159. Toleration.


I dare confess that Mr. Locke’s treatise on Toleration appeared to me far from being a full and satisfactory answer to the subtle and oft-times plausible arguments of Bellarmin, and other Romanists. On the whole, I was more pleased with the celebrated W. Penn’s tracts on the same subject. The following extract from his excellent letter to the King of Poland appeals to the heart rather than to the head, to the Christian rather than to the Philosopher; and besides, overlooks the ostensible object of religious penalties, which is not so much to convert the heretic, as to prevent the spread of heresy. The thoughts, however, are so just in themselves, and exprest with so much life and simplicity, that it well deserves a place in the Omniana.

“Now, O Prince! give a poor 309christian leave to expostulate with thee. Did Christ Jesus or his holy followers, endeavour, by precept or example, to set up their religion with a carnal sword? Called he any troops of men or angels to defend him? Did he encourage Peter to dispute his right with the sword? But did he not say, Put it up? Or did he countenance his over-zealous disciples, when they would have had fire from heaven, to destroy those that were not of their mind? No! But did not Christ rebuke them, saying, Ye know not what spirit ye are of? And if it was neither Christ’s spirit nor their own spirit that would have fire from heaven— Oh! what is that Spirit that would kindle fire on earth, to destroy such as peaceably dissent upon the account of conscience!

“O King! when did the true Religion persecute? When did the true church offer violence for religion? Were not her weapons prayers, tears, and patience? Did not Jesus conquer by these weapons, and 310vanquish cruelty by suffering? Can clubs, and staves, and swords, and prisons, and banishments, reach the soul, convert the heart, or convince the understanding of man! When did violence ever make a true convert, or bodily punishment a sincere Christian? This maketh void the end of Christ’s coming. Yea, it robbeth God’s spirit of it’s office, which is to convince the world. That is the sword by which the ancient Christians overcame.”

The Theory of Persecution seems to rest on the following assumptions. I. A duty implies a right. We have a right to do whatever it is our duty to do. II. It is the duty, and consequently the right, of the supreme power in a state, to promote the greatest possible sum of well-being in that state. III. This is impossible without morality. IV. But morality can neither be produced or preserved in a people at large without true religion. V. Relative to the duties of the legislature or governors, that is the true 311religion which they conscientiously believe to be so. VI. As there can be but one true religion, at the same time, this one it is their duty and right to authorise and protect. VII. But the established religion cannot be protected and secured except by the imposition of restraints or the influence of penalties on those, who profess and propagate hostility to it. VIII. True religion, consisting of precepts, counsels, commandments, doctrines, and historical narratives, cannot be effectually proved or defended, but by a comprehensive view of the whole, as a system. Now this cannot be hoped for from the mass of mankind. But it may be attacked, and the faith of ignorant men subverted, by particular objections, by the statement of difficulties without any counter-statement of the greater difficulties which would result from the rejection of the former, and by all the other stratagems used in the desultory warfare of sectaries and infidels. 312This is, however, manifestly dishonest, and dangerous; and there must exist therefore a power in the state to prevent, suppress, and punish it. IX. The advocates of toleration have never been able to agree among themselves concerning the limits to their own claims; have never established any clear rules, what shall and what shall not be admitted under the name of religion and conscience. Treason and the grossest indecencies not only may be, but have been called, by these names: as among the earlier Anabaptists. X. And last, it is a petitio principii, or begging the question, to take for granted that a state has no power except in case of overt-acts. It is its duty to prevent a present evil, as much at least as to punish the perpetrators of it. Besides, preaching and publishing are overt acts. Nor has it yet been proved, though often asserted, that a Christian sovereign has nothing to do with the external happiness or misery of the fellow creatures entrusted to his charge.


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