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trace the true bounds of civil power' in relation to religious matters, we must do it by' considering from whence that power is derived. It is derived from, and founded on, these
. two maxims. The society has a right to preserve itself, and the society has a right to choose a religion for itself.
If, according to the first, the society has a right to preserve itself, in the same manner with a single person, then it must of necessity have a right to lodge or trust its power only with such as will employ it in the service, and to the preservation of itself. No man would willingly give another power to destroy him, especially if he had any reason to suspect him capable of being tempted so to do. And why a nation or society should be excluded from the first law of nature, more than a single person, I cannot see.
Again; since a society has a right to preserve itself, and since religion is necessary to the preservation of society, it follows, that a society must have a right to choose some religion; because, if it has a right of self-preservation, it must have a right to the necessary means.
Now then, from these two maxims laid together, it appears, that the supreme legislative power in any society has a right to establish some one religion, and to trust its power in the hands of those only who profess and adhere to that religion.
But as there is no establishing religion without establishing the necessary means; so, therefore, the society must also have an undoubted right to settle and fix such means as it finds requisite to preserve that religion, on which its own preservation depends : such are the maintenance of persons to preach it; the decent ordering of ceremonies, and mère modes of worship; the building of public places of worship; the lending its power to suppress immoralities, and stubborn offenders, and the like.
But as a single person has only a right to preserve himself, and to the means of his own preservation, and not at all to annoy another; so neither has a society any other right. Once it hath chosen a religion for itself, and laid down ways and means for the support and security of it, it hath done all that it lawfully can. And if it shall persecute those who dissent from its established religion, for no other reason but
because they dissent, it is then guilty of usurping upon the conscience, over which neither God nor reason has permitted it to exercise any jurisdiction.
Now the society may be said to persecute for religion, when it exercises any severities upon dissenters, that are not necessary to its own preservation ; that is, when it either deprives them of their lives, their liberties, or their possessions, merely because they differ from it in point of religion, when they are quiet, and offer no disturbance to the state.
But, on the other hand, if those who differ from the establishment in religious matters, shall attempt any thing against the state, though it be from a religious motive, the society, as it hath a right to preserve itself, must also have a right to treat them as rebels; and, according to the degree of their obstinacy, rather than be destroyed itself, to deprive them of their possessions, their liberties, or even their lives. This is not persecution, but self-preservation.
If dissenters from the established religion rebel, through a mistaken notion, that the principles and interests of their religion require it, then the society has a right to suppress them; but not to prohibit or persecute their religion, on which their rebellion cannot be justly chargeable.
But, if the true genius and spirit of their religion stirs them up to civil discord and rebellion, then the society has an undoubted right to prohibit and extirpate their religion itself, as contrary to the very laws of nature, and inconsistent with the preservation of the government.
The body politic has the same right with the natural, to remove every thing from itself that is hurtful and destructive to it; and this it hath from its natural right to preserve itself.
Upon the whole, the supreme power can expect no perfect obedience, nor can the state subsist in any tolerable manner, without religion. It is therefore the interest of every constitution to choose to itself some religion, to which it has as undoubted a right as any single person can have. States may be converted, may believe, may be called religious, as well as men. As the civil magistrate on the one hand, must not presume to impose a religion; so neither must he leave the constitution exposed to the ruinous effects of civil discord, by permitting vulgar diversity of opinion to
parcel out and divide the power of the state. He hath a right to keep that power, with which he is vested, together and entire: he hath also the same right to apply the necessary means for this purpose, which can never interfere with the conscience, nor with any lawful system of religion. But, if he proceeds farther, he is guilty of tyranny and usurpation.
It is our happiness to live under a constitution wherein the rules laid down in this Discourse for the political choice of a religion, have been exactly observed ; nay, more, wherein the choice of the legislature hath happily fallen on that religion, which, of all others, is best fitted both to promote the salvation of its professors, and to bestow peace and happiness on the community. It hath shewn its wisdom, not only by its choice, but by the manner of securing to itself the many good effects of that choice. It hath, by the most wholesome laws, guarded the civil power from being divided by religious differences; and yet, with an unexampled lenity, hath afforded all who differ from the established religion more liberty of conscience than is enjoyed in any other country.
Were this duly considered by those who worship God according to the established religion, they would find reason to be more thankful to Providence than they generally are. Whence the infatuation proceeds, I will not invidiously attempt to determine; but true it is, that no people under the sun have more reason to be zealously affected towards their religion, than we; yet there neither is, nor ever was, a people so very regardless of their religion. On the other hand, were the nature of our establishment, in respect to religion, as impartially considered by those who dissent from that establishment as it ought to be, they would find more reason to rest satisfied with the truly Christian indulgence it affords them, than they seem at present to be sensible of.
May it not be reasonably expected, that they who sit at the helm, and see, better than others can do, the ill effects of being thus either becalmed, or tossed about by contrary winds, should use their utmost endeavours to rekindle in our minds a due regard for so excellent a religion, and to assuage that spirit of dissension and strife which formerly did so much mischief, and threatens us with more?
There are two kinds of men whom the state ought to discountenance, if it fears God, or loves his religion, or wishes for perpetuity and happiness to itself; I mean those who would talk us out of all religion ; and those, who, on all occasions, are for new-modelling that we have. If the civil constitution háth a right to preserve itself, it hath a right to discourage such books as are written against that religion on which it subsists; for these, whether we consider them in the pernicious matter they contain, or in the base disingenuous artifice wherewith they are penned, can be regarded by a rational lover of his country only as so many masses of poison to the body politic.
It must also be equally the right and interest of the constitution to silence those little petulant talkers, whom we find in every corner prating and declaiming against that religion, which, by giving strength to the government and the laws, preserves us from the villanous designs of those wretches. Till these vermin, wherewith our country has swarmed of late, are utterly extirpated, there can be no rational hope of health. They can do no hurt among people of sound understandings, because they dabble only in the shallows of knowledge, and read no higher than is requisite for the paltry retail of libertinism among the ignorant and the vicious. But among these, who make up a huge body, they are absolute dictators, infallible oracles, and perfect libraries of learning.
It is almost as necessary to discountenance those who would innovate and new-model our religion. If religion is the work of God, its fundamentals are not to be changed for the satisfaction of every conceited and giddy-headed wretch, who can never be pleased with any thing whereof he was not himself the contriver. And, so far as its externals have taken their rise or authority from the public wisdom of the church and state, they are not to be laid aside for others that have nothing but ignorance, ill-humour, and prejudice, to recommend them. Yet their abettors'urge them with a degree of zeal they seldom shew for their souls. In order to effect their designs, the lees of old parties, and the corrosive settlings of half-exploded disputes, are stirred up in the minds of a giddy people, by those who love to fish in troubled waters, because their hooks and nets can be the
better concealed. Never was there a constitution so subject to these religious and political fevers, which, as it hath not vigour enough to throw them off, fall heavily on its vitals, religion, loyalty, and common honesty. Unless the fashion of religion is changed as often as that of our clothes, we are presently out of humour with it. It is old; it is stale; it looks as if our ancestors had worn it quite out. Then we are all for cutting and modelling; and he who hath the best talent at new and whimsical inventions, is our most orthodox doctor, and our ablest politician.
And what benefit hath the community derived from the eternal changes, from the endless reformations, made among some, and artfully recommended to all ? Why, in diversifying the form of religion, they have almost destroyed the substance; whereas that which they ought to have reformed, was the petulance and conceit of their own giddy minds.
Changes, it is true, are always to be wished for, when there is reasonable hope of putting matters on a better footing. But to love changes, merely for the sake of novelty, is a despicable humour; and to push for them, in obedience to party-prejudice, is a very dangerous practice. On these, when once become rampant, if designing persons or factions should happen to lay hold, to forward their own private ends, there is no foreseeing what mischiefs may attend the innovation, during the struggle to bring it about; nor how deep, how general, how dangerous, a discontent may arise out of it, after it is brought to bear. The persons, who most eagerly wished for it, may happen not to find their account in it; and they who did not, are never likely to be reconciled to it.
On the whole, it is the duty, it is the interest, of every one in authority, to shew his love for the country he belongs to, by using all his influence to promote the credit of religion, the parent of sobriety, industry, liberty, justice, and all the public virtues ; and to suppress infidelity, the source of all wickedness, of private misery, and public calamity.
If some of those who preside over us shall continue, as they have for some time done, to neglect this duty; nay, to act a part directly contrary to it, to make a jest of religion, both in their discourse and actions, and to encourage every upstart innovation therein; they ought to know, that such