Item of the Day: Locke on Toleration (1777)

Full Title: The Works of John Locke, In Four Volumes.  The Eighth Edition.  Volume the Second.  London:  Printed for W. Strahan, J. F. and C. Rivington, L. Davis, W. Owen, S. Baker and G. Leigh, T. Payne and Son, T. Caslon, S. Crowder, T. Longman, B. Law, C. Rivington, E. and C. Dilly, J. Wilkie, T. Cadell, N. Conant, T. Beecroft, T. Lowndes, G. Robinson, Jos. Johnson, J. Robson, J. Knox, T. Becket, and T. Evans.  MDCCLXXVII.

A Letter Concerning Toleration [p. 316].

Honoured Sir,

Since you are pleased to enquire what are my thoughts about the mutual Toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must needs answer you freely, that I esteem that Toleration be the chief characteristical mark of the true church.  For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith, for everyone is orthodox to himself: these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another, than of the church of Christ.  Let any one have ever so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind, even to those that are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of being a true Christian himself.  “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, said our Saviour to his disciples, but ye shall not be so,” Luke xxii. 25, 26.  The business of true religion is quite another thing.  It is not instituted in order to the erecting an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of ecclesiastical dominion, nor to the exercising of compulsive force; but to the regulating of men’s lives according to the rules of virtue and piety.  Whosoever will lift himself under the banner of Christ, must, in the first place and above all things, make war upon his own lusts and vices.  It is in vain for any man to usurp the name of Christian, without holiness of life, purity of manners, and benignity and meekness of spirit.  “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity. 2. Tim. ii. 19. Thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” said our Lord to Peter, Luke xxii. 32.  It would indeed be very hard for one that appears careless about his own salvation, to persuade me that he were extremely concerned for mine.  For it is impossible that those should sincerely and heartily apply themselves to make other people Christians, who have not really embraced the Christian religion in their hearts.  If the Gospel and the Apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian without charity, and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love.  Now I appeal to the consciences of those that persecute, torment, destroy, and kill other men upon pretence of religion, whether they do it out of friendship and kindness towards them, or no; and I shall then indeed, and not till then, believe they do so, when I shall see those fiery zealots correcting, in the same manner, their friends and familiar acquaintance, for the manifest sins they commit against the precepts of the Gospel; when I shall see them prosecute with fire and sword the members of their own communion that are tainted with enormous vices, and without amendment are in danger of eternal perdition; and when I shall see them thus express their love and desire of the salvation of their souls, by the infliction of torments, and exercise of all manner of cruelties.  For if it be out of a principle of charity, as they pretend, and love to men’s souls, that they deprive them of their estates, maim them with corporal punishments, starve and torment them in noisome prisons, and in the end even take away their lives; I say, if all this be done merely to make men Christians, and procure their salvation, why then do they suffer “whoredom, fraud, malice, and such-like enormities,” which according to the Apostle, Rom. i. manifestly relish of heathenish corruption, to predominate so much and abound amongst their flock and people?  These, and such-like things, are certainly more contrary to the glory of God, to the purity of the church , and to the salvation of souls, than any conscientious dissent from ecclesiastical decision, or separation from publick worship, whilst accompanied with innocency of life.  Why then does this burning zeal for God, for the church, and for the salvation of souls; burning, I say, literally with fire and faggot; pass by those moral vices and wickedness, without any chastisement, which are acknowledged by all men to be diametrically opposite to the profession of Christianity; and bend all its nerves either to the introducing of ceremonies, or to the establishment of opinions, which for the most part are about nice and intricate matters, that exceed the capacity of ordinary understandings?  Which of the parties contending about these things is in the right, which of them is guilty of schism or heresy, whether those that domineer or those that suffer, with then at last be manifest, when the cause of their separation comes to be judged of.  He certainly that follows Christ, embraces his doctrine, and bears his yoke, though he forsake both father and mother, separate from the publick assemblies and ceremonies of his country, or whomsoever, or whatsoever else he relinquishes, will not then be judged an heretick.       

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Filed under 1770's, Church of England, Letters, Posted by Matthew Williams, Religion

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