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Theory of religion must by no means be neglected; but when it is known, every part of it, whatever it is, must be made to bear upon Practice. When this is done, it may be denominated by one a theology purely Practical, by another Theoretico-practical. With neither will I contend. But to separate virtue from religion, or to consider it as a trivial and ignoble appendage to it, is an error the most pernicious imaginable; one effect of whichi, among others--that I may not wander from the object I have in view—is to render the most powerful motives to godliness efficacious in exciting the man who has adopted that error, not to the pursuit of virtue, but merely to a scrupulous observation of that religion, falsely so called, which has nothing in common with virtue.
Accordingly we find that he who is addicted to silly superstitions is stimulated, by the promises and threatenings of Christianity, to nothing else than the repetition and multiplication, with renewed ardour, of vain acts of superstition, which are frequently idolatrous and dishonouring to God. In like manner, when these motives are presented to him who places religion entirely in its outward duties, which are usually rather the means and the support of religion than religion itself, he will think that they enforce merely a more careful and frequent observation of these acts -lie will more constantly attend the public exercises of religion—he will increase his fastings—he will hear more sermons, and repeat more formulas of prayer—he will double his tasks of reading-he will receive the Sacrament with greater regularity; but all the influence of the most weighty motives contained in the Holy Scriptures will terminate in these things, and will not extend so far as to change his character.
He who imagines that religion hinges entirely on the adoption of a better creed than that of others who possess the Christian name, and on an adherence to that church which is distinguished from others by the profession of such a creed, will be urged, by the powerful motives of which we have been speaking, to nothing but a firmer adherence to his church and its doctrines—a more obstinate contending for these--a stronger aversion to those who entertain opposite sentiments--a more bitter abuse of them—and, if he has the power, a more outrageous treatment, and cruel persecution, and remorseless and excruciating torturing of them. For, when religion is viewed as something totally distinct from morality, there are no means of defending and propagating it, however much opposed to Christian meekness and charity, and thus to integrity and justice, which to such men appear to be inconsistent with religion. You will be deceived if you hope that their zeal can be tempered with charity; they do not grant any place, much less the chief place, like the apostle Paul, to this virtue in that system of religion which they have formed in their mind. It is not the man who is destitute of charity that is nothing in their view; but he who does not entertain respecting all matters the same sentiments with themselves--this man, in their estimation, is indeed nothing at all, even though he possesses every virtuous disposition, so that he loves his enemies, denies himself, bears Christ's cross, and strives to follow him with his whole heart.
For, indeed, the zeal which the arguments, urging to religion, excites in any individual, will always correspond to the sentiments respecting religion which he has adopted. They excite a zeal for promoting, every where, and to the utmost of his power, piety, and the virtues connected
• 1 Cor. xiii,
with it, in him, who regards religion as consisting chiefly in piety; a zeal in behalf of superstition and idolatry, in the superstitious and idolatrous ; a zeal for the diligent performance of the outward duties of religion, in him who places the sum and substance of religion in these; a zeal in the defence of opinions and dogmas, in him who reckons these the chief parts of religion; and
Quis talia fando temperet a lachrymis ? a zeal for cruelty itself, and a more than brutish mercilessness, in him who imagines that these acts of cruelty are acts of religion, and thinks that, by inflicting the severest suffering and torture on those whose sentiments differ from his own, he is doing God acceptable service.*
With this evil, another is frequently connected. For those who are inflamed with false zeal, whether for the observation of superstitious rites, or other externals belonging to the mere form of religion, or for the de. fence and propagation, in every possible way, of their own opinions, and the persecution and destruction of their opponents—all these persons, I say, regard themselves with so much complacency on account of this their zeal, as to imagine that by it they expiate and atone for whatever vices they may otherwise be chargeable with ; that by these proofs of their zeal all their sins are washed away, and all their defects abundantly compensated; so that God himself is in some manner under obligation to forgive to those who are so devoted and earnest worshippers of him, many things which he could not tolerate in others;—and hence it happens, that the more the false zeal of such persons increases, the less do they think themselves bound to forsake their vices and follow after genuine virtue.
Besides these general errors respecting religion, of which we have hitherto been speaking, there are among Christians not a few special opi. nions, of which it may be affirmed, that they equally either destroy or greatly weaken, the influence of the arguments employed in Scripture to stir up men to the practice of virtue. Will these most powerful motives, for example, constrain to godliness any one who understands the doctrine of justification by faith, altogether in the same sense as those abandoned men of old, wliom the apostle James has so severely censured ;---who thinks that the practice of good works is scarcely more necessary to the obtaining of eternal life, than is the smoke with which fire is always attended to the preparing of food;—who regards that faith by which we are justified and saved, as nothing else than the recourse of a sinner, who may have no serious thought about repentance, to the ever-enduring grace of God, and the merit of the Saviour, only that by this he may obtain the forgiveness of all his sins, not at all that, forsaking his sins, he may for the future live to him, and devote himself unreservedly to him;—who therefore desires to have recourse to his Saviour for no other purpose than that, acting as his priest, he may expiate his sins by sacrifice, but by no means that he may at the same time recognize him as his prophet and king, whose doctrine and precepts he holds himself bound to obey;—who imagines that he obtains the remission of sins if he only firmly persuades himself, though without any foundation, that he has already received this blessing, or, as he has been elected, will certainly receive it;—who does not consider the amendment of life, so often enjoined on him in Scripture, as his duty, after the attainment of which he must strive with his most earnest endea.
John xvi. 2.
vour, and his utmost energy, but as a work which should be left entirely to God ;--who, when he is accused on account of the perilous procrastination of his repentance, affirms that this can no more be imputed to him as a crime, than can those who have died many ages ago be blamed because they have not as yet been raised from the dead? When the minds of Christians are filled with these, and other pestiferous opinions of a similar description, what power, I ask, will the motives of which I have been treating, possess to influence them to the serious and ardent study of godliness?
O, that those to whom the instruction of Christians has been entrusted would vigorously exert all their efforts to extirpate completely from their minds these ruinous tenets, and many other sentiments of the same complexion! Thus, surely, would they employ their zeal to better purpose than in combating harmless opinions, from which, as experience testifies, no detriment to piety need be apprehended. O, that there were none (pardon the perhaps too strong remonstrance) who often furnish occasion for such opinions, by indigested affirmations which are frequently perverted to a dangerous meaning, by a too close adherence to the modes of expression employed by our forefathers, and by regarding in this the honour of a party more than edification! Surely, such was the piety of our forefathers, that, if they were alive, and saw the present aspect of things, and those with whom the ministers of Christ have now to do, they would change their style, as the apostle James deemed it expedient to alter the modes of expression employed by Paul, and perverted to a false meaning by the ungodly. 0, that they would not often so intemperately handle doctrines, for the pressing of which there is not now the same reason as formerly, and which at the present day it is more dangerous than useful to press! O, that they would not define, beyond all necessity, tenets, the definition of which often casts men into inextricable labyrinths, as it would be much better to pass no opinion respecting them! O, that difficulties would not be started, to the settling of which those by whom they are started are afterwards found incompetent !t
More might be said on this subject; but the discourse must be brought
(While the author has stated clearly and distinctly the abuses of the doctrine of justifica. tion by faith, it is to be regretted that he should have introduced the detail of them by such an exceptionable form of expression as this that the pursuit of good works is necessary to the obtaining of eternal life. The ambiguity of the word obtaining must be obvious to all, since it may suggest, what is not less opposed to the doctrine of Scripture relative to justification, either that good works must be conjoined with faith in the righteousness of Christ, to constitute our title to eternal life, or that there is a double justification, for one of which we are indebted to the Redeemer, for the other to ourselves. Who, that ponders the subject, does not perceive that all the abuses specified by the author may both be avoided and repressed, without resorting to either of these opinions? It appears that a proper zeal for holiness, and detestation of Antinomianism, such as the author displays, may have led individuals to adopt these unscriptural tenets.-T.)
+ [In addition to what we have stated in the preceding note, we would here remark, what we are persuaded the candour of the author would have admitted, that the same anxiety he has expressed for the interests of morality in opposition to Antinomian tenets ought to be felt and evinced in behalf of the scriptural doctrine of justification solely by faith, in an age in which this is opposed, or at any period when a train of preaching calculated to obscure or pervert it generally obtains. It seems to be true that James did change the mode of expression used by Paul, substituting works for faith, as he himself explains it, the more effectually to impress on the minds of Christians, that the faith which justifies is an operative faith. But
he liberty of the inspired is not conceded to us. It is the province of the ministers of the gospel, in all cases, to ascertain the meaning of the Spirit, and to exhibit the doctrines of Scripsure without deviating either to the right hand or to the left.--T.)
to a close, and I fear that to some I may seem to have said too much; but it was necessary to show why that which we chiefly venerate in Christianity, and in which it far surpasses all the religions of the world-why, I say, the so numerous and powerful motives to virtue which it furnishes, have so little influence on Christians. Some liberty here should be granted both as to thought and expression, and the whole blame in this matter must be charged upon men, who, in truth, have it in their own power (whatever offence the assertion may give to some) to prevent any just accusation from being brought against our most holy religion.
THREEFOLD WITNESS TO THE WORD OF GOD.
That the word of God should be believed and obeyed, is universally admitted; and that the book which we denominate the sacred Scriptures is the word of God, is acknowledged by Christians of all parties. But to the inquiry, why they are convinced of this, very different replies are given by them. Those who imagine that the first place among Christians is due to themselves, affirm that they receive the Scriptures as divine, on the testimony of the Church; others that their faith is founded on the testimony of Scripture concerning itself; while others choose rather to say that their belief rests on the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is my intention in this dissertation to explain the nature of the testimony of these three witnesses, and to determine the weight which is due to each of them. And may God guide my mind and my pen, so that what I write may tend to establish myself and others in the truth.
Of the Testimony of the Church.
In speaking of the church, and of its authority as a witness to the divine origin of the Scriptures, we shall first state the opinion of the church of Rome respecting this matter, and then subjoin our own.
The doctors of the church of Rome affirm that there exists in the world a visible society of men, which is so fully under the direction of the Spirit of God, as to be incapable of erring in matters pertaining to faith ; and that every one therefore may acquiesce in its decrees without further examination. Now, it is the province of this infallible society which they call the church, not only to interpret the word of God, and thence so