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By such free, well intentioned, modest, and dignified communication of sentiments and opinions, all nations have been gradually improved, and milder laws and purer religions have been established. The same prin. ciples, which vindicate civil contentions honestly directed, extend their protection to the sharpest centro. versies on religious faiths. This rational and legal course ef improvement was recognized and ratified by lord Kenyon as the law of England, in a late trial at Guild. hall, when he looked back with gratitude to the labotrs of the reformers, as the fountains of our religious eman. cipation, and of the civil blessings that followed in their train. The English constitution, indeed, does not stop short in the toleration of religious opinions, but libe. rally extends it to practice. It permits every man, eren publicly, to worship God according to his own con. science, though in marked dissent from the national establishment, so as he professes the general faith, which is the sanction of all moral duties, and the only pledge of our submission to the system which con. stitutes a state. Is not this system of freedom of controversy,
and freedom of worship, sufficient for all the purposes
of human happiness and improvement? And can it be ne cessary for either, that the law should hold out indemnity to those who wholly abjure and revile the government of their country, or the religion on which it rests its foun. dation ? I expect to hear, in answer to what I am now saying, much that will offend me. My learned friend, from the difficulties of his situation, which I know by experience how to feel for very sincerely, may be driven to advance propositions which it may be my duty, with much freedom, to reply to; and the law will sanction that freedem. But will not the ends of justice be com. pletely answered by that right, to point out the errors of his discourse in terms that are decent, and calculated to expose its defects? or will any argument suffer, or will public justice be impeded, because neither private honour and justice, nor public decorum, would endure my telling my very learned friend that he was a fool, a liar, and a scoundrel, in the face of the court, because I differ from him in argument or opinion? This is just the distinction between a book of free legal controversy,
and the book which I am arraigning before you. Every inan has a legal right to inrestigate, with modesty and decency, controversial points of the christian religion ; but no man, consistently with a law, which only exists under its sanctions, has a right not only broadly to deny its very existence, but to pour forth a shocking and in. sulting inveetive, which the lowest establishments, in the gradations of civil authority, ought not to be permitted to suffer, and which soon would be borne down by inso. lence and disobedience, if they did.
The same principle pervades the whole system of the law, not merely in its abstract theory, but in its daily and most applauded practice. The intercourse between the sexes, and which, properly regulated, not only continues, but humanizes and adorns our naiures, is the foundation of all the thousand romances, plays, and novels, which are in the hands of every body. Some of them lead to the confirmation of every virtuous prin. ciple; others, though with the same profession, address the imagination in a manner to lead the passions into dangerous excesses. But though the law does not nicely discriminate the various shades which distinguish these works from one another, so as that it suffers many to pass, through its liberal spirit, that upon principle might be suppressed, would it or does it tolerate, or does any decent man contend that it ought to pass by unpunished libels of the most shameless obscenity, manifestly pointed to debauch innocence, and to blast and poison the morals of the rising generation? This is only another illustra. tion to demonstrate the obvious distinction between the work of an author, who fairly exercises the powers of his mind, in investigating doctrinal points in the religion of any country, and him who attacks the rational exist. ence of every religion, and brands with absurdity and and folly the state which sanctions, and the obedient tools who cherish the delusion. But this publication appears to me to be as mischievous and cruel in its pro. bable effects, as it is manifestly illegal in its principles ! because it strikes at the best, sometimes alas! the only refuge and consolation amidst the distresses and afflictions of the world. The poor and humble, whom it affects to pity, may be stabbed to the heart by it. They have more occasion for firm hopes beyond the grave, than
those who have greater comforts to render life delightful. I can conceive a distressed but virtuous man, sur. rounded by children looking up to him for bread when he has none to give them, sinking under the last day$ labour and unequal to the next, yet still looking up with confidence to the hour when all tears shall be wiped from the eyes of affiiction, bearing the burthen laid upon him by a mysterious providence which he adores, and look. ing forward with exultation to the revealed promises of his creator, when he shall be greater than the greatest, and happier than the happiest of mankind.
What a change in such a mind might not be wrought by such a merciless publication ? Gentlemen! whether these remarks are the overcharged declamations of an accusing coursel, or the just reflections of a man anxious for the public freedom, which is best secured by the morals of a viation, will be best settled by an appeal to the passages in the work that are selected in the indictment for your consideration and judgment. You are at liberty to connect them with every context and sequel, and to ben stow upon them the mildest interpretation..
XI. The hononrable Thomas (now lord) Erskine,
for the prosecution against Williams.
GENTLEMEX, it would be useless and disgusting to enumerate all the passagesiwithin the scope of the indictment. How any man can rationally vindicate the pub. lication of such a book, in a country where the christian religion is the very foundation of the law of the land, I an totally at a loss to conceive, and have no ideas for the discussion of ! Ilow. is a tribunal, whose whole ju. risdiction is founded upon the solemn belief and practice of what is denied as falsehood, and reprobated as in. piety, to deal with such an anomalous defcnce? Upon what principle is it even offered to the court whose authority is contemped and mockediat? If the religion proposed to be called in question, is not previously adopted in belief and solemnly acted upon, what autho. vity has the court to pass any judgement at all of acquit tal or condemnation? Why am I now or at any time to address twelve of my equals, as I am now addressing you, with reverence and submission?
Urider what sancm tion are the witnesses to give their evidence, without which their can be no trial? Under what obligations can I call upon you the jury representing your country to administer justice? Surely upon no other than that you are sworn to administer it under the oaths you have taken. The whole judicial fabric from the king's sove. reigir authority to the lowest oflice of magistracy, has no other foundation. The whole is built both in form and substance, upon the same oath of every one of its minis.. ters, to do justice, As GOD SHALL HELP THEM HERE AFTER. What god ? and what hereafter ? That god undoubt, edly, who has commanded kings to rule, and judges to decree justice; who has said to witnesses not only by the voice of nature, but in revealed commandments--THOU SIIALT NOT BEAR FALSE TESTIMONY AGAINST THY NEIGHBOUR; and who has enforced obedience to them by the revelation of the unutterable blessings which shall attend their observances, and the awful punishments which shall await upon their transgressions.
But it seems, this is an age of reason, and the time and the person are at last arrived, that are to dissipate the errors which have overspread the past generations of ignorance. The believers in christianity are many, but it belongs to the few that are wise to correct their cres dulity. Belief is an act of reason, and superior reason may, therefore, dictate to the weak. In running the mind along the long list of sincere and devout christians, I cannot help lamenting that Newton had not lived to this day, to have had his shallowness filled up with this Rew flood of light.-But the subject is too awful for irony. I will speak plainly and directly. Newton was a christian! Newton, whose mind hurst forth from the fetters cast by nature upon our finite conceptions Newton, whose science was truth, and the foundation of whose knowledge of it was philosophy; not those visionary and arrogant presumptions which too often usurp its name, but philosophy resting on the basis of mathematics, which, like figures, cannot lie_-Newton, who carried the line and rule to the utmost barriers of creation, and explored the prinoiples by which, so
doubt, all created matter is held together and cxists. But this extraordinary man, in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked, perhaps, the errors which a minuter investigation of the created things on this earth might have taught him, of the essence of his creator. What shall then be said of the great Mr. Boyle, who looked into the organic structure of all matter, even to the brute inanimate substances which the foot treads on?
Such a man may be supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. Paine to look up through nature to nature's god. Yet the result of all his contemplations was the most confirmed and devout belief of all which the other holds in contempt, as despicable and drivelling superstition.But this error might, perhaps, arise from a want of a due attention to the foundations of human judgment, and the structure of that understanding which God has given us for the investigation of truth.-Let that question be answered by Mr. Locke, who was, to the highest pitch of devotion and adoration, a christian. Mr. Locke, swhose office was to detect the errors of thinking, by going up to the foundation of thought, and to direct into the proper track of reasoning the devious mind of man, by'shewing him its whole process, from the first perceptions of sense to the last conclusions of ratiocination, putting a rein besides upon false opinion, by practical rules for the conduct of human judgment. But these men were only deep thinkers, and lived in their closets, unaccustomed to the traffic of the world and to the laws which practically regulate mankind.
Gentlemen! in the place where we now sit to admi. nister the justice of this great country, above a century ago, the never to be forgotten sir. Matthew Hale presided; whose faith in christianity is an exalted com. mentary upon its truth and reason, and whose life was a glorious example of its fruits in man, administering hu-man justice with a wisdom and purity drawn from the pure fountain of the christian dispensation, which has been, and will be, in all ages, a subject of the highest reverence and admiration. But it is said by the author that the christian-fable is but the tale of the more ancient superstitions of the world, and may be easily detected by a proper understanding of the mythologies of the hea thens. Did Milton understand those mythologies?, Was