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in consequence, a modern establishment of creeds and confeffions ought, upon the ground of superior perfection, to supersede that of any
former This, if I recollect right, is the idea upon which Dr. PRIESTLEY has proceeded in his discourse upon the subject of free enquiry in religious matters. If my memory ferve me well, (for I have not the difcourse at hand) the Doctor's words are these: “ In nature we fee no limits to our enquiries. One discovery always leads to many more, and brings us into a still wider field of speculation. Why, then,” (continues the same writer) “ fhould not this be the case, in fome degree, with respect to knowledge of a moral and religious kind?” The effect which this principle has in its operation produced in the mind of Dr. PRIESTLEY, according to his own account, has been, that, after having led him through several different
* The following anecdote, which has lately fallen in my way, is fubjoined for the reader's application: At an ordination service, which took place at a meeting of Disfenters, it was observed by a minister who was expatiating on the modern improvements in religious knowledge, that the divines of the present day possessed great advantages; “ for standing, as they must be considered to do, upon the shoulders of the Apostles, they could therefore fee further than they did.” To which an old minister present, who did not see the fubject in the same light, shrewdly replied, " that the modern diyines, it must be allowed, not only saw further than the Apostles did, but also further, he believed, than ever God faw yet."
modes of faith, to a profession destitute of all the essential doctrines of Christianity, it has left him still in a state of uncertainty with respect to the “ ne plus : ultra" of his creed.' And though this principle may not always be attended with the same fatal consequences, yet if the ground upon which it is built be unsound, the principle itself ought not to be admitted.
When we consider the various opinions which have prevailed, and which continue to prevail, upon the subject of religion, we feel ourselves occasionally at some loss to reconcile them with that uniform consistency, which is one of the most striking characteristics of truth; no less than with the benevolent design which the Deity must have had in view, in revealing that truth to the world. But when we take a view. of man in his present state of degeneracy, as a being perverse in will, and corrupt in understanding; we cease to be surprised at an effect necessarily resulting from that variety of causes, to which the opinions and practices of men are at different times to be traced up. Pride, self-opinion, interest, and passion, are the most prevailing principles of the human mind. A singleness of heart, accompanied with an uncorrupt love of truth for the truth's fake, is a perfection to be coveted, rather than to be looked for, from that general de
rangement of the human faculties which was brought about by the fall. When the fame subject, therefore, is viewed through those different mediums, which correspond with the different characters and dispo. sitions of the parties concerned ; it is not to be expected that an uniform conclusion should be drawn from it.
But there is a medium, it is presumed, between throwing an improper stumbling-block in the way of human enquiry, and that degree of license which is destructive of all authority, by placing the improvement which is to be expected from human speculations in religion, and other branches of knowledge, upon the same footing. The work of grace in the revelation of the Divine will, not being designed so much to exercise and improve the head as to correct and purify the heart, becomes on that account a subject for faith and practice, rather than speculation. The discoveries in nature and art, though calculated to improve the condition of man in this world, as a rational and social being, were nevertheless left to depend for their advancement upon the exertion of those natural faculties with which God thought fit to furnish him. But religion was a subject of too effential importance to be left upon such an uncertain
footing. The advancement of it, therefore, became an object of immediate attention to the Deity himself. :: Religion, then, as coming from God, must be perfect; and can receive no improvement from the wit of man. We may talk of the progress of the arts and sciences; and in this sense the phrase is properly applied; but when we carry the fame idea with us into religion, we are attempting to place subjects under the same point of view, which are as widely separated as earth from heaven. The characteristic doctrines of the Gospel have nothing to do with our improvements in any other science whatever; as they were originally revealed by God, the same they must continue; objects of faith, and of knowledge, to the end of time. “ If studying the works be the method (says a learned divine) of knowing the workman, it is somewhat mysterious, that these last ages, which have so vastly improved natural philosophy, lhould have made no new discoveries in the Divine nature; which is neither more nor less than it was before; just so far as God revealed it, and' no human mind can carry it further; yet we see every day fresh reaa fons to admire his wifdom and adore his
power, but not to add to his nature or perfections."
Religion, it is certain, may be corrupted; for ex perience tells us it has been so in numberless instances; and as the best of things, it is perhaps the most liable to be fo. : In such case it becomes neceffary that it should be reformed. But according to a well-known axiom, “ to innovate is not to reform.". The reformation of religion does not confift, therefore, in modernizing its profession, by an accominodation of it to prevailing opinions, but in restoring it to its primitive standard; in conformity with the position laid down by one of the most ancient fathers of the church, “ that what was first, that is true; whatfoever comes after, that is corrupt." It is therefore to lay anew the foundation; to go back to the beginning, (according to our Saviour's expression to the Pharisees) to return to the ways of our fathers; having that sentence in view which was heretofore pronounced in the Council of Nice,“ LØGTEITW." Upon this rational ground did the reformation of our church originally proceed. “Be it known to all the world,” (says Bishop HALL) “ that our church is only reformed or repaired, not made new: there is not one stone of a new foundation laid by us; yea the old walls stand still; only the overcasting of those ancient stones with the untem