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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  3 Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration In his letter on the subject, Locke maintains that toleration is the “chief characteristic mark of the true Church” and enjoins believers—whom Locke says are themselves usually sinners—to end the persecution of religious dissenters. 4 As crucial support for this position, Locke insists that Jesus required the apostles to promote salvation “not by force, but by love.” 5 Thus Locke, quoting from the New Testament, directs Christians to “depart from iniquity…[and]….when thou art converted, strengthen thy bretheren” with love and kindness. 6 This is Locke’s interpretation of Christian charity. Christians are to save the world armed only with gentle persuasion and acts of kindness. Yet Locke’s charity is decidedly un-Biblical. Before his arrest in the garden, Christ sees fit to arms his disciples with more conventional weapons. In Luke, to whom Locke directs the reader by quoting the passage cited above, Christ says to his disciples When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then He said unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. 7 Christ’s implication seems to be that after his death, his disciples will spread the gospel by force. Christ is even more explicit in Matthew, where he says “Think not that I come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.” 8 Moreover, Christ 4 John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, Ed. James H. Tully, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983) 23. 5 Letter 23 6 Letter 23. The first fragment is from II Timothy 2.19; the second is from Luke 22.32. 7 Luke 22.35-37. 8 Matthew 10.34. Locke ignores Christ’s less congenial announcement when he says of the persecutors: “If, like the Captain of our salvation, they sincerely desired the good of our souls, they would tread in the steps and follow the perfect example of that Prince of Peace, who sent out His soldiers to the subduing nations, and gathering them into His Church, not armed with the sword, or other instruments of force, but

Authors: Parsons, William.
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3
Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration
In his letter on the subject, Locke maintains that toleration is the “chief
characteristic mark of the true Church” and enjoins believers—whom Locke says are
themselves usually sinners—to end the persecution of religious dissenters.
4
As crucial
support for this position, Locke insists that Jesus required the apostles to promote
salvation “not by force, but by love.”
5
Thus Locke, quoting from the New Testament,
directs Christians to “depart from iniquity…[and]….when thou art converted, strengthen
thy bretheren” with love and kindness.
6
This is Locke’s interpretation of Christian
charity. Christians are to save the world armed only with gentle persuasion and acts of
kindness.
Yet Locke’s charity is decidedly un-Biblical. Before his arrest in the garden,
Christ sees fit to arms his disciples with more conventional weapons. In Luke, to whom
Locke directs the reader by quoting the passage cited above, Christ says to his disciples
When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked any thing?
And they said, Nothing. Then He said unto them, But now, he that hath a
purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let
him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is
written must be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the
transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.
7
Christ’s implication seems to be that after his death, his disciples will spread the
gospel by force. Christ is even more explicit in Matthew, where he says “Think not that I
come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.”
8
Moreover, Christ
4
John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, Ed. James H. Tully, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983) 23.
5
Letter 23
6
Letter 23. The first fragment is from II Timothy 2.19; the second is from Luke 22.32.
7
Luke 22.35-37.
8
Matthew 10.34. Locke ignores Christ’s less congenial announcement when he says of the persecutors:
“If, like the Captain of our salvation, they sincerely desired the good of our souls, they would tread in the
steps and follow the perfect example of that Prince of Peace, who sent out His soldiers to the subduing
nations, and gathering them into His Church, not armed with the sword, or other instruments of force, but


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