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sistent with the arguments they had advanced, and Liberty of Conscience, on an extensive and liberal scale, was a leading feature of each constitution.
“ This having been the state of things-the Act of Toleration, the consequence of the RevoluTION of 1688, was a great acquisition. the first legal sanction given to the claims of ConSCIENCE-it was the first charter of religious freedom-it was a valuable, important, and permanent security to the dissenting subject. It opened to him the temple of peace, and afforded the long-wished for asylum! To adopt the language of high authority (Lord Mansfield,) “The TOLERATION ACT rendered that which was illegal before, now legal—the dissenting way of worship is permitted and allowed by that act—it is not only exempted from punishment, but rendered innocent and lawfulit is ESTABLISHED—it is put under the protection, and is not merely the connivance of the law.” It hath been followed with an universal good effect and happy influence—it hath been the basis of THE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY enjoyed ever since that period; and with respect to the state of freedom and religious inquiry in these kingdoms, it was as it were a NEW CREATION! Before that period, darkness in a manner hung over the spacious field of knowledge and divine truth, and the path to it was guarded by a flaming sword. That Act said--LET THERE BE LIGHT, and LIGHT THERE WAS! The bounds of Free inquiry, were enlarged--the VOLUME in which are the words of eternal life, was laid open
to examination. And the state of knowledge and liberty has been ever since progressive and improving.”
It has been recently observed, with equal truth and beauty, that “ He who should interpose between the Creator and the creature, erects himself into an authority greater than that of the Almighty-he had, and could have no credentials from man-he had, and could have no credentials from God! Here it was that ALL MEN were and ought to be equally free. Conscience could no more be restrained than the wind- it was the wind of Heaven -the breath of purity! The God of Hosts and of Armies hath planted it in the breast of his beings, and the God of Hosts and of Armies only could touch or constrain it*.”
In a word, the immortal John Locke, writing to Limborch, on the Continent, has these memorable expressions
“I doubt not before this you have heard that TOLERATION is at last established here by law. Not indeed with that latitude that you and other Christians like you, unambitious and unprejudiced, and lovers of truth, might wish. But it is a great point to proceed so far. In these beginnings I hope are laid those foundations of LIBERTY and Peace, on which the Church of Christ will be finally established.”
And now let us contrast our own condition with the condition of our PIOUS and PERSECUTED ANCESTORS. This retrospective view will generate * Grattan's Speech in the House of Commons, May 3, 1819.
admiration and gratitude. Could our harassed Forefathers look down from heaven upon us their descendants, they would hail us with gratulations of joy! Such a contemplation of the advance of CHRISTIAN FREEDOM among the disciples of Christ, might augment the happiness of the blessed. Assimilated to the progress of yonder sun, it is hastening to the full blaze of perfect day!
Time was that OUR RELIGION could not be openly professed--and even our places of worship were erected in the obscure parts of the Metropolis, to avoid the notice of informers. Time was when our ministers were silenced-our temples closed—and our persons insulted, for the mere assertion of our religious principles. Time was, that not daring to appear in public, for the worship of their Maker, OUR ANCESTORS, with their families, quitted their beloved country, and emigrated across the pathless ocean to the wilderness of AMERICA, for the enjoyment of religious freedom. Blessed be God--these frightful eras are no more! Britons are become more enlightened than they were in former days. Legislators perceive that different creeds do not impair the obedience of the subject, nor produce, in civil matters, an alienation of the heart. It is an edifying sight to behold, in our day, sects and denominations so far melted down by the kindly influence of brotherly love, as to make up the wholesome mass of the community.
INTOLERANCE is become one of the most odious things in the world. The name of persecutor: im
plies something disgraceful to humanity. "It may be well asked, how is it that such a practice should have ever obtained amongst Christians ? Strange as it may seem, the glory of God has been pleaded as an apology for PERSECUTION, and it has even beer said to promote the happiness of mankind-add to this, the penal laws of the Jews have been urged in its behalf, and some tortured passages of the New Testament. The glory of God, however, can never be promoted by violence-nor can we, by destroying his creatures, increase the happiness of mankind. The penal laws of the Jews were peculiar to their theocracy, the Israelites being under the immediate protection of heaven. As to the passages of the New TESTAMENT—the principal one alleged in behalf of PERSECUTION, is, Luke xiv. 23. Compel them to come in. But this can mean no more than that the disciples were to employ friendly importunity, like that which was used to engage Christ to spend the evening at Emmaus, when, as the evangelist expresses it--they constrained him. How absurd is it to suppose, that a householder should send out servants with sword in hand, to force guests to an entertainment! Dr. Doddridge observes, that it is the glory of the sacred book, that it affords no better plea in so infamous a cause and that a strong argument against persecution, arises from the silence of the New TESTAMENT.
Religious LIBERTY seems to be pretty well understood amongst us.
This was not the case with THE FIRST REFORMERS, who, emerging from
, the darkness of popery, retained the unhappy prininciple--that “ error and heresy were to be extirpated by violence—and that the conduct of some pious princes amongst the Jews, in destroying idolaters, is to be a model for Christian magistrates.” Bishop Hall, in his Treatise on Christian Moderation, the tendency of which is to reprobate violence of every description, and especially in religious matters—has the inconsistency to exclaim, “ MASTER CALVIN did well approve himself to God's church, in bringing Servetus to the stake at Geneva!” Even the Puritans had not relinquished the principlemfor RICHARD BAXTER was for a toleration, limited to what he called "errors not quite intolerable," and would have such punished with fines and imprisonment! But Dr. OWEN saw the pernicious tendency of such a principle-in his admirable Treatise on TOLERATION, he remarks, “ they had need to examine their light, for their tenet leads down to the chambers of blood!” The only sound doctrine on this subject is, “ that none are to be subjected to any kind or degrees of civil penalties merely on account of theiR RELIGIOUS OFINIONS, or from any practices arising from them, if those practices be not detrimental to the peace of society, which THE MAGISTRATE, by his office, stands engaged to preserve.” But the folly and wickedness of persecution ought to deter men from the practice of it. It must be disclaimed by the true Protestant—and abhorred by every consistent professor of Christianity!
PERSECUTION is in every respect untenable. It