Hercules Collins on Liberty of Conscience

Some selections from Hercules Collins’ Some Reasons for Separation from the Communion of the Church of England, and the Unreasonableness of Persecution Upon that Account. Soberly Debated in a Dialogue between Conformist, and a Nonconformist (Baptist). HTML version available here. Keep in mind, Collins was a signatory of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (and the baptists held to full subscription). His defense here of liberty of conscience is entirely in line with the original meaning of the Confession (including 19.4 – contrary to what some men claim).

See also REGENERATE CHURCH MEMBERSHIP AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY for more comments on this piece by Steve Weaver.

Conformist. Neighbour you are mighty fall of Talk.

Non-Conformist. I hope no hurt Neighbour, so long as it may be to Edification.

Con. What elfe do we differ in? As for what is past, if fair means may not make us of one Mind, foul means may.

Non. You are miftaken, the Sword will never inlighten the Judgment, that is Gods Work alone; a thing may be clear to one Man, is not unto another, but how unreasonable is it to impose that upon another, which is very doubtful to him upon which its imposed; Mens Understandings are as various as their Speech or Faces, and is it just for one Man to quarrel with another, because different, or to put him upon a Rack in order to stretch him to his ___vn Dimensions, if not so Tall as he, certainly that Man is defective in charity, that thinks all Dissenters are maliciously or wilfully blind, no Man can be forced to believe, he may be forced to say this or that, but not to believe it. Man may as easily make a Man stark blind to read Greek or distinguish ___lours, as an Unbeliever to Believe, for that is Gods Gift; Arguments are [G]od Inducements, but force hath no Countenance in the Gospel, much left a Command. John 20.31; 5.39. 1 Tim 3.15 Deut. 12.32. Force may make one [bl]ind, but never to see clear; It may make a Hypocrite but no true Convert. (14)


Con. Come show yourself a good subject, and a good Christian, and obey your most gracious King.

Non. I am willing to obey his Majesty, in all Lawful Civil things, relating to the safety and peace; for as his Majesty hath sworn to seek the good of this Nation, and to preserve it in its Rights and Properties, so mine with the rest; so I think it my Duty to seek his Peace and welfare and hope shall ever do it; What can a man say more? But if under pretence of Religion, any disturb the common peace, or wrong any other, or be seditious or unquiet; such ought to be punished by the Magistrate, because the pure Religion teacheth no such thing, but the contrary; but if mens Principles are consistant with human society, and behave themselves quietly, according to the Established Laws of the Land, what good Reason can any assign for persecuting such for their Religion?

Con. You have not read the first and second Canon, Neighbour, which tells you the King is the highest Power under God in Can 1 and that in Causes Ecclesiastical, Can 2.

Non. Neighbour, Pray take an answer to this from Learned Brentios on 1 Cor 3. No man hath power to make or give Laws to Christians, whereby to bind their Consciences; for willingly, freely, and uncompelled, with a ready desire, and chearfull mind, must those that come, run unto Christ.


Con. Come to Church, and you shall not be molested or troubled.

Non. If you do persecute us for our Conscience, I hope God will give {us} that Grace which may inable us patiently to suffer for Christ’s sake, for {he} that seeks to defend or preserve Himself from Persecution, by taking up {the} temporal Sword; He is either one that believes there is no such Reward {as} is mentioned in Matth. 5. to those that patiently suffer, or unwise to Reject the opportunity of getting it. But herein all men may see you seek your own glory, and not God’s, for my Salvation.

Con. How doth that Appear neighbour?

Non. Thus, If you sought God’s Glory and my Salvation, then you would not threaten me with punishment, and make that a motive to {force} me up to come to Church, But with meekness and patience endeavour to satisfie my conscience from the word of truth; for this is the duty of a minister of Christ, 2 Tim.2.24. That so I may come with a willing mind, so shall {I} be accepted, 2 Cor.8.12. But if by threatening me with Punishment, as Imprisonment, Banishment, Confiscation of Goods, &c. you cause me to bring my Body, and not my Spirit and Soul; so shall I come near to the Lord with my lips, when my heart is far from him; which God accounteth {no} Worship and Hypocrisie. Hence it doth appear plainly, you seek {not} God’s Glory, nor my good, but your own glory.

Con. I perceive what you aim at, you would have none brought {to} Church but such as come freely, and so should every man worship God {as} himself pleaseth.

Non. Your Conclusion I deny, that is, That every man should worship God as himself pleaseth; For I ackowledg, as there is but one God, there is but one way of worshipping him, the Rule of his Word: Yet {this} I affirm, That none should be compelled to worship by a temporal Sword, but such as come willingly, aud none can worship God to {acceptance} but such.

Con. Pray neighbour let me hear you prove that if you can.

Non. I prove it thus, John 4.24. saith, God is a spirit, and those that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth. Here we see what worship God requireth, viz. That we worship him with our soul, and according to the truth of his Word. Secondly, Heb. 11.6. saith, Without faith it is impossible to please God. And Rom. 14.23. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. These Scriptures prove most evidently, That whatsoever I have not faith in, worshipping God, although it were undoubtedly true, I may not offer it unto God, for it is displeasing unto him, and a sin against him.


Con. If freedom of Religion should be granted, there would be such {division} as would breed Sedition and Innovation in the State.

Non. When you know not what to say, then you run to Conceits and Imaginations of Sedition and Innovation, &c. but for Answer, let it be considered, Christ our Saviour, who is Prince of Peace, Isa.9.6. and not of Sedition hath taught Luke 12. That he came not to send peace on the Earth, but debate; to divide five on one house, two against three, and three against two; {father shall be divided} against the Son, &c. And a Mans Enemies are them of his own Household. and his desire is that the fire of such division should be kindled, where we see the Prince of {Peace…} difference in Religion, by preaching the Gospel, which some receive as the {faith..} unto life, others refuse it, and so become enemies unto the truth…

Pray weigh well what the King of Bohemia hath written; one may clearly discern which his Eye and as it were touch with his Fingers, that according to the verity of Holy Scripture, and a Maxime heretofore held by the Doctors of the Church, That Mens Consciences ought in no sort to be violated, urged or constrained; and whensoever men have attempted any thing {in} this violent course, whether openly or by secret means, the issue hath been pernicious, {and} the cause of wonderful innovations, in the principallest and mightest Kingdoms and Countrys {in} all Christendom, &c. And further, he saith so, that once more we do protest before {Christ} and the whole World, that from this time forward, we are firmly resolved not to to {persecute} or molest: or suffer to be persecuted or mollested, any person whosoever, for matters of Religion, no not them that profess themselves to be of the Roman Church, neither to {trouble} or disturb them in the exercise of their Religion, so they live comformable to the Laws {and} Statutes, &c.

This is an interesting point. If freedom of religion is granted, then error will be allowed to spring up. Of course, this assumes that the established church cannot be the source of error and innovation introduced into the church. I can’t find the quote at the moment, but in Owen’s The Doctrine of Justification, he discusses how it is necessary for an individual to actually be justified and to contemplate their standing before a holy God in order for them to have any right conception of the doctrine of justification. Apart from regeneration, they will develop a false doctrine of justification.

Furthermore, as can be seen in the Antinomian/Neonomian controversy in the latter half of the 17th century in England, if a nation is using Christianity as a means of preserving morality in its people, it will certainly not teach the biblical doctrine of free justification apart from any works – for that will simply give license for the people to sin!

The surest defense of the truth against erroneous innovations in Christian theology is the liberty of conscience to debate and persuade by the sword of the Spirit.

Back to Collins:

Con. Certainly Neighbour to force a man to worship God, can be no evil but good, not vice but virtue.

Non. The way God Almighty appointed his Officers for the conversion of Kingdoms and Poeples, was Humility, Patience, Charity, &c. saying I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, Mar. 10.{16}). He did not say, I send you forth as Wolves in the midst of Sheep, to kill, devour, imprision all unto whom they were sent. Again verse 17, They to whom I shall send you will deliver {you} up unto Councils, and in their Synagogues; they will scourge you, and to Presidents and Kings {you} will be led for my sake. He doth not say, you whom I send shall deliver the People, whom {you} ought to convert into Councils, and put them into Prisions, and lead them to Presidents {and} Tribunal Seats, and make their Religion Fellony and Treason. Again, ver. 12. When ye come into a House salute it, saying Peace be to this House. He doth not say you shall send {Persecutors} to ransack and spoil the House. Again John the 10. The good Shepherd he giveth his Life for the Sheep, the Thief cometh not but for to steal, kill and destroy. He doth not say {the} Thief giveth his Life for the Sheep, and the good Pastor he cometh not but for to steal and destroy.

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