Page images

less, occur in all dead languages; but the language in which the Old Testament was written, is peculiarly doubtful and uncertain, there being no books in the same language of equal date. The expressions which occur in scripture, are bold and figurative, and though they appear to be singularly beautiful when thoroughly unfolded, yet, being remote from the present form of expression, are not to be interpreted without the use of reason.

How comes it to pass, that the church of Rome defends the doctrine of transubstantiation, but because she denies us the use of reason in interpreting these words, "this is my body?" The literal construction is contradictory to the first principles of reason, and to the design of the ordinance. And when it is observed that figurative expressions are used in all languages, and were used by our Saviour, and therefore, that he must be understood in the same manner, as when he called himself a vine, and his father a husbandman, i. e. that the bread broken was a representation of the breaking of his body, there will then appear nothing improper or forced in the expression. And will any Protestant say, that reason is to be used to overthrow such a doctrine as transubstantiation, but not in expounding every other part of scripture? The plainer indeed any revelation is, the easier is the task of reason; but its use is not hereby discarded. All knowledge, gained from written books, much more from ancient

records, requires the use of reason, without which the scriptures may be cited in support of the most dangerous and pernicious errours.

Men may err who make use of reason; they may do so in some abstruse and difficult points; but men must err, who renounce reason. Let us but carefully reflect on the capital corruptions of religion, which have prevailed in the world, the superstitious and idolatrous rites of the heathen, or on the more inexcusable corruptions of Christianity, and see whether we must not confess, that they are the spawn of ignorance, and are owing to men's neglecting to exercise their understanding in religious matters. And indeed, it is impossible it should be otherwise, when human authority usurps the place of rational conviction, and daring to use our understandings is accounted heresy and blasphemy. We not only may, but must use our reason in religious matters. Without it we can neither understand the principles we profess to believe, nor the duties we are called upon to discharge.


Private Christians have a right to judge for themselves, concerning all doctrines proposed to them as articles of faith. man, or body of men, has a right to draw up a creed, and require another man to give his assent to it. Religion is designed for all men. The gospel is addressed to every individual as such. It accosts him in his private capacity. It speaks to him as possessed of an immortal spirit,

which must be either inconceivably happy or miserable in a future world, and in consequence of this, a right of judging for himself in matters of religion, is his indisputable and inalienable privilege. No man can appear before God by a substitute. He cannot answer to the Judge of all the earth by another. As he must answer for himself, he ought to judge for himself.

It was upon this principle, of the right of private judgment, the first Protestants set out. They pleaded it, and they pleaded with success. And it is on the same principle, that their cause and conduct can alone be vindicated. This right is founded in the nature of man, and brings honour to Christianity, which, confiding in the pure merit of its cause, invites inquiry, and "cometh to the light."

boast of the right of private judgment, if we shut up the avenues to further light and knowledge, and suppose ourselves to have attained such a certain and perfect understanding of divine truth, as to need no further illumination. In vain do we pray to God to lead us into all truth, if we weakly imagine that all change in our sentiments about the deep things of God deserves to be accounted a departure from the faith once delivered to the saints. Christians are not only to " grow in grace," but "in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." It behoves us to be charitable and humble, to be willing to submit our understanding not to man, but to God.


In this highly favoured country, we lie under no restraints in our religious inquiries, but let us not use our liberty for an occasion to the flesh." Let us not imagine, that liberty consists in exercising our wit and ridicule on sacred things, in shewing a contempt for principles or tenets, for which others express a veneration. Men are deceived by names. Liberty does not consist in being free from the control of reason, but in an unrestrained power of following its dictates. Unhallowed passions, unbridled appetites, ambition, and the love of pleasure, are equally pernicious to a just freedom of thought, and a liberal, manly exercise of our intellec

If reason be given us to direct our inquiries after truth, let us take care to preserve our minds always open to conviction. Let us patiently hear what is proposed to us as divine truth, carefully weigh the reasons by which it is enforced, and diligently search the scriptures to see whether the arguments drawn from thence are fair and conclusive. Let us discuss doubtful matters with candour and temper, and beware that we are not warped and biassed by any prejudice, enslaved by empty empty sounds, and dazzled by specious appearances. In vain do we tual faculties, with the most

servile and gloomy superstition, which ever veiled and cankered the human understanding. The

most abject of all vassals, is the man who is driven by headlong passions.*


THE preaching of our Saviour must have been very defective, if he failed of stating the most proper evidences of a Christian character. It must have been worse than merely defective, if be gave as evidences of a good character, such things as are not to be so regarded by his professed disciples in their treatment one of another. At this time I shall only bring to view such things as are mentioned in the sermon on the mount. As all our readers are supposed to possess the common version of the New Testament, I shall give the passages according to Campbell's translation, that they may have the benefit of both in examining themselves.

The character which our Saviour pronounced happy or bless ed, we may safely regard as good. Let us then attend to his instructions:

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Happy shall ye be when men shall revile and persecute you, and on my account accuse you of every evil thing! Rejoice and exult; for great is your reward in heaven!"

The following passages in the same sermon are worthy of notice, as containing the proper evidences of a Christian character:

"But I say unto you, love your enemies; bless them who curse you; do good to them who hate you; and pray for them who arraign and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father in heaven."

"For if ye forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."

"Not every one who saith unto me, master, master, shall

The above passages are taken from a Sermon preached to a Congregation of Protestant Dissenters, in England, Dec. 14, 1814, by the Rev. James Manning,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

"Therefore, whosoever heareth these my precepts, and doeth them, I will compare to a prudent man, who built his house upon the rock; for although the rain descended, and the rivers overflowed, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, it fell not, because it was founded upon the rock."

From all these passages compared and collectively considered, it is clear, that the proper evidence of a Christian character, is a humble, patient, meek, merciful, long-suffering, forgiving, obedient temper of mind. Not a syllable is said in the whole sermon about believing in any one of those articles of contention, which partizans in religion have denominated the essential articles of faith; and which have occasioned so much schism, clamour, and reviling, among the different professors of religion.

It is natural to infer from these passages, that such faith in the Lord Jesus, as constitutes a Christian, is not a mere assent of the mind to the truth of any mysterious doctrine; but such a reliance on him, as disposes us to obey his precepts, and to imitate his examples.

It is moreover evident, that it is another and a greater thing to be a Christian indeed, than many people imagine. It is not enough to say, Lord, Lord; but we must do the things that he has commanded. It is not enough to give our assent to this or that

creed or confession of faith; but we must be of a temper to follow the Lord. It is not enough to speak good words; but we must be ready to every good work. It is not enough to show love to those who love us, or who are of our party in religion or in politicks; but we must exercise kind affections to all, even to our enemies, and do good to all as we have opportunity.

Christ died not for a party, but for all. He suffered for us, not to procure us a license to sin with impunity; but to redeem us from all iniquity, and 'to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. It is not enough to believe that he died for us; but we must let the same mind be in us, which was also in him; and be ready, like him, to lay down our lives for the brethren, when in the course of Providence we may be called to make such a sacrifice. should be ready to die as martyrs, by the wrongs of others, rather than to do wrong, or to render evil for evil.


No faith, but that which "worketh by love, and purifieth the heart," and the practice, is of any value as a qualification for heaven. We may adopt any of the disputed articles of faith, whether true or false,-nay, we may contend for them with the zeal of Jehu, and still remain as destitute of the Christian temper as that being who believes there is one God, and trembles. So long as men shall regard Christianity as essentially consisting in a belief of any of the mysterious doctrines, about

which Christians have been divided; so long bitterness, wrath and clamour, contention, war and popular murder, will be esteemed as very consistent with the character of a Christian. But let it be properly understood and felt, that Christianity consists in a temper and practice conformable to the self-denying precepts and example of the Prince of Peace; then a new standard of excellence will be established; by which it will appear, that many things which are now "highly esteemed among men," are emphatically "an abomination in the sight of God." It may then be seen, that the wars between different sects of Christians, in which they have endeavoured to invalidate each other's integrity and reputation, have not been such glorious and praise-worthy exploits, as many have imagined; and

that it is not very consistent with "the meekness and gentleness of Christ," for his professed disciples to meet each other in a field of battle, with the mutual purpose of butchery and murder.

Had our Saviour said, Happy is he who believeth this or that disputed doctrine; or, had he said, He who adopteth this or that coutested article of faith, shall be likened to a man who built his house upon a rock; then his ministers might have acted consistently in making such an article the criterion of a Christian character. But, be it remembered, Christ has said, "Whosoever heareth these my precepts and doeth them, I will compare to a prudent man who built his house upon a rock;" and let none of his ministers be deterred from such preaching, through fear of being compared to Socrates or Plato.


In our number, for October, asperity in his remarks. Had some account was given of an he written with more of the unhappy controversy in New- "meekness and gentleness of York, between two classes of Christ," we should have had Christians, each of which claims more pleasure in copying from the honours of orthodoxy. The his pamphlet. But all we do, motives for noticing this contro- in this affair, is for a warning versy in the Christian Disciple, to others; and, in this view, have already been given. It even the severity of Investiwill be remembered, that Inves- gator may be useful; it may tigator, the author of the Trian- occasion others to be more gle, is an advocate for New- guarded in remarking on the England orthodoxy, in opposi- supposed errours of their fellow tion to the Calvanism of Dr. Christians. The pamphlet is Mason and others, in the city of divided into numbers; from se New-York. It is to be regretted, veral of which, some paragraphs that this author indulged so much will be given.

« EelmineJätka »