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freedom, which is the patrimonial inheritance of the subject, in a limited government, like that of Britain.
St. Paul commands - Let every soul, in the church of Christ, be subject to the higher powers! But the same apostle is a firm and resolute assertor of his own personal freedom and privileges, as a Roman citizen.
Hence it may be inferred, that individuals are justified in the assertion of their liberty, so far as it is recognised by the laws of their countryso far as it may be consistent with good order, with the peace of society, and with all the respect which government claims, for its dignity, and for its due effect; but that, beyond these limits, they have no right which enables them to extend their private independence, or break the chain of just subordination.
Upon the analogy of this equitable distinction, religious liberty has its due and sober limits. As persecution is discountenanced in the Gospel, and is utterly disallowed, it is admitted, and, by me, unequivocally asserted, that all those who conduct themselves in society as its peaceful members, as orderly and well-disciplined subjects of the government, have a right, as free as air, to the unmolested enjoyment of their own opinions, and are never to incur prosecutions and penalties for their departure, in religious principles, from the national church.
cannot be won by 'argument, they are never to be reduced by force.
But the right of argument must be admitted; were it not so, the Gospel could never have been preached at all. And as that Gospel subjects the visible church to the obligation of definite laws, it is the duty of all Christians to acknowledge their force in adjusting the limits of religious freedom--to acquiesce, with reverent awe, in the constitutions of their great Master, and to observe those human regulations which are implicitly ratified by his word, and are in perfect unison with his general appointments.
Thus, wlien the author of this volume professes himself a zealous and steady advocate of civil and religious freedom, he regards it as limited fitly to its appropriate sphere, and regulated by its just measure-as losing the character of a public blessing—as inverting the good order of the church, and, even, as degenerating into licentiousness, whenever it overleaps these barriers of its power.
By the most eloquent and popular advocates of liberty, these limitations are too often overlooked, and are sometimes disallowed. Hence the popular mind has been impressed with a loose and vague notion of gigantic freedom, without a definite form or lawful circumscription : and this indistinct image has caught the
attention of many who acknowledge themselves, hitherto, as members of the established church; but whose attachment, under the baneful influence of this illusion, is wavering and undetermined. It is to persons of this character that the following discourses are more particularly addressed, in the hope of recalling their notice to the evangelical limits of Christian freedom.
It is not, however, to be supposed, that such a work may not occasionally fall into the hands of those, who no longer halt between two opinions, who have openly relinquished our fellowship, and have publicly declared against our principles. Here it may create a momentary displeasure.
Far be it from the author's wish to irritate or offend any man.
When he uses the privilege of a British subject, in declaring his own opinion, he claims no right of imposing it upon others : he only invites them to consider, impartially, whether it may not entitle itself to their adoption, as being founded in the Gospel of Christ. He would preserve towards all men a temper
of Christian charity --would live at peace with them as fellow-subjects--would cherish a due regard for them as neighbours, and as friends. However they may differ from him in the principles of religion, or in the form of worship, he deprecates the infringement of their liberty, and would have no weapon raised against them that
carries with it a keener edge than the sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God. He has avoided all harsh expressions that are not warranted by that Word; he has also forborne to attack individuals, and, as much as possible, particular societies. No man, therefore, who rests behind the shield of a pure conscience, can receive a wound from his arm.
But, as true charity is incompatible with dissimulation, lie has felt it his duty, with confidence, to mark certain latitudes, in religious principles and practice, which appear to him dangerous in the extreme, as irreconcilable to the laws of Christ. This, however, is not a work of personal, or of public, enmity. He who warns his neighbour to beware of a fire, is not his enemy,
but his friend. A peculiarity of sentiment, and of conduct, attaches itself to none
may be relinquished or maintained, as correct principles of reasoning, or as a Christian judgment, shall direct.
It is therefore hoped these pages may be useful to the candid and the liberal, in all societies, where the religion of Christ is professed --that they may furnish to them occasion for serious and for dispassionate reflection, when they are asked, if they are warranted in the liberty they use ; or, whether inadvertence or early habit has not led them aside from the undeviating rule of faith, and the straight path of religious duty.
If they find they have been wrong, the churchdoors are open to them; we invite, but we do not compel them : if they can make it appear, by the Gospel, that the path in which they walk is that of life, let them proceed in it with a safe conscience, and may God's blessing attend them !
It was the author's first intention to have added copious notes, illustrating the opinion of primitive Christianity, upon the several subjects of discussion. But, as the authority of ecclesiastical writers might be converted into matter of controversy, it was judged more advisable to rest the cause of the church upon the sole foundation of holy writ, which is in the hands of the people, and is the rule to which all Christians make their last appeal.