Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

feigned, in which courts of justice have been misled by presumptions of guilt, is enough, in their minds, to found an acquittal upon, where positive proof is wanting. I do not mean that juries should indulge conjectures, should magnify suspicions into proofs, or even that they should weigh probabilities in gold scales ; but when the preponderation of evidence is so manifest as to persuade every private understanding of the prisoner's guilt; when it furnishes the degree of credibility upon which men decide and act in all other doubts, and which experience hath shown that they may decide and act upon with sufficient safety ; to reject such proof, from an insinuation of uncertainty that belongs to all human affairs, and from a general dread lest the charge of innocent blood should lie at their doors, is a conduct, which, however natural to a mind studious of its own quiet, is authorized by no considerations of rectitude or utility. It counteracts the care, and damps the activity, of government; it holds out public encouragement to villany, by confessing the impossibility of bringing villains to justice ; and that species of encouragement which, as hath been just now observed, the minds of such men are most apt to entertain and dwell upon.

There are two popular maxims, which seem to have a considerable influence in producing the injudicious acquittals of which we complain. One is :-" That circumstantial evidence falls short of positive proof.” This assertion, in the unqualified sense in which it is applied, is not true.

A concurrence of well-authenticated circumstances composes a stronger ground of assurance than positive testimony, unconfirmed by circumstances, usually affords. Circumstances cannot lie. The conclusion also which results from them, though deduced by only probable inference, is commonly more to be relied upon than the veracity of an unsupported solitary witness. The danger of being deceived is less, the actual instances of deception are fewer, in the one case than the other. What is called positive proof in criminal matters, as where a man swears to the person of the prisoner, and that he actually saw him commit the crime with which he is charged, may be founded in the mistake or perjury of a single witness. Such mistakes, and such

Chr

and is more

der ma law ish Nod

Ted

cies.

Scr Suc que

npose upon a court of justice a chain of circumtial evidence in support of a fabricated accusa

requires such a number of false witnesses as om meet together : a union also of skill and sedness which is still more rare ; and, after all, species of proof lies much more open to discusbetray itself by some unforeseen inconsistency,

that direct proof, which, being confined within knowledge of a single person, which, appealing or standing connected with, no external or colral circumstances, is incapable, by its very simity, of being confronted with opposite probaThe other maxim, which deserves a similar exnation is this :-“That it is better that ten Ity persons escape, than that one innocent man t it is more for the public advantage, the propoof civil life, which is essential to the value and on, I think, cannot be maintained.

enjoyment of every blessing it contains, and the erruption of which is followed by universal miead of punishment. The misfortune of an indi.

v and confusion, is protected chiefly by the Jual (for such may the sufferings, or even the ath, of an innocent person be called, when they

occasioned by no evil intention) cannot be placed competition with this object. any case, to be knowingly sacrificed: no princiust be pursued, when certain degrees of credibiquire that. But when certain rules of adjudication y must be accepted, in order to reach the crimes th which the public are infested; courts of jus. e should not be deterred from the application of -se rules, by every suspicion of danger, or by the re possibility of confounding the innocent with

guilty. They ought rather to reflect, that he ed as falling for his country ; whilst he suffers er the operation of those rules, by the general

likely, if false, to be contradicted,
If by saying it is better, be meant

The securi

I do not contend safety of the meanest subject ought,

no end of punishment, can ever Falls by a mistaken sentence, may be consi

and tendency of which the welfare of the munity is maintained and upholden.

uld suffer."

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

at the life or

e ,

fic

sir te

fo

[ocr errors]

CHAP. X.
Of religious establishments, and of toleration.

A RELIGOIUS establishment is no part of Christianity; it is only the means of inculcating it.” Amongst the Jews, the rights and offices, the order, family, and succession, of the priesthood, were marked out by the authority which declared the law itself. These, therefore, were parts of the Jewish religion, as well as the means of transmitting it. Not so with the new institution. It cannot be proved that any form of church-government was laid down in the Christian, as it had been in the Jewish Scriptures, with a view of fixing a constitution for succeeding ages; and which constitution, consequently, the disciples of Christianity would every where, and at all times, by the very law of their religion, be obliged to adopt. Certainly, no command for this purpose was delivered by Christ himself: and if it be shown that the apostles ordained bishops and presbyters amongst their first converts, it must be remembered that deacons also and deaconesses were appointed by them, with functions very dissimilar to any which obtain in the church at present. The truth seems to have been, that such offices were at first erected in the Christian church, as the good order, the instruction, and the exigencies, of the society at that time required, without any intention, at least without any declared design, of regulating the appointment, authority, or the distinction, of the Christian ministers under future circumstances. This reserve, if we may so call it, in the Christian Legislator, is sufficiently accounted for by two considerations :First, that no precise constitution could be framed, which would suit with the condition of Christianity in its primitive state, and with that which it was to assume when it should be advanced into a national religion : Secondly, that a particular designation of office or authority amongst the minis. ters of the new religion, might have so interfered with the arrangements of civil policy, as to have formed, in some countries, a considerable obsta

1

cle to the progress and reception of the religion itself.

The authority therefore of a church establishment is founded in its utility : and whenever, upon this principle, we deliberate concerning the form, propriety, or comparative excellency, of different establishments, the single view under which we ought to consider any of them is, that of “ a scheme of instruction;" the single end we ought to propose by them is, " the preservation and communication of religious knowledge.” Every other idea, and every other end, that have been mixed with this, as the making of the church an engine, or even an ally, of the state; converting it into the means of strengthening or diffusing influence; or regarding it as a support of regal in opposition to popular forms of government; have served only to debase the institution, and to introduce into it numerons corruptions and abuses.

The notion of a religious establishment comprehends three things ;-a clergy, or an order of men secluded from other professions to attend upon the offices of religion; a legal provision for the maintenance of the clergy; and the confining of that provision to the teachers of a particular sect of Christianity. If any one of these three things be wanting; if there be no clergy, as amongst the Quakers ; or if the clergy have no other provision than what they derive from the voluntary contribution of their hearers; or if the provision which the laws assign to the support of religion be ex. tended to various sects and denominations of Christians; there exists no national religion or established church, according to the sense which these terms are usually made to convey. He, therefore, who would defend ecclesiastical establishments, must show the separate utility of these three essential parts of their constitution :

1. The question first in order upon the subject, as well as the most fundamental in its importance : is, whether the knowledge and profession of Christi. anity can be maintained in a country without a class of men set apart by public authority to the study and teaching of religion, and to the conducting of public worship, and for these purposes secluded

[ocr errors][merged small]

from other employments. I add this last circumstance, because in it consists, as I take it, the substance of the controversy. Now it must be remembered, that Christianity is an historical religion, founded in facts which are related to have passed, upon discourses which were holden, and letters which were written, in a remote age, and distant country of the world, as well as under a state of life and manners, and during the prevalency of opinions, customs, and institutions, very unlike any which are found amongst mankind at present. Moreover, this religion, having been first published in the country of Judea, and being built upon the more ancient religion of the Jews, is necessarily and intimately connected with the sacred writings, with the history and polity of that singular people: to which must be added, that the records of both revelations are preserved in languages which have long ceased to be spoken in any part the world. Books which come down to us from luas so remote, and under so many causes of unable ble obscurity, cannot, it is evident, be under. any

without study and preparation. The lanthe ni must be learned. The various writings perimeheso, volumes contain, must be carefully upon it with one another, and with themselves. is at ajains of contemporary authors, or of autemptat nected with the age, the country, or the religion

f our Scriptures, must be perused and pensive, in order to interpret doubtful forms of allow. and to explain allusions which refer to obusages

that no longer exist. Above all, "inodes of expression, the habits of reasoning 15

or

not

argumentation, which were then in use, and to which the discourses even of inspired teachers were necessarily adapted. must be sufficiently known, and can only be known at all by a due acquaintance with ancient literature. And, lastly, to establish the genuineness and integrity of the canonical Scriptures themselves, a series of testimony, recognising the notoriety and reception of these books, must be deduced from times near to those of their first publication, down the succession of ages through which they have been transmitted to The qualifications necessary, for such re.

is

« AnteriorContinuar »