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SECT. III. That an indifference in religion is in its own nature unlawful, forbidden by the laws of God, and condemned by all sects of Christians.

FOR any one to think that religion is one of those things that are of an indifferent nature; so that we may change it as we do our clothes; or at least, that we may profess or 281deny it just as the times change, is a most heinous crime; as will appear by many reasons, the principal of which we will produce from the nature of the thing, the laws of God, and the consent of all Christian nations.

First, to tell a lie is a very dishonest thing., especially in an affair of any great moment, when it is not so much as allowed in trifling matters, unless perhaps in such particulars where a lie is upon the whole more advantageous than the truth. But, in the affair of religion, it must be a very grievous fault for men to lie, or even to dissemble; because thereby they do all in their power to confirm a lie, in a thing of the greatest importance; to stifle truth, which is contrary to it, and to condemn it to perpetual obscurity. It is the worst example that can be sot, especially in persons advanced to any dignity, which the people of a lower rank are but too apt to imitate; whence it comes to pass, that they are not only offenders themselves, but they cause others to offend also by their example; which has the greatest influence over the common people, because they give a much greater attention to the actions of those they have a great respect for than to their words.

It is also a very dishonourable thing, and altogether unworthy a man of courage, to tell a lie for the sake of this short life, and to choose to displease God rather than men. For this reason the most eminent philosophers chose rather to expose themselves to certain death, than to do a thing which they thought was displeasing to the Deity; as we see in the instance of Socrates, who chose rather to drink a dose of poison, than to leave off the study of philosophy, which be had so much accustomed himself to, and live.905905   See what I have collected about him in my Silvæ Philologicæ, book i. chap. 3. Other philosophers also chose rather to go to the plough, than give up those notions which they believed to be true, and had undertaken to defend.906906   See Galen, in that book where he says, “That the passions and affections of the mind depend upon the constitution of the body;” in the last chapter, towards the end, where speaking of the stoics, he states, “They were fully persuaded, that they ought to forsake their country rather than their opinions.” And there have been such valiant 282men amongst the heathens, who by their good lives severely reproached the age they lived in; and thought it much inure preferable to die, than to flatter tyrants, and thereby forsake the true way of life; of which were Thraseas Pætus907907   Who was put to death by Nero, because he would not flatter him. See Tacitus’s annals, book xvi. 24. and following sections. and Helvidius Priscus,908908   The son-in-law of Thraseas, who, as Tacitus there tells us, was commanded to depart out of Italy at the same time. He was afterwards slain by Vespasian, because he would not pay sufficient reverence to his new master, as Suetonius informs us in the xvth chapter of the life of that emperor. His son was slain by Domitian. See Suetonius’s life of him, and Tacitus in the life of Agricola, chapter xlv. who chose to die rather than to dissemble or approve of the vices and wicked actions of the Roman emperors. Now if this was done by men who had but faint hopes of another and more happy life hereafter, how much more are they obliged to do it, who have so much plainer and more certain hope of au eternal happiness afforded them!

All ages have seen and commended such as have, with an intrepid mind, submitted to death for the sake of their earthly country. Now, after this, who is it but must applaud all those who prefer a heavenly country to an earthly one; and that eternal life which the Scriptures have revealed to us, to a temporal one? Who can forbear despising those mean creatures that choose to preserve such a life as they have in common with brute beasts, and which they must lose in a short time, rather than to take the first opportunity of obtaining a life that can never be lost? We see soldiers, with great bravery, face the most imminent dangers, in order to obtain the favour of kings or princes to themselves, or their families after them; and rejoice within themselves that they got such wounds as they must in a very short time die of. Nay, even hired troops themselves will fight very valiantly, and venture their lives for those who employ them, though it be but for very small wages; and yet there are some who will not expose themselves to any hazard, I do not say of their lives, but of the loss of their goods, or 283of their uncertain dignities, for the defence of truth, which will last to eternity, is most acceptable to God, and has the highest reward annexed to it.

Therefore, what Christ has commanded us in this respect is in the following words: Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven; but whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.909909   Matt. x. 32. In which words be tells us, that he will own all those for his disciples, and will give them eternal life at the day of judgment, who have not dissembled his doctrine, either in their deeds or words. He does, indeed, in another place declare, that this ought to be done with prudence, when he says, That we should not cast pearls before swine.910910   Matt. viii. 6. But this prudence does not extend so far as to allow us to play the hypocrite all our lives long, if need be, or so much as to to tell a direct lie; but only not to try at an improper time and place to convince such persons as obstinately persist in their errors, when we see it will have no effect upon them. For he expressly declares, a little after the fore-mentioned words concerning confessing our religion, that sometimes it ought to be done, though it brings upon us the hatred of all those About us, and the imminent danger of certain death: He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, it not worthy of me.911911   Matt. x. 37. And such are all they who dissemble the doctrines and precepts which they have received from Christ, for their families’ sake. Nor has Christ omitted to tell us, that death must be expected for such constancy; and yet, notwithstanding, they ought to persist in their design; and that he who does lose his life upon this account, shall obtain a blessed immortality in the world to come. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life (in this world) shall lose it, (in another), and he that loseth his life (on earth) for my sake, shall find it,912912   Matt. x. 38, 39. in heaven, and that an infinitely more happy and eternal one.


This doctrine is so plain and evident, that there are no sects of Christians at this time that differ at all about it; they who own the pope’s authority, and they of all sorts who disown such authority, do every one of them, with one consent, affirm it to he a very wicked thing to dissemble our sentiments concerning religion; when opinions of the greatest moment are debated, and where the thing may be done without sedition and tumult. For, in those things in which faith towards God and uncorruptness of manners may be preserved, it may be right to conceal our notions, rather than raise perpetual contentions amongst Christians, when there are so few learned men who think alike in every thing. I say conceal, not dissemble; for to conceal your opinion is not to lie; but to affirm you believe that which you really do not believe, this is to lie. To which may be added, that if any opinion be established by the common law, which you think to be false, you ought modestly, and without contention or tumult, to declare your dissent from it; otherwise, instead of that mild and gentle government of Christian churches which does not exclude any dissent, provided it be done with charity, we shall run into absolute tyranny, which will allow of no dissent at all upon any account. There are innumerable obscure speculative questions, especially to those who never took any great pains in such sort of studies, in which Christian liberty ought to be allowed, as is confessed by all Christians; for there are a multitude of places in Scripture, and a vast number of theological opinions, in which learned men always have, and still do differ from each other with impunity, even amongst those who in other things require consent more strictly than they ought to do.

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