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And genuine religion flourishes most amidst what is commonly denounced as the contentions of rival sects. The soil whose rankness sends forth an abundant crop of weeds, will produce, if cultivated, a still more luxuriant harvest of corn. If the times of Baxter were fruitful of sects, and some of them wild and monstrous, they were still more fruitful in the number of genuine, holy and devoted Christians. It was not an age of fanaticism only, but of pure and undefiled religion.”
I am reminded also of that noble passage in Milton's Areopagitica : “For when God shakes a kingdom with strong and healthful commotions to a general reforming, it is not untrue that many sectaries and false teachers are then busiest in seducing; but yet more true it is, that God then raises to his own work men of rare abilities, and more than common industry, not only to look back and revise what hath been taught heretofore, but to gain further, and go on some new enlightened steps in the discovery of truth. And do we not see that while we still affect by all means a rigid external formality, we may as soon fall again into a gross conforming stupidity, a stark and dead congealment of wood, and hay, and stubble, forced and frozen together, which is more to the sudden degeneracy of a church than many subdichotamies (subdivisions) of petty schisms. Not that I can think well of every light separation; or that all in a church is to be expected gold and silver and precious stones; it is not possible for men to sever the wheat from the tares, the good fish from the other fry; that must be the angels' ministry at the end
of mortal things. Yet, if all cannot be of one mind, as who looks they should be? this, doubtless, is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated, rather than all compelled.”
The period on which we are dwelling might almost be termed a religious and political whirlwind; a hurricane of opinions, in which the elements of heaven and earth met and contended. But tyranny and unnatural restraint acting upon elements that in our human and religious nature must always exist, but that, if left to a quiet growth and development, will, under God's providence and grace, make a wholesome, transparent, circumfluent atmosphere for society ; produced infernal mixtures, electric explosions, black thunder-clouds, charged at once with the fires of angry passion, and the tremendous energy of conscience, piety and fanaticism together. Look over this, our own beloved land of liberty and religion ; there are as many sects in it, as there ever were on the borders, or in the heart, of the period of the Commonwealth of England ; and if you were to put upon them here those violent restraints, by which they had then and there been made to chafe, and smoulder, and irritate in confinement, and from which they broke loose with such astounding developments, such flames, such indomitable life, such exulting and contending fury, you would change the calm and blessed aspect of our state into a hurricane of anarchy and revolution; out of this all surrounding atmosphere of peace and freedom, in which every man sees clearly, and breathes securely, you
would evoke storms and lightning ; thunder-clouds would appear charged against each other, and houses would be seen unroofed, and trees uprooted and flying through the darkened air in tornadoes. Such is the inevitable consequence of laying the hand of civil or religious tyranny upon the liberty of opinion. It is like laying a mountain without a crater upon a raging volcano. The continent shakes with earthquakes; the thunder bellows from its subterranean confinement; the lava breaks out in plains, and pours and burns over smiling villages; and just so, earth will be a symbol of the chaos of hell, if you lay your mountain of civil or religious tyranny on the human conscience. Leave it free, and it is like the atmosphere with God to govern its elements; confine it, and it is like a pent volcano, that will shake and devastate the world.
Fanaticismn grows by opposition, in confinement, in constrained silence and darkness; it may be thus produced, where there was nothing of it before. This is but the Poet's principle, that
- Thoughts shut up want air, And spoil, like bales unopened to the sun.
It is especially so with religious opinion that is suffering tyrannical restraint. It becomes a smouldering fire, that burns inwardly; and as in a cotton-ship at sea, or a barn crammed with wet hay, the combustion having once commenced, if you open
the hatches or cut the bundles to put it out, it is ten to one that you are too late, and it all bursts into a light flame together, so that houses
and ships, and human lives are consumed in the conflagration; just so with restrained, smouldering opinions in the civil and ecclesiastical state. But if a bundle of wet hay were spread open with the rake, or tossed on the fork in the sun and air, it would speedily become dry and safe for your barns and cattle. Just so with swarming opinions, that by restraint would turn to fanaticism in the popular mind ; give them the air; turn them, rake them, toss them, over and over again, in the bright sun, to the sound of free and merry voices; let all the world, if they wish, see what they are ; let all the world, if they wish, help to turn and spread them; the mischief, if there were any, dies in such a process. Truth, liberty, justice, never fears the freedom of opinion, tossed out so in the open air, and spread beneath the sun-light; truth only asks the light and air, and the whole world to come and see every thing ; but error, despotism, tyranny, fears such a tossing and spreading of the truth, and would rather shut it up in bundles and crowd it into a Bastile, or into the hold of a slave-ship. Such things have been, and no doubt such things will be again. And we hope in God that in this country, by his word, and by his grace, his people will be prepared for the conflict. Nobly says Milton, “ Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter ?" No man, ever; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is LIBERTY.
Pass we now to another scene, about twenty years later, during which time, save in the brief and glorious protectorate of Cromwell, there had been an almost uninterrupted succession of arbitrary, persecuting measures in the Church and State of England. We enter the prison of John Bunyan. It is, you are aware, the common jail of Bedford. It is said to have been the damp and dreadful condition of this prison, which first set Howard's philanthropic spirit in exercise, for the improvement of the prisons throughout Europe. Bunyan's prison stood upon the Bedford bridge. It was a bridge of sighs to many, though, by God's grace, not to him; its walls were probably almost as damp as the dungeons in Venice, but it was not sea water that washed its foundations, and trickled its rusty iron grates with moisture. There was no court-yard, no space for out-of-door work, or exercise in the open air; there were stone walls and iron bars, a bridge and a river. The window in his cell was grated, so that he could not look far or freely out of it; but he could see the sunlight, the water, the fields and the clouds. The glimpses of sweet nature in this world were not so clear to him here, as were the perspective visions of the Holy City coming in upon his soul. His cell was small and comfortless, as was the whole jail; and when he would step farther than the few paces back and forth between the walls of that cell, he must go into the common room of the pri
In those times of persecution, it was crowded; there were at one period more than sixty dissenters incarcerated along with Bunyan, some for