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those days, belike,) from casting out devils, because he followed not them. And they never would have learned it had the union of church and state been sanctioned by the Saviour. Wherever one sect in particular is united to the state, the lesson of religious toleration will not be perfectly learned ; nay, who does not see that toleration itself, applied to religion, implies the assumption of a power that ought not to exist, that in itself is tyranny. It implies that you, an earthly authority, an earthly power, say to me, so condescendingly, I permit you the free exercise of your religion. You permit me ?
And what authority have you to permit me, any more than I to permit you? God permits me, God commands me ; and do you dare to say that you
tolerate me ? Who is he that shall dare come in between me and God, either to say yea or nay. Your toleration itself is tyranny, for you have no right to meddle with the matter. But wherever church and state are united, then there will be meddling with the matter; and even in this country, if one particular sect were to get the patronage of the state, there would be an end to our perfect religious freedom.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the well, who wrote one of the most exquisitely beautiful death-hymns in our language, and who seems to have been truly a devout man, was put to death violently and publicly, no other crime being proved against him, but what he honestly and proudly avowed, that he had come over into England simply and solely to preach the Roman Catholic religion. And he ought to have been left
at liberty to preach it; for if the Protestant religion cannot stand against Roman Catholic preaching, it ought to go down; no religion is worth having, or worth supporting, that needs racks, or inquisitions, or fires and faggots to sustain it ; that dare not or cannot meet its adversaries on the open battle-field of truth; no religion is worth supporting that needs any thing but the truth and Spirit of God to support it; and no establishment ought to be permitted to stand, that stands by persecuting others ; nor any church to exist, that exists simply by unchurching others.
So, if the English Church Establishment dared not consider herself safe without shutting up John Bunyan and sixty other dissenters with him in prison, some of them ministers, and some laymen, some for preaching the gospel, and some for hearing it, the English Church Establishment was not worthy to be safe ; the English Church Establishment was a disgrace and an injury to the gospel, and a disgrace and an injury to a free people. No church is worth saving from destruction, if it has to be saved by the destruction of other men's religious liberties ; nay, if that be the case with it, it ought to go down, and the sooner the better. No church is worthy to stand, that makes non-conformity to its rites and usages a penal crime; it becomes a persecuting church the moment it does this ; for, supposing that every man, woman and child in the kingdom is kept from non-conformity simply by that threat, and that through the power of such terror, there comes to be never the need to put
such penal laws in execution, and so never a single subject really molested or punished ; still that church is a persecuting church, and that people a persecuted people, a terrified people, a people cowed down, a people in whose souls the sacred fire of liberty is fast extinguishing, a people bound to God's service by the fear of men's racks. Such a people can never be free; their cowardice will forge their fetters.
A people who will sell themselves to a church through fear of punishment, will sell themselves to any tyrant through the same fear; nay, a people who will serve God through the fear of punishment, when they would not serve him otherwise, will serve Satan in the same way.
If you make nonconformity a crime, you are therefore a persecuting church, whether your name be Rome, or England, or America, even though there be not a single nonconformist found for you to exercise your wrath upon, not one against whom you may draw the sword of your penalty. But it is drawn, and drawn against the liberty of conscience, and every man whom in this way you keep from nonconformity, you make him a deceiver to his God; you make him barter his conscience for exemption from an earthly penalty ; you make him put his conscience not into God's keeping, but into the keeping of your sword ; you dry up the life-blood of liberty in his soul; you make him in his inmost conscience an imprisoned slave, a venal victim of your bribery and terror, and though he may still walk God's earth as others, it is with the iron in his soul, it is with your chain about his
neck, it is as the shuffling fugitive from your penalties, and not as a man of noble soul, who, fearing God religiously, fears nothing else. There may, indeed, be no chain visible, but you have wound its invisible links around the man's spirit; you have bound the man within the man ; you have fettered him ; and laid him down in a cold dark dungeon ; and until those fetters are taken off, and he stands erect and looks out from his prison to God, it is no man, but a slave, that you have in your service ; it is no disciple, but a Simon Magus, that you have in your church. If a man obeys God through the fear of man, when he would not do it otherwise, he obeys not God, but man; and in that very obedience he becomes a dissembler and a coward. If he says, I do this, which I should not do otherwise, for fear of such or such a penalty ; or, I partake of this sacrament, which I should not otherwise touch, because the continuance of my office depends upon it, what is he but an acknowledged sàcrilegious hypocrite? And thus it is that your system of penalties for an established church, inevitably makes hypocrites.
Let me now close what I have said on this point with a very beautiful parable by Dr. Franklin, taken originally, it is said, from a Persian poet, and to be found in substance also in Jeremy Taylor. Its imitation of the scripture style is as exquisite as its lessons are admirable: “ And it came to pass, after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun; and behold a man bent with age coming from the way of the wilderness, leaning on a staff.
And Abraham arose and met him, and said unto him, Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night; and thou shalt arise early in the morning, and go thy way. And the man said, Nay; for I will abide under this tree. But Abraham pressed him greatly: so he turned, and they went into the tent; and Abraham baked unleavened bread, and they did eat. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him, Wherefore dost thou not worship the most high God, Creator of Heaven and Earth? And the man answered and said, I do not worship thy God, neither do I call on his name ; for I have made to myself a God, which abideth always in my house, and provideth me with all things. And Abraham's żeal was kindled against the man, and he arose, and fell upon him, and drove him forth with blows into the wilderness. And God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the stranger ? And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy name; therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness. And God said, Have I borne with him these hundred and ninety and eight years, and nourished him and clothed him, notwithstanding his rebellion against me; and couldst not thou, who art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night!”
Now this supposed zeal of Abraham was far more natural, though not more excusable, than most ebullitions of religious intolerance. But who are we, that dare take into our hands the prerogative of God over the conscience? Who are we, that