« ПредишнаНапред »
inftruation in grammar, philofophy, or any thing else. But this I do not advance as a Diffenter, but on the principles. of political philofophy in general. And that thefe principles. of mine (though they are by no means peculiar to myself) which Mr. Madan would represent as infinitely alarming, have nothing in them at which you need to be alarmed, I shall clearly fhew 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 fhall think myfelf authorized by his example, to take the fame liberties with it, that he has done with his, that is, to preach the very contrary doctrine. From a text which inculcates meekness and forbearance, and which discountenances all evil Speaking, he has endeavoured to infame your passions by the groffeft and most abfurd calumnies. The ftorm that he has raised I have endeavoured to allay, 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 manifefted. I fhall continue to do the fame in the remaining Letters, and for this purpofe 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; fo that it may happen that a fingle fentence in his Sermon, fhall give occafion to a long Letter of mine. But I fhall not think much of my trouble in writing, provided you have patience to read; and I fhall endeavour to write in fuch 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 fo jufly, are never comfortable.
My good friends and neighbours,
Of Religious Eftablishments in general.
My Townsmen and Neighbours,
SHALL now bring before you a subject which, from the manner in which it has been generally confidered, 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 eftablishments of religion. But notwithstanding this, I have no doubt but that I fhall make it as perfectly intelligible to you, as any thing that I have yet treated of. I fhall prove to you that those very principles which your fuperiors would have you take for granted, as axioms, or certain truths, on which they build others of very great confequence, have themselves no foundation at all, if either the fcriptures, or common-fenfe, be your rule of judging concerning things.
Mr. Fox himself, who with respect to magnanimity, force, and comprehenfion of mind, is at leaft equal to any of our statesmen, and whofe liberality of sentiment has led him repeatedly to defend the cause of the Diffenters in the house of Commons, ftill takes it for granted that there ought to be a civil establishment of religion in every country, thinking it, no doubt, abfolutely effential to good government. But, great as Mr. Fox's abilities may be, he may not have given fufficient attention to this particular fubject. Indeed, if he had, many doubts could not but have arifen in his mind with respect to it. The generality of Diffenters themselves as I have faid, allow the propriety and use of some establishment of christianity, and formerly they were univerfally of this opinion, though it is contrary to a just and received maxim of theirs properly interpreted, viz. That human authority
Familiar Letters addressed to the
authority ought not to be interpofed 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 interpofe their authority in matters 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 Diffenters 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 perfon, property, or good name (things which human laws were intended to guard) I ought to be punished by those who adminifter fuch laws. But if I do any thing by which I offend Ged only, and not man, I fhould 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 thefe plain principles, that whether I chufe 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 injuftice, 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 fame principle that I fubmit to an highwayman, or a robber, at whofe mercy I neceffarily am. He may say that he has a right to take my money, but he makes himself the judge, and to me his decifion may appear unjust.
If we interpret the fcriptures by the conduct of the apoftles and that of the early chriftians for three centuries, you will be fatisfied that I do not carry this principle too far. In the New Teftament 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 inftruction, &c. of others, were maintained from the common stock; and the chriftians of thofe 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 faid that, in that age, there was no civil power that could be applied in favour of chriftianity. But neither our Saviour nor the apostles gave any directions about such a thing as a civil establishment of christianity, when chriftians Should have the power of making one. And yet, as our Saviour diftinctly forefaw, and frequently referred to, the univerfal 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 fuch a measure.
But what apprehenfion could the apostles have of the use of a civil establishment of chriftianity, when they found no want of it in their own times? Read all their epiftles, and you will find no wish expreffed by the writers of them, of any civil power to inforce the laws of Chrift. Nay, without the aid of any civil power, chriftianity gained ground in the world, to the over-turning of the long-established system of heathenism, which was fupported by that power. With what face, then, can any christian at this day fay that civil power is necessary to christianity, when it never flourished fo much as when it was entirely deftitute of it, and opposed by it?
Chriftians fhould confider their religion as difgraced by any alliance with civil power. The voluntary zeal of the fincere profeffors of chriftianity would at this day, as well as in former times, fupply all the funds which are really wanted
wanted for the support of religion; and if men offend against the laws of religion, they should, as our Saviour prescribed, and the apostles practifed, be cut off from chriftian focieties, and be confidered as perfons with whom they have no religious connexion; but not punished by fines, imprifonments, or any civil inconveniences whatever, fuch as are the confequence of your excommunications. In this manner christianity is actually supported by all Diffenters, compelled as they are to bear their fhare in the support of a much more expenfive fyftem, by which they are oppressed.
It will hardly be said that the authority of the civil magiftrate was neceffary 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 chriftian focieties had not had the free choice of their own ministers of every kind. But men who have been used to fervitude of any kind, get in time a habit of acquiefcence, and fometimes 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 minifters of the gospel are no other than their title imports, being perfons who are employed by chriftian focieties for a certain ftipend, to do a certain duty.
These are the pure and rational principles of chriftian churches; fuch as we find in the scriptures, and in all the primitive times. But how have we deviated from them; and in confequence of it, how has the church of Christ adopted the maxims of the kingdoms of this world? Men have affumed authority, fuch as your church expressly avows, to determine controverfies of faith. They have made numberless regulations about religion, and they have enforced the obfervance of them by fines, imprisonments, and dreadful punishments of various kinds, fo that what is now called the church is as much a kingdom of this world, as the fate.