Page images
PDF
EPUB

A

THIRD LETTER

FOR

TOLERATION.

TO THE AUTHOR OF THE THIRD LETTER CONCERNING

TOLERATION *

CHAPTER I. Sir, The business which your Letter concerning Toleration found me engaged in, has taken up so much of the time my health would allow me ever since, that I doubt whether I should now at all have troubled you or the world with an answer, had not some of my friends, sufficiently satisfied of the weakness of

your

• The reader may be pleased to take notice, that L. I. Stands for the Letter concerning Toleration. A. For the Argument of the Letter concerning Toleration briefly con

sidered and answered. L. II. The Second Letter concerning Toleration. P. The pages of the Third Letter concerning Toleration.

yours altered

arguments, with repeated instances, persuaded me it might be of use to truth, in a point of so great moment, to clear it from those fallacies which might perhaps puzzle some unwary readers; and therefore prevailed on me to show the wrong grounds and mistaken reasonings you make use of to support your new way of persecution. Pardon me, sir, that I use that name, which you are so much offended at: for if punishment be punishment, though it come short of the discipline of fire and faggot, it is as certain that punishment for religion is truly persecution, though it be only such punishment as you in your clemency think fit to call“ moderate and convenient penalties.” But however you please to call them, I doubt not but to let you see, that if you will be true to your own principles, and stand to what you have said, you must carry your “ some degrees of force," as you phrase it, to all those degrees which in words you declare against.

You have indeed in this last letter of the question; for, p. 26, you tell me the question between us is, “ whether the magistrate hath any right to use force to bring men to the true religion ?" Whereas you yourself own the question to be," whether the magistrate has a right to use force in matters of religion ?" Whether this alteration be at all to the advantage of truth, or your cause, we shall see.

But hence you take occasion all along to lay a load on me for charging you with the absurdities of a power in the magistrates to punish men, to bring them to their religion; whereas you here tell us they have a right to use force “only to bring men to the true.” But whether I were more to blame to suppose you to talk coherently and mean sense, or you in expressing yourself so doubtfully and uncertainly, where you were concerned to be plain and direct, I shall leave to our readers to judge; only here in the beginning, I shall endeavour to clear myself of that imputation, I so often meet with, of charging on you consequences you do not own, and arguing against an opinion that is not yours, in those places, where I show how little advantage it would be to truth, or the

salvation of men's souls, that all magistrates should have a right to use force to bring men to embrace their religion. This I shall do by proving, that if upon your grounds the magistrate, as you pretend, be obliged to use force to bring men to the true religion, it will necessarily follow, that every magistrate, who believes his religion to be true, is obliged to use force to bring men to his.

You tell us, “that by the law of nature the magistrate is invested with coactive power, and obliged to use it for all the good purposes which it might serve, and for which it should be found needful, even for the restraining of false and corrupt religion: and that it is the magistrate's duty, to which he is commissioned by the law of nature, but the Scripture does not properly give it him."

I suppose you will grant me, that any thing laid upon the magistrate as a duty, is some way or other practicable. Now the magistrate being obliged to use force in matters of religion, but yet so as to bring men only to the true religion, he will not be in any capacity to perform this part of his duty, unless the religion he is thus to promote, be what he can certainly know, or else what it is sufficient for him to believe, to be the true: either his knowledge or his opinion must point out that religion to him, which he is by force to promote; or else he may promiscuously and indifferently promote any religion, and punish men at a venture, to bring them from that they are in to any other. This last I think nobody has been so wild as to say.

If therefore it must be either his knowledge or his persuasion that must guide the magistrate herein, and keep him within the bounds of his duty; if the magi. strates of the world cannot know, certainly know, the true religion to be the true religion, but it be of a nature to exercise their faith ; (for where vision, knowledge, and certainty is, there faith is done away,) then that which gives them the last determination herein must be their own belief, their own persuasion.

[ocr errors]

To

you and me the Christian religion is the true, and that is built, to mention no other articles of it, on this, that Jesus Christ was put to death at Jerusalem, and rose again from the dead. Now do you or I know this? I do not ask with what assurance we believe it, for that in the highest degree not being knowledge, is not what we now inquire after. Can any magistrate demonstrate to himself, and if he can to himself, he does ill not to do it to others, not only all the articles of his church, but the fundamental ones of the Christian religion ? For whatever is not capable of demonstration, as such remote matters of fact are not, is not, unless it be self-evi. dent, capable to produce knowledge, how well grounded and great soever the assurance of faith may be wherewith it is received; but faith it is still, and not knowledge; persuasion, and not certainty. This is the highest the nature of the thing will permit us to go in matters of revealed religion, which are therefore called matters of faith: a persuasion of our own minds, short of knowledge, is the last result that determines us in such truths. It is all God requires in the Gospel for men to be saved : and it would be strange if there were more required of the magistrate for the direction of another in the way to salvation, than is required of him for his own salvation. Knowledge then, properly so called, not being to be had of the truths necessary to salvation, the magistrate must be content with faith and persuasion for the rule of that truth he will recommend and enforce upon others; as well as of that whereon he will venture his own eternal condition. If therefore it be the magistrate's duty to use force to bring men to the true religion, it can be only to that religion which he believes to be true: so that if force be at all to be used by the magistrate in matters of religion, it can only be for the promoting that religion which he only believes to be true, or none at all. I grant that a strong assurance of any

truth settled upon prevalent and well-grounded arguments of probability, is often called knowledge in popular ways of talking: but being here to distinguish between knowledge and belief, to what degrees of con

fidence soever raised, their boundaries must be kept, and their names not confounded. I know not whet greater pledge a man can give of a full persuasion of the truth of any thing, than his venturing his soul upon it, as he does, who sincerely embraces any religion, and receives it for true. But to what degree soever of assurance his faith may rise, it still comes short of knowledge. Nor can any one now, I think, arrive to greater evidence of the truth of the Christian religion than the first converts in the time of our Saviour and the apostles had ; of whom yet nothing more was required but to believe.

But supposing all the truths of the Christian religion necessary to salvation could be so known to the magistrate, that, in his use of force for the bringing men to embrace these, he could be guided by infallible çertainty; yet I fear this would not serve your turn, nor authorize the magistrate to use force to bring men in England, or any where else, into the communion of the national church, in which ceremonies of human institution were imposed, which could not be known, nor, being confessed things in their own nature indifferent, so much as thought necessary to salvation.

But of this I shall have occasion to speak in another place; all the use I make of it here, is to show, that the cross in baptism, kneeling at the sacrament, and suchlike things, being impossible to be known necessary to salvation, a certain knowledge of the truth of the articles of faith of any church could not authorize the inagistrate to compel men to embrace the communion of that church, wherein any thing were made necessary to communion, which he did not know was necessary to salvation.

By what has been already said, I suppose it is evident, that if the magistrate be to use force only for promoting the true religion, he can have no other guide but his own persuasion of what is the true religion, and must be led by that in his use of force, or else not use it at all in matters of religion. If you take the latter of these consequences, you and I are agreed : if the

VOL. VI.

L

« PreviousContinue »