Page images
PDF
EPUB

believe the real presence in Rome and Upsal. It would deny it in Geneva and Edinburgh. In Paris, it would hope for an empyreal heaven, and joys spiritual and unspeakable, through the merits of Christ, in a future state; an earthly paradise and a seraglio of women, amongst never-fading bowers, if it worshipped the great Alia, and Mahomet his prophet, in Constantinople. It would worship a living man in Tartary, and evil genii in Africa. An evident proof that 'God has never granted any controul to kings or governors, over the conscience of man; and that it must be left to itself, and to the grace of him who gave it.

For, in every kingdom and government, the magistrates Would claim the same power. Every one of them Delieves himself in the right; and should all of them be in the right, I am still in the wrong, when I act against my own conscience; instead of making a sincere convert, they will only make a perjured impostor of me. Hence, the wise Theodoric and other monarchs would never confer any extraordinary privileges on those who conformed to their religion. When one of his courtiers embraced Arianism, (that king's religion,) 4 how could* you have me trust you,' said the monarch, 'you, who betray your conscience and Christ whom * you have worshipped from your early days ?' He preferred steady virtue, blended with what he deemed error, to deceitful hypocrisy, resuming the mask of truth; and never considered a man's religion as a sufficient plea for excluding him from the rights of a subject.

Must, then, a magistrate be quite indifferent about his religion? Must he see it insulted? Must he see error spread, and stand by as a neutral spectator?

By no means: if he be convinced of the truth of his religion, far from being indifferent about it, his duty is to prac» tise it. And no religion, established by the laws of any state, be it ever so false, is to be insulted. It would be equally indecent and ridiculous in a Christian missionary, to cry out in the streets of Constantinople, 'Mahomet is a devilish impostor.' He would not succeed so well as that Scotchman Who went to Rome in order to convert Pope Ganganelli. In all appearance, he studied the revelations well, and found out the number of the beast, as well as the year of his downfall. Accoutred with his bible, and sure of success, he sets oft' for Rome; and, meeting the Pope in St. Peter's Church, cries out with a loud voice: 'Rome is the scarlet whore: 'and you are the Antichrist. Gang awa for Scotland, and be'come a member of the kirk.'* The Pope's attendants requested he would get him confined. 'God forbid,' replied the Pope, ' that I would punish an honest man, who has t gone through so many hardships, for what he thought the 'good of my soul.' He made him some presents, and gave him full liberty to be guided by his Revelations.

[graphic]

With regard to the magistrate's duty in preventing error from spreading. Error may be considered in its different stages: either in its rise or progress. Montesquieu is of opinion, that, when there is but one religion established in a state, it lies at the magistrates' discretion to reject a new doctrine; but, when many religions have got a footing in the state, they are to be tolerated.

The first part of this maxim is observed in Spain and Portugal: the second, to the happiness of mankind, and the honour of religion, is practised all over Germany, Switzerland. Holland, &c.

It is true, the first beginningof controversy may be checked by a steady severity: and a new doctrine may, perhaps, be eradicated with the death of its authors,' without leaving any seeds of future innovations. But still the difficulty recurs, whether the misguided religionist, whose opinions do not interfere with the peace of society, the property of individuals, and the rights of magistracy—and which are less subjected to the criterion of human understanding, being of the speculative kind, is punishable by■the magistrate's sword? Reason combines with religion, to inform us that he is not; and the experience of ages evinces the impotence of such attempts. 'The melancholy with which the fear of death,

* torture, and persecution, inspires the sectaries,' says Mr. Hume, ' is the proper disposition for softening religious zeak

* The prospect of eternal rewards, when brought near, over'powers the dread of temporary punishments: the glory { of martyrdom stimulates all the more furious zealots.

* Moore's Travels. . . «, '', ','fXJUf" 'Where a violent animosity is excited by oppression,'men pass naturally from hating the persons of their ty'rants* to a more violent abhorrence of their doctrine: 'and the spectato- ■ moved with pity towards the supposed 'martyrs, are naturally seduced to embrace those principles which can inspire men with a constancy almost 4 supernatural.'

At all events, whatever may be said in favour of suppressing, by persecution, the first beginnings of error; no solid argument can be alleged for extending severity to multitudes. Or if persecutidh of any kind be allowed, the most violent is the most effectual. Imprisonments, fines, and confiscations, are heavier torments, than the stake, wheel,' or gibbet. For the man is tormented, but the error is not suppressed.

What is to be done, then, in the first stage of the error. Let the spiritual society, to whom the religionist belongs, when he attempts to alter her doctrine, correct, admonish, and exhort him. If he continues to be obstinate, let her refuse him her sacraments, the participation of her spiritual communion, the communication of her spiritual worship.—To this alone her power is confined: she may caution her members against the contagion of his errors. Life, limb, the enjoyment of his estate, the authority of a husband, are founded in nature, and cannot be alienated by any spiritual jurisdiction; much less by the civil magistrate, who is not a competent judge of error; and whose sword may pierce the body, but can never contioul the mind.

But if the laws of God, and the rights of mankind, do not permit to oppress an individual, for his mental errors; what are we to say when numbers of sects get footing in a state? Let the door of toleration be thrown open to them all, and not one of them be exposed as a butt to all the rest. Mutual hatred will relax, and the common occupations and pleasures of life, will succeed to the acrimony of religious disputations.

In vain do Calvin, Bellarmin, and other apologists of persecution, arm the magistrate with texts of the old law, which commands to stone the false prophets to death,

c c

to put idolatrous cities to the sword, and 'to slay Agag 'before the Lord.' The Jewish polity is quite different from modern political institutions. God himself was the immediate governor of society, who worded, by himself, their laws and ceremonies—who blended together their civil and religious institutions—and who had an immediate power to deprive sinful man of the life of which he himself was the author. Neither was it every false prophet he ordered to be stoned, nor every city he ordered to be put to the sword; but such prophets as sprang up from amongst the Jews themselves, and such cities as belonged to the Jewish theocracy—1 mean, cities inhabited by Jews who had been instructed in his laws and ceremonies. 'If a false prophet rise up amongst, you, 'in those days.' 'The city which shall worship gods un'known there before,' &c.

This was rebellion against the state which he had taken under his immediate protection, and which was of so peculiar a frame, as to be entirely dissolved by the introduction of idolatry. As, if a set of preachers got up now, and instilled into the minds of the people, a doctrine that would overthrow the three powers of the state in those kingdoms, to introduce a democracy; or monarchy into Holland, on the ruins of a republican government—they certainly would suffer in both places, not for their religion, but for treason, in attempting to overthrow the respective governments.

Hence, the neighbouring cities, plunged in idolatry, which were not under the laws of the Jewish theocracy, were not destroyed on account of their false worship, but on account of crimes committed against the laws of nature, which had filled the measure of their iniquities. And Agag, a name so familiar in the mouths of fanatical preachers, in the time of Charles the First—and which, to the scandal of that age, and the discredit of the English peers and cavaliers, was couched in their address to Queen Elizabeth, requesting the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, 'as Samuel slew Agag.' Agag, I say, was" not put to death for worshipping his false gods, but for his cruelty and violation of the laws of nations: i As thy sword,' says the prophet, 'has made many wo4 men childless, so your mother shall be a widow this day.'

Sensible rewards and sensible punishments were requisite for the Jewish people. It was requisite to raise a wall of separation between them and neighbouring nations to prevent the fatal effects of their inclination to idolatry. Their religious worship required to be inseparably interwoven with their civil polity, and considered the infringers of the law of God as rebels to the state, and enemies of their country. Their worship was an instrument in the hands of God, to exterminate people polluted with the most abominable crimes. Hence, afflictive punishments and death itself decreed by the law of Moses, against Jews fallen into idolatry, or into any other crime contrary to the law.

Those institutions were to have an end: the new alliance, promised in the old, has levelled the barrier that separated Jew and Gentile—uniting both in the profession of the same faith. It proposes more sublime and exalted motives than those proposed by the Mosaic law. In the room of temporal rewards and temporal punishments, it has substituted those of an invisible and eternal nature. It acknowledges no strangers: it knows no enemy : it opens a door of mercy to all, and an entrance into its mysteries, without terror or compulsion. It is a delicious fruit that attracts the eyes of those who choose to view it; but never forces the hand to pluck it. Jesus Christ never said: 'whoever does not fol'low me, shall be miserable in this world, shall be consi'dered as a rebel to the state in which he lives, unprotected 'by the laws, doomed to the fagot, or stripped of' his pro'perty.'—He leaves it to every one's choice, either to follow or renounce him: 'if any one choose to come after me.' 1 Si quis villi? When his very disciples intended 1o quit him, he does not retain them by compulsion, but says, in a gentle manner, 'are you, also, willing to quit me?' And it is in vain to boast a gospel liberty, when people are dragged, by confiscations, forfeitures, and death itself, as so many forced victims, into the sanctuary of religion.

It is an abominable palliative to say, that, though the fathers are bad proselytes, yet the children or grand-chil dren may be good Protestants, or good Catholics. As if

« PreviousContinue »