« AnteriorContinuar »
is clear, and to an impartial mind not difficult: but how far the whole of this procedure, either in this Synod or in other similar cases, on the continent and in our land, was wrong, in toto or in parte: whether the whole must be reprobated together, or only some part of it; or where the line should be drawn; these are questions of greater difficulty, on which men in general will decide according to the prevailing sentiments of the day, and those of that part of the visible church to which they belong. Yet, I would venture, with a kind of trepidation, and with much diffidence, to drop a few hints on the subject—the result of very much reflection, during a long course of years, with what other aid I could procure, in addition to the grand standard of truth and duty, of principle and practice, to men of all ranks, individually or in corporate bodies, “ the Oracles of “ God.”
It must, as it appears to me, be incontrovertible, that penal means, of whatever kind, are wholly inadmissible in matters purely religious, and in which the persons concerned would act peaceably, if not irritated by opposition and persecution; for “ oppresssion” in this case often “maketh a wise “ man mad;" and his mad conduct is ascribed to his religious peculiarities, when it originates from other causes, and is excited by ill treatment. Punishments can have no tendency to enlighten the understanding, inform the mind, or regulate the judgment; and they infallibly increase prejudice, and tempt to resentment. They may indeed make hypocrites, but not believers; formalists, but not spiritual worshippers; and, in a word, they are no means of grace' of God's appoint
ment, and on which his blessing may be expected and supplicated. “The weapons of this warfare “ are carnal, not mighty through God." The judicial law of Moses, as a part of the theocracy, punished with death nothing but idolatry and blasphemy, and this to prevent the contagion, " that men might hear, and fear, and do no more “ such wickedness ;” not to produce conviction or conformity: and no penalty in other things was appointed, where the public peace was not interrupted, and God's appointed rulers opposed. In the New Testament, not a word occurs on the subject; except as our Lord blamed the apostles when they forbad one to cast out devils “because “ he followed not with them.”
Whatever company, in any nation, can give proper security that they will act as peaceful citizens and good subjects, has, I apprehend, a right to the protection of the state, whatever its religious opinions or observances may be; provided nothing grossly immoral, and contrary to the .. general laws of the country, be practised under the pretence of religion. Yet the murders, human sacrifices, and other abominations in the East Indies, and in many other places, can have no right to toleration, nor can the toleration be by any means excused. Again, whatever may be urged in favour of allowing papists full liberty, as to their superstitious and idolatrous worship, (for so it doubtless is,) this should be done in their case with peculiar circumspection. But to grant them what they claim, and many claim for them, as emancipation, and which means nothing else, than admission to power and authority, seems irVOL. VIII.
reconcilable with wisdom either human or divine. It is an essential principle of popery, however disguised by some, and lost sight of by others, to tolerate none who are not of that church: and the grant of power to them till this principle be disavowed by bishops, vicars-general, legates, cardinals, and popes, as well as others, in the most full and unequivocal language, is to liberate lions, because they have been harmless when not at liberty: and the event, should this emancipation be fully conceded, will be, that the power thus obtained will be used in persecution of those who gave it, as soon as it has acquired a proper measure of consolidation. If the advocates for this measure in our land, should they prove successful, do not themselves live to feel this, their posterity, I can have no doubt, will know it by, deplorable experience.— Avowed atheists seem also inadmissible to full toleration; as incapable of being bound by any obligation of an oath, or of an affirmation as in the sight of God, which is equivalent to an oath. How far some kinds of blasphemers should be also exempted, may be a question; but every species of profaneness, or impiety, is not direct blasphemy. Yet, if men outrage, or expose to ridicule or odium, the most sacred services of the religion of the country; or if public instructors inculcate immoral principles; they may, as far as I can see, be restrained, so that the mischief may be prevented; though perhaps without further punishment, except for actual violation of the peace. Every collective body, however, has an indisputable right to prescribe the terms on which men shall be admitted into it, either as members of the company, or in
an official capacity; and, if it have funds at its disposal, the terms on which men shall be allowed to receive a share of them: provided that they who join them, do it voluntarily, and that others may, without molestation, be permitted to decline these terms, or to withdraw, if they, after having joined them, can no longer conscientiously comply. I say, a right indisputable by man, yet a right for the use of which they are responsible to God; and the abuse of which has been and is the source of most deplorable consequences.
If, however, the Synod of Dort had only proceeded to exclude from office public teachers, whether of congregations or schools, belonging to the church or churches established in Belgium, who would not comply with the terms agreed on in the Synod; the terms alone would have been the proper subject of our judgment, and not this exclusion, provided no further punishment had been inflicted. But this exclusion ex officio would of course be alsó er beneficio, or from the emolument of the office. And how far this would have been justifiable, I am not prepared to say: and, indeed, much depended on the nature of their funds, and the tenure on which they were obtained or held. But one thing is clear, that, if some reasonable proportion of the emolument had been reserved to those who were excluded from office, so long as they conducted themselves peaceably, it would have been a very conciliatory measure, and suited to give a convincing testimony, that the glory of God, the peace of the church, the cause of truth, and the salvation of souls had been their motives and object; and not secular and party interests.
· In respect of the revenues which, having been appropriated to religious purposes in former ages, fell into the hands of those who conducted the reformation, and formed establishments, it cannot reasonably be expected that the bodies thus in possession should voluntarily agree to share them with dissentients : but in revenues raised by taxes on the present generation, for the purposes. of supporting religion, and other things connected with it ; equity seems to require that a proportion should be awarded to peaceful dissentients, of whatever description, according to the sum which that whole body may be required to pay towards such a tax : for they who contribute, and are good subjects, and can give a pledge to the government for good behaviour, ought, in all reason, to share the benefit in proportion." · When the teachers, of congregations and of schools, supported by the revenues of the churches in Belgium, had been excluded or suspended from their office and its emolument, all that was done beyond this, seems to have been unjustifiable The excluded party, in reason, and according to the scripture, (though not according to the general sentiments of that age,) were entitled to full toleration to worship God, and to instruct others, either as preachers, or teachers of schools
'It may be worthy of consideration, how far a grant from Parliament for building churches or chapels exclusively for the establishment; while the public at large must advance the money from the general tax, or taxes, is thus consistent with strict equity. The design is excellent and most desirable; but whether it would not be more unexceptionable, if a proportionable sum were granted to peaceable dissenters, for the building or repairing their places of worship, may be matter of inquiry to impartial legislators.