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SIR, If mankind be considered physically, their uniformity seems an impossibility. If they be considered morally as members of a christian church, they still retain a right to judge for themselves; none of their church-governors can deprive them of that right by arguments drawn from the religion they profess. It remains now to enquire whether the civil magistrate has such a right. Ilas he thing to do with the consciences of his subjects while the peace of society is safe? A short detail of the origin, the nature, and the end of civil government will probably inclive you to answer no.
Let magistracy originate where it will, let it proceed from nature, from God immediately, from the people, or from power, it is immaterial: from none of these sources can there flow a right over the consciences of the subjects.
A natural magistracy is such a government as Adam had over his descendants during his natural life; and such a one any man would have, who, transported with his wife into a desolate island, should people that island with his own children and grand-children. Such a magistrate, so far from denying his children the right in question, would naturally become both prince and priest to them, and would himself propose, as soon as he found them capable, what he had discovered of the Deity to their examination. Happy in the enjoyment of religious science himself, he would long to impart, nor would his happiness be complete till his auditors by their own powers had examined, relished, and received the truth. Should there be a fool in his little empire who could not, or an obstinate subject who would not use the right of judging for himself, it would give him the most exquisite pain; and should any protest that after their best search they could not perceive the evidence of some things asserted by their princely parent, he would naturally conclude that youth, inexperience, want of capacity, were imperfections of nature in them, but no crimes; that for his own part he was not infallible; that possibly himself might be mistaken: in short he would have no notion of a crime, and therefore would inflict no penalty. Is it credible that when Enoch prophesied in the first religious assemblies, he enforced his prophecies with penal laws? Would the father of his people act so? To parents the argument appeals.
Magistracy is sometimes obtained by power, that is, by conquest. But, whatever claims such conquerors may make, nothing can be argued for their legality; the conquest itself, on which the claim is founded, being an act of injustice. Perhaps policy, more than superstition, made the Romans when they besieged a place not only invite the tu
telary god of the place to come out and leave the besieged, but also promised that the same, or a more solemn worship should be paid to him by the Romans : EUNDEM AUT AMPLIOREM APUD ROMANOS CULTUM. The policy of conquerors pleads for the right of the people, though their equity should be silent.
If magistracy be immediately derived from God, it is not supposeable that God should require a magistrate to exercise a power which himself does not exercise. How injurious to the supreme being to suppose him creating men with capacities and dispositions for judging for themselves, and instituting an order of men to suppress those qualifications ? How injurious to his goodness and equity to suppose him requiring a duty of the magistrate, which he has given him no ability to perform! God thus requires impossibilities! When the Jews were under a Theocracy, and there was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes : and when Moses was immediately appointed of God to govern them, not only in their morals was divorcement tolerated, but in their religion they were suffered to carry the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of their God Remphan, figures which they made to worship. The planet Saturn, whose persian and syriac name is said to be Chiun, and whose egyptian name is Remphan, is the supposed object of that idolatrous worship. It must be owned that Moses published very severe laws against idolatry ; but whether it was that he found severity not answer the end, or whatever was the cause, there was an omission of circumcision, and the passover, all the time of his government, (he practised the former indeed in his own family) and there are traces of extreme toleration all through the history of that people down to the death of Jesus Christ, when S::dducees are found in the high priesthood. That Moses allowed such a toleration is argued from Duet. xii. 8. If it be asked, how can his laws be reconciled with a toleration? Probably, by confining the last to private judging, and the first to overt acts disturbing the peace of society. Let it however be observed, that a not being able to reconcile seeming contradictions in this case does not affect the argument. The omission of circumeision, the allowing of divorces, and the practising of idolatry during the forty years pilgrimage of the Jews are historical facts too well attested to be denied.
After all the reasonings about the immediate derivation of magistratical authority from God, it must be granted, that it is impossible the magistrate should be the minister of God in any thing disagreeable to his will. Now that it is his will the inagistrate should exercise authority over the consciences of his subjects, may be abundantly disproved from the light of nature, and from the holy scriptures. St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans about the third year of Nero's reign : is it credible that the subjection he insists on, Chap. xiii. is a subjection of conscience to Nero's creed? The primitive christians were not of the magis
trate's religion for the space of three hundred years; yet all that time they thought the magistrate the minister of God for good. All that time, either the magistrate did not claim, or the church did not allow his claim of the right in question.
If the power of the magistrate be derived from the people, it is impossible he should have a just claim over their consciences: for though the people, coming out of a state of nature into a state of society, give up many private rights in order to obtain other and greater rights; yet this is a right which cannot be supposed to be given up; for two reasons. First, the right itself in its nature is inalienable. No man can any more divest himself of private judging than of thinking. Make what contracts he will, a little attention will convince him that no man ever gave up this right, nor ever
It is con-natural, deprive him of this and you deprive him of his existence. But secondly, suppose he could resign the right of private judgment to the magistrate, he would not do it but to obtain some greater advantage in its stead. But what advantage can compensate for the loss of liberty of conscience ? If any should say
peace of society is obtained by it--whose peace? Not the magistrates; for malcontents are a trouble to him; not his that loses his liberty. But the proper answer is, that where the peace of society hath been once disturbed through an abuse of toleration, it has been a thousand times disturbed by the opposite spirit of intolerance. Let magistracy originate then where it will, in nature, in conquest,