The Nature and Lawfulness of Union Between Church and State
Published at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1835, as a contribution to Lectures on the Nature and Lawfulness, Duty and Advantages of Civil Establishments of Religion, a collection of essays by various authors.
The subject of the present lecture is the nature of the union or connection that may be formed between the church and the state, the reciprocal independence of the two societies, and the possibility of their union or alliance, on certain terms, without compromise of that independence. Now you will observe that the consideration of these points involves a discussion of subjects purely abstract, separated wholly from the consideration of any particular establishment whatever. It is quite possible, nay it is a fact actually realized amongst us, that men may hold the great general principles on which national establishments of religion rest, and can be fully vindicated, although there may be no particular establishment in existence to which they can conscientiously attach themselves – and moreover, that men may even hold the propriety and obligation of some union or connection between church and state, who may scruple at admitting some of the principles commonly considered to be involved in the existence of a national establishment of religion. A church, for example, may in a certain sense be established, and there may really exist a union or connection between church and state, where there is no state endowment.
It is quite possible that the state or the supreme civil rulers, on becoming Christian, and considering the duty which they owe to religion and to the church, may see it incumbent upon them to establish the church by giving it the sanction and countenance of civil authority, or – what is substantially the same thing – giving it a public official declaration of their approbation and good will, while at the same time the situation of the church may be such as to render a state endowment unnecessary. Constantine established the church, but he did not endow it. He only legalized the enjoyment by the church of the property which it then possessed, or might afterwards acquire by the operation of the voluntary principle. And this operation of the voluntary principle continued long after Christianity was in a certain sense established, as has been satisfactorily proved by Mr. Gibson in his most valuable pamphlet on “The Real Origin of Romish and Priestly Domination.” The Church of Scotland, too, was established for some time before it was endowed; so that, in advocating the general principle of a union or connection between church and state, we are not necessarily bound to defend a national endowment of religion, it being quite possible that there may be real union and close connection without this.
The general question of the lawfulness of some union or friendly connection between church and state being purely of an abstract kind, we are entitled, in arguing it, to suppose any condition of things which is possible and not opposed to the common principles of human nature. We are entitled, for example, to suppose that the state – that is, those persons who by the constitution of the country are invested with the power of making national laws and of disposing of national wealth – are really desirous, upon right principles, of doing what they can to promote the interests of religion. We are entitled to suppose that there may be but one denomination of professing Christians in the country – one church, of which the legislature, the magistrates, and the great body of the people, are members. We are entitled to make these suppositions because if we can prove that in any circumstances – even the most favorable possible – there should be some union or friendly connection between church and state, between religion and civil authority, then we establish one great principle, we overthrow certain common assertions of our adversaries, and we lay a firm foundation for proving those great principles by means of which state endowments in general, and the endowment of the church of Scotland in particular, may be fully vindicated.
The most obvious and plausible objection is derived from the apparent injustice and alleged hardship of compelling men – as it is commonly put – to pay for the support of a religion which they do not believe, or of ministers from whom they derive no benefit. But when men have once determined, from whatever motives, upon advocating a certain cause, they naturally strive to collect arguments from all sources and to have some adapted to men of different characters. It seems to have been something of this sort that led our opponents to make some of their extreme assertions about the impossibility or unlawfulness of all union or friendly connection between church and state. Statements of this kind, having the appearance of great spirituality of conception as to the nature and constitution of Christ’s kingdom, are likely to influence the minds of a certain class of persons who may be seriously disposed and easily caught with the appearance of piety and spirituality, but who may not possess much perspicacity, or be very able to distinguish things that differ. For this class of persons, the assertions of voluntaries about the impossibility, in a lawful way, of any union or connection between church and state, and the impropriety of civil rulers, as such, doing anything whatever in regard to religion, seem to have been intended, and for this class they are well adapted.
That the voluntaries are in the habit of asserting the unlawfulness of all union or friendly connection between church and state, and the impropriety of civil rulers, as such, doing anything whatever in regard to religion, is a fact too notorious to need any proof. If you attend, however, to what they commonly say in support of these startling positions – opposed to the almost unanimous sentiments of the best and wisest men in all ages of the Christian church – you will find that it is very meager, and can scarcely be made to assume the form or appearance of argument. If you watch them carefully, you will find that they are not fond of remaining long on this high ground. They feel that the materials for arguing here are very scanty, and they are fain soon – although they will give no notice of their intention, and try during the process to elude observation – to descend to the lower ground. Even while they profess to be arguing the great principle of the propriety or lawfulness of any union or connection between church and state, and the general duty and warrant of civil authorities, as such, to do something about religion, they are in the habit, for lack of argument, of mixing it up with considerations derived from some of the leading features by which church establishments have been commonly distinguished, though not essential to the principles on which they may be defended, and even from the special abuses of particular establishments. But since they have been so rash as to deny the lawfulness or propriety of all union or friendly connection between church and state, and the duty or warrant of the civil authorities to do anything whatever about religion, we must endeavor for a little to keep them in this elevated position, and examine the firmness of the ground on which they stand. Let us briefly, then, attend to what the church is, and to what the state is, that we may see whether all union or connection between them is so unlawful and impracticable, viewed in connection with the nature and objects of each, as voluntaries commonly allege.
The church is a society founded and instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ, of which he himself is the sole Head, but for the government of which upon earth he has made provision, and given directions for appointing office bearers, who in managing its affairs are to act only in his name, and in obedience to his laws – to aim at the salvation of sinners, and to employ for that end the preaching of the whole Word of God, the due administration of sacraments, and the proper exercise of ecclesiastical discipline. All this is essential to a Christian church, and no church should ever voluntarily, and in order to secure any temporal advantage, place itself in a situation implying the violation, or neglect, of any of these principles. It is willingly conceded that Christ’s church or kingdom is not of this world, but is purely spiritual, and that if it can be proved that union or connection between church and state, of any kind, or in every degree, necessarily implies the headship over the church of any other than Jesus Christ himself, the subtraction of any of the privileges conferred by Christ upon the office bearers or members of his church, or the imposition of any restraint upon them in the discharge of any of their duties, then all such union or connection is unlawful.
What, then, is the state, or body politic? It is to be viewed in this controversy chiefly with reference to its rulers, the civil authorities. And in this view it may be defined to consist of him or of them who, by the constitution and laws of the country, are entitled to make national laws, and to dispose of national wealth. The body politic, like the church, is a society or regulated union in which there must be governors and governed, superiority and subordination. In every state or body politic, there must be a supreme power, from which there is no appeal, entitled to exercise absolute authority and to act, in so far as any human power is concerned, according to its own discretion in making laws and in disposing of life and property.
Voluntaries, who of course have a complete monopoly of liberal and enlightened principles in politics, will immediately on hearing this statement cry out against the tyrannical and intolerant principles of the supporters of establishments, and therefore it may be necessary to explain that in making this statement we have no reference to any particular form of civil government, and that its truth is not in the least affected by the circumstance of the government being monarchical, aristocratical, democratical, or a mixture of them all. But it is evident, from the nature of the case, that in every kingdom there must be lodged, somewhere, supreme and absolute power of making laws and disposing of wealth and property, whether vested in the one, in the thousand, or in the million – whether exercised by an autocrat, by a senate, or by a body of popular representatives. In our own country, for example, the supreme power is by the constitution vested in King, Lords, and Commons. They have not only the power, but in a certain sense the right of making what laws for the country they please, and of disposing of the life and property of its inhabitants.
They may, indeed, abuse the power which the constitution vests in them, exercise it under the influence of erroneous and mistaken opinions, or in an unjust and dangerous way, and thus justly subject themselves to the severest censure, and afford good grounds for complaint; and everything legal and competent may be done by anyone to lead them to use it aright under the influence of wise and enlightened views. It is even competent for the nation, if it chooses, to alter the constitution of the country, and it may become lawful for the subjects – in extreme cases of tyranny, injustice and oppression – to rebel or resist. But in the meantime, as matters stand, and in all ordinary circumstances, the King, Lords and Commons have an unlimited power and authority to make national laws and to dispose of national wealth – that is, of the whole property which the nation contains. They have no right, indeed, properly so called, to do this arbitrarily or capriciously, in order to gratify their own fancy or to advance their own interests, for they are bound – in all they do, enact or determine – to have respect to the authority of God, the dictates of right reason, and the best interests of the community. But though some of the subjects should entertain a different opinion from the legislators, as to the propriety of certain of their measures, that does not in the least affect the right of the legislators to enact, or the duty of the subjects to obey. More particularly, in every state there must be a right and power, whether vested in few or in many, to dispose of the whole property which the nation contains, because the property of no man, or body of men, should stand in the way of general or national utility. And this supreme power – with us the three estates of the realm – has the power and right of determining what is for the national benefit.
The conscience of every inhabitant of this kingdom is concerned in his doing all that is constitutionally competent to him, to induce those invested with supreme power to make a right – or what he reckons a right – disposal of national wealth. But if they do dispose of any portion of it differently from what he approves, this gives him no right or warrant to resist the arrangement, or to alter it by his own authority. His conscience is concerned in his still continuing to do what is constitutionally competent to him, with the view of altering the determination of the supreme authority, and bringing the regulation of all the property in the nation into accordance with what he thinks equitable and expedient. But further than this, no right or claim of conscience carries him: the true state of the case being just this, that whatever may be his views of the matter, those to whom, by the existing constitution of the country, the whole property of the nation belongs, are doing what they will with their own – are disposing of their own property according to their own good pleasure.
Such then being, from the nature of the case, the power which the supreme authority in every state must necessarily possess, let us now advert to the ends or objects for which states are formed, and to which, consequently, the powers vested in their rulers ought to be directed. It may be admitted to our opponents, that the protection of life and property, and the preservation of peace and good order, are the more direct and immediate ends or objects for which men entered into society and instituted civil government. But it is also notorious that civil rulers are spoken of in the New Testament as ministers of God for good, and that civil government is described as his ordinance. We are likewise distinctly given to understand, that in consequence of the authority of God being interposed in this matter, a peculiar obligation is laid upon both rulers and subjects. We are just as much opposed to the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance, or to the alleged scriptural authority and obligation of any particular form of civil polity, as the most liberal voluntary in the land. But we think it impossible for any man to read the 13th chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, without seeing at least that civil government – implying the superiority of some and the subordination of others – is to be traced and ascribed to God in a more precise and definite sense than merely that it has occurred under his providential government of the world. In consequence of this, both governors and governed are under a special obligation, in their mutual relation, and in the discharge of their mutual duties, to have respect to his authority and purposes. God did and intended something peculiar, with regard to the institution of civil government, above and beyond what he is to be considered as doing with regard to ordinary events occurring in the course of his providence; this renders it a matter of positive duty in those who administer his ordinance of civil government, that in that character and capacity they shall have a special respect to his end in instituting it. His ultimate end or object in this, as in everything else, was of course the promotion of his own glory, in the manifestation of his own perfections, and the salvation of sinners. And hence it follows that intelligent agents – who know God’s will and may, in his providence, be led to be his instruments at any time in instituting or administering this ordinance of his, viz., civil government – are bound as such, and in that very respect, to aim ultimately at the advancement of the same great and benevolent object.
Let us now view the church and state in conjunction, and see if there be really anything sinful or improper – according to the allegation of our opponents – in union or connection between them, in all circumstances or in any degree. Let us first advert to the grounds on which the doctrine of the unlawfulness of all union or connection between church and state is founded. There is then, first of all, the frequent use of certain language by the voluntaries on this point, which, though it contains no argument, is fitted to excite prejudice against any union between church and state. They ring changes perpetually upon the abomination of confounding and intermingling things civil and sacred, as if they intended to call up to men’s imagination the weakness, corruption, and loathsomeness, which, in physical matters, often attend improper and unsuitable mixtures or conjunctions. This, however, is mere words. In speaking of what civil rulers have done for the church, and of its effects, they are fond of using certain language which has a scriptural sound, although perverted from its scriptural application, and of dwelling upon the kings of the earth committing adultery with the church – an idea which, of course, implies sin in both parties. Now, after they have once proved that all union or connection between church and state involves something sinful on both sides, there could be no great objection to their applying to it the term “adultery,” if it suited their taste, although it has no scriptural warrant. But we do not think it very fair or becoming to try to excite prejudice in the minds of unthinking people by the use of such language, before or in the absence of proof – especially as the passages in the Book of Revelation from which the language is taken, are, in this use of them, completely perverted, inasmuch as these statements are not there applied to the true church, of which even voluntaries admit some established churches to be branches, but to the apostate Church of Rome, and inasmuch as it is not said, as might have been supposed from the common voluntary mode of quoting them, that the kings of the earth corrupted or seduced the church, but that the apostate church corrupted or seduced them.
These are some of the means by which they prejudice the minds of well-meaning but weak people against all idea of union or connection between church and state. But the argument which they commonly adduce in support of this position is to the following effect: That the two bodies, viz., the church and the state, are so totally different from, and contrasted with, each other in all respects, that there can be no union or connection between them without the one or the other ceasing more or less to be what it ought to be. They are fond of enlarging upon all the points in which the church or state differ from, or are contrasted with, each other. You will find this specially dwelt upon and discussed, under a variety of heads, in Graham of Newcastle’s reckless and inconsistent attack upon establishments, and in Dr. Wardlaw’s sermon upon that subject. In discussing this point, they give us much sound scriptural statement – views with which, in general, we accord, while at the same time we cannot but express our surprise at the folly of men who imagine that by proving that the church and the state are, in many respects, contrasted with each other, and especially that the church is a spiritual society, they are establishing the unlawfulness of all union or connection between them. And here we may remark by the way, that the distinction between church and state, between civil and ecclesiastical authority, and especially the spirituality and independence of
the church of Christ, are most fully asserted in the standards of the Church of Scotland, and we defy the voluntaries to produce, from the whole circle of theological literature, more distinct assertions, statements showing a clearer perception, and giving more satisfactory proofs of the spirituality and independence of the church of Christ, than have been left us by the authors of our first and second Reformations – by Knox and Melville, by Henderson and Gillespie and Rutherford, who yet were all of them most decided supporters of the principle of national establishments of religion.
But how does the difference or the contrast between the church and the state, in their nature, properties and objects, prove that there can be no union or friendly connection between them? The voluntaries will scarcely venture to assert that the mere fact of two societies being very different in many respects is inconsistent with any union or connection between them. The falsehood of this general maxim is proved by the facts of the union of the two very different natures, the human and the divine, in the one person of Christ, without commixtion or confusion, and of the union of the soul and body – totally different in their properties – while yet each retains in union all its own peculiar properties. If then the alleged impossibility of all lawful union or connection between church and state cannot, as is evidently the case, rest upon the ground of any such general position as the impossibility of union between two bodies or societies which are, in many respects, contrasted with each other, it must, if it have any existence, be founded upon some of the special features of that contrast.
The spirituality of the church, both as to the objects aimed at, and the means to be used, does not necessarily prevent some connection between the church and the state. So long as the church is in the world – dependent in some measure for the accomplishment of her objects upon the labors of men and upon external things – this of itself lays a foundation for some connection, friendly or unfriendly, between them. Voluntaries commonly assure us that the state has greatly injured the church by establishing and endowing her; but they will scarcely venture to deny that upon a variety of occasions when the state or civil power intended to injure religion through the church, it has actually injured it, and that when it intended to promote religion it has sometimes, in point of fact, done it a service. And if the one may thus, in point of fact, influence the other – if the church, even with reference to her most appropriate objects, may be affected by the mode in which civil authority is exercised, it does not imply any departure from her spirituality that she makes it an object to have that power exercised in such a way as may best promote her real welfare.
The voluntaries have not given us anything like tangible arguments to show that all union or connection between church and state must necessarily interfere with the spirituality, independence or peculiar functions of the church. Since we are discussing an abstract principle, and since it is sufficient at present if we can show that some union or friendly connection in any circumstances is lawful, we may suppose that the state – that is, the civil authorities – have as sound scriptural views of the spirituality of the church, and are as anxious that everything about her be regulated according to the authority of Christ, as the church herself. The state is as much bound to obey Christ as the church, and there is no reason a priori which should render it probable, that in the formation of a union or friendly connection or alliance between them, the state should propose, or the church should agree, to any arrangement inconsistent with the spirituality of the latter, or her entire subjection to Jesus Christ. In consequence of the important points of contrast between them, on which voluntaries are so fond of dwelling, this much is evident, that there need be no collision or opposition of interests between them, and that the great object of the church – the salvation of souls – and, at the same time, the leading object of the state – the welfare of the community – will be best promoted by preserving the church’s spirituality, and leaving her, as to all her internal arrangements and all her peculiar functions and duties, in a condition accordant with the principles of God’s word. This is undoubtedly true, and it is possible that civil rulers may see the truth of it, and may act upon it. It is thus quite possible – for anything that has been ever proved – that the whole spirituality of the church may be preserved, and that there may be no neglect or violation – either by the state or by the church – of anything about the church contained in God’s word, while yet some union or friendly connection may subsist between them.
If any voluntary should say that this, though perhaps possible, is very unlikely, and should refer, in confirmation of the statement, to the actual history of many religious establishments, we must just remind him that we are at present considering the abstract principle of the case, and that in making such a statement, he is quietly stepping down from the high ground of principle on which he has been foolish enough to place himself, and where we must take the liberty of keeping him for a little longer. Does it necessarily imply any diminution of the spirituality of the church, or any interference with anything in doctrine, worship, government and discipline which Christ has enjoined or sanctioned, that the civil rulers should make official proclamation, embodied in a national law, that they approve of the Standards of which they find the church already in possession, and that they feel it to be incumbent upon them to give the church full protection, and ample countenance, and every facility which they can render, and that they recommend it to all their subjects to attend upon the ordinances of religion? Yet, is not this an establishment of the church? Does it not imply a real connection between the church and the state? Is religion necessarily secularized, is the church necessarily corrupted from her spirituality or interfered with in her peculiar functions, if the civil authority should prohibit all manner of work on the Lord’s Day, should appoint chaplains for the legislative assemblies and for the army and the navy, or should make provision for educating the community at the national expense, and should invest the office bearers of the church with some superintendence over national education? And yet do not these things imply union, connection, or alliance, between church and state? Do they not imply that civil rulers, as such, are doing something in regard to religion?
Even if the state should endow the church, that is, devote a portion of the national wealth to the erection of churches and the support of ministers – and although this is not an essential part of the idea of establishment or union – how is the spirituality of the church, or its peculiar character, as bound in all things to be obedient to Jesus Christ, necessarily affected by this? Is it not possible, at least, that the state may grant an endowment without attaching to it any improper condition – without requiring of the church anything inconsistent with her obligations to Christ? Churches and ministers must be supported by money from some source or other, and surely the spirituality of the church, its fitness for the discharge of all its duties, is not necessarily affected by the source from which the money comes. The question, indeed, comes substantially to be this: Is it lawful for the church, in consistency with her spirituality and full obedience to Christ, to hold property – to possess, according to the common provisions of law, a portion of worldly substance? Now there is nothing whatever in Scripture to show that the church, as a body, ought not to possess property, any more than an individual Christian, who, equally with the church, is described as being not of this world, and is required to be spiritual. We have already proved that the state has a right, if it chooses, to give to the church a portion of the property of the nation; if it give at all, it must give voluntarily, for it cannot be compelled to give – the church having neither right nor power to compel it. And when the state voluntarily gives to the church a portion of national property, there is no reason whatever why the church, if no improper condition be attached to it, should refuse the offer.
But while there is nothing about the church, as established by Christ and described in Scripture, necessarily or even probably inconsistent with some union or connection with the state, and nothing inconsistent even with a national endowment, neither is there anything about the state, and its character and objects, necessarily inconsistent with such an alliance. Voluntaries are in the habit of speaking as if they identified the state, or civil authority, with the world – the evil world, which is subject to Satan, and necessarily at enmity with God. And in this view, certainly, there can be no union and friendly connection between the church and the state. But this is a complete misrepresentation. The state is an ordinance of God as well as the church, and designed to serve ultimately the same great end. Those who are invested with civil authority may be all of them true servants of God, and worthy members of his church; and if this be kept in mind, the declamation of our opponents upon this point will, of course, produce no impression.
Although voluntaries are in the habit of alleging that religious establishments, as commonly regulated, interfere with the rights of conscience, yet we do not remember of any who have gone so far as to allege that this interference with the rights of conscience is necessarily involved in the general idea of some union or connection between church and state, and therefore the objection about conscience, although very easily solved by a correct statement of the case, and by clearing away one or two misrepresentations, does not come under the present branch of the argument.
It is, however, sometimes asserted that all union or connection between church and state implies the application of force or compulsion to religion – the state, it is said, as such, being able to do nothing else in the matter than use force or coercion. Now, not to repeat that the state may do several things formerly referred to which imply establishment of the church, or union between church and state, and to which the allegation of the use of force cannot – with any appearance of plausibility – be applied, we have to remark that no intelligent defender of establishments advocates the principle that the state ought to bring its proper agency, viz., civil authority, coercion and money, to bear directly and immediately upon the inculcating of certain opinions in regard to divine things, or the leading men to adopt a certain line of acting in regard to them. Nothing of this kind is involved in the principle of religious establishments, or is now exhibited in connection with the establishments of this country. Direct attempts to form men’s opinions, and regulate their conduct with regard to religious subjects, must be left to the church, which should aim at, and can accomplish, this object only through persuasion and the scriptural exercise of ecclesiastical authority. And with regard to the compulsion said to be necessarily involved in a state endowment, we remark, 1st, That an endowment is not necessarily involved in an establishment of religion; 2nd, That it is possible at least, and that is enough at present, when we are discussing abstract principles, that all the individuals from whom anything is demanded for the support of a church establishment, may give it voluntarily; and, in the 3rd place, even if they should not, that there is still no compulsion, properly so called, in the case, that is, none involving a violation of the dictates of justice, equity or humanity. The state or civil rulers give a certain property to the church, which they are quite entitled to do. Being thus voluntarily given by those to whom it belongs, it becomes fully and completely the property of the church, and of course must have the same principles, and the same mode of dealing applied to it, as property possessed by any other individual or society. Men may, if they choose, do anything that is morally right and constitutionally competent to induce the civil rulers to alter this arrangement of property, but so long as it continues legally in force, any person who attempts to interfere with it must be dealt with like any other violator of the law – that is, he must have civil coercion applied to him. So that the true state of the case is this, that even where there is a state endowment of the church, there never is, and there never by possibility can be, compulsion or the appearance of compulsion, except when some person attempts to withhold or abstract property which does not belong to him, property which the state has voluntarily and lawfully given to the church, and in the use of which the church is as well entitled to the protection of the law and to the compulsory exercise of civil authority on its behalf, if that should become needful for the purpose of repelling fraud or robbery, as the proprietors of a dissenting meeting house, or any individual proprietor whatever.
We have now examined all that has been adduced by our opponents in support of their position, that all union or alliance or friendly connection between church and state, between religion and civil authority, is unlawful and unwarrantable. And we are pretty certain that most of you will be of opinion, that seldom has an important position been brought forward in controversy with so much confidence, which yet rested upon so slender a foundation. But in order more fully to expose the recklessness of our opponents, and the dangerous character of their principles, and at the same time to establish the important truth that it is lawful, right and proper that there should be a union, alliance or friendly connection between church and state, between religion and civil authority, and that civil rulers as such have something to do and ought to do something about religion, we shall now give you a sketch of the positive evidence in support of this great position on which the strong chain of argument in defense of national establishments of religion is founded.
First, the state and the church may and do consist of the same persons, and this circumstance renders some union or friendly connection between them, if not absolutely necessary, at least lawful, practicable and expedient. All those who by the constitution of the country are entitled to make national laws and dispose of national wealth, may be members of the church, and in point of fact, in our own country, the great majority of them are so. The one function is quite consistent with the other, though each has its peculiar duties and obligations. A member or office-bearer of the church, on being invested with civil authority, does not cease to be a member or office-bearer of the church, and must carry with him wherever he goes, the obligations attaching to him in that character. He must carry with him, into every situation, a sense of his obligations to promote the interests of Christ’s kingdom and the prosperity of his church. The diversity of character between the church and the state prevents any well-grounded apprehensions of a collision between a man’s duties as a member of the church and a member of the legislature. This should remove all scruples which a conscientious man might entertain upon the point, as it shows that there is no occasion whatever for a Christian, in entering upon the possession of legislative authority, to lay aside or keep in abeyance his views and obligations as a Christian and a member of the church. While on the other hand the identity or sameness of the ultimate end or object both of church and state, or of religion and civil government, viz., the glory of God and the good of man, and the divine adaptation of both to effect these objects, lay a broad and solid foundation for some union or friendly connection between them. It cannot be contended with any appearance of reason or truth, that national laws and arrangements and the disposal of national wealth, either in point of right should be, or in point of fact will be, the same, when the supreme civil authority is vested in the hands of Christians and church members, as when it is vested in infidel or irreligious men. And if this difference in right and in fact be admitted, and few we think will dispute it, it necessarily involves some friendly connection or alliance between church and state, between religion and civil authority.
Second, a friendly union or alliance between church and state, between religion and civil authority, is, in point of right or duty, a necessary consequence of Christ’s supremacy, of his undoubted right to reign and to be obeyed, not merely as King of Saints, but also as King of Nations. That Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords – that he has been invested with government of the world, and should be recognized and obeyed in that character, both by individuals and nations, will, of course, be admitted by evangelical voluntaries, however unpalatable it may be to their infidel and Unitarian associates. Now with respect to the practical application of this doctrine, we think it evident that the doctrine implies this much, that the authority of all kings and rulers is, in fact, derived from him, and should be exercised in accordance with his will, and for the accomplishment of his purposes. The church and the state are as it were two different provinces of his kingdom. They belong to the same Master, they are subject to the same great general principles of government, and they are intended and fitted to serve ultimately the same great ends. There ought therefore to be an alliance or friendly connection between them. They should love and assist each other, if not as brethren, at least as fellows servants. Their common subjection to Jesus Christ, and their joint adaptation to accomplish one great end, viz., the advancement of his purposes, should be a firm bond of connection between them when these features, in their respective situations, are known through the study of God’s word – should draw them near each other, bind them together, and constrain them to assist each other in subduing the common enemies of their one Master, and in promoting his designs. If the rulers of the church and of the state have any sense of their relation and obligations to their common Master, that should operate as a powerful motive to them both, to induce them whenever they come into contact – as they often of necessity must – to exhibit the deportment and the conduct of friends and allies, and not only to manifest a mutual friendly disposition, but to render to each other, if possible, substantial services.
Not only, however, is Christ equally the King of Nations and the King of the Church, and not only is there a firm ground for a friendly alliance between church and state in virtue of their common subjection to him, but besides this it is also true that his dominion over the nations is directed chiefly to the promotion of the prosperity of his church. Whence it follows that the government of nations, in so far as it is vested in the hands of men who do or who may know and act under a sense of their obligations to Christ, should be regulated with a distinct view to the same object – in other words, that men invested with civil authority are bound to embrace every opportunity which the possession of civil power may afford them of promoting the prosperity of the church and advancing the interests of religion. And this implies a friendly union and mutual co-operation between civil and ecclesiastical authority. The common voluntary doctrine of the unlawfulness of all union or connection between church and state implies – in fact, though not in intention, in so far at least as many of its supporters are concerned – the denial of Christ’s supremacy over the nations, of his right to reign and to be regarded and obeyed as the supreme and the only potentate.
Third, a friendly union or alliance between church and state is, in point of right or duty, a necessary consequence of the supremacy which true Christianity ought to exercise over all who profess to acknowledge its sway. Wherever Christianity is known, its doctrines and precepts ought to exert a commanding influence over men’s opinions, plans, motives, and line of conduct, in whatever situation they are placed, and whatever duties they are called upon to perform. When they go into public life and exercise civil authority, they must still feel the same obligations. They must feel that if in any situation anything occurs, any event takes place, or any combination of circumstances presents itself, in which they by the exercise of any influence which they legally possess, or by the disposal of any money which is legally under their control, can promote the cause of Christ, they are imperatively called upon and cannot lawfully decline to do it. This constant presence of religion, that is of Christianity, with paramount authority, with an undoubted right to regulate the motives and conduct of men, in whatever situation they are placed, not only warrants and renders practicable, but almost necessitates a close and intimate connection between religion and civil authority – between the right to make national laws and to dispose of national wealth on the one hand, and on the other the personal obligation incumbent on every professing Christian that whatever he does, whether in word or deed, he shall do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, in accordance with Christ’s revealed will, and in subordination to his purposes. To deny the supremacy of the principles of true religion or of genuine Christianity – their paramount authority in the regulation of men’s motives, conduct, and influence, in every situation in life – is to put a most unscriptural limitation upon the authority of God’s revealed will. And to admit their supremacy as applicable to civil authority and to those who are possessed of it, is to lay a firm and solid foundation for some union or alliance between church and state.
Fourth, we prove the lawfulness, propriety and obligation of a union or alliance between church and state by the case of the Jewish establishment, which was appointed by God himself. You are all aware that in that divine economy there was a very close and perfect union between church and state, and that there was a national endowment of religion. The church and the state under the Jewish economy were not indeed thoroughly incorporated or identified with each other. They still remained distinct and independent, having different laws, different office-bearers, different duties, and to a certain extent also different members. But they were very closely united, very intimately connected; the priesthood was supported by a national endowment, and all this was appointed by God himself. Now you will remember that we are not at present called upon to defend a national endowment of Christianity, and that anything which has been said on that point is quite incidental, and is not to be regarded as bringing forth the strength of that argument. And we do not mean, therefore, to attempt at present to estimate the strength of the support which the Mosaic economy affords to a national endowment of religion. But we maintain that it affords a conclusive proof of the lawfulness and propriety of some union or connection between church and state. And the shortest way of proving this will be by showing that the most plausible statements of the voluntaries upon this branch of the controversy, although sufficient – if admitted – to deprive a state endowment of religion of any support from the case of the Jews, do not – even if admitted in all their latitude – tend in the least to deprive us of the weight of the divine authority and example in support of the general position that it is a lawful and proper thing that there should be some union or alliance between church and state, between religion and civil authority.
The only plausible thing that has been said by voluntaries to evade the force of the argument in support of national establishments and endowments, derived from the case of the Jews, is that God – being Lord of the conscience and possessor of all things – might justly and equitably do what no man or body of men is entitled to do, and that thus the analogy between the Jewish and a Christian establishment fails in the most important point, and the great objections to religious establishments from their interference with the claims of conscience and the rights of justice, as between man and man, are left untouched. Now admitting merely for the sake of argument that this statement is just, it does not affect the point at present under discussion. The discussion of the propriety or lawfulness of some union between church and state in the abstract cannot be founded upon a consideration of the rights of any party whatever, but must rest upon an examination into the nature, properties and objects of the bodies proposed to be united or connected. And whatever may be the rights of men as to the consciences and property of themselves or others, there is no way of evading the force of the argument in favor of some union or connection between church and state derived from the fact that God did unite or connect them in the case of the Jews, except by alleging that God’s interference in the matter altered the very nature of the subjects of that union, in other words by proving that after the full establishment of the Mosaic economy, the Jewish state was not a state, or that the Jewish church was not a church.
Now although the voluntaries have certainly given us some very astounding assertions upon the subject of the Jewish economy, we scarcely think that they will venture to go this length. It must surely be admitted, that whatever additional ends God might intend to be served by the establishment of the Jewish state or civil polity, he did intend and fit it to serve all the purposes for which he has appointed the ordinance of civil government; and also that whatever local or temporary purpose he might intend the Jewish church to serve, with its load of rites or ceremonies, he did fit and intend it to serve all the purposes of a church – all the end for which, immediately after the fall, he formed a church in the world, and for which he has preserved and protected it until this day, the same in substance and in every essential feature, although under different administrations. The Jewish church had a “ministry, oracles, and ordinances.” The Gospel, that is, the substance of evangelical truth, the statement of those great principles which in every age and in all circumstances must determine the justification and salvation of fallen man, and especially the ruin of mankind by sin, and their recovery by a Redeemer and a sacrifice, was preached in the Jewish church, and its rites and ceremonies were all intended to shadow forth these principles. If then the Jewish state was a state, possessing all the essential properties of a state, if the Jewish church was a church, possessing all the essential properties of a church, and if they were closely united together by divine appointment, we have the express authority and example of God in favor of a union or connection between church and state, between religion and civil authority, in so far as that point is to be determined by a consideration of the nature, properties and objects of the two subjects of the proposed union.
Fifth, the lawfulness, propriety and necessity of some union or alliance between church and state, between religion and civil authority, may be confirmed by an appeal to the light of nature as exhibited in the practice of almost all nations in every age and condition. That in almost every nation whose history is known to us from sacred or profane writings there has been some union or connection between religion and civil authority, is a fact that cannot be disputed. And the statement of this fact is substantially the same thing as saying that the light of nature, which has been always recognized as a legitimate source of evidence, is decidedly in favor of the principle which we are advocating. The fact referred to affords considerable ground for believing that in the constitution of human nature and of human society, God has made provision for bringing about the result of some union or friendly alliance between religion and civil authority, and that therefore such a union or alliance is not only lawful and proper, but almost necessary, the uniformity of the fact in all ages and countries affording some reason to believe that the provision which God seems to have made for producing this result has been full and ample. The appeal is not made to the light of nature and the practice of nations in order to ascertain anything directly about religion and Christianity, but in order to assist in ascertaining the duties and obligations of civil rulers, a subject to be regulated mainly by natural principles, and in regard to which therefore it is quite reasonable to expect that the light of nature should afford some direction.
Perhaps one of the most striking single illustrations of the truth of this position, that God has made provision in the constitution of human nature and of human society for some union between religion and civil authority, and that it is scarcely if at all possible that everything of the kind should be excluded, is to be found in the case of America. You are aware that in the United States of North America there is no national establishment of religion, in the sense commonly attached to that term, and certainly no national endowment of the church. We have nothing to do at present with American statistics, for that branch of the controversy refers to the expediency of making a national provision for the support of divine ordinances, although we may remark by the way that the voluntaries, if not ashamed of their appeal to America in support of their views, are, we believe, heartily sorry for it, and do not now talk so confidently upon that branch of the controversy as they once did. But we refer to North America as showing that even where there is no state endowment it has not been practicable to exclude all union or connection between church and state, between religion and civil authority, and that this abomination, as voluntaries reckon it, exists even there. In proof of this we adduce the fact that both houses of representatives have an official chaplain appointed by civil authority, who opens the meetings of these houses with prayer. It so happens, indeed, that at this moment the official chaplain of one of the houses (thanks to voluntary principles) is a Papist. This is a fact, and it is probably the consequence and in some measure also the cause, of another fact, viz., that Popery is at present making most fearful progress in that country. But still the fact that a minister is appointed by the civil authority to open the meetings of the legislative houses with prayer implies distinctly the great principle of a union or connection between church and state, as a thing which in a country considerably Christianized, it was scarcely possible altogether to exclude, although no doubt it is most offensive to the consciences of some respectable infidels.
We refer further – in support of our position that even in America they have not excluded altogether union or connection between church and state, between religion and civil authority – to a pamphlet published about the beginning of this year by Calvin Colton, an eminent American minister resident at present in London, which is entitled “Church and State in America,” and has been liberally praised and quoted by Dr. Wardlaw, although the attempt which its author makes to shake the American statistics of Mr. Lorimer of Glasgow, is a decided failure. The pamphlet is written for the express and avowed purpose of supporting the views that have been put forth by voluntaries in this country regarding the state of religion in North America, but the author distinctly lays it down that in the United States Christianity is “part and parcel of the law of the Land,” that there is a national recognition of Christianity, and that this is a very important element of society. And he quotes in support of these positions several passages from the highest legal authorities, delivered from the Bench in the exercise of their judicial functions, proving that the divine authority of Christianity is officially recognized in American courts of law, and is openly and avowedly set forth as the ground on which not merely blasphemy, but profane and scurrilous attacks upon the Christian religion are indictable and punishable, nay are actually indicted and punished. And this plainly implies a very close connection between religion and civil authority.
In making these statements we are far from bringing any charge of inconsistency against our American brethren. There is no ground for such a charge, because though opposed (as most of them are) to a state endowment of religion founded on the selection of one particular sect, which perhaps in their circumstances might have been attended with difficulty and inconvenience, they have not gone so far into the regions of atheistic and infidel principle (for this is their true character, although many of their supporters are not aware of it) as the rash and reckless voluntaries of our own land. They have not yet so fully cast off all regard to sound principle in these matters as to deny the lawfulness of any union or connection whatever between church and state, between religion and civil authority. But the object of this reference to America is to confirm the argument derived from the light of nature and the practice of all nations, in support of the principle which we are defending, to show that even in America the doctrine of our British voluntaries setting forth the unlawfulness of all union or connection between church and state has not been tried in all its extent, but is still at the best a mere theory, and to point out how difficult or rather impossible it is that in a country where Christianity is generally professed, that principle should be fully acted upon in practice. At the same time, the reference to America serves incidentally to show what rash and reckless innovators our British voluntaries are, and how far they have carried their principles beyond what the accomplishment of their favorite object, viz., the reducing all sects to the level of equality, required of them.
Another position generally defended by those who are opposed to national establishments is that civil rulers as such – those who are invested with civil authority – in that character or capacity have nothing to do with religion, and should do nothing about it, while this, of course, is a position which the defenders of establishments deny. This subject is to a considerable extent identical with the former one, which we have discussed at so much length. For if, as we have tried to prove, it is lawful, proper and necessary that there should be some union or friendly connection between church and state, the union must be formed by the state. The church is not so much called upon to act in the matter. The church existed before the state thought of doing anything in favor of Christianity. And in general in propagating the gospel over the world, it will happen, as it has in times past, that a church will be formed, and have made some progress in a country, before the civil power acknowledge the authority and supremacy of Christianity. The church meanwhile must be going on, evangelizing the land, preaching the gospel, and calling men to the discharge of their duties. And if in process of time those invested with civil authority should come to feel their obligations to contribute in every way to the promotion of the interests of Christ’s kingdom, they will naturally think of offering to the church, by whom alone this object can be directly effected, whatever assistance their control over national laws and national wealth may enable them to render. The church has to consider whether or not the offers of the state are such as she can, consistently with the paramount duty which she owes to Christ, accept, and whether or not the acceptance of these offers would afford her any additional facilities for promoting the object which she is bound ever to aim at. Thus the formation of the union or connection must be chiefly the act of the state, the state being bound to offer, and the church being called upon to accept or refuse. And of course every argument that goes to prove that there ought to be a union or friendly connection between church and state (and we have given you five) equally proves that those invested with civil power have something to do with religion, and ought to do something with regard to it.
We do not ascribe to those vested with civil authority any jurisdiction in or over religion, or any right to dictate modes of faith and worship to their subjects. The jurisdiction, properly so called, of civil rulers, extends only to civil or temporal matters. But they have a certain duty to perform to religion and the church. They have in a certain sense a right to do something in regard to religion, i.e., to do whatever is needful in order to the discharge of the duty which they owe to religion. And while they have no jurisdiction in religious matters, yet, having a certain duty to perform to religion and to the church, they not only have a right, but they are imperatively called on, in the discharge of that duty, to make use of the jurisdiction which they possess in civil or temporal affairs, over the formation and administration of national laws, and the disposal of national property.
The state or civil authority has no right to dictate to its subjects what modes of faith and worship they must adopt. Those invested with civil authority, in endeavoring to discharge the duty incumbent upon them in regard to religion and the church, must of course be guided by their own conscientious conviction of what is the right mode of faith and worship – just upon the same principle which requires every private individual in exercising his own personal influence in the sphere in which he moves, or in regulating the education of his children, or in determining his subscriptions to religious societies, to be guided by his own personal conscientious conviction of what is true in doctrine and pure in worship. But they should not visit with any civil pains or penalties the mere fact of any of their subjects choosing to differ from them on those points. This is not involved in the principle of religious establishments. It is not, at least in our own times, defended by any of their intelligent supporters, and nothing of his sort, as will be afterwards fully shown, exists in our native land.
At every step in this painful controversy we are called upon to expose gross misrepresentations on the part of our opponents. But there is probably not one more gross than their constant allegation – without either proof or plausibility – that the admission of a right of civil rulers to exercise jurisdiction and to dictate to their subjects in religious matters, is necessarily involved in the principle of national establishments. The defenders of church establishments disclaim the ascription of any such jurisdiction or right to civil rulers, and defy their opponents to prove that it is involved in any principle which they maintain. All that churchmen, in defending the general idea of union between church and state, are bound to maintain, is that there is nothing about the church or the state to preclude an alliance or friendly connection between them, but much to warrant and facilitate it, and that civil rulers as such can and should do something for promoting the interests of religion. There is nothing here that even appears to countenance the ascription to civil rulers of a jurisdiction or right to dictate in religious matters.
And even when the state endows the church, all that must be maintained in defending that act of the state is that civil rulers have jurisdiction over national wealth, that money may be employed as a mean of promoting the interests of religions, that civil rulers as well as private individuals, in applying money professedly for religious purposes, are bound by a great and unchangeable principle of moral rectitude to be guided by their own conscientious conviction of what is the true religion, and of what is the purest form of that religion, and that they must strive to secure to all their subjects – who may not be unwilling to receive it – an opportunity of being instructed in what they, the rulers, reckon right views of divine truth, while of course they should make no attempt to force this instruction upon them, or to prevent them from providing for themselves what they, the subjects, reckon sounder instruction. This is all which the defenders of the principle of endowments need to maintain, and it affords not a shadow of a ground for the common calumny that national establishments imply an admission of a right in civil rulers to exercise jurisdiction or to dictate to their subjects in religious matters. Whenever civil rulers assume a jurisdiction or right to dictate in religious matters, or go beyond what is warranted by the fair application of the principles that have just been stated, we condemn them as decidedly as our opponents.
Our opponents are in the habit of asserting that the Confession of Faith ascribes to civil rulers jurisdiction and a right to dictate in religious matters, and that therefore a minister of the Church of Scotland, in denying this, is acting inconsistently. This is not an occasion for showing fully how groundless this accusation is, and we must therefore content ourselves at present with merely asserting in the words of the Testimony of the Associate Synod of Original Seceders (p. 65), “That whatever sense may be imposed upon some expressions in it, taken by themselves, yet upon a fair and candid interpretation of the whole doctrine which it lays down upon the subject, the Westminster Confession will not be found justly chargeable with countenancing persecution for conscience sake, with subjecting matters purely religious to the cognizance of the civil magistrate, or with allowing him a supremacy over the church, or any power in it.”
Having thus shortly cleared from the misrepresentations of its opponents the position that civil authorities as such ought to do something about religion, let us now very briefly advert to the special grounds on which the position may be maintained, independent of the general arguments formerly adduced in support of some union or connection between church and state. Every man is bound at all times to aim at the promotion of God’s glory and the advancement of his kingdom, and to employ for these purposes whatever influence he may possess or acquire. This is an obligation from which he cannot escape, in whatever situation he may be placed. And to say, as our opponents do, that when he is invested with civil power he not only is not bound, but has no right to apply that talent for the promotion of these end, is a most arbitrary limitation of the supremacy of religion, and of the obligation of men to do all to the glory of God – a limitation which certainly has no warrant whatever in anything to be learned either from Scripture or reason with regard to man’s duty, or to the nature and objects of civil government, but which is decidedly opposed to the information upon these important subjects derived from both these sources. We formerly proved that the fact of civil government being an ordinance of God imposes upon those who may administer it – when they know from the Bible its origin and object – a special and additional obligation to aim constantly at the promotion of the end for which God appointed it, viz., his own glory, and the good of man in the widest sense of that word.
But in addition to these obligations, general and special, the consideration which brings most directly home to civil rulers as such the duty of doing something about religion directed to its promotion is this – that the great object about which, as all admit, they ought to be chiefly concerned, viz., the welfare of the community, materially depends upon the state of religion in the land. Everything that affects the welfare of the nation, civil rulers are imperatively called upon, in the discharge of the duties which they owe to the community, to attend to and to examine carefully with a view to discovering and doing whatever can be lawfully done for checking what is likely to be injurious, and promoting what is likely to be beneficial. That the prevalence of true religion in a country will tend most effectually to promote the welfare of the community, even in the lowest and most restricted sense, as including merely the preservation of peace and good order and the security of life and property, is perfectly obvious and universally admitted. And if so, then civil rulers are bound to attend to religion, to take a deep interest in its prosperity, and to do all they possibly can to promote it.
Besides, the welfare of the community depends entirely upon the providence and blessing of God. We have good scriptural authority for believing that God in his providence deals with nations as nations, and even that his dealings with them in sending them prosperity or adversity are in some measure regulated by the character and conduct of their rulers, and especially by a regard to the fact of his being nationally acknowledged and honored. Now it is not easy to conceive how there can be anything like a national recognition and honoring of God, unless the national laws be professedly subordinated to the principles of his word, and unless national measures be adopted for promoting the observance of his day, the proclamation of his will, and the advancement of his cause. If God’s dealings with any nation are likely to be in any measure affected by these matters – and this surely will not be disputed, at least by the evangelical voluntaries – then all parties have a deep interest in everything being done nationally that can be done for promoting his glory.
On both these accounts, then, civil rulers as such are bound from a regard to the welfare of the community to do all they can in their official character for promoting the interests of religion, by aiding and assisting the church. And the community are in like manner bound, from a regard to themselves, to do all that is constitutionally competent in order to secure, if possible, that those who rule over them be men who will rule in the fear of God, and who are willing to consecrate all their talents and influence, personal and official, to the promotion of God’s glory, and the advancement of Christ’s cause. Civil rulers finding it incumbent upon them to advert to religion as bearing materially upon the welfare of the community, and to do what they can to promote it, and finding also that they cannot directly promote it by the immediate use of anything subject to their jurisdiction, will of course treat with the church on the subject. The church and state will thus come to an understanding: they will enter into arrangements about the parts which they are to act respectively in the promotion of the common object, and the state will voluntarily undertake to render every possible facility to the church in discharging its peculiar duties. And all this implies not only some union or connection between church and state, but also the propriety and duty of the state or civil authority doing something about religion directed to the promotion of its interests.
The grounds of the duty and right of civil rulers to do something about religion – a duty founded both on Scripture and reason, and incumbent upon them as men, as Christians, and as rulers, and a right not founded upon the possession of any jurisdiction whatever in religious matters – are so strong and clear, that some of the bolder and more perspicacious voluntaries have seen and admitted that there is no position upon this branch of the argument which they can firmly maintain, except this, that whatever may be the duty and right of civil rulers in regard to religion, yet they cannot in point of fact do anything for the good of religion, that they cannot interfere in the matter at all, without necessarily and ipso facto injuring religion. If this position can be substantiated, it is sufficient to neutralize the arguments that have been adduced in support of the duty and right of civil rulers. But it is equally plain that it is the only ground, with reference to this branch of the controversy, on which a voluntary can stand, and by which the force of the arguments that have now been adduced, can be evaded. And surely the assumption of the position that civil rulers cannot possibly do anything that is fitted or likely to promote the interests of religion, that they cannot interfere in religious matters without necessarily injuring religion, wears very much the aspect of a last resort – looks very like the last expiring effort of a bold but ruined party.
Not to dwell upon the extreme improbability that God should have given us such a power of obligation to bear upon civil rulers for leading them to do something for religion, such a weight of argument to prove that they ought to make this an object of special attention and effort, if he had not only never intended them to attempt it, but had actually made it unlawful for them to do so, and impracticable to do so with beneficial results – we remark that it is at least possible that civil rulers may have sound views of doctrine and worship, and that surely in virtue of their control over national laws and national wealth, they may do something that has a tendency, in perfect consistency with the nature of truth, to promote these sound views. Else, what mean the bitter complaints which we sometimes hear from voluntaries of the unfair advantages which the established church enjoys in consequence of her connection with the state? For while, when upon their guard, they affect that they are anxious to improve and benefit us by raising us up to their exalted level, they not infrequently let out that their real motive and object are to deprive us of the important advantages which they feel, to their bitter experience, that we as an established church actually enjoy.
Surely it is evident that a national recognition of Christianity – public official declarations by civil rulers, embodied in national laws, that they believe in the true religion, acknowledge its supremacy, and are determined to be guided by its principles – must be at once fitted to procure the favor of God, and thus promote the welfare of the community, and to advance the interests of true religion. It is generally admitted that the state is bound to do something for promoting the education of the community, and unless it be contended that education is to be wholly irreligious, the state must do something about religion in this matter – must take some steps for getting sound religious instruction brought to bear upon the minds of the youth. And how this can be effected without some union or connection with the church, it is not easy to conceive. The complete and habitual subordination of national laws, measures, and arrangements to the authority of God’s word must have a powerful tendency at once to promote the welfare of the community and the interests of true religion, and this is within the power, nay, comprehended in the express obligation, of civil rulers.
It is quite palpable to anyone who has mingled in society, and it has of late been fully established by positive evidence, that in consequence of the toleration by law, especially in the southern part of the island, of many species of work on the Lord’s day, forming open and offensive breaches of the rest of the Sabbath, many thousands of our countrymen are not only furnished with facilities and exposed to temptations to violate habitually the rest of the Sabbath, and to neglect divine ordinances, but are placed in circumstances in which they would have the greatest difficulties to encounter, and the most formidable obstacles to overcome, if they really wished and intended to attend the house of God. And the legislature might do much to save them from these dangers, and thus surely take a step fitted to contribute to promote the interests of religion, by prohibiting all manner of work, of open traffic or business, on the Lord’s day. He must be a bold man who upon considering the important bearing of Sabbath observance upon the interests of religion – and attending to the state of Scotland and England respectively in this point of view, and tracing the superiority of Scotland, as of necessity he must do, partly to the greater strictness of her laws in this respect – will still assert, as everyone who holds the position which we are at present opposing must do, that civil rulers cannot possibly do anything that has a tendency or fitness to promote the interests of religion and attendance upon ordinances, even by the most judicious legislation about the observance of the outward rest of the Sabbath.
It cannot be denied that money has a tendency of fitness, and may be employed as a mean, to promote the interests of religion. Voluntaries themselves acknowledge this, as is proved by their strenuous efforts to raise money whenever they intend to engage in an scheme of Christian benevolence, and by their frequent complaints that they are prevented by the want of money from doing much that otherwise they might have done for promoting the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. The money of the state being given voluntarily by those to whom it belongs, has a fitness or tendency and may be employed as a mean to promote the interests of religion, as well as the money of individuals. Whence it follows that civil rulers, by a judicious use of the control which they possess over the property of the nation, may do much that has a tendency and is likely, nay certain (humanly speaking), to contribute to the interests of religion and the advancement of truth and piety.
It is a fact, although voluntaries in their arguments and calculations seem wholly to overlook it, that there are at this moment thousands and tens of thousands in our land, and especially in our large towns, living in a state of practical heathenism, destitute of churches with cheap sittings to accommodate them [this was the era of pew rents], and of ministers to attend to them. Whatever may be done for the salvation of these by means of voluntary liberality, will be done by the established church – most of the voluntaries having enough, and some of them more than enough to do with themselves. But many of the people are daily passing into their graves, and the whole generation may have disappeared before anything adequate can be done by means of the contributions of individuals, to bring them to an attendance upon divine ordinances. Now if our civil rulers should at once come forward and by a grant of public money erect churches and endow ministers for all these outcasts, and should leave the whole ecclesiastical arrangements to be regulated by the standards of the established church, and in the first instance – as there were no Christian congregations whose rights were to be regarded – should leave the appointment of the ministers to our illustrious Professor of Divinity [Thomas Chalmers] – will any man have the boldness to say that this act of theirs would have no tendency, and would not in point of fact, contribute to produce the result of promoting the interests of religion and the salvation of souls? It would not indeed advance the cause of voluntaryism; it would ruin it, and ruin it for ever. It would accelerate prodigiously that downward movement of the voluntary cause, which has already begun and which, we are persuaded, will go on. But still we are not afraid to put it to the conscience of voluntaries themselves, whether or not it be the fact that in this way civil rulers, if they choose, have it in their power, by a judicious disposal of national wealth, to do much that is fitted to promote the glory of God and the prosperity of Christ’s kingdom. They can do much that has a tendency and is likely, nay certain, if judiciously regulated, to promote these objects – and if so, then they are imperatively called upon, by their duty to God and to the community, to do it.
I have now finished the discussion of the subject entrusted to me. I think I have proved that it is lawful and proper, imperative and necessary, that there should be some union or friendly connection or alliance between church and state, between religion and civil authority – that civil rulers as such, while they have no jurisdiction in religious matters, have something to do and ought to do something about religion directed to the promotion of its interests, and that they have it in their power, if they choose, to contribute to the accomplishment of that object. The voluntaries, if they had chosen, need not have gone so far as to have denied the lawfulness of all union or connection between church and state, and the duty and right of civil rulers to do anything about religion. They might have had many things plausible enough to say against a national endowment and the preference of one sect to another, without adopting the extreme position which we have been combating. But since they have been foolish enough to take up this high ground, we must encounter them there, and not only refute their principle, but also point out the practical consequences to which, when fully acted upon, it necessarily leads. For it is to this extreme position of theirs, against which we have been contending, that those fearful practical consequences attach, which must excite the indignation of every right-thinking man.
If this principle which we have been combating, should be generally adopted – should gain the ascendancy in our national councils, and be followed out to its consequences – then it would of course be established by law that men on becoming invested with civil authority must leave their religious views behind them, and renounce all right – in that character and capacity – to aim at the promotion of the glory of God and the honor of Christ. And the effect of this would be to exclude religious men from civil authority (for they would not accept it upon such terms), and to leave it wholly in the hands of atheists and infidels. Another consequence would be that any national recognition of God or Christ must cease – that every vestige of it must be expelled from our legislative and judicial assemblies. But even this would not be all. There would no longer be any attempt made to subordinate national laws, measures, and arrangements to the authority of God’s word; or if the attempt were made, it would of course, and very properly, be scouted. The laws for the observance of the Sabbath would immediately be repealed, and every man would be allowed to open his shop and his theater, and to ply his coach and his steam-boat, on the day of sacred rest. All national provision for the education of the community upon religious principles would be taken away. The provision which the established church at present affords for the administration of divine ordinances would be removed, without any certainty of a substitute. And the supplying of spiritual instruction to the many thousands of our countrymen who are dying – and dying eternally – at our doors, would be left to the result of the tardy operation of raising pecuniary contributions from individual liberality.
These are the consequences of the leading voluntary position which we have been combating, many of them openly avowed by our opponents, and all of them clearly and logically deducible from their principle. We are sure that you will spurn from you with indignation a doctrine that leads to such results as these, and that you will hold yourselves imperatively called upon, for your own sake, for the sake of your country and your church, for your brethren and companions’ sake, and for your children’s sake, to give it your most strenuous and decided opposition, and to do all you can in the use of appropriate means to prevent it from gaining currency in the land and influencing the conduct of our rulers.