« السابقةمتابعة »
with respect to man's fpiritual concerns, been pleased to leave him thus abfolutely, as it were, in his own hands. If he has not, all reafoning upon the matter is at an end; and before men fuffer themfelves to be governed by a fpecious dogma, which is calculated to impofe, they should examine, whether they have fairly measured their application of it by the standard set up for that purpose in the word of God. In other words, whether they have honestly made ufe of all means to inform their judgment, before they adopt it as their rule of conduct. If they have not, their fincerity, merely as fuch, will furnish no plea in their favour. They will be condemned, not because they are fincere, but because they have neglected those means of information, which would have directed their fincerity to its proper object. In confequence of which neglect, they may be in the condition of numberless affertors of the rights of conscience, that have appeared in all ages of the world; who, in the ftrenuous exertion of their zeal, thought they were doing GoD service, at the time they were engaged in the moft direct oppofition to his will; and facrificing to idols which their own corrupt nature had set up, under the differ ent shapes of pride, prejudice, and worldly interest.
The A&t upon which it is founded, should be feen in a civil, not in a religious point of view; for it con cerns men as members of a civil fociety, rather than in any other character. The paffing this Act was a seasonable exertion of political wisdom, for the purpose of securing the government of this country, at a very critical period, upon the broadeft foundation, And the Act itself may with more propriety be called an Act of Sufpenfion, than of Toleration; the purpose of it being to fecure Protestant Diffenters from the Church of England, on certain conditions, from the penalties to which they had been made fubject by former statutes. That this was the idea which the legislators had before them at the time, may be fairly concluded, from the word Tole, ation not being once
mentioned through the whole ftatute; and from the Act of Uniformity being at the fame time fuffered to remain unrepealed.
To form a correct judgment, then, upon this fubject, it may be proper to confider every law as composed of two distinct parts, the preceptive, that which binds the law upon the conscience, and the coercive, that which enforces the obligation of it upon the practice. Now the coercive part of any law, or the penal fanction annexed to it, is only for the neceffary purpose of moving or constraining men to pay that obedience to the law, which is required of them. But the obligation upon the confcience is not derived from the penalty defigned to fecure it, but from the authority of the lawgiver; who, by virtue of that authority, had a right to exact obedience to all his juft demands. A suspension, therefore, of the penal fanction, though in the present corrupt ftate of man it render the law lefs effectual, does not in anywife invalidate the law itself; which remains just what it was before the fanction was annexed to it; binding upon the party, or otherwife, according to the juft tenour of the law in queftion, and the authority of the law-maker, independent of every other confideration. For it is not reasonable
to fuppofe, that the removal of the penalty can take away from the law that obligation which it derives from a different cause.
The Apostle feems to have had this idea before him in the following legal comment addreffed to his difciples. Wherefore," fays he, "you muft needs be fubject, not only for wrath, but alfo for confcience fake:" not for fear of the penalty, but from a sense of the obligation which the law binds upon the confcience. A motive which ought to fecure the obedience of every Chriftian.
The fanction annexed, then, to any law proves nothing as to the obligation of the law itself upon the confcience; but it proves, that in confequence of man not being in that perfect condition in which he ought to be, other motives, befides thofe derived from the reasonableness and equity of the command, are become neceffary to fecure his obedience. For every law ftands upon the ground of its own merits; if good in itfelf, and enacted by proper authority, whether the penalties defigned to fecure its operation be enforced or not, its obligation upon the confcience remains the fame.
Let us now confider what the Act of Toleration, as it is commonly called, has done in the cafe before us,
By the Act of Uniformity, every person is required to conform to the mode of worship established in this country. The enforcement of penalties upon this fubject, a fubfequent Act has, under certain circumstances, fufpended; whilft, at the fame time, the Act itself, the operation of which those penalties were meant to secure, is suffered to remain in being. May we not conclude from hence, that the legislators faw no reason to alter their opinion with respect to the Act of Uniformity itself; although, upon confideration, they thought proper, in particular cafes, to leave it to produce its effect upon the mind, unaffifted by its appointed fanction.
The title of Toleration Act, therefore, which use has now familiarized to the ear, seems to be derived rather from the meaning which popular interpretation has affixed to the Act in queftion, than from the real intention of the Act itself. For an exemption from penalties, which the policy of former times had inflicted upon certain irregular practices, cannot be confidered fo much a toleration of thofe practices, as an acknowledgment, on the part of Government, that religious opinions, fo long as they do not interfere with what is deemed to be the welfare of the state, are no longer confidered objects for temporal coercion.