Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

instruction in grammar, philosophy, or any thing else. But this I do not advance as a Disfenter, but on the principles of political philophy in general. And that these principles of mine (though they are by no means peculiar to myself) which Mir. Madan would represent as infinitely alarming, have nothing in them at which you need to be alarmed, I shall clearly shew in my next letter, and let Mr. Madan, or any of your clergy, refute my arguments if they can.

Mr. Madan's Sermon being my Text, I shall think myself authorized by his example, to take the same liberties with it, that he has done with his, that is, to preach the very contrary doctrine. From a text which inculcates meeknefs and forbearance, and which discountenances all coil Speaking, he has endeavoured to infame your passions by the grcfest and most absurd calumnies. The storm that he has raised I have endeavoured to ailay, preaching the very doctrine to which his text should have led him, by endeavouring to remove those prejudices, which lead you to think ill of your neighbours, and thereby bring you to a better temper than that which he has manifested. I shall continue to do the same in the remaining Letters, and for this purpose fhall go over all the articles that he has touched upon. But as a man may fow more weeds in an hour, than another can root out in a month, I must be allowed more time and space than Mr. Madan has taken ; so that it may happen that a single sentence in his Sermon, shall give occasion to a long Letter of mine. But I shall not think much of my trouble in writing, provided you have patience to read; and I shall endeavour to write in such a manner as to put you into better humour, and make you feel more pleasantly, than you did after hearing Mr. Madan's Sermon. For the feelings of a man who is angry, though ever so juftly, are never comfortable.

I am,

My good friends and neighbours,

Yours, &c.

LETTER

LETTER VII.

Of Religious Establishments in general.

[ocr errors]

My Townsmen and Neighbours,
SHALL now bring before you a subjeét which, from

the manner in which it has been generally considered, you may imagine to be of a peculiarly difficult nature, and to which your understandings are not equal. I mean the connection between the church and the state, or the use of civil establishments of religion. But notwithstanding this, I have no doubt but that I shall make it as perfectly intelligible to you, as any thing that I have yet treated of. I shall prove to you that those very principles which your superiors would ha you take for granted, as axioms, or certain truths, on which they build others of very great consequence, have themselves no foundation at all, if either the scriptures, or common-lenje, be your rule of judging concerning things.

Mr. Fox himself, who with respect to magnanimity, force, and comprehenfion of mind, is at least equal to any of our statesmen, and whose liberality of sentiment has led him repeatedly to defend the cause of the Dissenters in the house of Commons, Atill takes it for granted that there ought to be a civil establishment of religion in every country, thinking it, no doubt, absolutely essential to good government. But, great as Mr. Fox's abilities may be, he may not have given sufficient attention to this particular subject. Indeed, if he had, many doubts could not but have arisen in his mind with respect to it. The generality of Diflenters themselves as I have said, allow the propriety and use of some establishment of christianity, and formerly they were universally of this opinion, though it is contrary to a just and received maxim of theirs properly interpreted, viz. That human

authority

E 2

[ocr errors]

authority cught not to be interposed in matters of religion, and indeed to our Saviour's own declaration, that his kingdom is not of this world.

If men are not to interpose their authority in inatters of religion, they ought to refrain, not only from making articles of faith, and rules of moral conduct, to bind the consciences of men (which they allow to be within the province of God only) but they ought not to enforce any decrees of men respecting religion by civil penalties. For this is evidently setting up a kingdom of this world, and applying human authority to matters of religion, things with respect to which Dissenters hesitate not to say that every man should be left to himself, to be guided by the dictates of his own conscience, of which God is the only sovereign.

If I break the peace of society, if I injure my neighbour, in his person, property, or good name things which human laws were intended to guard) I ought to be punished by those who adminifter such laws. But if I do any thing by which I offend God only, and not man, I should be left to the judgment of God, in this world or the next. These are very plain rules, and yet they are evidently violated whenever any body of men, clergy or laity, lay down rules respecting religion, and enforce them by civil penalties.

It follows from these plain principles, that whether I chuse to profess any particular mode of religion, or to have no religion at all, my neighbours and fellow citizens have no right to compel me. I do not moleft them, and therefore they ought not to disturb me. If, therefore, I do not chuse to give any part of my property to the maintenance of religion, it does not concern them; and to compel me to pay money on a religious account, is real injustice, though fanctioned by law. The civil magistrate has the power of the stronger, and I, as the weaker, must submit; but it is on the same principle that I fubinit to an highwayman, or a robber, at whose mercy I necessarily am. He may say that he has a right to take my money, but he makes himself the judge, and to me his decision may appear unjust.

If

If we interpret the scriptures by the conduct of the aporties and that of the early christians for three centuries, you will be satisfied that I do not carry this principle too far. In the New Testament you will find that, whatever any man gave to the support of religion, it was perfectly voluntary. The primitive church had bishops, deacons, and other officers, who, giving their whole time to the instruction, &c. of others, were maintained from the common stock; and the christians of those times must have been at great expence in building places of public worship, maintaining their poor, &c. But all these expences, great as they were, were defrayed by voluntary contribution.

It will be said that, in that age, there was no civil power that could be applied in favour of christianity. But neither our Saviour nor the apostles gave any directions about such a thing as a civil establishment of christianiiy, when chriitians should have the power of making one. And yet, as our Saviour distinctly foresaw, and frequently referred to, the universal prevalence of his religion, he must have known that it would be wanted, if that change in the external circumstances of his religion would authorize such a measure.

But what apprehenfion could the apostles have of the use of a civil establishment of christianity, when they found no want of it in their own times ? Read all their epistles, and you will find no wish expressed by the writers of them, of any civil power to inforce the laws of Christ. Nay, without the aid of any civil power, christianity gained ground in the world, to the over-turning of the long-establithed system of heathenism, which was supported by that power. With what face, then, can any christian at this day say that civil power is necessary to christianity, when it never flourished so much as when it was entirely destitute of it, and opposed

by it?

Christians should consider their religion as disgraced by any alliance with civil power. The voluntary zeal of the fincere professors of christianity would at this day, as well as in former times, supply all the funds which are really

Wanted

E 3

wanted for the support of religion; and if men offend against the laws of religion, they should, as our Saviour prescribed, and the apostles practised, be cut off from christian societies, and be considered as perfons with whom they have no religious connexion; but not punished by fines, imprifonments, or any civil inconveniences whatever, such as are the consequence of your excommunications. In this manner christianity is actually supported by all Dissenters, compelled as they are to bear their share in the support of a much more expensive system, by which they are oppressed.

It will hardly be said that the authority of the civil magistrate was necessary for the appointment, as well as the payment, of bishops, and other ministers in christian churches. For not only in the time of the apostles, but long after the undue interference of the civil power in matters of religion, it would have been thought an intolerable grievance; if all christian societies had not had the free choice of their own ministers of every kind. But men who have been used to servitude of any kind, get in time a habit of acquiescence, and sometimes fancy that there is a real advantage in what is most disgraceful to them. Thus you are very well content to have no vote at all in the nomination of your own fervants. For ministers of the gospel are no other than their title imports, being persons who are employed by christian societies for a certain stipend, to do a certain duty.

These are the pure and rational principles of christian churches; such as we find in the scriptures, and in all the primitive times. But how have we deviated from them ; and in consequence of it, how has the church of Christ adopted the maxims of the kingdoms of this world? Men have assumed authority, such as your church expressly ayows, to determine controversies ojfaith. They have made numberless regulations about religion, and they have enforced the observance of them by fines, imprisonments, and dreadful punishments of various kinds, so that what is now called the church is as much a kingdom of this world, as the fate.

The

« ПредишнаНапред »