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Christ reversed by a popular vote, or royal edict? Or can a decree of heaven be repealed by act of parliament ?
But it is pleaded that the intention is not to supersede divine authority, but to make religion more venerable and efficacious by legislative sanction; in other words, to make God more venerable by sovereign dignity, heaven more desirable by wealth and titles, and hell more fearful by fines and dungeons. This is aug
menting the light of day, by kindling tapers, and the stability of the earth, by building buttresses. Could we even overlook this absurdity, still the plea would be inadmissible. The imposition of creeds and practices (whatever be said of their being only explanations, having scriptural authority, &c.) is an invasion of his supremacy, who alone was commissioned of God to dictate our faith and worship, and who has done so for all the world, and for ever.
This may seem to some too abstract a reason for dissent; but it is, I am convinced, the real strength of our vindication. It is the scriptural foundation of our claims to religious liberty, as the fact, before alleged, that power to frame and impose a religion is not, and cannot be, delegated to legislators, is their natural or political foundation. We abjure incorporated religions as inconsistent with natural right and Christian duty. All men have a native equality, which, however,
they may relinquish in some things on entering society, they retain in matters of religion. This is violated whenever any difference is made between them on a merely religious account. All Christians are bound to submit to Christ in matters of revelation, and they violate this duty by submitting to any dictation of faith or practice. These are the basis of religious liberty-these are the pillars of Nonconformity-it rests firmly on natural right and Christian duty.
We have been arguing on the most favourable supposition, that the religion established is pure Christianity; but another was mentioned, that it is in some way or other corrupt; and this is by far the most probable. We must believe it to happen, unless we can give those who incorporate Christianity with the State, credit both for the perfect rectitude of their hearts, and the absolute infallibility of their understandings. Unless they combine these two qualifications, either of which none but Christ ever had, they are unfit to give us a human transcript of a divine book, a human establishment of a divine religion. It must partake of their own imperfection. Granting the Church of England to be the best establishment in the world, this objection would make us Dissenters. We prefer a perfect religion in the New Testament, to a corrupt one in the Articles and Prayer-book. Each must judge for himself
of this contrariety. It is scarcely possible, considering the number of the propositions expressed or implied, and practices appointed, in the established formulary, but that every thinking man should find some inconsistency with the New Testament. According to our opinions it is most glaring for instance, the word of God says that there is one God, the Father; the law of the land ordains that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons equal in power and glory, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: the one describes God as spiritual and unchanging; the other enacts that he was incarnate, born, circumcised, crucified, buried and exalted. Mercy in Scripture is free and unpurchased; in the Prayerbook, bought by vicarious satisfaction. In the one, God is the impartial, benevolent and universal Father; in the other, he limits salvation by arbitrary decrees: in the one, man, though feeble, is the child of God; in the other, he is condemned for birth-sin, and totally depraved. Divine authority proffers salvation for sincere obedience, and political authority enacts damnation for disbelief of the Athanasian Creed. Did the two systems come to us with equal authority, there cannot be a moment's doubt of our choice; but when we view the one as a divine gift, and the other as human imposition, it were indeed madness to purchase with our consciences the
exchange of bondage for liberty, of darkness for light, and of a noisome dungeon for the pure and free air of heaven.
I have not patience to rake together the pettyfogging absurdities, contradictions and superstitions about crosses, and rings, and kneeling, and bowing, and altars, and Easter, and such like things, which in rich abundance disfigure the practices of the Church, and to one educated a Dissenter make it a matter of some toil and study to drill himself so as to execute correctly the manœuvres and evolutions of divine worship. If men think they can please God by getting up such exhibitions, let them try; but not impose them on others for Christianity.
It is lamentable to observe, how little of religious liberty there has ever been in the world. Egypt, the first of nations, led the way in making religion the tool of government, and affixing criminality to Nonconformity. The Israelites were prevented by terror, from sacrificing to Jehovah according to the custom of their progenitors. In Babylon, the lions' den awaited praying to God, when the king commanded not to pray; and the fiery furnace, refusing to worship an image, when he commanded its adoration. In free and polished and enlightened Greece, the wisest and purest of sages, the Apostle of nature, the Unitarian of reason, Socrates, was judicially condemned and
executed for impiety to the national gods. In Rome, one of the earliest laws was, "Let no one have particular gods of his own, or bring new ones into his house, or receive strange ones unless allowed by edict." Proselyting by force is a part of the religion of Mahomet: and the apostate Christian Church, like her apocalyptic emblem, has been "drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs," while her regal slaves have proffered the horrid beverage to her lips, in long succession, from the lords of ancient Rome to the restored princes of the passing hour. The very notion of establishment includes that of a difference between some who are patronized, and others who are only tolerated; which subjects the latter to a degradation of caste, only to be escaped by the fortunate couvert, or the unprincipled apostate. True to the commonly-adopted creed, this decree of political election and reprobation has no respect of good works, but draws a line which neither merit in the excluded, nor worthlessness in the favoured, can efface. It not only deprives of deserved honours and rewards many who deserve well of their country, but applies their property to the support of the very system which denies the appropriate remuneration of their services: an ingenious refinement, like compelling a prisoner to purchase his fetters: or like the law of a certain country, where the victims of its insti