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that thefe works have ftimulated fome diftinguished characters amongst the Laity, and many amongst the Clergy, to exert their talents in removing fuch difficulties in the Chriftian system, as would otherwise be likely to perplex the unlearned, to shipwreck the faith of the unftable, and to induce a reluctant fcepticism into the minds of the moft ferious and beft intentioned. Some difficulties still remain; and it would be a miracle greater than any we are inftructed to believe, if there remained none; if a being with but five fcanty inlets of knowledge, feparated but yesterday from his mother Earth, and to-day finking again into her bofom, could fathom the depths of the wildom and knowledge of Him which is, which was, and which is to come, the Lord God Almighty, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and
We live in a diffolute but enlightened age; the restraints of our Religion are ill fuited to the profligacy of our manners; and men are foon induced to believe that fyftem to be false, which we wish to find fo: that knowledge, moreover, which fpurns with contempt the illufions of fanaticism and the tyranny of fuperftition, is often unhappily mifemployed, in magnifying every little difficulty attending the proof of the truth Chrif tianity, into an irrefragable argument of its falfehood. The Chriftian Religion has nothing to apprehend from the stricteft investigation of the most learned of its adverfaries; it suffers only from the misconceptions of fciolifts, and filly pretenders to fuperior wisdom: a little learning is far more dangerous to the faith of those who poffefs it, than ignorance itself. Some, I know, affect to believe, that as the restoration of letters was ruinous to the Romish Religion, fo the further cultivation of them will be fubverfive of Chriftianity itself: of this there is no danger. It may be fubverfive of the Reliques of the Church of Rome by which other churches are ftill polluted; of perfecutions, of anathemas, of ecclefiaftical domination over God's heritage, of all the filly outworks which the pride, the fuperftition, the knavery of mankind have erected around the citadel of our faith; but the citadel itself is founded on a rock, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, its master-builder is God; its beauty will be found ineffable, and its ftrength impregnable, when it shall be freed from the frippery of human ornaments, cleared from the rubbish of human bulwarks. It is no fmall part of the province of a teacher of Chriftianity, to diftinguish between the word of God, and the additions which men have made to it. The objections of unbelievers are frequently levelled against what is not Christianity,
Christianity, but mere human fyftem; and he will be beft able to defend the former, who is leaft ftudious to fupport the airy pretenfions of the latter. The effect of established fyftems in obftructing truth, is to the last degree deplorable: every one fees it in other churches, but fcarcely any one fufpects it in his own. Calvin, I question not, thought it almoft impoffible that the Scriptures could ever have been fo far perverted as to afford the Romanifts any handle for their doctrine of Transubstantiation, or that the understanding of any human being could have been fo far debafed, or rather fo utterly annihilated, as to believe in it for a moment: yet this fame Calvin followed St. Augustine in the doctrine of abfolute perfonal reprobation and election, inculcating it as a fundamental article of faith, with nearly the fame unchriftian zeal which infatuated him when he faftened Servetus to the ftake. A thousand inftances of this blind attachment to fyftem might be taken from the Ecclefiaftical Hiftory of every century; indeed the whole of it is little more than the history of the ftruggles of different fects to overturn the systems of others, in order to build up their own; and the great leffon which every fect, and every individual of every fect, ought to learn from its perufal, is-Moderation. Want of genuine moderation towards those who differ from us in religious opinions, seems to be the most unaccountable thing in the world. Every man, who has any religion at all, feels within himself a ftronger motive to judge right, than you can poffibly fuggeft to him; and, if he judges wrong, what is that to you? To his own mafter he ftandeth or falleth; his wrong judgment may affect his own falvation, it cannot affect yours; for, in the words of Tertullian--nec alii obeft aut prodeft alterius religio: this you must admit, unless you think it your duty to inftruct him; but inftruction may be given with moderation; and confidering that the Bible is as open to him as it is to you, you ought not to be over certain that it is your duty to prefs your inftruction upon him; for what is, ordinarily speaking, your inftruction, but an attempt to bring him over to your opinion? This principle should be received with great caution, or it may do much mischief; for it is on this principle that the Roman Catholics light up the fires of the inquifition, and compass fea and land to make a profelytea profelyte! to what we Proteftants believe to be the delufion of Satan, the very canker of Chriftianity, the grand apoftafy from the Gofpel foretold by St. Paul. The Catholics however in this point act confiftently; for, believing in the infallibility of their church, they have a plea for
their zeal in bringing every one within its pale, which can never be urged by Proteftants, with any fhadow of juftice and propriety.
There are many queftions in Divinity, in the investigating of which the mind fluctuates with an irkfome uncertainty, unable to perceive fuch a preponderance of argument as will warrant it in embracing as true, either the one fide or the other. This hefitation arifes, in many cafes, from our not understanding the full meaning of the language, be it common or figurative, in which a doctrine is revealed. In fome, it proceeds from our attempting to apprehend definitely, what is expreffed indeterminately or clearly, what God hath not thought proper clearly to reveal; in others, it is to be attributed to an indecifion of temper, to which fome men are peculiarly fubject: but let it originate from what caufe it may, it is far more tolerable than an arrogant temerity of judgment. A fufpicion of fallibility would have been an useful principle to the profeffors of Chriftianity in every age; it would have choaked the fpirit of perfecution in its birth, and have rendered not only the church of Rome, but every church in Christendom, more shy of affuming to itself the proud title of Orthodox, and of branding every other with the opprobrious one of Heterodox, than any of them have hitherto been. There are, you will fay, doubtlefs, fome fundamental doctrines in Christianity.--Paul, the Apostle, has laid down one foundation; and he tells us, that other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is fefus-The Chrift.-But this propofition--Jefus is the Meffiah--includes, you will reply, feveral others, which are equally true. I acknowledge that it does fo; and it is every man's duty to fearch the Scriptures, that he may know what thofe truths are; but I do not conceive it to. be any man's duty, to anathematize those who cannot fubfcribe to bis catalogue of fundamental Chriftian verities. That man is not to be esteemed an Atheift, who acknowledges the existence of a God, the Creator of the univerfe, though he cannot affent to all the truths of natural religion, which other men may undertake to deduce from that principle: nor is he to be esteemed a Deift, who acknowledges that Jefus of Nazareth is indeed the Chrift, the Saviour of the world, though he cannot affent to all the truths of i revealed religion, which other men may think themfelves warranted in deducing from thence. Still you will probably rejoin, there must be many truths in the Chriftian religion, concerning which no one ought to hefitate, inafmuch as, without a belief in them, he cannot be reputed a Chriftian.-Reputed! by whom? By
Jefus Chrift his Lord and his God, or by you?Rafh expofitors of points of doubtful difputation; intolerant fabricators of metaphyfical Creeds, and incongruous Syftems of Theology! Do you undertake to measure the extent of any man's underftanding, except your own; to estimate the ftrength and origin of his habits of thinking; to appreciate his merit or demerit in the use of the talent which God has given him, fo as unerringly to pronounce that the belief of this or that doctrine is neceffary to his falvation? It is undoubtedly neceffary to yours, if you are perfuaded that it comes from God; but you take too much upon you, when you erect yourself into an infallible judge of truth and falfehood. We, as Chriftians, are under no uncertainty as to the being of a God; as to his moral government of the world; as to the terms on which finners may be reconciled to him; as to the redemption that is in Jefus Christ; as to a refurrection from the dead; as of a future state of retribution; nor with refpect to other important questions, concerning which the wifeft of the Heathen Philofophers were either wholly ignorant, or had no fettled notions. But there are other fubjects on which the Academicorum erox inay be admitted, I apprehend, without injuring the foundations of our Religion: fuch are the questions which relate to the power of Evil Spirits to fufpend the laws of nature, or to actuate the minds of men; to the materiality or immateriality of the human foul; the state of the dead before the general refurrection; the refurrection of the same body; the duration of future punishments; and many others of the fame kind. Some one will think that I here speak too freely, and accuse me, probably, as an encourager of fceptical and latitudinarian principles.
What! Shall the church of Chrift never be freed from the narrow-minded contentions of bigots; from the infults of men who know not what spirit they are of, when they would stint the Omnipotent in the exercife of his mercy, and bar the doors of heaven against every fect but their own? Shall we never learn to think more humbly of ourselves, and less despicably of others? to believe that the Father of the universe accommodates not his judgments to the wretched wranglings of pedantic Theologues; but that every one, who, with an honeft intention, and to the best of his ability feeketh the truth, whether he findeth it or not, and worketh righteousness, will be accepted of him? I have no regard for latitudinarian principles, nor for any principles, but the principles of Truth; and Truth every man muft endeavour to investigate for himself; and, ordinarily fpeaking, he will be most
fuccesful in his endeavours, who examines, with candour and care, what can be urged on each fide of a greatly controverted queftion. This fort of examination may, in fome inftances, produce a doubt, an hesitation, a diffident fufpenfion of judgment; but it will at the fame time produce mutual forbearance and good temper towards those who differ from us; our charity will be enlarged, as our understanding is improved. Partial examination is the parent of pertinacity of opinion; and a froward propenfity to be angry with those who question the validity of our principles, or deny the juftness of our conclufions, in any matter refpecting philofophy, policy, or religion, is an infallible mark of prejudice; of our having grounded our opinions on fashion, fancy, intereft; on the unexamined tenets of our family, fect, or party; on any thing rather than on the folid foundation of cool and difpaffionate reafoning- -Iliacos intra muros peccatur et extraChurchmen as well as Diffenters, and diffenters as well as churchmen, are apt to give a degree of affent to opinions beyond what they can give a reafon for; this is the very effence of prejudice: it is difficult for any man entirely to divest himself of all prejudice, but he may furely take care that it be not accompanied with an uncharitable propenfity to ftigmatize with reproachful appellations, thofe who cannot meafure the rectitude of the Divine difpenfations by his rule, nor feck their way to heaven, by infifting on the path which he, in his overweening wisdom, has arrogantly prefcribed as the only one which can lead men thither.
This intolerant spirit has abated much of its violence in the courfe of this century amongst ourselves: we pray to God that it may be utterly extinguished in every part of Chriftendom, and that the true fpirit of Chriftianity, which is the fpirit of meeknefs, peace, and love, may be introduced in its ftead. If different men, in carefully and confcientiously examining the Scriptures, fhould arrive at different conclufions, even on points of the last importance; we truft that God, who alone knows what every man is capable of, will be merciful to him that is in error. We trust that he will pardon the Unitarian, if he be in an error, because he has fallen into it from the dread of becoming an Idolater, of giving that glory to another which he conceives to be due to God alone. If the worshipper of Jefus Chrift be in an error, we truft that God will pardon his mistake, because he has fallen into it from a dread of difobeying what he conceives to be revealed concerning the nature of the Son, or commanded concerning the bonour to be given him. Both are actuated by the fame principle-THE FEAR VOL. I.