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God? To be qualified to do this, it would require that he should b? possessed of the attribute of infallibility, and, like the temporal head of the church of Rome, be able to give forth decisions on spiritual things that were unerringly certain. And what less than this is claimed on behalf of kings, when it is asserted that they have a " divine right," by virtue of their office, to establish religion? If kings or civil rulers, as such, have a right from God to employ the authority with which they are invested in establishing divine truth, it might surely be expected that he would bestow upon them the qualifications which were needful to enable them infallibly to discriminate truth from error, and to declare what was the will of God. But where shall we find such qualifications associated with kingly prerogative ? In the absence of any such extraordinary endowments, we are necessarily led to the conclusion, that, for civil governors to profess to establish divine truth, and to prescribe to their subjects what, on their authority, they shall believe, is at once a manifest usurpation of the prerogative of God, and a glaring invasion of the rights and consciences of their fellow-men.
It has been said by some who are favourable to the principle of church establishments, that it is by the state or nation, as such, that the truth is established, and that all that the supreme magistrate has to do in the matter, is merely to give effect to the nation's will. What, then, we ask, becomes of " the divine right" claimed on behalf of civil rulers to ratify and declare, as they do, the truth of God? We would remind those who are in the habit of bringing forward this view of the subject, that, according to the showing of the advocates of state churches, the civil magistrate has a heavy responsibility resting on him in regard to this matter. He is immediately responsible, we are told, to Christ, as “ the governor among the nations,” not merely in his personal, but in his “ official” character, and is bound, from a regard to his autho, rity, to establish the truth, and to preserve entire the ordinances of the house of God. The nation must, therefore, receive the law at his mouth in regard to religion, or else stand opposed to its own civil ruler as “the minister of God.” But, supposing it were otherwise, and that a state were to act, through its representatives, in determining what is to be the creed which a nation is to be called upon to believe, is not this, it may be asked, human legislation on things that are divine ? How can the majority of a nation, even admitting that it were fairly enough ascertained, determine any thing as to what ought, or ought not, to be believed on such a subject? The truth of God cannot be received on the authority of a majority of a state, any more than on the authority of the supreme ruler of the state himself. Neither the one nor the other can be responsible for our belief to God, and neither, therefore, can be warranted to give forth, with the authority of law, what religious opinions we must entertain. Religion is not a matter that can be delegated to others; it is out of the category of those things in which others may represent us. In religious concerns, every man who is a member of the civil community must think, and choose, and act for himself; and he must have the liberty of thus thinking, and choosing, and acting, provided that, in doing this, he does not infringe the rights and liberties of other men. The word of God, the laws of Christ, the constitution and privileges of the church of the Redeemer, come not to
us by human authority or human legislation, but directly from Christ himself; and it is as coming from him, and not from any other source, that they must be received. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son.” “ Call no man on earth master," says the Saviour; “ for ONE is your Master, even Christ.”
2. Those who hold the voluntary principle maintain that it does not belong to the civil magistrate to employ the power connected with his office to compel men to contribute to the support of that system of religion which he may be pleased to set up. Without the power of the civil magistrate being employed for this purpose, state churches could not exist. Nothing, however, can be more certain, than that Christ never intended his religion thus to be supported. To say, as is sometimes done, that civil magistracy is “ the ordinance of God,” and that it is the will of Christ, therefore, in the case of civil rulers, as such, that they should employ “ the sword,” or, in other words, the strong arm of the law, to force men to maintain his gospel, is to misrepresent the nature of his kingdom, and the true spirit and object of his religion. Yet, this is what state churches teach that it is the duty of the civil magistrate to do. However ignorant men may be of the religion of Christ, and however opposed they may be to the truths of the gospel, according to the doctrine held on this subject, the power of the state, in the hands of the civil magistrate, is to be employed in forcing from them the measure of support to the state church which the law demands! Such an exercise of power is sufficiently objectionable when directed to the maintenance of what is professedly " the true religion.” But how often is the system of religion which is established by the state the very reverse of that which the Scriptures make known? And when this is the case, the same power of the civil magistrate is still made to operate in compelling men to contribute to the support of the most dangerous and deadly error, equally with the gospel of truth. Is this fair? Is this just? Is it right that those who are the governors or legislators in a nation should not only have the power to prescribe to the nation, by authority, what its religion shall be, but also to enforce subjection to it thus far-that, however absurd and impious the system set up may be, men must contribute to its support? Whatever views of state purposes or policy may be urged by worldly men in justification of such a system, is it not remarkable that professing Christians should be found yielding to it their countenance ? To thein, surely, Christ has shown “ a more excellent way,” whereby not only his gospel may be supported, but by means of which, without the aid of civil power or compulsion, gifts and offerings from all ranks and classes of men, who believe in his name and submit to his authority, may be freely poured into his treasury, for the purpose of making known his truth and of extending his kingdom throughout our world.
3. Those who hold the voluntary principle maintain that it does not belong to the civil magistrate, by virtue of his office, to inflict civil pains and penalties upon men because of their religion. Mere civil power, although exercised to its utmost rigour, cannot enforce belief, or secure conformity of sentiment, in the case of any form of religion which the state may set up. It is not an unnatural thing, however, to suppose, that that same authority by which any system of religion has been made “ the law of the land’ should seek to coerce men into the observance of that law. How much blood has been shed, and what countless multitudes of the saints of God upon the earth have, in the past ages of the church, been put to death, suffering “ cruel mockings and scourgings, bonds and imprisonment,” from the attempts which have been made to enforce, by the civil sword, state conformity in religion! It is the union of civil power with religion which gives rise to such persecution. Few in the present times, in this country at least, would be willing to stand up on behalf of the grosser forms of persecution on account of a diversity of sentiment in religion, or to avow that it was an object at which they aimed, “ to extirpate” those who were opposed to them in the religious views which they entertained. Persecution, however, in one form or another, is essential to a state church, and is unavoidable in any country where the principle on which such a church is founded is acted upon. What is that principle? It is this, that unless men shall conform to the state religion, they shall not have equal honours, or attain to equal advantages, or be equally admissible to civil offices of emolument and trust,—but shall be mocked as “ aliens," and treated as enemies to the constitution, while the law shall cast them into prison, and rob them of their goods, for the support of a system which their consciences condemn! What is all this but persecution because of religion ? And why should one man be depressed and another exalted by the state, because of the religious opinions which he holds or the religious profession which he assumes? Why should there be national institutions, upon which the wealth of the nation is expended, from which numerous classes are excluded because they will not conform to the state religion? Where equal allegiance is rendered, where equal state burdens are borne, and where men contribute equally, by their talents and their enterprise, to the wealth, the power, and the resources of the nation, why should evils of a political or social kind be inflicted upon them-amounting to civil pains and penalties—because they exercise the right which belongs to them, of worshipping God according to the dictates of their conscience, and adhere to those principles wbich they believe to be founded on his word ? Ought the law of our country, or of any country, to be such as to lay the civil magistrate under a necessity of putting forth the power of the state in such forms of persecution be-cause of religion ? Ought not all classes to be treated with equal justice ? Ought not all to have guaranteed to them by the state equal religious liberty ? and, for this purpose, ought not that system to be abolished, which creates and perpetuates such invidious distinctions between members of the same civil community ?
4. Those who hold the voluntary principle, maintain that it does not belong to the civil magistrate to exert the power which attaches to his office, in interfering authoritatively with the institutions of religion. For civil governments to interfere with the truth of Christ, or with the laws and constitution of his church, is held to be what is usually called ERASTIANISM. According to this definition of the term, it may seem difficult to some to conceive of a church established by the state which is not erastian in its character. A distinction, indeed, has been attempted to be drawn between things “in” the church, and things “ about" the church, to show what is erastian, and what not, as it respects the exercise of power by the civil magistrate in the part which he is called to take in the establishment of religion. Any interference with the internal affairs of the church in its laws, government, or discipline, is deemed erastian interference; while such interference “ about” the church, as giving her a legal basis, investing her with a national character, and bestowing upon her temporal endowments from the resources of the nation, is held to be free from any taint of erastian heresy or corruption. We do not profess to attach any great importance to this distinction, which has obviously been invented to smooth difficulties, and to reconcile the conflicting principles which are embodied in the very objectionable system of church and state connexion. Where the doctrine is professedly contended for, that the church is « complete in Christ,” her divine Lord, and altogether independent of the powers of this world, it cannot but appear surprising that it should still be insisted upon, as a point of the highest consequence, that the civil magistrate ought somehow to interfere in the church's affairs. How is this interference to be conducted, and yet no erastianism committed ? This must ever appear to people, who are disposed to take a simple view of things, a very puzzling question. We would ask, is the determining of what is to be regarded as divine truth, and the fixing of the doctrines and principles of religion by civil statute, so that they cannot be altered or modified, no interference in the internal affairs of the church ? Is the setting aside of an ordinance which Christ has appointed in his church for the support of his gospel, and the substituting of a human law in its stead, no interference with the internal affairs of the church ? Are the settlement of ministers according to the law of patronage, the imposing of civil oaths as qualifications for the ministerial office, and the constitution of the courts of Christ by royal commission and acts of parliament, no interference with the church's internal affairs ? And, if these do constitute interferences “in” the church, and touch not the externals merely, but the very vitals of the church's interests, are not all these, and similar things which might have been mentioned, to be held as erastianism ? Has not such erastianism always existed, and does it not now exist, in the case of every church established by the state ? Whatever the distinctions may be with which men may satisfy themselves, no church can escape the charge of erastianism, which places herself, or seeks to place herself, on a different foundation from that on which Christ has established her. That church which is taken into the pay of the state, must be the servant of the state, and be subject to the state's control; and how is it possible, in such circumstances, that erastian interference, on the part of the civil power, can be avoided ? In the very nature of the case, the thing is impossible. Statesmen and governments, no doubt, are anxious to have what is called a state religion, and to have that religion under their own immediate care, for this very obvious reason, that it has ever been found a fitting engine for carrying out their designs. But is it not to be regarded as a most desirable thing, on the part of Christians, that the church of Christ should be rescued out of the hands of worldly politicians, who, in general, are as ignorant of the nature of true religion,
as they are strangers in their lives to its governing power? And how can this be accomplished but by every branch of the church of Christ refusing to enter into any unhallowed connexion or compact with worldly governments, whereby a pretence may be furnished for erastian interference or encroachment?
Such are the views which those who hold the voluntary principle entertain as to what the power of the civil magistrate ought not to be in regard to religion; and surely there is no one who has any correct idea of what either civil or religious liberty is, who would contend that the supreme magistrate of a state should unqualifiedly possess such a power. Is it said, that, by depriving the civil magistrate of the power now mentioned, you prevent him from extending religion throughout the nation? This, we answer, is the proper business of the church and of her ministers; and, if the testimony of very competent witnesses is to be taken on this subject, who have had experience on both sides of the question, the church is a thousand times more efficient in promoting the work of evangelization, “ free" from all connexion with the state, than when having such a connexion. Is it maintained that a nation, whether it has a religious establishment or not, ought to have laws on the subject of religion, which it should be the duty of the civil magistrate to enforce in the name, and by virtue of the authority, of the constitution? We are aware that it is a favourite idea with some, that political power might with advantage be exerted for religious objects, and on religious grounds, and that laws, such as those referred to, might be entrusted in their execution, into the hands of civil governments. But would not this, after all, only “ be going down to Egypt for help ?” Whence is it that religious persecutions arise under civil governments, or that state churches, whenever they manifest a disposition to act on the laws of Christ, find such reason to complain of the oppressive measures directed against them by states and councils ? Is it not from this same exercise of secular power in religious matters a power which ought never to be committed to any civil government ? Only once concede the principle that laws, in regard to religion, may be passed, and that civil magistrates may thus be armed with a power to compel men, or to punish them, in reference to religious matters, and, but for the countervailing principle of toleration, where would be our religious liberties, or the security we should have against religious intolerance and persecution ? With what measure ye mete to others,” said our Lord, " it shall be measured to you again.” How frequently has this been verified in the history of state churches, and of churches bent on carrying out in their practice the state church principle! Our safety, in regard to the exercise of our dearest rights, civil as well as religious, must lie, not in the civil government having power, but in its not having power, over men in respect of their religion. Civil government, it is to be kept in mind, does not require, in order to the right performance of its functions, that it should take cognizance of the religious opinions and principles of men, except in so far as these may be supposed to interfere with the safety of the state. It is a distinct and independent institution. If the church be independent of the state, the state, in regard to the objects contemplated in the formation of civil society, is also independent of the interference of this or the other church