Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter III: Second Argument against the Literal Sense, drawn from its Opposition to the Spirit of the Gospel. - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
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Chapter III: Second Argument against the Literal Sense, drawn from its Opposition to the Spirit of the Gospel. - Pierre Bayle, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’ 
A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’, edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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Second Argument against the Literal Sense, drawn from its Opposition to the Spirit of the Gospel.
Before I propose my second Argument, I must desire my Reader to remember what I had laid down in the first Chapter;41That a positive Law, once vouch’d by natural Light, acquires the Force of a Rule or Criterion, in the same manner as a Proposition in Geometry, demonstrated by incontestable Principles, becomes it self a Principle with regard to other Propositions. The reason of my re-<65>peating this Remark is, that I am in this Chapter about to prove the Falshood of the literal Sense of the words, Compel ’em to come in, by shewing that it is contrary to the whole Tenor and Spirit of the Gospel. Were I to write a Commentary merely as a Divine, I shou’d not need to take the Argument higher; I shou’d o’ course suppose, that the Gospel is the first Rule of Manners, and that deviating from the Gospel-Morality is, without further proof, the being in a state of Iniquity: but writing as a Philosopher, I’m oblig’d to go back to the original and mother Rule, to wit, Reason or natural Light. I say then, that the Gospel being a Rule which has been verified by the purest Ideas of Reason, which are the primary and original Rule of all Truth and Rectitude; to sin against this Gospel, is sinning against the primary Rule it self, or which is the same thing, against that internal still Revelation, by which God discovers to all Men the very first Principles. I add this Consideration too, That the Gospel having more fully explain’d all the Dutys of Morality, and having carry’d the Idea of Honest farther than God had originally reveal’d by natural Religion, it follows, that every Action in a Christian, which is not agreeable to the Gospel, is more unjust and more enormous, than if simply contrary to Reason; for the more any Rule of Justice or Principle of Manners is open’d, explain’d, and enlarg’d, the more inexcusable is the Transgression. So that if Constraint in matters of Religion be found contrary to the Spirit of the Gospel, this will be a second Argument more forcible than the first, that this Constraint is unlawful, and opposite to the pri-<66>mary and original Rule of Equity and Reason.
But not to leave the least Rub in our way, let’s bestow one word or two upon a difficulty which here presents. They’l tell me that, by the Principle laid down in the first Chapter, the Gospel cou’d ne’er have bin receiv’d as a Divine Revelation; because if we compare its Precepts by my original Rule, they’l not be found agreeable to it: for nothing is more agreeable to natural Light than defending one’s self when assaulted, than revenging an Injury, than caring for the Body, &c. and yet nothing more opposite to the Gospel. Might we therefore conclude, that a Doctrine, pretended to be given from Heaven, was not divine, unless conformable to natural Light, the primary, perpetual, and universal Revelation of the Divinity to Mankind; we must reject the Doctrine of Jesus Christ as false, and the Gospel had not now bin a second standing Rule collated with the Original: and consequently, I shou’d prove nothing in my way, by proving that Compulsion is opposite to the Gospel-Morality.
I answer, that all the moral Precepts of the Gospel are such, as when weigh’d in the ballance of natural Religion, will certainly be acknowledg’d Sterling: And Jesus Christ having, over and above this, wrought a vast number of Miracles, so that only the Repugnancy of his Doctrine to some evident Truths of natural Revelation, cou’d give the least ground for doubting the Divinity of his Mission; we may rest intirely satisfy’d as to this point. The Miracles he wrought were in confirmation of a Doctrine, which, far from being opposite to the first No-<67>tices of Reason, and to the purest Principles of natural Equity, did really but perfect ’em, enlarge, unfold, and explain ’em; he spoke then on the part of God. Does not natural Light distinctly inform every Soul which attentively consults it, that God is just, that he loves Virtue, disapproves Vice, merits our utmost Regard and Obedience; That he’s the Source of our Felicity, and that ’tis to him we ought to apply our selves for every thing needful for us? Does not this Light inform all, who contemplate it duly, and who raise themselves above the sable Clouds with which the Passions and earthy Vapor of the Body overcast the Understanding, that ’tis honest and praise-worthy to forgive Enemys, to moderate our Resentments, and subdue our Passions? Whence shou’d all those shining Maxims flow, with which the Writings of Heathens abound, but from a natural Revelation of these things, communicated without respect of Persons to all Mankind? This being the case, ’twas easy to perceive that nothing cou’d be more reasonable, or more agreeable to Order, than enjoining Meekness of Heart, Forgiveness of Injurys, Mortification, and Charity. For our Reason clearly comprehending that God is the sovereign Good, relishes and approves those Maxims which unite us to him. Now nothing is more fitted to unite us to God than a Contempt of this World, and the Mortification of the Passions. Reason then finds the Gospel-Morality agreeable in every Instance to Order: And this Morality, far from inclining it to doubt whether the Miracles of Jesus Christ manifested his Divinity, becomes on the contrary a thorow Confirmation of<68> it. We can’t say so much of the Morality they claim to find in the words, Compel ’em to come in: For did, they import, Employ the Whip, Prisons, Tortures, to force those into the Christian Religion, who won’t freely come in; our Reason, our natural Religion might have ground to entertain the shreudest Suspicions, and look at Jesus Christ as an Emissary of Satan, coming under the fairest Appearances of a severe and spiritualiz’d Morality, and supported by mighty Prodigys, to infuse the deadliest Poison into the Hearts of Men, and to render the World a wild and never-changing Scene of Blood, and of the most execrable Tragedy. But let’s propose this second Argument in form.
Every Interpretation of Scripture, repugnant to the Spirit of the Gospel, must needs be false.
The literal Sense of the words, Compel ’em to come in, is directly repugnant to the Spirit of the Gospel.
The literal Sense therefore of these words must needs be false.
I may reasonably presume that the Major in this Argument needs no farther Proof: So I am only to prove the Minor.42
To this end I shall first observe, That the Excellency of the Gospel above the Law of Moses consists in this among other things, that it spiritualizes Man’s Nature, that it treats him more as a reasonable Creature, as arriv’d at a Maturity of Understanding, and no longer as a Child who stood in need of being amus’d by Shew and Ceremony, and outward Splendor, and wheedled from the Pagan Idolatry. From hence it follows, that the Gospel<69> most peculiarly requires we shou’d embrace it from a Principle of Reason; that its first and principal purpose is to enlighten the Understanding by its Truths, and afterwards attract our Zeal and Esteem; that it’s far from the Mind of the Gospel, that either the Fear of Men, or the Apprehension of temporal Misery, shou’d engage us to the outward Profession of it, when neither the Heart is touch’d, nor the Reason persuaded. It is not the mind of the Gospel then, that we shou’d force any one; this were treating Man as a Slave, and applying him like a brute Instrument, or mere Machine: As sometimes in handicraft servile Operations, where it’s no matter whether he work with a good will or no, provided he works; whereas, in the business of Religion, so far is it from being perform’d, when gone about with an ill will, that it were infinitely better to stand idle than to work by Force. Here the Heart must be in exercise, with a thorow Knowledg of the Cause; and the more any Religion requires the Heart, the Good-will, a Persuasion thorowly enlighten’d, and a reasonable Service, as the Gospel does, the farther it shou’d be from any kind of Constraint.
I observe in the second place, that the principal Character of Jesus Christ, and, if I may say it, the reigning Qualitys of his Soul, were Humility, Meekness, and Patience: Learn of me, says he to his Disciples, for I am meek and lowly in heart. He’s compar’d to a Lamb led to the slaughter, which opens not its mouth: Blessed, says he, are the Meek, and the Peace-makers, and the Merciful. When he was revil’d, he revil’d not again, but committed himself to him who judgeth<70> right. He’l have us bless those who curse us, and pray for those who persecute us; and far from commanding his Followers to persecute Infidels, he won’t allow ’em to oppose their Persecutions, otherwise than by Flight: If they persecute you, says he, in one City, fly to another. He does not bid ’em stir up the People against the Magistrates, call to their aid the Citys which are in their interest, lay formal siege to that which had persecuted ’em, and compel ’em to believe: No, Go forth from thence, says he, and remove to another place. He does indeed, in another place, order ’em to protest in the Streets against those who should not hear ’em; but this is the utmost he allows, and after that commands ’em to depart. He likens himself to a Shepherd who goes before his Sheep; And they follow him, for they know his Voice. These words are very emphatical: He does not say that he drives the Flock before him with Rod or Whip, as forcing ’em into grounds against their will; no, he goes before ’em, and they follow him, because they know his Voice: which signifies his leaving ’em at full liberty to follow, if they know him, or go astray, if they know him not; and his accepting no other than a voluntary Obedience, preceded by and founded upon Knowledg.
He opposes his own Mission to that of Thieves and Robbers, who break into the Fold, to carry off the Sheep by force which don’t belong to ’em, and which know not their Voice. When he sees himself forsaken by the Multitude, he does not arm those Legions of Angels, which were always as it were in his pay, nor send ’em in pursuit of the Deserters, to bring ’em back<71> by force: far from it, he asks his very Apostles, who had not yet forsaken him, whether they had not a mind to do like the rest; And will ye also go away? to let ’em, as ’twere, understand that he was not for keeping any of ’em in his service against their inclination. When he ascends into Heaven, he commands his Apostles to go and convert all Nations; but then ’tis only by Teaching and by Baptizing: his Apostles follow’d the example of his Meekness, and they exhort us to be Followers of them and of their Master. One must transcribe almost the whole New Testament, to collect all the Proofs it affords us of that Gentleness and Long-suffering, which constitute the distinguishing and essential Character of the Gospel.
Let’s now sum up the Argument thus: The literal Sense of this Gospel-Text, Compel ’em to come in, is not only contrary to the Lights of natural Religion, which are the primary and original Rule of Equity, but also to the reigning and essential Spirit of the Gospel it self, and of its Author; for nothing can be more opposite to this Spirit, than Dungeons, Dragoons, Banishment, Pillage, Gallys, Inflictions, and Torture. Therefore this literal Sense is false.
I don’t think it possible to imagine any thing more impious, or more injurious to Jesus Christ, or more fatal in its Consequences, than his having given Christians a general Precept to make Conversions by Constraint. For besides that a Maxim so opposite to good Sense, to Reason, to the common Principles of Morality, might induce one to believe, that he who vents it speaks not on the part of the same God,<72> who has given another antecedent Revelation, quite different from this, by the Oracles of natural Light; on the part of God, I say, who is incapable of contradicting himself so grosly: Besides all this, what Notion must we form of the Gospel, if we find in it on one hand so many Precepts of Gentleness and Clemency, and on the other a general Order authorizing all the ways of Violence, all the Craft and Cruelty which Hell can inspire? Who cou’d forbear thinking it a very odd medly of contradictory Conceits, and that the Author had not got his Lesson by heart, or did not know his own mind? Or rather, who wou’d not suspect that he knew his Lesson but too well, and that the grand Enemy of Mankind seducing him, had borrow’d his Organs to introduce into the World the fearfullest Deluge of Misery and Desolation; and the better to succeed, had made him play his game under a counterfeit beguiling Moderation, on a sudden to let fly the terrible Sentence of compelling all Nations to profess Christianity? Into such Abysses do the infamous Patrons of the literal Sense plunge themselves; who better deserve the Title of Directors-General of the Slaughter-House and Shambles, than that of Interpreters of Scripture. A certain Father of the Oratory, by name Amelote, writing about the Differences of the Jansenists, has this Saying,*That were there in the Question of Fact concerning Jansenius, such an Evidence as there is by Sense, or by the first Principles of Reason, they whose Eyes were so far<73> enlighten’d might reasonably take umbrage at the Diligence and Faithfulness of the Pope and Bishops, and justly demand an express Revelation from those who wou’d oblige ’em to sacrifice their Opinion, and submit against Knowledg. And that Evidence which is founded on Sense, or on the first Principles, he calls an impregnable Post. From this Principle of his, I make bold to conclude, that the least a Man shou’d do to convince us of the literal Sense of the words, Compel ’em to come in, so opposite to the Lights of Reason and of the Gospel, wou’d be to prove, by a new and most evident Revelation, that he interprets this Passage aright. And yet I’m of opinion, that except in some special cases, in which God may dispense with his own Laws, we ought not to give heed to a Revelation of this kind, tho ever so evident and express. My meaning is, that shou’d a Prophet, working Miracles in confirmation of the literal Sense of the Text, draw it into a general Precept, no way limited by any particular Circumstance, as in the Case of Phineas; this very thing wou’d be ground enough to take him, with all his Miracles, for an Impostor.<74>
[41. ]See above, p. 72.
[42. ]See Appendixes, “Bayle’s Use of Logic,” p. 580 (“syllogism”).
[* ]See his Treatise of Human Faith, p. 1. c. 17. [Not found.]