Page images

fore if, upon a false opinion that what the law enjoins is not indifferent, but sinful, I practise contrary to the law, I am justly punishable, because my mistake alters not the nature of the thing. If it be indifferent, it is a proper object of human laws, whether I think it so or no, and as such may justly be imposed; and the imposition being just in itself, our not complying with it is justly punishable. Once more: though no man ought to be punished for his opinion, yet he may be justly punishable for making a public profession of it; for there is no doubt but men may be restrained by laws from propagating their little opinions into factions, and dividing themselves upon every different persuasion into opposite parties. Otherwise it will be impossible, considering the passions of men, to maintain any unity or concord in civil or sacred societies. And therefore where such restriction is, men ought to be satisfied with this, that they freely enjoy their liberty of opining, and are not deprived of their natural right to judge for themselves; and so they ought either to keep their little opinions to themselves, or at least not to vex and disturb the public by a fierce endeavour to propagate them to others. And this due deference to men's natural right of judging for themselves hath been always punctually observed in the church of England; for it neither damns nor censures, persecutes nor destroys men upon the score of difference in opinion, provided their opinion doth not lead them to wicked or seditious practices; but hopes well of all that live well, and receives all into its communion that desire it; provided they believe but the Apostles' Creed and the doctrine of the four first general councils. It is true, it forbids men so to profess their dissents to the articles of its doctrine and discipline, as to seduce her children from her communion, and list them into factions against her; and this every church must necessarily do, that values its own peace and preservation : but it pretends not to invade the liberty of their thoughts, or to lay rigid restraints on their opinions; and so long as they dissent from us modestly and peaceably, they may enjoy their own opinions and our communion too. And as for those foreign communities of Christians that differ from us, we pass no severe sentences against them; but do believe, and hope, and earnestly pray, that the God of all mercies will pity their errors and connive at their defects, and finally unite them to us for ever in the blissful communion of the church triumphant. Nor doth our religion obtrude itself upon the minds of men, by the bare warrant of an imperious authority; but fairly appeals to our understandings, and casts itself upon the trial of our reason ; exacting of us no further assent than what the evidence claims upon which it is founded; and is so far from exacting of us a blindfold assent to it without examination, that it readily exposes itself to the severest inquiry, and asks no other favour but to stand or fall by the impartial sentence of our reason. It tells us both what we are to believe, and why; and not only allows, but requires us to examine the grounds and reasons of it; in all which there is not the least shadow of imposing on men's minds, or usurping on their rights of judging for themselves. But alas ! it is not only the church of Rome that is guilty of this unnatural tyranny; for how many are there of all parties among ourselves that cannot endure the least contradiction, but expect all judgments should bow to theirs, and receive their imperious dictates for oracles; and are ready to censure all that dissent from them, as men of reprobate minds, and to hate and persecute them, because they cannot believe as fast as they. As if no man had a right to carry his eyes in his own head but they; and their understandings were to be a rule and standard to the whole world. If another man differs from me, do not I differ as much from him ? And hath not he as much right to judge for himself as I? But he is mistaken, you will say, and I am not; and possibly he is as confident that I am mistaken, and not he; and if I think I cannot be mistaken, I am more mistaken than he: but certainly it is neither presumption for him to know more than I, nor sin to know less. What then is to be done, but to leave one another in the quiet possession of each other's right; and not to hector and swagger upon every difference in opinion: because he that differs from me hath as much right to judge for himself as I, though he refuses to prostrate his understanding to mine; which for any man to expect, is a most unjust invasion of the common rights of human nature.

3. Every man hath a right not to be forced or impelled to act contrary to the judgment of right

For right reason is the natural guide of all reasonable creatures; it is the light of their feet, and the lantern of their paths, and the star by which they ought to direct their courses. And what can be more unjust, than to force any man to act against that which is the law of his nature? For if he who gave me my nature, gave me right reason for the law and guide of it, I must necessarily have an undoubted right to a full and free permission to follow it; otherwise he hath given me a law in vain. And if I have a right to a full permission to follow the law of right reason, then for any man to impel me to act counter to it, either by hope or fear, or any other motive, is a high injustice to my nature. For he who induces me to do any wicked or unreasonable action, which I should not have done, had not he induced me to it, doth in so doing, so far as in him lies, not permit me to follow the eternal laws of right reason. As for instance, the law of right reason requires me, when I pretend to give evidence to any matter of fact, to testify nothing but the truth to the best of my knowledge; he therefore who endeavours, either by promises or threats, to suborn me to testify falsely, doth thereby hinder me, so far as in him lies, from hearkening to the call of right reason. Again; right reason requires me to make good my promises, whether they be to my superiors, inferiors, or equals, and much more when I confirm them with an oath; he therefore who by any means endeavours to persuade me to falsify my word or oath, doth in so doing, so far as in him lies, not permit me to follow what right reason prescribes. Once more; right reason commands me to bridle my appetite with temperance and sobriety; he therefore that by force or persuasion endeavours to make me drunk, doth, to the utmost of his power, withhold and restrain me from following that which is the law of my nature. In a word, he who by command or threat, promise or persuasion, puts me upon any sinful action, is not only guilty in the sight of God of the sin which I commit by his inducement, but also of doing a high injustice to my nature, of putting it out of its true bias, and not permitting it to move and act according to the laws of reason; which is a piece of the most outrageous violence that can be offered to a rational creature. Besides that by inducing another man to sin, I do, as far as in me lies, betray him to eternal punishment; which is as barbarous an injustice to his soul, as the Devil himself can be guilty of. For should not I call that man a treacherous villain, who, while he pretends to embrace his friend, should secretly stab him to the heart? And is it not a much more bloody villainy, under a specious pretence of kindness and good fellowship, to stab my brother to the soul, and wound him to eternal death? But whilst, like a heedless wrestler, I thus eagerly endeavour to give my brother a fall, it is a thousand to one but I fall with him, and bear him company to eternal torment.


4. Fourthly, and lastly, every man hath a right, as he is a reasonable creature, to be respected by every man, according to the dignity of his nature. For as in particular kingdoms the king is the fountain of honour, and every man under him ought to be respected according to that rank and degree of dignity which the royal stamp hath imprinted on him; so in the universal kingdom of the world, God is the fountain of honour, and every being under him ought to be treated and respected according to the dignity of its rank, and suitably to that character of perfection which God hath imprinted on its nature. Since therefore man is so highly advanced by God in the scale of beings, as being not



« PreviousContinue »