« AnteriorContinuar »
authority of the laws, for any reason, which, in the judgment of the legislature, renders such a measure necessary to the common welfare. Moreover, as the precepts of religion' may regulatę all the offices of life, or may be so construed as to extend to all, the exemption of religion from the control of human laws might afford a plea, which would exclude civil government from every authority over the conduct of its subjects. Religious liberty is like civil liberty, not an immunity from restrained, but the being restrained by no law, but what in a greater degree conduces to the public welfare.
Still it is right “ to obey God rather than “ man.” Nothing that we have said encroaches upon the trụth of this sacred and undisputed maxim : the right of the magistrate to ordain, and the obligation of the subject to obey, in matters of religion, may be very different; and will be so as often as they flow from opposite apprehensions of the divine will. In affairs that are properly of a civil nature ; in “ the things " that are Cæsar's,” this difference seldom happens. The law authorizes the act which it enjoins; revelation ‘being either silent upon the subject, or referring to the laws of the country, or requiring only that men act by some fixed
rule, rule, and that this rule be established by competent authority. But when human laws interpose their direction in matters of religion, by dictating, for example, the object or the mode of divine worship; by prohibiting the profession of some articles of faith, and by exacting that of others, they are liable to clash with what private persons believe to be already settled by precepts of revelation, or to contradict what God himself, they think, hath declared to be true. In this case, on whichever side the miftake lies, or whatever plea the state may allege to justify its edict, the subject can have none to excuse his compliance. The same confideration also points out the distinction, as to the authority of the state, between temporals and spirituals. The magistrate is not to be obeyed in temporals more than in spirituals, where a repugnancy is perceived between his commands, and any credited manifestations of the divine will ; but such repugnancies are much less likely to arise in one case than the other.
When we grant that it is lawful for the magistrate to interfere in religion as often as his interference appears to him to conduce, in its general tendency, to the public happiness; it may be argued from this concession, that, since
salvation is the highest interest of mankind, and since consequently to advance that is to promote the public happiness in the best way, and in the greatest degree, in which it can be promoted, and it follows, that it is not only the right, but the duty of every magistrate, invested with supreme power, to enforce upon his subjects the reception of that religion, which he deems most acceptable to God; and to enforce it by such methods as may appear most effectual for the end proposed. A popish king, for example, who should believe that falvation is not attainable out of the precincts of the Romish church, would derive a right from our principles (not to say that he would be bound by them) to employ the power with which the constitution entrusted him, and which power, in absolute monarchies, commands the lives and fortunes of cvery subject of the empire, in reducing his people within that communion. We confess that this consequence is inferred from the principles we have laid down concerning the foun-. dation of civil authority, not without the resemblance of a regular deduction : we confess also that it is a conclusion which it behoves us to dispose of: because if it really follow, from our theory of government, the theory itself ought to be given up. Now it will be remembered, that the terms of our proposition are these: “ That it is lawful for the magistrate to inter“ fere in the affairs of religion, whenever his in“ terference appears to hiin to conduce, by its ge" neral tendency, to the public happiness.” The clause of “ general tendency,” when this rule comes to be applied, will be found a very significant part of the direction. It obliges the magistrate to reflect, not only whether the religion which he wishes to propagate amongst his subje&s, be that which will best secure their eternal welfare; not only, whether the methods he employs be likely to effectuate the establishment of that religion ; but also upon this further question, whether the kind of interference, which he is about to exercise, if it were adopted as a common maxim amongst states and princes, or received as a general rule for the conduct of government in matters of religion, would, upon the whole, and in the mass of instances, in which his example might be imitated, conduce to the furtherance of human falvation. If the magistrate, for example, should think, that, although the application of his power, might in the infance concerning which he deliberates, advance the true religion, and together with it the hap
piness piness of his people, yet that the same 'engine, in other hands, who might assume the right to use it with the like pretensions of reason and authority that he himself alleges, would more frequently shut out truth, and obftrut the means of salvation; he would be bound by this opinion, still admitting public utility to be the supreme rule of his conduct, to refrain from expedients, which, whatever particular effects he may expect from them, are in their general operation dangerous or hurtful. If there be any difficulty in the subject it arises from that, which is the cause of every difficulty in morals, the competition of particular and general consequences or what is the same thing, the submission of one general rule to another rule which is still more general. .
Bearing then in mind that it is the general tendency of the measure, or in other words, the effects which would arise from the measure being generally adopted, that fixes upon it the character of rectitude or injustice; we proceed to enquire what is the degree and the fort of intera ference of secular laws in matters of religion, which are likely to be beneficial to the public happiness. There are two maxims which will in a great measure regulate our conclusions upon