference of religion) acknowledge that heretical and idolatrous kings, should not be deposed or killed, by their Christian or orthodox subject; because, say they, 'dominion is not founded in grace, but in free will.'
I would fain know, by what right Christian, idolatrous, or orthodox kings, can deprive, their heathen, Christian, heretical, or orthodox subjects of their lives or properties, on account of their mental errors. But the scripture commands to obey kings in what is lawful: and where does it command kings to kill or oppress their subjects? When it recommends justice and mercy to the rulers of the earth, does it make any distinction between their heathen, heretical, or orthodox subjects? The church disclaims the right of the sword, and the use of fines and confiscations to promote her spiritual ends. The civil powers are not competent judges of speculative errors. How come people then, to be oppressed between the civil powers, and the established church in any state? If it be answered, that the established church in any state, can exercise the right of the sword, not by herself but by her magistrate. The death then of the criminal, must entirely lie at the hangman's door; and the judge who passed a final doom on him has no share in the execution. Away then, for ever, with the odious and fallacious distinction.
Are the Catholic and Protestant prinoes of Germany, who have granted a free exercise of their religion, to all their subjects, worse Christians than the Catholic and Protestant princes of barbarous times, who were their subjects' executioners? The Catholics and Protestants, who say their prayers in the same church, in that tolerating country, are they worse Christians, than the Catholics and Protestants whom Henry the Eighth used to couple togethtr, on the same hurdle, and 6rder to the place ofcfexecution? Or is the Church that sees her children receive the sacraments at the rails of the sanctuary, wherein the Protestant minister, and the Catholic priest officiate by turns, less enlightened and less tenacious of her doctrine, than she was in the time of Pope Innocent the Third? Death, fines, and, confiscations, then, on the score of conscience, when the religionists behaves as a peaceable subject, are the ungraceful offspring of lawless rule. Tyranny begot it: ignorance fostered it: and barbarous divines have clothed it with the stolen garments of religion.
. *, STATE OF THE CASE.
Has the supreme power in any state, a right to vindicate the Deity, by fines, forfeitures, confiscations, oppression, or the death of men, whose only crime is an erroneous re- * ligion, which does not disturb the peace of society, whether thej be Jews, Mahometans, Christians, heretics or Catholics, provided they believe a supreme Being, and rewards and punishments in a future state; for all people exclude from civil toleration, those who confound vice and virtue in the horrors of the grave. Because the links of the society are dissolved, when vice loses its horror, and virtue its attractions: when the heart is steeled against the fear of an invisible Judge, and the conscience is unshackled from its bonds'? ■»•••'. ■
Answered in the negative. For life, liberty, the power to accumulate a fortune by honest means, &c. are rights founded in nature: and the rights of nature are not reversed by the religion founded by Him, who declares, that he came not to destroy but to save. Much less can they be reversed by civil rulers, who are born like other men, and who would not be distinguished above the crowd, were it not for the social compact, by which they bound themselves to; protect those rights, and preserve them inviolate. If they do otherwise, as often they have done, and do to this very day, it is by a stretch of power, not by the rule of right; and their only plea is that mentioned in Tacitus, • Id enim ast eequius 'quod est fortius.'
From the earliest ages the boundaries of religion, and the concerns of the civil .magistrate were kept distinct. If in the Jewish theocracy alone, they happened to be interwoven, and that a secession from the established religion was made capital; it was by a special commission from God, which Jesus Christ repealed in the new law, as we shall hereafter prove. Scattered tribes, before they subjected themselves to civil institutions, believed in God, at whose hands they^expected the rewards of their virtues, and dreaded the punishment of their misdeeds.
Religion, and conscience, its immediate interpreter, were anterior to society, and altars reeked with the gore of victims, before the block was dyed with the blood of malefactors, spilled by the sword of the stern magistrate.
For his security and defence, man, on entering into society, gave up part of his liberty to dispose of his actions, his acquisitions, his time, which in the state of nature were at his own disposal. But he could never give up his way of thinking, or submit the dictates of his conscience, to the magistrate's controul. It is an interior monitor, whose voice cannot be silenced by human laws, and which our very passions, our inclinations, our temporal interest, can seldom bribe, how prone soever we may be to the collusive compact. Hear this, O ye rulers of the earth! Usurp no authority over God's inheritance. He alone can water and fertilize it vvith his grace, or from a hidden judgment, not cognizable by an earthly tribunal, strike it with barrenness and sterility. In this life you have power to kiil, or to save the body: but leave the soul of man to the God who gave it. Call to mind that you must be regulated by justice. Illustrious culprits, whose authority screens you from the rigour of human laws, if you violate the sacred rules of order, you are also to be judged. The splendour that surrounds you made the prophet cry out, Ye are gods, and sons of the Most High; but he afterwards eclipses this splendour with the vale of death, ye also must die. Let not bleeding victims, and famished objects, for the sake of religion, which the rulers of the earth are the last to observe in their morals, be presented to you bv your judge, who will call for your commission, and confront you with the works of your hands. The authority with which you are invested is delegated by the people, and while you enjoy it, you claim the sanction, of Heaven. But neither Heaven nor man has granted you a
[>ower to punish any but malefactors. And no man is less iable to the imputation, than one who follows the dictates of his conscience. To him it is the oracle of the Divinity. In abiding by its dictates, he imagines to please his Creator. An intention to please God is no crime. Mistaken he may be; but every mistaken man is not a malefactor or cheat. * .', .
If in a wanton fit of cruelty, you imitated those Africankings, who leaping into their saddles, cut off their squires' heads with one blow, to display their dexterity; or that Turkish Emperor, who, to show the limner his mistake in painting the decollation of John the Baptist, called for a slave, and striking off his head, compared it with the picture; saying to the painter, you see by this head, that the veins in
that picture are not sufficiently shrivelled would' your
power screen you from the guilt of murder? If I am doomed to the stake, or deprived of my horse, for not swearing to what I do not believe, the laws will justify the informer and executioner, who will say: 'the laws of your governors have * so decreed.' It is, then, incumbent on governors to examine how far God will justify themselves. Nor is it a sufficient plea, that such laws were made by others, when it is by their own authority, they are put in execution. It is equal to the individual who is deprived of his life or his property, whether it be by the highwayman or the officer of justice, when life or property falls a sacrifice to the integrity of his conscience.
God rejects a homage which the heart belies: and woe to the conscience liable to the magistrate's controul. It would be no longer the impregnable fortress that should never surrender, but on conviction that such is the will of his Master. It would be the ductile wax, on which every new impression would erase the former, and resume it by turns. It would