Imágenes de páginas

liberal generation: a universal equality and benevolence, which is even now developing itself.

It is too true that our Christianity is but a step. We do not understand and practise Christianity; and therefore we deem lightly of it. We have not a practical understanding and experience of it. Therefore we tread it under foot; and would make it a step and a ladder; a stage to plant our higher and newer structure upon, “ whose top to heaven,” which we are essaying to build for ourselves, and to our own glory.

The step which we really want to take is a step backwards : that we should try by practice what Christianity is, and always has been, in its best experience. Then we might look forward again, and hope to make a fresh step in advance,-not to a new revelation, but to a better understanding and realization of Christianity such as it stands revealed.

The last claim of liberty is set up - no manis, answerable for his creed. To man, they will say ;-but it is to God also; for the same circumstances and impressions, which warrant all beliefs and opinions, and arrogate their exemption from human tribunals, must also be a justification before. God; for they are not of choice or intention ;--and the rights of reason must, in the full exercise of her power, extinguish human responsibility and probation, and annihilate them. We ought not even to teach a creed to our own child ; an encroachment upon his freedom. We may choose all other branches of education for our son; we may choose his companions; we may dispose him to a particular

this were

business or profession ; we may give him an impression and advice in behaviour, in friendships, in business, in principles, in politics,—but we must not bias or influence him in his religious belief: this were tyranny. This is between himself and his God. He is as good to judge as we are: as his parents, or as the government. The government may superintend education ; it may establish rules for the public peace; may promote that trade which is most for the welfare of the country; may punish crimes against the prosperity and happiness of the community; may restrain men in their pecuniary follies,- but not a preference or encouragement is to be given upon the subject of religious doctrine or form, by any government, lay or clerical, -though religion has always, in all countries, been found the best engine of government, and the great support of the state; and though religious opinions have ever proved themselves to be essentially connected and correspondent with political persuasions; and though certain denominations have constantly been found uniting themselves in movements of disaffection, and resistance to government.

They who endeavour to separate belief and conduct in religion and politics, in things divine from things human, endeavour to separate the concave from the convex of the circle.

If men are not responsible for their opinions in things heavenly, neither are they in things human and earthly. If men are not answerable for their opinions, neither are they for their conduct :-for, conduct is founded upon will; and will upon opinion and

belief. And accordingly such a tendency of philosophy must ultimately lead to impunity of crime. And so it has been. The tendency of modern political philosophy is rapidly towards impunity; and it must ultimately lead to a denial of punishment and all punishable criminality, except that the system must work destruction to society before it can arrive at such a height. Nevertheless in political offences this principle stands confessed. The circumstances and temptations of traitors come nearer home to us, and are more easily reckoned, among a nation of political partisans ; therefore we already pronounce them not greatly responsible. The system is extending itself to private crimes ; as our understanding of human nature becomes deeper, and our philosophy more perfect.* The thief thinks he has the same right as the traitor to pursue his inclinations; and claims the same benefit. Philosophy tells him he is right,-that it is all education and circumstance. If the judge had been born and bred in the cellar or the garret, he would have been the prisoner in the dock. The prisoner might have been the judge. It is oppression therefore to punish for circumstances which are beyond a man's control. I was born and bred a thief; and nature made me idle, and revengeful, and lustful, and gave me appetite, but did not give me industry ; so I stole to satisfy it; she gave me ambition but no estate; so I ought to take my neighbour's :—this is my

* The first use of knowledge was to excuse and palliate sin :“the woman that thou gavest me:"_" the serpent beguiled me.” So now, impunity is the order of the day. The verdict is, guilty of murder, and parricide, and regicide, under extenuating circumstances.

opinion, and I have a right to my opinion; and therefore I have a right to act upon it.*

To deny this were a restraint upon liberty and freewill. Liberty is for all. Liberty is for the people : for all the people. Liberty is for the philosopher, the sophist, the freethinker, the debauchee, the spendthrift, the demagogue, the bankrupt in fortune and character, the thief, the coiner of money, and of religions, and constitutions :-Power and liberty is for all : the people is king,t-sin and the devil reigns among us, and possesses us.

How ever came the fair name of freedom so blasted and defamed: her fair features so 'deformed : her chastity corrupted ? Liberty is noble, is heroic, is a vestal, is spiritual. When men have mastered their appetites and desires, they are free-born ; when they choose self-denial for our Lord's sake, then they are higher in rank than all distinctions; when they are at ease under the yoke of religious duty-which is stricter than the strictest of all human' laws,—and happy and blessed under the cruel strokes of misfortune,—which are



* According to our law a jury can only find "guilty," or not guilty;" not“ ignorant of the law,” not ignorant.” So according to the old constitution of England, a jury could not find, tempted,” or “not tempted."

Still our law is so humane, that though it does not give a principal importance to these circumstances of ignorance or temptation, yet, in the amount of sentence, the judge was never wholly regardless of them.

+ It is shown that this is essentially an infidel principle, by the source from whence it springs. Volney advances the doctrine, that the powers, the ranks, and the riches that be, are ordered of the people. Ruins, 79.

more sudden and capricious and frequent than the sentences of any tyrants,—then they are insensible to the weight of any human government, and are free of it :they are free and happy and unoppressed and joyful under the greatest tyranny.

One before me has said, and has shortly expressed what I have written, “I suspect that an insolent pride in British liberty in some measure inspires British licence of thought, and extravagance of opinion :-if so, vice and infidelity are as much our national distempers, as the scurvy or the spleen. Purely to prove themselves freemen some turn infidels. Heaven preserve thee, my friend, from the freedom, and wisdom, and happiness, now in vogue. He is most free who is bound by the laws; he is most wise who owns himself weak; he is most happy who abridges his pleasures; and he is most magnanimous, 0 ye bold, intrepid, heaven-defying Britons ! who fears his God.”*

Democratic freedom from restraint is vulgar, is rude :-religion makes even the clown a gentleman, in mind, and in manners also. Democracy pulls down the high to a low equality :-religion raises every one to a higher level. Free-thinkers in religion shrink and tremble beneath the opinion and frown of their fellowmen :-religious obedience and strength makes even the feeble heroes; the unlettered wise; the timid courage

* Young's Lett. 6, p. 116, ed. 1798. " An Asiatic cannot be made to understand our term 'freeman.' They usually understand by it a holy man,-one who has subdued his passions, and freed himself from the domination of vice.”- Quar. Rev., No. 126, p. 385; Davis's China.


« AnteriorContinuar »