A Letter

Concernlng
To|eratlon
[obn Locke
translated by William Popple
1689
Honoured Sir,
Since you are pleased to inquire what are my thoughts about the mutual
toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must
needs answer you freely that I esteem that toleration to be the chief
characteristic mark of the true Church. For whatsoever some people
boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their
outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of
the orthodoxy of their faith—for everyone is orthodox to himself—these
things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striv-
ing for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ.
Let anyone have never so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be
destitute of charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all man-
kind, even to those that are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of
being a true Christian himself. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lead-
ership over them,” said our Saviour to his disciples, “but ye shall not be
so.”
1
The business of true religion is quite another thing. It is not insti-
tuted in order to the erecting of an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of
ecclesiastical dominion, nor to the exercising of compulsive force, but
to the regulating of men’s lives, according to the rules of virtue and
piety. Whosoever will list himself under the banner of Christ, must, in
the first place and above all things, make war upon his own lusts and
vices. It is in vain for any man to unsurp the name of Christian, without
holiness of life, purity of manners, benignity and meekness of spirit.
“Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity.”
2
“Thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” said our Lord
to Peter.
3
It would, indeed, be very hard for one that appears careless
about his own salvation to persuade me that he were extremely con-
cerned for mine. For it is impossible that those should sincerely and
4/John Locke
heartily apply themselves to make other people Christians, who have
not really embraced the Christian religion in their own hearts. If the
Gospel and the apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian
without charity and without that faith which works, not by force, but by
love. Now, I appeal to the consciences of those that persecute, torment,
destroy, and kill other men upon pretence of religion, whether they do it
out of friendship and kindness towards them or no? And I shall then
indeed, and not until then, believe they do so, when I shall see those fiery
zealots correcting, in the same manner, their friends and familiar ac-
quaintance for the manifest sins they commit against the precepts of the
Gospel; when I shall see them persecute with fire and sword the mem-
bers of their own communion that are tainted with enormous vices and
without amendment are in danger of eternal perdition; and when I shall
see them thus express their love and desire of the salvation of their souls
by the infliction of torments and exercise of all manner of cruelties. For
if it be out of a principle of charity, as they pretend, and love to men’s
souls that they deprive them of their estates, maim them with corporal
punishments, starve and torment them in noisome prisons, and in the
end even take away their lives—I say, if all this be done merely to make
men Christians and procure their salvation, why then do they suffer
whoredom, fraud, malice, and such-like enormities, which (according
to the apostle)
4
manifestly relish of heathenish corruption, to predomi-
nate so much and abound amongst their flocks and people? These, and
such-like things, are certainly more contrary to the glory of God, to the
purity of the Church, and to the salvation of souls, than any conscien-
tious dissent from ecclesiastical decisions, or separation from public
worship, whilst accompanied with innocence of life. Why, then, does
this burning zeal for God, for the Church, and for the salvation of souls—
burning I say, literally, with fire and faggot—pass by those moral vices
and wickednesses, without any chastisement, which are acknowledged
by all men to be diametrically opposite to the profession of Christianity,
and bend all its nerves either to the introducing of ceremonies, or to the
establishment of opinions, which for the most part are about nice and
intricate matters, that exceed the capacity of ordinary understandings?
Which of the parties contending about these things is in the right, which
of them is guilty of schism or heresy, whether those that domineer or
those that suffer, will then at last be manifest when the causes of their
separation comes to be judged of He, certainly, that follows Christ,
embraces His doctrine, and bears His yoke, though he forsake both fa-
First Letter Concerning Toleration/5
ther and mother, separate from the public assemblies and ceremonies of
his country, or whomsoever or whatsoever else he relinquishes, will not
then be judged a heretic.
Now, though the divisions that are amongst sects should be allowed
to be never so obstructive of the salvation of souls; yet, nevertheless,
adultery, fornication, uncleanliness, lasciviousness, idolatry, and such-
like things, cannot be denied to be works of the flesh, concerning which
the apostle has expressly declared that “they who do them shall not
inherit the kingdom of God.”
5
Whosoever, therefore, is sincerely solici-
tous about the kingdom of God and thinks it his duty to endeavour the
enlargement of it amongst men, ought to apply himself with no less care
and industry to the rooting out of these immoralities than to the extirpa-
tion of sects. But if anyone do otherwise, and whilst he is cruel and
implacable towards those that differ from him in opinion, he be indul-
gent to such iniquities and immoralities as are unbecoming the name of
a Christian, let such a one talk never so much of the Church, he plainly
demonstrates by his actions that it is another kingdom he aims at and
not the advancement of the kingdom of God.
That any man should think fit to cause another man—whose salva-
tion he heartily desires—to expire in torments, and that even in an un-
converted state, would, I confess, seem very strange to me, and I think,
to any other also. But nobody, surely, will ever believe that such a car-
riage can proceed from charity, love, or goodwill. If anyone maintain
that men ought to be compelled by fire and sword to profess certain
doctrines, and conform to this or that exterior worship, without any
regard had unto their morals; if anyone endeavour to convert those that
are erroneous unto the faith, by forcing them to profess things that they
do not believe and allowing them to practise things that the Gospel does
not permit, it cannot be doubted indeed but such a one is desirous to
have a numerous assembly joined in the same profession with himself;
but that he principally intends by those means to compose a truly Chris-
tian Church is altogether incredible. It is not, therefore, to be wondered
at if those who do not really contend for the advancement of the true
religion, and of the Church of Christ, make use of arms that do not
belong to the Christian warfare. If, like the Captain of our salvation,
they sincerely desired the good of 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 of nations, and gathering them into His Church,
not armed with the sword, or other instruments of force, but prepared
6/John Locke
with the Gospel of peace and with the exemplary holiness of their con-
versation. This was His method. Though if infidels were to be converted
by force, if those that are either blind or obstinate were to be drawn off
from their errors by armed soldiers, we know very well that it was much
more easy for Him to do it with armies of heavenly legions than for any
son of the Church, how potent soever, with all his dragoons.
The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion
is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason
of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to
perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light. I will not
here tax the pride and ambition of some, the passion and uncharitable
zeal of others. These are faults from which human affairs can perhaps
scarce ever be perfectly freed; but yet such as nobody will bear the plain
imputation of, without covering them with some specious colour; and so
pretend to commendation, whilst they are carried away by their own
irregular passions. But, however, that some may not colour their spirit
of persecution and unchristian cruelty with a pretence of care of the
public weal and observation of the laws; and that others, under pretence
of religion, may not seek impunity for their libertinism and licentious-
ness; in a word, that none may impose either upon himself or others, by
the pretences of loyalty and obedience to the prince, or of tenderness
and sincerity in the worship of God; I esteem it above all things neces-
sary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of
religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the
other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies
that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend
to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls,
and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.
The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted
only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil inter-
ests.
Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and
the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furni-
ture, and the like.
It is the duty of the civil magistrate, by the impartial execution of
equal laws, to secure unto all the people in general and to every one of
his subjects in particular the just possession of these things belonging to
this life. If anyone presume to violate the laws of public justice and
equity, established for the preservation of those things, his presumption
First Letter Concerning Toleration/7
is to be checked by the fear of punishment, consisting of the deprivation
or diminution of those civil interests, or goods, which otherwise he might
and ought to enjoy. But seeing no man does willingly suffer himself to
be punished by the deprivation of any part of his goods, and much less
of his liberty or life, therefore, is the magistrate armed with the force
and strength of all his subjects, in order to the punishment of those that
violate any other man’s rights.
Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to
these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is
bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and
that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salva-
tion of souls, these following considerations seem unto me abundantly
to demonstrate.
First, because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magis-
trate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by
God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority
to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can
any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people,
because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as
blindly to leave to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to
prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man
can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life
and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of
the mind; and faith is not faith without believing. Whatever profession
we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully
satisfied in our own mind that the one is true and the other well pleasing
unto God, such profession and such practice, far from being any fur-
therance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation. For in this manner,
instead of expiating other sins by the exercise of religion, I say, in offer-
ing thus unto God Almighty such a worship as we esteem to be displeas-
ing unto Him, we add unto the number of our other sins those also of
hypocrisy and contempt of His Divine Majesty.
In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil
magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true
and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, with-
out which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of
the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything
by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, noth-
ing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the
8/John Locke
inward judgement that they have framed of things.
It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of argu-
ments, and, thereby; draw the heterodox into the way of truth, and pro-
cure their salvation. I grant it; but this is common to him with other
men. In teaching, instructing, and redressing the erroneous by reason,
he may certainly do what becomes any good man to do. Magistracy
does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity; but it is
one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with
arguments, another with penalties. This civil power alone has a right to
do; to the other, goodwill is authority enough. Every man has commis-
sion to admonish, exhort, convince another of error, and, by reasoning,
to draw him into truth; but to give laws, receive obedience, and compel
with the sword, belongs to none but the magistrate. And, upon this ground,
I affirm that the magistrate’s power extends not to the establishing of
any articles of faith, or forms of worship, by the force of his laws. For
laws are of no force at all without penalties, and penalties in this case
are absolutely impertinent, because they are not proper to convince the
mind. Neither the profession of any articles of faith, nor the conformity
to any outward form of worship (as has been already said), can be avail-
able to the salvation of souls, unless the truth of the one and the
acceptableness of the other unto God be thoroughly believed by those
that so profess and practise. But penalties are no way capable to pro-
duce such belief. It is only light and evidence that can work a change in
men’s opinions; which light can in no manner proceed from corporal
sufferings, or any other outward penalties.
In the third place, the care of the salvation of men’s souls cannot
belong to the magistrate; because, though the rigour of laws and the
force of penalties were capable to convince and change men’s minds,
yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls. For there
being but one truth, one way to heaven, what hope is there that more
men would be led into it if they had no rule but the religion of the court
and were put under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason,
and oppose the dictates of their own consciences, and blindly to resign
themselves up to the will of their governors and to the religion which
either ignorance, ambition, or superstition had chanced to establish in
the countries where they were born? In the variety and contradiction of
opinions in religion, wherein the princes of the world are as much di-
vided as in their secular interests, the narrow way would be much strait-
ened; one country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the
First Letter Concerning Toleration/9
world put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that
lead to destruction; and that which heightens the absurdity, and very ill
suits the notion of a Deity, men would owe their eternal happiness or
misery to the places of their nativity.
These considerations, to omit many others that might have been
urged to the same purpose, seem unto me sufficient to conclude that all
the power of civil government relates only to men’s civil interests, is
confined to the care of the things of this world, and hath nothing to do
with the world to come.
Let us now consider what a church is. A church, then, I take to be a
voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own ac-
cord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they
judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls.
I say it is a free and voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of
any church; otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto chil-
dren by the same right of inheritance as their temporal estates, and ev-
eryone would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands, than
which nothing can be imagined more absurd. Thus, therefore, that mat-
ter stands. No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or
sect, but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he
believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly accept-
able to God. The hope of salvation, as it was the only cause of his
entrance into that communion, so it can be the only reason of his stay
there. For if afterwards he discover anything either erroneous in the
doctrine or incongruous in the worship of that society to which he has
joined himself, why should it not be as free for him to go out as it was to
enter? No member of a religious society can be tied with any other bonds
but what proceed from the certain expectation of eternal life. A church,
then, is a society of members voluntarily uniting to that end.
It follows now that we consider what is the power of this church and
unto what laws it is subject.
Forasmuch as no society, how free soever, or upon whatsoever slight
occasion instituted, whether of philosophers for learning, of merchants
for commerce, or of men of leisure for mutual conversation and dis-
course, no church or company, I say, can in the least subsist and hold
together, but will presently dissolve and break in pieces, unless it be
regulated by some laws, and the members all consent to observe some
order. Place and time of meeting must be agreed on; rules for admitting
and excluding members must be established; distinction of officers, and
10/John Locke
putting things into a regular course, and suchlike, cannot be omitted.
But since the joining together of several members into this church-soci-
ety, as has already been demonstrated, is absolutely free and spontane-
ous, it necessarily follows that the right of making its laws can belong to
none but the society itself; or, at least (which is the same thing), to those
whom the society by common consent has authorised thereunto.
Some, perhaps, may object that no such society can be said to be a
true church unless it have in it a bishop or presbyter, with ruling author-
ity derived from the very apostles, and continued down to the present
times by an uninterrupted succession.
To these I answer: In the first place, let them show me the edict by
which Christ has imposed that law upon His Church. And let not any
man think me impertinent, if in a thing of this consequence I require that
the terms of that edict be very express and positive; for the promise He
has made us,
6
that “wheresoever two or three are gathered together” in
His name, He will be in the midst of them, seems to imply the contrary.
Whether such an assembly want anything necessary to a true church,
pray do you consider. Certain I am that nothing can be there wanting
unto the salvation of souls, which is sufficient to our purpose.
Next, pray observe how great have always been the divisions amongst
even those who lay so much stress upon the Divine institution and con-
tinued succession of a certain order of rulers in the Church. Now, their
very dissension unavoidably puts us upon a necessity of deliberating
and, consequently, allows a liberty of choosing that which upon consid-
eration we prefer.
And, in the last place, I consent that these men have a ruler in their
church, established by such a long series of succession as they judge
necessary, provided I may have liberty at the same time to join myself to
that society in which I am persuaded those things are to be found which
are necessary to the salvation of my soul. In this manner ecclesiastical
liberty will be preserved on all sides, and no man will have a legislator
imposed upon him but whom himself has chosen.
But since men are so solicitous about the true church, I would only
ask them here, by the way, if it be not more agreeable to the Church of
Christ to make the conditions of her communion consist in such things,
and such things only, as the Holy Spirit has in the Holy Scriptures de-
clared, in express words, to be necessary to salvation; I ask, I say, whether
this be not more agreeable to the Church of Christ than for men to
impose their own inventions and interpretations upon others as if they
First Letter Concerning Toleration/11
were of Divine authority, and to establish by ecclesiastical laws, as ab-
solutely necessary to the profession of Christianity, such things as the
Holy Scriptures do either not mention, or at least not expressly com-
mand? Whosoever requires those things in order to ecclesiastical com-
munion, which Christ does not require in order to life eternal, he may,
perhaps, indeed constitute a society accommodated to his own opinion
and his own advantage; but how that can be called the Church of Christ
which is established upon laws that are not His, and which excludes
such persons from its communion as He will one day receive into the
Kingdom of Heaven, I understand not. But this being not a proper place
to inquire into the marks of the true church, I will only mind those that
contend so earnestly for the decrees of their own society, and that cry
out continually, “The Church! the Church!” with as much noise, and
perhaps upon the same principle, as the Ephesian silversmiths did for
their Diana; this, I say, I desire to mind them of, that the Gospel fre-
quently declares that the true disciples of Christ must suffer persecu-
tion; but that the Church of Christ should persecute others, and force
others by fire and sword to embrace her faith and doctrine, I could never
yet find in any of the books of the New Testament.
The end of a religious society (as has already been said) is the pub-
lic worship of God and, by means thereof, the acquisition of eternal life.
All discipline ought, therefore, to tend to that end, and all ecclesiastical
laws to be thereunto confined. Nothing ought nor can be transacted in
this society relating to the possession of civil and worldly goods. No
force is here to be made use of upon any occasion whatsoever. For force
belongs wholly to the civil magistrate, and the possession of all outward
goods is subject to his jurisdiction.
But, it may be asked, by what means then shall ecclesiastical laws
be established, if they must be thus destitute of all compulsive power? I
answer: They must be established by means suitable to the nature of
such things, whereof the external profession and observation—if not
proceeding from a thorough conviction and approbation of the mind—
is altogether useless and unprofitable. The arms by which the members
of this society are to be kept within their duty are exhortations, admoni-
tions, and advices. If by these means the offenders will not be reclaimed,
and the erroneous convinced, there remains nothing further to be done
but that such stubborn and obstinate persons, who give no ground to
hope for their reformation, should be cast out and separated from the
society. This is the last and utmost force of ecclesiastical authority. No
12/John Locke
other punishment can thereby be inflicted than that, the relation ceasing
between the body and the member which is cut off. The person so con-
demned ceases to be a part of that church.
These things being thus determined, let us inquire, in the next place:
How far the duty of toleration extends, and what is required from every-
one by it?
And, first, I hold that no church is bound, by the duty of toleration,
to retain any such person in her bosom as, after admonition, continues
obstinately to offend against the laws of the society. For, these being the
condition of communion and the bond of the society, if the breach of
them were permitted without any animadversion the society would im-
mediately be thereby dissolved. But, nevertheless, in all such cases care
is to be taken that the sentence of excommunication, and the execution
thereof, carry with it no rough usage of word or action whereby the
ejected person may any wise be damnified in body or estate. For all
force (as has often been said) belongs only to the magistrate, nor ought
any private persons at any time to use force, unless it be in self-defence
against unjust violence. Excommunication neither does, nor can, de-
prive the excommunicated person of any of those civil goods that he
formerly possessed. All those things belong to the civil government and
are under the magistrate’s protection. The whole force of excommuni-
cation consists only in this: that, the resolution of the society in that
respect being declared, the union that was between the body and some
member comes thereby to be dissolved; and, that relation ceasing, the
participation of some certain things which the society communicated to
its members, and unto which no man has any civil right, comes also to
cease. For there is no civil injury done unto the excommunicated person
by the church minister’s refusing him that bread and wine, in the cel-
ebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was not bought with his but other
men’s money.
Secondly, no private person has any right in any manner to preju-
dice another person in his civil enjoyments because he is of another
church or religion. All the rights and franchises that belong to him as a
man, or as a denizen, are inviolably to be preserved to him. These are
not the business of religion. No violence nor injury is to be offered him,
whether he be Christian or Pagan. Nay, we must not content ourselves
with the narrow measures of bare justice; charity, bounty, and liberality
must be added to it. This the Gospel enjoins, this reason directs, and this
that natural fellowship we are born into requires of us. If any man err
First Letter Concerning Toleration/13
from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee; nor there-
fore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposest
he will be miserable in that which is to come.
What I say concerning the mutual toleration of private persons dif-
fering from one another in religion, I understand also of particular
churches which stand, as it were, in the same relation to each other as
private persons among themselves: nor has any one of them any manner
of jurisdiction over any other; no, not even when the civil magistrate (as
it sometimes happens) comes to be of this or the other communion. For
the civil government can give no new right to the church, nor the church
to the civil government. So that, whether the magistrate join himself to
any church, or separate from it, the church remains always as it was
before—a free and voluntary society. It neither requires the power of
the sword by the magistrate’s coming to it, nor does it lose the right of
instruction and excommunication by his going from it. This is the fun-
damental and immutable right of a spontaneous society—that it has
power to remove any of its members who transgress the rules of its
institution; but it cannot, by the accession of any new members, acquire
any right of jurisdiction over those that are not joined with it. And there-
fore peace, equity, and friendship are always mutually to be observed
by particular churches, in the same manner as by private persons, with-
out any pretence of superiority or jurisdiction over one another.
That the thing may be made clearer by an example, let us suppose
two churches—the one of Arminians, the other of Calvinists—residing
in the city of Constantinople. Will anyone say that either of these churches
has right to deprive the members of the other of their estates and liberty
(as we see practised elsewhere) because of their differing from it in
some doctrines and ceremonies, whilst the Turks, in the meanwhile, si-
lently stand by and laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians
thus rage against Christians? But if one of these churches hath this power
of treating the other ill, I ask which of them it is to whom that power
belongs, and by what right? It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is
the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous
or heretical. This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at
all. For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or hereti-
cal. For whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true and the
contrary unto those things it pronounce; to be error. So that the contro-
versy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the
purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge,
14/John Locke
either at Constantinople or elsewhere upon earth, by whose sentence it
can be determined. The decision of that question belongs only to the
Supreme judge of all men, to whom also alone belongs the punishment
of the erroneous. In the meanwhile, let those men consider how hei-
nously they sin, who, adding injustice, if not to their error, yet certainly
to their pride, do rashly and arrogantly take upon them to misuse the
servants of another master, who are not at all accountable to them.
Nay, further: if it could be manifest which of these two dissenting
churches were in the right, there would not accrue thereby unto the
orthodox any right of destroying the other. For churches have neither
any jurisdiction in worldly matters, nor are fire and sword any proper
instruments wherewith to convince men’s minds of error, and inform
them of the truth. Let us suppose, nevertheless, that the civil magistrate
inclined to favour one of them and to put his sword into their hands that
(by his consent) they might chastise the dissenters as they pleased. Will
any man say that any right can be derived unto a Christian church over
its brethren from a Turkish emperor? An infidel, who has himself no
authority to punish Christians for the articles of their faith, cannot con-
fer such an authority upon any society of Christians, nor give unto them
a right which he has not himself. This would be the case at Constantinople;
and the reason of the thing is the same in any Christian kingdom. The
civil power is the same in every place. Nor can that power, in the hands
of a Christian prince, confer any greater authority upon the Church than
in the hands of a heathen; which is to say, just none at all.
Nevertheless, it is worthy to be observed and lamented that the most
violent of these defenders of the truth, the opposers of errors, the ex-
claimers against schism do hardly ever let loose this their zeal for God,
with which they are so warmed and inflamed, unless where they have
the civil magistrate on their side. But so soon as ever court favour has
given them the better end of the staff, and they begin to feel themselves
the stronger, then presently peace and charity are to be laid aside. Oth-
erwise they are religiously to be observed. Where they have not the
power to carry on persecution and to become masters, there they desire
to live upon fair terms and preach up toleration. When they are not
strengthened with the civil power, then they can bear most patiently and
unmovedly the contagion of idolatry, superstition, and heresy in their
neighbourhood; of which on other occasions the interest of religion makes
them to be extremely apprehensive. They do not forwardly attack those
errors which are in fashion at court or are countenanced by the govern-
First Letter Concerning Toleration/15
ment. Here they can be content to spare their arguments; which yet (with
their leave) is the only right method of propagating truth, which has no
such way of prevailing as when strong arguments and good reason are
joined with the softness of civility and good usage.
Nobody, therefore, in fine, neither single persons nor churches, nay,
nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights
and worldly goods of each other upon pretence of religion. Those that
are of another opinion would do well to consider with themselves how
pernicious a seed of discord and war, how powerful a provocation to
endless hatreds, rapines, and slaughters they thereby furnish unto man-
kind. No peace and security, no, not so much as common friendship, can
ever be established or preserved amongst men so long as this opinion
prevails, that dominion is founded in grace and that religion is to be
propagated by force of arms.
In the third place, let us see what the duty of toleration requires
from those who are distinguished from the rest of mankind (from the
laity, as they please to call us) by some ecclesiastical character and
office; whether they be bishops, priests, presbyters, ministers, or how-
ever else dignified or distinguished. It is not my business to inquire here
into the original of the power or dignity of the clergy. This only I say,
that, whencesoever their authority be sprung, since it is ecclesiastical, it
ought to be confined within the bounds of the Church, nor can it in any
manner be extended to civil affairs, because the Church itself is a thing
absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The bound-
aries on both sides are fixed and immovable. He jumbles heaven and
earth together, the things most remote and opposite, who mixes these
two societies, which are in their original, end, business, and in every-
thing perfectly distinct and infinitely different from each other. No man,
therefore, with whatsoever ecclesiastical office he be dignified, can de-
prive another man that is not of his church and faith either of liberty or
of any part of his worldly goods upon the account of that difference
between them in religion. For whatsoever is not lawful to the whole
Church cannot by any ecclesiastical right become lawful to any of its
members.
But this is not all. It is not enough that ecclesiastical men abstain
from violence and rapine and all manner of persecution. He that pre-
tends to be a successor of the apostles, and takes upon him the office of
teaching, is obliged also to admonish his hearers of the duties of peace
and goodwill towards all men, as well towards the erroneous as the
16/John Locke
orthodox; towards those that differ from them in faith and worship as
well as towards those that agree with them therein. And he ought indus-
triously to exhort all men, whether private persons or magistrates (if
any such there be in his church), to charity, meekness, and toleration,
and diligently endeavour to ally and temper all that heat and unreason-
able averseness of mind which either any man’s fiery zeal for his own
sect or the craft of others has kindled against dissenters. I will not un-
dertake to represent how happy and how great would be the fruit, both
in Church and State, if the pulpits everywhere sounded with this doc-
trine of peace and toleration, lest I should seem to reflect too severely
upon those men whose dignity I desire not to detract from, nor would
have it diminished either by others or themselves. But this I say, that
thus it ought to be. And if anyone that professes himself to be a minister
of the Word of God, a preacher of the gospel of peace, teach otherwise,
he either understands not or neglects the business of his calling and shall
one day give account thereof unto the Prince of Peace. If Christians are
to be admonished that they abstain from all manner of revenge, even
after repeated provocations and multiplied injuries, how much more ought
they who suffer nothing, who have had no harm done them, forbear
violence and abstain from all manner of ill-usage towards those from
whom they have received none! This caution and temper they ought
certainly to use towards those. who mind only their own business and
are solicitous for nothing but that (whatever men think of them) they
may worship God in that manner which they are persuaded is accept-
able to Him and in which they have the strongest hopes of eternal salva-
tion. In private domestic affairs, in the management of estates, in the
conservation of bodily health, every man may consider what suits his
own convenience and follow what course he likes best. No man com-
plains of the ill-management of his neighbour’s affairs. No man is angry
with another for an error committed in sowing his land or in marrying
his daughter. Nobody corrects a spendthrift for consuming his substance
in taverns. Let any man pull down, or build, or make whatsoever ex-
penses he pleases, nobody murmurs, nobody controls him; he has his
liberty. But if any man do not frequent the church, if he do not there
conform his behaviour exactly to the accustomed ceremonies, or if he
brings not his children to be initiated in the sacred mysteries of this or
the other congregation, this immediately causes an uproar. The
neighbourhood is filled with noise and clamour. Everyone is ready to be
the avenger of so great a crime, and the zealots hardly have the patience
First Letter Concerning Toleration/17
to refrain from violence and rapine so long till the cause be heard and
the poor man be, according to form, condemned to the loss of liberty,
goods, or life. Oh, that our ecclesiastical orators of every sect would
apply themselves with all the strength of arguments that they are able to
the confounding of men’s errors! But let them spare their persons. Let
them not supply their want of reasons with the instruments of force,
which belong to another jurisdiction and do ill become a Churchman’s
hands. Let them not call in the magistrate’s authority to the aid of their
eloquence or learning, lest perhaps, whilst they pretend only love for the
truth, this their intemperate zeal, breathing nothing but fire and sword,
betray their ambition and show that what they desire is temporal domin-
ion. For it will be very difficult to persuade men of sense that he who
with dry eyes and satisfaction of mind can deliver his brother to the
executioner to be burnt alive, does sincerely and heartily concern him-
self to save that brother from the flames of hell in the world to come.
In the last place, let us now consider what is the magistrate’s duty in
the business of toleration, which certainly is very considerable.
We have already proved that the care of souls does not belong to the
magistrate. Not a magisterial care, I mean (if I may so call it), which
consists in prescribing by laws and compelling by punishments. But a
charitable care, which consists in teaching, admonishing, and persuad-
ing, cannot be denied unto any man. The care, therefore, of every man’s
soul belongs unto himself and is to be left unto himself. But what if he
neglect the care of his soul? I answer: What if he neglect the care of his
health or of his estate, which things are nearlier related to the govern-
ment of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an
express law that such a one shall not become poor or sick? Laws pro-
vide, as much as is possible, that the goods and health of subjects be not
injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from
the negligence or ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves. No man
can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no. Nay, God
Himself will not save men against their wills. Let us suppose, however,
that some prince were desirous to force his subjects to accumulate riches,
or to preserve the health and strength of their bodies. Shall it be pro-
vided by law that they must consult none but Roman physicians, and
shall everyone be bound to live according to their prescriptions? What,
shall no potion, no broth, be taken, but what is prepared either in the
Vatican, suppose, or in a Geneva shop? Or, to make these subjects rich,
shall they all be obliged by law to become merchants or musicians? Or,
18/John Locke
shall everyone turn victualler, or smith, because there are some that
maintain their families plentifully and grow rich in those professions?
But, it may be said, there are a thousand ways to wealth, but one only
way to heaven. It is well said, indeed, especially by those that plead for
compelling men into this or the other way. For if there were several
ways that led thither, there would not be so much as a pretence left for
compulsion. But now, if I be marching on with my utmost vigour in that
way which, according to the sacred geography, leads straight to Jerusa-
lem, why am I beaten and ill-used by others because, perhaps, I wear
not buskins; because my hair is not of the right cut; because, perhaps, I
have not been dipped in the right fashion; because I eat flesh upon the
road, or some other food which agrees with my stomach; because I
avoid certain by-ways, which seem unto me to lead into briars or preci-
pices; because, amongst the several paths that are in the same road, I
choose that to walk in which seems to be the straightest and cleanest;
because I avoid to keep company with some travellers that are less grave
and others that are more sour than they ought to be; or, in fine, because
I follow a guide that either is, or is not, clothed in white, or crowned
with a mitre? Certainly, if we consider right, we shall find that, for the
most part, they are such frivolous things as these that (without any preju-
dice to religion or the salvation of souls, if not accompanied with super-
stition or hypocrisy) might either be observed or omitted. I say they are
such-like things as these which breed implacable enmities amongst Chris-
tian brethren, who are all agreed in the substantial and truly fundamen-
tal part of religion.
But let us grant unto these zealots, who condemn all things that are
not of their mode, that from these circumstances are different ends. What
shall we conclude from thence? There is only one of these which is the
true way to eternal happiness: but in this great variety of ways that men
follow, it is still doubted which is the right one. Now, neither the care of
the commonwealth, nor the right enacting of laws, does discover this
way that leads to heaven more certainly to the magistrate than every
private man’s search and study discovers it unto himself. I have a weak
body, sunk under a languishing disease, for which (I suppose) there is
one only remedy, but that unknown. Does it therefore belong unto the
magistrate to prescribe me a remedy, because there is but one, and be-
cause it is unknown? Because there is but one way for me to escape
death, will it therefore be safe for me to do whatsoever the magistrate
ordains? Those things that every man ought sincerely to inquire into
First Letter Concerning Toleration/19
himself, and by meditation, study, search, and his own endeavours, at-
tain the knowledge of, cannot be looked upon as the peculiar possession
of any sort of men. Princes, indeed, are born superior unto other men in
power, but in nature equal. Neither the right nor the art of ruling does
necessarily carry along with it the certain knowledge of other things,
and least of all of true religion. For if it were so, how could it come to
pass that the lords of the earth should differ so vastly as they do in
religious matters? But let us grant that it is probable the way to eternal
life may be better known by a prince than by his subjects, or at least that
in this incertitude of things the safest and most commodious way for
private persons is to follow his dictates. You will say: “What then?” If
he should bid you follow merchandise for your livelihood, would you
decline that course for fear it should not succeed? I answer: I would turn
merchant upon the prince’s command, because, in case I should have
ill-success in trade, he is abundantly able to make up my loss some
other way. If it be true, as he pretends, that he desires I should thrive and
grow rich, he can set me up again when unsuccessful voyages have
broken me. But this is not the case in the things that regard the life to
come; if there I take a wrong course, if in that respect I am once undone,
it is not in the magistrate’s power to repair my loss, to ease my suffer-
ing, nor to restore me in any measure, much less entirely, to a good
estate. What security can be given for the Kingdom of Heaven?
Perhaps some will say that they do not suppose this infallible judge-
ment, that all men are bound to follow in the affairs of religion, to be in
the civil magistrate, but in the Church. What the Church has deter-
mined, that the civil magistrate orders to be observed; and he provides
by his authority that nobody shall either act or believe in the business of
religion otherwise than the Church teaches. So that the judgement of
those things is in the Church; the magistrate himself yields obedience
thereunto and requires the like obedience from others. I answer: Who
sees not how frequently the name of the Church, which was venerable in
time of the apostles, has been made use of to throw dust in the people’s
eyes in the following ages? But, however, in the present case it helps us
not. The one only narrow way which leads to heaven is not better known
to the magistrate than to private persons, and therefore I cannot safely
take him for my guide, who may probably be as ignorant of the way as
myself, and who certainly is less concerned for my salvation than I
myself am. Amongst so many kings of the Jews, how many of them
were there whom any Israelite, thus blindly following, had not fallen
20/John Locke
into idolatry and thereby into destruction? Yet, nevertheless, you bid me
be of good courage and tell me that all is now safe and secure, because
the magistrate does not now enjoin the observance of his own decrees in
matters of religion, but only the decrees of the Church. Of what Church,
I beseech you? of that, certainly, which likes him best. As if he that
compels me by laws and penalties to enter into this or the other Church,
did not interpose his own judgement in the matter. What difference is
there whether he lead me himself, or deliver me over to be led by others?
I depend both ways upon his will, and it is he that determines both ways
of my eternal state. Would an Israelite that had worshipped Baal upon
the command of his king have been in any better condition because
somebody had told him that the king ordered nothing in religion upon
his own head, nor commanded anything to be done by his subjects in
divine worship but what was approved by the counsel of priests, and
declared to be of divine right by the doctors of their Church? If the
religion of any Church become, therefore, true and saving, because the
head of that sect, the prelates and priests, and those of that tribe, do all
of them, with all their might, extol and praise it, what religion can ever
be accounted erroneous, false, and destructive? I am doubtful concern-
ing the doctrine of the Socinians, I am suspicious of the way of worship
practised by the Papists, or Lutherans; will it be ever a jot safer for me
to join either unto the one or the other of those Churches, upon the
magistrate’s command, because he commands nothing in religion but by
the authority and counsel of the doctors of that Church?
But, to speak the truth, we must acknowledge that the Church (if a
convention of clergymen, making canons, must be called by that name)
is for the most part more apt to be influenced by the Court than the
Court by the Church. How the Church was under the vicissitude of
orthodox and Arian emperors is very well known. Or if those things be
too remote, our modern English history affords us fresh examples in the
reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, how easily and
smoothly the clergy changed their decrees, their articles of faith, their
form of worship, everything according to the inclination of those kings
and queens. Yet were those kings and queens of such different minds in
point of religion, and enjoined thereupon such different things, that no
man in his wits (I had almost said none but an atheist) will presume to
say that any sincere and upright worshipper of God could, with a safe
conscience, obey their several decrees. To conclude, it is the same thing
whether a king that prescribes laws to another man’s religion pretend to
First Letter Concerning Toleration/21
do it by his own judgement, or by the ecclesiastical authority and advice
of others. The decisions of churchmen, whose differences and disputes
are sufficiently known, cannot be any sounder or safer than his; nor can
all their suffrages joined together add a new strength to the civil power.
Though this also must be taken notice of—that princes seldom have any
regard to the suffrages of ecclesiastics that are not favourers of their
own faith and way of worship.
But, after all, the principal consideration, and which absolutely de-
termines this controversy, is this: Although the magistrate’s opinion in
religion be sound, and the way that he appoints be truly Evangelical,
yet, if I be not thoroughly persuaded thereof in my own mind, there will
be no safety for me in following it. No way whatsoever that I shall walk
in against the dictates of my conscience will ever bring me to the man-
sions of the blessed. I may grow rich by an art that I take not delight in;
I may be cured of some disease by remedies that I have not faith in; but
I cannot be saved by a religion that I distrust and by a worship that I
abhor. It is in vain for an unbeliever to take up the outward show of
another man’s profession. Faith only and inward sincerity are the things
that procure acceptance with God. The most likely and most approved
remedy can have no effect upon the patient, if his stomach reject it as
soon as taken; and you will in vain cram a medicine down a sick man’s
throat, which his particular constitution will be sure to turn into poison.
In a word, whatsoever may be doubtful in religion, yet this at least is
certain, that no religion which I believe not to be true can be either true
or profitable unto me. In vain, therefore, do princes compel their sub-
jects to come into their Church communion, under pretence of saving
their souls. If they believe, they will come of their own accord, if they
believe not, their coming will nothing avail them. How great soever, in
fine, may be the pretence of good-will and charity, and concern for the
salvation of men’s souls, men cannot be forced to be saved whether they
will or no. And therefore, when all is done, they must be left to their own
consciences.
Having thus at length freed men from all dominion over one another
in matters of religion, let us now consider what they are to do. All men
know and acknowledge that God ought to be publicly worshipped; why
otherwise do they compel one another unto the public assemblies? Men,
therefore, constituted in this liberty are to enter into some religious soci-
ety, that they meet together, not only for mutual edification, but to own
to the world that they worship God and offer unto His Divine Majesty
22/John Locke
such service as they themselves are not ashamed of and such as they
think not unworthy of Him, nor unacceptable to Him; and, finally, that
by the purity of doctrine, holiness of life, and decent form of worship,
they may draw others unto the love of the true religion, and perform
such other things in religion as cannot be done by each private man
apart.
These religious societies I call Churches; and these, I say, the mag-
istrate ought to tolerate, for the business of these assemblies of the people
is nothing but what is lawful for every man in particular to take care
of—I mean the salvation of their souls; nor in this case is there any
difference between the National Church and other separated congrega-
tions.
But as in every Church there are two things especially to be consid-
ered—the outward form and rites of worship, and the doctrines and
articles of things must be handled each distinctly that so the whole mat-
ter of toleration may the more clearly be understood.
Concerning outward worship, I say, in the first place, that the mag-
istrate has no power to enforce by law, either in his own Church, or
much less in another, the use of any rites or ceremonies whatsoever in
the worship of God. And this, not only because these Churches are free
societies, but because whatsoever is practised in the worship of God is
only so far justifiable as it is believed by those that practise it to be
acceptable unto Him. Whatsoever is not done with that assurance of
faith is neither well in itself, nor can it be acceptable to God. To impose
such things, therefore, upon any people, contrary to their own judg-
ment, is in effect to command them to offend God, which, considering
that the end of all religion is to please Him, and that liberty is essentially
necessary to that end, appears to be absurd beyond expression.
But perhaps it may be concluded from hence that I deny unto the
magistrate all manner of power about indifferent things, which, if it be
not granted, the whole subject-matter of law-making is taken away. No,
I readily grant that indifferent things, and perhaps none but such, are
subjected to the legislative power. But it does not therefore follow that
the magistrate may ordain whatsoever he pleases concerning anything
that is indifferent. The public good is the rule and measure of all law-
making. If a thing be not useful to the commonwealth, though it be
never so indifferent, it may not presently be established by law.
And further, things never so indifferent in their own nature, when
they are brought into the Church and worship of God, are removed out
First Letter Concerning Toleration/23
of the reach of the magistrate’s jurisdiction, because in that use they
have no connection at all with civil affairs. The only business of the
Church is the salvation of souls, and it no way concerns the common-
wealth, or any member of it, that this or the other ceremony be there
made use of. Neither the use nor the omission of any ceremonies in those
religious assemblies does either advantage or prejudice the life, liberty,
or estate of any man. For example, let it be granted that the washing of
an infant with water is in itself an indifferent thing, let it be granted also
that the magistrate understand such washing to be profitable to the cur-
ing or preventing of any disease the children are subject unto, and es-
teem the matter weighty enough to be taken care of by a law. In that case
he may order it to be done. But will any one therefore say that a magis-
trate has the same right to ordain by law that all children shall be baptised
by priests in the sacred font in order to the purification of their souls?
The extreme difference of these two cases is visible to every one at first
sight. Or let us apply the last case to the child of a Jew, and the thing
speaks itself. For what hinders but a Christian magistrate may have
subjects that are Jews? Now, if we acknowledge that such an injury may
not be done unto a Jew as to compel him, against his own opinion, to
practise in his religion a thing that is in its nature indifferent, how can
we maintain that anything of this kind may be done to a Christian?
Again, things in their own nature indifferent cannot, by any human
authority, be made any part of the worship of God—for this very rea-
son: because they are indifferent. For, since indifferent things are not
capable, by any virtue of their own, to propitiate the Deity, no human
power or authority can confer on them so much dignity and excellency
as to enable them to do it. In the common affairs of life that use of
indifferent things which God has not forbidden is free and lawful, and
therefore in those things human authority has place. But it is not so in
matters of religion. Things indifferent are not otherwise lawful in the
worship of God than as they are instituted by God Himself and as He,
by some positive command, has ordained them to be made a part of that
worship which He will vouchsafe to accept at the hands of poor sinful
men. Nor, when an incensed Deity shall ask us, “Who has required
these, or such-like things at your hands?” will it be enough to answer
Him that the magistrate commanded them. If civil jurisdiction extend
thus far, what might not lawfully be introduced into religion? What
hodgepodge of ceremonies, what superstitious inventions, built upon
the magistrate’s authority, might not (against conscience) be imposed
24/John Locke
upon the worshippers of God? For the greatest part of these ceremonies
and superstitions consists in the religious use of such things as are in
their own nature indifferent; nor are they sinful upon any other account
than because God is not the author of them. The sprinkling of water and
the use of bread and wine are both in their own nature and in the ordi-
nary occasions of life altogether indifferent. Will any man, therefore,
say that these things could have been introduced into religion and made
a part of divine worship if not by divine institution? If any human au-
thority or civil power could have done this, why might it not also enjoin
the eating of fish and drinking of ale in the holy banquet as a part of
divine worship? Why not the sprinkling of the blood of beasts in churches,
and expiations by water or fire, and abundance more of this kind? But
these things, how indifferent soever they be in common uses, when they
come to be annexed unto divine worship, without divine authority, they
are as abominable to God as the sacrifice of a dog. And why is a dog so
abominable? What difference is there between a dog and a goat, in re-
spect of the divine nature, equally and infinitely distant from all affinity
with matter, unless it be that God required the use of one in His worship
and not of the other? We see, therefore, that indifferent things, how
much soever they be under the power of the civil magistrate, yet cannot,
upon that pretence, be introduced into religion and imposed upon reli-
gious assemblies, because, in the worship of God, they wholly cease to
be indifferent. He that worships God does it with design to please Him
and procure His favour. But that cannot be done by him who, upon the
command of another, offers unto God that which he knows will be dis-
pleasing to Him, because not commanded by Himself. This is not to
please God, or appease his wrath, but willingly and knowingly to pro-
voke Him by a manifest contempt, which is a thing absolutely repug-
nant to the nature and end of worship.
But it will be here asked: “If nothing belonging to divine worship be
left to human discretion, how is it then that Churches themselves have
the power of ordering anything about the time and place of worship and
the like?” To this I answer that in religious worship we must distinguish
between what is part of the worship itself and what is but a circum-
stance. That is a part of the worship which is believed to be appointed
by God and to be well-pleasing to Him, and therefore that is necessary.
Circumstances are such things which, though in general they cannot be
separated from worship, yet the particular instances or modifications of
them are not determined, and therefore they are indifferent. Of this sort
First Letter Concerning Toleration/25
are the time and place of worship, habit and posture of him that wor-
ships. These are circumstances, and perfectly indifferent, where God
has not given any express command about them. For example: amongst
the Jews the time and place of their worship and the habits of those that
officiated in it were not mere circumstances, but a part of the worship
itself, in which, if anything were defective, or different from the institu-
tion, they could not hope that it would be accepted by God. But these, to
Christians under the liberty of the Gospel, are mere circumstances of
worship, which the prudence of every Church may bring into such use
as shall be judged most subservient to the end of order, decency, and
edification. But, even under the Gospel, those who believe the first or
the seventh day to be set apart by God, and consecrated still to His
worship, to them that portion of time is not a simple circumstance, but a
real part of Divine worship, which can neither be changed nor neglected.
In the next place: As the magistrate has no power to impose by his
laws the use of any rites and ceremonies in any Church, so neither has
he any power to forbid the use of such rites and ceremonies as are al-
ready received, approved, and practised by any Church; because, if he
did so, he would destroy the Church itself: the end of whose institution
is only to worship God with freedom after its own manner.
You will say, by this rule, if some congregations should have a mind
to sacrifice infants, or (as the primitive Christians were falsely accused)
lustfully pollute themselves in promiscuous uncleanness, or practise any
other such heinous enormities, is the magistrate obliged to tolerate them,
because they are committed in a religious assembly? I answer: No. These
things are not lawful in the ordinary course of life, nor in any private
house; and therefore neither are they so in the worship of God, or in any
religious meeting. But, indeed, if any people congregated upon account
of religion should be desirous to sacrifice a calf, I deny that that ought
to be prohibited by a law. Meliboeus, whose calf it is, may lawfully kill
his calf at home, and burn any part of it that he thinks fit. For no injury
is thereby done to any one, no prejudice to another man’s goods. And
for the same reason he may kill his calf also in a religious meeting.
Whether the doing so be well-pleasing to God or no, it is their part to
consider that do it. The part of the magistrate is only to take care that
the commonwealth receive no prejudice, and that there be no injury done
to any man, either in life or estate. And thus what may be spent on a
feast may be spent on a sacrifice. But if peradventure such were the
state of things that the interest of the commonwealth required all slaughter
26/John Locke
of beasts should be forborne for some while, in order to the increasing
of the stock of cattle that had been destroyed by some extraordinary
murrain, who sees not that the magistrate, in such a case, may forbid all
his subjects to kill any calves for any use whatsoever? Only it is to be
observed that, in this case, the law is not made about a religious, but a
political matter; nor is the sacrifice, but the slaughter of calves, thereby
prohibited.
By this we see what difference there is between the Church and the
Commonwealth. Whatsoever is lawful in the Commonwealth cannot be
prohibited by the magistrate in the Church. Whatsoever is permitted
unto any of his subjects for their ordinary use, neither can nor ought to
be forbidden by him to any sect of people for their religious uses. If any
man may lawfully take bread or wine, either sitting or kneeling in his
own house, the law ought not to abridge him of the same liberty in his
religious worship; though in the Church the use of bread and wine be
very different and be there applied to the mysteries of faith and rites of
Divine worship. But those things that are prejudicial to the commonweal
of a people in their ordinary use and are, therefore, forbidden by laws,
those things ought not to be permitted to Churches in their sacred rites.
Only the magistrate ought always to be very careful that he do not mis-
use his authority to the oppression of any Church, under pretence of
public good.
It may be said: “What if a Church be idolatrous, is that also to be
tolerated by the magistrate?” I answer: What power can be given to the
magistrate for the suppression of an idolatrous Church, which may not
in time and place be made use of to the ruin of an orthodox one? For it
must be remembered that the civil power is the same everywhere, and
the religion of every prince is orthodox to himself. If, therefore, such a
power be granted unto the civil magistrate in spirituals as that at Geneva,
for example, he may extirpate, by violence and blood, the religion which
is there reputed idolatrous, by the same rule another magistrate, in some
neighbouring country, may oppress the reformed religion and, in India,
the Christian. The civil power can either change everything in religion,
according to the prince’s pleasure, or it can change nothing. If it be once
permitted to introduce anything into religion by the means of laws and
penalties, there can be no bounds put to it; but it will in the same manner
be lawful to alter everything, according to that rule of truth which the
magistrate has framed unto himself. No man whatsoever ought, there-
fore, to be deprived of his terrestrial enjoyments upon account of his
First Letter Concerning Toleration/27
religion. Not even Americans, subjected unto a Christian prince, are to
be punished either in body or goods for not embracing our faith and
worship. If they are persuaded that they please God in observing the
rites of their own country and that they shall obtain happiness by that
means, they are to be left unto God and themselves. Let us trace this
matter to the bottom. Thus it is: An inconsiderable and weak number of
Christians, destitute of everything, arrive in a Pagan country; these for-
eigners beseech the inhabitants, by the bowels of humanity, that they
would succour them with the necessaries of life; those necessaries are
given them, habitations are granted, and they all join together, and grow
up into one body of people. The Christian religion by this means takes
root in that country and spreads itself, but does not suddenly grow the
strongest. While things are in this condition peace, friendship, faith, and
equal justice are preserved amongst them. At length the magistrate be-
comes a Christian, and by that means their party becomes the most
powerful. Then immediately all compacts are to be broken, all civil
rights to be violated, that idolatry may be extirpated; and unless these
innocent Pagans, strict observers of the rules of equity and the law of
Nature and no ways offending against the laws of the society, I say,
unless they will forsake their ancient religion and embrace a new and
strange one, they are to be turned out of the lands and possessions of
their forefathers and perhaps deprived of life itself. Then, at last, it
appears what zeal for the Church, joined with the desire of dominion, is
capable to produce, and how easily the pretence of religion, and of the
care of souls, serves for a cloak to covetousness, rapine, and ambition.
Now whosoever maintains that idolatry is to be rooted out of any
place by laws, punishments, fire, and sword, may apply this story to
himself. For the reason of the thing is equal, both in America and Eu-
rope. And neither Pagans there, nor any dissenting Christians here, can,
with any right, be deprived of their worldly goods by the predominating
faction of a court-church; nor are any civil rights to be either changed or
violated upon account of religion in one place more than another.
But idolatry, say some, is a sin and therefore not to be tolerated. If
they said it were therefore to be avoided, the inference were good. But it
does not follow that because it is a sin it ought therefore to be punished
by the magistrate. For it does not belong unto the magistrate to make
use of his sword in punishing everything, indifferently, that he takes to
be a sin against God. Covetousness, uncharitableness, idleness, and many
other things are sins by the consent of men, which yet no man ever said
28/John Locke
were to be punished by the magistrate. The reason is because they are
not prejudicial to other men’s rights, nor do they break the public peace
of societies. Nay, even the sins of lying and perjury are nowhere punish-
able by laws; unless, in certain cases, in which the real turpitude of the
thing and the offence against God are not considered, but only the injury
done unto men’s neighbours and to the commonwealth. And what if in
another country, to a Mahometan or a Pagan prince, the Christian reli-
gion seem false and offensive to God; may not the Christians for the
same reason, and after the same manner, be extirpated there?
But it may be urged farther that, by the law of Moses, idolaters
were to be rooted out. True, indeed, by the law of Moses; but that is not
obligatory to us Christians. Nobody pretends that everything generally
enjoined by the law of Moses ought to be practised by Christians; but
there is nothing more frivolous than that common distinction of moral,
judicial, and ceremonial law, which men ordinarily make use of. For no
positive law whatsoever can oblige any people but those to whom it is
given. “Hear, O Israel,” sufficiently restrains the obligations of the law
of Moses only to that people. And this consideration alone is answer
enough unto those that urge the authority of the law of Moses for the
inflicting of capital punishment upon idolaters. But, however, I will ex-
amine this argument a little more particularly.
The case of idolaters, in respect of the Jewish commonwealth, falls
under a double consideration. The first is of those who, being initiated
in the Mosaical rites, and made citizens of that commonwealth, did af-
terwards apostatise from the worship of the God of Israel. These were
proceeded against as traitors and rebels, guilty of no less than high trea-
son. For the commonwealth of the Jews, different in that from all others,
was an absolute theocracy; nor was there, or could there be, any differ-
ence between that commonwealth and the Church. The laws established
there concerning the worship of One Invisible Deity were the civil laws
of that people and a part of their political government, in which God
Himself was the legislator. Now, if any one can shew me where there is
a commonwealth at this time, constituted upon that foundation, I will
acknowledge that the ecclesiastical laws do there unavoidably become a
part of the civil, and that the subjects of that government both may and
ought to be kept in strict conformity with that Church by the civil power.
But there is absolutely no such thing under the Gospel as a Christian
commonwealth. There are, indeed, many cities and kingdoms that have
embraced the faith of Christ, but they have retained their ancient form
First Letter Concerning Toleration/29
of government, with which the law of Christ hath not at all meddled. He,
indeed, hath taught men how, by faith and good works, they may obtain
eternal life; but He instituted no commonwealth. He prescribed unto His
followers no new and peculiar form of government, nor put He the sword
into any magistrate’s hand, with commission to make use of it in forcing
men to forsake their former religion and receive His.
Secondly, foreigners and such as were strangers to the common-
wealth of Israel were not compelled by force to observe the rites of the
Mosaical law; but, on the contrary, in the very same place where it is
ordered that an Israelite that was an idolater should be put to death,
7
there it is provided that strangers should not be vexed nor oppressed. I
confess that the seven nations that possessed the land which was prom-
ised to the Israelites were utterly to be cut off; but this was not singly
because they were idolaters. For if that had been the reason, why were
the Moabites and other nations to be spared? No: the reason is this. God
being in a peculiar manner the King of the Jews, He could not suffer the
adoration of any other deity (which was properly an act of high treason
against Himself) in the land of Canaan, which was His kingdom. For
such a manifest revolt could no ways consist with His dominion, which
was perfectly political in that country. All idolatry was, therefore, to be
rooted out of the bounds of His kingdom because it was an acknowledg-
ment of another god, that is say, another king, against the laws of Em-
pire. The inhabitants were also to be driven out, that the entire posses-
sion of the land might be given to the Israelites. And for the like reason
the Emims and the Horims were driven out of their countries by the
children of Esau and Lot; and their lands, upon the same grounds, given
by God to the invaders.
8
But, though all idolatry was thus rooted out of
the land of Canaan, yet every idolater was not brought to execution. The
whole family of Rahab, the whole nation of the Gibeonites, articled with
Joshua, and were allowed by treaty; and there were many captives
amongst the Jews who were idolaters. David and Solomon subdued many
countries without the confines of the Land of Promise and carried their
conquests as far as Euphrates. Amongst so many captives taken, so
many nations reduced under their obedience, we find not one man forced
into the Jewish religion and the worship of the true God and punished
for idolatry, though all of them were certainly guilty of it. If any one,
indeed, becoming a proselyte, desired to be made a denizen of their
commonwealth, he was obliged to submit to their laws; that is, to em-
brace their religion. But this he did willingly, on his own accord, not by
30/John Locke
constraint. He did not unwillingly submit, to show his obedience, but he
sought and solicited for it as a privilege. And, as soon as he was admit-
ted, he became subject to the laws of the commonwealth, by which all
idolatry was forbidden within the borders of the land of Canaan. But
that law (as I have said) did not reach to any of those regions, however
subjected unto the Jews, that were situated without those bounds.
Thus far concerning outward worship. Let us now consider articles
of faith.
The articles of religion are some of them practical and some specu-
lative. Now, though both sorts consist in the knowledge of truth, yet
these terminate simply in the understanding, those influence the will and
manners. Speculative opinions, therefore, and articles of faith (as they
are called) which are required only to be believed, cannot be imposed on
any Church by the law of the land. For it is absurd that things should be
enjoined by laws which are not in men’s power to perform. And to be-
lieve this or that to be true does not depend upon our will. But of this
enough has been said already. “But.” will some say; “let men at least
profess that they believe.” A sweet religion, indeed, that obliges men to
dissemble and tell lies, both to God and man, for the salvation of their
souls! If the magistrate thinks to save men thus, he seems to understand
little of the way of salvation. And if he does it not in order to save them,
why is he so solicitous about the articles of faith as to enact them by a
law?
Further, the magistrate ought not to forbid the preaching or profess-
ing of any speculative opinions in any Church because they have no
manner of relation to the civil rights of the subjects. If a Roman Catho-
lic believe that to be really the body of Christ which another man calls
bread, he does no injury thereby to his neighbour. If a Jew do not believe
the New Testament to be the Word of God, he does not thereby alter
anything in men’s civil rights. If a heathen doubt of both Testaments, he
is not therefore to be punished as a pernicious citizen. The power of the
magistrate and the estates of the people may be equally secure whether
any man believe these things or no. I readily grant that these opinions
are false and absurd. But the business of laws is not to provide for the
truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth
and of every particular man’s goods and person. And so it ought to be.
For the truth certainly would do well enough if she were once left to
shift for herself. She seldom has received and, I fear, never will receive
much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely
First Letter Concerning Toleration/31
known and more rarely welcome. She is not taught by laws, nor has she
any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men. Errors,
indeed, prevail by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours. But
if Truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light, she
will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her.
Thus much for speculative opinions. Let us now proceed to practical
ones.
A good life, in which consist not the least part of religion and true
piety, concerns also the civil government; and in it lies the safety both of
men’s souls and of the commonwealth. Moral actions belong, therefore,
to the jurisdiction both of the outward and inward court; both of the
civil and domestic governor; I mean both of the magistrate and con-
science. Here, therefore, is great danger, lest one of these jurisdictions
intrench upon the other, and discord arise between the keeper of the
public peace and the overseers of souls. But if what has been already
said concerning the limits of both these governments be rightly consid-
ered, it will easily remove all difficulty in this matter.
Every man has an immortal soul, capable of eternal happiness or
misery; whose happiness depending upon his believing and doing those
things in this life which are necessary to the obtaining of God’s favour,
and are prescribed by God to that end. It follows from thence, first, that
the observance of these things is the highest obligation that lies upon
mankind and that our utmost care, application, and diligence ought to
be exercised in the search and performance of them; because there is
nothing in this world that is of any consideration in comparison with
eternity. Secondly, that seeing one man does not violate the right of
another by his erroneous opinions and undue manner of worship, nor is
his perdition any prejudice to another man’s affairs, therefore, the care
of each man’s salvation belongs only to himself. But I would not have
this understood as if I meant hereby to condemn all charitable admoni-
tions and affectionate endeavours to reduce men from errors, which are
indeed the greatest duty of a Christian. Any one may employ as many
exhortations and arguments as he pleases, towards the promoting of
another man’s salvation. But all force and compulsion are to be for-
borne. Nothing is to be done imperiously. Nobody is obliged in that
matter to yield obedience unto the admonitions or injunctions of an-
other, further than he himself is persuaded. Every man in that has the
supreme and absolute authority of judging for himself. And the reason
is because nobody else is concerned in it, nor can receive any prejudice
32/John Locke
from his conduct therein.
But besides their souls, which are immortal, men have also their
temporal lives here upon earth; the state whereof being frail and fleet-
ing, and the duration uncertain, they have need of several outward con-
veniences to the support thereof, which are to be procured or preserved
by pains and industry. For those things that are necessary to the com-
fortable support of our lives are not the spontaneous products of nature,
nor do offer themselves fit and prepared for our use. This part, there-
fore, draws on another care and necessarily gives another employment.
But the pravity of mankind being such that they had rather injuriously
prey upon the fruits of other men’s labours than take pains to provide
for themselves, the necessity of preserving men in the possession of
what honest industry has already acquired and also of preserving their
liberty and strength, whereby they may acquire what they farther want,
obliges men to enter into society with one another, that by mutual assis-
tance and joint force they may secure unto each other their properties, in
the things that contribute to the comfort and happiness of this life, leav-
ing in the meanwhile to every man the care of his own eternal happiness,
the attainment whereof can neither be facilitated by another man’s in-
dustry, nor can the loss of it turn to another man’s prejudice, nor the
hope of it be forced from him by any external violence. But, forasmuch
as men thus entering into societies, grounded upon their mutual com-
pacts of assistance for the defence of their temporal goods, may, never-
theless, be deprived of them, either by the rapine and fraud of their
fellow citizens, or by the hostile violence of foreigners, the remedy of
this evil consists in arms, riches, and multitude of citizens; the remedy
of the other in laws; and the care of all things relating both to one and
the other is committed by the society to the civil magistrate. This is the
original, this is the use, and these are the bounds of the legislative (which
is the supreme) power in every commonwealth. I mean that provision
may be made for the security of each man’s private possessions; for the
peace, riches, and public commodities of the whole people; and, as much
as possible, for the increase of their inward strength against foreign
invasions.
These things being thus explained, it is easy to understand to what
end the legislative power ought to be directed and by what measures
regulated; and that is the temporal good and outward prosperity of the
society; which is the sole reason of men’s entering into society, and the
only thing they seek and aim at in it. And it is also evident what liberty
First Letter Concerning Toleration/33
remains to men in reference to their eternal salvation, and that is that
every one should do what he in his conscience is persuaded to be accept-
able to the Almighty, on whose good pleasure and acceptance depends
their eternal happiness. For obedience is due, in the first place, to God
and, afterwards to the laws.
But some may ask: “What if the magistrate should enjoin anything
by his authority that appears unlawful to the conscience of a private
person?” I answer that, if government be faithfully administered and the
counsels of the magistrates be indeed directed to the public good, this
will seldom happen. But if, perhaps, it do so fall out, I say, that such a
private person is to abstain from the action that he judges unlawful, and
he is to undergo the punishment which it is not unlawful for him to bear.
For the private judgement of any person concerning a law enacted in
political matters, for the public good, does not take away the obligation
of that law, nor deserve a dispensation. But if the law, indeed, be con-
cerning things that lie not within the verge of the magistrate’s authority
(as, for example, that the people, or any party amongst them, should be
compelled to embrace a strange religion, and join in the worship and
ceremonies of another Church), men are not in these cases obliged by
that law, against their consciences. For the political society is instituted
for no other end, but only to secure every man’s possession of the things
of this life. The care of each man’s soul and of the things of heaven,
which neither does belong to the commonwealth nor can be subjected to
it, is left entirely to every man’s self. Thus the safeguard of men’s lives
and of the things that belong unto this life is the business of the com-
monwealth; and the preserving of those things unto their owners is the
duty of the magistrate. And therefore the magistrate cannot take away
these worldly things from this man or party and give them to that; nor
change propriety amongst fellow subjects (no not even by a law), for a
cause that has no relation to the end of civil government, I mean for their
religion, which whether it be true or false does no prejudice to the worldly
concerns of their fellow subjects, which are the things that only belong
unto the care of the commonwealth.
But what if the magistrate believe such a law as this to be for the
public good? I answer: As the private judgement of any particular per-
son, if erroneous, does not exempt him from the obligation of law, so the
private judgement (as I may call it) of the magistrate does not give him
any new right of imposing laws upon his subjects, which neither was in
the constitution of the government granted him, nor ever was in the
34/John Locke
power of the people to grant, much less if he make it his business to
enrich and advance his followers and fellow-sectaries with the spoils of
others. But what if the magistrate believe that he has a right to make
such laws and that they are for the public good, and his subjects believe
the contrary? Who shall be judge between them? I answer: God alone.
For there is no judge upon earth between the supreme magistrate and the
people. God, I say, is the only judge in this case, who will retribute unto
every one at the last day according to his deserts; that is, according to
his sincerity and uprightness in endeavouring to promote piety, and the
public weal, and peace of mankind. But What shall be done in the mean-
while? I answer: The principal and chief care of every one ought to be of
his own soul first, and, in the next place, of the public peace; though yet
there are very few will think it is peace there, where they see all laid
waste.
There are two sorts of contests amongst men, the one managed by
law, the other by force; and these are of that nature that where the one
ends, the other always begins. But it is not my business to inquire into
the power of the magistrate in the different constitutions of nations. I
only know what usually happens where controversies arise without a
judge to determine them. You will say, then, the magistrate being the
stronger will have his will and carry his point. Without doubt; but the
question is not here concerning the doubtfulness of the event, but the
rule of right.
But to come to particulars. I say, first, no opinions contrary to hu-
man society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preser-
vation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate. But of these,
indeed, examples in any Church are rare. For no sect can easily arrive to
such a degree of madness as that it should think fit to teach, for doc-
trines of religion, such things as manifestly undermine the foundations
of society and are, therefore, condemned by the judgement of all man-
kind; because their own interest, peace, reputation, everything would be
thereby endangered.
Another more secret evil, but more dangerous to the commonwealth,
is when men arrogate to themselves, and to those of their own sect, some
peculiar prerogative covered over with a specious show of deceitful
words, but in effect opposite to the civil right of the community. For
example: we cannot find any sect that teaches, expressly and openly,
that men are not obliged to keep their promise; that princes may be
dethroned by those that differ from them in religion; or that the domin-
First Letter Concerning Toleration/35
ion of all things belongs only to themselves. For these things, proposed
thus nakedly and plainly, would soon draw on them the eye and hand of
the magistrate and awaken all the care of the commonwealth to a watch-
fulness against the spreading of so dangerous an evil. But, nevertheless,
we find those that say the same things in other words. What else do they
mean who teach that faith is not to be kept with heretics? Their mean-
ing, forsooth, is that the privilege of breaking faith belongs unto them-
selves; for they declare all that are not of their communion to be her-
etics, or at least may declare them so whensoever they think fit. What
can be the meaning of their asserting that kings excommunicated forfeit
their crowns and kingdoms? It is evident that they thereby arrogate unto
themselves the power of deposing kings, because they challenge the power
of excommunication, as the peculiar right of their hierarchy. That do-
minion is founded in grace is also an assertion by which those that main-
tain it do plainly lay claim to the possession of all things. For they are
not so wanting to themselves as not to believe, or at least as not to
profess themselves to be the truly pious and faithful. These, therefore,
and the like, who attribute unto the faithful, religious, and orthodox,
that is, in plain terms, unto themselves, any peculiar privilege or power
above other mortals, in civil concernments; or who upon pretence of
religion do challenge any manner of authority over such as are not asso-
ciated with them in their ecclesiastical communion, I say these have no
right to be tolerated by the magistrate; as neither those that will not own
and teach the duty of tolerating all men in matters of mere religion. For
what do all these and the like doctrines signify, but that they may and
are ready upon any occasion to seize the Government and possess them-
selves of the estates and fortunes of their fellow subjects; and that they
only ask leave to be tolerated by the magistrate so long until they find
themselves strong enough to effect it?
Again: That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the magis-
trate which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter
into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and
service of another prince. For by this means the magistrate would give
way to the settling of a foreign jurisdiction in his own country and suffer
his own people to be listed, as it were, for soldiers against his own
Government. Nor does the frivolous and fallacious distinction between
the Court and the Church afford any remedy to this inconvenience; es-
pecially when both the one and the other are equally subject to the abso-
lute authority of the same person, who has not only power to persuade
36/John Locke
the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely reli-
gious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eter-
nal fire. It is ridiculous for any one to profess himself to be a Mahometan
only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Chris-
tian magistrate, whilst at the same time he acknowledges himself bound
to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is
entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor and frames the feigned oracles
of that religion according to his pleasure. But this Mahometan living
amongst Christians would yet more apparently renounce their govern-
ment if he acknowledged the same person to be head of his Church who
is the supreme magistrate in the state.
Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a
God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human
society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God,
though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by
their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence
of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for
other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if
they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to
the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they
should not be tolerated.
It remains that I say something concerning those assemblies which,
being vulgarly called and perhaps having sometimes been conventicles
and nurseries of factions and seditions, are thought to afford against this
doctrine of toleration. But this has not happened by anything peculiar
unto the genius of such assemblies, but by the unhappy circumstances
of an oppressed or ill-settled liberty. These accusations would soon cease
if the law of toleration were once so settled that all Churches were obliged
to lay down toleration as the foundation of their own liberty, and teach
that liberty of conscience is every man’s natural right, equally belong-
ing to dissenters as to themselves; and that nobody ought to be com-
pelled in matters of religion either by law or force. The establishment of
this one thing would take away all ground of complaints and tumults
upon account of conscience; and these causes of discontents and ani-
mosities being once removed, there would remain nothing in these as-
semblies that were not more peaceable and less apt to produce distur-
bance of state than in any other meetings whatsoever. But let us exam-
ine particularly the heads of these accusations.
You will say that assemblies and meetings endanger the public peace
First Letter Concerning Toleration/37
and threaten the commonwealth. I answer: If this be so, why are there
daily such numerous meetings in markets and Courts of Judicature?
Why are crowds upon the Exchange and a concourse of people in cities
suffered? You will reply: “Those are civil assemblies, but these we ob-
ject against are ecclesiastical.” I answer: It is a likely thing, indeed, that
such assemblies as are altogether remote from civil affairs should be
most apt to embroil them. Oh, but civil assemblies are composed of men
that differ from one another in matters of religion, but these ecclesiasti-
cal meetings are of persons that are all of one opinion. As if an agree-
ment in matters of religion were in effect a conspiracy against the com-
monwealth; or as if men would not be so much the more warmly unani-
mous in religion the less liberty they had of assembling. But it will be
urged still that civil assemblies are open and free for any one to enter
into, whereas religious conventicles are more private and thereby give
opportunity to clandestine machinations. I answer that this is not strictly
true, for many civil assemblies are not open to everyone. And if some
religious meetings be private, who are they (I beseech you) that are to be
blamed for it, those that desire, or those that forbid their being public!
Again, you will say that religious communion does exceedingly unite
men’s minds and affections to one another and is therefore the more
dangerous. But if this be so, why is not the magistrate afraid of his own
Church; and why does he not forbid their assemblies as things danger-
ous to his Government? You will say because he himself is a part and
even the head of them. As if he were not also a part of the common-
wealth, and the head of the whole people!
Let us therefore deal plainly. The magistrate is afraid of other
Churches, but not of his own, because he is kind and favourable to the
one, but severe and cruel to the other. These he treats like children, and
indulges them even to wantonness. Those he uses as slaves and, how
blamelessly soever they demean themselves, recompenses them no oth-
erwise than by galleys, prisons, confiscations, and death. These he cher-
ishes and defends; those he continually scourges and oppresses. Let him
turn the tables. Or let those dissenters enjoy but the same privileges in
civils as his other subjects, and he will quickly find that these religious
meetings will be no longer dangerous. For if men enter into seditious
conspiracies, it is not religion inspires them to it in their meetings, but
their sufferings and oppressions that make them willing to ease them-
selves. Just and moderate governments are everywhere quiet, everywhere
safe; but oppression raises ferments and makes men struggle to cast off
38/John Locke
an uneasy and tyrannical yoke. I know that seditions are very frequently
raised upon pretence of religion, but it is as true that for religion sub-
jects are frequently ill treated and live miserably. Believe me, the stirs
that are made proceed not from any peculiar temper of this or that Church
or religious society, but from the common disposition of all mankind,
who when they groan under any heavy burthen endeavour naturally to
shake off the yoke that galls their necks. Suppose this business of reli-
gion were let alone, and that there were some other distinction made
between men and men upon account of their different complexions,
shapes, and features, so that those who have black hair (for example) or
grey eyes should not enjoy the same privileges as other citizens; that
they should not be permitted either to buy or sell, or live by their callings;
that parents should not have the government and education of their own
children; that all should either be excluded from the benefit of the laws,
or meet with partial judges; can it be doubted but these persons, thus
distinguished from others by the colour of their hair and eyes, and united
together by one common persecution, would be as dangerous to the
magistrate as any others that had associated themselves merely upon the
account of religion? Some enter into company for trade and profit, oth-
ers for want of business have their clubs for claret. Neighbourhood joins
some and religion others. But there is only one thing which gathers people
into seditious commotions, and that is oppression.
You will say “What, will you have people to meet at divine service
against the magistrate’s will?” I answer: Why, I pray, against his will?
Is it not both lawful and necessary that they should meet? Against his
will, do you say? That is what I complain of; that is the very root of all
the mischief. Why are assemblies less sufferable in a church than in a
theatre or market? Those that meet there are not either more vicious or
more turbulent than those that meet elsewhere. The business in that is
that they are ill used, and therefore they are not to be suffered. Take
away the partiality that is used towards them in matters of common
right; change the laws, take away the penalties unto which they are
subjected, and all things will immediately become safe and peaceable;
nay, those that are averse to the religion of the magistrate will think
themselves so much the more bound to maintain the peace of the com-
monwealth as their condition is better in that place than elsewhere; and
all the several separate congregations, like so many guardians of the
public peace, will watch one another, that nothing may be innovated or
changed in the form of the government, because they can hope for noth-
First Letter Concerning Toleration/39
ing better than what they already enjoy—that is, an equal condition with
their fellow-subjects under a just and moderate government. Now if that
Church which agrees in religion with the prince be esteemed the chief
support of any civil government, and that for no other reason (as has
already been shown) than because the prince is kind and the laws are
favourable to it, how much greater will be the security of government
where all good subjects, of whatsoever Church they be, without any
distinction upon account of religion, enjoying the same favour of the
prince and the same benefit of the laws, shall become the common sup-
port and guard of it, and where none will have any occasion to fear the
severity of the laws but those that do injuries to their neighbours and
offend against the civil peace?
That we may draw towards a conclusion. The sum of all we drive at
is that every man may enjoy the same rights that are granted to others. Is
it permitted to worship God in the Roman manner? Let it be permitted to
do it in the Geneva form also. Is it permitted to speak Latin in the mar-
ket-place? Let those that have a mind to it be permitted to do it also in
the Church. Is it lawful for any man in his own house to kneel, stand, sit,
or use any other posture; and to clothe himself in white or black, in short
or in long garments? Let it not be made unlawful to eat bread, drink
wine, or wash with water in the church. In a word, whatsoever things
are left free by law in the common occasions of life, let them remain free
unto every Church in divine worship. Let no man’s life, or body, or
house, or estate, suffer any manner of prejudice upon these accounts.
Can you allow of the Presbyterian discipline? Why should not the Epis-
copal also have what they like? Ecclesiastical authority, whether it be
administered by the hands of a single person or many, is everywhere the
same; and neither has any jurisdiction in things civil, nor any manner of
power of compulsion, nor anything at all to do with riches and revenues.
Ecclesiastical assemblies and sermons are justified by daily experi-
ence and public allowance. These are allowed to people of some one
persuasion; why not to all? If anything pass in a religious meeting sedi-
tiously and contrary to the public peace, it is to be punished in the same
manner and no otherwise than as if it had happened in a fair or market.
These meetings ought not to be sanctuaries for factious and flagitious
fellows. Nor ought it to be less lawful for men to meet in churches than
in halls; nor are one part of the subjects to be esteemed more blamable
for their meeting together than others. Every one is to be accountable
for his own actions, and no man is to be laid under a suspicion or odium
40/John Locke
for the fault of another. Those that are seditious, murderers, thieves,
robbers, adulterers, slanderers, etc., of whatsoever Church, whether
national or not, ought to be punished and suppressed. But those whose
doctrine is peaceable and whose manners are pure and blameless ought
to be upon equal terms with their fellow-subjects. Thus if solemn as-
semblies, observations of festivals, public worship be permitted to any
one sort of professors, all these things ought to be permitted to the Pres-
byterians, Independents, Anabaptists, Arminians, Quakers, and others,
with the same liberty. Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as
becomes one man to another, neither Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew,
ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because
of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing. The Church which
“judgeth not those that are without”
9
wants it not. And the common-
wealth, which embraces indifferently all men that are honest, peaceable,
and industrious, requires it not. Shall we suffer a Pagan to deal and
trade with us, and shall we not suffer him to pray unto and worship
God? If we allow the Jews to have private houses and dwellings amongst
us, why should we not allow them to have synagogues? Is their doctrine
more false, their worship more abominable, or is the civil peace more
endangered by their meeting in public than in their private houses? But
if these things may be granted to Jews and Pagans, surely the condition
of any Christians ought not to be worse than theirs in a Christian com-
monwealth.
You will say, perhaps: “Yes, it ought to be; because they are more
inclinable to factions, tumults, and civil wars.” I answer: Is this the fault
of the Christian religion? If it be so, truly the Christian religion is the
worst of all religions and ought neither to be embraced by any particular
person, nor tolerated by any commonwealth. For if this be the genius,
this the nature of the Christian religion, to be turbulent and destructive
to the civil peace, that Church itself which the magistrate indulges will
not always be innocent. But far be it from us to say any such thing of
that religion which carries the greatest opposition to covetousness, am-
bition, discord, contention, and all manner of inordinate desires, and is
the most modest and peaceable religion that ever was. We must, there-
fore, seek another cause of those evils that are charged upon religion.
And, if we consider right, we shall find it to consist wholly in the subject
that I am treating of. It is not the diversity of opinions (which cannot be
avoided), but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opin-
ions (which might have been granted), that has produced all the bustles
First Letter Concerning Toleration/41
and wars that have been in the Christian world upon account of religion.
The heads and leaders of the Church, moved by avarice and insatiable
desire of dominion, making use of the immoderate ambition of magis-
trates and the credulous superstition of the giddy multitude, have in-
censed and animated them against those that dissent from themselves,
by preaching unto them, contrary to the laws of the Gospel and to the
precepts of charity, that schismatics and heretics are to be outed of their
possessions and destroyed. And thus have they mixed together and con-
founded two things that are in themselves most different, the Church
and the commonwealth. Now as it is very difficult for men patiently to
suffer themselves to be stripped of the goods which they have got by
their honest industry, and, contrary to all the laws of equity, both human
and divine, to be delivered up for a prey to other men’s violence and
rapine; especially when they are otherwise altogether blameless; and
that the occasion for which they are thus treated does not at all belong to
the jurisdiction of the magistrate, but entirely to the conscience of every
particular man for the conduct of which he is accountable to God only;
what else can be expected but that these men, growing weary of the evils
under which they labour, should in the end think it lawful for them to
resist force with force, and to defend their natural rights (which are not
forfeitable upon account of religion) with arms as well as they can?
That this has been hitherto the ordinary course of things is abundantly
evident in history, and that it will continue to be so hereafter is but too
apparent in reason. It cannot indeed, be otherwise so long as the prin-
ciple of persecution for religion shall prevail, as it has done hitherto,
with magistrate and people, and so long as those that ought to be the
preachers of peace and concord shall continue with all their art and
strength to excite men to arms and sound the trumpet of war. But that
magistrates should thus suffer these incendiaries and disturbers of the
public peace might justly be wondered at if it did not appear that they
have been invited by them unto a participation of the spoil, and have
therefore thought fit to make use of their covetousness and pride as
means whereby to increase their own power. For who does not see that
these good men are, indeed, more ministers of the government than min-
isters of the Gospel and that, by flattering the ambition and favouring
the dominion of princes and men in authority, they endeavour with all
their might to promote that tyranny in the commonwealth which other-
wise they should not be able to establish in the Church? This is the
unhappy agreement that we see between the Church and State. Whereas
42/John Locke
if each of them would contain itself within its own bounds- the one
attending to the worldly welfare of the commonwealth, the other to the
salvation of souls—it is impossible that any discord should ever have
happened between them. Sed pudet hoec opprobria. etc. God Almighty
grant, I beseech Him, that the gospel of peace may at length be preached,
and that civil magistrates, growing more careful to conform their own
consciences to the law of God and less solicitous about the binding of
other men’s consciences by human laws, may, like fathers of their coun-
try, direct all their counsels and endeavours to promote universally the
civil welfare of all their children, except only of such as are arrogant,
ungovernable, and injurious to their brethren; and that all ecclesiastical
men, who boast themselves to be the successors of the Apostles, walk-
ing peaceably and modestly in the Apostles’ steps, without intermed-
dling with State Affairs, may apply themselves wholly to promote the
salvation of souls.
Farewell.
Perhaps it may not be amiss to add a few things concerning heresy and
schism. A Turk is not, nor can be, either heretic or schismatic to a Chris-
tian; and if any man fall off from the Christian faith to Mahometism, he
does not thereby become a heretic or schismatic, but an apostate and an
infidel. This nobody doubts of; and by this it appears that men of differ-
ent religions cannot be heretics or schismatics to one another.
We are to inquire, therefore, what men are of the same religion.
Concerning which it is manifest that those who have one and the same
rule of faith and worship are of the same religion; and those who have
not the same rule of faith and worship are of different religions. For
since all things that belong unto that religion are contained in that rule,
it follows necessarily that those who agree in one rule are of one and the
same religion, and vice versa. Thus Turks and Christians are of differ-
ent religions, because these take the Holy Scriptures to be the rule of
their religion, and those the Alcoran. And for the same reason there may
be different religions also even amongst Christians. The Papists and
Lutherans, though both of them profess faith in Christ and are therefore
called Christians, yet are not both of the same religion, because these
acknowledge nothing but the Holy Scriptures to be the rule and founda-
tion of their religion, those take in also traditions and the decrees of
Popes and of these together make the rule of their religion; and thus the
Christians of St. John (as they are called) and the Christians of Geneva
First Letter Concerning Toleration/43
are of different religions, because these also take only the Scriptures,
and those I know not what traditions, for the rule of their religion.
This being settled, it follows, first, that heresy is a separation made
in ecclesiastical communion between men of the same religion for some
opinions no way contained in the rule itself; and, secondly, that amongst
those who acknowledge nothing but the Holy Scriptures to be their rule
of faith, heresy is a separation made in their Christian communion for
opinions not contained in the express words of Scripture. Now this sepa-
ration may be made in a twofold manner:
1. When the greater part, or by the magistrate’s patronage the stronger
part, of the Church separates itself from others by excluding them out of
her communion because they will not profess their belief of certain opin-
ions which are not the express words of the Scripture. For it is not the
paucity of those that are separated, nor the authority of the magistrate,
that can make any man guilty of heresy, but he only is a heretic who
divides the Church into parts, introduces names and marks of distinc-
tion, and voluntarily makes a separation because of such opinions.
2. When any one separates himself from the communion of a Church
because that Church does not publicly profess some certain opinions
which the Holy Scriptures do not expressly teach.
Both these are heretics because they err in fundamentals, and they
err obstinately against knowledge; for when they have determined the
Holy Scriptures to be the only foundation of faith, they nevertheless lay
down certain propositions as fundamental which are not in the Scrip-
ture, and because others will not acknowledge these additional opinions
of theirs, nor build upon them as if they were necessary and fundamen-
tal, they therefore make a separation in the Church, either by withdraw-
ing themselves from others, or expelling the others from them. Nor does
it signify anything for them to say that their confessions and symbols
are agreeable to Scripture and to the analogy of faith; for if they be
conceived in the express words of Scripture, there can be no question
about them, because those things are acknowledged by all Christians to
be of divine inspiration and therefore fundamental. But if they say that
the articles which they require to be professed are consequences de-
duced from the Scripture, it is undoubtedly well done of them who be-
lieve and profess such things as seem unto them so agreeable to the rule
of faith. But it would be very ill done to obtrude those things upon
others unto whom they do not seem to be the indubitable doctrines of the
Scripture; and to make a separation for such things as these, which
44/John Locke
neither are nor can be fundamental, is to become heretics; for I do not
think there is any man arrived to that degree of madness as that he dare
give out his consequences and interpretations of Scripture as divine in-
spirations and compare the articles of faith that he has framed accord-
ing to his own fancy with the authority of Scripture. I know there are
some propositions so evidently agreeable to Scripture that nobody can
deny them to be drawn from thence, but about those, therefore, there
can be no difference. This only I say—that however clearly we may
think this or the other doctrine to be deduced from Scripture, we ought
not therefore to impose it upon others as a necessary article of faith
because we believe it to be agreeable to the rule of faith, unless we
would be content also that other doctrines should be imposed upon us in
the same manner, and that we should be compelled to receive and pro-
fess all the different and contradictory opinions of Lutherans, Calvin-
ists, Remonstrants, Anabaptists, and other sects which the contrivers of
symbols, systems, and confessions are accustomed to deliver to their
followers as genuine and necessary deductions from the Holy Scripture.
I cannot but wonder at the extravagant arrogance of those men who
think that they themselves can explain things necessary to salvation more
clearly than the Holy Ghost, the eternal and infinite wisdom of God.
Thus much concerning heresy, which word in common use is ap-
plied only to the doctrinal part of religion. Let us now consider schism,
which is a crime near akin to it; for both these words seem unto me to
signify an ill-grounded separation in ecclesiastical communion made
about things not necessary. But since use, which is the supreme law in
matter of language, has determined that heresy relates to errors in faith,
and schism to those in worship or discipline, we must consider them
under that distinction.
Schism, then, for the same reasons that have already been alleged,
is nothing else but a separation made in the communion of the Church
upon account of something in divine worship or ecclesiastical discipline
that is not any necessary part of it. Now, nothing in worship or disci-
pline can be necessary to Christian communion but what Christ our
legislator, or the Apostles by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have com-
manded in express words.
In a word, he that denies not anything that the Holy Scriptures teach
in express words, nor makes a separation upon occasion of anything
that is not manifestly contained in the sacred text- however he may be
nicknamed by any sect of Christians and declared by some or all of
First Letter Concerning Toleration/45
them to be utterly void of true Christianity—yet in deed and in truth this
man cannot be either a heretic or schismatic.
These things might have been explained more largely and more ad-
vantageously, but it is enough to have hinted at them thus briefly to a
person of your parts.
The End
Notes
1. Luke 22. 25.
2. II Tim. 2. 19.
3. Luke 22. 32.
4. Rom. I.
5. Gal. 5.
6. Matt. 18. 20.
7. Exod. 22, 20, 21.
8. Deut. 2.
9. 1 Cor. 5. 12, 13.

Honoured Sir, Since you are pleased to inquire what are my thoughts about the mutual toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must needs answer you freely that I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church. For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith—for everyone is orthodox to himself—these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ. Let anyone have never so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind, even to those that are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of being a true Christian himself. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise leadership over them,” said our Saviour to his disciples, “but ye shall not be so.”1 The business of true religion is quite another thing. It is not instituted in order to the erecting of an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of ecclesiastical dominion, nor to the exercising of compulsive force, but to the regulating of men’s lives, according to the rules of virtue and piety. Whosoever will list himself under the banner of Christ, must, in the first place and above all things, make war upon his own lusts and vices. It is in vain for any man to unsurp the name of Christian, without holiness of life, purity of manners, benignity and meekness of spirit. “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity.”2 “Thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” said our Lord to Peter.3 It would, indeed, be very hard for one that appears careless about his own salvation to persuade me that he were extremely concerned for mine. For it is impossible that those should sincerely and

4/John Locke heartily apply themselves to make other people Christians, who have not really embraced the Christian religion in their own hearts. If the Gospel and the apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian without charity and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love. Now, I appeal to the consciences of those that persecute, torment, destroy, and kill other men upon pretence of religion, whether they do it out of friendship and kindness towards them or no? And I shall then indeed, and not until then, believe they do so, when I shall see those fiery zealots correcting, in the same manner, their friends and familiar acquaintance for the manifest sins they commit against the precepts of the Gospel; when I shall see them persecute with fire and sword the members of their own communion that are tainted with enormous vices and without amendment are in danger of eternal perdition; and when I shall see them thus express their love and desire of the salvation of their souls by the infliction of torments and exercise of all manner of cruelties. For if it be out of a principle of charity, as they pretend, and love to men’s souls that they deprive them of their estates, maim them with corporal punishments, starve and torment them in noisome prisons, and in the end even take away their lives—I say, if all this be done merely to make men Christians and procure their salvation, why then do they suffer whoredom, fraud, malice, and such-like enormities, which (according to the apostle)4 manifestly relish of heathenish corruption, to predominate so much and abound amongst their flocks and people? These, and such-like things, are certainly more contrary to the glory of God, to the purity of the Church, and to the salvation of souls, than any conscientious dissent from ecclesiastical decisions, or separation from public worship, whilst accompanied with innocence of life. Why, then, does this burning zeal for God, for the Church, and for the salvation of souls— burning I say, literally, with fire and faggot—pass by those moral vices and wickednesses, without any chastisement, which are acknowledged by all men to be diametrically opposite to the profession of Christianity, and bend all its nerves either to the introducing of ceremonies, or to the establishment of opinions, which for the most part are about nice and intricate matters, that exceed the capacity of ordinary understandings? Which of the parties contending about these things is in the right, which of them is guilty of schism or heresy, whether those that domineer or those that suffer, will then at last be manifest when the causes of their separation comes to be judged of He, certainly, that follows Christ, embraces His doctrine, and bears His yoke, though he forsake both fa-

and suchlike things. That any man should think fit to cause another man—whose salvation he heartily desires—to expire in torments. and I think. seem very strange to me. cannot be denied to be works of the flesh. yet. would. is sincerely solicitous about the kingdom of God and thinks it his duty to endeavour the enlargement of it amongst men. But if anyone do otherwise. will ever believe that such a carriage can proceed from charity. But nobody. and whilst he is cruel and implacable towards those that differ from him in opinion. or whomsoever or whatsoever else he relinquishes. lasciviousness. adultery. to be wondered at if those who do not really contend for the advancement of the true religion. if anyone endeavour to convert those that are erroneous unto the faith. love. he be indulgent to such iniquities and immoralities as are unbecoming the name of a Christian. they sincerely desired the good of souls. will not then be judged a heretic. like the Captain of our salvation. ought to apply himself with no less care and industry to the rooting out of these immoralities than to the extirpation of sects. idolatry. It is not. If anyone maintain that men ought to be compelled by fire and sword to profess certain doctrines. therefore. who sent out His soldiers to the subduing of nations. make use of arms that do not belong to the Christian warfare. If. and of the Church of Christ. without any regard had unto their morals. by forcing them to profess things that they do not believe and allowing them to practise things that the Gospel does not permit. though the divisions that are amongst sects should be allowed to be never so obstructive of the salvation of souls. concerning which the apostle has expressly declared that “they who do them shall not inherit the kingdom of God. it cannot be doubted indeed but such a one is desirous to have a numerous assembly joined in the same profession with himself. or other instruments of force. surely. and that even in an unconverted state.First Letter Concerning Toleration/5 ther and mother. to any other also. he plainly demonstrates by his actions that it is another kingdom he aims at and not the advancement of the kingdom of God.”5 Whosoever. but prepared . they would tread in the steps and follow the perfect example of that Prince of Peace. fornication. let such a one talk never so much of the Church. or goodwill. not armed with the sword. I confess. therefore. nevertheless. but that he principally intends by those means to compose a truly Christian Church is altogether incredible. separate from the public assemblies and ceremonies of his country. Now. and gathering them into His Church. and conform to this or that exterior worship. uncleanliness.

health. however. may not seek impunity for their libertinism and licentiousness. I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. the passion and uncharitable zeal of others. that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light.6/John Locke with the Gospel of peace and with the exemplary holiness of their conversation. and advancing their own civil interests. I will not here tax the pride and ambition of some. on the other side. The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. and indolency of body. This was His method. a care of the commonwealth. lands. how potent soever. or at least pretend to have. and to the genuine reason of mankind. to secure unto all the people in general and to every one of his subjects in particular the just possession of these things belonging to this life. there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have. but yet such as nobody will bear the plain imputation of. Civil interests I call life. we know very well that it was much more easy for Him to do it with armies of heavenly legions than for any son of the Church. The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring. and so pretend to commendation. by the pretences of loyalty and obedience to the prince. with all his dragoons. and. established for the preservation of those things. on the one side. and the possession of outward things. that some may not colour their spirit of persecution and unchristian cruelty with a pretence of care of the public weal and observation of the laws. furniture. If this be not done. if those that are either blind or obstinate were to be drawn off from their errors by armed soldiers. It is the duty of the civil magistrate. If anyone presume to violate the laws of public justice and equity. under pretence of religion. such as money. or of tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God. These are faults from which human affairs can perhaps scarce ever be perfectly freed. in a word. his presumption . liberty. a concernment for the interest of men’s souls. without covering them with some specious colour. and the like. houses. preserving. But. by the impartial execution of equal laws. Though if infidels were to be converted by force. whilst they are carried away by their own irregular passions. and that others. that none may impose either upon himself or others.

these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate. to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. are indeed great obstacles to our salvation. that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate. and faith is not faith without believing. by God. I say. but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind. and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls. Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments. Whatever profession we make. if he would. and much less of his liberty or life. to whatever outward worship we conform. For no man can. instead of expiating other sins by the exercise of religion. imprisonment. I say. But seeing no man does willingly suffer himself to be punished by the deprivation of any part of his goods.First Letter Concerning Toleration/7 is to be checked by the fear of punishment. is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things. because his power consists only in outward force. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people. in offering thus unto God Almighty such a worship as we esteem to be displeasing unto Him. consisting of the deprivation or diminution of those civil interests. far from being any furtherance. we add unto the number of our other sins those also of hypocrisy and contempt of His Divine Majesty. without which nothing can be acceptable to God. right and dominion. For in this manner. because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate. conform his faith to the dictates of another. or goods. any more than to other men. torments. And such is the nature of the understanding. First. therefore. In the second place. because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other. the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate. which otherwise he might and ought to enjoy. such profession and such practice. All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind. because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. It is not committed unto him. whether prince or subject. nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the . is the magistrate armed with the force and strength of all his subjects. in order to the punishment of those that violate any other man’s rights. and that all civil power. if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true and the other well pleasing unto God.

and. what hope is there that more men would be led into it if they had no rule but the religion of the court and were put under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason. and blindly to resign themselves up to the will of their governors and to the religion which either ignorance. I affirm that the magistrate’s power extends not to the establishing of any articles of faith. and penalties in this case are absolutely impertinent. and all the rest of the . which light can in no manner proceed from corporal sufferings. wherein the princes of the world are as much divided as in their secular interests. In teaching. but this is common to him with other men. one thing to press with arguments. exhort. because. upon this ground. but to give laws. Neither the profession of any articles of faith. I grant it. It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments. belongs to none but the magistrate. by the force of his laws. receive obedience. one country alone would be in the right. the care of the salvation of men’s souls cannot belong to the magistrate. For there being but one truth. or forms of worship. thereby.8/John Locke inward judgement that they have framed of things. For laws are of no force at all without penalties. by reasoning. can be available to the salvation of souls. one way to heaven. because they are not proper to convince the mind. And. convince another of error. Magistracy does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity. but it is one thing to persuade. another with penalties. and oppose the dictates of their own consciences. draw the heterodox into the way of truth. ambition. But penalties are no way capable to produce such belief. yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls. or superstition had chanced to establish in the countries where they were born? In the variety and contradiction of opinions in religion. unless the truth of the one and the acceptableness of the other unto God be thoroughly believed by those that so profess and practise. another to command. It is only light and evidence that can work a change in men’s opinions. This civil power alone has a right to do. and compel with the sword. and. instructing. In the third place. though the rigour of laws and the force of penalties were capable to convince and change men’s minds. or any other outward penalties. goodwill is authority enough. and redressing the erroneous by reason. to draw him into truth. to the other. Every man has commission to admonish. the narrow way would be much straitened. and procure their salvation. nor the conformity to any outward form of worship (as has been already said). he may certainly do what becomes any good man to do.

why should it not be as free for him to go out as it was to enter? No member of a religious society can be tied with any other bonds but what proceed from the certain expectation of eternal life. and that which heightens the absurdity. These considerations. I say it is a free and voluntary society. and the members all consent to observe some order. otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto children by the same right of inheritance as their temporal estates. seem unto me sufficient to conclude that all the power of civil government relates only to men’s civil interests. men would owe their eternal happiness or misery to the places of their nativity. A church. then. Nobody is born a member of any church. can in the least subsist and hold together. therefore. and effectual to the salvation of their souls. than which nothing can be imagined more absurd. and . but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God. and hath nothing to do with the world to come. to omit many others that might have been urged to the same purpose. then. or upon whatsoever slight occasion instituted. whether of philosophers for learning. Forasmuch as no society. The hope of salvation. unless it be regulated by some laws. For if afterwards he discover anything either erroneous in the doctrine or incongruous in the worship of that society to which he has joined himself. of merchants for commerce. Thus. and everyone would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands. so it can be the only reason of his stay there. rules for admitting and excluding members must be established. I say. distinction of officers. Place and time of meeting must be agreed on. No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect. no church or company. is confined to the care of the things of this world. is a society of members voluntarily uniting to that end. It follows now that we consider what is the power of this church and unto what laws it is subject. joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him. that matter stands. but will presently dissolve and break in pieces. how free soever. as it was the only cause of his entrance into that communion. I take to be a voluntary society of men. or of men of leisure for mutual conversation and discourse. A church. and very ill suits the notion of a Deity. Let us now consider what a church is.First Letter Concerning Toleration/9 world put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that lead to destruction.

consequently. I would only ask them here. in express words. And. Next. seems to imply the contrary. their very dissension unavoidably puts us upon a necessity of deliberating and. pray do you consider. and suchlike. if in a thing of this consequence I require that the terms of that edict be very express and positive. and such things only. to be necessary to salvation. if it be not more agreeable to the Church of Christ to make the conditions of her communion consist in such things. it necessarily follows that the right of making its laws can belong to none but the society itself. and no man will have a legislator imposed upon him but whom himself has chosen. with ruling authority derived from the very apostles. which is sufficient to our purpose. established by such a long series of succession as they judge necessary. Whether such an assembly want anything necessary to a true church. whether this be not more agreeable to the Church of Christ than for men to impose their own inventions and interpretations upon others as if they . to those whom the society by common consent has authorised thereunto. and continued down to the present times by an uninterrupted succession. allows a liberty of choosing that which upon consideration we prefer. But since men are so solicitous about the true church. I say. in the last place. pray observe how great have always been the divisions amongst even those who lay so much stress upon the Divine institution and continued succession of a certain order of rulers in the Church. I consent that these men have a ruler in their church. Now. He will be in the midst of them. at least (which is the same thing). for the promise He has made us. And let not any man think me impertinent. or. perhaps. by the way. In this manner ecclesiastical liberty will be preserved on all sides. let them show me the edict by which Christ has imposed that law upon His Church. I ask. To these I answer: In the first place. provided I may have liberty at the same time to join myself to that society in which I am persuaded those things are to be found which are necessary to the salvation of my soul. Certain I am that nothing can be there wanting unto the salvation of souls. as has already been demonstrated. Some. may object that no such society can be said to be a true church unless it have in it a bishop or presbyter.6 that “wheresoever two or three are gathered together” in His name. cannot be omitted. as the Holy Spirit has in the Holy Scriptures declared.10/John Locke putting things into a regular course. is absolutely free and spontaneous. But since the joining together of several members into this church-society.

or at least not expressly command? Whosoever requires those things in order to ecclesiastical communion. All discipline ought. therefore. and perhaps upon the same principle. indeed constitute a society accommodated to his own opinion and his own advantage. perhaps. to tend to that end. and the erroneous convinced. The end of a religious society (as has already been said) is the public worship of God and. should be cast out and separated from the society. that the Gospel frequently declares that the true disciples of Christ must suffer persecution. this. and which excludes such persons from its communion as He will one day receive into the Kingdom of Heaven. by means thereof. as absolutely necessary to the profession of Christianity. by what means then shall ecclesiastical laws be established. But. “The Church! the Church!” with as much noise. it may be asked. I understand not. but how that can be called the Church of Christ which is established upon laws that are not His. and all ecclesiastical laws to be thereunto confined. who give no ground to hope for their reformation. I say. and force others by fire and sword to embrace her faith and doctrine. but that the Church of Christ should persecute others. and the possession of all outward goods is subject to his jurisdiction. No . there remains nothing further to be done but that such stubborn and obstinate persons. admonitions. if they must be thus destitute of all compulsive power? I answer: They must be established by means suitable to the nature of such things. he may. I could never yet find in any of the books of the New Testament. I desire to mind them of. Nothing ought nor can be transacted in this society relating to the possession of civil and worldly goods. This is the last and utmost force of ecclesiastical authority. and advices. and that cry out continually. as the Ephesian silversmiths did for their Diana. I will only mind those that contend so earnestly for the decrees of their own society. If by these means the offenders will not be reclaimed. No force is here to be made use of upon any occasion whatsoever. For force belongs wholly to the civil magistrate. which Christ does not require in order to life eternal. But this being not a proper place to inquire into the marks of the true church. The arms by which the members of this society are to be kept within their duty are exhortations. and to establish by ecclesiastical laws.First Letter Concerning Toleration/11 were of Divine authority. the acquisition of eternal life. whereof the external profession and observation—if not proceeding from a thorough conviction and approbation of the mind— is altogether useless and unprofitable. such things as the Holy Scriptures do either not mention.

For. and this that natural fellowship we are born into requires of us. charity. the resolution of the society in that respect being declared. Nay. continues obstinately to offend against the laws of the society. whether he be Christian or Pagan. comes also to cease. the participation of some certain things which the society communicated to its members. and what is required from everyone by it? And. These things being thus determined. in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. are inviolably to be preserved to him. deprive the excommunicated person of any of those civil goods that he formerly possessed. These are not the business of religion. No violence nor injury is to be offered him. But. bounty. the union that was between the body and some member comes thereby to be dissolved. or as a denizen. nevertheless. For there is no civil injury done unto the excommunicated person by the church minister’s refusing him that bread and wine. Excommunication neither does. If any man err . carry with it no rough usage of word or action whereby the ejected person may any wise be damnified in body or estate. the relation ceasing between the body and the member which is cut off. let us inquire. this reason directs. in the next place: How far the duty of toleration extends. nor ought any private persons at any time to use force. which was not bought with his but other men’s money. and. after admonition. and liberality must be added to it. nor can. no private person has any right in any manner to prejudice another person in his civil enjoyments because he is of another church or religion. to retain any such person in her bosom as.12/John Locke other punishment can thereby be inflicted than that. This the Gospel enjoins. For all force (as has often been said) belongs only to the magistrate. Secondly. we must not content ourselves with the narrow measures of bare justice. that relation ceasing. first. The whole force of excommunication consists only in this: that. I hold that no church is bound. unless it be in self-defence against unjust violence. these being the condition of communion and the bond of the society. and the execution thereof. All those things belong to the civil government and are under the magistrate’s protection. The person so condemned ceases to be a part of that church. and unto which no man has any civil right. All the rights and franchises that belong to him as a man. by the duty of toleration. if the breach of them were permitted without any animadversion the society would immediately be thereby dissolved. in all such cases care is to be taken that the sentence of excommunication.

For the civil government can give no new right to the church.First Letter Concerning Toleration/13 from the right way. nor is there any judge. nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposest he will be miserable in that which is to come. by the accession of any new members. to others. . but it cannot. acquire any right of jurisdiction over those that are not joined with it. equity. It neither requires the power of the sword by the magistrate’s coming to it. the other of Calvinists—residing in the city of Constantinople. in great and specious words. let us suppose two churches—the one of Arminians. the church remains always as it was before—a free and voluntary society. as it were. I understand also of particular churches which stand. I ask which of them it is to whom that power belongs. or separate from it. in the meanwhile. For every church is orthodox to itself. Will anyone say that either of these churches has right to deprive the members of the other of their estates and liberty (as we see practised elsewhere) because of their differing from it in some doctrines and ceremonies. This is the fundamental and immutable right of a spontaneous society—that it has power to remove any of its members who transgress the rules of its institution. to say just nothing at all. without any pretence of superiority or jurisdiction over one another. that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical. in the same relation to each other as private persons among themselves: nor has any one of them any manner of jurisdiction over any other. to be error. silently stand by and laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians thus rage against Christians? But if one of these churches hath this power of treating the other ill. For whatsoever any church believes. not even when the civil magistrate (as it sometimes happens) comes to be of this or the other communion. nor the church to the civil government. no injury to thee. undoubtedly. in the same manner as by private persons. This is. So that. it believes to be true and the contrary unto those things it pronounce. it is his own misfortune. And therefore peace. and by what right? It will be answered. So that the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal. whilst the Turks. erroneous or heretical. whether the magistrate join himself to any church. and friendship are always mutually to be observed by particular churches. That the thing may be made clearer by an example. nor does it lose the right of instruction and excommunication by his going from it. no. What I say concerning the mutual toleration of private persons differing from one another in religion.

with which they are so warmed and inflamed. unless where they have the civil magistrate on their side. When they are not strengthened with the civil power. Will any man say that any right can be derived unto a Christian church over its brethren from a Turkish emperor? An infidel. who. In the meanwhile.14/John Locke either at Constantinople or elsewhere upon earth. nevertheless. nor give unto them a right which he has not himself. then presently peace and charity are to be laid aside. Otherwise they are religiously to be observed. The decision of that question belongs only to the Supreme judge of all men. The civil power is the same in every place. in the hands of a Christian prince. and they begin to feel themselves the stronger. This would be the case at Constantinople. But so soon as ever court favour has given them the better end of the staff. cannot confer such an authority upon any society of Christians. to whom also alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous. Nevertheless. that the civil magistrate inclined to favour one of them and to put his sword into their hands that (by his consent) they might chastise the dissenters as they pleased. They do not forwardly attack those errors which are in fashion at court or are countenanced by the govern- . it is worthy to be observed and lamented that the most violent of these defenders of the truth. Nor can that power. of which on other occasions the interest of religion makes them to be extremely apprehensive. let those men consider how heinously they sin. there they desire to live upon fair terms and preach up toleration. if not to their error. and the reason of the thing is the same in any Christian kingdom. superstition. Nay. yet certainly to their pride. confer any greater authority upon the Church than in the hands of a heathen. further: if it could be manifest which of these two dissenting churches were in the right. For churches have neither any jurisdiction in worldly matters. there would not accrue thereby unto the orthodox any right of destroying the other. and heresy in their neighbourhood. just none at all. do rashly and arrogantly take upon them to misuse the servants of another master. the exclaimers against schism do hardly ever let loose this their zeal for God. which is to say. Where they have not the power to carry on persecution and to become masters. who are not at all accountable to them. nor are fire and sword any proper instruments wherewith to convince men’s minds of error. Let us suppose. adding injustice. the opposers of errors. then they can bear most patiently and unmovedly the contagion of idolatry. who has himself no authority to punish Christians for the articles of their faith. and inform them of the truth. by whose sentence it can be determined.

Those that are of another opinion would do well to consider with themselves how pernicious a seed of discord and war. that dominion is founded in grace and that religion is to be propagated by force of arms. because the Church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. He that pretends to be a successor of the apostles. priests. which has no such way of prevailing as when strong arguments and good reason are joined with the softness of civility and good usage. No peace and security. For whatsoever is not lawful to the whole Church cannot by any ecclesiastical right become lawful to any of its members. therefore. and in everything perfectly distinct and infinitely different from each other. rapines. as they please to call us) by some ecclesiastical character and office. But this is not all. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable. who mixes these two societies. have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other upon pretence of religion. not so much as common friendship. can deprive another man that is not of his church and faith either of liberty or of any part of his worldly goods upon the account of that difference between them in religion. the things most remote and opposite. can ever be established or preserved amongst men so long as this opinion prevails. neither single persons nor churches. how powerful a provocation to endless hatreds. with whatsoever ecclesiastical office he be dignified.First Letter Concerning Toleration/15 ment. that. in fine. Nobody. and slaughters they thereby furnish unto mankind. Here they can be content to spare their arguments. or however else dignified or distinguished. and takes upon him the office of teaching. nor even commonwealths. let us see what the duty of toleration requires from those who are distinguished from the rest of mankind (from the laity. presbyters. therefore. which are in their original. It is not my business to inquire here into the original of the power or dignity of the clergy. nor can it in any manner be extended to civil affairs. No man. which yet (with their leave) is the only right method of propagating truth. It is not enough that ecclesiastical men abstain from violence and rapine and all manner of persecution. no. nay. He jumbles heaven and earth together. whencesoever their authority be sprung. is obliged also to admonish his hearers of the duties of peace and goodwill towards all men. it ought to be confined within the bounds of the Church. as well towards the erroneous as the . ministers. end. whether they be bishops. since it is ecclesiastical. This only I say. business. In the third place.

But this I say. this immediately causes an uproar. nobody murmurs. And he ought industriously to exhort all men. nor would have it diminished either by others or themselves. forbear violence and abstain from all manner of ill-usage towards those from whom they have received none! This caution and temper they ought certainly to use towards those. and toleration. who have had no harm done them. whether private persons or magistrates (if any such there be in his church). lest I should seem to reflect too severely upon those men whose dignity I desire not to detract from. how much more ought they who suffer nothing. to charity. teach otherwise. every man may consider what suits his own convenience and follow what course he likes best. who mind only their own business and are solicitous for nothing but that (whatever men think of them) they may worship God in that manner which they are persuaded is acceptable to Him and in which they have the strongest hopes of eternal salvation. or build. he has his liberty. Everyone is ready to be the avenger of so great a crime. In private domestic affairs. No man is angry with another for an error committed in sowing his land or in marrying his daughter. No man complains of the ill-management of his neighbour’s affairs. in the conservation of bodily health. if he do not there conform his behaviour exactly to the accustomed ceremonies. that thus it ought to be. both in Church and State. nobody controls him. or if he brings not his children to be initiated in the sacred mysteries of this or the other congregation. meekness. If Christians are to be admonished that they abstain from all manner of revenge. he either understands not or neglects the business of his calling and shall one day give account thereof unto the Prince of Peace. But if any man do not frequent the church. in the management of estates. and the zealots hardly have the patience . towards those that differ from them in faith and worship as well as towards those that agree with them therein. The neighbourhood is filled with noise and clamour. Nobody corrects a spendthrift for consuming his substance in taverns. Let any man pull down. And if anyone that professes himself to be a minister of the Word of God. a preacher of the gospel of peace. and diligently endeavour to ally and temper all that heat and unreasonable averseness of mind which either any man’s fiery zeal for his own sect or the craft of others has kindled against dissenters.16/John Locke orthodox. I will not undertake to represent how happy and how great would be the fruit. even after repeated provocations and multiplied injuries. or make whatsoever expenses he pleases. if the pulpits everywhere sounded with this doctrine of peace and toleration.

The care. they do not guard them from the negligence or ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves. does sincerely and heartily concern himself to save that brother from the flames of hell in the world to come. and persuading. that our ecclesiastical orators of every sect would apply themselves with all the strength of arguments that they are able to the confounding of men’s errors! But let them spare their persons. however. Let them not call in the magistrate’s authority to the aid of their eloquence or learning. no broth. lest perhaps. Shall it be provided by law that they must consult none but Roman physicians. admonishing. betray their ambition and show that what they desire is temporal dominion. suppose. Let us suppose. which consists in prescribing by laws and compelling by punishments. and shall everyone be bound to live according to their prescriptions? What. or life. In the last place.First Letter Concerning Toleration/17 to refrain from violence and rapine so long till the cause be heard and the poor man be. No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no. as much as is possible. but what is prepared either in the Vatican. Not a magisterial care. For it will be very difficult to persuade men of sense that he who with dry eyes and satisfaction of mind can deliver his brother to the executioner to be burnt alive. therefore. shall they all be obliged by law to become merchants or musicians? Or. which consists in teaching. But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer: What if he neglect the care of his health or of his estate. Oh. breathing nothing but fire and sword. goods. which belong to another jurisdiction and do ill become a Churchman’s hands. which certainly is very considerable. I mean (if I may so call it). which things are nearlier related to the government of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express law that such a one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide. that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others. condemned to the loss of liberty. We have already proved that the care of souls does not belong to the magistrate. But a charitable care. to make these subjects rich. God Himself will not save men against their wills. or to preserve the health and strength of their bodies. shall no potion. be taken. cannot be denied unto any man. Nay. this their intemperate zeal. of every man’s soul belongs unto himself and is to be left unto himself. Let them not supply their want of reasons with the instruments of force. that some prince were desirous to force his subjects to accumulate riches. whilst they pretend only love for the truth. according to form. or in a Geneva shop? Or. . let us now consider what is the magistrate’s duty in the business of toleration.

it may be said. which seem unto me to lead into briars or precipices. I have not been dipped in the right fashion. there would not be so much as a pretence left for compulsion. I have a weak body. will it therefore be safe for me to do whatsoever the magistrate ordains? Those things that every man ought sincerely to inquire into . for which (I suppose) there is one only remedy. but that unknown. nor the right enacting of laws. because my hair is not of the right cut. especially by those that plead for compelling men into this or the other way. indeed. in fine.18/John Locke shall everyone turn victualler. or smith. and because it is unknown? Because there is but one way for me to escape death. they are such frivolous things as these that (without any prejudice to religion or the salvation of souls. perhaps. there are a thousand ways to wealth. because I follow a guide that either is. that from these circumstances are different ends. Does it therefore belong unto the magistrate to prescribe me a remedy. we shall find that. according to the sacred geography. but one only way to heaven. or is not. leads straight to Jerusalem. neither the care of the commonwealth. because. Now. sunk under a languishing disease. because there is but one. if we consider right. does discover this way that leads to heaven more certainly to the magistrate than every private man’s search and study discovers it unto himself. But let us grant unto these zealots. What shall we conclude from thence? There is only one of these which is the true way to eternal happiness: but in this great variety of ways that men follow. or crowned with a mitre? Certainly. perhaps. if not accompanied with superstition or hypocrisy) might either be observed or omitted. because I avoid to keep company with some travellers that are less grave and others that are more sour than they ought to be. who condemn all things that are not of their mode. or. for the most part. I say they are such-like things as these which breed implacable enmities amongst Christian brethren. It is well said. or some other food which agrees with my stomach. because there are some that maintain their families plentifully and grow rich in those professions? But. if I be marching on with my utmost vigour in that way which. I wear not buskins. clothed in white. because I avoid certain by-ways. amongst the several paths that are in the same road. it is still doubted which is the right one. because. But now. For if there were several ways that led thither. because I eat flesh upon the road. who are all agreed in the substantial and truly fundamental part of religion. why am I beaten and ill-used by others because. I choose that to walk in which seems to be the straightest and cleanest.

search. and he provides by his authority that nobody shall either act or believe in the business of religion otherwise than the Church teaches. If it be true. You will say: “What then?” If he should bid you follow merchandise for your livelihood. how many of them were there whom any Israelite. are born superior unto other men in power. and least of all of true religion. But this is not the case in the things that regard the life to come. and therefore I cannot safely take him for my guide. which was venerable in time of the apostles. if there I take a wrong course. Princes. in case I should have ill-success in trade. has been made use of to throw dust in the people’s eyes in the following ages? But. how could it come to pass that the lords of the earth should differ so vastly as they do in religious matters? But let us grant that it is probable the way to eternal life may be better known by a prince than by his subjects. to a good estate. had not fallen . nor to restore me in any measure. that the civil magistrate orders to be observed. The one only narrow way which leads to heaven is not better known to the magistrate than to private persons.First Letter Concerning Toleration/19 himself. but in nature equal. as he pretends. For if it were so. that all men are bound to follow in the affairs of religion. he can set me up again when unsuccessful voyages have broken me. in the present case it helps us not. What the Church has determined. indeed. and who certainly is less concerned for my salvation than I myself am. I answer: Who sees not how frequently the name of the Church. attain the knowledge of. Neither the right nor the art of ruling does necessarily carry along with it the certain knowledge of other things. would you decline that course for fear it should not succeed? I answer: I would turn merchant upon the prince’s command. and his own endeavours. What security can be given for the Kingdom of Heaven? Perhaps some will say that they do not suppose this infallible judgement. So that the judgement of those things is in the Church. thus blindly following. if in that respect I am once undone. but in the Church. study. that he desires I should thrive and grow rich. to ease my suffering. who may probably be as ignorant of the way as myself. much less entirely. cannot be looked upon as the peculiar possession of any sort of men. or at least that in this incertitude of things the safest and most commodious way for private persons is to follow his dictates. however. and by meditation. Amongst so many kings of the Jews. it is not in the magistrate’s power to repair my loss. he is abundantly able to make up my loss some other way. because. to be in the civil magistrate. the magistrate himself yields obedience thereunto and requires the like obedience from others.

Or if those things be too remote. and destructive? I am doubtful concerning the doctrine of the Socinians. and it is he that determines both ways of my eternal state. extol and praise it. Edward VI. with a safe conscience. you bid me be of good courage and tell me that all is now safe and secure. nevertheless. with all their might. their form of worship. must be called by that name) is for the most part more apt to be influenced by the Court than the Court by the Church. nor commanded anything to be done by his subjects in divine worship but what was approved by the counsel of priests. I beseech you? of that. or Lutherans. and enjoined thereupon such different things. what religion can ever be accounted erroneous. their articles of faith. because the magistrate does not now enjoin the observance of his own decrees in matters of religion. Mary. Yet were those kings and queens of such different minds in point of religion. Would an Israelite that had worshipped Baal upon the command of his king have been in any better condition because somebody had told him that the king ordered nothing in religion upon his own head. our modern English history affords us fresh examples in the reigns of Henry VIII. it is the same thing whether a king that prescribes laws to another man’s religion pretend to . that no man in his wits (I had almost said none but an atheist) will presume to say that any sincere and upright worshipper of God could. we must acknowledge that the Church (if a convention of clergymen. To conclude. because the head of that sect. but only the decrees of the Church.20/John Locke into idolatry and thereby into destruction? Yet. will it be ever a jot safer for me to join either unto the one or the other of those Churches. which likes him best. obey their several decrees. Of what Church. making canons. to speak the truth. and Elizabeth. everything according to the inclination of those kings and queens. As if he that compels me by laws and penalties to enter into this or the other Church. certainly. I am suspicious of the way of worship practised by the Papists. because he commands nothing in religion but by the authority and counsel of the doctors of that Church? But. upon the magistrate’s command. how easily and smoothly the clergy changed their decrees. the prelates and priests. or deliver me over to be led by others? I depend both ways upon his will. What difference is there whether he lead me himself. true and saving. did not interpose his own judgement in the matter. and those of that tribe. How the Church was under the vicissitude of orthodox and Arian emperors is very well known. false. do all of them. therefore. and declared to be of divine right by the doctors of their Church? If the religion of any Church become.

whatsoever may be doubtful in religion. why otherwise do they compel one another unto the public assemblies? Men. In a word. if I be not thoroughly persuaded thereof in my own mind. If they believe. The most likely and most approved remedy can have no effect upon the patient. there will be no safety for me in following it. do princes compel their subjects to come into their Church communion. or by the ecclesiastical authority and advice of others. In vain. nor can all their suffrages joined together add a new strength to the civil power. let us now consider what they are to do. when all is done. if his stomach reject it as soon as taken. if they believe not. whose differences and disputes are sufficiently known. is this: Although the magistrate’s opinion in religion be sound. under pretence of saving their souls. their coming will nothing avail them. and the way that he appoints be truly Evangelical. cannot be any sounder or safer than his. they must be left to their own consciences. may be the pretence of good-will and charity. It is in vain for an unbeliever to take up the outward show of another man’s profession. that they meet together. in fine. therefore. But. therefore. All men know and acknowledge that God ought to be publicly worshipped. constituted in this liberty are to enter into some religious society. How great soever. that no religion which I believe not to be true can be either true or profitable unto me. men cannot be forced to be saved whether they will or no. yet. Having thus at length freed men from all dominion over one another in matters of religion. the principal consideration. and concern for the salvation of men’s souls. And therefore. not only for mutual edification. but I cannot be saved by a religion that I distrust and by a worship that I abhor. and which absolutely determines this controversy. yet this at least is certain. Though this also must be taken notice of—that princes seldom have any regard to the suffrages of ecclesiastics that are not favourers of their own faith and way of worship. which his particular constitution will be sure to turn into poison. after all. I may grow rich by an art that I take not delight in. Faith only and inward sincerity are the things that procure acceptance with God. but to own to the world that they worship God and offer unto His Divine Majesty . they will come of their own accord. The decisions of churchmen. I may be cured of some disease by remedies that I have not faith in. No way whatsoever that I shall walk in against the dictates of my conscience will ever bring me to the mansions of the blessed. and you will in vain cram a medicine down a sick man’s throat.First Letter Concerning Toleration/21 do it by his own judgement.

Concerning outward worship. the whole subject-matter of law-making is taken away. But it does not therefore follow that the magistrate may ordain whatsoever he pleases concerning anything that is indifferent. Whatsoever is not done with that assurance of faith is neither well in itself. holiness of life. and the doctrines and articles of things must be handled each distinctly that so the whole matter of toleration may the more clearly be understood. But perhaps it may be concluded from hence that I deny unto the magistrate all manner of power about indifferent things. but because whatsoever is practised in the worship of God is only so far justifiable as it is believed by those that practise it to be acceptable unto Him. things never so indifferent in their own nature. contrary to their own judgment. I readily grant that indifferent things. the magistrate ought to tolerate. if it be not granted. To impose such things.22/John Locke such service as they themselves are not ashamed of and such as they think not unworthy of Him. though it be never so indifferent. when they are brought into the Church and worship of God. therefore. which. nor can it be acceptable to God. And further. or much less in another. considering that the end of all religion is to please Him. the use of any rites or ceremonies whatsoever in the worship of God. and perhaps none but such. finally. and decent form of worship. which. And this. But as in every Church there are two things especially to be considered—the outward form and rites of worship. These religious societies I call Churches. are removed out . it may not presently be established by law. either in his own Church. they may draw others unto the love of the true religion. and that liberty is essentially necessary to that end. nor unacceptable to Him. I say. upon any people. are subjected to the legislative power. If a thing be not useful to the commonwealth. and. appears to be absurd beyond expression. not only because these Churches are free societies. that the magistrate has no power to enforce by law. is in effect to command them to offend God. that by the purity of doctrine. in the first place. The public good is the rule and measure of all lawmaking. and these. I say. nor in this case is there any difference between the National Church and other separated congregations. and perform such other things in religion as cannot be done by each private man apart. No. for the business of these assemblies of the people is nothing but what is lawful for every man in particular to take care of—I mean the salvation of their souls.

“Who has required these. if we acknowledge that such an injury may not be done unto a Jew as to compel him. since indifferent things are not capable. by any human authority. what might not lawfully be introduced into religion? What hodgepodge of ceremonies. let it be granted that the washing of an infant with water is in itself an indifferent thing. The only business of the Church is the salvation of souls. If civil jurisdiction extend thus far. what superstitious inventions. Neither the use nor the omission of any ceremonies in those religious assemblies does either advantage or prejudice the life. things in their own nature indifferent cannot. Things indifferent are not otherwise lawful in the worship of God than as they are instituted by God Himself and as He. Nor. But it is not so in matters of religion. built upon the magistrate’s authority. or any member of it. or such-like things at your hands?” will it be enough to answer Him that the magistrate commanded them.First Letter Concerning Toleration/23 of the reach of the magistrate’s jurisdiction. and therefore in those things human authority has place. that this or the other ceremony be there made use of. Or let us apply the last case to the child of a Jew. For what hinders but a Christian magistrate may have subjects that are Jews? Now. let it be granted also that the magistrate understand such washing to be profitable to the curing or preventing of any disease the children are subject unto. when an incensed Deity shall ask us. to propitiate the Deity. because in that use they have no connection at all with civil affairs. liberty. against his own opinion. or estate of any man. For example. For. no human power or authority can confer on them so much dignity and excellency as to enable them to do it. and esteem the matter weighty enough to be taken care of by a law. and it no way concerns the commonwealth. But will any one therefore say that a magistrate has the same right to ordain by law that all children shall be baptised by priests in the sacred font in order to the purification of their souls? The extreme difference of these two cases is visible to every one at first sight. might not (against conscience) be imposed . In the common affairs of life that use of indifferent things which God has not forbidden is free and lawful. by some positive command. how can we maintain that anything of this kind may be done to a Christian? Again. In that case he may order it to be done. be made any part of the worship of God—for this very reason: because they are indifferent. has ordained them to be made a part of that worship which He will vouchsafe to accept at the hands of poor sinful men. to practise in his religion a thing that is in its nature indifferent. and the thing speaks itself. by any virtue of their own.

and expiations by water or fire. yet the particular instances or modifications of them are not determined. nor are they sinful upon any other account than because God is not the author of them. because. Will any man. equally and infinitely distant from all affinity with matter. when they come to be annexed unto divine worship. in the worship of God. they are as abominable to God as the sacrifice of a dog. But that cannot be done by him who. say that these things could have been introduced into religion and made a part of divine worship if not by divine institution? If any human authority or civil power could have done this. He that worships God does it with design to please Him and procure His favour. in respect of the divine nature. and therefore they are indifferent. therefore. be introduced into religion and imposed upon religious assemblies. though in general they cannot be separated from worship. This is not to please God. upon that pretence.24/John Locke upon the worshippers of God? For the greatest part of these ceremonies and superstitions consists in the religious use of such things as are in their own nature indifferent. And why is a dog so abominable? What difference is there between a dog and a goat. that indifferent things. and abundance more of this kind? But these things. Of this sort . That is a part of the worship which is believed to be appointed by God and to be well-pleasing to Him. because not commanded by Himself. Circumstances are such things which. unless it be that God required the use of one in His worship and not of the other? We see. upon the command of another. but willingly and knowingly to provoke Him by a manifest contempt. or appease his wrath. how is it then that Churches themselves have the power of ordering anything about the time and place of worship and the like?” To this I answer that in religious worship we must distinguish between what is part of the worship itself and what is but a circumstance. offers unto God that which he knows will be displeasing to Him. The sprinkling of water and the use of bread and wine are both in their own nature and in the ordinary occasions of life altogether indifferent. how indifferent soever they be in common uses. therefore. why might it not also enjoin the eating of fish and drinking of ale in the holy banquet as a part of divine worship? Why not the sprinkling of the blood of beasts in churches. and therefore that is necessary. how much soever they be under the power of the civil magistrate. they wholly cease to be indifferent. without divine authority. But it will be here asked: “If nothing belonging to divine worship be left to human discretion. which is a thing absolutely repugnant to the nature and end of worship. yet cannot.

it is their part to consider that do it. but a part of the worship itself. In the next place: As the magistrate has no power to impose by his laws the use of any rites and ceremonies in any Church. But. But if peradventure such were the state of things that the interest of the commonwealth required all slaughter . those who believe the first or the seventh day to be set apart by God. habit and posture of him that worships. And thus what may be spent on a feast may be spent on a sacrifice. because they are committed in a religious assembly? I answer: No. These are circumstances. But these. These things are not lawful in the ordinary course of life. if some congregations should have a mind to sacrifice infants. For example: amongst the Jews the time and place of their worship and the habits of those that officiated in it were not mere circumstances. For no injury is thereby done to any one. and perfectly indifferent. which the prudence of every Church may bring into such use as shall be judged most subservient to the end of order. if anything were defective. in which. and practised by any Church. which can neither be changed nor neglected. You will say. and burn any part of it that he thinks fit. so neither has he any power to forbid the use of such rites and ceremonies as are already received. by this rule. Meliboeus. Whether the doing so be well-pleasing to God or no. are mere circumstances of worship. approved. if he did so. they could not hope that it would be accepted by God. to them that portion of time is not a simple circumstance. and consecrated still to His worship. and that there be no injury done to any man. but a real part of Divine worship. indeed. may lawfully kill his calf at home. is the magistrate obliged to tolerate them. or different from the institution. and edification. because. But. or practise any other such heinous enormities. if any people congregated upon account of religion should be desirous to sacrifice a calf. or in any religious meeting. and therefore neither are they so in the worship of God. or (as the primitive Christians were falsely accused) lustfully pollute themselves in promiscuous uncleanness. I deny that that ought to be prohibited by a law. where God has not given any express command about them. nor in any private house. to Christians under the liberty of the Gospel. The part of the magistrate is only to take care that the commonwealth receive no prejudice. no prejudice to another man’s goods. he would destroy the Church itself: the end of whose institution is only to worship God with freedom after its own manner.First Letter Concerning Toleration/25 are the time and place of worship. whose calf it is. And for the same reason he may kill his calf also in a religious meeting. even under the Gospel. either in life or estate. decency.

and the religion of every prince is orthodox to himself. but it will in the same manner be lawful to alter everything. in India. there can be no bounds put to it. according to that rule of truth which the magistrate has framed unto himself. or it can change nothing. therefore. who sees not that the magistrate. No man whatsoever ought. according to the prince’s pleasure. forbidden by laws. the law ought not to abridge him of the same liberty in his religious worship. thereby prohibited. by violence and blood. If it be once permitted to introduce anything into religion by the means of laws and penalties. may forbid all his subjects to kill any calves for any use whatsoever? Only it is to be observed that. Only the magistrate ought always to be very careful that he do not misuse his authority to the oppression of any Church. It may be said: “What if a Church be idolatrous. neither can nor ought to be forbidden by him to any sect of people for their religious uses. in this case. therefore. in such a case. But those things that are prejudicial to the commonweal of a people in their ordinary use and are. either sitting or kneeling in his own house. by the same rule another magistrate. nor is the sacrifice. for example. The civil power can either change everything in religion. those things ought not to be permitted to Churches in their sacred rites. may oppress the reformed religion and. which may not in time and place be made use of to the ruin of an orthodox one? For it must be remembered that the civil power is the same everywhere. Whatsoever is lawful in the Commonwealth cannot be prohibited by the magistrate in the Church. is that also to be tolerated by the magistrate?” I answer: What power can be given to the magistrate for the suppression of an idolatrous Church. By this we see what difference there is between the Church and the Commonwealth. the law is not made about a religious. such a power be granted unto the civil magistrate in spirituals as that at Geneva. If any man may lawfully take bread or wine. but the slaughter of calves. under pretence of public good. in order to the increasing of the stock of cattle that had been destroyed by some extraordinary murrain. in some neighbouring country. to be deprived of his terrestrial enjoyments upon account of his . though in the Church the use of bread and wine be very different and be there applied to the mysteries of faith and rites of Divine worship. the religion which is there reputed idolatrous.26/John Locke of beasts should be forborne for some while. Whatsoever is permitted unto any of his subjects for their ordinary use. but a political matter. therefore. he may extirpate. If. the Christian.

For it does not belong unto the magistrate to make use of his sword in punishing everything. rapine. may apply this story to himself. and they all join together. While things are in this condition peace. nor are any civil rights to be either changed or violated upon account of religion in one place more than another. destitute of everything. and by that means their party becomes the most powerful. Then. which yet no man ever said . friendship. For the reason of the thing is equal. the inference were good. faith. is capable to produce. but does not suddenly grow the strongest. Now whosoever maintains that idolatry is to be rooted out of any place by laws. at last. and unless these innocent Pagans. and many other things are sins by the consent of men. nor any dissenting Christians here. fire. that they would succour them with the necessaries of life. I say. Thus it is: An inconsiderable and weak number of Christians. and grow up into one body of people. At length the magistrate becomes a Christian.First Letter Concerning Toleration/27 religion. it appears what zeal for the Church. and ambition. say some. and of the care of souls. subjected unto a Christian prince. by the bowels of humanity. Let us trace this matter to the bottom. these foreigners beseech the inhabitants. Then immediately all compacts are to be broken. The Christian religion by this means takes root in that country and spreads itself. they are to be turned out of the lands and possessions of their forefathers and perhaps deprived of life itself. that he takes to be a sin against God. But idolatry. those necessaries are given them. and sword. and how easily the pretence of religion. is a sin and therefore not to be tolerated. and equal justice are preserved amongst them. And neither Pagans there. joined with the desire of dominion. both in America and Europe. uncharitableness. But it does not follow that because it is a sin it ought therefore to be punished by the magistrate. strict observers of the rules of equity and the law of Nature and no ways offending against the laws of the society. with any right. all civil rights to be violated. be deprived of their worldly goods by the predominating faction of a court-church. indifferently. Not even Americans. serves for a cloak to covetousness. If they said it were therefore to be avoided. they are to be left unto God and themselves. can. habitations are granted. are to be punished either in body or goods for not embracing our faith and worship. arrive in a Pagan country. If they are persuaded that they please God in observing the rites of their own country and that they shall obtain happiness by that means. unless they will forsake their ancient religion and embrace a new and strange one. Covetousness. punishments. idleness. that idolatry may be extirpated.

and made citizens of that commonwealth. by the law of Moses. indeed. nor do they break the public peace of societies. I will examine this argument a little more particularly. nor was there. but they have retained their ancient form . if any one can shew me where there is a commonwealth at this time. There are. Nay. O Israel.28/John Locke were to be punished by the magistrate. any difference between that commonwealth and the Church. may not the Christians for the same reason. judicial. however. Now. in which God Himself was the legislator. For no positive law whatsoever can oblige any people but those to whom it is given. but only the injury done unto men’s neighbours and to the commonwealth. and after the same manner. many cities and kingdoms that have embraced the faith of Christ. These were proceeded against as traitors and rebels. But. but there is nothing more frivolous than that common distinction of moral. “Hear.” sufficiently restrains the obligations of the law of Moses only to that people. guilty of no less than high treason. The laws established there concerning the worship of One Invisible Deity were the civil laws of that people and a part of their political government. falls under a double consideration. For the commonwealth of the Jews. constituted upon that foundation. but that is not obligatory to us Christians. I will acknowledge that the ecclesiastical laws do there unavoidably become a part of the civil. unless. The reason is because they are not prejudicial to other men’s rights. being initiated in the Mosaical rites. and ceremonial law. But there is absolutely no such thing under the Gospel as a Christian commonwealth. idolaters were to be rooted out. different in that from all others. and that the subjects of that government both may and ought to be kept in strict conformity with that Church by the civil power. the Christian religion seem false and offensive to God. by the law of Moses. be extirpated there? But it may be urged farther that. And this consideration alone is answer enough unto those that urge the authority of the law of Moses for the inflicting of capital punishment upon idolaters. was an absolute theocracy. True. in which the real turpitude of the thing and the offence against God are not considered. And what if in another country. or could there be. in certain cases. indeed. even the sins of lying and perjury are nowhere punishable by laws. did afterwards apostatise from the worship of the God of Israel. Nobody pretends that everything generally enjoined by the law of Moses ought to be practised by Christians. in respect of the Jewish commonwealth. The case of idolaters. to a Mahometan or a Pagan prince. The first is of those who. which men ordinarily make use of.

hath taught men how. though all idolatry was thus rooted out of the land of Canaan. though all of them were certainly guilty of it. he was obliged to submit to their laws. Amongst so many captives taken. but He instituted no commonwealth. and their lands. upon the same grounds. they may obtain eternal life. David and Solomon subdued many countries without the confines of the Land of Promise and carried their conquests as far as Euphrates. He. All idolatry was. on the contrary. He could not suffer the adoration of any other deity (which was properly an act of high treason against Himself) in the land of Canaan. desired to be made a denizen of their commonwealth. against the laws of Empire. to embrace their religion. which was His kingdom.8 But. foreigners and such as were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel were not compelled by force to observe the rites of the Mosaical law. and were allowed by treaty. But this he did willingly. which was perfectly political in that country. I confess that the seven nations that possessed the land which was promised to the Israelites were utterly to be cut off. so many nations reduced under their obedience. but. that is. For such a manifest revolt could no ways consist with His dominion. The whole family of Rahab. why were the Moabites and other nations to be spared? No: the reason is this. If any one. indeed. with commission to make use of it in forcing men to forsake their former religion and receive His. therefore. God being in a peculiar manner the King of the Jews. indeed. given by God to the invaders.7 there it is provided that strangers should not be vexed nor oppressed. nor put He the sword into any magistrate’s hand. The inhabitants were also to be driven out. Secondly. we find not one man forced into the Jewish religion and the worship of the true God and punished for idolatry. He prescribed unto His followers no new and peculiar form of government. becoming a proselyte. not by . articled with Joshua. that is say. in the very same place where it is ordered that an Israelite that was an idolater should be put to death. yet every idolater was not brought to execution. to be rooted out of the bounds of His kingdom because it was an acknowledgment of another god. For if that had been the reason. on his own accord. the whole nation of the Gibeonites. that the entire possession of the land might be given to the Israelites. but this was not singly because they were idolaters. and there were many captives amongst the Jews who were idolaters. And for the like reason the Emims and the Horims were driven out of their countries by the children of Esau and Lot. another king. by faith and good works. with which the law of Christ hath not at all meddled.First Letter Concerning Toleration/29 of government.

Speculative opinions. For the truth certainly would do well enough if she were once left to shift for herself. he does no injury thereby to his neighbour. I readily grant that these opinions are false and absurd. Let us now consider articles of faith. but he sought and solicited for it as a privilege. She seldom has received and. “But.30/John Locke constraint. never will receive much assistance from the power of great men. And if he does it not in order to save them. If a Jew do not believe the New Testament to be the Word of God. for the salvation of their souls! If the magistrate thinks to save men thus. If a Roman Catholic believe that to be really the body of Christ which another man calls bread. I fear. those influence the will and manners. that were situated without those bounds. but for the safety and security of the commonwealth and of every particular man’s goods and person. he does not thereby alter anything in men’s civil rights. that obliges men to dissemble and tell lies. cannot be imposed on any Church by the law of the land. For it is absurd that things should be enjoined by laws which are not in men’s power to perform. and articles of faith (as they are called) which are required only to be believed. But the business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions. however subjected unto the Jews. indeed. why is he so solicitous about the articles of faith as to enact them by a law? Further. both to God and man. yet these terminate simply in the understanding. he is not therefore to be punished as a pernicious citizen. And so it ought to be. The power of the magistrate and the estates of the people may be equally secure whether any man believe these things or no. “let men at least profess that they believe. therefore.” will some say. he became subject to the laws of the commonwealth. And to believe this or that to be true does not depend upon our will. Thus far concerning outward worship. He did not unwillingly submit. to whom she is but rarely . But that law (as I have said) did not reach to any of those regions. the magistrate ought not to forbid the preaching or professing of any speculative opinions in any Church because they have no manner of relation to the civil rights of the subjects. he seems to understand little of the way of salvation. But of this enough has been said already. to show his obedience. by which all idolatry was forbidden within the borders of the land of Canaan. And. The articles of religion are some of them practical and some speculative. If a heathen doubt of both Testaments. as soon as he was admitted. Now.” A sweet religion. though both sorts consist in the knowledge of truth.

is great danger. Thus much for speculative opinions. because there is nothing in this world that is of any consideration in comparison with eternity. that the observance of these things is the highest obligation that lies upon mankind and that our utmost care. to the jurisdiction both of the outward and inward court. concerns also the civil government. Every man has an immortal soul. A good life.First Letter Concerning Toleration/31 known and more rarely welcome. and in it lies the safety both of men’s souls and of the commonwealth. Moral actions belong. lest one of these jurisdictions intrench upon the other. Any one may employ as many exhortations and arguments as he pleases. nor is his perdition any prejudice to another man’s affairs. and are prescribed by God to that end. It follows from thence. the care of each man’s salvation belongs only to himself. both of the civil and domestic governor. capable of eternal happiness or misery. she will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her. and diligence ought to be exercised in the search and performance of them. Secondly. whose happiness depending upon his believing and doing those things in this life which are necessary to the obtaining of God’s favour. And the reason is because nobody else is concerned in it. application. first. nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men. further than he himself is persuaded. Nothing is to be done imperiously. I mean both of the magistrate and conscience. Let us now proceed to practical ones. it will easily remove all difficulty in this matter. towards the promoting of another man’s salvation. therefore. therefore. that seeing one man does not violate the right of another by his erroneous opinions and undue manner of worship. But if what has been already said concerning the limits of both these governments be rightly considered. nor can receive any prejudice . Here. She is not taught by laws. therefore. But all force and compulsion are to be forborne. But if Truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light. Nobody is obliged in that matter to yield obedience unto the admonitions or injunctions of another. Errors. in which consist not the least part of religion and true piety. Every man in that has the supreme and absolute authority of judging for himself. which are indeed the greatest duty of a Christian. But I would not have this understood as if I meant hereby to condemn all charitable admonitions and affectionate endeavours to reduce men from errors. indeed. prevail by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours. and discord arise between the keeper of the public peace and the overseers of souls.

or by the hostile violence of foreigners. and the only thing they seek and aim at in it. it is easy to understand to what end the legislative power ought to be directed and by what measures regulated. draws on another care and necessarily gives another employment. I mean that provision may be made for the security of each man’s private possessions. riches. men have also their temporal lives here upon earth. and public commodities of the whole people. either by the rapine and fraud of their fellow citizens. grounded upon their mutual compacts of assistance for the defence of their temporal goods. nor the hope of it be forced from him by any external violence. and these are the bounds of the legislative (which is the supreme) power in every commonwealth. that by mutual assistance and joint force they may secure unto each other their properties. for the increase of their inward strength against foreign invasions. and multitude of citizens. forasmuch as men thus entering into societies. for the peace. nor can the loss of it turn to another man’s prejudice. the attainment whereof can neither be facilitated by another man’s industry. and the duration uncertain. But besides their souls. And it is also evident what liberty . they have need of several outward conveniences to the support thereof. this is the use. But. as much as possible. which is the sole reason of men’s entering into society. which are to be procured or preserved by pains and industry. This part. may. But the pravity of mankind being such that they had rather injuriously prey upon the fruits of other men’s labours than take pains to provide for themselves. and that is the temporal good and outward prosperity of the society. obliges men to enter into society with one another. nevertheless. in the things that contribute to the comfort and happiness of this life. and the care of all things relating both to one and the other is committed by the society to the civil magistrate. This is the original.32/John Locke from his conduct therein. the remedy of the other in laws. whereby they may acquire what they farther want. be deprived of them. the necessity of preserving men in the possession of what honest industry has already acquired and also of preserving their liberty and strength. leaving in the meanwhile to every man the care of his own eternal happiness. which are immortal. These things being thus explained. nor do offer themselves fit and prepared for our use. For those things that are necessary to the comfortable support of our lives are not the spontaneous products of nature. the remedy of this evil consists in arms. the state whereof being frail and fleeting. riches. and. therefore.

perhaps. I mean for their religion. if government be faithfully administered and the counsels of the magistrates be indeed directed to the public good. afterwards to the laws. The care of each man’s soul and of the things of heaven. and the preserving of those things unto their owners is the duty of the magistrate. But what if the magistrate believe such a law as this to be for the public good? I answer: As the private judgement of any particular person. be concerning things that lie not within the verge of the magistrate’s authority (as. that such a private person is to abstain from the action that he judges unlawful. so the private judgement (as I may call it) of the magistrate does not give him any new right of imposing laws upon his subjects. and join in the worship and ceremonies of another Church). nor ever was in the . it do so fall out. that the people. against their consciences.First Letter Concerning Toleration/33 remains to men in reference to their eternal salvation. and he is to undergo the punishment which it is not unlawful for him to bear. And therefore the magistrate cannot take away these worldly things from this man or party and give them to that. for the public good. which neither does belong to the commonwealth nor can be subjected to it. For obedience is due. indeed. if erroneous. in the first place. men are not in these cases obliged by that law. should be compelled to embrace a strange religion. But if the law. does not take away the obligation of that law. which are the things that only belong unto the care of the commonwealth. which whether it be true or false does no prejudice to the worldly concerns of their fellow subjects. is left entirely to every man’s self. nor deserve a dispensation. for example. on whose good pleasure and acceptance depends their eternal happiness. For the private judgement of any person concerning a law enacted in political matters. or any party amongst them. to God and. this will seldom happen. and that is that every one should do what he in his conscience is persuaded to be acceptable to the Almighty. for a cause that has no relation to the end of civil government. nor change propriety amongst fellow subjects (no not even by a law). For the political society is instituted for no other end. which neither was in the constitution of the government granted him. I say. But some may ask: “What if the magistrate should enjoin anything by his authority that appears unlawful to the conscience of a private person?” I answer that. but only to secure every man’s possession of the things of this life. But if. Thus the safeguard of men’s lives and of the things that belong unto this life is the business of the commonwealth. does not exempt him from the obligation of law.

where they see all laid waste. reputation. I only know what usually happens where controversies arise without a judge to determine them. the one managed by law. everything would be thereby endangered.34/John Locke power of the people to grant. the other by force. of the public peace. and. indeed. who will retribute unto every one at the last day according to his deserts. therefore. or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society. For there is no judge upon earth between the supreme magistrate and the people. much less if he make it his business to enrich and advance his followers and fellow-sectaries with the spoils of others. or that the domin- . but the rule of right. but in effect opposite to the civil right of the community. that is. for doctrines of religion. is when men arrogate to themselves. But what if the magistrate believe that he has a right to make such laws and that they are for the public good. the other always begins. then. and his subjects believe the contrary? Who shall be judge between them? I answer: God alone. but the question is not here concerning the doubtfulness of the event. and these are of that nature that where the one ends. is the only judge in this case. examples in any Church are rare. There are two sorts of contests amongst men. because their own interest. and peace of mankind. For no sect can easily arrive to such a degree of madness as that it should think fit to teach. according to his sincerity and uprightness in endeavouring to promote piety. But it is not my business to inquire into the power of the magistrate in the different constitutions of nations. I say. I say. no opinions contrary to human society. But to come to particulars. But of these. first. You will say. though yet there are very few will think it is peace there. in the next place. are to be tolerated by the magistrate. Another more secret evil. such things as manifestly undermine the foundations of society and are. peace. and to those of their own sect. Without doubt. but more dangerous to the commonwealth. and the public weal. But What shall be done in the meanwhile? I answer: The principal and chief care of every one ought to be of his own soul first. that men are not obliged to keep their promise. For example: we cannot find any sect that teaches. God. some peculiar prerogative covered over with a specious show of deceitful words. expressly and openly. that princes may be dethroned by those that differ from them in religion. condemned by the judgement of all mankind. the magistrate being the stronger will have his will and carry his point.

would soon draw on them the eye and hand of the magistrate and awaken all the care of the commonwealth to a watchfulness against the spreading of so dangerous an evil. and that they only ask leave to be tolerated by the magistrate so long until they find themselves strong enough to effect it? Again: That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince. What else do they mean who teach that faith is not to be kept with heretics? Their meaning. religious. in plain terms. as neither those that will not own and teach the duty of tolerating all men in matters of mere religion. But. or who upon pretence of religion do challenge any manner of authority over such as are not associated with them in their ecclesiastical communion. That dominion is founded in grace is also an assertion by which those that maintain it do plainly lay claim to the possession of all things. nevertheless. for they declare all that are not of their communion to be heretics. that is. For these things. or at least may declare them so whensoever they think fit. but that they may and are ready upon any occasion to seize the Government and possess themselves of the estates and fortunes of their fellow subjects. as it were. forsooth. What can be the meaning of their asserting that kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms? It is evident that they thereby arrogate unto themselves the power of deposing kings. because they challenge the power of excommunication. These. as the peculiar right of their hierarchy. is that the privilege of breaking faith belongs unto themselves. therefore.First Letter Concerning Toleration/35 ion of all things belongs only to themselves. who has not only power to persuade . especially when both the one and the other are equally subject to the absolute authority of the same person. For what do all these and the like doctrines signify. unto themselves. in civil concernments. and the like. and orthodox. For they are not so wanting to themselves as not to believe. proposed thus nakedly and plainly. or at least as not to profess themselves to be the truly pious and faithful. Nor does the frivolous and fallacious distinction between the Court and the Church afford any remedy to this inconvenience. any peculiar privilege or power above other mortals. we find those that say the same things in other words. For by this means the magistrate would give way to the settling of a foreign jurisdiction in his own country and suffer his own people to be listed. for soldiers against his own Government. who attribute unto the faithful. I say these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate.

But let us examine particularly the heads of these accusations. It remains that I say something concerning those assemblies which. if they do not tend to establish domination over others. are thought to afford against this doctrine of toleration. but by the unhappy circumstances of an oppressed or ill-settled liberty. who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor and frames the feigned oracles of that religion according to his pleasure. and teach that liberty of conscience is every man’s natural right. though but even in thought. and these causes of discontents and animosities being once removed. But this Mahometan living amongst Christians would yet more apparently renounce their government if he acknowledged the same person to be head of his Church who is the supreme magistrate in the state. those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises. dissolves all. You will say that assemblies and meetings endanger the public peace . besides also. those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion. and that nobody ought to be compelled in matters of religion either by law or force. though not absolutely free from all error. there would remain nothing in these assemblies that were not more peaceable and less apt to produce disturbance of state than in any other meetings whatsoever. As for other practical opinions.36/John Locke the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists. or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught. there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated. whilst at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople. can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. The taking away of God. equally belonging to dissenters as to themselves. It is ridiculous for any one to profess himself to be a Mahometan only in his religion. These accusations would soon cease if the law of toleration were once so settled that all Churches were obliged to lay down toleration as the foundation of their own liberty. The establishment of this one thing would take away all ground of complaints and tumults upon account of conscience. being vulgarly called and perhaps having sometimes been conventicles and nurseries of factions and seditions. either as purely religious. and oaths. but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate. covenants. which are the bonds of human society. or in order thereunto. Lastly. can have no hold upon an atheist. but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire. But this has not happened by anything peculiar unto the genius of such assemblies.

everywhere safe. As if he were not also a part of the commonwealth. it is not religion inspires them to it in their meetings. and he will quickly find that these religious meetings will be no longer dangerous. but severe and cruel to the other. Those he uses as slaves and. But it will be urged still that civil assemblies are open and free for any one to enter into.” I answer: It is a likely thing. Let him turn the tables. Oh. and death.First Letter Concerning Toleration/37 and threaten the commonwealth. As if an agreement in matters of religion were in effect a conspiracy against the commonwealth. Just and moderate governments are everywhere quiet. but these ecclesiastical meetings are of persons that are all of one opinion. and why does he not forbid their assemblies as things dangerous to his Government? You will say because he himself is a part and even the head of them. those that desire. who are they (I beseech you) that are to be blamed for it. those he continually scourges and oppresses. but their sufferings and oppressions that make them willing to ease themselves. prisons. why are there daily such numerous meetings in markets and Courts of Judicature? Why are crowds upon the Exchange and a concourse of people in cities suffered? You will reply: “Those are civil assemblies. but civil assemblies are composed of men that differ from one another in matters of religion. I answer that this is not strictly true. but oppression raises ferments and makes men struggle to cast off . and the head of the whole people! Let us therefore deal plainly. how blamelessly soever they demean themselves. Or let those dissenters enjoy but the same privileges in civils as his other subjects. recompenses them no otherwise than by galleys. but these we object against are ecclesiastical. And if some religious meetings be private. But if this be so. you will say that religious communion does exceedingly unite men’s minds and affections to one another and is therefore the more dangerous. These he cherishes and defends. for many civil assemblies are not open to everyone. that such assemblies as are altogether remote from civil affairs should be most apt to embroil them. or those that forbid their being public! Again. The magistrate is afraid of other Churches. and indulges them even to wantonness. whereas religious conventicles are more private and thereby give opportunity to clandestine machinations. because he is kind and favourable to the one. but not of his own. confiscations. These he treats like children. why is not the magistrate afraid of his own Church. or as if men would not be so much the more warmly unanimous in religion the less liberty they had of assembling. I answer: If this be so. For if men enter into seditious conspiracies. indeed.

Take away the partiality that is used towards them in matters of common right. that parents should not have the government and education of their own children. will you have people to meet at divine service against the magistrate’s will?” I answer: Why.38/John Locke an uneasy and tyrannical yoke. Neighbourhood joins some and religion others. take away the penalties unto which they are subjected. that all should either be excluded from the benefit of the laws. and all things will immediately become safe and peaceable. but from the common disposition of all mankind. and all the several separate congregations. and that is oppression. nay. change the laws. thus distinguished from others by the colour of their hair and eyes. others for want of business have their clubs for claret. the stirs that are made proceed not from any peculiar temper of this or that Church or religious society. would be as dangerous to the magistrate as any others that had associated themselves merely upon the account of religion? Some enter into company for trade and profit. that they should not be permitted either to buy or sell. against his will? Is it not both lawful and necessary that they should meet? Against his will. I pray. do you say? That is what I complain of. but it is as true that for religion subjects are frequently ill treated and live miserably. can it be doubted but these persons. The business in that is that they are ill used. that is the very root of all the mischief. But there is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotions. I know that seditions are very frequently raised upon pretence of religion. like so many guardians of the public peace. You will say “What. because they can hope for noth- . that nothing may be innovated or changed in the form of the government. and united together by one common persecution. and therefore they are not to be suffered. Why are assemblies less sufferable in a church than in a theatre or market? Those that meet there are not either more vicious or more turbulent than those that meet elsewhere. shapes. those that are averse to the religion of the magistrate will think themselves so much the more bound to maintain the peace of the commonwealth as their condition is better in that place than elsewhere. and that there were some other distinction made between men and men upon account of their different complexions. will watch one another. who when they groan under any heavy burthen endeavour naturally to shake off the yoke that galls their necks. Believe me. so that those who have black hair (for example) or grey eyes should not enjoy the same privileges as other citizens. Suppose this business of religion were let alone. or live by their callings. or meet with partial judges. and features.

Is it permitted to speak Latin in the market-place? Let those that have a mind to it be permitted to do it also in the Church. drink wine. Let no man’s life. or house. and where none will have any occasion to fear the severity of the laws but those that do injuries to their neighbours and offend against the civil peace? That we may draw towards a conclusion. nor anything at all to do with riches and revenues. how much greater will be the security of government where all good subjects. Is it lawful for any man in his own house to kneel. or body. nor are one part of the subjects to be esteemed more blamable for their meeting together than others. let them remain free unto every Church in divine worship. or wash with water in the church. sit. These meetings ought not to be sanctuaries for factious and flagitious fellows. These are allowed to people of some one persuasion. Now if that Church which agrees in religion with the prince be esteemed the chief support of any civil government. and that for no other reason (as has already been shown) than because the prince is kind and the laws are favourable to it. The sum of all we drive at is that every man may enjoy the same rights that are granted to others. why not to all? If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously and contrary to the public peace. In a word. it is to be punished in the same manner and no otherwise than as if it had happened in a fair or market. in short or in long garments? Let it not be made unlawful to eat bread. and no man is to be laid under a suspicion or odium . and to clothe himself in white or black. an equal condition with their fellow-subjects under a just and moderate government. nor any manner of power of compulsion. whatsoever things are left free by law in the common occasions of life. whether it be administered by the hands of a single person or many. enjoying the same favour of the prince and the same benefit of the laws. Every one is to be accountable for his own actions.First Letter Concerning Toleration/39 ing better than what they already enjoy—that is. of whatsoever Church they be. is everywhere the same. stand. Is it permitted to worship God in the Roman manner? Let it be permitted to do it in the Geneva form also. or use any other posture. and neither has any jurisdiction in things civil. suffer any manner of prejudice upon these accounts. shall become the common support and guard of it. Ecclesiastical assemblies and sermons are justified by daily experience and public allowance. or estate. without any distinction upon account of religion. Nor ought it to be less lawful for men to meet in churches than in halls. Can you allow of the Presbyterian discipline? Why should not the Episcopal also have what they like? Ecclesiastical authority.

to be turbulent and destructive to the civil peace. Nay. tumults. The Church which “judgeth not those that are without”9 wants it not. robbers. public worship be permitted to any one sort of professors. all these things ought to be permitted to the Presbyterians. But far be it from us to say any such thing of that religion which carries the greatest opposition to covetousness. but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinions (which might have been granted). and others. this the nature of the Christian religion. why should we not allow them to have synagogues? Is their doctrine more false.” I answer: Is this the fault of the Christian religion? If it be so. and as becomes one man to another. ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. if we consider right. etc. therefore. and civil wars. ambition. Thus if solemn assemblies. requires it not. nor Jew. Quakers. and industrious.40/John Locke for the fault of another. But those whose doctrine is peaceable and whose manners are pure and blameless ought to be upon equal terms with their fellow-subjects. discord. thieves. of whatsoever Church. we shall find it to consist wholly in the subject that I am treating of. their worship more abominable. Independents. Arminians. or is the civil peace more endangered by their meeting in public than in their private houses? But if these things may be granted to Jews and Pagans. that Church itself which the magistrate indulges will not always be innocent. You will say. For if this be the genius. The Gospel commands no such thing. perhaps: “Yes. observations of festivals. neither Pagan nor Mahometan. Shall we suffer a Pagan to deal and trade with us. that has produced all the bustles . and all manner of inordinate desires. it ought to be. ought to be punished and suppressed. nor tolerated by any commonwealth. peaceable. surely the condition of any Christians ought not to be worse than theirs in a Christian commonwealth. slanderers. whether national or not. if we may openly speak the truth. and shall we not suffer him to pray unto and worship God? If we allow the Jews to have private houses and dwellings amongst us. We must. Anabaptists. because they are more inclinable to factions. and is the most modest and peaceable religion that ever was. which embraces indifferently all men that are honest. contention. It is not the diversity of opinions (which cannot be avoided). adulterers. And the commonwealth. seek another cause of those evils that are charged upon religion. with the same liberty. And. truly the Christian religion is the worst of all religions and ought neither to be embraced by any particular person.. murderers. Those that are seditious.

by flattering the ambition and favouring the dominion of princes and men in authority. they endeavour with all their might to promote that tyranny in the commonwealth which otherwise they should not be able to establish in the Church? This is the unhappy agreement that we see between the Church and State. and have therefore thought fit to make use of their covetousness and pride as means whereby to increase their own power. have incensed and animated them against those that dissent from themselves. more ministers of the government than ministers of the Gospel and that.First Letter Concerning Toleration/41 and wars that have been in the Christian world upon account of religion. and. and to defend their natural rights (which are not forfeitable upon account of religion) with arms as well as they can? That this has been hitherto the ordinary course of things is abundantly evident in history. The heads and leaders of the Church. and that the occasion for which they are thus treated does not at all belong to the jurisdiction of the magistrate. But that magistrates should thus suffer these incendiaries and disturbers of the public peace might justly be wondered at if it did not appear that they have been invited by them unto a participation of the spoil. and so long as those that ought to be the preachers of peace and concord shall continue with all their art and strength to excite men to arms and sound the trumpet of war. to be delivered up for a prey to other men’s violence and rapine. Now as it is very difficult for men patiently to suffer themselves to be stripped of the goods which they have got by their honest industry. contrary to all the laws of equity. And thus have they mixed together and confounded two things that are in themselves most different. indeed. should in the end think it lawful for them to resist force with force. as it has done hitherto. that schismatics and heretics are to be outed of their possessions and destroyed. moved by avarice and insatiable desire of dominion. what else can be expected but that these men. be otherwise so long as the principle of persecution for religion shall prevail. contrary to the laws of the Gospel and to the precepts of charity. especially when they are otherwise altogether blameless. making use of the immoderate ambition of magistrates and the credulous superstition of the giddy multitude. by preaching unto them. and that it will continue to be so hereafter is but too apparent in reason. It cannot indeed. Whereas . but entirely to the conscience of every particular man for the conduct of which he is accountable to God only. growing weary of the evils under which they labour. the Church and the commonwealth. both human and divine. with magistrate and people. For who does not see that these good men are.

without intermeddling with State Affairs. ungovernable. because these acknowledge nothing but the Holy Scriptures to be the rule and foundation of their religion. We are to inquire. Concerning which it is manifest that those who have one and the same rule of faith and worship are of the same religion. Perhaps it may not be amiss to add a few things concerning heresy and schism. Sed pudet hoec opprobria. and those who have not the same rule of faith and worship are of different religions. and by this it appears that men of different religions cannot be heretics or schismatics to one another. Thus Turks and Christians are of different religions. and vice versa. and injurious to their brethren. growing more careful to conform their own consciences to the law of God and less solicitous about the binding of other men’s consciences by human laws. This nobody doubts of. therefore. yet are not both of the same religion. and those the Alcoran. may. and that civil magistrates. except only of such as are arrogant. nor can be. may apply themselves wholly to promote the salvation of souls. Farewell. I beseech Him. and if any man fall off from the Christian faith to Mahometism. like fathers of their country. and thus the Christians of St.the one attending to the worldly welfare of the commonwealth. John (as they are called) and the Christians of Geneva . who boast themselves to be the successors of the Apostles. etc. the other to the salvation of souls—it is impossible that any discord should ever have happened between them.42/John Locke if each of them would contain itself within its own bounds. For since all things that belong unto that religion are contained in that rule. either heretic or schismatic to a Christian. The Papists and Lutherans. those take in also traditions and the decrees of Popes and of these together make the rule of their religion. he does not thereby become a heretic or schismatic. because these take the Holy Scriptures to be the rule of their religion. that the gospel of peace may at length be preached. though both of them profess faith in Christ and are therefore called Christians. And for the same reason there may be different religions also even amongst Christians. it follows necessarily that those who agree in one rule are of one and the same religion. but an apostate and an infidel. direct all their counsels and endeavours to promote universally the civil welfare of all their children. God Almighty grant. A Turk is not. and that all ecclesiastical men. what men are of the same religion. walking peaceably and modestly in the Apostles’ steps.

But it would be very ill done to obtrude those things upon others unto whom they do not seem to be the indubitable doctrines of the Scripture. it is undoubtedly well done of them who believe and profess such things as seem unto them so agreeable to the rule of faith. For it is not the paucity of those that are separated.First Letter Concerning Toleration/43 are of different religions. heresy is a separation made in their Christian communion for opinions not contained in the express words of Scripture. and those I know not what traditions. for when they have determined the Holy Scriptures to be the only foundation of faith. they therefore make a separation in the Church. or expelling the others from them. of the Church separates itself from others by excluding them out of her communion because they will not profess their belief of certain opinions which are not the express words of the Scripture. But if they say that the articles which they require to be professed are consequences deduced from the Scripture. and they err obstinately against knowledge. and. either by withdrawing themselves from others. they nevertheless lay down certain propositions as fundamental which are not in the Scripture. there can be no question about them. Nor does it signify anything for them to say that their confessions and symbols are agreeable to Scripture and to the analogy of faith. Both these are heretics because they err in fundamentals. When any one separates himself from the communion of a Church because that Church does not publicly profess some certain opinions which the Holy Scriptures do not expressly teach. because these also take only the Scriptures. for the rule of their religion. This being settled. for if they be conceived in the express words of Scripture. first. which . or by the magistrate’s patronage the stronger part. that amongst those who acknowledge nothing but the Holy Scriptures to be their rule of faith. secondly. 2. and because others will not acknowledge these additional opinions of theirs. it follows. but he only is a heretic who divides the Church into parts. nor the authority of the magistrate. that can make any man guilty of heresy. nor build upon them as if they were necessary and fundamental. that heresy is a separation made in ecclesiastical communion between men of the same religion for some opinions no way contained in the rule itself. and voluntarily makes a separation because of such opinions. and to make a separation for such things as these. because those things are acknowledged by all Christians to be of divine inspiration and therefore fundamental. introduces names and marks of distinction. Now this separation may be made in a twofold manner: 1. When the greater part.

and that we should be compelled to receive and profess all the different and contradictory opinions of Lutherans. but about those. This only I say—that however clearly we may think this or the other doctrine to be deduced from Scripture. Anabaptists. I know there are some propositions so evidently agreeable to Scripture that nobody can deny them to be drawn from thence. is to become heretics. Let us now consider schism. Thus much concerning heresy. Calvinists. But since use. then. Now. I cannot but wonder at the extravagant arrogance of those men who think that they themselves can explain things necessary to salvation more clearly than the Holy Ghost. which is a crime near akin to it. or the Apostles by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. have commanded in express words. for the same reasons that have already been alleged. is nothing else but a separation made in the communion of the Church upon account of something in divine worship or ecclesiastical discipline that is not any necessary part of it. nor makes a separation upon occasion of anything that is not manifestly contained in the sacred text. we ought not therefore to impose it upon others as a necessary article of faith because we believe it to be agreeable to the rule of faith. the eternal and infinite wisdom of God. Remonstrants. nothing in worship or discipline can be necessary to Christian communion but what Christ our legislator. and other sects which the contrivers of symbols. Schism. there can be no difference. and confessions are accustomed to deliver to their followers as genuine and necessary deductions from the Holy Scripture. systems. for I do not think there is any man arrived to that degree of madness as that he dare give out his consequences and interpretations of Scripture as divine inspirations and compare the articles of faith that he has framed according to his own fancy with the authority of Scripture. which word in common use is applied only to the doctrinal part of religion. unless we would be content also that other doctrines should be imposed upon us in the same manner.however he may be nicknamed by any sect of Christians and declared by some or all of . he that denies not anything that the Holy Scriptures teach in express words. for both these words seem unto me to signify an ill-grounded separation in ecclesiastical communion made about things not necessary. we must consider them under that distinction.44/John Locke neither are nor can be fundamental. which is the supreme law in matter of language. and schism to those in worship or discipline. therefore. In a word. has determined that heresy relates to errors in faith.

. 4. 5. These things might have been explained more largely and more advantageously. 9. 5. 20. II Tim. 13. 2. 20. 25. 12. 22. Gal. 8. Luke 22. 7. 3. Rom. 1 Cor. 5. 18. Matt. 21. Luke 22. 19.First Letter Concerning Toleration/45 them to be utterly void of true Christianity—yet in deed and in truth this man cannot be either a heretic or schismatic. Deut. but it is enough to have hinted at them thus briefly to a person of your parts. 32. The End Notes 1. Exod. 2. 2. 6. I.

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