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judging absolutely for himself in all religious matters: because zeal being a much more common thing than knowledge, it must often happen, even upon the most charitable confruction, that sincerity and error will be so intimately blended together, that justly to discriminate between them will surpafs the common powers of the human mind. *
* A learned and elaborate investigation of this general subject, the reader will find in “ the History of Infant Baptism,” by the Rev.W. Wall. For the manner in which this subject, as applicable to our present purpose has been handled in the foregoing Chapter, the reader will find abundant authority in “ the Case of Infant Baptism” above referred to; written by that most learned divine and ornament of the Church of England, the Rey. G. Hickes, D.D.
On LIBERTY of CONSCIENCE.
O the pleas already advanced in justification of
separation from the church, may be added those general ones which respect the hacknied fubs jects of liberty of conscience, toleration, and the right of private judgment in religious matters; upon each of which it may be necessary to say a few words: because vulgar errors of some magnitude have been attached to these popular phrases, which have led many well-meaning people to dangerous conclusions. And the history of this country in particular proves, that it is a matter of importance to prevent people from running away with words; because there is a certain unaccountable magick in the sound of some words, which operates beyond what can be reasonably accounted for: the ill effect of which, upon minds unqualified to discriminate, it is always difficult, sometimes impossible, to counteract.
In fact, the generality of mankind are governed by words and names; often without, and sometimes even against their knowledge. Whilst the ignorant multitude are led backward and forward, this way and that way, like a drove of cattle, by the cry to which their drivers have familiarised them. This has been the case from the beginning of the world to the present day; and must be the case, so long as men continue to be what they are, more disposed to act than to think. But words, it is to be observed, are but the
garments of things; and sometimes loose garments, which are put off and on, according to the taste or humour of their employer. At the same time it should be remembered, that how often foever the dress may change, the body still remains the fame: in other words, there is a character of truth essential to the nature of certain subjects, which, though by an artful disguise it may be made to ferve the cause of imposture, will not remain unknown to those who have judgment and resolution to strip off the dress designed to conceal it.
Nothing would be more easy, than to prove the dreadful consequences derivable to fociety from such fatal deception, by an induction of those numberless circumstances in which a plausible word, wrested from
its proper sense, has proved the means of accomplishing whatever object the artful employer of it had in view, however destructive to the peace and welfare of mankind. But to avoid digression, it will be necesfary to confine myself to what may be considered as falling within the compass of our present subject. The only popular phrases, therefore, upon which I shall now hazard a' remark, will be those of liberty of conscience, toleration, and the right of private judgment in religious matters; subjects, upon which all separatists from the church are forward in enlarging; because they, for the most part, consider them as standing upon ground which is not to be shaken.
In subjects, where truth and error border so close upon each other, that it requires nice discrimination to trace out with precision the exact line of separation between them; and in which interest and prejudice have at all times had much to do, in misleading the understanding, and corrupting the judgment; we must not be surprised to find, not only a great variety of sentiments and opinions, but also a great perplexity in the manner in which they are delivered. When, through the infirmity of human nature, men are apt to be more intent on gaining the victory over an opponent, than on investigating the cause of truth;