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Art. IV. 1. Mémoire en Faveur de la Liberté des Cultes. Par
ALEXANDRE VINET. 8vo. à Paris : 1828.
Interpretation vindicated; in a Letter to the Rev. R. W. Jelf,
Though not immortal, it transmigrates through many forms of being before it is finally destroyed. Apparently dead, buried, rotten—consigned to dust and darkness so long ago, that the very volumes in which it lies entombed are worm-eaten, and the controversies in which it seemingly perished no longer read, it often breathes and lives again after the lapse of centuries, and takes its place amongst the things that are;'-not usually, it is true, in the very form in which it disappeared in that it would not be lightly tolerated again—but in a shape adapted to new times and circumstances, with an organization, so to speak, which qualifies it to exist in a different element of thought and feeling. The chrysalis becomes a gaudy butterfly, misleading into a foolish chase thousands of those overgrown boys of the human family, who perchance would have despised it in its original deformity.
At this we are not to wonder; for if error passes through many changes, it is because human nature is still the same. successive age are reproduced minds with all the tendencies which have characterized those of the past; with the same affinities for special classes of error, or the same disposition to exaggerate and distort truth itself into substantial falsehood. Such minds may be, and usually are, modified by the age in which they live, the education to which they have been subjected, the circumstances under which they have been developed ; but they exist, and with an idiosyncrasy so marked, that even if they have never been stimulated by a knowledge of the theories of those who have erred, and been confuted before them, they often exhibit an invincible tendency to similar extravagances. What Thucydides has said of the parallelisms which we may perpetually expect in political history, is almost as applicable to the history of opinions :-γιγνόμενα μεν και αεί εσόμενα έως άν η αυτη φυσις ανθρωπων ή, μάλλον δε, και ήσυχαίτερα, και τους έιδεσι διηλλαγμένα... Yet have we reason to hope well of the ultimate destinies of our race; and to believe that the progress towards the final triumph of Truth and Right is steady and certain, in spite of the alternate flux and reflux of the tide.
The remarks just made on the resuscitation of ancient error at distant intervals, and in new forms, have been signally illustrated in that great controversy, or rather complication of controversies, to which the discussion of what are called · High Church Principles, has recently given rise; and to none of the antique novelties (if we may use such an expression) commended to us by the advocates of those principles, are they more applicable, than to the doctrines recently propounded by one and another of them on the subject of the Right of Private Judgment.' Of all the peculiarities of this modern-antique School, none, in our opinion, is of graver import or of darker omen, than its hatred, more or less disguised, of this great principle.
Few, in the present day, would seek the restoration of the brutal, or rather diabolical laws of ancient persecution, any more than they would, even if the choice were given them, breathe life into the bones of a Gardiner or a Bonner. To take those laws expressly under protection, in defiance both of reason and experience; in defiance of the arguments of such men as Taylor, Chilling worth, Bayle, Locke, and others scarcely less illustrious ; above all, in defiance of the terrible condemnation supplied in the records of persecution itself, were the sheerest insanity. Whatever some may secretly wish, not only are hanging and burning for religious opinions abolished; but even the more moderate forms' of persecution, as our ancestors facetiously called them, and which its sturdier advocates despised as poor peddling arts—the thumbscrew, branding, the pillory, incarceration, banishment--are quite out of date. Under these circumstances, we might be sure that any attempts to revive ancient error in relation to the Right of Private Judgment would be very cautious; and such, with some exceptions which have equally moved our abhorrence and indignation, we have found them to be. Not only would expediency dictate moderation, if the public is to be induced to listen at all; but we trust that, in the vast majority of instances, even amongst men who cherish · Iligh Church Principles,' honour and conscience would alike recoil from the employment of the ancient methods under any modifications. How far, indeed, such men may sympathize with the views on which we shall presently animadvert—whether, though they do not at present avow it, they may not, as in other cases, have their esoteric doctrine to which the public is not yet to be admitted-whether that reserve' which they advocate in the communication of religious truth’ be not operating here also—we have no means of judging. Our hope is, that the greater part of those who question, in one way or another, the • Right of Private Judgment,' would not actually resort to any of the exploded forms of persecution. At all events, we
shall not believe they would, except where they expressly tell us
We flatter ourselves they would not find it so easy to throw off the spirit of their own age, as to apologize for the excesses of the past; or to repress the best feelings of their hearts, as to quench the light of their understandings. We shall, accordingly, bring no indefinite charges against any body of men. The particular modifications of opinion to which we object shall be referred to their proper authors; and chapter and verse duly cited for the representations we may make of them. But whether they be many or few who sympathize with the more reckless of the modern Propagandists of the doctrine of persecution, we do not anticipate that they will be actually successful. They never can be, until they can convert the present into the past, or make the wheels of time roll backward. It does not follow, however, that their attempts can be safely neglected; or that their opinions are not sufficiently dangerous to justify severe animadversion. Their intrinsic falsity, absurdity, and inconsistency, would be ample warrant for that. But when we reflect, further, on the tendency of such opinions to confound and perplex the unthinking—to foster malignity of temper—to perpetuate the remnant of intolerance which still dwells amongst usto endear to some spiteful minds the petty forms of persecution which are'still within their reach-to make them hanker after the forbidden indulgences of an obsolete cruelty-it becomes a duty to denounce them, Nor is it less incumbent to expose those more plausible, and perhaps, on that account, more dangerous, invasions of the Right of Private Judgment, which would delude multitudes into the belief that, on the authority of fallible mortals like themselves, they may repress the voice of conscience, receive as true things which they do not believe to be so, and practise as innocent rites which they deem forbidden.
One would think it very superfluous at this time of day to define what is meant by the Right of Private Judgment,' or to guard these terms against misapprehension. One would imagine that any mistakes about the phrase, or the mode in which it is usually understood, could not be otherwise than wilful; and, in truth, we honestly confess, it is out of our power to regard them in any other light. A recent writer, however, has attempted to show, that in the greater number of cases in which the Right of Private Judgment would be usually said to be exercised, it is not in fact exercised at all. Why? Because there is no protracted, deliberate examination as to which is the true religion, and a decision logically formed accordingly-education, feeling, prejudice, accident, having much to do with the judgment ultimately expressed ! Can any thing be more absurd ? Does this
writer imagine, that those who contend for the · Right of Private Judgment' mean that none can actually exercise it but those who have first of all certified themselves, by actual inspection of the proofs adduced in favour of every religion that has subsisted, or still subsists, in the world, that their own is the only true one ? That a man cannot be a Christian, consistently with the exercise of his · Right of Private Judgment,' unless he has examined and decided whether Hindooism or Mahometanism may not have equal claims ? Or (confining ourselves to Christianity alone) that he cannot be a Christian, in virtue of the exercise of the Right of Private Judgment,' if he has not profoundly examined the wide question of the Christian evidences; or a Calvinist or Arminian, unless he has duly pondered the quinquarticular controversy ? Could this author be so ignorant as to suppose that the advocates of the right meant this ? It is notorious that writers by this phrase mean the right of individually judging—no matter what the grounds of that judgmentwhat is religious truth, and what not ; not merely the abstract right of every man (though, it is true, each has it) deliberately to examine, if he has leisure and is so inclined, any or all systems of religion, and to make selection of that which he deems the true accordingly; but the right-in whatever way he may have arrived at his actual convictions of what is religious truth-to maintain and express that conviction, to the exclusion of all means beyond those of argument and persuasion, to make him think, or rather (for that is impossible by any except such means) to make him say otherwise. In a word, whether the phrase be abstractedly the best that could have been employed or not, it is chiefly designed to disallow the right of forcing us to believe, or profess to believe, as others bid us. This, in fact, is what is really contended for; and it implies not merely the right to judge for ourselves, but, so far as coercion is concerned, the right, if we please, not to judge at all; for though no man has a moral right to be in the wrong, it does not follow that another man has the right to employ force to reclaim him from his error. Much needless discussion has been wasted on this point by the adversaries of this doctrine, both ancient and modern; and yet nothing is more certain, or more a matter of daily experience, even where religion is not directly in question. A man has no moral right to get drunk at his own table; and yet he has a right to deal very unceremoniously with any one who would by force prevent him. And so in a thousand other cases.
We feel almost ashamed of having been compelled, in the middle of the nineteenth century, to say any thing in explanation of the meaning so generally and notoriously attached to the phrase, · Right of Private Judgment.' Such being its meaning, however, we feel still more ashamed that there are to be found any who will deny the right itself. Yet such is the case with the writer to whom we have just referred, and who has incurred the additional odium of questioning that right, even as limited-and, one would have thought, put beyond controversy-by his own absurd interpretation of it. To one who was disposed to question the right, it might be imagined more reasonable, or rather less unreasonable, to deny it, on the supposition that it was designed to protect all consciences, whether the judyment formed was the result of deliberate examination or not; than on the supposition that the right was contended for only where such deliberate examination had been made. Yet even this limited exercise of the right, this author does not think it proper to concede to us. He thinks it reasonable to say that, if any one judges it proper to exercise this right, it is quite competent to the civil magistrate to inflict penalties on him for so doing. That any one would have been insane enough to contend for such a proposition in the present day, we could not have believed had we not read the statement with our own eyes. In order to protect ourselves from any charge of misrepresentation, and to prevent others from participating in the incredulity into which, apart from such evidence, we should undoubtedly' have fallen, we shall cite the following passage: • Now the first remark which occurs is an obvious one, which,
we suppose, will be suffered to pass without opposition—that whatever be the intrinsic merits of private judgment, yet, if it at all exerts itself in the direction of proselytism and conversion, a certain onus probandi is upon it, and it must show cause, • before it is tolerated, why it should not be convicted forthwith as a breach of the peace, and silenced instanter as a mere dis
turber of the existing constitution of things. Of course it may • be safely exercised in defending what is established; and we 6 are far indeed from saying that it is never to advance in the
direction of change or revolution, else the Gospel itself could o never have been introduced ; but we consider that such mate* rial changes have a primâ facie case against them, they have • something to get over-and have to prove their admissibility, • before it can reasonably be granted ; and their agents may be • called upon to suffer, in order to prove their earnestness, and to
pay the penalty of the trouble they are causing. Considering • the special countenance given in Scripture to quiet unanimity
and contentedness, and the warnings directed against disorder, • irregularity, a wavering temper, discord, and division ; consi
dering the emphatic words of the Apostle, laid down as a general principle, and illustrated in detail, “ Let every man abide