Schlagwort-Archive: ceremonies




Briefly stated and tendred to die consideration of all sober and impartial men.

The third edition, Chillingworth Praef. §. 34.

Not protestants for rejecting, but the church of Rome for imposing upon the faith of christians, doctrines unwritten and unnecessary, and for disturbing the churches peace, and dividing unity in such matters, is in an high degree presumptuous and schismatical.

London, printed in the year, 1660.

The publisher of this treatise to the christian and candid reader.

Though opinions should be weighed, not by the reputation of the authors which deliver, but by the strength of the arguments which defend them yet it is too usual with unobserving readers, to slight the argument for the author’s sake, and to consider, not so much what is said who it is that says it. Which being the common fate of most discourses, such especially as do at all meddle with that excellent, but too much abused notion of christian liberty, do most expose the writers to censure: The most obvious character that is fastened upon them, being, that they are men either of loose, or else of factious principles: And so being discredited, before the are read, their books, how sober soever, do not remove, but only fettle and fix the preconceived prejudice; as in diseased stomachs, everything they take turns to nourish and to increase the humor.

That this is like to be the fortune of this small treatise, I have reason to expect, and therefore I have suffered it to run abroad in the world without, a name like one of those (unreadable Greek spelling) Pliny mentions, as if it were born of itself and begotten without a parent. That so those few readers it may meet with, may only fasten upon the faults of the discourse itself without diverting themselves unto that question, which all times, as well at Saul’s, have malice enough to make a proverb of, but who is their father? Yet christian reader, that it may appear only with its own faults, and have no aggravating suspicions upon it, from any mistake of the authors design or humor, I have adventured to give thee this account of him.

First, that he is a strict assertor of the doctrine of the church of England, as it is contained in the 39 articles, and for that which is the prime branch of discipline, viz. episcopacy, or the subordination between bishops and presbyters, he doth own it to be of apostolical institution, that is, as he understands jure divino. At least he thinks himself able to speak as much for the order of bishops in the church, as any can for the baptizing of infants, for the change of the Sabbath, or for anything else, which hath no particular divine precept, but only primitive practice and example to warrant it. And therefore in conformity to this principle of his, when the bishops were sunk lowest, not only for pomp but likewise for reputation and when no temptation either of profit or convenience, but rather the contrary, could work upon him, he then chose to be ordained a presbyter by one of them: which is a greater argument of his reality and steadfastness in judgment, then most of those, who now signalize themselves by distinctive habits, can pretend to; since such may reasonably be presumed to wear them, either because they are the fashion, or else the way to preferment.

Secondly, this I must say likewise, that none is more satisfied with the present government, or hath a more loyal and affectionate esteem for his Majesties person and prudence, than this writer: and therefore instead of declaiming against, or too rigid re-enforcing our old rites, fitted only for the infancy of the church these being as it were its swaddling clouts, and at the best do but show its minority he doth heartily wish that all parties would agree to refer the whole cause of ceremonies to  his Majesties single decision: From whose unwearied endeavors in procuring first, and afterwards in passing so full an amnesty of allow civil discord, we need not doubt but we may obtain, that these apples of ecclesiastical contention may be removed out of the way. Which are so very trifles, that they would vanish of themselves, but that some men’s  pride, others want of merit make them so solicitous to continue them lest it those little things were once taken away, they should want something whereby to make themselves remarkable.

Lastly he doth profess yet further that as to himself be needs not that liberty, which here he pleads for, since, though for the present he doth make use of that indulgence, which his Majesty hath been pleased to allow unto tender conferences, i.e. to all rational and sober christians: (the continuance of which, he dares not so much wrong his Majesties goodness, as once to question) yet should his Majesty be prevailed upon for some reason of state, to enjoin outward conformity, this writer is resolved by the help of God, either to submit with cheerfulness or else to suffer with silence.

For as there is an active disobedience, viz. resist which is a practice he abhors, so there is a passive disobedience, and that is, to repine (hadern) which he can by no means approve of. Since whatever he cannot conscientiously do, he thinks himself obliged to suffer for, with as much joy, and with as little reluctance, as if any other act of obedience was called for from him.

Having said this concerning the author, I need not speak much concerning the argument, but only this, that it was not written out of vanity or ostentation of wit; but as a question, in which he is really unsatisfied and therefore thought himself bound to impart his doubts: Which having done to many in discourse, with little success or satisfaction; he hath now communicated them to the world, hoping they may light into such men’s hands, who may he prevailed upon, if not to alter the judgment, yet at least to moderate the passion of some, who would put out our eyes, because we cannot see with their spectacles; and who have placed ceremonies about religion, a little too truly as a fence: For they serve to keep out all others from their communion. All therefore which this treatise aims at, is briefly to prove this, — that none is to hedge up the way to heaven; or by scattering thornes (Dornen) and punctilio’s (Nadelspitzen) in it, to make christianity more cumbersome, tedious, and difficult, then Christ hath left it. That is in short, that none can impose, what our Savior in his infinite wisdom did not think necessary, and therefore left free.




Concerning things indifferent in religious worship

Briefly stated and tendred (vorgestellt) to the consideration of all sober and impartial men.

Question: Whether the civil magistrate may lawfully impose and determine the use of indifferent things, in reference to religious worship.

For the understanding and right stating of this question, I will suppose these two things;

1.That a christian may be a magistrate; this I know many do deny, grounding themselves upon that discourse of our Savior to his disciples, “Ye know”, said he, “that the Princes of the Gentiles do exercise dominion over them, and they that are great, exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so much amongst you:” from whence they infer, that all who will‘ be Christ’s disciples, are thereby forbid any exercise of temporal sovereignty. And I remember amongst many other of the primitive writers, who were of the same opinion, Tertullian in his apology doth expressly say “nos ad omnem, ambitionis auram frigemus”, &c. We Christians says he, have not the least taint of ambition, being so far from affecting honors, that we look not after so much as the aedileship (Ädile), which was the lowest magistracy in Rome; and afterwards of Tiberius, “Tiberius”, says he, “would have become a christian, if either the world did not need or it were lawful for christians to be emperors.”

Many other expressions there are both in Tertullian, Cyprian and Origen, to the same purpose. But because the practice of the christian world, down from Constantine’s time, even in the most reformed churches hath carried it in the affirmative for christian magistracy; and the contrary doctrine, besides the gap it opens to all civil confusion, is built only upon some remote consequences from Scripture, rather than any direct proof; I will therefore admit that a Christian may lawfully exercise the highest place of magistracy, only as the Apostle sais in another case, in the Lord, i.e. no: extending his commission farther than the word of God doth warrant him.

  1. I will suppose that there are some things in their own nature indifferent, I mean, those outward circumstances of our actions: which the law of God hath left free and arbitrary, giving us only general precepts for the use of them either way: Such are, do all things to the glory of God, and do what makes most for edification, and the like, which rules whoever observes, may in things indifferent, either do or forbear them, as he in his christian prudence shall think convenient.

Of these indifferent things some are purely so, as the time and place of meeting for religious worship; which seem to me, to be so very indifferent, that they cannot without great violence, be wrested to any superstitious observance; and therefore concerning these I do not dispute.

Other things there are, commonly supposed indifferent in their own nature, but by abuse have become occasions of superstition: such as are, bowing in the name of Jesus, the cross in Baptism, pictures in churches, surplices in preaching, kneeling at the sacrament, set forms of prayer, and the like; all which seem to some indifferent in their own nature, and by any who is persuaded in his confidence of the lawfulness of them, without doubt may lawfully enough be practiced; yet I hold it utterly unlawful for any christian magistrate to impose the use of them. And that for these reasons:

First, because it is directly contrary to the nature of christian religion in general, which in every part of it is to be free and unforced; for since the christian magistrate cannot, as I think now all protestant writers do agree, force his religion upon any, but is to leave even those poor creatures the Jews and Mahometans to their unbelief (though they certainly perish in it) rather than by fines and imprisonments to torture them out of it; then much less may he abridge his fellow Christian in things of lesser moment, and which concern not the substance of his religion, from using that liberty in serving God, which his conscience prompts him to, and the nature of his religion doth warrant him in. For God as he loves cheerful giver, so likewise a cheerful worshipper, accepting of no more than we willingly perform.

Secondly and more particularly. This imposing of things indifferent, is directly contrary co Gospel precept. Our Savior doth in many places inveigh against the rigid and imposing pharisees, for laying yokes upon others, and therefore invites all to come unto him for freedom. “Take my yoke upon you,” said he, “for it is easy, and my burden is light. And if the son set you free, then are you free indeed. Whereby freedom I do not only understand freedom from sin, but from all human impositions; since the Apostle Paul doth seem to allude unto this place, in that command of his to the Galatians, “stand fast in the liberty, wherewith Christ hath made you free and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage”; where, that I may prevent an objection, I will grant, that by yoke of bondage, he understands circumcision and other Jewish ceremonies; but from thence I will draw an unanswerable argument against the urging of any other now upon a christian account; for since the mosaical ceremonies which had so much to plead for themselves, upon the account of their divine original; and which even after they were fulfilled by our Savior, still remained indifferent in their use, and were so esteemed and practiced by Paul; yet when once they were imposed, and a necessity pleaded for their continuance, the Apostle writes sharply against them, exhorting the Galatians to stand fast in their liberty, as part of our Saviors purchase. If this, I say, was the cafe with those old rites, then much less can any now impose an invented form of worship, for which there cannot be pretended the least warrant that ever God did authorize it. And it seems altogether needless, that the Jewish ceremonies, should, as to their necessity at least, expire and be abrogated, if others might succeed in their room, and be as strictly commanded, as ever the former were.

For this only returns us to our bondage again, which is so much the more intolerable, in that our religion is styled the perfect law of liberty: Which liberty I understand not wherein it consists, if in things necessary, we are already determined by God, and in things indifferent we may still be tied up to humane ordinances, and outside rites, at the pleasure of our christian magistrates.

To these Scriptures which directly deny all imposition, maybe added all those texts, which consequentially do it, such as are “Do to others, as you would have others do to you”: And who is there that would have his conscience imposed upon? “And you that are strong   bear with the infirmity of the weak; whereas this practice will be so far from easing the burden of the weak; that if men are at all scrupulous, it only lays more load upon them. These scriptures with many hundreds the like, show that this kind of rigor is utterly inconsistent with the rules of christian forbearance and charity, which no christian magistrate ought to think himself absolved from: Since though as a magistrate he hath a power in civil things yet as a christian, he ought to have a care that in things of spiritual concernment he grieve not the minds of any, who are upon that relation, not his subjects, so much as his brethren: and therefore since they have left their natural, and voluntarily parted with their civil, they ought not to be entrenched upon in their spiritual freedom: especially by such a magistrate, who owning the same principles of religion with them, is thereby engaged to use his power, only to support, and not to ensnare them, to bound perhaps, but not to abridge their liberty; to keep it indeed from running into licentiousness (which is a moral evil) but not to shackle, undermine, and fetter it, under pretence of decency and order. Which when once it comes to be an order of constraint and not of consent, it is nothing else but in the imposer, tyranny in the person imposed upon, bondage: And makes him to be, what in things appertaining to religion we are forbidden to be, viz. “the servants of men. Ye are bought”, said the Apostle, with a price and manumitted by Christ, “be you not the servants of men:” which prohibition doth not forbid civil service, for he said a little before. “Art thou called while thou art a servant? Care not for it; but if thou canst be free, use it rather,” implying, that civil liberty is to be preferred before servitude, yet not to be much contended for, but held as a matter indifferent; but when once our masters, shall extend their rule over the conscience, then this precept holds valid, “be ye not the servants of men”

Thirdly, it is contrary co christian practice, of which we have many remarkable instances:

The first shall be that of our Savior Christ, who was of a  most sweet and complying disposition; he says of himself, that he came eating and drinking, i.e. doing the common actions of other men; and therefore he never disclaimed to keep company with any, even the meanest and most despicable sinner; his retinue consisting for the most part of those the Jews called,  (unreadable Greek spelling) i. e. sinners in an eminent find notorious manner; whom as a physician he not only cured; but as a merciful priest sought out to save. Yet when his christian liberty came once to be invaded, he laid aside his gentleness, and proved a stifle and peremptory assertor of it.

To omit many passages, of which his story is full, I shall mention but one and that was his refuting to wash his hands before meat. This was not only a thing in itself indifferent, but likewise had some argument from decency to induce, and a constant tradition from the Elders or Sanhedrim to enforce it, who at this time were not only their ecclesiastical but their civil rulers: Yet all these motives, in a thing so innocent and small as that was, could not prevail with our Savior to quit his liberty of eating with unwashed hands. And in defense of himself, he calls them superstitious fools, and blind guides, who were offended at him; and leaves two unanswerable arguments, which are of equal validity in things of the like nature. As

  1. That this was not a plant, of his father’s planting, and therefore it should be rooted up whereby our Savior intimates, that as the Pharisees had no divine warrant to prescribe such a toy as that was, so God would at last declare his indignation against their supererogatory worship, by pulling it up root and branch. From whence I gather this rule, that when once human inventions become impositions, and lay a necessity upon that, which God hath left free; then may we lawfully reject them, as plants of mans setting, and not of Gods owning.
  2. The second argument our Savior uses is, that, these things did not defile a man, i. e. as to his mind and confidence. To eat with unwashed hands was at the worst, but a point of ill manners, and unhandsome perhaps or indecent, but not an impious or ungodly thing; and therefore more likely to offend nice stomachs, than scrupulous consciences. Whose satisfaction in such things as these our Savior did not at all study. From whence I inferre (schließe), that in the worship of God we are chiefly to look after the substance of things; and as for circumstances, they are either not worth our notice, or else will be answerable to our inward impressions; according to which our Savior in another place, says, “O blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter that so the outside may be clean, hereby implying, that a renewed hearty will be sure to make a changed and seemly behavior; whereas the most specious outside is consistent with inward filth and rottenness. So that they who press outward conformity in divine worship, endeavor to serve God the wrong way, and often times do only force carnal and hypocritical men to present God a sacrifice which he abhors; while co others that are more tender and scrupulous, they make the sacrifice itself unpleasant, because they will not let it be, what God would have it, a free-will offering.
  1. My second instance shall be the resolution of the Apostles in that famous and important Quaere, concerning the Jewish ceremonies, whether they were to be imposed or not. After a long dispute to find out the truth (unreadable Greek spelling, says the text) Peter directly opposes those rites, why, says he, do ye temp God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples? Intimating that to put a yoke upon others (and to impose in things indifferent is certainly a great one) from which, God hath either expressly freed us, by commanding the contrary; or else tacitly freed us, by not commanding them: This is nothing else but to tempt God, and to pretend to be more wise and holy than he. Again, James decries those ceremonies upon this score, least they should (unreadable Greek spelling,) be troublesome to the converted Gentiles; implying, that however men may think it a small matter, to impose an indifferent thing, yet indeed it is an infinite trouble and matter of disquiet to the party imposed upon, because he is thereby disabled from using his liberty, in that which he knows to be indifferent.

Upon the hearing of these two, the result of the whole council was the brethren should not be imposed upon, although the arguments for conformity were more strong then, than now they can be; because the Jews in all probability, might thereby have been the sooner won be over to the christian persuasion. The decree which that apostolical, and truly christian synod makes

  1. From the stile they use, it seems good (say they) to the Holy Ghost, and to us, — so that whoever exercises the same imposing Power, had need be sure he hath the fame divine authority, for fear he only rashly assumes what was never granted him.
  1. From the things they impose, it seems good, &c. (say they) to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. Whence I observe,
  1. that they call their imposition (unreadable Greek spelling) a weight, or burden, which is not unnecessarily to be laid on the shoulders of any.
  1. they say, they forbid only (unreadable Greek spelling) these very necessary things, to show, that necessary things only, and not indifferent, should be the matter of our imposition.

For whereas some gather from hence, that the church, i.e. where a state is christian, the christian magistrate hath a power to oblige men to the doing of things he commands, though in their own nature they be indifferent; because they suppose that the Apostles did so; as for example, in forbidding to eat blood. Therefore consider,

  1. that this is quite contrary to the Apostles scope, whose business was to ease and free, and not to tie up their brethren; and therefore they say, they merely do lay upon them things very necessary.
  1. That all those things they forbid, were not indifferent, but long before prohibited by God, not only in the ceremonial, but in his positive law, and therefore obligatory, whereupon the Apostles call them necessary, i.e. things necessary to be forborne, even before they had made any decree against them: As
  1. (unreadable Greek spelling) i.e. the meat of things offered to idols: To eat of them was not in all cases indifferent; for to so it with conscience of the idol, i.e. intending thereby to worship the idol, this was a thing against the second commandment. But if a man was convinced that the idol was nothing, and therefore the meat, though consecrated, was free to him: Yet if his weaker brother was offended; he was then to abstain in observance of christian charity and condescencion: But if the eater himself did doubt, then was he to forbear for his own peace and quiet’s sake, for to eat, while he was unsatisfied whether it was lawful or not, was nothing else but to condemn himself, as the Apostle says, “He that doubts is (not damned as we render it, but (unreadable Greek spelling)) — condemned i.e. self condemned if he eat, because he doth that which he inwardly doth either not approve, or else at least suspects, that it is not lawful: So that the case of eating (unreadable Greek spelling), being so nice, and so apt co be mistaken: The Apostles do make their prohibitionuniversal, as that which was most safe, and least subject to scruple.
  1. (unreadable Greek spelling) Blood; i.e. flesh with the blood; or, as some, raw flesh; and things strangled; to eat these was not indifferent, but prohibited long before by God, in his law given to Noah. And therefore the Apostles prohibition here, is not to be interpreted, as their giving a temporary law, with respect had to the then constitution and economy of the Jews (as some I think weakly and without ground from Scripture, imagine) but rather as their reviving and re-enforcing an old law, which being given by God to Noah, both then was, and still is obligatory to all his posterity, God having no where dispensed with it.
  1. Lastly, (unreadable Greek spelling), if you render it fornication, then it is evidently contrary to those precepts of purity, holiness and perfection, which God everywhere requires. But if you expound it, as many learned men do, unlawful copulations; then the prohibition enforces upon us the observance of those laws concerning marriage, which are recorded in Levit.18 and which is evident, are not in their own nature indifferent, since marrying with our mother, sister or daughter, the heathen Plato and the Grecian laws condemned even by the light of nature. And God, there in that chapter, calls the contrary practices, abominable customs; for which he threatens to root even the heathen out, fin.

From what hath been said out of this instance, 1. conclude, that since, i.e. the Apostles, though divinely inspired, yet did not impose any rites upon the church , by their own proper power, but join themselves with the Holy Ghost, as being acted and commissioned by him. Since, 2., they use no arguments from decency to justify their imposition, nor by any unnecessary burden upon any, by forbidding or enjoining things purely indifferent but only prohibit such things, as they call, and it is clear from what has been said, were necessary. And lastly, since the retaining some of the more innocent and less burdensome ceremonies of the Jews, in point of order and convenience only, would in all probability have been the readiest means to bring chat precise and superfluous people unto a compliance with the Gospel; and without doubt for that reason would have been enjoined, had the Apostles conceived they had any power to have meddled with them.

Hence I conclude, for persons,

1. Who have no such authority.

2. in things much more indifferent.

And lastly, where the necessity of conformity is nothing near so pressing and urgent. For such, I say, to take upon themselves an arbitrary and an imposing power, it is altogether unwarrantable, and consequently sinful.

  1. My last instance shall be that of the Apostle Paul, who was of an universally complying carriage; he says of himself, that he became all things to all men even to Jews at a Jew, &co. with many more words to the same purpose. And to show his liberty, he circumcised Timothy, though a Greek, that he might gain the Jews in those parts. But when once a sect of men rose up, who began to preach the necessity of circumcision, he doth in many places sharply inveigh against them, calling them dogs, evil workers, and in derision, (unreadable Greek spelling), or the concision, and concludes his epistle to the Galatians, with bidding them to beware of such, as labored to boast in their flesh i. e. sought to bring them unto a conformity in those outward ordinances. Nay so jealous and precisely careful was that Apostle of this great christian privilege and charter, viz. freedom in indifferent things; that he could not brook so much as Peters suspicious carriage in that particular, but for his dissimulation, and pretending to be less free, then he was;

Paul says, that he openly reproved him to his face. And for other false brethren, who crept into their assemblies, merely to spy out their liberty, and without doubt, used the fame arguments for conformity, which many do now; the Apostle says, he resisted them, and yielded not to them, so much as for a moment.

And that he might forever preserve his Galatians from being ensured, and brought under bondage again, he leaves them the caveat, I mentioned before, stand fast in your liberty, &e. From whence I infer, that so long as a thing is left indifferent, though there be some suspicion of superstition in it, we may lawfully practice it, as Paul did circumcision; but when any shall take upon them to make it necessary, then the thing so imposed presently loses not its liberty only, but likewise its lawfulness; and we may not without breach of the Apostles precept, submit unto it: Because we thereby do own, that those whose injunctions we obey, had a power to impose; and so by assenting, we become abettors and promoters of their usurpation.

  1. My last argument against impositions shall be taken from the inconveniences that attend such a practice. For though I lay little stress upon such kind of arguments (because truth is to be tried by its evidence, and not by its consequences) yet because,
  1. In principles, on which moral actions are grounded, the inconveniences do use to be weighed, and that doctrine for the most part seems most true, at least most plausible, which is attended by fewest inconveniences and because,
  1. the opposers of liberty, haw very little elseto urge for themselves, but by pretending the many inconveniences that flow from it.

Therefore I shall clearly prove that many more absurd and more destructive and fatal consequences attend the doctrine of impositions, then the doctrine of christian liberty, as,

  1. The first inconvenience is the impossibility to fix a point where the imposer will stop. For do but once grant, that the magistrate hath power to impose, and then we lie at his mercy, how far he will go. For the unmarried state of the clergy, holy unction, consecrating the host &co. are as indifferent in their own nature, as using the cross, or surplice. And if the magistrate hath indeed lawful power to impose, he may as well command those, as these, especially if he be convinced that they are either decent or convenient; at which door have entered in all those gross fooleries, which are in the popish worship: Any of which, take them singly and apart from the circumstances which determine them, so they are indifferent, and may, for ought I know, be conscientiously observed.

But put them together and consider the power which imposes, and the end which continues them, so they are the grossest idolatry, and the vilest tyranny that ever yet was practiced. For we are for the most part mistaken in the notion of popery, if we see a surplice, or a cross, or organs, or bowing, we presently cry out popery: Whereas I think it a more manifest sign of popery to forbid these things, as we do, under penalties, then to practice them with freedom. If, I understand anything of Antichrist, his nature seems to consist in this that he acts in a way contrary to Christ i.e. instead of a spiritual, he brings in a devised worship; and instead of freedom, lays a constraint even upon our devotion. So that, as John in his revelation says of him, “Men shall neither buy nor sell, who have not a mark; i.e. who do not serve God in that outward way, which he commands. So that whoever doth own the doctrine of imposition though in the smallest circumstance of worship he brings in the essence, though not the name of popery; and lays down that for his foundation, on which all the will-worship, which this day reigns in the world, is bottomed.

For whatever opinions we have concerning the necessity of bowing, kneeling or the like, while they stand confined to our private practices, they are at worst but hay and stubble, which will perish at the day of account, though he that doth them may very well be saved. But when once a man goes further and not content with his persuasions, envies his brother that liberty, which he himself desires to enjoy; and seeks to obtrude his conceits upon others, who perhaps are not so well satisfied as he is: Whoever doth this, becomes impious to God, by invading his sovereignty, and lording it over another man’s conscience; and likewise injurious to men, by pressing such things, as are only baits to the careless, and traps for the conscientious. I know very well, that the Argument is specious and often urged — why should men be so scrupulous? Most pleading for ceremonies, Lot did for Zoar, are they not little things? But l answer, 1. that a little thing unwarrantably done is a great sin. 2. That a little thing unjustly gained, makes way for a greater: and therefore we should not let the serpent get in his head, how beautiful soever it seems, lest he bring in his tail, and with that his sting – how curious even almost to superstition, our Savior and his Apostles especially Paul, were in this point, I have already mentioned; by whose example we are little profited, if we do not learn, that in impositions we are not so much to consider how small and inconsiderable the thing imposed is, as how lawful it is: Not, what it is in itself, as whither it tends, and what will he the consequence of it admission. For the smaller the thing imposed is, the more is our christian liberty invaded, and consequently the more injurious and sinful is its imposition.

  1. The second inconvenience is, that it quite inverts the nature of christian religion; not only by taking away its freedom, but likewise its spirituality; our Savior says, that God will now be worshipped not in show and ceremony, but in spirit, and in truth; whereas this doctrine of imposition, places it in such things, in the observance of which, superstition will be sure to out-do devotion. But true religion like the spirits of wine or subtle essences, whenever it comes to ne opened and exposed to view, runs the hazard of being presently dispirited, and lost. In the service of God there is a vast difference, between purity and pomp, between spirit and splendor; whereas the imposer only drives at, and improves the latter; but of the former is altogether secure and careless, as is evident in those places, where uniformity is most strictly practiced.
  1. This doctrine making no provision at all for such as are scrupulous and tender, supposes the same measure of faith in all: Whereas nothing is more clear, then as the Apostle says concerning things offered to idols, so concerning ceremonies, I may say, that all have not knowledge. But to this day many there are utterly unsatisfied with the lawfulness of any, and most are convinced of the uselessness of them all. Whose consciences, how erroneous soever, yet are to be tenderly and gently dealt with; lest by our rigid commanding what they can by no means comply with, we bring them unto that dangerous dilemma, either of breaking their inward peace and comfort, by doing outwardly what they do not inwardly approve of: Or else of running themselves upon the rocks of poverty and prejudice, by disobeying what is commanded. For though we are upon all occasions to suffer gladly, yet let not Reuben smite Ephraim; let us not receive our wounds in the house of our friends, for then our sufferings will be sharpened from the consideration of the unkindness, that our brethren should put us upon the needless trial of our faith and patience, especially in such things, which white the imposer calls indifferent, he thereby acknowledges, that they may very well be spare.
  1. The last inconvenience is that by impositions, especially when the penalty is severe, we seem to lay as much weight and stress upon these indifferent things, as upon any the most material parts of our religion. This rigid irrespective obtruding of small things makes no difference at all between ceremony and substance. So that a man who were not a Christian at all, would find as good, nay perhaps better usage from the imposer, then he who laboring and endeavoring to live up to other parts of christian faith, shall yet forbear to practice these ceremonies: Which is not only harsh and cruel, but very incongruous dealing, that a Jew or Mahometan, should be better regarded, than a weak and scrupulous Christian. This is nothing else, but to deal with our fellow Christians, as Jephtha did with the Ephraimites, to kill them for no weightier crime, than because they cannot pronounce Shibboleth.

To these inconveniences I might add the certain decay of the growth of religion as to its inward purity, while there is this disguise and mask of needless ceremonies upon it to keep it under; but those which I have already urged, are so great, that those which are commonly insisted upon by men of another persuasion, are not at all to be put into the balance with them; as will appear by this brief answer to their main objections.

  1. They object that this will be the way to beget all manner of disorder and confusion; that every man will have a several fashion and custom by himself; and for want of uniformity and ceremony, the unity and essence of religion will perish. But I answer,
  1. Doth any pled for Baal? He that will abuse the principle of liberty, to justify his licentiousness of life, let him know that the magistrate bears not the sword in vain, but has it to cut off such offenders. If you suffer as Christians, said the Apostle, rejoice at it; but let none suffer, as a thief, murderer (unreadable Greek spelling), seditious person, a state-incendiary, or as a busy intermeddler in other men’s matters, for he that doth these things suffered justly; nor can he plead anything from the Gospel, which is a rule of strictness, to exempt him from punishment. But

2.This disorder, which is so vehemently and so tragically aggravated, and for the prevention of which, ceremonies must be invented and forced, is indeed nothing else but a malicious and ill-founding name, put upon an excellent and most comely thing, i.e. variety, For as God, though he be a God of order, hath not made all men of one countenance, and in the world hath given several and divers shapes to many things, which yet are the same for substance; so in the assemblies of his people, who all come to honor him, and agree in the essence of his worship, why should we doubt, but God will be well pleased with their variety in circumstances? The exercise of which not only their consciences do prompt, but God himself doth induce them to, because in his word he hath not prescribed anyone outward form, that all should necessarily agree in; but in such things hath left them to the dictates of their own spirits, and the guidance of christian prudence; which variety is so far from being a confusion, that nothing can be more comely and harmonious, as serving to set out the indulgence of God, the arbitrary actings of the Holy Spirit, and the liberty of the Saints, who can preserve unity in mind, without uniformity in behavior.

  1. The second Objection is, the practice of the Jewish Princes, who as soon as ever they were installed in their Kingdoms, set upon reforming the house of God, and imposing upon all a form of worship: Which since all Scripture is written by divine inspiration, and for our instruction, seems to be a leading case that christian Princes should imitate them, and do so likewise. But l answer, i.e. though arguments taken from analogy are of very little weight, when positive precepts are required, yet I will grant, that the piety of the Jewish, is, and ought to be exemplary to the christian magistrates — but withal I deny the inference, since the Jewish Princes, when they reformed religion, they therein followed a divine law, which did command it from them, and which, in the minutest circumstances, had provided for uniformity worship from which rigor and restraint all Christians are absolved, and therefore it is very unconcluding to argue from the Jews, who had; to the christian magistrate, who wants divine authority. To this is also objected,
  1. That since things necessary to the worship of God, be already determined by God, and over them the magistrate hath no power; if likewise he should have no power in indifferent things, then it would follow that in things appertaining to religion, the christian magistrate had no power at all — which they think to be very absurd – so the reverend and learned Mr. Hooker, and Dr. Sanderson. But I answer,
  1. It is no absurdity at all, that Princes should have no more power in ordering the things of God, then God himself hath allowed them. And if God hath no where given them such an imposing power, they must be content to go without it. But in this case, where will the christian magistrate find his warrant, the Scriptures being utterly silent, that he is now to take such authority upon him, which, because the thing concerns not man, but the worship of God, had it been thought necessary and fit, would certainly not have been omitted.
  1. It is so far from being an argument for impositions, to urge that the thing imposed is indifferent, that there cannot be a stronger argument against them: Since it is as requisite to christian practice, that things indifferent should still be kept indifferent, as things necessary, be held necessary, – As I have already proved.

Lastly, it is much more suited to the nature of the Gospel that christian Princes should reform religion, rather by the example of their lives, then by the severity of their laws; and if they may show their power at all in this case, it should rather be b y subtracting then by adding. By taking away all impertinences, which may hinder the progress of it, rather than by obtruding unwarrantable methods, to tie all men up to such outward forms; as may make piety suspected only for policy disguised.

Much more might be said for this from authority, but I willingly wave it. For if Scripture and reason will not prevail to hinder impositions, I have no cause to expect that any sentences from antiquity should. Only this is certain, that all the writings of the Christians for the first three hundred years, are full of nothing else, but such arguments as evince a liberty, more absolute and universal then I contend for. And likewise it may be of some weight, that the churches doctrine was then more pure, their discipline more strict and severe then now; and yet they had nothing but mutual consent, either to establish or protect it, the magistrates being all against them. But when once Constantine took upon him to manage the affairs of the church, and by penal laws, ratified and confirmed church-orders, he laid that foundation of antichristian tyranny, which presently after him, his son Constantius exercised, against the assertors of the trinity: And, the churches worldly power increasing as fast, as the purity of religion did decrease; the bishops of Rome within a few years, gained to themselves, and have ever since practiced severely against such, whom they call heretics, i.e. deniers of their factious doctrine; and opposers of their most ungospel-like, but indeed most politic and prudential impositions, whose furious and bloody tenets, like subtle poison, have run through the veins of almost all professors, scarce any sort even of protestants, allowing to others that liberty of religion,  which at the beginning of their sects, they justly challenged to themselves.

Nor is there any hope, that the world should be freed from cruelty, disguised under the name of zeal, till it please God to inform all magistrates, how far their commission reaches , that their proper province is only over the body, to repress and correct those moral vices, to which our outward man is subject: But as for christian religion, since it is so pure and simple, so free from state and worldly magnificence, so gentle and complying with the meanest christian, and withal so remote from harshness, rigor and severity, there the magistrate most consults Gods honor and his own duty, if being strict to himself, he leaves all others in these outward ceremonies to their inward convictions. Which liberty, is so tar from weakening, that it is indeed the security of a throne; since besides gaining, the peoples love (especially the most conscientious and sober of them) it doth in a special manner entitle him to Gods protection:  Since in not pretending to be wiser then God, he gives religion that free and undisturbed passage, which our Savior seems by his life and death to have opened for it.


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Locke’s Tracts and the anarchy of the religious Conscience (Copy)

Locke’s Tracts and the anarchy of the religious Conscience

Paul Bou-Habib, University of Essex, UK


This article reconstructs the main arguments in John Locke’s first political writings, the highly rhetorical, and often obscure, Two Tracts on Government (1660–1662). The Tracts support the government’s right to impose religious ceremonies on its people, an astonishing fact given Locke’s famous defense of toleration in his later works. The reconstruction of the Tracts developed here allows us to see that rather than a pessimistic view of the prospects for peace under religious diversity, what mainly animates the young Locke is a desire to defend the rule of law against an anarchical conception of religious freedom. The article also argues that the evolution of Locke’s thinking on religious freedom was in large part governed by Locke’s attempt to interpret religious freedom in a way that avoids its having anarchical implications.


Locke, religious freedom, anarchy, Two Tracts on Government


In 1656, when Locke was still a young man, he wrote a letter from London to his father in which he recounted ‘the most remarkable thing I have met with since I came hither’. Locke had witnessed a Quaker seeking redress in the law courts in Westminster Hall for having had his hat struck off his head, some months earlier, when he had been brought in to give testimony in court. On that earlier occasion, the man had refused to remove his hat in court, as was the custom of many

Quakers who believed that all persons are equal under Christ. Locke observed to his father how, in protest against his earlier treatment, the man now no longer wore his hat. Locke continued: ‘The rest of his brethren may do well to imitate him, the keeping of the head too hot being dangerous for mad folks’1.

Locke’s attitude toward the Quakers may well reflect the prejudices of an unworldly young man when confronted with people from a different religious background to his own. But it might also reflect anxiety about the anarchy that is threatened by religious groups who defer to their own religious consciences without, as Locke might have thought, the restraint of reason. Locke might have seen the Quakers as not only mad, but dangerously mad. This article proposes that it is this anxiety about the anarchy of the religious conscience that animates Locke’s first political writings, composed four years after his aforementioned letter to his father, entitled Two Tracts on Government (1660–1662). Locke wrote the Tracts in response to The Great Question Concerning Things Indifferent (1660), a pamphlet by one of his student colleagues at Oxford, Edward Bagshaw2.

Bagshaw maintains in his pamphlet that the government has no right to impose religious worship on people. The imposition of religious worship at issue consisted of the government’s enforcing the form that particular religious ceremonies should take within the church, the garments that should be worn by the clergy and other circumstantial features of religious worship. Although Locke would famously come to reject the government’s right to impose religious worship in his later works, in the Tracts, he defends that right3.

In proposing this reading of the Tracts, the article aims to make three distinct contributions to our understanding of Locke’s political thought. The first is to extract clear arguments from what is, in many places, a highly rhetorical, fragmentary and obscure text. The approach of this article is thus different from, though complementary to, a more historical approach to the interpretation of a political text, where the aim is to reconstruct the intentions of its author through careful contextual elucidation of the text’s meaning. The emphasis in this article is to fill the gaps in Locke’s own presentation of his arguments by supplying the missing premises in a way that enables us to see the precise nature of those arguments.

Secondly, the article affirms a more categorical attribution of one of two closely related arguments one might interpret Locke as making in the Tracts. One might read the Tracts as reflecting a distinctively politique position, one that defends the government’s right to impose religious uniformity because it assumes that religious uniformity is necessary for public order. While this interpretation of the Tracts is sometimes suggested in works by Robert Kraynak, Kirstie McClure and David Wootton, these rich accounts of Locke’s developing views on religious toleration do also suggest the contrasting interpretation of the Tracts proposed in this article4.

According to this latter interpretation, Locke is mainly preoccupied by what he believes Bagshaw implies when he rejects the government’s right to impose religious worship, namely that the conscience of the religious dissenter stands above the authority of the sovereign. Locke wants to defend the government’s right to impose, in other words, not because he favors  imposition as such, but because he denies that the religious conscience of individual dissenters could have authority to limit the authority of the sovereign. The second aim of this article is to encourage the secondary literature to push this latter argument, which is focused on the need to preserve sovereign authority, to the forefront of Locke’s concerns in the Tracts. Finally, in proposing that we shift the emphasis in how we interpret Locke’s first writings on religious freedom, this article also supports a particular view of the overall trajectory of Locke’s thinking on the subject. If Locke’s early work is Hobbesian in character, emphasizing the need for sovereign authority, then a key turning point in his route to the famously anti-Hobbesian political thought of his later works must have been the following: he must, in his later works, have developed a different conception of religious freedom from Bagshaw’s, one that is not anarchical but that allows a religiously diverse society to be regulated by the rule of law. The article concludes with a brief proposal about the nature of Locke’s alternative conception of religious freedom.

The great question


To properly understand Locke’s argument in favor of the government’s right to impose religious worship, we must begin by clarifying the question addressed by his and Bagshaw’s texts. The question Locke places as a heading to his Tracts is identical to the one Bagshaw raises in the pamphlet to which Locke responds:

Whether the civil magistrate may lawfully impose and determine the use of indifferent things in reference to religious worship. Indifferent things are those actions that God has left to human discretion. Whether the magistrate may lawfully impose and determine such actions is a question about whether he may require, prohibit or otherwise regulate them without breaching his political mandate5.

The question at issue between Locke and Bagshaw, then, is whether the government acts consistently with its mandate when it requires, prohibits or otherwise regulates actions in religious worship that God has not already regulated in some way. For the sake of  exposition, let us call this the question of whether the government has a right to impose. Locke’s defense of the view that the government has the right to impose comes in two parts. First, he holds that public order requires that individuals transfer all of their liberty within the sphere of indifferent action to the authority of the sovereign. Since indifferent actions in religious worship are no less indifferent for being performed in religious worship, these fall under the sovereign’s authority as much as do indifferent actions performed outside of religious worship. Hence the government may lawfully, that is, it has the authority to, regulate indifferent actions in religious worship.

The second part of Locke’s defense is a series of rebuttals of various arguments for the contrary view put forward by Bagshaw. All of Bagshaw’s arguments aim to show that, while individuals may not have a right to be free from the government’s regulation of indifferent actions in the civil sphere, they do have a right to be free of such regulation within the religious sphere. Locke rejects this attempt at drawing a line between civil and religious indifferent action.

We can distinguish two possible readings of Locke’s affirmative answer to the question he poses in the Tracts. Both readings agree that the ultimate foundation of Locke’s argument is that individuals have a duty to maintain public order. As he writes, ‘God wished there to be order, society and government among men’6, and we can assume that Locke believes God’s wishes are duties for all individuals to fulfill.

Where the two readings differ, is over the intermediate idea that connects this foundational duty to maintain public order with the conclusion that individuals have no right against religious imposition. According to one reading, the reason Locke believes that the duty to maintain public order entails that the sovereign has a right to impose is that he believes public order requires that individuals practice a uniform mode of religious worship. On this reading, the Tracts rely heavily on a sociological thesis about the social consequences of religious diversity, specifically, that religious diversity necessarily produces social conflict.

According to a second reading, Locke believes public order justifies the sovereign’s right to impose because public order requires sovereign authority, and sovereign authority is not possible if individuals have a right against religious imposition, at least as Bagshaw understands that right. A full statement of the second reading is provided later, once Bagshaw’s understanding of the right against religious imposition has been made clear. For now, we should note that what is essential to the second reading of the Tracts is that it attributes to Locke an insistence on rejecting a particular conception of religious freedom in the name of preserving sovereign authority.

These two readings thus discern different routes from the foundational duty to preserve public order to the sovereign’s right of imposition, the first via the need for religious uniformity, the second via the need for sovereign authority. Those two routes are plainly distinct: it is one thing for the Tracts to argue that individuals ought to establish religious uniformity, and quite another for them to argue that individuals ought to establish sovereign authority. The next two sections discuss the plausibility of each reading of the Tracts.

The argument from uniformity

There is a tendency in the secondary literature to present’s Locke’s concern in the Tracts as focused on the need for religious uniformity. The interpretative idea is that Locke believes that religious diversity in public life must be prevented since it is bound to spark off violent confrontations between different religious groups. I shall refer to this as the argument from uniformity as summarized in the following schema:

  1. God commands that there be public order;
  2. Public order requires religious uniformity;
  3. Therefore, the sovereign must have a right to impose.

That Locke is propounding this argument from uniformity is a view that is put forward sometimes more, sometimes less explicitly in the secondary literature on the Tracts. Robert Kraynak, for example, defends the thesis that Locke ‘takes a definite practical position in favor of absolutist imposition’. By ‘absolutist imposition’, Kraynak means the policy whereby the state ‘imposes an arbitrary uniformity on warring sectarians for the sake of peace’7.

David Wootton, who rejects other parts of Kraynak’s analysis of the Tracts, concurs with him on this point: ‘One had to disappoint either those who wanted religious freedom and diversity, or those who wanted religious uniformity’, and for Locke, Wootton continues, ‘a sensible magistrate would opt for uniformity’8.

Kirstie McClure points out that there is a difference between religious imposition as an exercise of ‘rightful civil power’ and as ‘one policy option among others’. She then argues that Locke considered imposition ‘prudent as a matter of policy’9.

Although the argument from uniformity is attributed to Locke in a good deal of the secondary literature, the difficulty facing this interpretation is that Locke does not make any explicit statements in the Tracts in favor of the second step in the above schema, which distinguishes the argument form uniformity from the argument from authority, namely, that public order requires religious uniformity.  Furthermore, the evidence that has been adduced in favor of his endorsing that second step is inconclusive.

One set of statements that might suggest such an endorsement on Locke’s part all point out, in various ways, that there ought to exist in society a supreme authority over indifferent action, an authority, that is, that decides which of the actions God has left to human discretion ought to be regulated and how they ought to be regulated.

Robert Kraynak finds statements of this sort supportive of the reading that Locke endorses an argument from uniformity. He cites the following passage, for example:

‘the disadvantages of government’, Locke says, ‘[are] far less than are to be found in its absence, as no peace, no security, no enjoyments, enmity with all men and safe possession of nothing’. By ‘absolutism’ Kraynak means the doctrine where by the government ‘imposes an arbitrary uniformity on warring sectarians’.

In the passage just quoted, Locke does indeed seem to be endorsing the view that there ought to be in society a sovereign authority – but that he endorses this view does not imply that he endorses the further view that the sovereign ought to impose religious uniformity.

A second set of suggestive statements in the Tracts say that we ought not to recognize a ‘liberty of conscience’ or ‘right to toleration’ since these privileges are likely to have dangerous social consequences. Locke writes, for instance, that a liberty to perform one’s own actions in religious worship will prove to be a ‘liberty for contention, censure and persecution and will turn us loose to the tyranny of a religious rage’10.

One’s immediate reaction to such statements is puzzlement: it is difficult to see why Locke should think that religious liberty will inevitably lead to religious tyranny. Why exactly does Locke think such consequences would transpire if the government were to grant individuals a freedom to worship as they please? According to Kraynak, Locke’s reason for this view is that sectarian leaders appeal to liberty of conscience in order to incite their followers to attack religious rivals and to reform the state religion. Even if we assume that Kraynak is right about this, these statements by Locke would still not conclusively support the reading that Locke endorses the argument from uniformity. If Locke were worried that a liberty of conscience would prove to be a liberty of sectarian warfare, this need not imply that he endorses religious uniformity as an alternative to the liberty of conscience. It might instead imply that he endorses sovereign authority as the alternative.

Finally, Locke makes statements to the effect that whichever way the magistrate decides – whether he imposes or tolerates – he is bound to offend someone. He writes that the magistrate ‘will find it impossible not to…burden a great part, some being as conscientiously earnest for conformity as others for liberty’11. According to McClure, this is a point Locke makes out a spirit of despair. She explains that, for Locke, ‘the neutrality of law was quite impossible’12.

This explanation may be misleading, however, to the extent that it suggests that Locke opts for imposition because he deems it to be, in principle, as justifiable as toleration, and in the present circumstances, more prudent. There is an alternative way one could interpret Locke’s statement. His point might instead be the following: since the magistrate is always bound to offend someone’s conscience, we should not judge the legitimacy of the magistrate’s laws in terms of whether they offend people’s consciences, for, in that case, no law would ever be legitimate. In other words, the fact Locke might be lamenting is not that there is no possibility for neutral law, but that people insist upon determining the legitimacy of laws in terms of whether these agree with their consciences.

In summary, there is a lack of direct evidence in favor of the interpretation that Locke supports the argument from uniformity. Given the absence of conclusive evidence in its favor, one might wonder why there has been a tendency in the secondary literature to attribute the argument from uniformity to the Tracts. It may be the case that it has been too readily assumed that there is no other way of accounting for the suggestive statements we have seen Locke make. The following section questions that assumption.

The argument from authority

An alternative reading of the Tracts, and one that can be seen to be suggested by the statements from Locke just quoted, is a reading according to which Locke is making an argument from authority. This argument holds that public order requires that there be a sovereign authority that determines the mode of religious worship in society. The argument from authority adopts the same foundational premise and conclusion as the argument from uniformity. However, it connects that premise and conclusion with a different intermediate idea:

  1. God commands that there be public order;

2a. Public order requires sovereign authority;

  1. Therefore, there is no right against religious imposition.

A ‘sovereign authority’ is an authority whose laws no other person or institution can overturn as illegitimate, and that are, in that sense, final. The bearer of sovereign authority can be one person or an assembly of persons, and is in either case termed the ‘sovereign’.

Now, Locke is explicit that public order requires that there be sovereign authority. He writes: “it is clear that no union could occur among men, that no common way of life would be possible, no law, nor any constitution by which men could, as it were unite themselves into a singly body unless each one first divests himself of that native liberty…and transfers it to some other…in whom a supreme power must necessarily reside13.

As summarized above, the argument from authority is not entirely clear. The question that needs answering is why Locke believes that public order requires that there be sovereign authority. We need to understand, in other words, what it is that justifies the second key step in the argument for authority. Locke does not explicitly tell us this, evidently believing that the answer to this question should be obvious (the above quotation begins with ‘it is clear that’). If we wish to unfold the argument from authority, we thus need to reconstruct the assumption Locke takes for granted from other materials in the Tracts.

The most plausible suggestion is that Locke follows the line adopted by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes famously maintains that sovereign authority is necessary for public order because without the presence in society of a final arbiter over the limits of human action, people will endlessly fight with each other over this matter.

That the Tracts adopt a view of this sort is suggested by Locke’s many comments about the tendency of disputes over religious worship to turn violent. We can see Locke imagining, in other words, that people will always be prepared to fight over the issue of how God is to be properly worshipped, and that public order therefore depends upon individuals surrendering their authority to decide upon the proper mode of religious worship to the sovereign. In summary, then, we might unfold Locke’s argument from authority as follows:

2a. Public order requires sovereign authority, because

(I) People disagree about the limits to action and are prepared to fight over this matter.

(II) To avoid war, they must therefore transfer their individual authority to decide the limits of their action to one person or persons, whose judgment on this matter will be final.

A question now arises as to what evidence we have for endorsing the interpretation that Locke holds to this argument from authority, rather than to the argument from uniformity. Just as was the case with the argument from uniformity, there is no single passage in the Tracts that can be deemed to favor conclusively the interpretation that Locke is only concerned to make the argument from authority. All of the passages from Locke we considered in the previous section, when examining the evidence for the argument from uniformity, while compatible with attributing to him the argument from authority, do not settle the issue in favor of our doing so.

For example, when Locke warns of the nasty consequences of recognizing a liberty of conscience, he may well be saying that he believes that the magistrate, as sovereign, and not the individual’s conscience, ought to be final judge of the laws we should have. But, on the other hand, it is also possible that Locke might be maintaining that it is unwise to allow people to practice different forms of religious worship in circumstances where their doing so is bound to spark off civil unrest. If we wish to find conclusive evidence as to the nature of Locke’s argument in the Tracts, we must consider the second part of his case in favor of the government’s right to impose religious worship, namely, the series of rebuttals he makes to Bagshaw’s various arguments.

The Locke–Bagshaw exchange

Bagshaw’s case against the government’s right to impose rests upon the claim that God commands individuals to give a sincere worship. By ‘sincere worship’, Bagshaw means not only the possession of sincere beliefs about God, but also the performance of only those outward actions one judges to be necessary for worship. He believes that if individuals have a duty of sincere worship, so understood, then it must be true that the government cannot have the right to impose worship upon them. Bagshaw’s main claim has a worrying implication, however, which Bagshaw himself overlooks. If individuals have a duty of sincere religious action, then they may not transfer their individual authority to decide the limits of their action to the sovereign. Bagshaw’s claim, then, has the implication that there can be no sovereign authority.

That this implication is what concerns Locke becomes apparent when we consider some of his disputes with Bagshaw. Consider first Bagshaw’s interpretation of a particular passage from scripture that supposedly supports the prohibition of the imposition of religious worship. The passage, which is from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, commands Christians to, ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made you free and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage’ (Galatians 5:1).

Bagshaw says that Paul’s reason for rejecting the imposition of ceremonies is also a reason for our rejecting the imposition of Christian ceremonies, namely, that individuals must enjoy a ‘Christian liberty’ to perform those ceremonies which they themselves believe to be necessary. It is thus a mistake, Bagshaw insists, to think that since ‘the yoke of bondage’ Paul here speaks of refers specifically to Jewish ceremonies, that he is urging freedom only from Jewish, and not Christian ceremonies. Paul is urging a freedom from all ceremonies.

Locke levels a subtle objection to Bagshaw’s  interpretation of Paul’s words. The ‘Christian liberty’ that Paul insists upon is, according to Locke, merely a ‘liberty of judgment’ and not, as Bagshaw thinks, a ‘liberty of action’. Contrary to what Bagshaw says, then, Paul’s words should not be taken to prohibit the imposition of all ceremonies, but only of those ceremonies that are imposed for the sake of making people judge in a certain way. When the government imposes ceremonies merely in order to get people to act in a certain way, it is not commanding people to endorse these ceremonies as necessary in themselves, and each person’s liberty to judge that question thus remains intact. In short, Locke believes that Bagshaw infers far too much religious liberty from Paul’s words.

A second dispute with Bagshaw that reflects Locke’s worries about Bagshaw’s insistence upon a duty of sincere religious action, concerns the ‘Golden Rule’, which commands that one ‘not do to others what one would not wish them to do to oneself’. Employing the Golden Rule, Bagshaw asks: ‘Who would have his conscience imposed upon?’. No one would, he answers, and therefore no one should impose on the consciences of others.

We must notice what Bagshaw is assuming as he makes this argument. In order for his appeal to the Golden Rule to succeed as an argument against the imposition of religious ceremonies, he must be assuming that to impose a ceremony on someone is to impose on that person’s conscience – that is, that in order for a person’s conscience to be free, that person must be able to outwardly worship in a way he inwardly endorses.  Only then will Bagshaw be correct to conclude that our desire not to have our conscience imposed upon commits us, via the Golden Rule, to refrain from imposing ceremonies on others. In short, Bagshaw must be assuming that a free conscience requires a liberty of sincere religious action14.

Locke replies to Bagshaw’s appeal to the Golden Rule with the following remark: ‘If private men’s judgments were the moulds where laws were to be cast’tis a question whether we should have any at all’15.

At first sight, it may seem unclear how Locke’s reply amounts to a refutation of Bagshaw’s Golden Rule argument, let alone how it is relevant. Why does Locke believe that Bagshaw’s appeal to the liberty of conscience necessarily commits Bagshaw to endorsing a limitless liberty to act on one’s own private judgment?

It may seem more natural to interpret Bagshaw’s point to be that individuals ought to enjoy a freedom from interference within a fixed space of religious conduct. Once we remember, however, that Bagshaw assumes that a free conscience implies a liberty of sincere religious action then Locke’s answer becomes clear. For once the liberty of conscience is interpreted in that way it effectively amounts to an extra-legal power, or, in other words, a personal prerogative to limit the law according to one’s own conscience. If laws could indeed be limited in this way, Locke would be correct to wonder ‘whether we should have any at all’.

This point is repeated throughout the Tracts. Locke’s favorite illustration of it, which he uses more than once, is that of the Quaker. The Tracts thus return to the very issue that he had mentioned in the letter to his father some four years earlier, the Quaker’s refusal to remove his hat in front social superiors: if the [act of] determining any indifferent outward action contrary to a man’s persuasion…be imposing on conscience and so unlawful, I know not how a Quaker should be compelled by hat or leg to pay a due respect to the magistrate16.

Only by endorsing the view that Locke embraces the argument from authority in the Tracts, can we make sense of this otherwise puzzling passage. Agreeing with Locke that Quakers should not be guaranteed a  freedom to pursue just any religiously motivated conduct, one might initially be puzzled as to why Locke also refuses to allow Quakers the freedom to pursue religiously motivated conduct within the sphere of their religious worship. Matters become clear, however, once we understand that Locke is attempting to show in this passage what the implication is of assuming, as Bagshaw does, that the liberty of conscience includes liberty of sincere religious action. The implication would be that any legal restriction upon actions that the Quaker deems to be religious in nature is ipso facto an infringement on his liberty of conscience and that the Quaker would thus effectively be entitled to set the boundaries between then civil and the religious sphere.

To insist upon the liberty of conscience, so understood, would in that case make it impossible for the government to lay a legal obligation upon an individual to act in ways prohibited by that individual’s conscience, and ultimately, then, to undermine the government’s sovereign authority. This point is reflected in Locke’s ‘if-then’ reasoning in the passage above.

If we define the liberty of conscience as Bagshaw defines it, then it will be impossible to legally compel the Quaker to pay, as Locke says, a ‘due respect to the magistrate’. Indeed, it will be impossible to legally compel him to do anything with which he does not in conscience agree.

Locke’s exchange with Bagshaw, then, is fundamentally concerned with the consequences for public order of including sincere action under the duty of sincere worship. Once sincere action is so included, religious liberty becomes an extra-legal power. If the subject must enjoy a ‘liberty of conscience’, in the sense that he must be free to act in accordance with his religious beliefs, then, no one sets limits to his rights but himself. In that case, religious liberty, as an extra-legal power, undermines sovereign authority, which requires that only one person or assembly of persons, and not every person, should set the limits to human action. And in the absence of sovereign authority, public order is impossible.

Two key implications

One significant implication of the fact that the Tracts make an argument from authority is that this places Locke’s early thinking on religious freedom in a far more flattering and interesting light than the one in which we would see it were we to attribute to it the argument from uniformity. This becomes evident if we consider two different reasons for why an individual ought not to insist upon retaining a right to religious freedom – each corresponding to the two different readings of the Tracts. The first reason is that retaining this right would provoke others to act violently.

One might suppose, for example, that members of a powerful religion are likely to act violently if an individual dissenter openly expresses his dissent from their religion. The second reason an individual ought not to insist upon retaining a right to religious freedom is that this right undermines the possibility of a common legal framework for regulating his social interaction with others.

Now, that there is a difference between these two reasons is relevant for understanding Locke’s concerns in the Tracts. If we attribute the first reason to Locke, then Locke is in effect asking religious dissenters to accept that they have a duty to forego their right to worship according to their own consciences in order to avoid more powerful groups disturbing the peace. This would appear to be an unjust concession on Locke’s part to the prejudices of the powerful at the expense of the rights of the powerless.

On the other hand, if we interpret Locke to be providing the second reason, then his conclusion in the Tracts appears more just. In effect, Locke would be asking dissenters to accept that they  bear a duty that everyone else bears, namely, to forego rights that stand in the way of the establishment of a common legal framework with which to regulate their social life.

Apart from presenting Locke’s thinking on religious freedom in a more flattering light, a second implication of the reading defended here is that it opens up a new perspective on the trajectory of Locke’s thinking on religious freedom after the Tracts. The new perspective is best introduced by way of contrast. Consider, first, what the trajectory of Locke’s thinking would look like if we assume Locke endorses the argument from uniformity in the Tracts.  If indeed it is the case that Locke is concerned to reject a right to religious freedom because it stands in the way of religious uniformity, then the question becomes why Locke would come to embrace a right to practice deviant worship just five years later, in a short piece entitled An Essay on Toleration (1667)17. Two answers have been given to this question. First, it has been proposed that Locke must have undergone a ‘radical break’ by the time of the An Essay on Toleration, a break that can be explained only by appeal to biographical evidence.

For example, it is suggested that a trip to Holland in 1665 helped Locke see the possibility of peace in a context of religious diversity, or it is suggested that Locke’s employment in the service of the liberal Earl of Shaftesbury in 1667 put pressure on him to alter his early views18. The problem with such biographical evidence, however, is that it is necessarily rather speculative in character and it may seem insufficient to explain a break as radical as one in which an author moves, in just a few years, from favoring a right of religious imposition to defending a right to toleration19.

In light of this problem, a second possibility has been defended, according to which An Essay on Toleration actually continues to reflect the underlying goals of the Tracts. Locke, it is claimed, has come to defend a right of toleration in the Essay for the same reason that he (supposedly) defended a policy of enforced religious uniformity in the Tracts.

Underlying both the earlier and later view is Locke’s commitment to peace at all costs: he defends the right to toleration in An Essay on Toleration, in other words, only because he now believes it is toleration, rather than imposition, that is most conducive to civil peace20.

The problem with this second account of the Locke’s development is that it implies that his eventual endorsement of a right to religious freedom is a rather shallow endorsement. For if indeed Locke is prepared to endorse this right only when its deviant exercise is unlikely to spark off civil unrest, or only when such an endorsement is in other ways conducive to peace, then he does not have the kind of concern that one would normally associate with someone who takes rights seriously, namely a concern to protect the interests of the individual rights-bearer against more powerful groups in society.

This assumption about Locke’s fundamental views on religious freedom is questionable because it cannot be reconciled with Locke’s language in his later writings, which reveals a deep concern on his part about the interests of the individual religious dissenter. In A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), for example, Locke includes a passage that bears a striking resemblance to Bagshaw’s original arguments for religious freedom.

To impose [outward worship]…upon any people, contrary to their own judgment, is, in effect to command them to offend God; which, considering that the end of all religion is to please him and, that liberty is essentially necessary to that end, appears to be absurd beyond expression21.

People have a duty to God to perform that worship which they, in their own judgment, believe to be the proper one, and liberty, Locke says, ‘is essentially necessary to that end’. Locke thus ends up grounding the right to religious freedom in the interests of every individual to perform a sincere worship.

In light of the fact that Locke takes the right to religious freedom seriously in his later work, and indeed comes to ground it in the very same concern with sincere religious worship that animated Bagshaw’s pamphlet, we have good reason for exploring alternative accounts of his developing views on religious freedom.

Let us consider the picture that emerges once we  attribute the argument form authority to the Tracts. If we assume that Locke’s first thoughts on this question revolved around the argument from authority, then, while his later writings on religious freedom might still be governed by a concern on his part to balance public order with the interests of religious dissenters, these writings would not necessarily reflect a tendency on Locke’s part to grant or withhold the right to religious freedom on the contingent basis of whether doing so would spark off sectarian violence.

Rather, by attributing the argument from authority to Locke – and so by viewing his initial posture as one in which he is troubled by a conception of religious freedom that is anarchical – his subsequent maneuvering can be presented as a search for an alternative conception of this right that would allow religious diversity without implying anarchy.

Religious freedom without anarchy

Locke may have come to embrace the right to religious freedom a few years after the Tracts, in the Essay, because he found, by that time, a way in which to include sincere religious action under that right without its becoming an anarchical right.

We have already noted how Locke’s main objection to Bagshaw is that Bagshaw’s inclusion of sincere action under the umbrella of the right to religious freedom renders that right anarchical – that is, it implies that the scope of this right will be authoritatively settled by the rights-bearer alone. While Locke objects to this particular conception of religious freedom, it seems evident, however, that he is already sympathetic in the Tracts to at least some conception of religious freedom.

If we revisit the passage in which he worries about Quakers refusing to remove their hats, this point is reflected in its opening statement:

grant all agree that conscience is tenderly to be dealt with, and not to be imposed on, but if the determining any indifferent outward action contrary to a man’s persuasion … be imposing on conscience and so unlawful, I know not how a Quaker should be compelled by hat or leg to pay due respect to the magistrate.

If religious freedom cannot include sincere action, Locke goes on to conclude, then we are forced to interpret religious freedom as a liberty of judgment alone. It seems plausible to see Locke’s opening statement in the above passage as reflecting a sense of regret on his part about this result.

By the time of his Essay, a few years later, Locke has found a way in which to include religious action under the right to religious freedom, without this right’s becoming an anarchical right. This turning point in Locke’s thinking after the Tracts, and before An Essay on Toleration, occurs in his 1663–1664 Essays on the Law of Nature in which he reconstitutes his political thought in natural law. In appealing to natural law as the bounds to human action, Locke is able to improve upon his argument in the Tracts in two different ways.

First, he is able to hold that no person can sincerely believe that his religion should include actions that transgress natural law, since natural law is something all persons can apprehend by means of their natural reason alone23.

Locke is thus able to insist in An Essay on Toleration that religious freedom includes the liberty of action in worship, as well as the liberty of judgment. An Essay on Toleration puts this point rather emphatically: ‘purely speculative opinions and divine worship’ – a category that includes action as well as judgment –deserves ‘an absolute and universal right to toleration’24.

Locke is able to include actions within the right to perform sincere religious worship because he assumes that sincere religious action is necessarily compliant with natural law.

There is a second way in which the appeal to natural law enables Locke to improve upon his argument in the Tracts: it enables him to set bounds to the exercise of political authority. If political power exists in order to help individuals fulfill the duties they have in natural law, then its authority is always conditional upon its being effective to this end. Political authority may not, in that case, take the form of sovereignty: it may not be an unconditional authority.

We see this line of argument most forcefully presented in Locke’s famous Letter. In a passage where Locke discusses a case in which the magistrate imposes a law ‘concerning things that lie not within the verge of the magistrate’s authority’, he asks, rhetorically, ‘what if the magistrate believe such a law as this to be for the public good?’.

He answers:

As the private judgment of any particular person, if erroneous, does not exempt him from the obligation of law, so the private judgment, as I may call it, of the magistrate, does not give him any new right of imposing laws upon his subjects25.

The reply suggests that by the time of the Letter,  sovereignty has fallen out of the picture of Locke’s political thought. Locke now believes that the legitimacy of all action – actions commanded by the dissenting conscience as well as by the magistrate – must be measured solely against the bounds and directives of natural law.

No person gains a right to impose by the authority of his own private judgment alone; no person, in other words, is sovereign. The trajectory of Locke’s thinking on religious freedom is one in which he searches for, and eventually finds, in the appeal to natural law, a settlement of the contending claims of religious freedom and political authority that is more appealing to him, philosophically and morally, than the settlement he had been able to conceive of in the Tracts.

Having reconstituted his political philosophy in natural law, Locke is able to conclude that the claims to ‘religious freedom’ and to ‘political authority’, properly understood, are always in harmony. Political authority, which exists in order to prevent actions that transgress natural law, never needs to regulate an action that is protected by the right to religious freedom, because this right never includes an action that transgresses natural law26.


Where Locke ends up in the Letter, the place at which he insists that no person gains a right to act on the authority of his private judgment alone, brings us back, some thirty earlier, to the young Locke in Westminster Hall. It may seem that in the Letter Locke ends up catching himself in the tail, as it were: his later work appears sympathetic to the idea he had repudiated as a young man.

If Locke believes in his later work that no person is sovereign, if he believes that every individual stands as an equal to others in retaining an ultimate authority to enforce natural law, then, in a fundamental sense, it seems that he believes there are no political superiors to whom Quakers ought to remove their hats.

But, in fact, Locke has not caught himself in the tail. As a young man, Locke was unsympathetic with Quakers, not because he was against political equality, but because he was against the anarchy of the religious conscience. This is a constant in his thinking on religious freedom throughout this life. Locke never ceased in his hostility toward individuals who believed that their authority to act ultimately derived from a part of their soul that was inaccessible to others.

In 1700, he would thus express the view about religious ‘enthusiasts’ that may have led to his feeling bemused and disturbed by the Quakers he observed in court in 1656: whatsoever odd action they find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from heaven, and must be obeyed…This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or over-weening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men…and freed from all restraint of reason, and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination27.

One sees not bigotry in such a passage, but weariness. The view on the basis of which Quakers refused to remove their hats may have been the egalitarian one that all are equal under Christ. But their insistence that this view gains its authority from their own conscience was, for Locke, ultimately anarchical.


  1. John Locke, ‘Locke to Locke Sen., Westminster, 25 October 1656’ in M. Goldie (ed) (2002) Correspondence of John Locke, p. 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. I shall refer to these early texts by Locke as the Tracts and use the editions reprinted in M. Goldie (ed) (1997) Locke: Political Essays, pp. 3–78. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. I shall refer to Bagshaw’s pamphlet as The Great Question. This pamphlet is available at Early English Books Online. (25 July 2010).
  3. As Locke later insists in A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689): ‘the magistrate has no power to enforce by law, either in his own church, or much less in another, the use of any rites or ceremonies whatsoever in the worship of God’, reprinted in D. Wootton (ed) (1993) Political Writings of John Locke, p. 411. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
  4. See Robert Kraynak (1980) ‘John Locke: From Absolutism to Toleration’, American Political Science Review 74: 53–69; Kirstie McClure (1990) ‘Difference, Diversity, and the Limits of Toleration’, Political Theory 18: 361–91 and David Wootton, ‘Introduction’ in D. Wootton (ed) (1993) Political Writings of John Locke, pp. 7–122. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
  5. There is no significant disagreement over terminology between Locke and Bagshaw. Bagshaw writes that indifferent things are ‘those outward circumstances of our actions which the law of God has left free and arbitrary, giving us only general precepts for the use of them either way’. In Locke (n. 2), p. 62, Locke defines ‘indifferent things’ as ‘all things which are morally neither good nor evil’. Since Locke’s convention is to use ‘moral law’ and ‘divine law’ interchangeably, his definition of indifferent things chimes with Bagshaw’s.
  6. Locke (n. 2), p. 71.
  7. Kraynak (n. 4), p. 56.
  8. Wootton (n. 4), p. 36.
  9. McClure (n. 4), p. 368.
  10. Locke (n. 2), p. 7.
  11. Locke (n. 2), p. 24.
  12. McClure (n. 4) p. 374.
  13. Locke (n. 2), p. 70.
  14. The terms ‘liberty of conscience’ and ‘religious liberty’ are used interchangeably in this paragraph. This usage is justified in the rendering of Bagshaw’s (and indeed Locke’s) views, since the two authors viewed the pronouncements of conscience as a person’s internal religious pronouncements, i.e. as pronouncements regarding God’s will.
  15. Locke (n. 2). p. 21.
  16. As Mark Goldie, editor of Locke’s Political Essays, explains, ‘making a leg’ is a formal bow, which, along with removing one’s hat, was an act Quakers refused to undertake on religious grounds. See Locke (n. 2), p. 22.
  17. This text shall be referred to as the Essay.
  18. For a good account of the biographical evidence, see John Marshall (1994) John Locke: Resistance, Religion, and Responsibility. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  19. For the view that there is a radical break between the early and later Locke see Maurice Cranston (1957) John Locke: A Biography. London: Longmans, and Philip Abrams, ‘Introduction’ in P. Abrams (ed) (1967) Two Tracts on Government, pp. 1–114. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  20. For the view that A Letter Concerning Toleration shares the same underlying goal with Locke’s Tracts, namely that of managing religion for the sake of civil peace, see Kraynak (n. 4).
  21. Locke (n. 3), p. 411.
  22. Locke (n. 2), p. 22, italics added.
  23. For a similar line of interpretation see Ian Harris (1994) The Mind of John Locke. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  24. See John Locke ‘An Essay on Toleration’, reprinted in M. Goldie (ed) (1997) Locke: Political Essays, pp. 134–59. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  25. Locke (n. 3), p. 424.
  26. The claim I defend here, that natural law is for Locke the guide and limit to both political authority and religious freedom may show how the disagreement between Tim Stanton and John William Tate in a recent debate on the character of Locke’s mature political philosophy may be less stark than it appears to be. Stanton and Tate disagree about whether Locke removed God from the center of his political philosophy. In one sense of that contention, Stanton is right: God is always at the center of Locke’s political philosophy, namely in the sense that God’s wishes for mankind always ground and limit political authority when these wishes are identified by our natural reason as natural law. In another sense of that contention, however, Tate is right: Locke did indeed wish to remove God’s wishes from political philosophy as these wishes might allegedly be identified by means other than natural reason. See John William Tate (2012) ‘Locke, God, and Civil Society: Reply to Stanton’, Political Theory 40: 222–8 and Tim Stanton (2012) ‘Reply to Tate’, Political Theory 40: 229–36.
  27. John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, P. Nidditch (ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press. This passage is from the 1700 edition. The first edition was published in 1689.

Corresponding author:

Paul Bou-Habib, Department of Government, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3



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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 87, Absatz 87,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 87, Absatz 87,

His second answer is no more but an affirmation that things indifferent cannot be determined which is the question between us and no proofs of it.

“Lastly it is much more suited to the nature of the Gospel that Christian Princes should reform religion rather by the example of their life than the severity of their laws.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

1. I answer that it is not easy to be guessed what our author means here by “reformation of religion”. The outward moral acts of virtue and obedience to the second table he makes no part of religion, at least in the sense we dispute of, which is the worship of God. Or if he will grant them to be religion and within the compass of our question he will not, I believe, deny the magistrate a power of making laws concerning them, unless instead of pleading for render consciences he become a patron of hardened and deboshed offenders.

And as for the observance of outward ceremonies in the worship (they being in his opinion either unlawful or useless), he will readily exclude them from reformation, and how the magistrate’s example of life can any way reform except in one of these two is beyond my apprehension.

Since true religion, i.e. the internal acts of faith and dependence on God, love of him and sorrow for sin, etc. are (as our author says) “like the spirits of wine or subtle essences” I’m sure in this that they cannot be seen and therefore cannot be an example to others.

Seine zweite Antwort besteht lediglich darin, zu bekräftigen, dass unbestimmte Gegebenheiten nicht bestimmt werden dürfen. Genau darin besteht allerdings die Frage zwischen uns und ist deshalb kein Beweis.

“Schlussendlich passt es wesentlich besser zur Natur des Evangeliums, dass christliche Fürsten die Religion eher durch das Beispiel vorzüglicher Lebensführung reformieren, als durch die Strenge ihrer Gesetze.“ (Zitat Bagshaw)

1. Darauf antworte ich, dass es alles andere als einfach ist zu erraten, was unser Autor unter „Reformation der Religion“ versteht. Sämtliche äußerlichen moralgebundenen Akte von Tugend und Gehorsam der zweiten Kategorie lässt er nicht als Bestandteil der Religion gelten. Zumindest nicht in dem Sinne, dem unsere Auseinandersetzung folgt, nämlich zur Huldigung Gottes. Will er aber dennoch zugestehen, sie gehörten zur Religionsausübung, was er nun einmal im Rahmen unserer Fragestellung nicht tun wird, dann, so glaube ich, wandelt er sich, indem er der Obrigkeit die Macht verweigert, diese betreffende Gesetze zu erlassen, zu einem Schutzherrn hartgesottener und geschwätziger Sünder, anstatt sich für reine und offene Gewissen einzusetzen.

Soweit es die Einhaltung äußerlicher Zeremonien der Huldigung betrifft (die seiner Meinung nach sowieso entweder unrechtmäßig oder nutzlos sind) ist er bereit diese eilfertig aus der Reformation auszuschließen. Wie nun aber die Lebensführung der Obrigkeit eigentlich irgendwie ein Beispiel für religiöse Reformen liefern kann, abgesehen durch eben diese beiden Möglichkeiten, liegt außerhalb meiner Verständigkeit.

Seit wahre Religionsausübung, damit sind alle innerlichen Handlungen der Gläubigkeit und Hingabe an Gott gemeint, die Liebe zu ihm und die Reue über die eigenen Sünden, in, (wie unser Autor es beschreibt) „dem Geist des Weines und dem Aroma feiner Essenzen gleich“, besteht, bin ich mir dessen sicher, dass man sie nicht sehen kann und deshalb kann sie nicht als Beispiel für Andere dienen.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 83, Absatz 83,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 83, Absatz 83,

“So that a man who were not a Christian at all would find as good, nay perhaps better usage from the imposer, than he who laboring and endeavoring to live up to other parts of Christian faith, shall yet forbear to practice thou ceremonies: Which is not only harsh and cruel but very incongruous dealing, that a Jew or Mahometan should be better regarded than a weak or scrupulous Christian.”

Whatever other country do, England is clear of this imputation. Yet I shall further add that he who thinks he ought to allow a Turk as well as a Christian the free use of his religion, hath as little reason to force or abridge the one contrary to his Quran as the other contrary to his Gospel, and can as little forbid circumcision to the one as baptism to the other.

But yet nevertheless he retains an absolute authority over all those indifferent actions which the respective law of each hath left undetermined, but the reason why perhaps he determines the indifferent things of his own profession whilst he leaves those which he disregards free is (by the example of the great lawmaker who though he strictly tied up his own people to ceremony in the true worship yet never prescribed a form to the idolaters in their false) lest by enjoining positive ceremonies in their religion he might seem to countenance and command its profession and by taking care for their worship acknowledge something good and right in it; it being irrational that the magistrate should impose (possibly he might forbid) any indifferent actions in that religion wherein he looks on the whole worship as false and idolatrous.

The Christian Prince that in any public calamity should enjoin a fast and command the Christians in their public place of worship to send up their prayers to God and implore his mercy might perhaps at the same time prohibit his subject Turks the ordinary works of their vocations, but would never send them in sackcloth and ashes to their mosques to intercede with Mohamed for a blessing (which he might be well supposed to do were he of their persuasion) and so encourage their Superstition by seeming to expect a blessing from it; this would be to condemn his own prayers, to affront his own religion and to provoke God whom he endeavors to appease, and proclaim his distrust of him whilst he seeks help from another. Though those of different religions have hence small occasion to boast of the advantage of their condition, whatsoever is bated in ceremonies being usually doubled in taxes, and the charge their immunity puts them to in constant tributes will be found far heavier than the occasional penalties of nonconforming offenders.

“Damit wäre möglich, dass ein Mensch, der überhaupt kein Christ ist, vom Verfügenden eine ebenso gute, nein, vielmehr bessere Behandlung erfährt, als der, sich zwar stetig müht und anstrengt, den göttlich bestimmten Bestanteilen des christlichen Glaubens Genüge zu tun, sich aber dennoch wiedersetzt, Eure Zeremonien zu vollziehen: Es wäre nicht nur eine harsche und grausame Behandlung, sondern gar eine sehr unangemessene, wenn ein Jude oder Muslim wohlwohlender betrachtet würde, als ein schwacher oder vom Gewissen geplagter Christ.“

Was auch immer in anderen Ländern vor sich geht, England ist frei von dieser Unterstellung. Dennoch muss ich hier weiter gehend anmerken: Wer denkt, er müsse einem Türken gleichermaßen wie einem Christen zugestehen, den eigenen Glauben vollumfänglich unbeschränkt auszuüben, hat folglich kaum vernünftige Gründe, den einen entgegen dessen Koran zu etwas zu drängen oder ihm etwas zu verbieten, als er diese dem anderen gegenüber entgegen dessen Evangelium hätte. Er könnte deshalb dem einen die Beschneidung ebenso wenig verbieten, wie dem anderen die Taufe.

Nichtsdestotrotz behielte die Obrigkeit dennoch absolute Autorität betreffend alle jene unbestimmten Angelegenheiten und Handlungen, welche das jeweils zugehörige Recht unbestimmt gelassen hat. Der Grund aber, warum sie möglicherweise tatsächlich unbestimmte Gegebenheiten des eigenen Bekenntnisses bestimmt, während sie solche eines anderen Glaubens, welchen sie nicht beachtet, offen lässt, besteht darin (dem Beispiel des großen Gesetzgebers folgend, der, selbst wenn er sein eigenes Volk strikt an Zeremonien zur wahren Huldigung band, dennoch niemals den Götzendienern eine Form für deren Irrglauben vorschrieb) dass sie nicht den Eindruck erwecken will, deren Glauben zu dulden und anzuleiten. Oder gar durch die Sorge um deren Huldigung gar irgendetwas Gutes und Richtiges darin anzuerkennen. Es wäre vollkommen irrational, würde eine Obrigkeit über irgendwelche unbestimmten und unbedeutenden Handlungen bei einer Religion verfügen, deren Huldigungsform sie insgesamt als falsch und götzendienerisch betrachtet.

Ein christlicher Fürst, der anlässlich irgendeines öffentlichen Unglücks ein Fasten anordnet und den Christen aufträgt, sich zur Huldigung an ihren öffentlich dazu vorgesehenen Orten einzufinden, um ihre Gebete zu Gott zu erheben und seine Gnade zu erflehen, vermag womöglich gleichzeitig seinen türkischen Untertanen die reguläre Verrichtung ihrer Berufung zu untersagen, aber er würde sie niemals in Sack und Asche in ihre Moscheen schicken, um sich bei Mohamed für einen Segen einzusetzen (wozu er durchaus berechtigt wäre, wäre er ihrer Überzeugung) und dadurch ihren Aberglauben bestärken, indem er den Eindruck erweckt, er erwarte dadurch eine Segnung. Das wäre eine Verunglimpfung der eigenen Gebete, eine Attacke auf die eigene Religion und eine Provokation Gottes, den er eigentlich zu besänftigen versucht. Es wäre vielmehr sogar eine Proklamation des Misstrauens gegenüber ihm, indem er bei einem anderen Hilfe sucht.

Demzufolge haben die Mitglieder anderer Religionen wenig Gelegenheit mit den Vorteilen ihrer religiösen Situation zu prahlen, denn was man ihnen bei den Zeremonien freistellt, gleichen sie gewöhnlich durch einen doppelten Steuersatz aus, weswegen der Preis für ihre Immunität sie ständig einem höheren Tribut aussetzt, der mit Fug und Recht als deutlich schwerer zu betrachten ist, als die gelegentlichen Strafen für abweichlerische Christen.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 82, Absatz 82,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 82, Absatz 82,

“The last inconvenience is that by impositions, especially when the penalty is severe, we seem to lay as much weight and stress upon these indifferent things as upon any the most material parts of our religion.”
(Quotation Bagshaw)

If the magistrate employ his power only within those bounds that are set to his authority he doth not thereby slight or undervalue those things that are out of his reach. Were faith and repentance, the substantial parts of religion, entrusted to his jurisdiction and open to his knowledge we might possibly find his penalties severer in those things than in any other.

But God, the judge of hearts, hath reserved both the knowledge and censure of these internal acts to himself, and removed those actions from the judgment of any tribunal but his own. We may well spare the magistrate the exercise of his sovereignty in those things wherein God doth not allow it, and we have as little reason to accuse him of usurpation because he makes use of the authority that is put into his hands as of negligence and lukewarmness because he goes not beyond his commission.

Nor doth human impositions in indifferent things advance them above the more substantial and necessary which stand above them by the appointment of a superior law enjoined by divine authority, and therefore challenges the first and chiefest part of our homage and obedience, so that though he say

“that this rigid irrespective obtruding of small things makes no difference at all between ceremonies and substance”, (Quotation Bagshaw)

‚tis certain it puts as much difference as is acknowledged between an human and a divine law, as between the commands of God and the injunctions of man. The magistrate whilst he reverently forbears to interpose his authority in these things lays a greater stress upon them by acknowledging them to be above his authority, and he that in all other things stands above and commands his people, in these descends to their level and confesses himself their fellow subject.

“Die letze Unannehmbarkeit schließlich besteht darin, dass wir durch Verfügungen, besonders wenn sie mit strengen Strafen verknüpft sind, den Eindruck erwecken als legten wir gleichermaßen viel Gewicht und Nachdruck auf eben jene unbestimmten und eigentlich unbedeutenden Angelegenheiten, als auf irgendeinen substantiellen Bestandteil unserer Religion.“
(Zitat Bagshaw)

Sofern die Obrigkeit ihre Macht lediglich innerhalb der Grenzen ihrer Autorität ausübt, diskriminiert oder entwertet sie dadurch jene Gegebenheiten nicht, die außerhalb ihrer Reichweite liegen. Wären Glaube und Reue, die wesentlichen Elemente der Religion, ihrer Rechtsprechung überantwortet und stünden ihrer Erkenntnis offen, dann empfänden wir möglicherweise ihre Bestrafungen bei diesen Gegebenheiten als schwerwiegender als bei irgendeiner anderen Angelegenheit.

Indessen aber hat Gott, der Richter aller Herzen, beide, die Erkenntnis und die Beurteilung all jener innerlichen Handlungen sich selbst vorbehalten und sie deshalb dem Urteil irgendeines anderen Tribunals entzogen. Wir dürfen der Obrigkeit getrost die Ausübung ihrer Souveränität bei diesen Angelegenheiten ersparen, bei welchen Gott sie ohnehin nicht erlaubt. Gleichzeitig haben wir genauso wenig Anlass ihn der Usurpation anzuklagen, sobald er Gebrauch von der Autorität macht, die in seinen Händen liegt, als wir hätten, ihn der Vernachlässigung oder Lauheit zu bezichtigen, weil er seinen Handlungsbereich nicht überschreitet.

Ebenso wenig erheben menschliche Verfügungen über unbestimmte Gegebenheiten solche über die essentielleren und notwendigeren, die doch auf Grund Berufung durch ein übergeordnetes Recht durch göttliche Autorität vorgeschrieben sind oder erfordern deshalb höchste und hauptsächlichste Huldigung und Gehorsam, wie es mit folgenden Worten zum Ausdruck gebracht werden soll:

“dass dieses unbeugsame, losgelöste Aufdrängen kleiner Dinge keinerlei Unterschied zwischen Zeremonien und Wesenskern ausmacht.“
(Zitat Bagshaw)

Sicher ist: Es verursacht genauso viel Unterschied, als zwischen einem menschlichen und einem göttlichen Gesetz anerkannt ist, oder zwischen einer Anordnung Gottes und einer Verfügung der Menschen. Indem die Obrigkeit angemessen ehrfürchtig Gottes Autorität über jene Gegebenheiten zu verfügen würdigt, verleiht sie ihnen größeren Nachdruck, da sie damit deren Überordnung über die eigene Autorität anerkennt. Sie, die in allen anderen Angelegenheiten über ihrer Bevölkerung steht und sie befehligt, steigt bei jenen Gegebenheiten Gottes auf den Rang des Volkes hinab und bekennt sich selbst, zu Gottes Gefolge zu gehören.

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Ich arbeite soweit als möglich auf Basis von Fakten, logischen Deduktionen, evidenzbasierten Zusammenhängen.

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 81, Absatz 81,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 81, Absatz 81,

“As the Apostle says of thing offered to idols so concerning ceremonies I may say that all have not knowledge. But to this day many there are utterly unsatisfied with the lawfulness of any, and most are convinced of the uselessness of them all” (Quotation Bagshaw)

Many too are unsatisfied of the lawfulness of a Christian magistrate, and yet who besides themselves think they are not obliged whilst they live within his dominions to submit to his laws, and may without any inconvenience be punished if they offend against them. And who will think a Prince ought to betray his right and lay by his scepter as often as anyone shall scruple at his power and plead conscience against his authority?

“Genau wie der Apostel über Opfergaben an Götzen urteilt, so stelle ich betreffend Zeremonien fest: Sie erfolgen ohne jede Wissensgrundlage. Dabei sind bis zum heutigen Tag viele vollkommen unzufrieden bezüglich deren Rechtmäßigkeit und stattdessen von der Nutzlosigkeit all dieser Dinge überzeugt“. (Zitat Bagshaw)

Es sind ebenfalls sehr viele unzufrieden bezüglich der Rechtmäßigkeit einer christlichen Obrigkeit. Aber wer außer jenen würde denken, sie wären nicht verpflichtet sich deren Gesetzen unterzuordnen, solange sie innerhalb deren Herrschaftsbereich leben? Oder würde glauben, sie könnten ohne jede Annehmbarkeit bestraft werden, sobald sie gegen jene verstießen? Und wer würde denken, ein Fürst beginge immer dann Verrat an seinem eigenen Recht oder verzichte auf sein Zepter, sobald irgendwer Gewissensnöte an dessen Macht anmeldet und damit gegen dessen Autorität plädiert?

Remark Thomas Blechschmidt:

This sections remembers me of proper experience. In the Millennium year 2000 I stayed for training at Outback Steakhouse at Roseville, Minneapolis, United States. Doing preparation shift occurred the curios situation that we came into discussion about religious freedom liberties concerning contact to products probably forbidden by ones specific religion, as pork meat, non Halal or Kosher slaughtered meat etc. Another trainee from Germany who vigorously disliked cleaning and pulling shrimp and preparing King Crab plead to leave this part of the work for religious reason. Off course it was a fake argument, but the sudden response of the trainer, who was even the proprietor of the restaurant, was lightyears better an argument: “You need to stop pulling shrimp because of religion? You better should change your religion!”

Anmerkung Thomas Blechschmidt:

Dieser Absatz erinnert mich an eigene Erfahrungen. Im Millenium Jahr 2000 verbrachte ich eine Ausbildungszeit in einem Outback Steakhouse in Roseville, Minneapolis in den USA. Während einer Vorbereitungsschicht kamen wir bemerkenswerter Weise in ein Gespräch über Religionsfreiheit in Bezug auf Produkte, mit denen Mitglieder bestimmter Religionen eben aus religiösen Gründen nicht in Kontakt kommen dürfen. Wie zum Beispiel Schweinefleisch oder nicht Halal oder Kosher geschlachtetes Fleisch und ähnliches. Ein anderer Trainée, der aus Deutschland stammte, hatte ein heftiges Missvergnügen daran, Schrimps zu putzen oder Königskrabben vorzubereiten. Deshalb verlangte er, von diesem Teil der Arbeit aus religiösen Gründen ausgenommen zu werden. Natürlich war das Argument lediglich vorgeschoben. Doch die Antwort des Inhabers war um Lichtjahre besser: „ Du darfst keine Shrimp putzen, weil Deine Religion Dir das verbietet? Dann solltest Du besser Deine Religion wechseln!“

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 74, Absatz 74,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 74, Absatz 74,

“The second inconvenience is that it quite inverts the nature of Christian religion not only by taking away its freedom but likewise its spirituality.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

Our author here had forgot that rule, what God hath joined let no man put asunder. That an outward set form of worship should necessarily take away the spirituality of religion I cannot think, since God himself that did then demand the worship of the heart and spirit no less than now and made that the only way to please him, did once erect an outward form of worship cumbered with more ceremonies and circumstances than I believe ever any in the world besides, which could yet no way shut out or clog the operations of his spirit where he pleased to enter and enliven any soul.

“Die zweite Unannehmbarkeit besteht darin, dass dies das Wesen der christlichen Religion geradezu auf den Kopf stellen würde. Nicht durch die Wegnahme des Freiraums, sondern gar der Spiritualität.“ (Zitat Bagshaw)

Unser Autor scheint die Regel vergessen zu haben, nach der der Mensch nicht trennen darf, was Gott gefügt hat. Ich halte es für unvorstellbar, dass eine für die äußere Huldigung vorgeschriebene Form notwendigerweise die Spiritualität der Religion wegnehmen sollte, wo es doch Gott selbst war, der schon damals und heute nicht weniger eine Huldigung im Herzen und im Geiste verlangte und dies zum einzigen ihm wohlgefälligen Weg bestimmte. Oder dass eine einst errichtete äußerliche Form der Huldigung, sei sie auch mit noch mehr Zeremonien und Gewese gerüstet, als ich mir je eine in der restlichen Welt vorstellen könnte, in der Lage wäre das wirken seines Geistes auszusperren oder zu verstopfen, wo immer es ihm in irgendeine Seele zu bringen und beleben gefiel.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 73, Absatz 73,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 73, Absatz 73,

“I know very well that the argument is specious and often urged why should men be so scrupulous? Most pleading for ceremonies as Lot did for Zoar, are not the little things? But I answer, 1. that a little thing unwarrantably done is a great sin.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

Unwarrantably against a positive precept, not unwarrantably without a special commission.

“2. that a little thing, unjustly gained makes way for a greater.”

Though little things make way for greater yet still they will be within the compass of indifferent, beyond that we plead for no allowance and whether a power to impose these be unjustly gained must be judged by the arguments already urged.

Ich weiß sehr gut: Das Argument, warum Menschen so gewissenhaft sein sollten ist fadenscheinig und oft betont. Betreffen nicht die meisten Bitten für Zeremonien wie es Lot für Zoar tat, lediglich kleine Gegebenheiten? Doch ich antworte: 1. Auch eine Kleinigkeit verantwortungslos ausgeführt ist eine große Sünde.“ (Zitat Bagshaw)

Verantwortungslos gegen eine gültige Vorschrift ist etwas anderes als verantwortungslos gegen „ohne“ besonderen Auftrag.

„2. Eine unrechtmäßig bewirkte Petitesse öffnet den Weg für Größeres.“

Selbst wenn Kleinigkeiten den Weg für Größeres frei machen, verbleiben sie noch immer im Bereich des Unbestimmten, außerhalb dessen wir um keine Gestattungen bitten. Ob nun Macht über diese zu verfügen unrechtmäßig erlangt wurde, ist an Hand der bereits angetragenen Argumente zu beurteilen.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 72, Absatz 72,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 72, Absatz 72,

After some enlargement and an innumeration of certain particulars and ceremonies of the Church of Rome, which whether indifferent or no concerns not our question, he comes to make the imposing of indifferent things the mark of Antichrist:

“If I understand anything of Antichrist his nature seems to me to consist in this, that he acts in a way contrary to Christ, instead of a spiritual he brings in a devised worship, and instead of freedom lays a constraint even upon our devotion, so that as John in his Revelation says of him, ‚Man shall neither buy nor sell which have not his mark‘, i.e. who do not serve God in that outward way which he commands.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

St John who alone names and more than once describes Antichrist gives another character of him, and if we will take his authority we shall find his nature to consist in denying Jesus to be the Christ, I.John2.18,22; I.John.4.3; II.John.7. And here would we content ourselves with those discoveries the Scripture allows us, we should not grope for Antichrist in the dark prophesies of the revelations, nor found arguments upon our own interpretation wherein the mistakes of eminent men might teach us to be wary and not over-peremptory in our guesses.

Nach einiger Ausbreitung und einer Aufzählung gewisser Einzelheiten und Zeremonien der Römischen Kirche, die entweder unbestimmt und nebensächlich sind oder unsere Frage gar nicht betreffen, kommt er auf die Idee das Verfügen über unbestimmte Gegebenheiten als Zeichen des Wirkens des Antichristen zu erklären.

“Soweit ich über den Antichristen irgendetwas verstanden habe, dann scheint mir dessen Natur so ausgeprägt zu sein, dass er gegen den Weg Christi arbeitet, denn an Stelle geistiger Huldigung bringt er frei erfundene Formen der Huldigung in die Welt. Anstatt Freiheit legt er eine Beschränkung sogar auf unsere Ergebenheit, weshalb Johannes in seiner Offenbarung von ihm sagt ‚Kein Mensch soll jemals Kaufen und Verkaufen dürfen, der nicht sein Zeichen trägt‘, womit gemeint ist, das gelte für alle, die Gott nicht in der äußerlichen Art und Weise dienen, die er (der Antichrist) angeordnet hat.“ Zitat Bagshaw)

St. Johannes, der als einziger den Antichristen beim Namen nennt und mehrfach beschreibt, bescheinigt diesem einen anderen Charakter. Sofern wir seiner Autorität Genüge tun, werden wir sehen, dass seine Natur darin besteht, Jesus zu verweigern, Christus zu sein. I.John2.18,22; I.John.4.3; II.John.7. Damit sollten wir uns mit den Enthüllungen zufrieden geben, die die Heilige Schrift uns gestattet. Wir sollten weder in obskuren Prophezeiungen der verschiedenen Offenbarungen nach dem Teufel stochern, noch Argumente aus unserer eigenen Interpretation konstruieren, solange die Fehldeutungen bedeutender Männer uns lehren, achtsam und nicht übertrieben gebieterisch bei unseren Einschätzungen zu sein.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 59, Absatz 59,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 59, Absatz 59,

“From which God hath either expressly etc.” if God hath tacitly freed us from those things which he hath not expressly commanded I can acknowledge no book of statutes but the Bible, and acts of Parliament can have no obligation.

“This is nothing else but to tempt etc.” ‚tis so if we interpose in matters forbidden or commanded by him already, in the rest the magistrate may use his authority without incurring this censure.

“Again James decries those ceremonies upon this score, lest they should be troublesome to the converted Gentiles.” It could not but become their Christian prudence to open as easy a passage as they could to the conversion of the Gentiles, to remove all possible rubs out of their way and not cumber the progress of the yet infant Gospel with unnecessary ceremonies, but the magistrate when his already converted people shall trouble themselves and him too about things indifferent and from thence grow into dangerous factions and tumults, may determine the business by injunctions or prohibitions without any prejudice to the doctrines of Christianity. The magistrate indeed ought not to be troublesome by his injunctions to the people, but he alone is judge what is so and what not.

“Wovon uns Gott entweder ausdrücklich etc.,“ wenn Gott uns stillschweigend von allen Angelegenheiten befreit hat, die er nicht ausdrücklich angeordnet hat, kann ich kein Buch von Rang anerkennen außer der Bibel und Handlungen und Beschlüsse eines Parlaments haben überhaupt keine Verpflichtung.

“Das ist nichts anderes als herauszufordern etc.“ es verhält sich so, wenn wir in verbotene oder bereits durch ihn angeordnete Angelegenheiten eingreifen. Über alles Übrige darf die Obrigkeit ihre Autorität wahrnehmen, ohne dieser Zensur zu unterliegen.

“Ein weiteres Mal widerruft Jakobus fragliche Zeremonien an Hand dieser Bewertung, damit sie keine Verärgerung bei den konvertierten Heiden auslösen.“

Es konnte nichts mehr für ihre christliche Klugheit sprechen, als der Bekehrung der Heiden den einfachsten Weg zu eröffnen, den sie gehen konnten und alle möglichen Stolpersteine aus dem Weg räumen und die Verbreitung des noch jungfräulichen Evangeliums nicht mit unnötigen Zeremonien zu behindern. Sollten aber die gerade neu Bekehrten sich selbst und die Obrigkeit im Streit über unbestimmte Gegebenheiten in Schwierigkeiten bringen und sich von dort zu gefährlichen Aufständen und Tumulten vergrößern, dann darf die Obrigkeit die Sache durch Verfügungen oder Verbote ohne jeden Nachteil für die Lehren der Christenheit festlegen. Die Obrigkeit sollte zwar in der Tat durch ihre Verfügungen die Bevölkerung nicht verärgern, dennoch ist sie allein der Richter darüber, womit es sich so verhält und womit nicht.

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