Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

from Massachusetts to Georgia. Think you the same effects would have been produced in the West Indies or Ireland, if those ships had gone there? No, indeed. Our revolution had been preparing for three centuries. It began with John Huss and Wickliffe; and every sturdy independent who refused to wear a square cap and surplice at the command of a bishop, was hastening the progress of political independence among his followers and descendants. If such be the effect of public opinion, even the humblest of us may aspire to the glory of reforming the age. We may not indeed be the priests to apply the torch to the sacrifice, but we can at least lay the wood upon the altar. We can profess our attachment to Christianity, and we can each, in our respective circles, make a favorable impression of its character and influence.

But in what manner can Christianity be taught with such assurance of success, as by the regular continuance of public worship? Would you leave it to the silent operation of the Bible? The Bible indeed, if diligently and understandingly read, can do every thing. But who shall select its appropriate parts? who shall explain its difficulties, and bring home its sanctions? And who, amidst the cares, and conflicts, and passions of life, shall ensure its being generally read? But all this is effected in a good degree in our churches; a portion of the Scriptures is always read; and whatever may be the sermon, yet in the reading and the prayers, some scriptural knowledge is communicated, and some devotional feelings excited. It is perhaps not an unfrequent occurrence, that attention is arrested where none

was intended to be given;

scoff, remain to pray."

and that some,

"who came to

If, then, the support of public worship be for the public good (and in this I hope I have your entire acquiescence), should this object be effected by a compulsory tax, or be left to voluntary contributions? If mankind were perfect, or even approached perfection, we should say at once, By voluntary contributions. But have we chosen to intrust any of our political institutions to voluntary contributions? Do we leave our courts of justice, our prisons, and houses of correction, to be maintained by those who think it for the good of society that crimes should be punished? Do we leave our poor to the operations of private benevolence? Have we thought it safe to intrust our schools to the support of uncertain contributions? Do we not, on the contrary, tax every man in society for the education of children; because education is a great public blessing? Do we not, in effect, oblige the rich to educate the children of the poor, by assessing the schooltax in proportion to the amount of their property? And do we not defend this, on the ground that they are interested in public morality in proportion to the amount of their property? Carry then this principle to its necessary consequences, and my point is gained. The public worship of the Deity is a part of public education. A church is a school for men; and a school of far more importance than those in which the elements of human learning are taught.

I can imagine but one possible objection to such a tax ; it may be thought to infringe the rights of conscience. But is not conscience interested in the support of public morality?

Are conscientious scruples to be admitted against the existence of a useful public institution? But how is conscience at all affected by it? If the person who makes the objection belong to the majority, he acquiesces in the disposal of the money, and has no cause of complaint; if, on the other hand, he belong to the minority, the money is applied without his consent, and his conscience is not violated by its disposal. He may indeed believe that the money was not so well expended as it might have been,—a common subject of complaint in all public institutions; but his conscience has no concern with it. It is for the majority, who expend the money, to settle the matter with their consciences. They, and they alone, are accountable for its misuse.

But the whole objection would proceed, it appears to me, from a narrow view of the tendency and effects of Christianity. It assumes, as a principle, not merely that there is but one form of Christianity which a man can personally profess, but that having made his choice among rival sects, he is bound in good conscience to wage unrelenting war against all others. But such I apprehend is not the character of our religion. She is not found exclusively in this conventicle, or in that cloister; but she walks abroad through the earth and mingles freely with men of every nation and of every profession. There is a redeeming spirit in Christianity, which renders it an unspeakable blessing, even in the most corrupt form in which it has ever yet appeared. It may be that its followers have enrolled themselves under different banners and have acquired their

11

discipline under leaders of various names, but they are all marching under the standard of the cross.

But it may be said that religion is a personal concern between man and his Maker, and that human laws have nothing to do with its regulation. I grant it; and therefore no man should be compelled to worship contrary to the dictates of his own conscience. But supporting public wor ship by law, is not compelling any individual to join in it. Public schools are supported by law, but no man is compelled to send his children to them. If he prefer instruction of a different kind, or from other teachers than those whom the public provides, he procures it at his own expense. No man complains of this; for every man is indirectly benefited by the education of his neighbour's children. But the analogy between schools and public worship is complete. They are both for the purpose of giving publie instruction; and if one cannot safely be left to voluntary contributions for its support, so neither can the other.

If I have been at all successful in the preceding argument, I have established the following propositions.

That all property is justly liable to taxation for the common benefit.

That it is no violation of individual rights, to take private property for any object of public good, by laws which operate equally on all.

That the support of public worship under any form of Christianity is a public benefit.

That this cannot be obtained in any way so effectually, as by general and equal taxation.

And that the leaving this money to be applied according to the will of a majority does not infringe the rights of conscience.

Consequently, laws which compel a man to pay taxes for the support of public worship, and leave the application of the money to the will of the majority, are founded on sound principles.

« AnteriorContinuar »