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with respect to man's spiritual concerns, been pleased to leave him thus absolutely, as it were, in his own hands. If he has not, all reasoning upon the matter is at an end; and before men suffer themselves to be governed by a specious dogma, which is calculated to impose, they should examine, whether they have fairly measured their application of it by the standard fet up for that purpose in the word of God. In other words, whether they have honestly made use of all means to inform their judgment, before they adopt it as their rule of conduct. If they have not, their fincerity, merely as such, will furnish no plea in their favour,
They will be condemned, not because they are sincere,
but because they have neglected those means of in'- formation, which would have directed their fincerity
to its proper object. In consequence of which neglect, they may be in the condition of numberless affertors of the rights of conscience, that have ap. peared in all ages of the world; who, in the strenuous exertion of their zeal, thought they were doing God service, at the time they were engaged in the most direct opposition to his will; and facrificing to idols which their own corrupt nature had set up, under the different shapes of pride, prejudice, and worldly intereft.
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THE subject of Toleration has been open
to much misconception. The A& upon which it is founded, should be seen in a civil, not in a religious point of view; for it con, cerns men as members of a civil society, rather than in any other character. The passing this Act was a seasonable exertion of political wisdom, for the purpose of securing the government of this country, at a very critical period, upon the broadest foundation, And the A& itself may with more propriety be called an A&t of Suspension, than of Toleration; the purpose of it being to secure Protestant Diflenters from the Church of England, on certain conditions, from the penalties to which they had been made subject by for. mer statutes. That this was the idea which the legill. ators had before them at the time, may be fairly concluded, from the word Toie, ation not being once
mentioned through the whole statute; and from the Act of Uniformity being at the same time suffered to remain unrepealed.
To form a correct judgment, then, upon this fubject, it
be proper to consider every law as composed of two distinct parts, the preceptive, that which binds the law upon the conscience, and the coercive, that which enforces the obligation of it upon the practice. Now the coercive part of any law, or the penal fan&tion annexed to it, is only for the necessary purpose of moving or constraining men to pay that obedience to the law, which is required of them. But the obligation upon the conscience is not derived from the penalty designed to secure' it, but from the authority of the lawgiver; who, by virtue of that authority, had a right to exact obedience to all his just demands. A suspension, there fore, of the penal fanction, though in the present corrupt state of man it render the law less effectual, does not in anywise invalidate the law itself; which remains just what it was before the fan&tion was annexed to it; binding upon the party, or otherwise, according to the just tenour of the law in question, and the authority of the law-maker, independent of every other consideration. For it is not reasonable
to suppose, that the removal of the penalty can take away from the law that obligation which it derives from a different cause.. . .!! - The Apostle seems to have had this idea before him in the following legal comment addressed to his difciples. “Wherefore," says he, "you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience fake:' not for fear of the penalty, but from a sense of the obligation which the law binds upon the coná science. À motive which ought to secure the obedience of every Christian. . i .::;"? son : !. The fanction annexed, then, to any law proves nothing as to the obligation of the law itself úpón the conscience; but it proves, that in consequence of man not being in that perfect condition in which he ought to be, other 'motives, besides those derived from the reasonableness and equity of the command, are become necessary to secure his obedience. For every law stands upon the ground of its own merits; if good in itself, and enacted by proper authority, whether the penalties designed to secure its operation be enforced or not, its obligation upon the conscience remains the fame.
Let us now consider what the Act of Toleration, as it is commonly called, has done in the cafe before us,
By the Act of Uniformity, every person is required to conform to the mode of worship established in this country. The enforcement of penalties upon this subject, a subsequent Act has, under certain cir. cumstances, suspended; whilft, at the same time, the Act itself, the operation of which those penalties were meant to secure, is suffered to remain in being. May we not conclude from hence, that the legislators faw no reason to alter their opinion with respect to the Act of Uniformity itself; although, upon confideration, they thought proper, in particular cases, to leave it to produce its effect upon the mind, unaslisted by its appointed fan&tion. • The title of Toleration A&t, therefore, which use has now familiarized to the ear, seems to be derived rather from the meaning which popular interpretation has affixed to the Act in question, than from the real intention of the Act itself. For an exemption from penalties, which the policy of former times had inflicted upon certain irregular practices, cannot be considered so much a toleration of those practices, as an acknowledgment, on the part of Government, that religious opinions, so long as they do not interfere with what is deemed to be the welfare of the state, are no longer considered objects for temporal coercion.