Essay on the First Principles of Government, 2nd Edition (1771)/preface

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THIS publication owes its rise to the Remarks I wrote on Dr. Brown's proposal for a code of education. Several persons who were pleased to think favourably of that performance, (in which I was led to mention the subject of civil and religious liberty) were desirous that I should treat of it more at large, and without any immediate view to the Doctor's work. It appeared to them, that some of the views I had given of this important, but difficult subject, were new, and showed it, in a clearer light than any in which they had seen it represented before; and they thought I had placed the foundation of some of the most valuable interests of mankind on a broader and firmer basis, than Mr. Locke, and others who had formerly written upon this subject. I have endeavoured to answer the wishes of my friends, in the best manner I am able; and, at the same time, I have retained the substance of the former treatise, having distributed the several parts of it into the body of this.

In this second edition, I have also introduced what I had written on Church-authority, in answer to Dr. Balguy's sermon on that subject, preached at Lambeth chapel, and published by order of the Archbishop. As I do not mean to republish either the Remarks on Dr. Brown, or these on Dr. Balguy, separately, and the subjects of both those pieces have a near relation to the general one on Civil and Religious Liberty, I thought there would be a propriety in throwing them into one treatise.

I had no thoughts of animadverting upon Dr. Warburton in this work, till I was informed by some intelligent and worthy clergymen of my acquaintance, that his Alliance is generally considered as the best defence of the present system of church-authority, and that most other writers took their arguments from it.

In a postscript to this work he informs us, p. 271, that, in it, the reader will see confuted at large, what he calls a puritanical principle, and also an absurd assertion of Hooker's, by which he entangled himself and his cause in inextricable difficulties, viz. that civil and ecclesiastical power are things separated by nature, and more especially by divine institution; and so independent of one another, that they must always continue independent. Whatever success this writer may have had in pullng up other foundations, I think he had better have left those of the church as he found them: for the difficulties in which the scheme of the Alliance is entangled, appear to me to be far more inextricable, than those of any other scheme of church-authority that I have yet seen. All that can be said in its favour is, that, having less of the simplicity of truth, and, consequently, being supported with more art and sophistry, the absurdity of it is not so obvious at first sight, though it be ten times more glaring after it has been sufficiently attended to.

Sorry I am to be under the necessity of troubling my reader with the repetition of any thing that has been said before on this subject, in my remarks on those writers; but when the same arguments are urged again and again, it is impossible always to find new, or better answers. I flatter myself, however, that several of the observations in this treatise will appear to be new, at least, that some things will appear to be set in a new or clearer point of light. But whenever the interests of truth and liberty are attacked, it is to be wished that some would stand up in their defence, whether they acquit themselves better than their predecessors in the same good old cause, or not. New books in defence of any principles whatever, will be read by many persons, who will not look into old books, for the proper answers to them.

Considerable advantage cannot but accrue to the cause of religious, as well as civil liberty, from keeping the important subject continually in view. We are under great obligation, therefore, to all the advocates for church-authority, whenever they are pleased to write in its defence.

Every attempt that has hitherto been made to shake, or undermine the foundations of the christian faith, hath ended in the firmer establishment of it. Also, every attempt to support the unjust claims of churchmen over their fellow christians, hath been equally impotent, and hath recoiled upon themselves; and, I make no doubt, that this will be the issue of all the future efforts of interested or misguided men, in so weak and unworthy a cause.

It will be seen, that I have taken no notice of any thing that has been written in the controversy about the Confessional. I would only observe, and I cannot help observing, that the violent opposition that has been made to the modest attempts, both of the candid disquisitors, and those of the author of the Confessional, and his respectable friends, to procure a redress of only a few of the more intolerable grievances the clergy labour under, and a removal of some of the most obvious and capital defects in the established church, has more weight than a hundred arguments drawn from theory only, in demonstrating the folly of erecting such complicated and unwieldly systems of policy, and in showing the mischiefs that attend them.

Little did the founders of church establishiments consider, of what unspeakable importance it is to the interests of religion, that the ambition of christian ministers be circumscribed within narrow limits, when they left them such unbounded scope for courting preferment. But the interests of religion have been very little considered by the founders of church establishments. Indeed if they had considered them, how little were they qualified to make provision for them? I need not say what I feel, when I find so much in the writings of ingenious men concerning the wisdom of these constitutions. It always brings to my mind what St. Paul says of the wisdom of this world in other respects.

Such, however, is the virtue of some men, that it is proof against all the bad influence of the constituticn of which they are members. Without flattering, or tormenting themselves with a vain ambition, many excellent clergymen, worthy of a better situation, contentedly sit down to the proper duty of their situation. Their only object is to do good to the souls of men, and their only hope of reward is in that world, where they who have been wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they who have turned many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. Such characters as these I truly revere; and it is chiefly for the sake of forming more such, that I wish the establishment of the church of England might be reformed in some essential points. The powers of reason and conscience plead for such a reformation, but, alas! the powers of this world are against it. This unnatural ally of religion (or rather her imperious master) without whose permission nothing can be done, will not admit of it.

But at the same time that, from a love of truth, and a just regard for the purity of a divine religion, we bear a public testimony against those abuses which men have introduced into it; let us, as becomes christians, have the candour to make proper allowances for the prejudices and prepossessions, even of the founders, promoters, and abettors of these anti-christian systems; and still farther let us be from indulging a thought to the prejudice of those, who have been educated in a reverence for these modes of religion, and have not strength of mind to separate their ideas of these forms, from those of the power of it. In this case, let us be particularly careful how we give offence to any serious and well-disposed minds, and patiently bear with the wheat and the tares growing together till the harvest.

Such is my belief in the doctrine of an over-ruling providence, that I have no doubt, but that every thing in the whole system of nature, how noxious soever it may be in some respects, has real, though unknown uses; and also that every thing, even the grossest abuses in the civil or ecclesiastical constitutions of particular states, is subservient to the wise and gracious designs of him, who, notwithstanding these appearances, still rules in the kingdoms of men.

I make no apology for the freedom with which I have written. The subject is, in the highest degree, interesting to humanity, it is open to philosophical discussion, and I have taken no greater liberties than becomes a philosopher, a man, and an Englishman. Having no other views than to promote a thorough knowledge of this important subject, not being sensible of any biass to mislead me in my inquiries, and conscious of the uprightness of my intentions, I freely submit my thoughts to the examination of all impartial judges, and the friends of their country and of mankind. They who know the fervour of generous feelings will be sensible, that I have expressed myself with no more warmth than the importance of the subject necessarily prompted, in a breast not naturally the coldest; and that to have appeared more indifferent, I could not have been sincere.

Besides the freedom with which I have made this defence of civil and religious liberty, is sufficiently justified by the freedom with which they have been attacked; and though the advocates for church power are very ready to accuse the Dissenters of indecency, when, in defending themselves, they reflect upon the eslablished church; yet I do not see why, in a judgment of equity, the same civility and decency should not be observed on both sides; or why insolence on one side should not be answered by contempt on the other.

Notwithstanding the ardour of mind with which, it will be evident, some parts of the following treatise were written, the warmth with which I have espoused the cause of liberty, and the severity with which I have animadverted upon whatever I apprehend to be unfavourable to it; I think I cannot be justly accused of party zeal, because it will be found, that I have treated all parties with equal freedom. Indeed, such is the usual violence of human passions, when any thing interesting to them is contended for, that the best cause in the world is not sufficient to prevent intemperance and excess; so that it is easy to see too much to blame in all parties: and it by no means follows, that, because a man disapproves of the conduct of one, that he must, therefore, approve of that of its opposite. The greatest enemy of popery may see something he dislikes in the conduct of the first reformers, the warmest zeal against episcopacy is consistent with the just sense of the faults of the puritans, and much more may an enemy of Charles the first, be an enemy of Cromwell also.

N. B. Let it be observed, that, in this treatise, I propose no more than to confider the first principles of civil and religious liberty, and to explain some leading ideas upon the subject. For a more extensive view of it, as affecting a greater variety of particulars in the system of government, I refer to the course of lectures on history and civil policy; a syllabus of which is printed in the Essay on a course of liberal education for civil and active life, and the whole of which, with enlargements, I propose to publish in due time.