Friday, September 9, 2016

"The Rights of Conscience Inalienable" by John Leland - Part 2

It is clear that religious liberty is being lost in America. As such, I want to pass along a number of helpful resources of previous generations defending and promoting religious liberty from noted Christians. To begin, let us look at Isaac Backus essay The Rights of Conscience Inalienable preached in 1771.

"The Rights of Conscience Inalienable" by John Leland - Part1
"The Rights of Conscience Inalienable" by John Leland - Part 2 

From these general observations I shall pass on to examine a question, which has been the strife and contention of ages. The question is, “Are the rights of conscience alienable, or inalienable?

The word conscience signifies common science, a court of judicature which the Almighty has erected in every human breast; a censor morum over all his actions. Conscience will ever judge right when it is rightly informed, and speak the truth when it understands it. But to advert to the question—“Does a man upon entering into social compact surrender his conscience to that society to be controled by the laws thereof, or can he in justice assist in making laws to bind his children’s consciences before they are born?” I judge not, for the following reasons:

1. Every man must give an account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in that way that he can best reconcile it to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controled by it in religious matters; otherwise let men be free.

2. It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated; and what is more common than for the best of men to change their minds? Such are the prejudices of the mind, and such the force of tradition, that a man who never alters his mind is either very weak or very stubborn. How painful then must it be to an honest heart to be bound to observe the principles of his former belief after he is convinced of their imbecility? and this ever has and ever will be the case while the rights of conscience are considered alienable.

3. But supposing it was right for a man to bind his own conscience, yet surely it is very iniquitous to bind the consciences of his children; to make fetters for them before they are born is very cruel. And yet such has been the conduct of men in almost all ages that their children have been bound to believe and worship as their fathers did, or suffer shame, loss, and sometimes life; and at best to be called dissenters, because they dissent from that which they never joined voluntarily. Such conduct in parents is worse than that of the father of Hannibal, who imposed an oath upon his son while a child never to be at peace with the Romans.

4. Finally, religion is a matter between God and individuals, religious opinions of men not being the objects of civil government nor any ways under its control.

It has often been observed by the friends of religious establishment by human laws, that no state can long continue without it; that religion will perish, and nothing but infidelity and atheism prevail.

Are these things facts? Did not the christian religion prevail during the three first centuries, in a more glorious manner than ever it has since, not only without the aid of law, but in opposition to all the laws of haughty monarchs? And did not religion receive a deadly wound by being fostered in the arms of civil power and regulated by law? These things are so.

From that day to this we have but a few instances of religious liberty to judge by; for in almost all states civil rulers (by the instigation of covetous priests) have undertaken to steady the ark of religion by human laws; but yet we have a few of them without leaving our own land.

The state of Rhode-Island has stood above 160 years without any religious establishment. The state of New-York never had any. New-Jersey claims the same. Pennsylvania has also stood from its first settlement until now upon a liberal foundation; and if agriculture, the mechanical arts and commerce, have not flourished in these states equal to any of the states I judge wrong.

It may further be observed, that all the states now in union, saving two or three in New-England, have no legal force used about religion, in directing its course or supporting its preachers. And moreover the federal government is forbidden by the constitution to make any laws establishing any kind of religion. If religion cannot stand, therefore, without the aid of law, it is likely to fall soon in our nation, except in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

To say that “religion cannot stand without a state establishment” is not only contrary to fact (as has been proved already) but is a contradiction in phrase. Religion must have stood a time before any law could have been made about it; and if it did stand almost three hundred years without law it can still stand without it.

The evils of such an establishment are many.

For more:
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part1
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 2
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 3
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 4
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 5
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