REFLECTIONS ON ECCLESIASTICAL ESTABLISHMENTS.
But what right had Theodosius to make his Chap. religion that of the state ? Ought not every person, . xvn' _ in this matter, to be left to his own conscience ? Is it not a violation of the right of private judgment, to impose religious sentiments on the subjects of any government? How therefore can Theodosius, or others who have acted like him, be cleared from the charge of exercising tyrannical authority ?"
There was a time, when the fallacy of such notions would have been seen through with less difficulty : at present, the tide of popular opinion runs strong in their favour, and it becomes more necessary to examine their foundation. Moreover, the characters of many of the brightest and best Christians are so interwoven in this question, and the determination of it so much affects the honour of the Divine operations in the propagation of Christianity, that the reader, I trust, will be disposed to receive these reflections with candour and attention, however defective they may appear to him in some respects, or inadequate to the solution of several difficulties, which may be conceived to belong to this intricate subject.
I shall take for granted, that the Gospel is of divine authority, and ought to be received, on pain of condemnation, by every one, who has the opportunity of hearing it fairly proposed; and that a man ought no more to plead the pretence of conscience for rejecting its fundamentals, than for the commission of murder, theft, or any other criminal action. The reason is, because its light and evidences do so unquestionably carry the impression of divine goodness and divine authority,- that wickedness of Vol. u. P
Chap, heart, and not weakness of capacity, must be the siljrc^ . cause of the rejection of it by any man. I send those, who are inclined to dispute these positions, to the many proofs given of them by the best evan
felical writers in all ages, and above all to the criptures themselves, which every where declare, that " he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him*." If the reader bear these things in memory, he will find some of the most specious objections to ecclesiastical establishments overturned.
For, few persons will, I think, dispute the principle of general expediency and utility, as directly applicable to this important subject. Has not every state a right to ordain what is conducive to its preservation and the good of society ? And, for these purposes, is any thing to be compared with right religion and the fear of God ? What shall hinder, then, but that the state has the same right to make laws concerning religion, as concerning property, commerce, and agriculture? Is it not a great mistake to separate religious considerations from civil ? And while you attempt to do so in theory, will it not be found impossible in practice ? And should not laws be always made for practice, and not for mere speculation? The more the governors feel the importance of religion, (I speak not now for the next life, but for this,) the more concerned will they be to establish it. They must do so, if they regard even the temporal good of their subjects.
Then, briefly, these three considerations, namely, ist, the clear evidences by which Christianity is supported ; 2dly, the importance of its doctrines; and, 3dly, general expediency, appear to me to supply materials for an argument in favour of ecclesiastical establishments, which admits of no satisfactory answer. Thus: the Gospel is of divine authority ; * John iii. the end.
its fundamentals are revealed with so much clearness, Chap. and are of so much consequence to the interests of . XVIT' mankind, that they cannot be rejected without great wickedness of heart; even the wrath of God is declared to abide on him who believeth not the Son. Under these circumstances, will any man, who thinks it the duty of the supreme power to consult the good of the community, believe it a matter of indifference, whether suitable forms of prayer and thanksgiving, or in short, whether a convenient and well-digested Liturgy*, founded on the genuine principles of revealed religion, be composed for public use, and also whether proper persons and places be provided by the state, for the worship of God and for the instruction of the people ?
But besides these general reasons for a national establishment of true religion, there are other con- , siderations relative to the same subject, which merit our attention.
It is certain, that from the earliest ages and under patriarchal government, when holy men were favoured with divine revelations, governors taught the true religion, and did not permit their subjects to propagate atheism, idolatry, or false religion t. Abraham, Isaact, and Jacob || governed their families in this manner ; so did Noah before them§. As families grew into nations, the same practical ideas prevailed. At length, when it pleased God to select one nation for his service, the same sentiments respecting church-establishment continued, whether kings, or judges, or priests, were in possession of the
• In such undertakings, the general aim, undoubtedly, ought to be, not to gratify this or that party in unreasonable demands; but to do chat, which most tends to the preservation of peace and unity in the church; the procuring of reverence, and exciting of piety and devotion in the public worship of God; and the taking away of occasion from them that seek occasion of cavil or quarrel against the liturgy of the church. See the preface to the Book of Common Prayer.
f Gen. xviii. 19. $ Gen. xxviii. 1. || Gen. xxxv. «.
§ Gen. ix. toward the end.
Chap- executive power, I am aware that the Jewish gou_ ' . vernment was a Theocracy, and that it has therefore many things peculiar to itself; but so much perhaps may safely be inferred from its constitution, that it is lawful for the sovereign authority to make regulations for the support of true religion. It is hardly to be conceived that God would interweave into his theocracy, what in its own nature is unlawful.
Nor is this argument, which depends upon the general administration of ecclesiastical affairs in the Jewish theocracy, much weakened by any conclusions that may be drawn from particular instances of Divine interference and direction which occur in the history of the same theocracy. When the Jews are ordered to extirpate the Canaanites, and when Agag is hewed in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal, these are occasional instances of Divine vengeance exercised against iniquity : we may readily admit, that such instances form no lawful precedents for governments to follow, while we maintain, that a mode of ecclesiastical administration ordained by God, and continued for a long series of years, cannot possibly be an improper example for religious magistrates to imitate. However, in contending for the lawfulness of such imitation, I would by no means be understood to include all the particular actions or measures of Jewish governors in ecclesiastical matters; the reasons of these actions or measures may have long since ceased to exist. In this argument I have respect only, in general, to the principal feature of the Jewish constitution, namely, the unquestionable authority, which the magistrate possessed in ecclesiastical regulations : a very remarkable fact! which I recommend to the serious consideration of those Dissenters from our churchestablishment, who do not hesitate to pronounce the interference of the civil magistrate in the religious institutions of a nation to be always unlawful.
If these reasons and examples be well weighed, it will hardly be doubted, but that when the Gospel was preached among the Jews, if their Sanhedrim had received it, they would have had a right to make it the established religion of the nation. They might have said, and they probably would have said, "This religion is true and divine; the people cannot reject it without rejecting, in positive wickedness of heart, the authority of God himself: the doctrines of this religion are of the utmost importance : it is therefore expedient, that it should be supported by the state, and we are countenanced in this conclusion by the example of our ancestors."
And in regard to such modern nations, as profess to believe the Scripture-history of the Jews and of Jesus Christ, it may fairly be asked, What are the peculiar circumstances, that should render it improper for the governing powers to feel the influence of the same reasons and examples? Cm any good argument be invented to prove, that, in the momentous affair of religion, they ought not to be actuated by the grand principle of general expediency, when, in matters of less consequence, they evidently show themselves to be so actuated, and no one disputes the propriety of their conduct?
If an inferior state should fear the displeasure of a superior one in its neighbourhood, which might have sufficient strength to destroy it, will any man deny to the supreme power of this lesser state a right to prescribe to its own subjects a mode of conr duct that should not give umbrage to the greater ? If no man will deny this, let the concession be applied to religion: Irreligion and idolatry provoke the Almighty ; a nation wholly given up to them has reason to fear his vengeance, especially if they persist in sinful practices against light and the fairest means of instruction. Then let the magistrate act consistently : let him only adhere to the acknowledged principle, that.the government ought
Chap- to promote the good of the state, and the reader XV1L - sees the Consequence. Indeed I do not perceive how the consequence can be avoided, unless it be clearly shown, that there is something in the history of mankind, which should lead us to suspect the soundness of this reasoning. But the practice of holy men of old in different ages, and the history of the earliest nations, and of the Jews, have been proved to be all in favour of religious establishments.
But perhaps we may be called upon in this place to explain a little more distinctly the meaning and extent of that Consequence, which we have affirmed to be unavoidable: we may be asked, whether we mean to conclude, that civil magistrates possess an authority, not only by which they may prescribe and support a national establishment of religion, but also by which they may Compel the subject to receive the religion which they have instituted, and restrain him from practising his own religion, if he happen to think differently from the powers that be. And then a further question will be asked, whether this be not to encourage persecution, and to exercise a tyranny over the conscience ?
Without pretending to satisfy completely either these inquiries, or others of a similar nature that may easily be imagined, I endeavour to separate what is certain and important in this matter from what is doubtful and of less moment. I say without the least hesitation, let no man be compelled to become a Christian; in strict truth, he cannot . Every man not only ought to have, but must have, the right of private judgment. And as it is the absolute duty of Christian states, even for social and political purposes, to endeavour as much as possible to convert all their subjects to the true religion, so it is contrary to duty, that men should be forced to profess what they do not believe, because hyprocrisy will be the certain, and an augmented enmity the probable, consequence. It is one thing, however, to Chap. leave a man at liberty, whether he will be a believer t X^1L or not, another to allow him to propagate infidelity and idolatry. So also it is one thing to violate conscience by absolutely insisting on and extorting confessions of faith, another to preserve the sacred institutions of the country from being derided and profaned. The government has a right to restrain men, and oblige them to keep their irreligion to themselves, the same right as to oblige- vessels to perform quarantine, when there is reason to suspect the plague. In this manner acted the great, the pious, Theodosius; he compelled no man ; he only restrained. Pagan emperors before him, and Popish princes since, not only restrained, but also compelled. The former is not persecution, the latter is; and I join cordially with the present age in detesting it .
Strange as this conclusion may appear to some, who have been habituated to another mode of thinking, I seem to be supported, not only by the general arguments which have been already advanced, but by the positive word of God. Job declares, that idolatry was an iniquity to be punished by the Judge*. He evidently speaks what was confessed by all to be just: nor is it to be conceived, that the Holy Ghost would have suffered him to impose an iniquitous sentiment on the reader in that manner. I repeat it; the general arguments drawn from expediency, and the example of the Jews, appear to me to justify the civil magistrate, not only in instituting and supporting ecclesiastical establishments, but also in restraining and punishing the propagators of irreligious opinions. For can any thing be more plain, than that if public utility require a provision to be made for the worship of God, and the instruction of the people in true religion, the same utility will require, that every thing should be * Job xxxi. 28.
Chap, suppressed which has a tendency to destroy the efficacy of that provision, or diminish its influence ? And on these principles acted the good kings, judges, and priests of Israel, in abundance of instances.
Thus, by steps, which to such as have a real reverence for revealed religion, will probably appear neither tedious nor obscure, are we arrived at several conclusions of the utmost consequence in practice.
1. The supreme power has no right to violate liberty of conscience, by extorting confessions of faith.
2. It has a right—To establish the true religion, by positive institutions.
3. To ensure public respect to these institutions, by penal laws.
4. To restrain and punish the propagators of irreligious opinions.
But it must not be dissembled, that the 4th conclusion contains a proposition in some measure undefined, and involved in difficulties, which require further discussion. Who shall determine, to what extent the authority of the supreme magistrate reaches, in the suppression of irreligious opinions ? Where shall we find a common arbiter between him and the people, when they differ in their notions ? Or, is the magistrate permitted to restrain and punish the propagators of every sentiment that happens to clash with the tenets, which he has introduced into his establishment ?
It is much to be wished, that persons whose principles and habits incline them to give, in some respects, different answers to these inquiries, would, in the first place, seriously endeavour to find out, how far they actually think alike, and by so doing come nearer to a mutual agreement, rather than embitter their tempers by acrimonious disputes concerning inferior matters, widen the breach of Christian friendship, and keep entirely out of sight the more important considerations, in which their Chap. judgments might have concurred. Sincere Chris- . XVIL tians of every denomination who have duly weighed the arguments contained in this chapter, would then, I think, be disposed to admit that the propagators of infidelity, of idolatry, of atheism, and in short of gross irreligion, ought to be effectually restrained and punished by the civil magistrate ; and if this be admitted, if men of every station heartily join in this conclusion, the existing laws against irreligion will be vigorously executed, and a great practical point will be gained.
Moreover, it would soon be agreed, that in matters of subordinate consequence, which are evidently not essential to Christianity, the civil magistrate ought not to interfere at all, by restraining or punishing such persons as differ from the establishment, but that he should suffer them to enjoy a complete toleration, and to serve God in their own way.
The essentials of Christianity ought in my judgment, to be effectually protected by the laws, against the profane and libellous attacks of infidels of every denomination. I do not think it sufficient to say " The truth will take care of itself." The unlearned and the unwary ought not to be exposed to the mischievous effects of such publications. Nevertheless, I am sensible that on this head it seems impossible to define the limits of the authority of the magistrate so precisely, as to exclude all doubt and ambiguity. For, besides that questions will sometimes arise even respecting the essentials themselves, the expediency of the punishment will frequently depend on peculiar circumstances.
There is a great difference, for example, between a serious inquirer after truth, and one, who makes a mock of religion; between the man, who proposes his doubts with modesty, and wishes to have them removed, and the profane sceptic or infidel, who under the pretence of candour and fair
Chap- investigation, secretly rejoices in disseminating ob. XVIL , jections, and in undermining the faith of unguarded unbelievers. Add to this; it will not always, be prudent to punish even those, who openly and scandalously attack the established religion of the country. In many cases, it will be much better to pass by the impudent offender with contempt, than, by inflicting the penalty he has justly incurred, to excite the curiosity of the public, to make the libellous publication more known, and to render its unworthy author of more consequence.
It is not to be expected, that all should think alike. Let Christian fundamentals therefore be preserved as effectually as possible by an ecclesiastical establishment, and by laws which defend and support it; let there be a toleration for those who profess themselves to hold the essentials of Christianity, but may not think themselves authorized in conscience to conform, in all points, to the established church : This is not only allowable, but perfectly just and equitable. To deny it, is tyranny. Thus acted Theodosius with respect to the Novatians: and this seems the utmost limit of human wisdom in this difficult subject.
The advantages of a Christian establishment are doubtless great: the prevention of general profaneness, the decent observation of the Sabbath, and the opportunity of diffusing the Gospel in dark and barbarous regions ; all these things were the evident good consequences of the establishment during the fourth century. But let us suppose, that Constantine and his successors had contented themselves with encouraging the Gospel, and had permitted idolatry and irreligion to continue unchecked. Considering the depravity of human nature, one sees not how, without a miracle, Christianity would have pervaded the Roman empire at all; half, or the major part, of the Roman world might have remained in irreligion and idolatry to this day. Similar advantages of an establishment may be observed in the history of our own country.
On the other hand, it has been frequently said, that the great corruption of the G ospel began from the days of Constantine. This, I have shown already, was not the case. The corruption had begun a considerable time before, nor does it appear that the decline of vital religion was greater than might have been expected from the general course of things; and if no establishment at all had taken place, it would probably have been more rapid. There would certainly have been this remarkable difference, namely, that half of the Roman world, without the aid of the magistrate, would have remained destitute of even the form of Christianity. Corruption of doctrine and discipline ought not to be laid at the door of ecclesiastical establishments, but to be imputed to the degeneracy of men themselves. It would not be hard to point out many persons in our own country, who voluntarily separate from the establishment, and who are nearly void of church-discipline, and even more deeply and more systematically corrupt in doctrine than the most heterodox and unevangelical theologians, who inconsistently remain members of the church of England. The best ecclesisatical establishments cannot prevent the decay of vital godliness; but, under the providence of God. they strengthen the hands of sincere, humble-minded believers, and check the influence both of open and of disguised enemies of Christianity.
The Liturgy alone of the Church of England has long proved, and continues to prove, a strong bulwark against all the efforts of heretical innovators, and corrupters of doctrine.
If these arguments and observations were kept in view, dissenters, who have been accustomed to speak disrespectfully of our ecclesiastical establishment, would probably find more to commend, and less to find fault with.
Chap. I shall not be surprised, however, if some persons t xvj1' , still feel themselves dissatisfied with the result of these reflections. The subject is arduous and intricate, and has difficulties peculiarly its own. The variety of religious opinions among men is almost endless; and it is no easy matter to unite into one political mass, a multitude of particles totally heterogeneous with respect to each other. A notion also has been maintained with mych industry and zeal, that religion ought to be " fettered by no political institutions. " We have been perpetually asked, Why should the majority, why should governors, why should any one dictate to us in religion ? Why have not we a right to choose for ourselves, what religion we wish to propagate? However confident others may be of the rectitude of their system, may not we be as confident of the rectitude of ours ? Who shall decide between us ?
This is specious, and many seem hence inclined entirely to separate religious from political considerations. " Appoint," say they, " a good government, perfectly abstracted from all religion. Let the civil magistrate show himself totally impartial in regard to all modes of faith : let him protect all persons so long as they obey the rules of civil society. Let the rights of conscience be kept sacred: in religion man is accountable to God alone." Those, who hold out this language, cut the gordian knot at once, and would extricate us from all difficulties, provided they could prove, that it is really practicable to erect a permanent government perfectly detached from all religious sanctions. But this would indeed be
" A MIGHTY MAZE WITHOUT A PLAN !" Suppose a
number should choose to be atheists: If this reasoning be good, atheism, as well as any other opinion, ought to be tolerated. Then, mark the consequences : the use of oaths, which among all civilized nations has ever been the legitimate method of EndIng All Strife, is at once superseded. He must have a considerable degree of hardihood in politics, who would attempt to support a government con- Chap. tradictory, in its whole plan, to the universal voice - xy- ll~ of ancient wisdom. Certain it is, that in Scripture all just government is founded on the fear of God, and all legislators, Pagan as well as Jewish and Christian, have, with a greater or less degree of perfection, proceeded on this foundation. The belief of a future state, of some supreme Judge and Arbiter of mankind, has ever been instilled into subjects by all lawgivers. It were easy to multiply proofs of this. Suffice it to give the testimony of one, who may be called himself a host, on account of his great knowledge of mankind, the extent and variety of his learning, and the solidity of his judgment. Plutarch, advers. Colotem. p. 1125, after having observed, that no man could ever say, that he saw a city without some sort of temple, or some mark of divine
seems to me more capable of being built without a foundation, than a polity is capable of receiving a system, or having received one, of preserving it, if sentiments of religion be entirely removed."
Will any adversary of religious establishments say, that no considerable part of a community will ever go the length of throwing aside all religion ; and that, in these enlightened times, men will at least retain the belief of a God and of a future state?— I wish the contrary supposition could be proved an extravagant conjecture.—What are the present doctrines of a neighbouring nation, who have not only rejected the sacred institutions of the Bible, as the Sabbath, and the division of time into periods of seven days, &c. but who have also lately discovered that death is an eternal sleep, and of course, that there is no reason to apprehend a future state of retribution * ?—When such strides as these are 00 :e
* Written about the time of the French revolution >. the murder of the king, 1792-3.
Chap- taken, Practical atheism can be at no great XV11- . distance. And as to a merely theoretical belief of one Self-existent Cause, or of several self-existent causes, where the Deity is excluded from being the moral governor of the world, such a speculative notion is hardly worth contending for.
It is too true, that the effect of a general belief of religion on men's practice is faint and languid, and by no means proportioned to the importance of the subject; but perhaps we can scarce decide how much better in its moral influence, some principle is than none at all. Men are naturally prepense to wickedness; the common sense of mankind has in some degree always confessed this; and here, by a singular concurrence of circumstances, the language of poets has more truth in it than that of philosophers. The former speak the feeling of nature, and confess that men unrestrained will run into all sorts of wickedness; the latter, by sophistry, have perverted every thing in morals. How is it possible to construct a government, that shall preserve order and decorum for such depraved beings, without some religious establishment? The very attempt itself is to encourage atheism; and men, who find the regard of the Divine authority to be left out of the class of political duties, will naturally be led to the greatest and the highest degrees of profaneness. To propagate impiety is to propagate human misery. Shall men be restrained, by the civil sword, from circulating whatever may be hurtful to the health and property of their fellow-creatures; aud will you allow them, with no restraint of any kind, to propagate that which will poison the mind, and render human life an intolerable scene of evil ? Whether men like the expression of Alliance Between Church And State, or not, there is a natural connexion between government and religion, which, in practice, will appear, and have real effects, however plausible it may seem, in theory, to reprobate such connexion.
On this occasion the laudable practice of some Chap. Dissenters from the established church is frequently . xv"' . appealed to, for the purpose of showing, that love of Christianity and of our country, and all other virtues both public and private, may abound and flourish without the support of any laws in favour of
particular opinions. It is easy to show that there
is not much in this argument—and for this end, we need neither dissect it very nicely, nor detract from the merits either of individuals or of whole sects. Let it be admitted, that, in many cases, the conduct of Dissenters has been useful and exemplary. Yet who will deny, that probably the existence, and certainly the energy, of sectaries themselves, frequently depend in some measure on their opposition to the establishment ? And happy it is for themselves, happy for the members of the established church, happy for the community at large, when an opposition of this sort shows itself in producing a virtuous emulation. We may then expect to see Christian examples of industry, learning, piety, and patriotism.
But, without an establishment provided by the state, the greater part will scarcely have any religion at all, wickedness will be practised on the-boldest scale ; and if the form of government have a large portion of liberty in its texture, the manners will be egregiously dissolute. Democracy indeed, pure and unqualified, is the system which will harmonize the most easily with a polity altogether abstracted from religion ; and this very consideration affords, perhaps, no inconsiderable argument against that species of government. But even if the government were, in other respects, the soundest and the wisest effort of human sagacity, it will probably prove only a curse to its citizens, unless some legal provision be made for religion. God himself, there is the highest reason to conclude, Will Set His Face Acainst It, and confound it. Nations, whose government has been seasoned with religious institutions, can scarce conceive to what lengths of villainy and flagitiousness, such an atheistic institution will lead its subjects; and all Europe will not be at a loss where to look for an instance of its effects.
Without entering minutely into the circumstances of Pagan nations, let us take it for granted, that there are certain fundamental articles of revealed religion, a few of immense importance, which the legislator ought carefully to select from a number of subordinate truths and circumstantials. These last he may safely leave to the consciences of men, by providing a toleration in which they may securely range. But the essentials of religion it is his duty to support, and not permit them to be derided and insulted by the profane attacks either of ignorant or of learned enemies of religion. To neglect them, would obviously be a far greater crime in him, than in those who have not had his advantages of information. Is it still said, Who shall decide what these fundamentals are ? If men would seriously weigh the doctrines of the Scriptures, with an humble spirit, and in the use of prayer, they would probably be surprised to find how very small would be their differences of opinion. And one thing, which I propose to show in the course of this history, is the agreement of persons of this discription in all ages ; for in regard to fundamentals, it is certainly much closer and more uniform than many believe. No man ought to plead conscience for the neglect of that duty on which his salvation must depend. It is certain that these essentials cannot be neglected or despised without a turpitude of heart, which the Scripture connects with the final ruin of the soul. The difficulty of providing a government equitably adapted to all consciences,
if pushed into the extreme, supposes that there is no certain criterion of divine truth, and that men may, without moral guilt, believe any thing or nothing. But as these positions are inadmissible with all but Sceptics, and persons altogether profane, the connexion between sentiment and practice is too important to justify the neglect of all religion in political establishments, for the sake of pleasing the worst part of the human species. If, after all, a government established on such principles bear hard on dissolute men, there seems no remedy; guilt must have its inconveniences. And there are no common principles on which a believer of revealed religion and an infidel can unite in the formation of a government.
The practical inferences are obvious. The subjects of a Christian government will consist of three classes. The friends of the establishment, who will, of course, support it; Dissenters, who, owning its religious fundamentals, differ in some subordinate sentiments; and those Dissenters, who are hostile to all religion, or, at least, are fond of a religion subversive of the great truths of Christianity. The members of the establishment, at the same time that they support its institutions with firmness, ought to exercise forbearance and charity toward the first class of Dissenters, and to think no worse of any man for differing in opinion from himself, where it is evident that he acts with uprightness. They owe charity also to the second class of Dissenters, but charity of a very different kind. The first class of Dissenters, convinced of the importance and utility of religious establishments, ought to support that, of whose friendly protection they daily feel the benefit in society, while they enjoy the privilege of toleration; and to view themselves as coalescing with the churchmen, who, like them, hold what is fundamentally Christian, rather than with those Dissenters who oppose Christianity itself. To persons
VOL. II. «
of this last character I can give no political advice, till they learn antecedently, to receive the religion of Jesus itself, because till then, I can apply no principles to their consciences, which they will admit.
The happy government, under which we live, has, for many years past, exhibited to the world a fine example of an ecclesiastical establishment, framed and modelled according to the principles inculcated in this Chapter. The great truths of religion are supported by laws ; and the same laws provide effectual restraints against propagators of false doctrine. Notwithstanding the vice, heresy, and profaneness, which prevail among us, we do not so much stand in need of new laws, as of zealous magistrates to enforce those which already exist.
It is sometimes said, that subscription to articles, and other tests of religious opinions, are injurious to the morals of men, by inducing them to act the part of hypocrites, for the sake of worldly advantage. Supposing this to happen in some instances, nevertheless the answer is, this inconvenience is to be hazarded, because unavoidable, if we aim at promoting the general good. It is expedient that there should be a public liturgy, and proper persons to read the same, and to teach the true doctrines of Christ; and it is very necessary that these persons should be known to approve the forms of worship according to which they officiate, and to believe the doctrines which they are bound to inculcate. If somepersons will, hypocritically, profess themselves believers of what in their hearts they think contrary to truth, the guilt of such persons will lie at their own door in this case exactly as in all others, where men act insincerely for the sake of gain or convenience. The true state of this question is, whether an ecclesiastical establishment wisely constructed, has not in its nature a tendency to propagate the influence of Christianity, that is, to make its doctrines known, and sincerely believed, and its precepts diligently practised among all ranks of people.; and not, whether a sacred institution of this kind is capable of being, now and then, abused and perverted, or of becoming a snare and temptation to an unfair mind.
I shall conclude this subject with briefly taking notice of an objection, which, on its first proposal, is apt to startle the best wishers to religion, and the warmest advocates of ecclesiastical establishments. Suppose the civil magistrate should happen to have formed an erroneous judgment concerning the true religion; will he not in that case, according to our own principle of general expediency, be justified in establishing a false one ? I scruple not to give a decisive negative to this question, so far as it concerns those, who have had an opportunity of understanding and receiving the revealed will of God. For, the situation of such countries as have never heard of Jesus Christ and his Gospel, I do not here consider. The evidences of the truth of Christianity are so full and so clear, that as we have repeatedly said, they cannot be rejected without great wickedness of heart. Nothing therefore can justify the civil magistrate in establishing a false religion. Shall we restrain and punish by positive laws the individual, who propagates atheism or infidelity, and at the same time shall we approve the conduct of the magistrate, who erects and supports a national establishment of false religion, and who, by his institutions, prolongs and extends the mischief, much more than any individual, unarmed with the authority of laws, could possibly do ? Such a magistrate may indeed plead his sincerity and scruples of conscience ; but we have the authority of the word of God for ascribing his unbelief to gross negligence, or wilful blindness. There is then no difficulty on this head: governors of states, if they support a false religion, have reason to expect 228 ECCLESIASTICAL ESTABLISHMENTS.
Chap- the heavy judgments of God. Let them consider * IU . the history of Jeroboam and of his successors in the kingdom of Israel. They all Sinned, And They
ALL MADE ISRAEL TO SIN, IN PROVOKING THE
LORD GOD OK ISRAEL TO ANGER WITH THEIR
Vanities, that is, with their establishment of false
religion*: Until The Lord Removed Iskael
Out Of His Sightf-
A real difficulty, however, respecting the ObediEnce of the subject may occur, whenever it pleases God, for the punishment of the sins of a nation, to permit a false religion to be established and supported by the ruling powers.
It may then be asked, whether a true believer of Christianity ought not to oppose the religious institutions of the country, in which he lives, and to propagate his own opinions ? or, whether he is to submit to the civil magistrate, "to bow down himself in the house of Rimmon," and to surrender that faith, upon which he depends for eternal salvation ?
The general solution of these questions must be derived from a due consideration of the meaning of that apostolical maxim, " We ought to obey God rather than men If therefore, through the corruption of human nature, the state will not establish true Christianity, but a false religion, I know no way to be pursued, but that of the Apostle's, namely, for believers to propagate and to practise divine truth, and to suffer patiently for the truth's sake, according to the will of God. For, on the one hand, I find nothing in Scripture to justify Christians in resisting their governors by force, or in compelling them to make new ordinances; and, on the other hand, to comply with Anti-Christian institutions, would be to " sin a great sin," as Jeroboam's subjects did§. The middle line of conduct is pointed
* I Kings, xvi. 13. f 1 Kings, .xvii. §3.
\ Acts, T. *9, § 3 Kings, xvii. SI.
out by our Saviour in that sentence, " When they Cknt. persecute you in this city, flee ye into another*." , J^j ,
Several valuable miscellaneous articles must now be attended to, before we dismiss the fourth century.