ePub 版

moment, as it were, irradiated one spot of the ideal scene before him, with what appalling concern would he view its almost total obscuration; and instead of tracing its bright progress, as he had vainly anticipated, till the gradual diffusion of the glory should have encircled the whole scene, perceive its contraction and loss of splendour, till at no very distant period from its first appearance, he would hardly be able to distinguish it from the surrounding darkness? While pondering the mysterious causes of such a defiling and degrading of the only effectual means that bad ever been devised to diminish and counteract human misery and buinan wickedness, he would be led to infer that all the mighty influences which had at first been exhibited to introduce and establish that Divine system, had been subsequently entrusted to the malignant powers of earth and of hell, for its destruction; that the tide of infinite benignity which had once set in upon these shores, was not only ebbing, but actually sweeping away with it every thing the existence of which as a means of melioration could gratify a benevolent observer, while it left behind a dreary and widely extended waste--a moral marsh of vast expanse, stagnant, noxious, and slimy.

But the extreinity of bis astonisbment would still remain to be excited, at the discovery that the inost extensively fatal and the most bitterly aggravated of all the calarities that had ever fallen upon our nature, had been inflicted by those very individuals of the race, who hadtmade the highest pretensions to supernal benevolence, and who, as if to mock at once our hopes of melioration and our capacity of suffering, had made the most clamorous and extravagant demands on our gratitude, for those very measures which had caused the utmost intensity of our wo. -For who, it may be asked, are the men, that have advanced the highest claims to be accounted the heaven-gifted benefactors of their race, the very delegates of infinite benignity, but those same individuals who have cast into the cup of human sorrows the most bitter of its ingredients, and have chained the human understanding with the cruel bonds of spiritual darkness !--the very men that should have been the luminaries of the surrounding scene, the shining ligbts of their age, rising upon the darkness of an erring world, with the attractive lustre of Bethlehem's star; but who, like the star Worn wood of the Apocalypse, have fallen upon the waters and fountains of the moral world, turning them into bitterness and death. Pride, and lust, and covetousness, and ambition, have, it is true, committed their devastations upon mankind, to an extent proportioned to the virulence and prevalence of these passions in our nature; but all their atrocities have been far exceeded by the cold blooded, sanctimonions malignity of Intolerance: a spirit which yet lurks--or, as we ought rather to say, when we look around at Spain, and Portu, Vol. VII. N.S.

2 R

gal, and France, and some other polished states, which still stalks abroad on the earth: a pestilence which indeed lately walked in darkness, but now wasteth at noon-day.

And what means the incessant struggle that has been maintained in all ages, against Ecclesiastical Power ? Doubtless, the individuals who have claimed that power, can satisfactorily display the grounds of their authority. They have not, surely, ventured to rest their title to the exercise of so awful a prerogative, upon any disputable premises, any obscure tradition, any passages of even authoritative documents, liable to repugnant constructions. They cannot have inferred it from any principle capable of being turned against themselves. They must certainly have received the broad seal of heaven, authorizing them to enforce its decrees and dogmas, and challenging by a full and most commanding evidence the faith and submission of all, else they never would have ventured to enforce and constrain, by all those barsh, and severe, and deadly measures they have used, and which ministers of heaven would have been the most reluc. tant to employ. At all events, these pretenders to Divine authority can surely shew some seal upon their instructions --some glory about their own countenances—which shall leave no room for the scrupulous to doubt, and which shall confound the sceptical by its irresistible lustre. In some way that impinediately appeals to every conscience, they must without doubt be able to shew the finger of God instituting them to the bigh office; and at

any time they can obtain the divine attestation to their credentials, as the vicegerents of the Godhead.

Alas! there is nothing of all this. All the individuals, or the combinations of individuals, that have restrained liberty of conscience, and have claimeil a right, because they possessed the power, to persecute, have refused to acknowledge in their opponents an equal and similar right. And yet, among all these there has never appeared any one sect or church possessed of that additional sense, whether of a physical or intellectual nature, by which moral truth might be necessarily and intuitively perceived, and by which it might be possible to determine the precise degrees and criminality of mental error. The men who have made the claims, and the men who have resisted them, are all creatures formed of the same dust, belonging to the same sphere, and gifted with the same senses ; not one possessing an infallible comprehension of universal truth, not one that can guarantee, even to his own understanding, protection from the wiles and warpings of error. There is indeed nothing of this kind. All have erred; all are frail; all bave the same brief passage to the grave; all are endowed with that same moral sense, which knows no appeal, and can admit none but to the common Maker and Governor of mankind: yet in endless and vexatious accordance they have deemed it right, whenever they have had the power;—at least their evil passions have found it gratifying, to take their turn in this service of the Evil Spirit. Forgetting all the humility the Gospel teaches, the lenity it displays towards human frailties, the patience and clemency of its founder, though he possessed a sense of morał turpitude, and a discrimination of the guilt of speculative error infinitely refined; forgetting the veneration due to the prerogative of Deity and the sacred functions of the Supreme Judge, they have impiously rushed into his seat, unhesitatingly pronounced his decision, and instantly called for fire from heaven; and when it has failed to descend at their bidding, have called up uphallowed flames from beneath, to inflict their holy vengeance which they deemed due respectively to the mental and the moral delinquency of the unhappy victims of their rage.

It has appeared too abstract and difficult a proposition to be discovered by the generality of men, that could any party produce the most unequivocal testimony to the correctness of their opinions, it would not thence follow that the opposers of those opinions should be persecuted for dissenting, or restrained in the slightest degree from the free exercise of their own judgements, in selecting any opposing system. They. have forgotten that the right to persecute is not conveyed by that same volume that imparts accurate and precise knowledge of God and his salvation.So that, supposing we had infallibly ascertained the sense of the sacred volume, we should not thereby have acquired any additional right to coerce a fellowinquirer, or prevent the free exercise of those faculties, for the use or abuse of which he is accountable only at the bar.of Omniscience. The New Testament is utterly silent on these three points: the degrees of guilt involved in speculative error-the party to whom the supposed right of punishing it is delegated and the fact of such a delegation. These three points, therefore, must become the matter of a new revelation, before any degree of restraint upon conscience, by any human power, can be scripturally justified.

A love of power, an impatience of contradiction, the pleasure of dictation, the giddy and unbounded insolence inspired by riches, and secular superiority, are the hateful principles to wbich intolerance is indebted for its support. And these principles acting with more or less violence ii men of different denominations, while the acerbity of their dispositions was only partially meliorated by the Gospel, have led most into the error, that with power in their hands, and reason and Scripture supporting their opinions, it was their duty to compel conformity. That these principles, in union with the worldly aggrandisement which has been pre-eminently the aim of the Romish

Church, should inspire her breast with intolerance, is not wouderful ;

but that wen setting out with a professed abjuration of her principles and her spirit, taking their stand solely on the Scriptures, and ajining at a direct imitation of the Saviour's example,--that men seeking a reformation of the spirit as well as of the doctrines of the ancient Church, should fall into the same intolerance, while it excites our wonder and our regret, ought to be held up as a beacon to posterity. In fairness then let it be acknowledged, that tke Protestantism of most of the reformers, was little less fierce than the Popery they aimed to overthrow, while in one of its fundamental principles their own system still needed radical reform. They might assert for theinselves the right of private or individual judgement, but they did not allow that right to the extent that impartial justice required. The reformers from Popery, the reformers from Episcopacy, the reformers from Presbyterianism, have all in a greater or less degree, violated the sacredpess of religious freedom. It does not appear

that any very considerable or very earnest effort was made during the progress of these various reformations, to ascertain the extent of the rights of conscience, or to maintain that enlightened religious liberty, which we regret to say still needs be better understood. The views of mankind upon this, as upon many grand and important moral principles, have been only very gradually enlightened, Habits and prejudices in old established states, yield reluctantly to the demands of reason and justice. There is much room for improvement even in the midst of our own boasted light and liberty, particularly in the superior circles of society; for it is a fact, that there is more intolerance in spirit among them, than among the inferior class. The source of all this evil, is the unnatural alliance of Church and State, and the temptation to secularity and dictation which that alliance creates.

But it may be asked, Is there then to be no State religion? Ought not the king to choose a religion for his people, and ought not that religion to receive the patronage of the king and the state, or at least, ought not the religion of the majority to receive the largest share of favour and support from the government? It may be replied, that since each individual owes no degree of duty to the king and the government, on the score of religion, it is manifest injustice on their part to require any. The state owes every subject impartial justice; and this iinpartiality is infringed, when one form of religion is patronised to the exclusion of all others, though differing, at least many of them, in mere forms and non-essentials. The majority can have in justice no better claim to the favour of the state, than those who are, unfortunately placed in the minority; nor can they, simply on account of their being the majority, acquire a right to legislate on the subject of religion for the rest, and to legislate for themselves so as to oppress or degrade others. In all questions of purely civil polity, it is granted the majority fairly ought to legislate. If a man has liberty to withdraw from such a state, when he finds himself in the minority, he then enjoys the highest degree of freedom compatible with the existence of the state. When a man knows the form of government, and continues under it voluntarily, he is bound to submission : ηδε φαμεν τατον ομολογηκεναι εργω ημιν.'

.? But it is not so in religious matters. We owe no subjection to our civil rulers in this respect, by continuing a part of that civil society over which they preside. Religion is not a legitimate subject of secular legislation. States should consider men simply as members of a social compact, formed solely for each other's present advantage. It has been said, 'A king is the • father of his people, and he ought to exercise a father's autho

rity over the morals and religion of his people. There is however nothing in the nature of things, to justify this analogy in its application to religion. A king is not the father of his people for this purpose, nor can he be, since, in regard to religious concerns, he may be as ignorant, and is as fallible, as any of his people. He enjoys no spiritual advantages which are denied them, and he has received no authority from God to interfere in any way with religion. As a father let him administer impartial justice, and this will require him at once to lose sight of all the shades and complexions of religious opinion.

We are happy in remarking that the question of religious liberty, is daily receiving, in this country, fresh accessions of light. But we do not conceive that the grand principles on which universal religious liberty should be founded, have yet met an adequate development. We have occasionally seen the question ably handled in reference to some particular case, or one distinct bearing. But we have seen no modern publication that enters broadly into the discussion of the fundamental principles upon which a perfect and universal religious liberty should be established. We have long wished to see the religious rights of men advocated by some person of an enlightened and temperate mind, capable of taking a comprehensive and philosophie survey of all the bearings of one of the most momentous questions to the happiness of man and the prosperity of states, that was ever agitated.

We do not consider the present publication as calculated to supply this deficiency, though it contains many valuable suggestions on the grounds of religious freedom, and manifests commendable fairness in condemning the spirit of intolerance. We quote the following passage as a favourable specimen of the

« 上一頁繼續 »