Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV: The Fourth Objection: We can't condemn the literal Sense of the words, Compel 'em to come in, but we must at the same time condemn those Laws which God gave the Jews, and the Conduct of the Prophets on several occasions. The Disparity, and par - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
Return to Title Page for A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Chapter IV: The Fourth Objection: We can’t condemn the literal Sense of the words, Compel ’em to come in, but we must at the same time condemn those Laws which God gave the Jews, and the Conduct of the Prophets on several occasions. The Disparity, and par - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Fourth Objection: We can’t condemn the literal Sense of the words, Compel ’em to come in, but we must at the same time condemn those Laws which God gave the Jews, and the Conduct of the Prophets on several occasions. The Disparity, and particular Reasons for giving the Old Law, which don’t take place under the Gospel.
Before I propose this Objection, I think my self oblig’d to say a word or two upon a Scruple which may arise in the minds of some People. It looks, say they, as tho you wou’d maintain that there are but two ways to be taken with Hereticks, that of putting ’em to death, or that of abandoning ’em to their Errors, without troubling your head, whether you go the<205> first way to work, or whether you take the second, with the thoughts of converting ’em to the true Church. This, add they, is what you plainly insinuate, when you say, that where Hereticks are condemn’d to death, it’s better not to offer, than offer ’em their Lives on condition they abjure. I answer, that my opinion is, all imaginable care shou’d be taken in endeavoring to convert those who are suppos’d to be in error, by Instructions, by charitable and calm Reasonings, by clearing up their Doubts, by Prayers to God in their behalf, and by all the Demonstrations of a Zeal truly Christian: but if all this will not work upon ’em, far from pressing ’em to change their Religion, we ought to let ’em know that they wou’d do very ill to change it, as long as their Minds are not enlighten’d. We ought to send up our Prayers to God for ’em, but still take care not to act the part of a tempting Angel, by promising ’em great Advantages if they change, or by threatning ’em with Death if they refuse. And here’s the true reason why of two Evils, to wit, that of condemning a Man to death unless he change his Religion, or condemning him whether he be willing to change or no; I shou’d be of the mind to chuse the latter as the least, because it does not expose the Man to the dangerous Temptation of sinning against Conscience, and puts him in a way, when he sees there’s no remedy, of sacrificing himself by a serious Act of Resignation to the Love of Truth: for it’s impossible a Man shou’d lay down his Life chearfully for what he believes the Truth, tho possibly it may be an Error, without a sincere Love of Truth. Let’s now consider this fourth Objection.<206>
It seems to be drawn from hence, that the Law of Moses allow’d no Toleration for Idolaters or false Prophets; that it punish’d with Death; and from the Prophet Elias’s putting the Priests of Baal to death, without sparing a Soul.74 Whence it happens, that all the Reasons I have bin laying out in the First Part of this Commentary prove nothing; because they prove too much, to wit, that the literal Sense of some of the Laws of Moses wou’d by the same Rule be impious and abominable. Now since God might, without a breach upon Order, have commanded the Jews to slay the false Prophets among them, it evidently follows, he may enjoin the putting Hereticks to death under the Gospel.
I don’t perceive I’m yet infected enough with the Spirit of Controversy, to bully this Objection, or look down on it with an air of Scorn and Contempt, as generally those do, who find themselves at a loss for a satisfactory Answer: I freely own the Objection is strong, and seems to be one pregnant Instance, that God has a mind we shou’d know scarce any one thing with certainty, by his having left so many Exceptions in his Word to almost all the common Notions of Reason. I even know those, who have not any greater difficultys against believing Almighty God Author of the Law of Moses, and of those Revelations which have occasion’d such slaughters of Men, than to see that this is repugnant to the purest Ideas of natural Equity: for in fine, say they, our common Notions being the primary Revelation, the original and mother Rule of every thing that falls under our cognizance, what reason is there to imagine that God shou’d<207> on one hand reveal to us, by natural Light, that Conscience ought not to be forc’d; and on the other, by the mouth of Moses or Elias, that we must slay all those who are not of such or such a Persuasion in matters of Religion? We must believe then, say they, that Moses acted in this from a mere human Spirit, and from Principles of pure Policy, such as he judg’d the fittest for the Preservation of that Commonwealth which he founded. It’s a rule with great Politicians, never to suffer any Innovations in Religion, and to appoint the grievousest Punishments for those who shall attempt the introducing any Change in this particular. Here, say they, is the foundation of Moses’s Laws in that point. Now the particular Notions of any one Man not being the Rule of Equity, there’s no ill Consequence in rejecting whatever Moses might have ordain’d from a private Judgment. With regard to Elias, these Free Thinkers wou’d have us likewise believe, that his Zeal transported him too far, and that he made use of some pious Fraud, from a good Intention, to make the Fire descend upon his Victims. But God forbid, that to get over this Objection, we shou’d ever adopt a Thought so dangerous and impious as these. I’m of opinion, we may give a reasonable Solution, upon a supposition, as no doubt it’s true, of the Inspiration of Moses and Elias.
To ground this Solution on the Principles I have made use of from the beginning of this Work, it’s fit I demonstrate that there’s no real Contradiction between that Revelation which God vouchsafes to all attentive Minds by the pure Ideas of good Sense, and that particular Revela-<208>tion communicated to Moses for the exterminating all Idolaters who shou’d rise up among the Jewish People. For were there a real Contradiction between the first Revelation and the Laws of Moses, ’twou’d follow from my Principles, that this were ground enough, a posteriori, to reject Moses either as a wilful Impostor, or as a Person seduc’d by some invisible Genius attempting to oppose the Orders of God. Let’s make it appear then, that there’s no real Contradiction in the case.
To this end, I reclaim my Readers to this Idea, which Reason and Experience do both confirm: That a Being can’t be said to contradict it self when it ordains several Laws, the Observation of one of which is sometimes inseparable from the Non-observance of others. For example, no body will say that God has contradicted himself in commanding Children to honor their Fathers, and commanding to do no murder; yet it is in some cases impossible to obey both these Laws at the same time, supposing there were Fathers who commanded their Children to take away a Man’s Life. If the Opinion of some modern Philosophers be true, it is God who moves all Matter by certain general Laws, and among others by these; That all Motion shall be made in a right line, and if an invincible Obstacle hinders, the moving Body shall turn off to one side. It’s evident, that in consequence of these two Laws, Motion shall often be made in a circular line. Will any one therefore say that God overthrows his first Law? ’Twere the grossest Ignorance to fancy so. Good Sense teaches us, that one of these two Laws is subordinate to<209> the other, and that the requisite Conditions presenting for the executing of one of ’em, the Legislator, to maintain an Uniformity, must abandon the other Law, and execute this, to execute that other in its turn as soon as the Conditions to which it is annext present. The same thing happens between the Laws of the Union of Soul and Body; by one of which, according to the same Authors, it’s ordain’d, that as often as the Soul desires to move an Arm, the animal Spirits shall flow to the Muscles which serve for moving the Arm. Yet a Paralytick may wish long enough, and desire to move his Arm; it won’t do. Is it that God forgets his first Law? No; What then is the reason? ’Tis this, that before the animal Spirits arrive at the Muscles of the Arm, they meet with a rub or obstruction by the way; which, in consequence of another Law between Bodys, reflects or turns ’em aside. This Law cannot be executed, without the other being suspended; God complying with each in its turn, and postponing one when the juncture for the other presents; the observing of which must inevitably cross the Execution of that.
Accordingly to conclude, that such or such a Command cannot come from God, it is not sufficient that it be repugnant to the pure Ideas of Reason, and that we cannot obey it without shocking natural Light; but we must moreover be assur’d that this Command is not the necessary Consequence of a Law, which God has in reality establish’d: for if once it appears to be a necessary Consequence from such a Law, we ought not any longer to think it strange, that it’s ex-<210>pedient in some cases not to obey a particular Law of Nature: just as we don’t think it strange, that it’s sometimes expedient to disobey that most natural Law of obeying the Will of those to whom we owe our being, because we see this Disobedience is a necessary Consequence of other Laws establish’d by God, which we perceive by common Sense to be very just; such as those of not killing nor defrauding our Neighbor. From hence it’s easily conceiv’d, how when the Jews heard Moses give a Law for immediately putting any Man to death, who shou’d rise up among ’em, and teach Doctrines opposite to the Fundamentals of their Religion, the only true Worship of that God who had brought ’em out of the House of Bondage; it’s, I say, easily conceiv’d how there shou’d be no room for their suspecting, that this Law did not come from God, upon the pretence of any Contradiction in it to the purest Ideas of Equity, which require that every one shou’d follow the Dictates of his Conscience: This, I say, is easily conceiv’d, and from this Reason.
That every Man, who contemplates the Idea of a Being sovereignly perfect, must distinctly conceive, that God may communicate himself to a People in a particular manner, and by an oral Revelation declare, he will chuse ’em for his peculiar Inheritance, and be not only a God, but also a King to ’em, and Head of their temporal Government. And therefore when Moses on the part of God declar’d to the Children of Israel, that God remember’d the Promise which he had made to Abraham, that he wou’d deliver ’em by a mighty Hand and an out-stretch’d Arm<211> from their Egyptian Bondage, and bring ’em into the Land of Canaan; in a word, that he wou’d be their God, and they shou’d be his People: ’twas natural for ’em to believe these words of Moses, and not have the least distrust of their being true, after all the mighty Wonders and Miracles he had wrought to justify his Mission. Here then we find this People rationally persuaded that the sovereign Lord of all things, the infinitely perfect Being, is its God, and its King properly and immediately; and from henceforward, their obeying particular Laws, which God enjoins ’em, shall be not only a Duty of Religion, but that also of a good Subject, who observes the politickal and fundamental Laws of the Government under which he lives: and Disobedience to the Laws of God, shall for the future be punishable not only at the Bar of Conscience, but at the Tribunal of Civil Justice also; forasmuch as the Laws of God are those of the temporal Sovereign, and political Head of the State. Now as the Basis and fundamental Law of this State, is that of having no other God but him who brought ’em out of the Land of Egypt; as this is the first Covenant betwixt God and the People of Israel; betwixt God, I say, consider’d not simply as Creator, but as supreme and temporal Lord of the Jewish Commonwealth: it’s plain, all Idolatry was punishable by Death, and that any one who preach’d or intic’d to the Service of other Gods, and to the Religion of the Nations round ’em, was as liable to capital Punishment, as he wou’d be, who shou’d at this day exhort the People of London to take an Oath of Allegiance to the King of France or Spain. So that<212> whoever was but the least attentive to that natural Light, which informs that we ought not to force Conscience, might easily have conceiv’d upon the first hearing the Laws of the 13th of Deuteronomy, that they were righteous and just; and that they might flow from the same God, who tells us in general by the Oracles of common Sense and Reason, that no Man shou’d be forc’d by temporal Punishments to the Profession of this or of that Religion.
There was no more difficulty in reconciling these two things, than in reconciling the Disobedience of a Son, order’d by his Father to commit a Murder, with the fifth Command of the Decalogue. For as that which makes the neglect of the fifth Commandment in this case no Transgression, is, that its non-Observance is a necessary Consequence of the Observance of another Command; so that which made the forcing of Conscience among the Jews no Violation of natural Right in the Case specified in Deuteronomy Chapter 13, was its depending as by a necessary Consequence on the Observance of the fundamental Laws of their Commonwealth. Since therefore one Law may hinder the Execution of another, and yet no reason to suspect that both are not given by the same Legislator; the Jews cou’d have no ground to doubt whether the Laws of the 13th of Deuteronomy came from the same God, who by the Oracles of natural Light ordains, that there shall be no forcing of Conscience. But wherefore, will some say, why put a Man to death for persuading his Neighbor to worship another Divinity, which in his Judgment he believes to be the true? Because, by that particular Form of Government, and in that<213> Theocracy under which the People of Israel liv’d, this was an overt Act of High Treason; ’twas an Attempt of Rebellion against the Sovereign Magistrate. Now since Order Eternal and Immutable confers a Power on the Magistrate of punishing Treason and Rebellion, and whatever else tends to the overthrowing the Constitution; it’s plain, that God being once constituted Head of the Jewish Commonwealth, whoever shou’d afterwards alienate his own Allegiance, or endeavor to draw away others, deserv’d to die as a Traitor and Rebel: nor will it avail him, that in so doing he follow’d the Light of his Conscience, this being a singular Case, in which God by an extraordinary Appointment, to wit, that of a Theocratical Government among the Jews, derogates from the Immunitys of Conscience.
The Crime in this case becomes punishable by the Secular Arm, in quality of Treason and Rebellion against the State, and not as it is simply a Sin against the moral and metaphysical Obligation Men are under of worshipping the only true God. Whence it follows, that there’s no Consequence to be drawn from this Case to that of the Gospel, because the Precepts of the Gospel are not the political Laws of the State, except in some chief Instances without which human Society cou’d not subsist; for example, the forbidding Murder, and False Witness, and Robbery, is at the same time a Political and Evangelical Law: whence it happens, that shou’d a Man commit Murder or Robbery from the Dictates of his Conscience, he is nevertheless punish’d by the Secular Authority, because the Magistrate<214> loses not his inherent Right of cutting off from the Commonwealth whatever necessarily destroys the Security of its Members, and tends to dissolve the Society; he loses not this Power, I say, tho a Man shou’d by chance be found, who committed Murder and Robbery from an Impulse of Conscience.
The Conduct of Elias is not near so considerable an Objection as the thirteenth Chapter of Deuteronomy, because it is only a particular Example not propos’d to our Imitation by any Command of God; whereas the Law of Moses is general with regard to the Jews, and deliver’d absolutely and without any restriction to Time or Place. Upon this particular Case of the Priests of Baal put to death by the Prophet’s Command, we have only one of these two things to offer; either that God, who may dispense with his own Laws in certain Cases, thought fit that these false Priests shou’d be put to death at that time, because the natural Impression made by such an Adventure on the Machine of the Body, and on the Spirits of those who shou’d hear or see it, might be fruitful in thousands and thousands of very considerable Combinations physical and moral: or what seems to me more probable, that Elias had a Revelation that these Priests were insincere at heart, and maliciously abus’d the Credulity of the People for filthy Lucre. Now in this case we declare that no Heretick has right to a Toleration; and we freely consent that Minister and People be condemn’d to the Gibbet, if we know certainly that they preach Errors and Heresy, to them known as<215> such, from mere Malice and worldly Interest. In this case let ’em all be truss’d up.
I might here alledg, with Spencer a learned Man of our own Nation, that God had ordain’d several things among the Jews, which are no farther reasonable, than as, consider’d with regard to the Situation of that People, to their perverse Inclinations and absurd Prejudices, they were capable of preventing great Evils, or procuring indirectly some Good: and in this number I might reckon that Law which condemns false Teachers to death, but I have no need of this Remark.
Let’s now examine the Difference between the literal Meaning of the Precept, Compel ’em to come in, and the objected Examples of the old Law.
1. The Jews had no Orders to send forth Preachers for the propagating their Religion, and instructing all Nations in it. They confin’d themselves to their own Country, without almost any Commerce with other People; so that the Command of putting those to death, who conform’d not to their Religion, concern’d only those of their own Nation, who shou’d attempt changing the God of Abraham for any of the Pagan Divinitys round ’em. Now it was morally impossible that a Jew, bred up in Judaism, shou’d attempt this Change from any Motive of Conscience, or from any other Principle than that of a Spirit of Rebellion, Libertinism, or mere Malice, in which case he justly deserv’d to die; and there’s a very notable difference between this and that Constraint which the Convertists speak of: for Christians being oblig’d by their Master’s Commands to instruct all Nations, they must of<216> necessity have to do with People educated in Principles different from their own, and under the power of Prejudices which must needs destroy their taste for the Gospel. So that to say Christians shou’d make use of Constraint, is saying that they ought to force People who are sincerely persuaded they can’t forsake their own Religion with a good Conscience.
2. In the second place, the Proceedings against Seducers under the Law of Moses, might indeed be severe enough; yet they left their Consciences intirely free. This Law did not force Men to abjure what they believ’d true, it did not tempt ’em by the hopes of Life to act a part; in a word, they dy’d in the full Enjoyment of all the Principles of their Conscience, if they had any, and were never constrain’d to live in Anxiety and Remorse, by Promises of Life if they comply’d with the publick Worship. Death was their certain Lot, without the Alternative of Death or Renunciation. On the contrary, our Convertists will have Men threaten’d in the first place, and this Condition annex’d, that they who abjure shall be quit of all Prosecution, and stand fair for Rewards; and that their Threats may work the more efficaciously, the Craftiest have a way of threatning such Deaths as are attended with slow and exquisite Torments, or depriving People of all means of flying, or subsisting at home. This constrains a world to betray the Lights of their Conscience, and live afterwards under an Oppression of Spirit, which disorders, and at last drives ’em to despair. What can be more cruel? The Law, which is thought so hard, was a Honey-moon in comparison of such a Gospel.<217>
3. Besides, the Severitys under the antient Law were limited to certain particular Cases; as when Elias, for example, from a prophetick Impulse upon his Spirit, acted by a dispensing Power, and even from a Knowledg of the Heart of those false Prophets whom he slew, and of their obstinate fraudulent Malice; or else to certain Doctrines tending to subvert the fundamental Constitution of the Commonwealth, as that for example, of not acknowledging God, the God of Abraham and Isaac, who was become the sovereign Lord of the Jews in a more especial manner by Covenant and formal Contract. Nothing of this nature can be pleaded in behalf of the present Convertists. They pretend that Jesus Christ has commanded Violence simply and absolutely; and in reality there’s no Restriction in the words either to Time, or Place, or Doctrine. No body under the present Dispensation can tell, whether a Heretick be sincerely or maliciously in Error. Christians are under no Theocratical Form of Government; they have a Discipline, and Canon Law distinct from the Civil: Christianity is not the fundamental Constitution of the State, in such a manner that a King is supreme in his Dominions only by virtue of being Christian; for Constantine and Clovis acquir’d not a tittle of Right by being baptiz’d, beyond what they enjoy’d in a state of Paganism: and Julian the Apostate reign’d not less rightfully than if he had bin a Christian. For which reason Magistrates shou’d commit the Care of punishing Hereticks to God alone, so long as they disturb not the publick Peace; I mean, so long as they obey the Laws, since purely as they are Hereticks they offend not against<218> those things which Magistrates have a right to impose.
4. Last of all, the Jews tolerated all the different Sects which were form’d on the various Interpretations of the Law of Moses, and punish’d only those who subverted the Foundation, by quitting the Religion of their Country for good and all, to go after strange Gods. They even tolerated the most detestable Heresys, and which by consequence destroy’d all Religion; such as the Sect of the Sadduces, who deny’d the Immortality of the Soul, and the Resurrection of the Body: but forasmuch as they talk’d not of renouncing the true God to worship Baal or any other Idol, they not only suffer’d ’em patiently, but we even don’t find that J. Christ ever blam’d their Conduct in this; nor is it to be doubted but he had reproach’d the Pharisees with it, if he had thought their tolerating ’em unjustifiable. If the Convertists of these days wou’d square themselves by the Practice under Moses’s Law, they ought to punish only such as turn’d Jews, Pagans, or Mahometans, and bear with all the different Opinions which might be rais’d on such or such a Passage of Scripture. But very far from this, they have those among ’em, who say that the Church of Rome has a hundred times more right to compel and persecute dissenting Christians than mere Infidels.
I have shewn elsewhere,75 that Princes cannot establish their own Religion by a politickal Law, obliging their Subjects to the Profession of it under pain of High Treason and Rebellion. God alone had a power to do this, by declaring it immediately to Moses, and confirming this Pur-<219>pose by incontestable Miracles: so that Princes may ordain what they please in matters of Religion, their Subjects may lawfully dispense with their Submission, provided they can in truth and sincerity alledg that famous Saying of St. Peter’s, said before him by a* Heathen; It’s better to obey God than Men. And if they proceed to Constraint, they are guilty of the same Sin as those who were Persecutors of the Apostles: for the Heathen Emperors who establish’d Paganism in their Dominions by a Law, had not hereby acquir’d a jot the more right to persecute the Apostles.
I must conclude this Chapter by observing, that natural Light, the primary and original Rule of Equity, can never acknowledg Compulsion, which is directly repugnant to it, as divine; unless it appear to be the necessary Consequence of some Law, known by another Means to come from God. Now Compulsion under the Gospel can be the necessary Consequence of no other Law known by another Means to come from God; and nevertheless it directly contradicts the Rule of natural Equity. We must therefore conclude from the irrefragable Lights of right Reason, that Jesus Christ has not ordain’d Constraint. Let’s answer on this occasion to those who alledg Moses, much the same as Jesus Christ answer’d those who alledg’d him in favor of Divorce: ’Twas because of the Hardness of Heart<220> and incorrigible Proneness of the Jews to Idolatry, Murmuring, and Rebellion, that Moses ordain’d Death for all those who shou’d not conform to the Religion of the Country; but from the beginning it was not so. We must therefore resolve things to their first Origin, and regulate ’em by that natural Law which irradiates the human Mind, before any positive Law is propos’d.
[74. ]1 Kings 18:40.
[75. ]See above, pp. 112–13.
[* ]Veremur vos Romani, & si ita vultis etiam timemus: sed plus veremur & timemus Deos immortales. Lycortas Achaeorum Praetor, ap. Liv. l. 39. [Livy, XXXIX.xxxvii.17: “Indeed we respect you, Romans, and, if you wish it so, we even fear you; but still more do we both respect and fear the immortal gods.” Translated E.= T. Sage, Loeb Classical Library, 1965, p. 338–39. Cf. Peter, Acts 5:29.]