Religion and the State.—No. 3

The American Sentinel, July 17, 1890

GOD has never established authority with any man, or any number of men,- to declare what is final law for others, in mat- ters of religious faith. Give this power to either the Governor of a State, or to the popular majority of a community, and such authority gradually becomes invested with a force that is sure, sooner or lator, to be swayed oppressively. Men who stand with the minority, have a more vivid realization of this, than those on the opposite side. Macaulay stated the truth on this point, in a few words, when he’ said:—

The doctrine which, from the very first origin of religious dissensions, has been held by all bigots of all sects, when condensed into a few words, and stripped of rhetorical disguise is simply this: I am in the right and you are in the wrong. When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger I shall persecute you, for it is my duty to persecute error.—Macaulay’s Essay on Sir James Mackintosh, Par. 67.

It was observed in the beginning of this book that crimes and misdemeanors are a breach and violation of the public rights and duties, owing to the whole community, considered as a community in its social aggregate capacity. And in the very entrance of these commentaries it was shown that human laws can have no concern with any but social and rela- tive duties, being intended only to regulate the conduct of man considered under various relations as a member of civil society. All crimes ought therefore, to be estimated merely according to the mischief which they produce in civil society, and of consequence, private vices, or breach of mere ab- solute duties, which man is bound to perform con- sidered only as an individual, are not, cannot be, the object of any municipal law.—Oooley’s Black- stone, Booh 4, P. 40.

Cooley in his work on Constitutional Law, also sets forth the relation of the in- dividual conscience to the civil law, as follows:—

It is the province of the State, to enforce, so far as it may be found practicable, the obligations and duties which the citizen may be under, or may owe to his fellow-citizen, or to society; but those which spring from relations between himself and his Maker are to be enforced by the admonitions of conscience, and not by the penalties of human laws. Indeed, as all real worship must essentially and necessarily consist in the free-will offering of adoration and gratitude by the creature to the Creator, human laws are obviously inadequate toincite or compel those internal and voluntary emo- tions which shall induce it; and human penalties, at most, could only enforce the observance of idle ceremonies, which, when unwillingly performed, are alike valueless to all the participants, and de- void of all the elements of true worship.—Consti- tutional Limitations, X 4-69, 3.

To state the proposition in another form, Macaulay, in his review of Gladstone, “Church and State,” says:—

Now here are two great objects: one is the protec- tion of persons and estates of citizens from injury; the other is the propagation of religious truths. No two objects more entirely distinct can well be imag- ined. The former belongs wholly to the visible and tangible world in which we live; the latter belongs to that higher world which is beyond the reach of our senses. The former belongs to this life; the latter, to that which is to come. Men who are per- fectly agreed as to the importance of the former object, and as to the way of obtaining it, differ as widely as possible, respecting the latter object.— Par. 13.

There is one prominent doctrine set forth in the foregoing quotations to which there must he a general agreement: that is, that the Christian religion is de- signed to do a work which civil govern- ment is in nowise qualified to do. The former accomplishes its mission, and saves the transgressor of God’s law, by offering mercy to all who confess their guilt. The latter restrains crime only hy the rigid ap- plication of its laws, which can in no way change men’s hearts. There is no mercy in law, not even in that of Jehovah. True, the word “mercy” occurs in the moral law, hut its use there in no way sig- nifies that there is mercy in the execution of that law. Neither could God make men good and save them hy the moral law after sin’ had once entered the world. It was therefore necessary that an atoning sacrifice be offered in behalf of man, and thus the gospel was’ established, by which all who choose may be eternally saved. The gospel, thus necessitated, was commit- ted to the Church to be proclaimed and administered; but never to the State. In the hands of the Church, it is God’s su- pernatural interposition for the salvation of individual sinners. The State having no gospel, nothing but law, and that only of human enactment, cannot, from the very nature of the case, be qualified to in- struct in matters of faith and conscience.

J. O. CORLISS.

http://www.adventistarchives.org/docs/AmSn/AmSn1890-V05-28/index.djvu?djvuopts&page=6

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