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between civil and ecclesiastical polity? Would there be no religion, in England now, had the king and parliament never interfered with any other than eivil objects, or had the whole ecclesiastical establishment never existed? Would the evidences of Christian truth be impaired, would its excellence and beneficent character be less apparent, or would its Divine efficiency as a means be diminished, by detaching religion wholly from matters of human legislation? Was there no true religion in Rome before the days of Constantine?
Toleration then, at the best, under any modification, must involve an infringement of human rights, and prove at last but a palliation of injustice. It assumes what never can be in truth conceded, that the permission to worship God is to be accepted by man as a favour from his fellow-creature: that religious profession must be held by human grant. Surely it is to the last degree presumptuous, to assign religion, in any of its forms and practices, to that class of things which man may of his favour dispense to man. which men may bestow as an expression of their condescension and favour, they may without injustice withhold; no one can claim it as a right; it must be received as a boon. But is the worship of the God of heaven of this description? With as much reason and with as much justice may our coming into life, our health, our salvation, our misery, be assumed by man as things at his control.
The purposes for which civil society is formed, are alone the objects of which civil rulers have cognizance. Their office is established in the community, only for the maintenance of political order and political good. The laws which form the rule of conduct to the government, can have relation only to the external behaviour of its members, and are necessarily confined to temporal objects. As the offences which they may punish are purely civil, so the order and obedience which they may enjoin, are exclusively civil. It is the state of the mind towards the community or any particular member of it, manifested in overt acts, that is the object of praise or of blame, of reward or of punishment, by the civil power with the state of the heart and the course of man's life toward God, it cannot interfere; these are beyond its jurisdiction. The authority of a State is correct in its exercise, when it is, employed to found and support institutions of a beneficial political character; but it is perverted and abused when it attempts to establish religious societies, which can never be formed on a proper basis except as they are voluntary, and maintained by the spontaneous exertions of the congregated individuals, without external patronage or control.
It is unquestionably the duty of civil rulers, to regard with
equal attention the whole political body, and to know the subjects of the State strictly as political persons. This duty may be discharged where no ecclesiastical establishment is. sanctioned and endowed; it can never be performed where a modification of religion is incorporated by the civil power. This latter is an unnatural state of things, equally subversive of the subject's freedom, and incompatible with the obligations of the ruler. The latter must necessarily appear as unjust ; the former as oppressed. The favoured sect receives a consequence which tends to the degradation of other sects. Her ministers and members assume an importance over other religious teachers and professors, who, though they do not belong to the Church, belong to the nation, are as useful in the community, as respectable in themselves, and ought not to be lowered in public estimation on account of their religious profession, which, if they be honest men, they can no more avoid than they can change the colour of their skin, or inhabit the clouds.
Toleration connected with test laws, assumes the power of punishing men politically, for conduct which is not political, and levies a severe penalty on a man's fidelity to God. In the eyes of government all its subjects should stand alike fair, and equally eligible to fill every official station to which their talents and capacity may be adapted. Nothing should disqualify subjects in the eyes of government, but political incompetency or disaffection. Religion cannot possibly be a disqualifying thing. A truly religious man must be what he is in his religious profession; whatever that may be, it ought not to incapacitate him as a member of civil society. Nor would it were society what it should be. All Dissenters in England are, however, in the eyes of its government, classed together as unworthy persons. They can fill no office of magistracy; they are excluded from all public functions; shut out from all the emoluments and honours of the State, and politically degraded. They are all included in a sweeping bill of exclusion, and their fidelity to conscience, their devotedness to God, are the only parts of their character on which such a censure and such a punishment are founded: for these alone create the difference which subsists between them and their fellow-subjects. Allowing to the executive authority the right of nominating to office, we contend that it has no right to assume religious distinction as the mark of ineligibility. We cannot better define persecution, than in the words of Dr. Furneaux: It is an injury inflicted on a 'person for his religious principles or profession only.' We must therefore regard the test laws as instruments of persecution,
and the numerous and respectable Protestant Dissenters of this kingdom as a class of much injured subjects.
A writer, whose profound work is destined to receive an attention appropriate to its rare merits, has justly remarked, that ⚫ Toleration is a legal and authoritative declaration, that the ex'clusive patent by which civil establishments of religion are founded and supported, is unreasonable: that the penal 'statutes, by which it is fenced, are unjust and cruel; and that no man's life, or property, or civil reputation and interests, ought to be suspended on the quality of his faith, or on the modes of his worship. While we plead for the reasonableness and propriety of abolishing ecclesiastical patents, we plead for no more than a perfect and unconfined ⚫ toleration (the unrestricted religious liberty) of all his Majesty's good subjects. Were all laws, fraught with the negative as well as the positive punishment of Protestant Dissenters, finally revoked, charters of exclusive civil privilege would, in the nature of the thing, become entirely void; society would flourish under the salutary influence of an equitable 'administration; and government, propitious to all, according 'to the measure of their civil desert, would no longer bestow public encouragement according to any other rule. Indeed, no civil administration can say as that Divine person in the gospel, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my ' own? Public encouragements and rewards are not the inde'pendent property of any administration, which it may dispense at pleasure. They are in the hands of magistrates as TRUSTEES for society. These are stewards, and ac'cording to the nature of the thing ought to be economists. Their commission implies an obligation to divide to every man his share of public rewards, whenever he shall make it his property, by deserving it of civil society. The rewards which society hath lodged in their hands, are not transferable to any, on any account which is foreign to the civil • interests of society. If the contrary was supposed, they would be guilty of purloining, of robbing society of its pro'perty, and of squandering away the stock with which they 6 are entrusted. As no member of society can be entitled to more than he deserves, were the trustees of society to confer more, on any private consideration whatever, they would become unfaithful in their trust; would hurt civil society; and would especially injure those, who, on account
* A Review of Ecclesiastical Establishments in Europe. By the Rev. William Graham. 1796.
of their equal or superior desert, have similar, or more 'extensive demands on society.
"It is clear, as the meridian light, that were Government to act consistently with its own approved principles in granting a limited toleration, by making it complete; were none laid under discouragement by penal laws, on any account that is foreign to the real interests of civil society; and were public rewards impartially conferred, according to the degree of civil merit, and without any regard to religious persuasions which affect not the civil interests of mankind; ( an inconceivable addition would be made to the happiness, prosperity, and peace of the British empire.' Graham's Review, &c. pp. 197-199.
The principles of religious freedom admit, as it appears to us, of no qualification on the ground of human policy. Still, much is due to the present Administration for the practical deference to the rights of conscience which they have repeatedly manifested. Dissenters are indebted to the general spirit of the age, and to the enlightened policy of their rulers, for not only the removal of many penal disabilities, but for a more general recognition of their claims as subjects and citizens. Still, it is a great mistake to imagine that religious liberty is under no restraint in England. Besides the civil disabilities under which Dissenters of all sorts are still sentenced to remain, the amended Toleration Act contains enactments essentially infringing on religious liberty.
Every master of a house in which more twenty persons, exclusive of the family, shall be assembled for the purpose of religious worship, may incur, as the statute now stands, a fine of Twenty Pounds: and a person preaching in such an assembly, may also be fined to the same amount. This penalty will be incurred in all cases of the preceding kind if the house or building be not registered. Can this be deemed just? Should religious worship under any circumstances be a penal transaction? In other cases where much more numerous bodies are assembled, there is no restriction of this kind. No fine can be levied on the master of a house, if, besides his family, he invite fifty of his friends or neighbours to an entertainment, a dinner, or a supper. No penalty is exacted of a person who should fill his house with men and women at a concert or a ball. The largest rooms at an inn or a tavern may be crowded with company, and no pecuniary fine attaches to the proprietor or the guests. Why should religious services be more obnoxious in the eye of the law than the proceedings to which we refer? Why should religion be the particular thing selected to attach criminality to a meeting? The New Toleration Act, 52 Geo. III. ch.
155. enacts,That from and after the passing of this Act 'no congregation or assembly for religious worship of Protestants shall be permitted or allowed, unless, &c." This language clearly implies that the religious worship of Protestants depends on the will of the Legislature. It imports not the absolute right of Protestants to worship as they please, but suspends their congregated worship on the inclination of others towards them. Throughout the Act there is not a single expression acknowledging the exclusive religious rights of men. The original Toleration Act, 1 Will. and Mary, cap. 18. concedes' some case to scrupulous consciences;' and the New Act assumes expediency as the ground of its provisions. An Act of Parliament permitting and allowing the members of a family intercourse with each other, how strange soever it would appear, would be quite as consistent with inalienable right, as an Act permitting and allowing Protestants, or any other denomination of religionists, to assemble for religious worship.
If men injure others in their person, or reputation, or property, let the offenders be punished. "If it be a matter of "wrong or of lewdness," let it be brought before the judge; but let not inoffensive, nay, we will add, praise-worthy conduct be visited with punishment. This however is provided by the Toleration Act as recently modified; and such a circumstance, independent of all other facts and arguments, is a satisfactory proof of the iniquity which an establishment of religion by the civil power involves. Religious worship in any place, at any time, by whatever description of religious persons it may be conducted, can never be the subject of prohibitory laws by a civil legislature founded on a pure basis. The demands of religion can never be satisfied but by an entire release from every disabling and penal statute. In this state alone she displays her spotless majesty. Loosened from the bonds of secular institutions, she walks at large, and appears in her true character, a visiter from heaven among the children of men; to guide their erring steps, to enlighten their darkened minds, to purify their affections, to make them great by conferring on them a holy immortality, and to conduct them in her train to that celestial abode whence she descended.
The Rev. Thomas Cotton, M.A. of whom some account is inserted p. 255, was a witness of the scenes of persecution against the Protestants in France which followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantz. At Saumure, the congregation all in tears, the singing of the last psalm, the pronouncing of the blessing, and afterwards all the people passing before their ministers to receive their benedictions, at their last religious asembly;-At Charenton, the vast assemblage which formed the