Imagens das páginas

practising, even on this consecrated spot, their barbarous rites.'

Pp. 12, 13.

He goes on to show how imperfectly the right of private judgment has been understood even by Protestants themselves; what abuses of this right have existed in the Church of England, and among the Protestant Dissenters from that church ; and then dilates upon the great evils, which have always arisen, and must continue to arise, from the attempts of one sect of christians to impose a creed upon any other. All the remarks on these subjects are rational, candid, and of great weight. The sermon is concluded with the affecting words of Baxter; While we wrangle here in the dark, we are dying and passing to the world, that will decide all our controversies ; and the safest passage thither is by peaceable holiness."

It may appear to some, that an attack upon Popery at this late period, is like the kick of the ass at the dead lion. We are not of the same opinion. Sufficient apology, if any were needed, for the choice of this subject on this occasion, may be found in the statutes of the foundation, on which this lecture was delivered; the errors of popery being prescribed as one of the subjects to be alternately treated. But to us no apology seerns requisite for bringing the corruptions and presumption of this church occasionally before the public view; and so also the corruptions and presumption of any other church. It is a part of history of which no intelligent christian ought ever to lose sight. Were it not an incontrovertible matter of history, few of us could bring ourselves to believe that any man, presuming to call himself a christian, could ever utter a sentiment so revolting to good sense and good feelings, as that, quoted in the eleventh page of this discourse from Bellarmine, a distinguished defender of the Romish Church. The Catholic faith,' says he, * teaches, that every virtue is good, and every vice evil. But if the Pope should err by enjoining vices, or by prohibiting virtues, the church would be bound to believe, that vices are good and virtues bad, unless it would sin against conscience. Yet if men have been found, who were capable of promulgating and defending such sentiments, we are compelled to infer, that no conceivable error is so palpable and offensive, but that it may be sincerely embraced by men, wbo may have strong claims to the reputation of wisdom and goodness. The bistory of the Church of Rome is a history of the grossest enormities practised under the name of religion ; and of the most unwarrantable usurpations and outrages of the rights of man, and of the most atrocious persecutions under the plea of conscience. This we say, without derogating in the smallest degree from the high respect and confidence, with which we regard many of the ministers and members of that church. God be praised, that such a man as Luther had the courage to throw open the doors, and begin the labour of cleansing this Augean stable. But, if such things have been, such things may be again. The history of the Church of Rome is not the only black and polluted chapter in the history of Christendom. Others as painful and disgusting have disgraced the records of churches calling themselves reformed. Men can never be trusted with the smallest power over the consciences of their fellow men. The history of the great reformers and of our puritanic forefathers, referred to in this discourse, men who were themselves exiles and fugitives from their own homes and their dear country, that they might escape the chains of spiritual oppression, and the fires of persecution, and enjoy liberty of conscience, shows, in a, mortifying and afflictive manner, how weak and frail our nature is. Vanity and intolerance are diseases to wbich the human conetitution seems peculiarly susceptible, and which most of us have the natural way.' Man, as soon as he finds himself possessed of power, becomes, where he is unre. strained, outrageous in its exercise ; and, like some noble domestic animals, whom we call inferior, he no sooner comes into the presence of his fellow creatures, especially if he finds them so fenced in that escape is difficult, than he is for showing them the strength of his horns.

The right of private judgment and liberty of conscience, notwithstanding all that has been written on the subject, and the advances, which have been made towards securing religious liberty, are still but partially understood and maintained. Many have learnt to think for themselves; yet few have proceeded so far as to have learnt, much the most difficult lesson of the two, that others are at liberty to think for themselves. It is not a rare case to find men, who display a singular originality in thinking, and independence in judging, for themselves, extremely bigotted, censorious, and intolerant towards those, who do not agree with them in opinion, who yet are separated only by the slightest shades of difference. It is not perhaps difficult to account for this inconsistency in human nature. Success in the pursuit of truth inspires confidence in our own powers. That strength of mind, which gives success to our inquiries, and of which men soon become conscious, produces very naturally a strong reliance on our own judgment, and a correspondent distrust of the judgment of others, when it differs from our own. Every difference from our views wounds our vanity, which in men of distinguished powers is commonly the most vulnerable part ; and offences of this nature are deeply felt, and are very liable to produce anger, contempt, resentment, and persecution towards those, who thus incur our displeasure by questioning the infallibility of our judgments. We shall never have become possessed of the true spirit of the gospel, until we love our neighbour as ourselves; and regard his views and sentiments with as much lenity and as much respect, as we desire that he should look on ours. This is indeed a rare and most precious attainment. It is the fruit of deep and unaffected humility, the most difficult of all the christian virtues.

We hold to the principles of religious liberty in their utmost extent and most unqualified character. By religious liberty we mean the right and opportunity of worshipping God according to our own views of duty and propriety, of investigating truth, and of publishing and maintaining our sentiments, without let, or bindrance, or prejudice from others. No man and no set of men have any right or shadow of right to call another to account for his opinions or worship; to judge for him on these subjects ; or to prescribe sentiments or modes to him. The political power of the community extends of right no farther, than to protect every man in the peaceable enjoyment of his opinions and exercise of his religious worship; to prevent practices, which are manifest violations of public decency aud good morals; and to the exaction of pecuniary contributions from every member of the community, assessed on the common and equal principles of taxation for other purposes, for the support of public institutions for religious instruction and worship, as they levy a tax for the maintenance of any other branch of public education. The cha. racter of these public institutions, that is, the particular appropriation, which shall be made of these contributions, must obviously be determined by the sovereign power in the state; and this power should be exercised on the broadest principles of toleration, and respect for the rights and principles of every portion of the community. It is in this light, as a political provision for public education, and the preservation and improvement of public morals, as a ground of security to property and public tranquillity, and on these grounds only, that the political power of the state can ever be properly or righteously exercised on the subject of religion. The state neither possesses, nor can it possess, any authority to enjoin even the best established doctrines on the reception of any of its subjects; or to compel the attendance or service of any, at any place or time, for the performance of religious worship. In all these respects men should be perfectly free. God designed that they should be free; and religion is likely to have influence and purity according as this free

dom is more or less secured and enjoyed. The darkest pages in the history of mankind are those, which are stained with attempts on the part of the state, or of predominant sects, to control the religion of other men. Every attempt to exercise such control, let it come under whatever form it may, should be disputed at the very threshold ; and the rights, which it would violate, should never be, in any measure or for a moment, surrendered or abated. No examination of the religious opinions of another, or of candidates for ordination, or for admission to our communion or fellowship, or any other occasion of this nature, with whatever softening pretences it may be proposed, should ever be acquiesced in; because the examination of another's religious opinions is a virtual assumption on your part of an autho. rity to control, or to call others to an account for those opinions. Liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment should be guarded like the pass of Thermopylæ, and in the spirit of those martyrs to political freedom, who fell there.

No one can think from these remarks that we are in any measure indifferent to the character of the religious opinions, which men hold. In the present number of the Disciple, we have given our views on this subject at large.* We regard the religious sentiments of any man on the principal subjects of religious belief as of high moment; as having in themselves a moral character; and so far as they affect our conduct and temper, as affecting our salvation. But innumerable and terrible have been, and must always continue to be, the evils, which arise from the attempts of any, who are invested with power, to violate the right of private judgment, to repress the freedom of religious inquiry, or to control the religious worship or opinions of others. Religion, properly so called, is a matter wholly between man and his Creator.' We should contend earnestly for the promotion of what we deem truth, and for the suppression of what we deem error; but good sense, and argument, and the authority of the scriptures must be our only weapons. We should never stop short of a perfectly unlimited toleration. Where this is maintained, christians will find themselves under the necessity of living at peace with each other. It is only where the right of private judgment and free inquiry is acknowledged and unrestricted, that the pursuit of truth will be prosecuted with success; and it is only where liberty of conscience is fully accorded to all, that men are likely to be sincere in their professions; and their religion, in whatever minor respects it may be imperfect or erroneous, to become the pure homage of the heart and life to God.

* Essay on the Value and Influence of Truth, p. 9.


The Society for propagating the Gospel among the Indians and others in North America held its anniversary meeting on the first day of November last. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Joseph Tuckerman of Chelsea, from John xvii. 20, 21. It has been published together with the Report of the Select Committee, from which we give the following abstract of the Society's operations during the year past. Seven missionaries have been employed, for limited periods, amongst our destitute countrymen, in distant settlements. Assistance has been given to the permanent support of religious instruction in two towns; and pecuniary grants made to one parish toward settling a minister, and to the inhabitants of the Isles of Shoals. We make two extracts from this part of the Report.

"The Rev. Mr. Nurse has continued his pastoral care of the church and society at Ellsworth, and his instruction of the children and youth. “It is now," he writes, “more than ten years since the Providence of God called me to this place. Previous to that time the people had enjoyed comparatively few religious privileges. No congregational church had been formed. In a little more than two years after my coming here, at the time of my ordination, a church was organized, consisting of fourteen members. By the blessing of Go i some small addition has been made to this little church almost every year. It is however still small. May God, in bis tender mercy, bless and enlarge it, and adorn it with the beauties of holiness. If God has not granted me my heart's desire in crowning my ministerial labours with extensive usefulness, he has made my labours in my school useful to an extent far beyond what I had anticipated. The school has been kept in active operation for more than ten years with very little interruption. The number of its members has ranged from twenty to a hundred. The average number would probably be between forty and fifty. The change which has taken place in the youth here, in a literary point of view, is great, and, in relation to moral sentiments and habits, I think it is considerable..... The instruction imparted in this school bas been extensively diffused. In it about half a hundred have become qualified to become teachers. These teacberg bave

« AnteriorContinuar »