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religious liberty consists, and it indulges our natural love of civil liberty, by giving an express preference to it, before a state of slavery, when by just and lawful means it can be obtained. But this great indulgence of heaven, like every other privilege, is liable to be misused, and was, in fact, so misused, even in early times, when this indulgence of the gospel to the natural feelings of men, was with the gospel itself, first notified and declared. For the zealous Jews, full of the idea that they ought not to submit to any other governor, than one raised up from among their own brethren, were forward to conclude, that their privileges absolved them from obedience to civil government, especially at those seasons when the revenue was collected; and the believing Gentiles were willing to think that the gospel freed them from domestic slavery, the lamentable, but too general condition of converts in the heathen state.
Those notions, as they were not authorised by christianity, (which made no immediate and direct change in the political and personal condition of mankind) so if they had not been opposed and discountenanced, would have given great offence to the ruling powers, in
every country where the christians resided, and have very much obstructed the propagation of the christian faith.
The Holy Spirit, therefore, to guard the rising church from these mischiefs, saw fit by the apostle Peter, to admonish both the Jewish and Gentile converts, to conduct themselves as free men, so far as they could honestly become free; but not as misusing the liberty they had, (which every principle of their religion, as well as prudence, forbad) “as free (says he) and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness," as if he had said, -be careful to observe a due mean, in this matter, maintain your just liberties ; yet so as not to gratify your malignant passions, under pretence of discharging that duty ; and the better to secure the observance of this precept, he adds, but as the servants of God, that is, remember ye are so to employ your liberty, as never to forget the service ye owe to God, and the civil magistrate, whom ye are bound to obey, not only “for wruth, for fear of punishment, but for conscience sake.”
This caution, so guarded by religious as well as moral considerations, was most important, because no word is so fascinating to the common ear, as that of liberty ; while the virtuous and peaceable subject knows what it means, the seditious and licentious often mistake it for licence, for free thinking, free speaking, and free writing, libertinism in principle, and corruption in practice.
For the full establishment of our civil and religious rights, we are indebted, in some degree, to the restauration, but chiefly and fully to the revolution.
From that memorable period, we became, in every sense of the word, a free people ; conscience was secured in the exercise of its just rights, by a legal toleration, and the civil constitution was restored to its integrity : here, then, let us pause--and having before us what the nation so long suffered, and what it so late acquired--the horrors of superstitious tyranny on the one hand, and the blessings of established order and freedom on the other, let us enquire dispassionately, whether it is advisable to dismantle our fortifications, and by repealing the corporation and test acts, admit those to offices of trust and political influence, who entertain the dangerous doctrine, that the regal is subject to the sacerdotal power, and whose attachments and persuasions, might induce them to exert their influence, for the re-establishment of papal tyranny. In less perfect forms of government, alterations may not be sensibly felt, but in a polity like ours, so nicely and artificially adjusted, and like a well constructed arch, held together by the intimate relation, and mutual pressure of its several parts, the removal or even change of any one, may break the connexion of the rest, and by disjointing the whole fabric, bring it unexpectedly on our heads.*
The advocates for catholic emancipátion, scruple not to say, that the opinions which separate the Roman catholics of the present day, from the communion of the church of England, are not now of that dangerous complexion, as to render the disqualification of catholics for offices of trust and power in the state, an object of just policy. Times, it is too well known, have been, when the towering ambition of the Roman clergy, and the tame superstition of the people, rendered the hierarchy, the rival of the civil government, the triple mitre the terror of the crown, in every state in christendom. I am ready to grant, that the pretensions of the Roman pontiff, by the reduction of his power, and the extinction of the Stuart family, are become less formidable. In these circumstances, in this reduced condition of the pope's importance, in the political world, in the actual state of the interests of the Roman catholics of the united kingdoms; it is said, that the long wished for season for the abolition of the corporation and test acts is arrived. But I ask, is it not manifest, that the pope's supremacy interferes with the king's supremacy, as head of the protestant church ? again, it is a consequence from the doctrine of the pope's supremacy, that no consecrations and ordinations are valid, but those which emanate from the see of Rome. If this be the case, the bishops of the reformed
* It is a wise observation of Pindar, that the weak may shake the state, but to re-settle it, requires an interposition, no less than divine.