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as if whatever there was wrong in the conduct of the affair was exclusively their fault, would be palpably unjust. “Are ye not partial in yourselves, “ and are become judges of evil thoughts.” Jam. ü. 4. “ But the wisdom from above is without
partiality." Jam. iii. 18. The general principle of inducing, by coercive measures, conformity in doctrine and worship to the decisions of either councils, convocations, synods, or parliaments, was almost universally admitted and acted upon to a later period, than that of this Synod ; and, though not long afterwards it was questioned, and in some instances relinquished, yet it retained a very general prevalency for at least half a century after; nor is it without its advocates, even in the reformed churches at this present day. Had the opponents of the Synod possessed the same authority, they would have acted in like manner; and so would the rulers of the other countries in Europe. The exclusive charge therefore, against the measures under consideration, must be laid in those things which were peculiar in their proceedings.
As authority and compulsion can never produce conviction, or any regulation of the mind and judgment; the word sincerely, in this state-paper, is very improperly used. It could not indeed reasonably be expected, that even external conformity to so extensive a doctrinal standard could be generally or durably attained : but to suppose that any thing beyond this would be the result, except what argument and explanation, and appeals to the scriptures in the articles of the Synod itself, could effect, was evidently most irrational ; yet it was the notion of the times, and does not still appear absurd to all men, even in protestant countries.
Had the rulers of Belgium adopted and ratified the decisions of the Synod, as approving and recommending them to all the persons concerned; and giving countenance in some measure to those who voluntarily avowed the purpose of adhering to them, and leaving others entirely at liberty to decline these terms, whether as authorized teachers of congregations or of schools, but no further molesting them, or interfering with their pursuits or instructions; their conduct might have been advocated : especially if, as was said before, some fair portion of their former incomes had been reserved to those who had relinquished their situations, rather than promise to conform, but who otherwise behaved as peaceful members of the community. But by absolute authority to demand of all entire conformity, whether voluntary or involuntary; and to follow
this demand by the secular arm, and by heavy punishments, was altogether unjustifiable. Yet, except the strictness of the rule itself, what country almost was there in Europe at that time, or which almost of either the rulers or teachers of the reformed churches, that did not in great measure attempt to do the same. So that, while authority in many instances repeatedly shifted sides, which ever part was uppermost, its religious decisions were enforced by similar measures.
* The reformers dissented from almost every principle of the church of Rome, but this, the right of persccution; and, though Luther and some thought it rather too much to burn heretics, all agreed that they should be restrained
That is, I presume, . So exact and extensive a standard of doctrine.'J.S.
* and punished, and in short, that it was better to burn than to tolerate them. The church of England has burnt protestants for heresy, and papists for treason. The Church of Scotland, and the London ministers in the interregnum declared their 'utter detestation and abhorrence of the evil of toleration, as patronizing and promoting all other errors, heresies, and blasphemies whatever, under the abused name of liberty of conscience.'!
The main point in this quotation is indisputable ; but in respect of Luther especially, the statement is erroneous. It would probably be difficult to produce an instance, in which this great man even so much as sanctioned the punishment of the wild enthusiasts and deceivers of his day, except where the peace of society rendered the interposition of the magistrates indispensable.— * At the same time, he (Luther) took occasion to ‘ reprobate the cruel sufferings inflicted on the
poor wretches by the persecutions of the ecclesiastical rulers; insisting with the utmost precision ‘on that grand distinction of which this reformer
never lost sight—that errors in 'articles of faith 'were not to be suppressed by fire and sword, but * confuted by the word of God; and that recourse was never to be had to capital penalties, except in cases of actual sedition and tumult.' 2
‘His worthy friend Lineus, probably in a state • of irritation, had asked him, Whether he con-'
ceived a magistrate to be justified in putting to · death teachers of false religion i a question, then « little understood, and not generally agreed upon
" Williams on Religious Toleration : Eclectic Review. ? Milner's Church History, vol. iv. p. 1098. or v. 498.
* till long afterwards. I am backward, replied Lu
ther, to pass a sentence of death, let the demerit 'be ever so apparent : for I am alarmed when I ‘ reflect on the conduct of the papists, who have
so, often abused the statutes of capital punishments against heresy, to the effusion of innocent blood. Among the protestants, in process of ? time I foresee a great probability of a similar abuse, if they should now arm the magistrate ' with the same powers, and there should be left
on record a single instance of a person having 'suffered legally for the propagation of false doctrine. On this ground, I am decidedly against capital punishment in such cases ; and think it quite sufficient that mischievous teachers of ' religion be removed from their situations.'!
But, whatever were the opinions or practice of those times in this respect, or whatever the sentiments of any in our times may be, it seems to me incontrovertible, that every church, or associated company of Christians, whether as a national establishment, or in any other form, has a right (for the use of which they are responsible to God alone,) to appoint the terms, on which such as voluntarily desire it shall be admitted to communion with them, or to teach as pastors, and as tutors in their schools and academies ; to refuse admission to such as do not agree to these terms; and to exclude those who afterwards act contrary to them. And, if they have funds, which are , properly their own, they have a right to employ these funds to the exclusive support of such as voluntarily concur with them. Volenti non fit injuria : and it is absurd to deem those compelled,
Milner's Church History, Vol. v. p. 500.
or their liberty infringed, who of their own voluntary will, choose to conform, whether under an establishment or elsewhere. The Eclectic Review on 'Gisborne on the Colossians' says, “Was it ' possible for the author of these discourses to put down a sentiment so just, and so weighty as this, without the perception of its censure bearing against the rites and ceremonies of his own • church ? Is there nothing of will-worship in that communion † What are sponsors, and the sign
of the cross in baptism, the compulsion to kneel •
at the Lord's supper, but new commands and prohibitions added to those which are established in the Bible ?!
My concern at present is only with the word compulsion. Can it be conceived, that they who voluntarily come to the Lord's supper in the church of England consider kneeling as compulsion ? And who is at present compelled to receive the Lord's supper in that church? Some, indeed, are tempted, too strongly tempted; but none are compelled.--Again, would it not excite at least as much surprise and perplexity in a dissenting con gregation, both to minister and communicants, if one or more of the company should kneel down to receive the bread and wine, and refuse to receive them in any other posture, as it would in a church, if one or more should sit down, or stand, or refuse to kneel, at the time of receiving ? Should the custom of receiving in a sitting posture be considered as compulsion, and as a command, or prohibition added to those which are established in the Bible ? By no means. Each company has its usage, whether established by law, or by the
! E. R. May 1817. p. 481.