Abbildungen der Seite

Dr. Paley has stated, viz. “ the preservation and communication of religious knowledge”-such an establishment is both unnecessary and inexpedient. Genuine Christianity never made her way so successfully as while she was not only destitute of a legal establishment, but the object of continual persecution, and consequently left to her own native energies and the care of her divine author. She then appeared in her pristine glory—" fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with bạnners.” It was not until efforts were made to assist her with the puny arm of flesh- to bolster her up with human laws-that her progress became paralyzed and her march impeded. Her overofficious friends would have done well to take a lesson from the case of Uzzah and his attempt to support the ark, under the former dispensation, as recorded 2 Sam. vi., by which they might have been taught that the “Mighty God” is able to take care of his own cause that he is jealous of his honour, and will not give his glory to another; but “their foolish hearts were darkened.” “Men have been very long in discovering,” says Dr. Campbell, “ and even yet seem scarcely to have discovered, that true religion is of too delicate a nature to be compelled by the coarse implements of human authority and worldly sanctions. Let the law of the land restrain vice and injustice of every kind, as ruinous to the peace and order of society, for this is its proper province; but let it not tamper with “religion by attempting to enforce its exercise and duties. These, unless they be freewill offerings, are nothing—they are, in fact, worse than nothing. By such an unnatural alliance, and ill-judged aid, hypocrisy and superstition may, indeed, be greatly promoted; but genuine piety never fails to suffer."*

In these observations I most heartily concur, and they lead me to remark that the incorporation of Christianity with the political constitutions of this world cannot be looked upon as an indifferent matter, but as a positive evil, to which no reasonings,however ingenious and plausible, no pleas of utility can possibly reconcile us. The allegiance which we owe to Christ obliges us to view it as contrary to his revealed will, incompatible with the nature of his kingdom, and calculated to give a false repre

* Lectures on Eccles. Hist., Lect. III.


sentation of the genius, character, and pretensions of his religion -in short, as what never did nor ever can take place in this world without drawing in its train that corrupt state of things which, in the apostolic writings, has obtained the name of Antichrist—the man of sin, against which the vials of the wrath of Almighty God are now pouring out upon the earth.

To illustrate this point, it should be carefully remarked, that Christianity is a revelation from God, and, as such, if we have any thing to do with it, we must take it as it stands ;-we must implicitly acquiesce in its doctrines and submit to its precepts, and receive its own account of the way in which it is to be supported and propagated in the world. Now, in examining the written records by which it is conveyed to the world, we find that its great author has disclaimed the aid of the civil magistrate, the power of the sword, the use of all penal laws and sanctions, either in establishing, defending, or promoting its interests in the world-and in this respect it stands conspicuously distinguished from all worldly kingdoms. Having its seat in the understanding, the will, and the affections, the only engine or instrument which it can possibly admit of, is that of moral suasion, the conviction of truth, which is so essentially different in its nature from force, that the two principles are perfectly incompatible. Where conviction exists, power is excluded; there is in this case no room for its operation; on the other hand, the application of power or foree implies the absence of conviction. Its aid can only be needed where conviction, as a principle of action, is not to be found; but it is this power which properly belongs to the civil magistrate. He does not depend on the influence of persuasion, which is the only principle that Christianity admits of. It is no doubt well when the magistrate can show the reasonableness of his requisitions, but the sword is his proper and legitimate weapon. Whatever be the state of the mind, he comes clothed with authority to enforce immediate compliance with his demands. Such is the case with that religious establishment for which the writers above-mentioned contend; whether I admit the truth of Christianity or not, the law of the land compels me to contribute to the maintenance of the clergy, or the magistrate has the power of forcing me—and this is the inevitable VOL. 1.

2 B

consequence of a connexion between the church and the state. Now for the application of these remarks. - In the New Testament we find certain doctrines addressed to the understanding and the conscience of every one who hears or reads the contents of that book. These doctrines are of the most important kind, deeply interesting to every human being, calculated to produce the most beneficial effects on the individual who embraces them ; and thus their general dissemination is evidently adapted to regenerate the world. But we perceive that this religion is entirely spiritual, that its blessed effects are to be produced by the truths which it contains obtaining access to the understanding and consciences of men. This, however, can only be done by persuasion—by an address to the understanding and heart: no other kind of influence is admissible here. The moment recourse is had, in any shape, to coercion—to the authority of human laws-to the power of the magistrate, a totally opposite principle is called in, and such as Christianity altogether renounces—a power is employed in its service which is wholly incompatible with the genuine influence of a spiritual economy. The application of force to this religion is like the application of the finger or touch to the sensitive plant: it instantly shrinks, however cautious the touch ; and the finger must be removed before this delicate plant can again expand and present to the eye of the beholder its native form and beauty. · Such, then, is the general character of Christianity as a religion spiritual in its nature, addressed to the understanding and the conscience; and such the manifest incongruity of applying civil or secular authority to its support. Turn now to the declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will find how expressly he has excluded the application of force as a means of defence, or for advancing its interests in the world. When interrogated by Pilate respecting his claim of royalty, his answer was, “My kingdom is not of this world—if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews : but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Here we find it distinctly stated, that because his kingdom is not of this world, or, in other words, because it consists in the influence of CHRIST'S KINGDOM DISCLAIMS ALL PENAL LAWS. 371

certain principles on the understandings and hearts of men, his servants were not to avail themselves of the use of the sword -external force was not to be employed in supporting it. Mark now the radical distinction that exists between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdoms of this world. No earthly kingdom can exist without the power of the sword; but Christ has for ever disclaimed the use of that weapon in supporting or maintaining his empire in the world. And if we consult the regulations of this economy of grace-for such is the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour—we shall find them in perfect accordance with the description which he has given us of its character. The real subjects of his kingdom are made willing, in a day divine power --they hear, believe, and obey his gospel, through divine teaching. Every act of obedience must be voluntary. The laws of the kingdom so far regulate the motive, as well as the action, that “ whatever is not of faith is sin.” Those who enjoy the benefits of public worship, and gospel ordinances, are enjoined to contribute to their support; but what they give is a voluntary offering, Gal. vi. 6. In all national establishments of religion, however, the matter is put upon a totally different footing. The support of the clergy is not voluntary there; it is matter of constraint and compulsion. The law of the land, in virtue of the union of church and state, secures it, and the application of this power is often necessary before that support can be obtained. But, whether the contribution be granted cheerfully or not, the power of demanding the payment exists; and the fact should never be overlooked, that it is the very same power which at one period can demand a part of my property, to support the religion of the state, which at another could imprison my person for attending a conventicle, and which in Spain or Portugal could even now drag me before the tribunal of the Inquisition, to atone for the errors of my faith by the forfeiture of my liberty, property, and life. The power is essentially the same, though there are various forms and degrees in which it is exercised.

We are thus, by prosecuting the argument from first principles, arrived at the true and legitimate ground on which all consistent dissenters must take their stand. In the application of penal laws to the kingdom of Christ, for the advancement of its interest in the world, we are presented with the very essence of “ the Man of sin”-the “ Mystery of iniquity"-the quintessence of which is to be found in every establishment of Christianity by human. laws, amidst all the modifications by which they may be distinguished. The church of England censures the church of Rome for having carried the introduction of human inventions into the worship of God to an unwarrantable length, and she consequently arrogates to herself the honour of being the reformed church, for having cut off what she, in her great wisdom, is pleased to call superfluities. The church of Scotland adopts the same language respecting the church of England. The nonconformist who understands his principles admits that a grade of difference may exist between them in the scale of corruption; but as they are all founded upon one common principle-the admission of human authority in a religion which totally disclaims ithe conscientiously protests against them all. Let no dignitary of the episcopal church, therefore, for one moment imagine that a conscientious dissenter envies him, when he contemplates that superior rank in society which is derived from a connexion with an opulent hierarchy, or when he hears of the ample emoluments with which it is endowed. No man deserves the name of a dissenter-at any rate, he does not understand the true grounds of dissent, the principles which should fairly entitle him to such an appellation—if he does not feel a full conviction that, though the highest dignities of the church and its most extensive revenues were laid at his feet, he could not, on any account, partake of either the one or the other. His views of the kingdom of Christ must be completely changed before he could take any part in the support of a system so derogatory to the honour of his Divine Master, by introducing a power into that kingdom which he expressly condemns.

« ZurückWeiter »