Schlagwort-Archive: conscience




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

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 80, Absatz 80,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 80, Absatz 80,

“Thirdly this doctrine making no provision at all for such as are scrupulous and tender supposes the same pleasure of faith in all.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

This inconvenience was touched at above, page 4, and generally this plea of scandal and offence is made use of by all sorts of men as a sufficient reason against whatever suits not with their humor, who cannot but be well pleased to find themselves always furnished with this argument against whatever cannot gain their approbation, and to think anything unlawful and ought to be removed because they dislike it.

This is an inconvenience that Christ himself and his doctrine could not escape, this cornerstone which was a sure footing to some, was also a stumbling block whereat many stumbled and fell and were broken in Israel. Were offences arguments against anything, I know not who might not clap on a render conscience and therewith sufficiently arm himself against all the injunctions of the magistrate, and no law could lay hold on him without encroaching on this law of charity and his just freedom.

How far we ought to part with our own liberty to gratify another’s scruple is a question full of niceness and difficulty. But this I dare say, that of what value soever the inward and private peace of a Christian be, it ought not to be purchased at the settled and public peace of the commonwealth, especially where it will not remove the offence and only cast the scandal on the other side and disturb the peace of the contrary persuasion, since some men will be as much offended at the magistrate’s forbearance as others at his injunctions and be as much scandalized to see a hat on in the public worship as others a surplice.

“Drittens sorgt diese Lehre keineswegs dafür, dass gewissenhafte und hingebungsvolle Menschen gleichermaßen zur freudigen Ausübung ihres Glaubens kommen.“ (Zitat Bagshaw)

Diese Unannehmbarkeit wurde bereits weiter oben, Seite 4, angesprochen. Es handelt sich um einen generellen Vorwurf zum Zweck der Skandalisierung und Attacke, den alle möglichen Menschen als ausreichenden Anlass gegen alles anführen, was ihrem Gemüt zuwiderläuft. Jene, die dennoch nie zufrieden sein können, selbst wenn dieses Standardargument als Wundermittel gegen egal alles, was gerade nicht ihre Zustimmung findet, stets zur Hand ist, und denen es vollkommen ausreicht, egal was nicht zu mögen, um es
als unrechtmäßig zu diffamieren und dessen Abschaffung zu verlangen.

Dieser Unannehmbarkeit kann noch nicht mal Jesus Christus höchstpersönlich samt seiner Lehre entrinnen, denn dieser Eckstein, der einigen als sichere Basis gilt, geriet ebenso zum Stolperstein, über den viele im alten Israel zu Fall kamen, zu Boden gingen und daran zerbrachen. Wären Beleidigungen bereits hinreichende Argumente gegen was auch immer, dann könnte ich mir nichts mehr vorstellen oder wissen, dann kennte ich keinen, der nicht auf sein fest gefügtes Gewissen pochen und sich damit ausreichend gegen jegliche Verfügung der Obrigkeit wappnen würde. Dann könnte ihn keinerlei Gesetz je in Anspruch nehmen, ohne in jenes Gesetz der Barmherzigkeit und seines rechtmäßigen Freiraums einzugreifen.

Wie weit wir unsere eigene Freiheit einschränken sollten, um den Skrupeln eines Anderen Rechnung zu tragen, ist eine Frage größter Finesse und Schwierigkeit. Doch ich wage zu behaupten, egal was auch immer innerlicher und privater Seelenfriede einem Christen wert sein mag, darf er jedoch niemals auf Rechnung eines gefestigten, öffentlichen Friedens des Gemeinwesens eingekauft werden. Ganz besonders dann nicht, wenn die ehrenrührende Ursache damit nicht beseitigt, sondern nur boshafte Skandalbehaftung über der gegnerischen Seite ausgegossen und damit der Seelenfrieden einer entgegengesetzten Auffassung bedrängt wird. Dies gilt, seit einige Menschen sich durch die Toleranz der Obrigkeit genauso beleidigt fühlen wie andere durch dessen Verfügungen und seit sie jedes Mal einen öffentlichen Skandal daraus machen, wenn jemand bei einem öffentlichen Gottesdienst einen Hut trägt oder ein Anderer ein Chorhemd.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 71, Absatz 71,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 71, Absatz 71,

But it is like to produce far different effects among a people that are ready to conclude God dishonored upon every small deviation from that way of his worship which either education or interest hath made sacred to them and that therefore they ought to vindicate the cause of God with swords in their hands, and rather to fight for this honor than their own; who are apt to judge every other exercise of religion as an affront to theirs, and branding all others with the odious names of idolatry, Superstition or will-worship, and so looking on both the persons and practices of others as condemned by God already, are forward to take commission from their own zeal to be their executioners, and so in the actions of the greatest cruelty applaud themselves as good Christians, and think with Paul they do God good service.

And here, should not the magistrate’s authority interpose itself and put a stop to the secret contrivances of deceivers and the passionate zeal of the deceived, he would certainly neglect his duty of being the great conservator pacis, and let the very foundations of government and the end of it lie neglected, and leave the peace of that society is committed to his care open to be torn and rent in pieces by everyone that could but pretend to conscience and draw a sword.

Sie taugt jedoch eher dazu, deutlich verschiedene Wirkungen bei einer Bevölkerung auszulösen, die bereitwillig schlussfolgert, Gott missbillige jede kleine Abweichung von der Art und Weise seiner Huldigung, die entweder Ausbildung oder Interesse ihnen heilig hat werden lassen und dass sie deshalb die Sache Gottes mit dem Schwert in der Hand verteidigen und dabei vielmehr für diese Ehre als ihre eigene kämpfen sollten. Alle die fähig sind jede andere Religionsausübung als Beleidigung der Ihrigen zu beurteilen und alle anderen mit den hässlichen Begriffen Götzendienst, Aberglaube oder willkürliche Huldigung brandmarken, und dessentwegen andere Personen und Praktiken als ohnehin bereits durch Gott verurteilt betrachten, sind bereits prädisponiert aus ihrem eigenen Eifer den Auftrag abzuleiten Vollstrecker in eigener Sache zu sein. So kommt es, dass sie sich selbst bei der Begehung grausamster Taten als gute Christen beglückwünschen und mit den Worten des Paulus denken, sie leisteten Gott einen guten Dienst.

Sollte die Obrigkeit nicht genau dann mit ihrer Autorität den unerkannten Täuschungen und ebenso dem leidenschaftlichen Treiben der Getäuschten ein Ende setzen, würde sie mit Sicherheit ihre Pflicht als der wichtigste Conservator Pacis (Bewahrer des Friedens) vernachlässigen und ließe damit auch die Grundlagen aller Regentschaft überhaupt und deren Zwecke und Ziel ebenso im Stich. Sie würde zulassen, dass der Frieden dieser Gesellschaft, der ihrer Fürsorge anvertraut war, durch jeden der unter Berufung auf sein Gewissen ein Schwert zieht, in Stücke gerissen und verschenkt würde.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 64, Absatz 64,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 64, Absatz 64,

All that the author says in his third instance from Paul’s opposing the false brethren is no more than hath been urged and answered above in the same case of the Galatians130, only there it is brought as a precept, here as an example. From whence in the close he comes to lay down a very strange position, viz.:

“When any shall take upon them to make a thing indifferent necessary, then the thing so imposed presently loses not its liberty only, but likewise its lawfulness. And we may not without breach of the Apostle’s precept resist to it.”

A conclusion that by no means can be drawn from his instance, Gal.2, where those the Apostle disputes against were not any that pretended a power to make laws, or imposed those as their own injunctions, but urged them as necessary doctrines and the laws of God which obliged their consciences.

The Scripture, that almost everywhere commands Submission though contrary to the whole bent of our inclinations, could never be thought to teach us disobedience and that too contrary to our wills; this is an opinion so monstrous that it cannot without a very great injury be fathered upon the Apostles.

Who can believe that the magistrate’s authority should make anything unlawful by enjoining it; that if in those things we are cheerfully doing ourselves his command should come and encourage us we ought presently to stop, to turn about and resist him and at once oppose his and our own wills too, alone, as if a child going to church of his own accord being by the way commanded by his father to go on ought straight to return back again?

If this doctrine be true, I know not how any law can be established by the magistrate or obeyed by the subject, indifferent things of civil as well as religious concernment being of the same nature, and will always be so, till our author can show where God hath put a distinction between them, this I’m sure that according to his own rule the observation of a fast enjoined by the magistrate must needs be a sin, it being an imposition relating to the worship of God in indifferent things.

An anniversary Thanksgiving Day will be but an anniversary provocation, and those that assemble in obedience to such a command instead of returning a praise to God for a blessing, would call down on their heads a curse. This is truly to ensnare the consciences of men and put them under a necessary of sinning, a doctrine which strikes at the very root and foundation of allows and government and opens a gap so wide to disobedience and disorder as will quickly ruin the best founded societies.

Let the people (whose ears are always open to complaints against their governors, who greedily swallow all pleas for liberty) but once hear that the magistrate hath no authority to enjoin things indifferent in matters of religion, they will all of an instant be converts, conscience and religion shall presently mingle itself with all their actions and be spread over their whole lives to protect them from the reach of the magistrate, and they will quickly find the large extent of inordine ad spiritualia.

Let but the ruler’s power be excluded out of the sanctuary and it will prove an asylum for the greatest enormities, tithes will be as unlawful as sacrifice, and civil respect to a man as impious as if it were divine adoration, the stubborn servant will beard his master with a charter of freedom under Paul’s hand, “Be ye not the servants of men.” Nor will our author’s interpretation be able to prevent it.

Magistracy itself will at last be concluded anti-Christian, (as the author himself confesses many do, p. 1). Let the multitude be once persuaded that obedience to impositions in indifferent things is sin and it will not be long ere they find it their duty to pull down the imposer.

Do but once arm their consciences against the magistrate and their hands will not be long idle or innocent.

But of inconveniencies I shall have more occasion to speak in his next argument.

Alles was der Autor bei diesem dritten Beispiel für den Widerstand des Paulus gegen die falschen Glaubensbrüder vorbringt, ist kein Stück mehr als bereits zuvor aufgedrängt und zur Antwort gegeben wurde. Es ging dabei um die Angelegenheit der Galater130, nur wurde es dort als Gebot zitiert, hier als Beispiel. Da er schon mal dabei ist, bezieht er eine äußert merkwürdige Position:

„Sobald es jemandem einfällt, eine bislang unbestimmte Gegebenheit zur Notwendigkeit zu erklären, dann verliert diese Angelegenheit nicht nur ihre bisherige Unverbindlichkeit, sondern gleichermaßen ihre Rechtmäßigkeit. Weshalb wir keine Chance haben, dabei ohne Verletzung des Gebots der Apostel Widerstand leisten zu dürfen.“

Diese Schlussfolgerung kann er mit keinem Mittel oder Trick aus seinem Beispiel in Galater 2 ziehen, in welchem diejenigen, gegen deren Vorstellungen der Apostel argumentiert, weder irgendeine Macht zur Gesetzgebung für sich in Anspruch nahmen, noch solche Regeln als ihre eigenen Verfügungen aufstellten, sondern hartnäckig darauf beharrten, es seien notwendige Lehren und es sei das Gesetz Gottes, das ihr Gewissen verpflichtete.

Die Heilige Schrift, die nahezu in jeder Hinsicht Unterordnung anordnet, selbst wenn dies bis in die letzte Verästelung unserer persönlichen Vorlieben reicht, kann man sich unmöglich jemals als Lehrbuch vorstellen, welches uns Ungehorsam lehrt, und dann auch noch gegen unseren Willen. Eine solche Meinung ist derart abartig, dass sie jedenfalls keinesfalls ohne allergrößtes Unrecht zu begehen als Erzeugnis der Apostel verkauft werden kann.

Wer käme den auf die absurde Idee, eine Obrigkeit könne irgendetwas Unrechtmäßiges verkünden, nur weil sie es beschließt? Das wir etwa, wenn eine ihrer Anordnungen uns ereilte und uns augenblicklich sofortigen Einhalt geböte, während wir gerade fröhlich wie gewohnt unseren eigenen Angelegenheiten nachgehen, auf dem Absatz gegen sie kehrt machten, ihr umgehend Widerstand entgegensetzten und dadurch auch unseren eigenen Willen verwerfen würden? Geradeso als ginge ein Kind aus eigenem Antrieb zur Kirche und würde unterdessen von seinem Vater angewiesen das Vorhaben fortzuführen, indem es auf direktem Wege zurückzukehrt?

Entspräche diese Lehre der Wahrheit, wüsste ich nicht wie irgendein Gesetz durch eine Obrigkeit in Kraft gesetzt werden könnte oder verlässlich mit dem Gehorsam der Untergeordneten zu rechnen wäre. Wären die unbestimmten Gegebenheiten sowohl bürgerliche als auch religiöse Dinge betreffend gleicher Natur und wäre das stets so, als bis unser Autor beweisen kann, an welcher Stelle Gott eine Möglichkeit zur Unterscheidung zwischen ihnen geschaffen hat, dann wäre ich sicher, dass gemäß seiner eigenen Regel die Beachtung einer Fastenzeit, welche die Obrigkeit bestimmt hat, notwendigerweise eine Sünde darstellen würde, da es sich um eine Bestimmung in einem Bereich handelt, bei dem es um durch Gott unbestimmte Angelegenheiten zu dessen eigener Huldigung geht.

Alljährlich z. B. das Erntedankfest zu begehen wäre eine alljährliche Provokation und alle, die sich einfinden, um eine diesbezügliche Anordnung gesammelt auszuführen anstatt Gott für jede Segnung extra ein Gebet zu entrichten, würden sich dessen Fluch aufs Haupt laden. Hier handelt es sich in Wahrheit um einen Versuch, das Gewissen der Menschen zu umgarnen und einzuwickeln, indem man ihnen die Unvermeidbarkeit des Sündigens einredet. Eine Lehre, die Hand und Schlag an die tiefsten Wurzeln und Grundlagen aller Freiräume sowie der Regierung selbst legt und die eine so breite Bresche für Ungehorsam und Chaos öffnet, dass sie auf kürzestem Wege selbst die am besten organisierten Gesellschaften ruinieren wird.

Versetzt die Bevölkerung (deren Ohren stets für allerlei Beschwerden gegen ihre Regenten offen sind und die gierig jede Art Ruf nach Freiheit in sich aufsaugen) nur einmal in den Glauben, die Obrigkeit habe keinerlei Autorität in irgendwelchen religiösen Angelegenheiten irgendetwas betreffend die (seitens Gott) unbestimmten Gegebenheiten vorzuschreiben, dann werden sie alle augenblicklich zu Bekehrten, Gewissen und Religion werden sich unversehens von selbst bei allen ihren Aktivitäten vermengen und jeden Lebensbereich durchdringen, nur um sich dem Arm der Obrigkeit zu entziehen. Und sehr bald werden sie die gewaltigen Auswirkungen von inordine ad spiritualia (Unordnung bei spirituellen Fragen) kennen lernen.

Setzt die Macht der Regenten nur ruhig vor die Türe der Heiligtümer und diese werden sich als Zuflucht für die allergrößten Ungeheuerlichkeiten erweisen. Der Zehnt wird als unrechtmäßige Opfergabe an den Staat deklariert, staatbürgerlicher Respekt vor Menschen als Mangel an Frömmigkeit, da er als göttliche Verehrung von Amtspersonen ausgegeben wird, ein jeder halsstarrige, störrische Sklave oder Knecht wird seinem Herrn eine von Paulus höchstpersönlich signierte Charta der Freiheit unter die Nase halten: „Macht Euch nicht zu Sklaven von Menschen.“ Und schon gar nicht wird die Interpretation unseres Autors in der Lage sein, davor zu schützen.

Selbst staatliche Verwaltung wird schließlich als antichristlich bezeichnet werden, (gerade da der Autor selbst auf Seite 1 zugibt, dass viele es bereits so halten). Überzeugt die Menge nur einmal davon, dass Gehorsam gegenüber staatlichen Verfügungen über (von Gott) unbestimmte Dinge Sünde sei, und es wird nicht lange brauchen, bis Ihr seht, dass jene Menge es als ihre Pflicht ansieht, die Verfügenden zu stürzen.

Rüstet ihr Gewissen nur ein einziges Mal weidlich gegen die Obrigkeit aus und ihre Hände werden nicht mehr lange untätig und unschuldig bleiben.

Über die Unannehmbarkeiten zu sprechen werde ich indes mehr Gelegenheit bei seinem nächsten Argument haben.



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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 60, Absatz 60,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 60, Absatz 60,

“Upon the hearing of those two the result of the synod is very observable. First from the style they use,‘ It seems good to the Holy Ghost and to us‘, so that whoever exercises the same imposing power had need be sure he hath the same divine authority for fear he only rashly assumes what was never granted him.”

The magistrates now as the Apostles then have an authority though far different. Those gave rules that obliged the conscience only by the dictates and inspirations of the holy spirit of God, having no secular authority and so were only deliverers not makers of those laws which they themselves could not alter. Whereas the magistrate commands the obedience of the outward man by an authority settled on him by God and the people, wherein he is not to expect immediate inspirations but is to follow the dictates of his own understanding, and establish or alter all indifferent things as he shall judge them conducing to the good of the public.

“Nach Anhörung dieser beiden ist das Ergebnis der Synode klar wahrnehmbar. Zum einen aus dem Stil, dessen sie sich befleißigen: ‚Es scheint gut für den Heiligen Geist und für uns‘ weshalb, wer auch immer die gleiche Verfügungsmacht ausübt, notwendigerweise sicher sein muss, die gleiche göttliche Autorität zu haben, da er sonst fürchten musste, er habe sich lediglich überstürzt angemaßt, was ihm niemals gewährt worden war.“

Die Obrigkeit hat heute wie die Apostel damals eine diesbezüglich sehr verschiedene Autorität. Jene erließen Regeln, die ausschließlich das Gewissen verpflichteten, gegründet auf strikte Vorgaben und Eingebungen des Heiligen Geistes und somit direkt von Gott, hatten keinerlei säkulare Autorität und hatten lediglich die Rolle von Herolden, nicht Schöpfern der Gesetze, die sie selbst nicht verändern durften. Währenddessen die Obrigkeit Gehorsam im Äußeren und Öffentlichen für den Menschen anordnet, mittels einer Autorität, die von Gott und der Bevölkerung her stammt. Darin hat sie keinerlei unmittelbare Inspiration zu erwarten, sondern ist darauf angewiesen, strikt den Vorgaben eigenen Verständnisses zu folgen und demzufolge auch alle Vorschriften bezüglich der unbestimmten Gegebenheiten festzusetzen oder zu verändern, so wie sie es für das öffentliche Wohl als zuträglich bewertet.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 50, Absatz 50,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 50, Absatz 50,

“Decency and order when it is of constraint not of consent 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 ‚the servants of another‘.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

Which text cannot without force be applied to any other but a civil bondage. The Apostle in that chapter gives them a resolution of some doubts which it seems they had proposed to him concerning the several relations and conditions of men, as the married and unmarried, the servant and the free and in general tells them, that conversion to Christianity did not dissolve any of those obligations they were tied in before but that the gospel continued them in the same condition and under the same civil obligations it found them.

The married were not to leave their consorts, nor the servant freed from his master, but because they were such as Christ had purchased with his blood and free men of his kingdom he thinks them fitter to be free, and advises them if they could to gain their liberty and not debase themselves to slavery and that too for the same reasons he counsels virgins to continue single, that they might the more freely attend the business of religion and not be entangled in the avocations and concernments of the world.

Nor can those words ‚be ye not the servants of men‘ be possibly understood of obedience to the injunctions of the magistrate in matters of religion or be any answer to their question, Christianity being scarce then known to the heathen magistrate, who was more likely to persecute the profession than prescribe forms of worship in a religion new and opposite to his own.

Nor could servant in this sense relate (as our author would have it) “to the master extending his rule over the conscience”, who, “if a heathen”, might possibly forbid, but would never fashion the worship of a Christian, “if a Christian”, the argument at best would be but against the master not against the magistrate in prescribing rules of worship.

Though it is very improbable that the Corinthians132 should at the very first approaches of this religion be so inquisitive after the smallest things of discipline, whereof all sects in their beginnings are not very curious as we find the first Christians were not, or that Paul in answer to their demands should provide against an evil wherewith they were not threatened, for who can think that masters that could not but know their servants‘ privileges and freedom in the gospel to be equal with their own should take upon them presently so magisterially to chalk out a way of worship to their servants, when yet they were scarcely acquainted with the particulars of the doctrine itself, and it is known that masters and servants, all the converts did usually assemble with their fellow Christians and join in the same worship with the church they were of; I shall not therefore fear to affirm the “be you not the servants of men”, is but repeating the advice he gave, “if thou mayst be made free use it rather”.

“Schicklichkeit und Ordnung aus Zwang statt aus Einvernehmen bedeuten nichts anderes als Tyrannei seitens dessen, der aufdrängt und Knechtschaft für den, dem derlei aufs Auge gedrückt wird. Es verwandelt letzteren, soweit es die religiösen Angelegenheiten betrifft, in eben den, der uns verboten wurde zu sein, ‚Sklave eines anderen‘.“ (Zitat Bagshaw)

Dieser Text kann sich ohne Einsatz verbaler Gewalt auf nichts anderes beziehen als staatliche Knechtschaft für die Bürger. Der Apostel gibt ihnen in diesem Kapitel eine erlösende Antwort bezüglich nagender Zweifel, die sie ihm offenbar vorgelegt hatten. Diese betrafen die verschiedenen Beziehungen und Bedingungen für Menschen, soweit es dabei um Verheiratete und Ledige oder Sklaven und Freie geht und er teilt ihnen in Form allgemeiner Begriffe mit, dass die Annahme des christlichen Glaubens keine dieser Pflichten auflöst, an die sie zuvor gebunden wurden, sondern dass das Evangelium diese unverändert und unter gleichen Bedingungen und bürgerlichen Pflichten, die sie beinhalten, fortgesetzt sehen will.

Verheiratete dürfen ihre Partner nicht verlassen, Sklaven werden nicht von ihrem Herrn befreit. Sondern weil sie zu denen gehören, die Jesus Christus durch sein Blut freigekauft hat und sie deshalb freie Menschen seines Königreichs sind, hält Paulus sie für geeigneter zur Freiheit und weist sie an, ihre Freiheit zu erwerben, falls sie können, und sich selbst niemals zur Sklaverei erniedrigen. Aus eben denselben Gründen rät er Jungfrauen ledig zu bleiben, damit sie sich dadurch umso freier der Religion widmen können und nicht in weltliche Attraktionen und Bedenklichkeiten verstrickt werden.

Ebenso wenig können besagte Worte ‘macht Euch nicht zu Sklaven von Menschen’ irgendwie in Bezug auf die Verfügungen der Obrigkeit über Fragen, die religiöse Angelegenheiten berühren, verstanden werden oder gar eine Antwort auf ihre Frage geben, wo doch das Christentum den heidnischen Obrigkeiten seinerzeit kaum bekannt war, die ohnehin bevorzugten, das Bekenntnis zu verfolgen, als sich mit Vorschriften über die Formen der Huldigung einer neuen und ihrer eigenen entgegengesetzten Religion aufzuhalten.

Ferner kann sich der Begriff Sklave in diesem Sinne nicht auf (auch wenn unser Autor das gern so hätte) „des Herrn Zuständigkeit, dessen Gewissen zu bestimmen“ beziehen, der „falls es sich um einen Heiden handelt“ möglicherweise verbieten, aber niemals die Form der Huldigung eines Christen gestalten würde. „Aber, wäre er Christ“, würde das Argument bestenfalls gegen den Herrn und keinesfalls gegen eine Obrigkeit sprechen, die Regeln für die Huldigung vorschreibt.

Von daher ist die Vorstellung ziemlich unwahrscheinlich, die Korinther132 wären bei den ersten Anflügen dieser Religion so wissbegierig auf die allerkleinsten Details der inneren Disziplin gewesen. Ebenso wie alle Sekten in ihren Anfängen nicht vorwiegend neugierig diesbezüglich sind, nehmen wir das auch bei den ersten Christen nicht wahr. Oder gar, dass Paulus in seinen Antworten gegen ein Übel vorgesorgt haben sollte, von dem sie gar nicht bedroht wurden. Wer kommt denn auf die absurde Idee, Herren, die doch noch kaum Bekanntschaft mit den Einzelheiten der neuen Lehre selbst gemacht hatten und gerade mal wussten, dass die Privilegien und Freiheiten ihrer Sklaven im Evangelium ihren eigenen gleich waren, würden es augenblicklich auf sich nehmen, einem Oberlehrer gleich ihren Sklaven einen Weg zur Huldigung mit Kreide auf Tafeln vorzuzeichnen?

Es ist doch bekannt, dass sich Herren und Sklaven, alle Konvertiten gemeinsam, gewöhnlich mit ihren Glaubensgenossen zur gemeinsamen Huldigung in der Kirche zusammenfanden, zu der sie sich gesellt hatten. Deshalb muss ich mich davor nicht fürchten zu bestätigen, der Satz ‚Macht Euch nicht zu Sklaven von Menschen‘ bedeute etwas anderes als die Anweisung zu wiederholen, die Paulus bereits gegeben hatte: ‚Solltest Du befreit werden können, nutze das soweit möglich. ‘



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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 49, Absatz 49,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 49, Absatz 49,

“You that are strong bear with the infirmities of the weak – whereas this practice will be so far from easing the burdens of the weak, that if men are at all scrupulous, it only lays more load upon them” (Quotation Bagshaw). What was meant by imposing or burdening the conscience I showed but now. But this text relating to scandal, which the author makes one of his arguments will be there more fitly spoken to, I shall here only say that bear with the infirmities signifies no more than not despise in the beginning of the foregoing chapter, and so is a rule to private Christians not to slight or undervalue those their brethren who being weak in the faith, i.e.: Not so fully informed and satisfied of the extent of their Christian liberty, scruple at matters indifferent, and are ready, as they are there described, to judge those that allow and practice them; and this a magistrate may do whilst he makes laws for their observance, he may pity those whom he punishes, nor in his thoughts condemn them because not so strong in the faith as others.

So that “this kind of rigor is not utterly inconsistent” as our author would persuade us with the rules of Christian charity, prescribed in this place, “which no Christian magistrate ought to think himself absolved from. Since though as 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 grieves not the minds of any, who are upon that relation not his subjects so much as his brethren.” (Quotation Bagshaw)

If outward indifferent things be things of spiritual concernment I wish our author would do us the courtesy to show us the bounds of each and tell us where civil things end and spiritual begin. Is a courteous saluting, a friendly compellation, a decency of habit according to the fashion of the place, and indeed subjection to the civil magistrate, civil things, and these by many are made matters of conscience and there is no action so indifferent which a scrupulous conscience will not fetch in with some consequence from Scripture and make of spiritual concernment, and if nothing else will scandal at least shall reach him.

‚Tis true a Christian magistrate ought to deal tenderly with weak Christians, but must not so attend the infirmities and indulge the distempers of some few dissatisfied as to neglect the peace and safety of the whole.

The Christian magistrate is a brother to his fellow Christians and so may pity and bear with them but he is also their magistrate and must command and govern them, and if it be certain that to prescribe to the scrupulous be against this Scripture and be to lay load upon the weak, he will find it impossible not to offend, and burden a great part, some being as conscientiously earnest for conformity as others for liberty, and a law for toleration would as much offend their consciences as of limitation others. The magistrate he confessed may bound not abridge their liberty, a sentence very difficult to be understood and hard to be put into other words.

“Ihr, die ihr stark seid, tragt mit an den Lasten der Schwachen – wobei diese Praxis sehr weit weg davon sein würde, die Lasten der Schwachen zu erleichtern. Falls die Menschen überhaupt Skrupel haben sollten, wird sie ihnen nur noch mehr aufbürden.“
(Zitat Bagshaw).

Was mit Verfügung oder Belastung des Gewissens gemeint war, habe ich soeben gezeigt. Da sich dieser Text jedoch auf den Skandal bezieht, woraus sich der Autor eines seiner Argumente bastelt, wird darüber andernorts noch in passender Weise zu sprechen sein. Hier will ich mich damit begnügen klar zu machen, die Formel „die Schwächen mit zu tragen“ bedeutet nicht mehr, als anfangs des vorangegangenen Kapitels das „nicht schmähen“. Eben deshalb gilt als Regel im Privaten unter Christen, ihre Glaubensbrüder nicht zu kränken oder zu erniedrigen, weil sie schwach im Glauben sind. Damit ist gemeint:

Sie sind bezüglich der Reichweite ihrer Freiheit als Christen weder wirklich sattelfest noch gut informiert, haben wegen der unbestimmten und nebensächlichen Angelegenheiten Gewissensbisse und sind nur zu bereit, so wie sie dort beschrieben werden, über jene zu urteilen, die solche gestatten und ausführen. Die Handlungsfreiheit einer Obrigkeit besteht darin, verbindliche Gesetze über deren Ausübung zu erlassen. Sie kann diejenigen bedauern, die sie bestraft, darf sie dabei aber keineswegs in Gedanken verurteilen, nur weil sie nicht so stark im Glauben sind wie andere.

Wie unser Autor uns mittels der Regeln christlicher Barmherzigkeit gern überzeugen möchte, wie an dieser Stelle vorgeschrieben „ist diese Art der Strenge nicht vollkommen mit eben jenen Regeln unvereinbar, von denen sich keine christliche Obrigkeit je freigestellt zu sein glaubt. Denn als Obrigkeit hat sie zwar Macht in staatsbürgerlichen Angelegenheiten. Als Christen jedoch sollten sie dafür sorgen, dass sie bezüglich aller spirituellen Gegebenheiten nicht die Seelen eines einzigen kränken, der in dieser Hinsicht weder ihr Untergeordneter noch ihr Glaubensbruder ist.“
(Zitat Bagshaw)

Sofern äußerliche unbestimmte und nebensächliche Angelegenheiten wirklich Angelegenheiten spiritueller Befindlichkeit sein sollten, wünschte ich, unser Autor würde uns die Höflichkeit erweisen, uns für jede einzelne deren Grenzen nachzuweisen und uns klar zu erläutern, wo die staatsbürgerlichen Gegebenheiten enden und die geistigen beginnen. Sind höfliche Formen zu grüßen, freundlicher Nachdruck, Schicklichkeit der Bekleidung gemäß der lokalen Mode und tatsächliche Unterordnung unter die bürgerliche Obrigkeit nicht etwa staatsbürgerliche Angelegenheiten und handelt sich bei vielen Leuten dabei nicht etwa um Herausforderungen für ihr Gewissen? Es gibt dabei keine wirklich unbestimmte und unbedeutende Handlung, derer sich ein pedantisch gewissenhafter Geist nicht umgehend und nachhaltig mittels Belegen aus der Heiligen Schrift bemächtigen könnte, um daraus eine spirituelle Bewandtnis zu konstruieren, und die, selbst wenn damit nichts aufzubauschen ist, zumindest ihn bekannt macht.

Stimmt. Eine christliche Obrigkeit sollte sorgfältig mit schwachen Christen umgehen. Dennoch sollte sie sich keinesfalls derer Glaubensschwächen annehmen und der Griesgrämigkeit einiger weniger Unzufriedener nachgeben, damit sie dabei Frieden und Sicherheit aller nicht vernachlässigt.

Die Mitglieder der christlichen Obrigkeit sind gleichzeitig Glaubensbrüder ihrer Mitchristen, dürfen deshalb mit ihnen leiden und alle Lasten mittragen, und sind deren Obrigkeit, haben sie zu verwalten und zu regieren. Wäre es sicher, Vorschriften entgegen Gewissensnöte einiger zu erlassen, verstieße gegen dieses Gebot der Heiligen Schrift und bedeute, den Schwachen unrechtmäßig Lasten aufzuerlegen, dann würde sie es unmöglich vermeiden können, zu beleidigen oder einen Großteil zu belasten, da etlichen ihre Konformität eine ebenso ernsthafte Angelegenheit ist, wie vielen anderen ihre Freiheit, und ein Recht auf Toleranz würde deren Gewissen ebenso belasten wie eines der Einschränkung das der anderen. Die Obrigkeit, so gesteht der Autor zu, darf deren Freiheit begrenzen, aber nicht verringern. Diesen Satz zu verstehen oder in alternative Worte zu kleiden ist mehr als eine Herausforderung.

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Auch spezifische, technische, politische.

Frei von jeder Verkaufsabsicht. Wer meine Arbeit gut findet, kann gern spenden und meine Arbeit unterstützen.

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

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 48, Absatz 48,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 48, Absatz 48,

‚Tis true, “who would have his conscience imposed upon?” and ‚tis as true, who would pay taxes? Who would be poor? Who almost would not be a Prince? And yet these (as some think them) burdens, this inequality, is owing all to human laws and those just enough, the law of God or nature neither distinguishing their degrees nor bounding their possessions. I 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, (conscience being nothing but an opinion of the truth of any practical position, which may concern any actions as well moral as religious, civil as ecclesiastical) 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 magistrate or an Anabaptist be forced to pay tithes, who if conscience be a sufficient plea for toleration (since we in charity ought to think them as sincere in their profession as others than whom they are found less wavering), have as much reason not to feel constraint as those who contend so much for or against a surplice, for not putting off the hat grounded upon a command of the Gospel, though misunderstood, is as much an act of religion and matter of conscience to those so persuaded as not wearing a surplice.

Imposing on conscience seems to me to be, the pressing of doctrines or laws upon the belief or practice of men as of divine original, as necessary to salvation and in themselves obliging the conscience, when indeed they are no other but the ordinances of men and the products of their authority; otherwise, if you take it in our author’s sense every lawful command of the magistrate, since we are to obey them for conscience sake, would be an imposing on conscience and so according to his way of arguing unlawful.

So wie diese rhetorische Frage zutrifft: “Wer möchte sein Gewissen bevormundet wissen?” treffen jene genauso zu: Wer zahlt gern Steuern? Wer wäre gern arm? Wer wäre nicht am liebsten ein Fürst? Dabei sind diese Art (manche sehen sie so) Bürden und Lasten allesamt menschlichen Gesetzen geschuldet und diesen gemäß rechtmäßig. Das Gesetz Gottes oder der Natur unterscheidet Menschen nämlich weder nach Rang noch nach Besitz. Ich versichere Euch all meiner Zustimmung, dass das Gewissen eines jeden mit Sorgfalt zu behandeln ist und ihm nichts aufoktroyiert werden darf. Wäre aber die Festlegung irgendwelcher unbestimmter äußerlicher Handlungen den Überzeugungen eines Menschen zuwider (Gewissen ist schließlich nichts als eine Meinung über die Wahrhaftigkeit irgendeines faktischen Standpunktes. Dieser kann irgendwelche Handlungen in gleicher Weise betreffen, seien sie nun moralisch oder religiös, staatsbürgerlich oder kirchlich) eine Verfügung über dessen Gewissen und in der Tat so unrechtmäßig, wüsste ich keinen Weg wie ein Quäker gezwungen werden könnte, durch Ziehen des Huts oder den Höflichkeitknicks der Obrigkeit den schuldigen Respekt entgegenzubringen oder wie ein Wiedertäufer dazu genötigt werden könnte, den Zehnt zu bezahlen. Die beiden haben, falls das Gewissen eine ausreichende Begründung für Toleranz wäre (seit wir im Sinne der Barmherzigkeit beide uns als ebenso ernsthaft in ihrem Glaubensbekenntnis vorstellen sollten wie die anderen, bezüglich derer wir sie beide als weniger kompromissbereit kennen) genauso viel Grund sich nicht eingeschränkt zu fühlen, wie jene die sich so sehr für oder gegen das Chorhemd ins Zeug legen. Die Weigerung den Hut zu ziehen, gegründet auf eine Anordnung der Offenbarung, wie missverstanden auch immer, ist genauso sehr eine religiöse Handlung und eine Frage des Gewissens für alle, die davon überzeugt sind, wie die Weigerung, ein Chorhemd zu tragen. Über das Gewissen Verfügungen zu treffen kommt mir vor, wie Lehren oder Gesetze auf Glauben und Verhalten von Menschen aufzupressen, als wären sie göttlichen Ursprungs, unabdingbar notwendig für die Erlösung und dadurch für sich selbst das Gewissen zu verpflichten, während es sich tatsächlich um nichts weniger handelt als um Anordnungen von gewöhnlichen Menschen und Auswürfe derer Autorität. Andernfalls, falls Ihr es in unseres Autors Sinn auffassen wollt, wäre jede rechtmäßige Anordnung der Obrigkeit, seit wir ihr aus Gewissengründen zu gehorchen haben, eine Verfügung über das Gewissen und damit gemäß dieser Art herumzustreiten unrechtmäßig.

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Meinen und Glauben sind meine Sache nicht. Ich will alles selbst nachprüfen können.

Ich erstelle Expertisen, berate, erstelle Konzepte für Kommunen, Unternehmen, Privatleute und beantworte Fragen.

Auch spezifische, technische, politische.

Frei von jeder Verkaufsabsicht. Wer meine Arbeit gut findet, kann gern spenden und meine Arbeit unterstützen.

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