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acute a writer should not have perceived that, in distinguishing between a right to the use of a power and a right to the abuse of a power, he was merely playing upon words, and availing himself of the ambiguity of the word right! The right to use a power, and the right to abuse a power, are not merely inseparable, but identical. The word right here, can mean nothing but a legal right, a political power; and though it is morally wrong to abuse any right or power, the legal ability does not depend upon the right application of it. It has been said, that a person cannot have a right to do wrong; which is an assertion at palpable variance with every day fact. A man has a right, a complete legal right, to squander away his property, to misuse his wealth, to do à thousand wrong things; provided that he do not commit a legal wrong upon another. The only right with which a Church can be invested, is a political authority; and if this does not admit of being abused, it does not exist. If the Church has power to decree rites and ceremonies, it must possess this power, whether its exercise be morally right or not; whether the rites and ceremonies it ordains, be Scriptural or unscriptural. The question is not, whether the Church of Rome abuses its right, but whether it possesses it; and the same reasoning applies to the Church of England.
Rejecting, then, Hooker's saving clause as a mere fallacy, his argument remains subject to the insuperable objection already mentioned, of proving too much. But in which branch of the syllogism lies the fallacy ? His major proposition is, we think, unassailable. Neither private judgement nor private conscience can be pleaded against public laws. The right of private judgement is an equivocal phrase; and hence the endless dispute respecting the nature and proper limitation of such right. It may mean, either the right that the individual actually possesses, or the right that it is thought he ought to have. No man can be properly said to possess a right which the laws do not give or secure to him. Every actual right is a legal right; what are termed moral rights being hypothetical claims, which may furnish the reasons and ground of legislation, but do not, till recognized by law, come into actual operation. Now no man can have a legal right against the law, whether it be a right of private judgement or a right of conscience, or a right of property. So long as laws exist, whether equitable or not, they must in fact overrule all inferior judgements; and he who infringes upon them, whether his intention be morally good or evil, must bear the penalty. The plea of private judgement or conscience cannot be admitted by any judicature.
The right of private judgement means, the liberty to act according to our judgement; and no man possesses that liberty, except so far as the laws give it him ; for civil liberty is the creature of law, which at once defines and protects it. When, therefore, we say, that, in matters of faith, a man ought to be left to the exercise of his private judgement, ought to be at liberty to follow the dictates of his conscience, we mean, not merely that he ought to be under no legal restriction in that respect, but that he ought to be under the protection of the laws in so doing. He is to exercise his private judgement, not against the laws, but under the protection of the laws: otherwise he is not in the possession of religious liberty.
The minor proposition of the syllogism is, that the Church, like other societies, is invested with power to inake laws. Against this it has usually been objected, that the Church is not empowered to legislate in matters of faith, or to mend and alter the Constitution of Christ; which is only saying in other words, that it has not a right to make bad laws, or to abuse its power. But the preliminary point to be ascertained, is, whether the Church in question is invested with such power. This is a question of simple fact. The Church, as a society, cannot have, any more than an individual, either power or authority, other than it derives from the laws which define its prerogatives ; unless, indeed, it is invested with political sovereignty, in which case it ceases to be, properly speaking, a society. Now whatever degree of power or authority it is expedient or reasonable that a church or other society should be invested with, it does in fact possess all that power (neither more nor less) which the laws admit of its exercising, whether for good or for evil, whether in contravention of sound principles of policy or in accordance with them. What a Church ought to do, is quite another matter. It either is or is not invested with the power here ascribed to it. Hooker's reasoning, then, halts here. He takes it for granted that the Church has an inherent power of a political nature; an assumption which approaches to a contradiction in terms; for every society is the creature of conventional arrangements, and can have no inherent power, much less a power such as is here claimed. It may seem a very specious assertion, that every society has a right to regulate its own concerns,—to make laws for its own well-being ; but it has no such right, except so far as it is allowed to govern itself. No society, not possessed of political sovereignty, can withdraw its members from the operation of the laws which limit their rights, alike in an individual and in a collective and corporate capacity. Whatever power a society possesses, must either be given to it by the consent of its members, or be created by the express provisions of law, as being a political right.
Christianity confers no new political rights, and therefore no such rights can belong to Christians collectively, as such. The right to make laws of any kind, is a right purely political. It makes no difference in this respect, whether they relate to religion
or not. Again, no persons can have an inherent or natural right to make laws; for even hereditary rights are not inherent, but conventional. The right to legislate in religious matters, is but the authority which the laws give, or allow, to certain parties acting as a society or corporation, to regulate the matters specially intrusted to them. Any higher pretensions than this, on the part of a Church, are subversive of the first principles of civil society, and strike at the sovereignty of Cæsar. The Church of England is an estate of the realm. As such, it can have no Divine or abstract authority, but that only which belongs to it by the law and constitution of the kingdom. What its powers are, we shall examine presently. For argument sake, we will admit, that the Church is invested with a certain power to make laws for its own government and well-being, &c. We now pass on to examine the conclusion which completes the syllogism ; viz. that whatever laws the Church enacts, are binding upon all who are born within its confines. Or let us take Warburton's rendering of Hooker's principle.
o“ What that great author affirms is this, That whoever is born in a Church where the true doctrine of Christ is taught and professed, is obliged to submit to those laws of the society, without which no society can subsist. Just as he who is born in a civil society, founded on the principles of natural liberty, is bound to submit to those Laws of Natural Society without which Civil Society cannot exist.”
Vol. I. pp. xxxix. note. But who is to be the judge,' asks Mr. Hanbury, that any particular church teaches and professes the true doctrine of • Christ ?' Here, again, the attempt at qualification betrays the unsoundness of the position ; for if it were true, it must hold good, whether the doctrine of the Church be true or false. In opposition to this statement, Mr. Locke affirms, that no man is born a member of any church ; but this is going too far. When the Church, as in Romish countries, is identified with the national institutions, a man is as truly born a member of the Church, as he is born a member of the civil community: he may as truly be said to be born a Papist or a Mohammedan, as he is born a Neapolitan or a Turk. And, in point of fact, every one born to a community, is as much bound by its ecclesiastical, as by its civil laws. If all who are born within the geographical confines of the Church of England are no longer bound to submit to its ecclesiastical laws, it results simply and entirely from the fact, that the Church and the State in this country are no longer identified, and that the laws of the Church are no longer binding upon Englishmen, who are at full liberty to discard its authority in matters of faith.
It is true, the XXth Article of the Church of England still
proclaims, that the Church hath power to decree rites or cere* monies, and authority in controversies of faith. And those who subscribe to the article may think that such power and authority ought to be vested in their Church; but how does the fact correspond to the hypothesis ? Is it true, in point of fact, that any actual power or authority of this kind can be exercised by the Church? Clearly not. The Church has long been deprived of its legislative powers ; and unless the King in Council can be considered as the Church, it is notorious that the Church cannot decree a single rite or ceremony,-cannot appoint a fast or festival,---cannot decide upon any form of prayer, much less an article of faith. If it could, such decrees and ordinances would
be binding upon all within its pale, but they would no longer be . binding upon all the subjects of the State ; for the Toleration Act and the other statutes which render it lawful for persons to obey the dictates of their conscience in matters of faith, completely nullify and repeal the power and authority claimed by the Church, by divesting it of the ability to enforce its decrees. We no longer contend for any right of private judgement against the law, but under the law. Why should we fight with a shadow, --with the ghost of the slain ?
But how stands the case as to those who are members of the Established Church? To them, so long as they continue members of the Society, the following reasoning of Hooker may still seem to apply: 'A law is the deed of the whole body politic,
whereof if ye judge yourselves to be any part, then is the law 'even your deed also. And were it reason, in things of this
quality, to give men audience, pleading for the overthrow of that which their own very deed hath ratified?' (Vol. I. p. 40.) Freedom of discussion was as ill understood, in those days, as the right of private judgement; but such sophisms would not now impose upon the public mind. Hooker, in his whole argument, confounds political obedience to the laws with an approbation of their wisdom and expediency. To plead for an alteration of the laws is, with him, rebellion. That is not submission to the powers that be, according to his reasoning, which does not prostrate the understanding before the wisdom of the legislature. It is not enough that we determine to 'do', but we must think? also as the Church decreeth. That which the Church shall • publicly think and define to be true and good', he maintains, 'must in congruity of reason overrule all inferior judgements • whatsoever. In this sentence is contained the grand mistake of centuries. All which the Church ordains as law, must, it is admitted, over-rule all private judgements, so long as the Church retains the power to legislate ; because the law does not, in such case, leave the person to be guided by his judgement of what is true and good. But can the law compel a change of his judgement? Can it require him to think that true which he knows to be false, and that good which he knows to be evil ? His right of private judgement is taken away by the law, but his private judgement cannot be reached by the law, which, in attempting to define what is true and good, discovers only its own impotency. The law can create and rule rights and wrongs; but truth and falsehood it can neither make nor determine. Hence, the absurdity as well as injustice of all enactments, ecclesiastical or political, which affect to overrule private judgement or conscience in matters beyond the proper province of human legislation ; matters in which every man ought to be protected in obeying the dictates of his own conscience, without reference to any other rule of faith than the word of God. It is because they overrule private judgements, that such laws are evil; because they interpose between faith and its proper evidence, between conscience and the only Lord of conscience, and violate those sacred rights which God himself has conferred upon every subject of His moral government. · The right of private judgement in matters of religion, and the exclusive authority of the Scriptures, are correlative propositions which imply in fact the same thing. Yet, how little has this been understood! Some writers have represented Protestants and Nonconformists as pleading for the right of private judgement as itself a rule of faith and conduct, whereas it is simply a liberty to stand by the Inspired Rule. This sacred right is a release from human authority in matters of faith, in order that we may exclusively submit to that authority which is Divine. Others, with Dr. Faber, would concede 'the right of 'forming a private judgement upon perfectly unambiguous propositions,' but not upon any litigated points : such 'illegitimate
exercise of insulated private judgement,' that Champion of Church Authority joins with the Romanist in heartily reprobating * This is in effect denying the right altogether, as well as doing away with Scripture as a perfect rule ; a point which Chillingworth has put unanswerably. Others, overlooking the very obvious truth, that a man may have a complete right to do things which it is not right for him to do, inasmuch as moral rectitude is not the source or limit of personal rights,--have argued as if the validity of the right of private judgement depended upon the right use of it, and was forfeited by the abuse. It might seem a very obvious truism, that a man has a right that he actually possesses, whatever use he may make of it; and not less true, if less obvious, that a man ought to have such rights as are necessary to his discharging his most solemn obligations. This is the whole of the matter, as regards the much disputed right of private judgement in matters of faith.
* Difficulties of Romanism, pp. 37–40.