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Art. IV.-A Sermon preached in St. Michael's Church, Charleston,
February 13th, 1833, before the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of South Carolina, by the Rev. J. Adams, D.D., President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina, and (ex officio) Horry Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy. Published at the request of the Bishop and Clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church of South Carolina.
The author of this sermon is well known throughout South Carolina, as an accomplished scholar, a learned divine, and a gentleman of exemplary purity of life. We have occasionally heard him lecture on moral philosophy--and never without pleasure. His extensive literary attainments, his clear and simple style, his mild demeanour, and the respect which his character commands, qualify him peculiarly for the instruction of youth.
We have heard him also with pleasure in the pulpit. His discourses are generally argumentative, and abound with manly sentiments and moral reflections. But in the sermon now before us, Mr. Adams has aimed a blow at the Constitution of the United States. With a rash hand, he has endeavoured to overturn one of the main pillars of our liberty. He has invaded, and attempted to destroy freedom of conscience, and on its ruins to erect intolerance and odious discriminations for religion's sake.
We are aware that Mr. Adams would unhesitatingly deny that he had any such intention. But such is the inevitable tendency of the doctrines he advocates.
Before we proceed any further we would remark, that we are humble believers in the truth of the Christian Scriptures. The argument of Mr. Hume against the belief of miracles is not, in our opinion, entitled to much consideration. It is more probable, he contends, that human testimony is false, or that men are mistaken, than that the miracles should be true.
We readily admit that men are often mistaken, and that they sometimes lie - for the lie's sake,” as Lord Bacon truly, though Coarsely expresses it. We should therefore examine their testimony in favour of miracles with the most scrupulous care, and, if there be a reasonable room for doubt, reject it. But we must not shut our eyes against the light. We must not reject as wholly insufficient that evidence which would satisfy us in the most important transactions of life. In fact, human testimony is the only kind of evidence we can have in the case. Let that which appears miraculous occur every day, and it will soon cease to be considered a miracle; it will be regarded as the natural operation of fixed laws. No one will deny, we presume, that God can perform a miracle--that he can, if he think fit, suspend the ordinary operation of natural laws; for to deny this, is to limit his power. If a
miracle occur then, and we ourselves do not witness it, we can only learn it from evidence.
Now, what evidence have we that the miracles mentioned in the New Testament were performed?
1. It is proved by the testimony of eye-witnesses; of persons who actually saw them performed, and who had no interest in deceiving us.
2. These witnesses suffered persecution, and even laid down their lives in support of what they said.
3. The miracles were not denied for centuries after by the op ponents of Christianity, who, on the contrary, admitted that the were performed, but attributed them to the power of evil spirits
We consider this evidence as strong as the nature of the cas will admit. But if a shadow of doubt as to the truth of the Christia Scriptures were left by the external evidence, that is removed by the internal evidence of their Divine authority. The wonderful an exact fulfilment of the prophecies, cannot otherwise be accounte for. That in pretending to foretell events, an individual might o casionally hit upon a truth, we have no doubt. But that so man predictions, such precise prophecies, should be so exactly fulfille can only be accounted for on the supposition of a Divine inspir tion. Mr. Channing delivered, some years ago in Boston, an a mirable essay on the internal evidence of Christianity. It is writte in a glowing style, and with much force of argument. In it i urges, that if there were no other proof of the truth of Christianit this would be sufficient, viz. the fact that twelve ignorant, uned cated men, without any extraordinary advantages of mind, h prescribed a code of morals infinitely superior to any that t wisest and most learned men of antiquity framed: a code of m rals not only adapted to the then situation of the world, but to the various changes and modifications that have since taken pla —and which, the more man improves in civilization, seems bet and better adapted to the high purposes for which it was fram This argument is entitled to greater consideration, from the refltion that time, which is thus continually developing the exceller of Christianity, exhibits defects in all human institutions.
We will not fatigue our readers by dwelling longer on ar ments in favour of Christianity, arguments with which they sufficiently familiar, and to which we have nothing new to a Our object was rather to express our belief, than to “ give a r son for the faith that is in us."
While, however, we are believers and followers of Christ, must declare ourselves decidedly opposed to any connexion tween church and state. Such a connexion will necessarily cre a marked distinction between those who believe, and those v do not believe the religion upheld and protected by law. He a discrimination in civil rights will gradually arise. One set
rather one sect of men, will be protected and rewarded, while another will be proscribed and persecuted. Freedom of conscience will be invaded. With freedom of opinion freedom of speech must fall—and liberty will soon expire.
This is not a picture drawn by an over-excited imagination; it is the truth, as portrayed by the pencil of history. Yet Mr. Adams has the boldness to hazard the following assertion,
" If the Roman emperors had been satisfied to receive the new religion without distinction of sects, as the broad ground of all the great institutions of the empire, it is impossible to show or to believe, that such a measure would not have been both wise and salutary. The misfortune was, that there soon came to be a legal preference of one form of Christianity over all others.” Page 5.
Now, Christianity may be considered but as one of the larger sects into which mankind is divided. Any argument that would prove the wisdom of making one particular form of religion the ground of all the great institutions of an empire, would prove the wisdom of making one form of Christianity the ground of those institutions. Let us take a case, and apply the argument.
The Roman Catholic religion is deemed by many a system of idolatry, of bigotry, and of superstition. We have heard several intelligent and well educated persons contend that it is opposed to civil liberty—that its fundamental doctrines interfere with the right of free judgment-impose an unnatural and tyrannical restraint on the mind, and inculcate a slavish submission to persons in authority. We have heard the same individuals contend that Unitarians are not, in the strict sense of the term, Christians because, say they, the Unitarians deny the divine nature of Jesus, which is of the essence of Christianity; teach the most shocking and blasphemous doctrine on the nature of the Godhead; and are gradually introducing a culpable carelessness about religious concerns, infidelity, and even atheism.
A person entertaining these views, may be supposed to argue in the following manner:
“The Unitarian sect, by introducing carelessness concerning the duties of religion, are gradually, though perhaps unconsciously, undermining the only sure foundation of public morals. Their influence on society must therefore be baleful. So too with the Roman Catholics. By dispensations and indulgences, by absolution and an absurd belief in purgatory, their religion gives a sanction to immorality and licentiousness, and destroys the sense of moral responsibility. Thus do extremes meet. The superstition of the Catholic is not less pernicious that the irreligion of the Unitarian. In vain do we look to monkish records for the mild spirit and beneficial effects of Christianity. For them we must look to THE REFORMATION. The REFORMATION has done much for individuals. It has inculcated charity, peace, and good-will among men. It has destroyed superstition, introduced purity of morals, and taught us that the path of virtue is the road to God. It has done much for nations. It has taught them to do good to one another. It has taught them that the prosperity and happiness of neighbouring nations, is a source of mutual comfort and enjoyment. It has diminished the horrors of war, by softening the lot of captives, abolishing the odious practices of the dark and gothic ages, and in a word, by teaching that the rights of humanity should never be disregarded. Why should not then
VOL. XVII.NO. 34. 41
Christianity, as established at the reformation, be incorporated in our laws? W should not a religion so pure, so beneficial, be connected with, and protected by laws and constitutions?"
How would Mr. Adams answer this, if it were urged by o expressing the opinions of a large majority of the people? He precluded from arguing that civil government can not rightly terfere with religion. We have heard him already assert that would have been both “wise and salutary» to connect one fo of religion with all the great institutions of government. If “o form of religion,” why not “one form of Christianity?”—especia when that is the only true form.
There is, and there can be, no middle ground between perfe liberty and tyranny on this subject. Give government the rig to interfere, to pass laws for the protection of Christianity, and will necessarily have to determine what is Christianity, and wh laws are necessary for the protection of Christianity. In oth words, it will have an unlimited power on the subject.
In page nineteenth, the author, addressing himself to this poi says:
“No power less efficacious than Christianity, can permanently maintain the pu tranquillity of the country, and the authority of law. We must be a Christian nat if we wish to continue a free nation." And, that he may not be misunderstood, he adds in a note:
“With a view of illustrating this subject, by uniting high authority with g clearness of argument, the author subjoins a part of the opinion of the late Č Justice Parsons, of Massachusetts, in the case of Barnes vs. First Parish in mouth, contained 6 Mass. Reports, p. 404, &c. In this case, the Court had occa: to vindicate Art. 3. Part I. of the Constitution of that State (p. 29.) So far as Massachusetts’ Constitution and the argument vindicating it make a discrimina between Christian denominations, they do not meet the concurrence of the aut but he considers the main positions of the Chief Justice incontrovertible, and course of reasoning highly instructive and convincing."
The reasoning of the late Chief Justice Parsons of Massac setts, is to the following effect: There are moral duties flow from the disposition of the heart, and not subject to the con of human legislation. Secret offences cannot be prevented un civil government derive assistance from some superior pov whose laws extend to the temper and disposition of the hur heart. Legislators have, therefore, in all ages, had recourse to ligion. It is not against freedom of conscience to establish a ticular form of religion by law, and to compel persons to pa tax for its support, although they may think the established gion false. It is simply a call on the citizen for money for the pu use, and is in no sense a matter of conscience. The public h right to levy taxes, and make appropriations; and no individu at liberty to withhold the tax, because he dislikes the appro tion. Otherwise, there will soon be an end of all, government.
object of a public religious establishment is, to teach and enforce a system of correct morals—and to secure obedience to important laws by a Divine sanction.
Now, “the main positions of the Chief Justice," which Mr. Adams pronounces “incontrovertible," and " the course of reasoning" which he is pleased to declare “ highly instructive and convincing," urge the necessity for government to call in religion to its aid, and the right of government to establish and protect by law, and uphold by taxes, any religion it may dcem proper. Why not Unitarianism then?—or Catholicism?-or Protestantism?-if the majority think fit. It is true, that Mr. Adams censures discriminations between Christian denominations; but he urges no reason for this censure and we venture to assert that he can urge none-which will not apply with equal force to all religious discriminations. Admit his principle-which, veil it as he may, is discrimination between religious denominations-and a discrimination in favour of a particular sect will follow, as a matter of course. Admit the giant's foot, and his body will soon appcar.
The truth is, the main positions of Chief Justice Parsons are utterly indefensible, and his argument is worse than futile. We would not detract a tithe of a hair from the just reputation of this distinguished jurist. He was indeed a man of transcendental abilities—a shining light and an ornament to the bench and to his country, fit to be ranked with the Kents and Marshalls. We venerate his memory—but we cannot venerate his errors. Upon the principles advocated by him, in the opinion cited with high commendation by the author of the sermon now before us, it would be impossible to prove any tax improper.-We pass by this, however, and confine ourselves to the point immediately before us.
Civil government is intended for the regulation of social manfor the promotion and security of human happiness here on earth. It is intended for this world—not the next. It should protect us in the enjoyment of our personal rights and property. It should not interfere with our opinions and faith. Its business is with our temporal or present interests, not with our future or eternal welfare. As long as a citizen discharges well his duty to society, he is a good citizen. Civil government should regulate the duty of man towards man.
It should not interfere with the relations between man and his Creator. Offences against society should be punished by society. Offences against God should be left to God. It
argues great folly, as well as impiety, to suppose the Deity so weak as to require aid from society, or so negligent as to suffer offenders to escape with impunity. Deorum injuriæ, diis curiæ, was the wise and humble maxim of Pagans. We should not be less wise or humble--nor should we arrogantly usurp the province of the Almighty
What is religion? The term is derived from re and liga-to