THERE is one thought which alone should deter all men from any interference with their fellows in matters of conscience; it is this: that every man being accountable to God, must be left perfectly free in things pertaining to God. Were God to commission any man or set of men to exercise authority in his name in matters of conscience, he would be bound by the acts of his agents and could not call to account his creatures who had obeyed in good faith his authorized agents.
Civil government is an absolute necessity to social moral beings in a state of alienation from God. Without it no man would be secure in the exercise of his rights, and men in their selfishness would destroy one another. To prevent this, and to secure to men the enjoyment of those temporal blessings with which God has surrounded them, the Creator ordained the powers that be for the purpose of guarding the rights of the weak against the aggressions of the strong.
That men should be self-governing in affairs pertaining to their relations with each other, is necessary in order that they may be left free to develop moral character. If every transgression by man against his fellowman was visited with swift and certain punishment man would not be left free to develop character; but being terrorized, he would through fear do those things which he ought to do from love. On the other hand, had God not endowed man with the faculty of self-government, and with a certain sense of justice which leads them to organize themselves into civil governments for mutual protection, no man would be secure in his natural right, because judgment against an evil work being long deferred, the hearts of the sons of men would have been fully set in them to do evil, and the earth would have been filled with violence.
But reasoning is not necessary to establish the proposition that men are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent of all human dictation in matters pertaining to God. Every man desires such freedom for himself. This being true, the Golden Rule expresses every man’s duty to every other man in the premises: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” The man who would that some other man should coerce him in matters of religious faith and practice, is the only man who can, with a shadow of consistency, even so much as attempt to coerce any other man.
The Golden Rule honestly obeyed, would secure to every man true religious liberty.