Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IX: An Answer to some Objections against what has bin advanc'd in the foregoing Chapter concerning the Rights of an erroneous Conscience. Some Examples which prove this Right. - 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 IX: An Answer to some Objections against what has bin advanc’d in the foregoing Chapter concerning the Rights of an erroneous Conscience. Some Examples which prove this Right. - 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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An Answer to some Objections against what has bin advanc’d in the foregoing Chapter concerning the Rights of an erroneous Conscience. Some Examples which prove this Right.
I did not make use of some very pertinent and altogether unanswerable Instances to prove, that the Rights of an erroneous Conscience attended with Sincerity, are exactly the same as those of an Orthodox Conscience; because while I was actually engag’d in this Argument, someone lent me the Continuation of the Critique Generale on Mr. Maimbourg’s History of Calvinism,91 where I found these Rights very tolerably asserted from several of these Instances, and particularly from that of a suppos’d Father, who exercises all the Rights and Functions of paternal<294> Authority as rightfully as any true and real Father. I shou’d not have expected, that an Author, who seems to aim more at diverting his Reader, and enlivening his matter, than sounding it to the bottom, cou’d have enter’d so deep into this. It gave me full Satisfaction, tho I’m sensible a great deal may be added to what he has said upon this Subject. Yet I cannot see how our common Adversarys will answer his Instance of a Woman, who, persuaded that a Cheat is her true and lawful Husband, can’t be wanting in any Duty of a Wife towards the Impostor, without becoming as guilty in the sight of God as if she misbehav’d herself towards her real lawful Husband. They are as much at a loss to answer the Instance of a Bastard, who believing this Husband of his Mother to be his real Father, owes him the very same Honor and Obedience as if he were Bone of his Bone; nor can he fail in any point of Duty to him without incurring the very same guilt as he might incur by a failure of Duty to his natural Father. He inherits the Estate of his Mother’s Husband as legally as if he were his natural Son; and consequently the false Persuasion, which as well the Son as the Husband of this Woman are under, gives both the very same Rights as a true and undoubted Persuasion. These Examples, and many more, which the Author furnishes even to profusion, demolish the Cause of our Adversarys to all intents and purposes.
For they demonstratively prove, that an Action done in consequence of a false Persuasion, is as good as if done in consequence of a true and firm Persuasion. This appears from hence, that<295> Obedience to a suppos’d Father, to a suppos’d Husband; Affection for a suppos’d Child, are Dutys, neither more nor less obliging, than if the Subjects were really what they are taken to be. On the other hand, an Action done against a false Persuasion is as sinful as if done against a true Persuasion. This appears from hence, that disobeying a suppos’d Father, abusing him, killing him; doing the same to a suppos’d Husband; hating a suppos’d Son, are Actions no less criminal than if committed against Persons who were in reality what they are only suppos’d to be. There’s not the least disparity in the cases.
Yes, yes, say they, there’s a great deal; for he who shou’d turn a suppos’d Son out of doors, wou’d in reality but incommode a stranger; the Person turn’d out tells a lye, if he says, ’twas his Father us’d him so ill, all the Neighborhood lyes if they say so. It is not true then, that this Man turn’d his Son out of doors; and therefore he is no more to be blam’d than if he only turn’d off a Stranger whom he was not bound to support. But if he turn out a Child sprung from his own Loins, this alters the case; and God, who judges upon all things according to their real Nature, must know, that this Man turn’d off his lawfully begotten Son, and will judg of his Action accordingly; whereas in the former case he judges that the Man had only turn’d off a Stranger.
But my Readers must needs see the grossness of this Cavil before I confute it: they must know, that the Sovereign Judg of Heaven and Earth, the Searcher of the Heart and Reins, can make no difference betwixt two Acts of the human<296> Will exactly the same as to their physical Entity, tho their Object by accident is not really the same: for it suffices, that it be objectively92 the same, I mean, that it appear so to the two Wills which form these Acts. And how in reason can it avail the suppos’d Father, that the Person he has turn’d out of doors was not lawfully begotten by him? This Circumstance being null with regard to him, because no more known to him than if it were really not so; can it in any kind of manner affect him? Is it the Cause, that there’s less Outrage, less Hardheartedness, less Inhumanity in his Soul? It’s plain it is not, and that this Circumstance makes no change in the Act of his Will, or in the Modifications of his Soul; so that God must see the same Irregularity within, whether these Acts relate to a true Son, or whether they relate to a Stranger, but who instead of being reputed such is a reputed Son. In like manner, a Woman who honestly takes a Counterfeit for her true Husband, and admits him to her Bed, does not commit a less warrantable Action than if he were her lawful Husband; and if she absolutely refus’d to live with the Impostor at Bed and Board, wou’d be as much to blame as if she refus’d her real Husband. The reason is, that towards making her Action in the first case less warrantable, and in the second case less blameable, ’twere requisite she had some good reason to give for not bedding with this Cheat: now she has no such reason; therefore, &c. There’s not the least color of Reason to be alledg’d, because his Character of a Cheat, the only possible just Reason, can be no Reason at all with regard to her to whom it’s perfectly unknown. ’Twere therefore the most<297> groundless Illusion to say, that if this Woman refus’d to bed with this Man, she cou’d not be blameable: for her Refusal proceeding from mere Caprice, Obstinacy, Pride, or some such Failing, precisely what wou’d hinder her bedding with the true Husband were he in place, can in no kind of manner be excus’d.
But after all, say they, this Refusal does not in reality concern her true Husband: I answer, that’s nothing to the purpose, it’s enough that it relates to the true Husband objectively. This is evident, because the Turpitude of an Action is not measur’d at the Divine Tribunal by the real quality of the Subjects to which it tends, but by their objective quality; that is, God considers only the very Act of the Will. Therefore a Man, who has the Will to murder another, and who thinking he is in such a Coach, fires a Musket at him, is as guilty in the Sight of God, tho he hits only a Statue someone had put in the Coach, as if he had shot him dead, because the Effects of the local Motions, which execute the Act of his Will, are wholly extrinsecal to the Crime: the willing to move his Arm, the moment he believes that Motion shall be follow’d by the death of a Man, constitutes the whole Essence of Homicide. The rest, to wit, that such a Man is, or is not really kill’d, is wholly accidental to the Sin, which God, the Judg infallible and most just, has no regard to, as a Matter which either extenuates, or aggravates the Guilt.
This may be a proper place enough to put in a Caveat, That tho I stretch Toleration in Religion as far as any one, yet I am not for giving any quarter to those who affront the Divinity<298> they profess to believe in, were it the vilest of all those Gods of Clay which the Scriptures speak of. Grotius is of the same mind, in the last Paragraph of Chap. 20. B. 2. de Jure Belli & Pacis. “They,” says he, “are most justly punishable, who behave themselves irreverently and irreligiously towards those Beings which they believe to be Gods.” And hereupon he makes a note, in which he says, “St. Cyril treats this matter very judiciously in his fifth and sixth Books against Julian.” He likewise observes, that the true God has often punish’d Perjurys and false Adjurations of the Divinitys believ’d in, of what kind soever they be. It won’t be amiss to hear what Seneca says on this head, in the seventh Chapter of his seventh Book of Benefits: A sacrilegious Person can do no injury to God, who by his Nature is above all Attempts; yet he’s justly punishable, because he offers the injury to a Being which he owns as God. Our Sense and his own condemn him to Punishment. This Author joins the Sentence of the sacrilegious Person’s own Mind to that of his Judges; but in one sense this Consent of Judgments is not necessary. For tho they shou’d be of a very different Religion from that of the sacrilegious Person, yet they are oblig’d to punish him for acting in this point against the Dictates of his particular Conscience. ’Tis true, the Opinion of the Judges in another sense cannot but close in with that of the sacrilegious Offender, provided they are of this opinion, that all particular Contempts of the false Divinitys rebound upon the true God. How can this be, say they? Thus, say I; ’tis no hard matter to demonstrate it.<299>
As the eternal or positive Laws of God are what makes all the difference between Vertue and Vice, between moral Good and Evil, it’s the Prerogative of God to declare what Punishment is due to the Violation of these Laws; and ’tis he, as Legislator, who is the principal Party affronted by the Transgression of ’em. Now the most obliging and most indispensable of all these Laws, is that which forbids the doing of what we are conscious is wicked, criminal, and impious; all therefore who commit what they believe to be wicked and impious, violate one of the most sacred Laws flowing from the Divine Nature, and consequently offend the true God: for altho they know him not, altho the God whom they do know is a Fiction of the Brain, a most imperfect Being; yet the Persuasion they are under that this Being is God, cannot be attended with an Act which they are conscious must offend him, without the extremest Obliquity and utmost Malice in the Will. Now this Obliquity and this Malice of the Will is one of those Acts which the Law eternal has rank’d in the Class of Sin; it’s therefore a Violation of the eternal Law of God: in a word, it’s an Impiety.
The better to comprehend this, we need only compare the Case of a Jew who shou’d pillage the Temple of Jerusalem, with that of a Greek who pillag’d the Temple of Delphos; a Jew, I say, and a Greek equally assur’d, one that the Temple of Jerusalem is consecrated to God, the other that the Temple of Delphos is consecrated to Apollo, and that Apollo is a true God. I defy all Mankind to find any Circumstance in these two sacrilegious Actions, which can render one more<300> impious, more affronting to the true God than the other.
For will any one say, that the Jew’s carrying off Vessels consecrated to the true God, and the Greek Vessels consecrated to a false God, makes any specifick difference betwixt the two Thefts? To say this, is betraying an utter Ignorance of the formal Cause of Sin, and advancing that the Sin of the Jew consists, in part at least, precisely in this, that he has taken certain Vessels from one place, and laid ’em down in another. Now this is no ingredient in the Sin; for shou’d a high Wind cause this conveyance, shou’d a Thunderbolt, an Earthquake, a walking Machine change their local Situation, there wou’d be no more moral Evil in it, than in the twirling of a Straw, which is the sport of the Winds. The Sin therefore of the Jew consists in this, in his willing to convey away these Vessels the very moment he was near enough to reach forth his hand for that purpose; and willing this in the very moment that he believ’d ’em to be Vessels consecrated to God, and that he cou’d not convey ’em away without offending the true God. The Concurrence, or if I may so say, the Confluence of these two Acts of the Soul, to wit, of this Knowledg and this Volition, at the moment when his Hand was near enough to do its part, is that which constitutes the whole Sacrilege and Sin of this Jew. That these Vessels are really, or, as the Logicians speak, a parte rei, consecrated to the true God, and not to those Gods of Dung of which the Prophets so often make mention, is a thing wholly extrinsecal and accidental to the Jew’s Action, and consequently<301> contributes nothing to the aggravating his Crime. Whence it evidently appears, that the Greek’s Sacrilege is altogether as sinful as that of the Jew, because we find in it that Concurrence of a Will to steal certain Vessels, the very moment his Hand was near enough to be mov’d for this purpose; and of a clear and distinct belief that these Vessels are consecrated to a God, who shall think himself exceedingly offended at his conveying ’em from thence. Apollo’s being a Chimera is nothing at all to the purpose; for the Greek having not the least suspicion of this chimerical Quality of Apollo, nothing can be drawn from it in his excuse: and it is most false, that the Reason total or in part, why he durst rob the Temple, was grounded on his believing that Apollo was no God. I say, and know I repeat the same things too often; but we have to deal with Adversarys impenetrable to the most forcible Arguments; their Understandings are like the Bodys of those Soldiers who have got, they say, a Charm about ’em, which renders ’em invulnerable: we must therefore work it into ’em as Water does into Stone, by saying the same things over and over; Gutta cavat Lapidem non vi sed saepe cadendo.93
From all this I conclude, that the Conscience of a Pagan obliges him to honor his false Gods, on pain, if he reviles ’em, if he robs their Temples, &c. of incurring the Guilt of Blasphemy and Sacrilege, as much as a Christian who curs’d God, and rob’d his Churches. Wherefore I approve the Christian Magistrate’s punishing a Pagan, who without a design of abjuring his Religion shou’d blaspheme his Divinitys, or overthrow their Statues.<302>
Let’s now examine the Difficultys which they are ready to propose in abundance.
In the first place, they may tell us that the Examples of the Author of the Critique Generale prove nothing with regard to the Truths of Religion, because they relate to Questions of Fact, and not to those of Right, such as the Articles of Faith be. For which reason he who is under a mistaken Belief, that the Husband of his Mother is his true Father, shall be oblig’d to honor him as such, and wou’d be guilty of a Sin if he did not; but he who shou’d falsly believe that Murder is a vertuous Action, is not oblig’d to kill, and wou’d be guilty of a Sin if he did. Whence arises this difference? From hence; That the knowing such a Man to be the Father of such a Man is a Question of Fact, but the knowing whether it be lawful to kill is a Question of Right.
This Objection is of no great weight, and includes two Cases which we must take care to distinguish. The first is to know whether Conscience, erring in matters of Right, obliges to act according to its false Dictates; the other, to know whether he who follows these false Dictates commits a Sin. I don’t see that Fact and Right in the first case beget any real difference, because the formal reason why Conscience erring in matters of Fact obliges to act, is, that he who shou’d not act betrays a Contempt of Vertue, and a Will of doing what he knows is an Evil. For example, a Man who acts contrary to what his mistaken Conscience tells him he ought to do for his suppos’d Father, formally wills a Transgression of the fifth Commandment of the Decalogue. Now as the willing this Transgression is<303> a greater Evil than willing another Action, not conformable indeed to the Law of God, but which however to us appears conformable, insomuch that its appearing so is the real Motive of our acting, and that moreover of two Evils we are indispensably oblig’d to avoid the greatest; it’s plain this Person is oblig’d to honor his suppos’d Father.
Now the same Reason operates where Conscience errs in matters of Right. We can’t act counter to its Dictates, without willing that which we are persuaded is a Sin; and the willing this is undoubtedly a greater Sin than willing another thing which we are convinc’d is good, altho it may not be so: the same Reason then why Conscience erring in matters of Fact obliges, takes place where Conscience errs in points of Right. The Distinction therefore is null with regard to the first Case. I add, that in reality there are but very few Questions of Right which are not reducible to this Fact, whether God has reveal’d this or that; whether he has prohibited Murder, &c. For as to the Question, whether what God prohibits is evil, and what he commands is good, no body disputes it: the only dispute is concerning this Fact, Is such or such a thing forbidden or commanded by God?
As to the second Case, to wit, whether he who follows the Dictates of a Conscience erring in matters of Right be guilty of Sin, I have no design of treating it in this place; nevertheless I shall desire my Reader to weigh the following Remark.
That the Distinction of Fact and Right is of no use, except in cases where both don’t come to<304> the same thing. ’Twere making a mock of us to pretend, Such an Action proceeding from Error is innocent, such another Action proceeding from Error is sinful; that’s innocent because it concerns a Fact; this is sinful because it concerns Right: I say, ’twere mocking the World to argue at this rate, without going farther, and without supposing other Principles. They must therefore tacitly understand, when they talk thus, that the Fact and Right are so distinct in their natures, that the Ignorance as to the first is invincible, but as to the latter affected and malicious. By supposing this Principle all will go well; and then the true reason why a Woman that beds with a suppos’d Husband, a Child who inherits the Estate of a suppos’d Father, &c. commit neither Adultery nor Fraud,94 is, not that the Error concerns a matter of Fact (this reason supposes another previous reason) but that their Error proceeds not from Malice, and that it is not the fault of either the Wife or the Son that they are deceiv’d. I don’t see how this can be deny’d; because it’s a constant Truth, that if the Mistake of this Woman had its rise from any criminal Passion, which blinded her eyes to all the means of detecting the Impostor, her carnal Commerce with him wou’d be indeed a Sin; yet ’twou’d still be true, that this Action concern’d a Point of Fact, to wit, Whether such a Man be the Husband of such a Woman. Thus by unfolding the Circumstances, we come at the formal Reason of moral Good and Evil. It does not consist precisely in this, That the Action relates to Fact; but in the Party’s being under an Ignorance of the Fact, without Malice or vicious Af-<305>fectation. Now if this be the true formal Cause of the Innocence of those Actions which proceed from Error, I maintain, that wherever this Ignorance takes place, whether in matters of Fact or in those of Right, the Action proceeding from it is innocent; and consequently this first Distinction of Fact and Right is nothing to the purpose, nor does it invalidate my Argument in the least: for I don’t pretend to excuse or acquit those who maliciously contribute to their own Ignorance; I speak only for those whose Error is attended with Sincerity, and who wou’d freely and readily forsake their Heresys, if convinc’d they were really such, and who have employ’d the same means for discovering whether they be Heresys, as the Orthodox to discover whether their Doctrines be Orthodox.
I shan’t scruple to maintain, that the Reverence and Obedience such Men pay to their own Church, their Zeal for its Confessions of Faith, the Care their Church takes to train up and instruct its Sons, can’t be reputed sinful Actions, but it must follow that the Obedience for a suppos’d Father, the Commerce with a suppos’d Husband, the Tenderness for a suppos’d Child, are likewise sinful; for in all these respective Cases there’s a Transfer of what is a just Debt to one Party, on another to whom it is not due, and an Ignorance involuntary and void of Malice, of one side as much as the other. And after this, it matters little that one is call’d Fact, the other Right; as it signifies little to the justifying a Suit at Law for the Recovery of an Estate, whether it were left the Claimant by Gift, or whether he had bought it with his<306> Mony. A Title by Gift or by Purchase are two very different things; yet because they center in the same particular point of giving a just Possession, they equally confer the Right of a just Possession, and of all Claims depending thereon. This is exactly the Case before us. Fact and Right may be as different, if you please, as Black and White; yet meeting in the point of being equally unknown thro an involuntary Ignorance, they confer or take away precisely the same Rights.
I shan’t in this place examine whether the Ignorance of Matters of Right may be as innocent as that of Fact: I shall touch upon this Point hereafter.
The second Difficulty propos’d is, That my Doctrine does in its Consequences destroy what I wou’d endeavor to establish. My design is to shew, that Persecution is a horrible thing; and yet every one who thinks himself oblig’d in Conscience to persecute, shall be oblig’d by my Doctrine to persecute, and sins if he does not.
I answer, That the Design of this Commentary upon these words, Compel ’em to come in, being to convince Persecutors that Jesus Christ has not enjoin’d Constraint, I don’t destroy my own Design, if I shew by solid Arguments that the literal Sense of these words is false, impious, and absurd. If I succeed in this, I have reason to hope that they who examine my Argument, may perceive those Errors of Conscience, which they may be under as to Persecution; and therefore my Design is just. I don’t deny but they who are actually persuaded that ’tis their Duty to extirpate Sects, are oblig’d to follow the<307> Motions of their false Conscience; and that in not doing so, they are guilty of a Disobedience to God, because they persist in not obeying what they believe to be his Will.
But, 1. It does not follow, that they act without Sin, because they act by Conscience. 2. This ought not to hinder our crying out loudly against their false Maxims, and endeavoring to enlighten their Understandings.
The third Difficulty is, That by my Principles the Magistrate cannot punish a Man who robs or kills his Neighbor, upon a persuasion of the Lawfulness of these Actions. I have already answer’d, that this does not follow; because the Magistrate is oblig’d to preserve the Society, and punish all those who destroy the Foundation of its Security, as Murderers and Robbers do: in this case he is to have no regard to their false Consciences. He is not oblig’d to have any regard for Conscience, except in Matters which affect not the publick Welfare; to wit, Doctrines as consistent with the Liberty and Property of the Subject, as any other Doctrines.
But be that as it will, say they in the fourth place, no Violence can upon my Principles be offer’d to those who vend any speculative Doctrines; and consequently here’s a door open’d for Atheists to declaim against God and Religion, as much as they please. I deny the Consequence, 1. Because the Magistrate being, by the Eternal Law of Order, oblig’d to promote the publick Welfare and Security of all the Members of the Society under his care, may and ought to punish those who sap or weaken the fundamental Laws of the State; and of this number we commonly<308> reckon those who destroy the Belief of a Providence, and the Fear of divine Justice. If this Reason won’t suffice, here’s another to stop the mouth of every Caviller on this head; to wit, That an Atheist, incapable of being prompted to vend his Tenets from any Motive of Conscience, can never plead that Saying of St. Peter, It is better to obey God than Men; which we look upon with reason as the Barrier which no secular Judg can get over, and as the inviolable Asylum of Conscience. An Atheist, void as he is of this main Protection, lies justly expos’d to the utmost Rigor of the Laws; and the moment he vends his Notions, after warning once given him, may be justly punish’d as a Mover of Sedition; who believing no Restraint above human Laws, presumes nevertheless to tread ’em under foot. I shall insist no farther upon this Answer; I’m satisfy’d, the least discerning Reader will presently perceive its force: and thus my Doctrine is intirely fenc’d against all Attempts of Impiety, because it allows that the Secular Power may in this case take what methods shall seem most fitting. But the case is different with regard to a Teacher of new Doctrines, who may plead the Glory of God, the common Lord of all Men, to the Magistrate in behalf of his teaching this or that Doctrine; and alledg that Conscience, and a Zeal for the Truth, are his only Motives. These are the Foundation of Mount Sinai, which can never be shaken. Such a Man must be argu’d with from the Word of God or the Lights of Reason. Add to this what I hinted before,95 when I spoke of an Exchange of Missionarys with<309> the Mahometans, and the Advantages Christianity might make by such a Traffick.
But what! say they in the fifth place, wou’d he have us suffer Men to preach up Sodomy, Adultery, and Murder, as Actions praise-worthy and holy? And if they pretend that Conscience and a Zeal for the Truth had mov’d ’em to undeceive the World in these points, must not the Magistrate restrain ’em? I answer, this Objection smells strong of the Cavil; and there’s so little danger of this Case’s ever happening, that the Difficulty founded upon it deserves not to be consider’d.
If I told those who condemn Persecution by Fire and Sword and say that one must be content to banish Hereticks, that their Doctrine tends manifestly to the Rigor of Death; because if all the World banish’d those whom they banish’d, the Wretches must inevitably perish; not finding any place of being or abode; I shou’d think I had started a pitiful Cavil, because ’twere supposing a Case which in all likelihood can never happen, to wit, that all the World shall agree to banish the same Hereticks. I say much the same to the Objection now made. There’s no need of knowing what shou’d be done, in case any Person preach’d up Sodomy, Murder, and Rapine, as a Morality deriv’d from Jesus Christ, because there’s no danger that this shall ever happen. Your Innovators in Religion never steer this course; and if they did, they must presently become the Horror and Detestation of Mankind, nor ever be able to establish any thing like a Sect. This is not the way for an Impostor, or a Man seduc’d by the Devil, to win the Multitude; Appearances of Austerity will stand him<310> much more in stead. Yet if they have a mind to know what course ought to be taken with such Teachers, I answer, that in the first place cou’d they be suppos’d persuaded of what they say, they shou’d be fairly reason’d with, and their Condemnation set before ’em from the Scriptures, and from the Ideas of natural Rectitude. Either they must be frantick, or be brought to reason by such a Catechise: and when the scandalous and execrable Consequences of their Doctrines were fairly and calmly set before ’em, Consequences which put the Lives and Estates of the Preachers themselves in the power of the next Comer; if they still persisted in their Error, and in a Design of teaching and spreading it, they shou’d be made to understand, that as they attack the politickal Laws of the Society, they are under Circumstances in which the Magistrate regards not the Plea of Conscience. Sure I am, that so many Marks of Madness and Lunacy must appear in their Conduct upon such a Dispute, unless they were reclaim’d by it, that there wou’d be ground enough to send ’em to Bedlam. Judg then whether such a Case (I don’t remember to have met with any such in the Catalogue of Hereticks) is to be put in the ballance with that of delivering up those who err only in Points of Faith to the Secular Arm. Dutys of Morality are so clearly reveal’d in the Scriptures, that we can’t justly apprehend Conscience will be deprav’d with regard to them. And Christians being besides on such a foot, that they may live Lives as dissolute as if all speculative Morality were cancel’d, they’l always leave this part intire; it furnishes<311> matter for good Books and good Sermons, and for all the fair Appearances of Piety: so that its Commodiousness in this respect, and the little or no Inconvenience it gives in the Practice, is a sufficient Guaranty that no Sect will ever revolt against it; or if it shou’d, that the Scandal will quickly give a check to its growth without the Assistance of the Secular Arm.
The Jesuits themselves, with all their Pride and all their Impudence, durst not maintain the Attempts of their Casuists; they have disavow’d ’em, and think it unjust that their whole Society shou’d suffer upon their account. They have fairly struck sail upon this occasion; and if they have done so much, of whom shou’d we despair? The antient Gnosticks, who authoriz’d all carnal Pollutions; the Adamites, and some others of the same taste, lasted but a short while: a Sense of Decency and worldly Honor is enough to reclaim all their Followers, and they can truly have none but such as are branded for their scandalous Lives; a strong Presumption that their Conscience is not deceiv’d. If they have but the least Remains of it, if they have the least Remains of Reason, they may quickly be reclaim’d by grave Conferences.
They may say in the sixth place, It follows from my Principles, that a Man who commits Murder in obeying the Instincts of Conscience, does a better Action than he who does not commit it; and that the Magistrate has no right to punish him, because he has only done his Duty. This Objection is certainly very perplexing, I don’t disown it; but I persuade my self, the Answer I shall give will be satisfactory to all who<312> are not govern’d by popular Judgments. I have three things to observe upon this Objection.
The first is only a Consequence from what I have bin just saying, that there’s so little danger of any number of Men’s falling into the sensless and furious Persuasion of the Lawfulness of Murder, that by owning the Consequence I don’t think I endanger Religion or the State. Natural Reason and Scripture are so express against Murder, and the Doctrine which maintains it has something so horrible and even hazardous, that few are capable of being so much beside themselves as really to take up this Persuasion from a Principle of Conscience. This is never to be apprehended, except from Minds over-run with Melancholy, or flaming Zealots, into whom their Directors of Conscience, flagitious Men, may possibly inspire a King-killing Principle, where the Prince is of a different Religion from theirs; whereof France and England have memorable Examples. Shou’d only a Prince in an Age fall by such Principles, still the mischief wou’d be very great; yet there’s no avoiding this mischief by maintaining, as our Adversarys do, that a misguided Conscience does not oblige. For the wicked Directors, who inspire these Assassins, will never tell ’em it’s a false Conscience which prompts ’em to stab a Henry III, or a Henry IV, but a very upright and orthodox Conscience. Since then the Inconvenience to be apprehended from my Hypothesis is not to be avoided by the opposite Principles, ’twere imprudence to quit it, when so useful in other respects, and particularly towards obliging Men to inform themselves thorowly of the Truth: For if once<313> persuaded that they are oblig’d to obey the Dictates of Conscience, yet without being acquitted in the presence of God on the commission of any Crime (because if their Ignorance proceeds from a neglect of the means of Information, they are liable to punishment even for what they have done from the Instincts of Conscience) they’l certainly take the more care how they bring themselves under a necessity of doing Evil: whereas if People be taught that a false Conscience does not oblige, they’l live at random, persuade themselves to what they please, except for doing nothing of what their Conscience directs; for perhaps, say they, Conscience is not rightly inform’d, and if so, I ought not to govern my self by it. See what horrible Confusions must spring from the Opinion I now confute.
Next I observe, that the reason why Murder is commonly accounted a greater Sin, tho committed from the Instincts of Conscience, than a contempt of these Instincts, is only a custom of making God judg upon human Actions, as our own Judges in criminal Cases are wont to do. That is, we imagine that Almighty God, over and above the Modifications of the Soul of Man, regulates himself in his Judgments by the Effects and Consequences of the Motion of Matter, by which Men execute their Wills, insomuch as to judg the killing a Man when there’s only an intention of wounding him, a greater Sin than only wounding when there’s an intention of killing him. This is a gross Abuse, and yet it is not amiss for earthly Judges to govern themselves by such Rules, because they are not Searchers of<314> the Heart and Reins. But as to God, who knows all the Degrees of Malice, Infirmity, and Passion, which mix with our Wills, infinitely better than the best Goldsmith knows the proportions of Alloy in Metals, he judges upon our Actions most surely and most infallibly, without turning his Eye to any other Object than the bare Modifications of the Soul, and without considering whether one of these Modifications moves a Sword, and another moves it not: Such a Modification which gives it a Motion may possibly be innocenter, than such another which does not.
If it be therefore true, that God considers only the Modifications of the Soul, let’s content our selves with comparing what God sees in a Man fully persuaded he ought to commit Murder, and yet refraining from it, with what he sees in a Man under the same firm Persuasion, and who at the same time commits the Murder. In the First, he sees an affected, inexcusable, and malicious contempt of the Will of God (for as I have said a thousand times over, to contemn what one believes to be the Will of God, is essentially a Contempt of the Will of God, tho the Person may be deceiv’d in believing it to be his Will.) In the Second, he sees an intire deference for what he’s persuaded is the Will of God, a Homage paid to the Supreme Authority of God, in fine a Love of Order; for Order eternal and immutable joins the Idea of God as commanding a thing, to the Resolution of obeying him. We don’t more clearly conceive, that the Idea of a Magnitude which exceeds that of a Part is included in the Idea of the Whole; than we conceive that the Obligation of doing any thing is included in<315> the Idea of God commanding it: So that these two Axioms are without contradiction of the same incontestable Evidence, The Whole’s greater than its Part; Man ought to do what God commands, and believe that he ought to do what he believes God has commanded him. It’s impossible therefore a Man shou’d join the Will of doing a thing to the Belief of God’s enjoining it, without his willing to conform to the primary Idea of Equity, and to what we call Order eternal and immutable: and consequently God, who knows all things as they really are, sees in a Soul, which believing he enjoins him to commit a Murder commits it, a most unfeign’d desire of conforming to the eternal and natural Law; and on the contrary, in a Soul under the same Persuasion, which yet will not commit the Murder, he sees a swerving from Order, and a manifest Transgression of the eternal Law. The first Soul therefore must appear to him less inordinate than the second: because the whole Sin of the first consists in taking that for a divine Impulse or Inspiration, which really was not so; which being an Error only in Fact and Judgment, can’t be a Sin near so enormous, as an Act of the Will by which we refuse to obey God.
It’s fit to observe, that Homicide being an Action in some cases lawful, as in War; in the Execution of civil Justice; and from a secret divine Impulse, as in the Case of St. Peter who slew Ananias; it follows, that to convict a Man of the Sin, it is not sufficient to say he has kill’d another Man, but we must examine all the Circumstances: for there are such Circumstances as change the nature of Homicide from that of a<316> bad Action to a good, a secret Command of God for example. And therefore, when a Man from the Instincts of his Conscience kills another, we must not consider this Homicide abstracted from the Persuasion the Murderer was under, that God had enjoin’d it. Now upon considering the Murder join’d to this Persuasion, there’s no more to be said, than that the Man was grosly deceiv’d in taking that for a divine Inspiration, which was nothing like it; and undoubtedly the Offence is smaller in this case, than in that of having not the least regard to what we were persuaded was the Will of God. ’Twill clear every difficulty in this matter, if we only represent the Devil accusing a Man at the Divine Tribunal, who did not commit a Murder when his Conscience prompted him to it. The Accusation must import, that this Man believing himself in such Circumstances, that God by a special Providence had thought fit to make use of him, as of Phineas, Samuel, Elias, and St. Peter, for the killing such a Man,96 he had made a mock of the matter, and put it off to a long Day. What Answer cou’d the accus’d make? Shou’d he say that Murder was forbidden in the Decalogue; ’twill be reply’d, that God sometimes dispenses with this Precept. Shou’d he say, that he durst not stain his Hands with Blood, Judgment will be demanded against him for want of holy Resolution. Shou’d he say, that he was under some doubts whether the Command came from God, then we are no longer in the Supposition I made; and so I have nothing to say to it. It’s plain then the accus’d cou’d have no good reason to alledg in extenuation of his formal Disobedience, and consequent-<317>ly that God wou’d be oblig’d to pronounce him guilty: so that what repugnance soever a Body finds at first sight to the owning it, yet it’s certain, that a Murder committed from the Instincts of Conscience, is a less Sin than not committing Murder when Conscience dictates.
They’l tell me, that he who made a Vow to kill a Man, must sin more by performing his Vow, than by breaking it. I answer, If the breaking his Vow proceeded from a better inform’d Conscience, telling him ’twas a less Sin to violate his Vow than to accomplish it, his Conduct in this case were right. But if continuing in the Persuasion, that he was not oblig’d to cancel his Vow, he shou’d yet recede from it, my Arguments revert, and prove as in the former Case. I wou’d have People observe by the way, that shou’d God, taking pity of a Man, who bound himself rashly in a very sinful Vow, have a mind to prevent his accomplishing it, the way must be, by the interposal of a new Conscience, and by shewing him that he was not oblig’d to fulfil his Vow. This discovers to us in the Ideas of God, an indissoluble Connexion betwixt the Judgments of Conscience, and the Obligation of conforming to ’em; since God himself does not separate these two things, when he wou’d prevent the execution of a sinful Act: How does he order it then? He goes somewhat higher to the Principle of all human Actions, and reconciles his renouncing the Vow, with the Judgment of Conscience; that is, he changes the former Instincts of Conscience, and gets a new Judgment pass’d, that the Vow is no longer obliging, but<318> on the contrary that there’s an Obligation of breaking it.
I conclude, by saying, that the Magistrate having receiv’d a Power from God and Man, of putting Murderers to death, may justly punish him who kills a Man from the Instincts of Conscience; for it is not his business to stand winnowing those rare and singular Cases, in which Conscience may happen to fall into Illusions in this matter.
[91. ]Bayle, OD, vol. 2, p. 218b ff.
[92. ]See Appendixes, “Obsolete or Unusual Words or Meanings,” p. 578 (“objectively”).
[93. ]“A drip hollows a stone not by its force but by falling often.”
[94. ]For these cases, see above, p. 233, note 91.
[95. ]See above, p. 213.
[96. ]Numbers 25.7–11, 1 Samuel 15:33, 1 Kings 18:40, Acts 5:1–11.