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words of God ?”! And have they not been treated as such by the propagators of these doctrines, in their denunciations against those who dissent from them? I may also ask, has it not been by thus adding the opinions of men to the word of God, that all the creed-making sects have formed their essential articles of faith-all the articles which have caused alienation and strife among Christians ? If such a mode of forming articles of faith may not be called adding to God's words, I know not what deserves that name.
If articles of faith, expressed in the words of Scripture, were accompanied by such notes, and comments as I have mentioned, with proper cautions to the reader to distinguish between the words of . Scripture and the opinions of the compilers, there would be no ground for the charge of adding to the words of God. But when fallible and uninspired men venture to assert their own opinions as the doctrines of the Gospel, and make them a test of Christian faith or a Christian character, they appear to me to act in direct violation of the counsel of Agur, and assume an authority in the church which God has never delegated to any of the sons of men. To make such articles of faith the standard by which men must be measured for admission into the church, or for exclusion from it, is, in my opinion perfectly unwarranted by the Scriptures, and in a high and reprehensible sense adding to the word of God,
The counsel of Agur is enforced by the admonitory clause "lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar.”
“ Lest he reprove thee." Lest God reprove thee by the course of his providence. There are various ways in which God may reprove the imprudences and the vices of mankind. A great portion of the troubles which come on imprudent or vicious men in the present life, may properly be regarded as reproofs or chastenings from the hand of God. Such evils may occur in the natural course of providence, and
be of the nature of reproof. The alienations, contentions and innumerable difficulties which have occurred among Christians, are the natural and direct fruit of adding to God's words, in forming articles of faith, and seem to me of the nature of reproof for such conduct, and as evidence of divine disapprobation.
“ And thou be found a liar." I do not think that men are generally guilty of intentional falsehood when they add to God's words in forming articles of faith ; and probably Agur meant no more by the word “ liar," than one who ventures to assert his own opinions of the word of God as of equal authority with the word itself. When a man has so little sense of his own fallibility as to do this, or is possessed of such arrogance or self-sufficiency, as to assume such a
himself to the charge of uttering that which is really false, although he may fancy that it is the truth. He may be free from the charge of intentional falsehood, while he is verily guilty of uttering false opinions, as the doctrines of the Gospel. In this respect, how often are men found guilty, through self-sufficiency or the want of that humility and caution which ever become uninspired men!
power, he exposes
Having said so much against forming articles of faith in the “ words of man's wisdom," I ought perhaps freely to confess, that there was a time when I could express in my own language what I thought to be the meaning of the Scriptures, as articles of faith to be adopted by a church But in several particu. lars my own views afterwards became so changed that I could not again have assented to the articles of my own forming. These facts with further reflections and inquiries convinced me, that there is neither safety nor propriety in the common mode of forming articles of faith; that such compositions operate as fetters to the mind in regard to free inquiry after truth, and as obstructions to the progress of light; that they expose the members of a church to be involved in contentions, or to act the part of hypocrites or persecutors, -and that the adoption of such articles by a church, implies a presumption of such infallibility on the part of the framers or the receivers, as is not warranted by either Scripture, reason, or experience, but is contradicted by them all.
LET TER VI.
THE MESSIAH'S CENSURES OF THE SCRIBES AND
My Christian Brethren,
THOSE who are in the habit of uttering censures against their dissenting brethren, imagine that their
conduct may be justified by Scripture examples. These I shall examine in this and subsequent letters.
That the Messiah censured the Scribes and Pharisees cannot be denied ; and his awful language respecting them as we have it recorded in the 23d chapter of Matthew, has been viewed as sufficient to warrant the party censures of the present day. “ Wo unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites,” is many times repeated ; and to this language partizans appeal to justify their own sweeping denunciations, against such as dissent from their religious opinions. But is there not a great difference between the authority of Christ to judge the hearts of men, and the authority of any man of the present age ?
Besides, it seems to me that the spirit of our Lord's language has been grossly misapprehended. When a person is himself under the influence of resentful passions, the language “ Wo unto you" will seem to be the proper expression of such feelings. But let him be under the influence of benevolent feelings, and the same words may appear to him with an entirely different aspect, and as the expression of pitying love or commisseration, towards persons whose characters expose them to the displeasure of Heaven. In the latter sense they are viewed and explained by Dr. Campbell; and in this sense I think they ought to be regarded. When thus viewed, they iinply nothing indignant or resentful, any more than the prayer on the the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." When Christ's language is referred to as justifying party denunciations, an indignant, resentful
and imprecating spirit is imputed to him, which as I conceive, was foreign from his heart.
" Alas for you"-or “Wo is unto you,” is, I believe, the correct interpretation ; not “Wo be unto you,” as has been often imagined.
When our Lord predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, he used the following language : “ Wo unto the women with child, and to them that give suck in those days." The peculiar situation of these
was deprecated as what would add to their distress in such a time of general calamity; and no one can doubt, in this case, that the language of Christ was the language of pity, not of indignation or censure. It is very true that Christ imputed blame to the scribes and pharisees, and not to the women, whose condition he deplored. The blame however imputed to the scribes and pharisees, was not expressed in the words translated “Wo unto you," but by the words that followed, in which he described their wicked conduct. The Saviour possessed God-like benevolence; while he abhorred sin, he loved and pitied the sinner. A deficiency in this respect is too often apparent in many who profess to be his disciples. Is it not too generally so with partizans of every sect? And will not this defect in a great measure account for the adoption of the persecuting principle, which imputes error of judgment, or supposed error of opinion, to wickedness of heart? How exceedingly different was the benevolence of the Saviour from that affection which is confined to a party, and which under a pretext of love to the truth, can calumniate a dissenting brother !