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Considering the text, then, as asserting the liberal, filial spirit of the gospel, I would in the present discourse derive from it, and endeavour to illustrate and apply the proposition, that THE CHRISTIAN Reli
GION IS EMINENTLY CONDUCIVE TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF GENUINE LIBERTY.
In the first place, it vindicates the freedom of man in the concerns of religion.
But what is the freedom, to which, in the concerns of religion, man is entitled? Evidently, not a liberation from dependence on God, nor from the obligation of obedience to His requirements-the former of which is naturally, the latter morally impossible. Perfection in the Deity Himself excludes the possibility of doing wrong. To be permitted then to stray from the path of rectitude is no enviable liberty. To be as is our heavenly Father, must be regarded as well the height of happiness, as of perfection. With great propriety, therefore, is it said in the liturgy of that Church, from whose abuses only the founders of our Commonwealth dissented and removed, that the "service" of God "is perfect freedom."* For, to use the words of judicious Hooker,† "Of Law there can be no less acknowledged, than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempt from her power; both angels and men and creatures of what
*Collect for Peace. +Ecclesiast. polity, h. I.
condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy." The authoritative voice of the Holy Scriptures asserts those to be free indeed, who are made free by Christ. Yet are they children and friends only as they observe His injunctions, and manifest His temper.
A cordial admission of obligation and accountability to God, and to Him alone, is essential to the idea of religious freedom. This relieves from the fear of man, recalls the mind to the contemplation of perfect rectitude, acknowledges the exhibition of that rectitude in revelation as the law and standard of right, and above all, delivers from the slavery of disordered passions and corrupt principles. It tends therefore to reduce the mind to order, harmony and duty; and, freeing it from the restraints of sin and error, enlarges its powers to their just expansion.
The ancient law given to the Israelites was not merely a declaration of eternal and unchangeable principles. Every part of it would then have been of perpetual obligation. Nor is it in such a view that the Apostle compares the two dispensations. Under each of them the great object of worship is the same. But the former covenant was incumbered with ceremonial observances, which the gospel abrogates. It severed the Israelites from the rest of the world, and consulted their benefit merely, as a nation. Its worship was local and restricted, and none could partake in it, but such as joined them
selves to that peculiar people. Although the law of love was inculcated, as a rule of conduct toward a member of their own tribes, and occasionally toward the stranger, it is obvious to remark, that the result separated the Jews in affection as in fact from mankind at large; and though their system itself was confessedly introductory and imperfect, yet they could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.
The religion of the gospel, that dispensation of the Spirit of God, is, on the contrary, enlarged and free. Agreeably to express prophecy, Christ is given for a light to the gentiles as well, as a glory to Israel. The burdensome observances of the Hebrew ritual are no longer binding on the conscience. Equal privileges in religion are offered to all mankind, first indeed to the Jew, but still to the Greek-barbarian, Scythian, bond and free. The spiritual kingdom of Christ knows no national distinctions. One is the Master of all its millions, and they all are brethren.
The prevailing law of this kingdom is love. And love worketh no ill to his neighbour-suffereth long, and is kind, envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and never faileth.
Is it not then abundantly evident that, where this heavenly religion, diffuses its blessings, its tendency is, to transform into its own image the character of the selfish and arrogant, the violent and impure? And if, while it instructs the mind concerning truths most essential and important, it fill at the same time the heart, to the exclusion of pride, malice, covetousness, indolence and sensuality, what remains that can obstruct human freedom in the concerns of religion?
But the design of this day's solemnities, the illustration of our subject, and justice to the ennobling principles of our Forefathers demand that we attend in the second place, to the salutary efficacy of the Christian religion in things of civil concernment.
I am well aware that difficulties attend the discussion of this subject. Some arise from the alledged fact, that liberty has been oppressed and silenced by ecclesiastical establishments; that in no countries has civil freedom been overwhelmed more effectually than in those, wherein the priesthood, instituted for the service and advancement of religion, has attained a temporal ascendency and power. It is then asked triumphantly, if the spirit of intolerance and bigotry, of which reproach a full measure is poured on the heads of our venerated ancestors, who first established the polity of this Commonwealth, has ever shown itself more, than when were heard the loudest professions of religion.
But what does this prove? It argues nothing effectually against the doctrine of the text. Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Human nature, to say the least, is confessedly imperfect. The collision of separate and opposite interests will ever produce confusion. What men strongly desire they will strive with ardour to obtain-and if, in the chase of the honors or profits of the world, there have been found those, who prostrate on the same level things human and Divine, profane the sacred name of religion, by using it as a cloak to conceal extreme cupidity, and even while officiating at her hallowed altars, in secret sacrifice to ambition, avarice and pleasure, she is guiltless of their excesses. The cells of the Inquisition were never her abode, nor the purview of the "Holy Office" her domain. It was not she, who lighted the fires of Smithfield, nor has she been often found in Conclave. She was alike, I fear, a stranger to the voluptuous, classick LEO, and the sanctimonious CROMWELL. Her code requires internal purity and practical virtue. Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report are the theme of her injunction and commendation. As well, then, might we charge upon the the laws themselves the guilt of a criminal, who falls under their just sentence, as upon religion the faults of those, whose lives evince, that they feel not its efficacy.
All men are subjects of the moral government of God. The simple acknowledgment of this principle virtually involves the whole system of duties and