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Civil Government—First tenet is, that governors
have no right to interfere with the governed on the subject of religion—and that if they interfere and insist upon things which the conscience disapproves, the governed ought to refuse a compliance with them, and to bear patiently all the penalties annexed to such a refusal—but never to resist the governors by violence, on this or any
other account. The
He Quakers hold four principles, which I shall distinguish by the name of Great Tenets * These are considered as arising out of the implied or positive injunctions of Christianity, and were insisted upon as essen
* I call them Great Tenets, not because the Society calls them so, or thinks them more important than its fundamental principles, but because the world, judging by the conduct of the Quakers, considers them as the great component parts of their religion.
tials on the formation of the Society. The first of these is on the subject of Civil Government.
Civil Government had existed long before the appearance of Christianity in the world. Legislators since that æra, as they have imbiped its spirit, so they have introduced this spirit, more or less, into their respective codes. But no nation has ever professed to change its system of jurisprudence, or to model it anew, in consequence of the new light, which Christianity has afforded. Neither have the alterations been so numerous in any nation, however high its profession of Christianity, with respect to laws, as to enable us to say that there is any government in the known world, of Christian origin, or any government wholly upon the principles of the Gospel.
If all men were to become real Christians, Civil Government would become less necessary. As there would be then no offences, there would be no need of magistracy or of punishment. As men would then settle any differences between them amicably, there would be no necessity for courts of law, As they would then never fight, there would
be be no need of armies. As they would then consider their fellow-creatures as brethren, they would relieve them as such, and there would be no occasion of laws for the
poor. As men would then have more solicitude for the public good, and more large and liberal notions than at any former time, they would of themselves conceive and raise all necessary public institutions and works. Government, then, is not so necessary for real Christians. It is necessary principally, as the apostle says, for evil doers. But if it be chiefly necessary for evil doers, then Govern. ments ought to be careful how they make laws, which may vex, harass, and embarrass Christians, whom they will always find to be the best part of their communities ; or, in other words, how they make laws, which Christians, on account of their religious scruples, cannot conscientiously obey.
It is a tener of the members of this Society, on the subject of Government, that the civil magistrate has no right to interfere in religious matters, so as either to force any particular doctrines upon men, or to hinder them from worshipping God in their own way, provided that, by their creeds and worship, they do no detriment to others. They believe, however, that Christian churches may admonish such members as fall into error, and may even cut them off from membership; but this must be done, not by the temporal but by the spiritual sword.
This tenet they support, first, by reason. Religion, they say, is a matter solely between God and man; that is, between God and that man who worships him. This must be obvious, they conceive, because man is not accountable to man for his religious opinions, unless he binds himself to the discipline of any religious Society, but to God alone. It must be obvious again, they say, because no man can be a judge over the conscience of another. He can know nothing of the sincerity or hypocrisy of his heart. He can be neither an infallible judge, nor an infallible corrector of his religious
6. The conscience of man,” says Barclay, " is the seat and throne of God in him, of which He alone is the proper and infallible judge, who by his power and Spirit can rectify its mistakes." It must be obvious again, they say, from the consideration that, if it were even possible for one
man to discern the conscience of another, it is impossible for him to bend or to control it. But conscience is placed both out of his sight and of his reach. It is neither visible nor tangible. It is inaccessible by stripes or torments. Thus, while the body is in þondage on account of the religion of the soul, the soul itself is free; and, while it suffers under torture, it enjoys the Divinity, and feels felicity in his presence. But if all these things are so, it cannot be within the province either of individual magistrates, or of governments consisting of fallible men, to fetter the consciences of those, who may live under them. And any attempt to this end is considered by the Quakers as a direct usurpation of the prerogative of God.
This tenet they adopt, again, on a contemplation of the conduct and doctrines of Jesus Christ and of his Apostles. They find nothing in these, which can give the least handle to any man to use force in the religious concerns of another. During the life of Jesus Christ upon earth, it is no where recorded of him, that he censured any man for his religion. It is true that he reproved the Scribes and Pharisees; but this was on