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in spirit they may sometimes be, I would for a moment compare the evils resulting from these aberrations of voluntary societies, with those produced by the interference of political authority in religious matters. From the former, any one may escape; but for the latter there is no remedy, except the melancholy one of expatriation, unless toleration be granted; and toleration, from its nature, can be but of partial efficacy. The invasions of religious liberty, to which we have already attended, are by Ecclesiastics. Those by the civil power proceed on a different principle, and require a separate consideration. In the notice of this Lecture, the mention of both "Nonconformity" and Religious Liberty," implies a distinction, and intimates that the advocate for the one is not necessarily the friend of the other. Such we have already seen is the fact. When Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians (properly so called), have been Nonconformists, it has been from accident, and not from principle; by the loss of power, and not by the love of liberty while Quakers and Congregationalists cannot become an Establishment. The real principles of Nonconformity, however, are indisputably those of Religious Liberty, and would produce dissent, not only from the Church of England, but from any form of Christianity incorporated with the State.
We dissent because human legislators exceed
their province when they pretend to fix the religion of the country. Society cannot exist without government. It is for the good of the whole that we should have laws, and that their administration and execution should not be left to individual zeal, but be the peculiar duty of persons appointed to that office. This requires the surrender of much natural right, of how much, human wisdom must decide: it may fairly include even life itself, which when the good of the community requires, should be offered a willing and a patriotic sacrifice: but the rights of conscience are, from their very nature, inalienable. Man never did give them; he never can give them. The right of believing where he sees evidence of truth, and of worshipping where he finds characteristics of divinity, as it cannot injure society, cannot belong to society. It is inherent in man as a rational creature, and he cannot divest himself of it, till he can re-create himself, and become another being, and his own God. What, then, does a legislator mean, when he says, You shall believe this doctrine; you shall worship that God; you are born to this religion; we decree that you shall be a Deist or a Christian, a Mahometan or a Pagan, a Catholic or a Protestant, and will punish your disobedience. And who gave you this right? God? Produce the commission, and work the confirming miracle. Man? When and where? None could
do it for themselves, much less for others. But you have the power-true; so had Herod, (who was devoured of worms,) when he slew James; so had Nero, (who was assassinated,) when he martyred Paul; so had Pilate, (who died in miserable exile,) when he sentenced Christ; and so had others who died in splendour, but who wait in their graves the righteous judgment of God. You have the power-to do what? To issue the decree? And so you have to decree that robbery is religion, and persecution for the glory of God: so you have to decree that the sun shall shine by night, and the moon by day, and they will as soon obey your bidding as the mind and heart of man. But you can inflict the penalties: yes, and make martyrs of the firm, and hypocrites of the fearful-nothing more. No human authority has either the right or power to make any system the religion of any individual. We reverence human laws and governors up to this point; but with our consciences, our worship, and our God, they have no business. We cannot belong to the Church of England, because, however mildly exercised, she recognizes this claim of man to tell with authority his fellow-man what he shall believe, and whom and how he shall adore. Her Articles and Liturgy have been rightly described, by one of her own prelates, as "a long act of parliament;" a decree of the senate deciding what we are to think of God, how we are to feel
and speak in his presence, and by what to obtain his blessing! Did they appear to us absolutely true, and supremely excellent, we have never delegated, nor can we ever acknowledge, the authority to decide for us that they are so, and to compel us to their belief and use.
If the right of selecting the religion of a country belong to one government, it must also belong to all. It is not more attached to the Legislature of Britain than to the King of Spain, the Congress of America, the Sultan of Turkey, the Emperor of China, or the Dey of Algiers. If it be right in rulers to command on this subject, it must also be right in subjects to obey; and consequently, right to be a Protestant in one land, a Catholic in another, a member of the Greek Church in a third, a Mahometan in a fourth, an Idolater in a fifth; in short, to be of all religions, or, which is the same thing, to have no religion at all.
Legislators, by establishing a national religion, not only go out of their own province, but invade that of Christ. Their interference is at best unnecessary. What is their object? To tell us what to believe? He has done that by his discourses. To direct our practice? He has done that by his precepts. To regulate our worship? He taught his disciples how to pray, and it does not become them in preference to learn of others. Either he was unqualified for his work, or faithless
in his duty, or we must find in the New Testament all that is necessary, all that is obligatory, all that is useful in religion, all that will make us good on earth and blessed in heaven. What is to be added to this by legislative enactment?
When a government defines and incorporates Christianity, it must do one of two things; either take it exactly as it is in the New Testament, or injure it by addition, diminution, or alteration. Let us adopt, for argument's sake, the first supposition, and take for granted that all established doctrines are true, and that their relative importance is accurately marked; that every prescribed ceremony is scriptural, and the whole rightly arranged; we should still dissent for this reason; the authority on which this depends is transferred, a temporal ruler is made a spiritual lawgiver, an uninspired, fallible, presumptuous man, is invested with what belongs not to him, and becomes, instead of Christ, "the head of all things to the church." This it is our duty, as Christians, not to sanction. He decide what is truth; he command how God shall be worshipped; he ordain rites and ceremonies!-Why this is exactly the authority which God gave to Christ; it is an invasion and assumption of that authority. When did he cede that dominion, or God reclaim it to bestow on civil magistrates ? Can governments or nations give to one, what God has given to another? Is the gift of God to