How long your punishments are to continue.
The measure of punishments being to be estimated as well by the length of their duration, as the intenseness of their degrees, it is fit we take a view also of your scheme in this part:
“I told you, that moderate punishments that are continued, that men find no end of, know no way out of, sit heavy, and become immoderately uneasy. Dissenters you would have punished to make them consider. Your penalties have had the effect on them you intended; they have made them consider; and they have done their utmost in considering. What now must be done with them? They must be punished on, for they are still dissenters. If it were just, and you had reason at first to punish a dissenter, to make him consider, when you did not know but that he had considered already; it is as just, and you have as much reason to punish him on, even when he has performed what your punishment was designed for, and has considered, but yet remains a dissenter. For I may justly suppose, and you must grant, that a man may remain a dissenter after all the consideration your moderate penalties can bring him to: when we see great punishments, even those severities you disown as too great, are not able to make men consider so far as to be convinced, and brought over to the national church. If your punishments may not be inflicted on men, to make them consider, who have or may have considered already, for ought you know; then dissenters are never to be once punished, no more than any other sort of men. If dissenters are to be punished, to make them consider, whether they have considered or no; then their punishments, though they do consider, must never cease as long as they are dissenters; which whether it be to punish them only to bring them to consider, let all men judge. This I am sure; punishments in your method must either never begin upon dissenters, or never cease. And so pretend moderation if you please, the punishments which your method requires, must be either very immoderate, or none at all.” But to this you say nothing, only for the adjusting of the length of your punishments, and therein vindicating the consistency and practicableness of your scheme, you tell us, “that as long as men reject the true religion duly proposed to them, so long they offend and deserve punishment, and therefore it is but just that so long they should be left liable to it.” You promised to answer to this question, amongst others, “plainly and directly.” The question is, how long they are to be punished? And your answer is, “It is but just that so long they should be liable to punishment.” This extraordinary caution in speaking out, if it were not very natural to you, would he apt to make one suspect it was accommodated more to some difficulties of your scheme, than to your promise of answering plainly and directly; or possibly you thought it would not agree to that character of moderation you assume, to own, that all the penal laws which were lately here in force, and whose relaxation you bemoan, should be constantly put in execution. But your moderation in this point comes too late. For as your charity, as you tell us in the next paragraph, “requires that they be kept subject to penalties;” so the watchful charity of others in this age hath found out ways to encourage informers, and put it out of the magistrate’s moderation to stop the execution of the law against dissenters, if he should be inclined to it.
We will therefore take it for granted, that if penal laws be made concerning religion, (for more zeal usually animates them than others,) they will be put in execution: and indeed I have heard it argued to be very absurd to make or continue laws, that are not constantly put in execution. And now to show you how well your answer consists with other parts of your scheme, I shall need only to mind you, that if men must be punished as long as they reject the true religion; those who punish them must be judges what is the true religion. But this objection, with some others, to which this part of your answer is obnoxious, having been made to you more at large elsewhere, I shall here omit, and proceed to other parts of your answer.
You begin with your reason for the answer you afterwards give us in the words I last quoted: your reason runs thus: “For certainly nothing is more reasonable than that men should be subject to punishment as long as they continue to offend. And as long as men reject the true religion tendered them with sufficient evidence of the truth of it, so long it is certain they offend.” It is certainly very reasonable, that men should be subject to punishment from those they offend as long as they continue to offend: but it will not from hence follow, that those who offend God, are always subject to punishment from men. For if they be, why does not the magistrate punish envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness? If you answer, because they are not capable of judicial proofs: I think I may say it is as easy to prove a man guilty of envy, hatred, or uncharitableness, as it is to prove him guilty of “rejecting the true religion tendered him with sufficient evidence of the truth of it.” But if it be his duty to punish all offences against God; why does the magistrate never punish lying, which is an offence against God, and is an offence capable of being judicially proved? It is plain therefore that it is not the sense of all mankind, that it is the magistrate’s duty to punish all offences against God; and where it is not his duty to use force, you will grant the magistrate is not to use it in matters of religion; because where it is necessary, it is his duty to use it: but where it is not necessary, you yourself say, it is not lawful. It would be convenient therefore for you to reform your proposition from that loose generality it now is in, and then prove it, before it can be allowed you to be to your purpose; though it be ever so true, that “you know not a greater crime a man can be guilty of, than rejecting the true religion.”
You go on with your proof, that so long as men reject the true religion, &c. so long they offend, and consequently may justly be punished: “Because, say you, it is impossible for any man innocently to reject the true religion so tendered to him. For whoever rejects that religion so tendered, does either apprehend and perceive the truth of it, or he does not. If he does, I know not what greater crime any man can be guilty of. If he does not perceive the truth of it, there is no account to be given of that, but either that he shuts his eyes against the evidence which is offered him, and will not at all consider it; or that he does not consider it as he ought, viz. with such care as is requisite, and with a sincere desire to learn the truth; either of which does manifestly involve him in guilt. To say here that a man who has the true religion proposed to him with sufficient evidence of its truth, may consider it as he ought,” or do his utmost in considering, “and yet not perceive the truth of it; is neither more nor less, than to say, that sufficient evidence is not sufficient evidence. For what does any man mean by sufficient evidence, but such as will certainly win assent wherever it is duly considered?”
I shall not trouble myself here to examine when requisite care, duly considered, and such other words, which bring one back to the same place from whence one set out, are cast up, whether all this fine reasoning will amount to any thing, but begging what is in the question: but shall only tell you, that what you say here and in other places about sufficient evidence, is built upon this, that the evidence wherewith a man proposes the true religion, he may know to be such, as will not fail to gain the assent of whosoever does what lies in him in considering it. This is the supposition, without which all your talk of sufficient evidence will do you no service, try it where you will. But it is a supposition that is far enough from carrying with it sufficient evidence to make it be admitted without proof.
Whatever gains any man’s assent, one may be sure had sufficient evidence in respect of that man: but that is far enough from proving it evidence sufficient to prevail on another, let him consider it as long and as much as he can. The tempers of men’s minds; the principles settled there by time and education, beyond the power of the man himself to alter them; the different capacities of men’s understandings, and the strange ideas they are often filled with; are so various and uncertain, that it is impossible to find that evidence, especially in things of a mixed disquisition, depending on so long a train of consequences, as some points of the true religion may, which one can confidently say will be sufficient for all men. It is demonstration that 31876 is the product of 9467172 divided by 297, and yet I challenge you to find one man of a thousand, to whom you can tender this proposition with demonstrative or sufficient evidence to convince him of the truth of it in a dark room; or ever to make this evidence appear to a man, that cannot write and read, so as to make him embrace it as a truth, if another, whom he hath more confidence in, tells him it is not so. All the demonstrative evidence the thing has, all the tender you can make of it, all the consideration he can employ about it, will never be able to discover to him that evidence which shall convince him it is true, unless you will at threescore and ten, for that may be the case, have him neglect his calling, go to school, and learn to write and read, and cast accounts, which he may never be able to attain to.
You speak more than once of men’s being brought to lay aside their prejudices to make them consider as they ought, and judge right of matters in religion; and I grant without doing so they cannot: but it is impossible for force to make them do it, unless it could show them which are prejudices in their minds, and distinguish them from the truths there. Who is there almost that has not prejudices, that he does not know to be so; and what can force do in that case? It can no more remove them, to make way for truth, than it can remove one truth to make way for another; or rather remove an established truth, or that which is looked on as an unquestionable principle, (for so are often men’s prejudices,) to make way for a truth not yet known, nor appearing to be one. It is not every one knows, or can bring himself to Des Cartes’s way of doubting, and strip his thoughts of all opinions, till he brings them to self-evident principles, and then upon them builds all his future tenets.
Do not think all the world, who are not of your church, abandon themselves to an utter carelessness of their future state. You cannot but allow there are many Turks who sincerely seek truth, to whom yet you could never bring evidence sufficient to convince them of the truth of the christian religion, whilst they looked on it as a principle not to be questioned, that the Koran was of divine revelation. This possibly you will tell me is a prejudice, and so it is; but yet if this man shall tell you it is no more a prejudice in him, than it is a prejudice in any one amongst christians, who having not examined it, lays it down as an unquestionable principle of his religion, that the scripture is the word of God; what will you answer to him? And yet it would shake a great many christians in their religion if they should lay by that prejudice, and suspend their judgment of it, until they had made it out to themselves with evidence sufficient to convince one who is not prejudiced in favour of it: and it would require more time, books, languages, learning and skill, than falls to most men’s share to establish them therein; if you will not allow them, in this so distinguishing and fundamental a point, to rely on the learning, knowledge, and judgment of some persons whom they have in reverence or admiration. This though you blame it as an ill way, yet you can allow in one of your own religion, even to that degree, that he may be ignorant of the grounds of his religion. And why then may you not allow it to a Turk, not as a good way, or as having led him to the truth; but as a way as fit for him, as for one of your church to acquiesce in; and as fit to exempt him from your force, as to exempt any one of your church from it?
To prevent your commenting on this, in which you have shown so much dexterity, give me leave to tell you, that for all this I do not think all religions equally true or equally certain. But this, I say, is impossible for you, or me, or any man, to know, whether another has done his duty in examining the evidence on both sides, when he embraces that side of the question, which we, perhaps upon other views, judge false: and therefore we can have no right to punish or persecute him for it. In this, whether and how far any one is faulty, must be left to the Searcher of hearts, the great and righteous Judge of all men, who knows all their circumstances, all the powers and workings of their minds; where it is they sincerely follow, and by what default they at any time miss truth: and he, we are sure, will judge uprightly.
But when one man shall think himself a competent judge, that the true religion is proposed with evidence sufficient for another; and thence shall take upon him to punish him as an offender, because he embraces not, upon evidence that he the proposer judges sufficient, the religion that he judges true; he had need be able to look into the thoughts of men, and know their several abilities; unless he will make his own understanding and faculties to be the measure of those of all mankind; which if they be no higher elevated, no larger in their comprehension, no more discerning, than those of some men, he will not only be unfit to be a judge in that, but in almost any case whatsoever.
But since, 1. You make it a condition to the making a man an offender in not being of the true religion, that it has been tendered him with sufficient evidence. 2. Since you think it so easy for men to determine when the true religion has been tendered to any one with sufficient evidence. And 3. Since you pronounce “it impiety to say that God hath not furnished mankind with competent means for the promoting his own honour in the world, and the good of souls.” Give me leave to ask you a question or two. 1. Can any one be saved without embracing the one only true religion? 2. Were any of the Americans of that one only true religion, when the Europeans first came amongst them? 3. Whether any of the Americans, before the christians came amongst them, had offended in rejecting the true religion tendered with sufficient evidence? When you have thought upon, and fairly answered these questions, you will be fitter to determine, how competent a judge man is, what is sufficient evidence; who do offend in not being of the true religion; and what punishments they are liable to for it.
But methinks here, where you spend almost a whole page upon the crime of rejecting the true religion duly tendered, and the punishment that is justly due to it from the magistrate, you forget yourself, and the foundation of your plea for force; which is, that it is necessary: when you are so far from proving it to be so in this case of punishing the offence of rejecting the true religion, that in this very page you distinguished it from what is necessary, where you tell us, “your design does rather oblige you to consider how long men may need punishment, than how long it may be just to punish them.” So that though they offend, yet if they do not need punishment, the magistrate cannot use it, if you ground, as you say you do, the lawfulness of force for promoting the true religion upon the necessity of it. Nor can you say, that by his commission from the law of nature, of doing good, the magistrate, besides reducing his wandering subjects out of the wrong into the right way, is appointed also to be the avenger of God’s wrath on unbelievers, or those that err in matters of religion. This at least you thought not fit to own in the first draught of your scheme; for I do not remember, in all your “Argument considered,” one word of crime or punishment: nay, in writing this second treatise, you were so shy of owning any thing of punishment, that to my remembrance, you scrupulously avoided the use of that word, till you came to this place; and always where the repeating my words did not oblige you to it, carefully used the term of penalties for it, as any one may observe, who reads the preceding part of this letter of yours, which I am now examining. And you were so nice in the point, that three or four leaves backwards, where I say, By your rule dissenters must be punished, you mend it, and say, “or if I please, subjected to moderate penalties.” But here when the inquiry, how long force was to be continued on men, showed the absurdity of that pretence, that they were to be punished on without end, to make them consider; rather than part with your beloved force, you open the matter a little farther, and profess directly the punishing men for their religion. For though you do all you can to cover it under the name of rejecting the true religion duly proposed; yet it is in truth no more but being of a religion different from yours, that you would have them punished for: for all that the author pleads for, and you can oppose in writing against him, is toleration of religion. Your scheme therefore being thus mended, your hypothesis enlarged, being of a different religion from the national found criminal, and punishments found justly to belong to it; it is to be hoped, that in good time your punishments may grow too, and be advanced to all those degrees you in the beginning condemned; when having considered a little farther, you cannot miss finding, that the obstinacy of the criminals does not lessen their crime, and therefore justice will require severer execution to be done upon them.
But you tell us here, “Because your design does rather oblige you to consider how long men may need punishment, than how long it may be just to punish them; therefore you shall add, that as long as men refuse to embrace the true religion, so long penalties are necessary for them to dispose them to consider and embrace it; and that therefore as justice allows, so charity requires, that they be kept subject to penalties, till they embrace the true religion.” Let us therefore see the consistency of this with other parts of your hypothesis, and examine it a little by them.
Your doctrine is, that where intreaties and admonitions upon trial do not prevail, punishments are to be used; but they must be moderate. Moderate punishments have been tried, and they prevail not; what now is to be done? Are not greater to be used? No. For what reason? Because those whom moderate penalties will not prevail on, being desperately perverse and obstinate, remedies are not to be provided for the incurable, as you tell us in the page immediately preceding.
Moderate punishments have been tried upon a man once, and again, and a third time, but prevail not at all, make no impression; they are repeated as many times more, but are still found ineffectual: pray tell me a reason why such a man is concluded so desperately perverse and obstinate, that greater degrees will not work upon him; but yet not so desperately perverse and obstinate, but that the same degrees repeated may work upon him? I will not urge here, that this is to pretend to know the just degree of punishment that will or will not work on any one; which I should imagine a pretty intricate business: but this I have to say, that if you can think it reasonable and useful to continue a man several years, nay his whole life, under the same repeated punishments, without going any higher, though they work not at all; because it is possible some time or other they may work on him; why is it not as reasonable and useful, I am sure it is much more justifiable and charitable, to leave him all his life under the means, which all agree God has appointed, without going any higher; because it is not impossible that some time or other preaching, and a word spoken in due season, may work upon him? For why you should despair of the success of preaching and persuasion upon a fruitless trial, and thereupon think yourself authorized to use force; and yet not so despair of the success of moderate force, as after years of fruitless trial to continue it on, and not to proceed to higher degrees of punishment; you are concerned for the vindication of your system to show a reason.
I mention the trial of preaching and persuasion, to show the unreasonableness of your hypothesis, supposing such a trial made: not that in yours, or the common method, there is or can be a fair trial made what preaching and persuasion can do. For care is taken by punishments and ill treatment to indispose and turn away men’s minds, and to add aversion to their scruples; an excellent way to soften men’s inclinations, and temper them for the impression of arguments and intreaties; though these too are only talked of: for I cannot but wonder to find you mention, as you do, giving ear to admonitions, intreaties, and persuasions, when these are seldom, if ever made use of, but in places, where those, who are to be wrought on by them, are known to be out of hearing; nor can be expected to come there, till by such means they have been wrought on.
It is not without reason therefore you cannot part with your penalties, and would have no end put to your punishments, but continue them on; since you leave so much to their operation, and make so little use of other means to work upon dissenters.