Images de page
PDF
ePub

affirm. They do contain truth; and truth too of the highest practical utility.—It is a truth, that men ought no longer to be led, and it would be a joyful truth, if a truth it were, that they are resolved no longer to be led, blindfold in ignorance.-It is a truth, that the principle which leads men to judge and treat each other, not according to the intrinsic merit of their actions, but according to the accidental and involuntary coincidence of their opinions, is a vile principle;—although room might obviously enough be found here for certain questions of casuistry, about what it is that constitutes the intrinsic merit of actions; whether the said merit lies in the actions themselves, or in the principles, in the mind of the agent, from which they proceed:

-for in the latter case, the spirit of the sentiment, however true, might not be so easily reducible to practice. It is a truth, that man should not render account to man for his belief:-and, in as far as this is meant to express the grand principle of universal toleration, there is no length to which I

would not cheerfully go along with its eloquent and powerful advocate: the very word toleration, (seeing a right to tolerate supposes the existence of a corresponding right to restrain and to coerce) being a term, which, in such an application of it, no language ought to retain. Men should be as free to think, as } they are free to breathe. I make no exceptions. Let truth defend herself; and defend herself by her own legitimate means. She is well able to do so; nor does she stand in need of any auxiliary methods, beyond those of fair argument, and rational persuasion. Give her an open field, and the free use of her weapons, and she will stand her ground. Legal restraint and suppression have invariably had the effect of giving tenfold prevalence to the dreaded error; and measures of coercion, whilst they have made hypocrites by thousands, have never made, and never can make, one genuine convert to her cause.

Most heartily also do we concur with the eloquent orator in the full spirit of what he represents as the practical use of his princi

ple, in regulating the reciprocal conduct of men, in the intercourse of social life:"Henceforward, treating with entire respect "those who conscientiously differ from our"selves, the only practical effect of the dif"ference will be, to make us enlighten the "ignorance, on one side or the other, from "which it springs,-by instructing them, if "it be theirs, ourselves, if it be our own; "to the end, that the only kind of unanimity "may be produced, which is desirable among "rational beings,-the agreement proceed"ing from full conviction after the freest "discussion.”*

But there is what I conceive to be an error of no trivial magnitude, lurking (shall I say?) amidst these salutary truths. No: it does not lurk. Whether an error or not, it is not concealed. It is palpable, avowed, prominent: and the very accompaniments of truth, with which it is attended, serve to render it the more insinuating and danger

* Inaug. Disc. p. 48.

ous.

As persecution for conscience' sake is the subject of the entire passage in which the offensive sentences stand, we are warranted in conceiving that it is to religious opinions and belief that the speaker more especially, perhaps I might say exclusively, refers. Now the matter, as it appears to me, stands thus. If it be indeed true, as is here, without qualification, assumed and asserted, that "coincidences and diversities of opinion are altogether accidental and involuntary," -that "over his belief a man has no control," any more than he has over "the hue of his skin, or the height of his stature,”—and that for his belief, whatever it may be, a man is no more the proper subject of praise or of blame, than he is for a light or a dark complexion, or for the dimensions of his corporeal frame-if, I say, these things be so, then it follows,-not merely that man should not account To MAN for his belief, but also, and with equal certainty, that man has no account to render for his belief To God. There is no moral responsibility connected

with it. We never think of associating any such responsibility with colour, or with stature; and if the two cases be really parallel, neither should we, in any circumstances, associate it with opinions or belief.

Now it is precisely here, that we conceive the mischievous error to lye. We dare not hesitate to say, that between this sentiment and the most explicit statements and uniform assumptions of the Bible, there is a perfect contrariety. Our orator and the inspired penmen are quite at issue. It is impossible for any one to receive the doctrine now promulgated by the former, as the great truth that has" at length happily,

66

66

gone forth to all the ends of the earth," without renouncing the authority of the latter, whose commission was to proclaim "to all the ends of the earth" a message of a far different tenor. When the apostles announced their testimony, in the name of the God of truth, they knew nothing of that philosophy which would now release men from the obligation to give it a believing re

« PrécédentContinuer »