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of perfection, for these means employed to unite mankind are productive of union, the end of the
Should men take up the gospel in this simplicity, , and, accommodating it to their own imaginary superior wisdom, or to their own secular purposes, should they explain this union so as to suit their designs, and employ means to produce it; and should they denominate their system, christianity, it would certainly be, in spite of its name, a christianity marked with the imperfection of its authors; for in the Christian religion, in the thing itself, and not in its appellation, shines the glorious character of perfection.
The christian religion unites mankind. By what common bond does it propose to do so ? By love. This is a bond of perfectness, a most perfect bond. This is practicable, and productive of every desirable end; and the more we study human nature, the more fully shall we be convinced, that we cannot imagine any religion to do more, nor need we desire more,for this answers every end of being religious. Had Jesus Christ formed his church on a sentimental plan, he must have employed many means, which he has not employed, and he must have omitted many directions, which he has given. One of his means of uniting mankind is contained in this direction, Search the Scriptures, and call no man your master upon earth; that is to say, exercise your very different abilities, assisted by very different degrees of aid, in periods of very different duration, and forn your own no
tions of the doctrines contained in the scriptures. Is not this injunction destructive of a sentimental union ? Place ten thousand spectators in several circles around a statue erected on a spacious plain, bid some look at it through magnifying glasses, others through common spectacles, some with keen naked eyes, others with weak diseased eyes, each on a point of each circle different from that, where another stands, and all receiving the picture of the object in the eye by different reflections and refractions of the rays of light, and say, will not a command to look destroy the idea of sentiinental union; and, if the establishment of an exact union of sentiment be the end, will not looking, the mean appointed to obtain it, actually destroy it, and would not such a projector of uniformity mark his system with imperfection?
Had Jesus Christ formed his church on the plan of a ceremonial union, or on that of a professional union, it is easy to see, the same reasoning might be applied; the laws of such a legislator would counteract and destroy one another, and a system so unconnected would discover the imperfection of its author, and provide for the ruin of itself.
These principles being allowed, we proceed to examine the doctrines of christianity, as they are presented to an inquisitive man, entirely at liberty to choose his religion, by our different churches in their several creeds. The church of Rome lays before me the decisions of the council of Trent. The Lutheran church the confession of Augsburg. One nation gives me one account of christianity, another a different account of it, a third contradicts the other two, and no two creeds agree. The difference of these systems obliges me to allow, they could not all proceed from any one person, much less could they all proceed from such a person, as all christians affirm Jesus Christ to be. I am driven then, to examine his account of his own religion contained in the allowed standard book, to which they all appeal, and here I find, or think I find, à right of reduction, that removes all those suspicions, which variety in human creeds had excited in my mind concerning the truth of christianity.
The doctrines of christianity,I presume to guess, according to the usual sense of the phrase, are divisible into two classes. The first contains the principal truths, the pure genuine theology of Jesus Christ, essential to the system, and in which all christians in our various communities agree. The other class consists of those less important propositions, which are meant to serve as explications of the principal truths. The first is the matter of our holy religion, the last is our conception of the manner of its operation. In the first we all agree, in the last our benevolent religion, constructed on principles of analogy, proportion, and perfection, both enjoins and empowers us to agree to differ. The first is the light of the world, the last our sentiments on its nature, or our distribution of its effects.
In general each church calls its own creed a sys. tem of christianity, a body of christian doctrine, and perhaps not improperly: but then each divine ought to distinguish that part of his system, which is
pure revelation, and so stands confessedly the doctrine of Jesus Christ, from that other part,which is human explication, and so may be either true or false, clear or obscure, presumptive or demonstrative, according to the abilities of the explainer who compiled the creed. Without this distinction, we may incorporate all our opinions with the infallible revelations of heaven, we may imagine each article of our belief essential to christianity itself, we may subjoin a human codicil to a divine testament, and attribute equal authenticity to both; we may account a proposition confirined by a synodical seal as fully authenticated, as a truth confirmed by an apostolical miracle; and so we may bring ourselves to rank a conscientious disciple of Christ, who denies the necessity of episcopal ordination, with a brazen disciple of the devil, who denies the truth of revelation, and pretends to doubt the being of a God.
But here, I feel again the force of that observation, with which this preface begins. How few, comparatively, will allow, that such a reduction of a large system to a very small number of clear, indisputable, essential first principles, will serve the cause of christianity! How many
preI tend to think such a reduction dangerous to thirty
five out of thirty-nine articles of faith! How many will confound a denial of the essentiality (so to speak,) of a proposition, with a denial of the truth of it! How many will go further still, and execrate the latitudinarian, who presumes in this manner to subvert christianity itself! I rejoice in prospect of that day, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to his gospel; when we shall stand, not at the tribunal of human prejudices and passions, but at the just bar of a clement God. Here, were I only concerned, I would rest, and my answer to all complainants should be a respectful silence before their oracles of reason and religion : but alas ! I have nine children, and my ambition is (if it be not an unpardonable presumption to compare insects with angels) my ambition is to engage them to treat a spirit of intolerance, as Hamilcar taught Hannibal to treat the old Roman spirit of universal dominion. The enthusiastic Carthaginian parent, go-. ing to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter for the success of an intended war, took with him his little son Hannibal, then only nine years of age, and eager to accompany his father, led him to the altar, made him lay his little hand on the sacrifice, and swear that he would never be in friendship with the Ro
We may sanctify this thought by transferring it to other objects, and, while we sing in the church glory to God in the highest, vow perpetual peace with all mankind, and reject all weapons except those which are spiritual, we may, we must declare war against a spirit of intolerance from generation to generation. Thus Moses wrote a memorial in a book, rehearsed it in the ears of Joshua, built an altar, called the name of it Jehovah my banner, and said, the Lord hath sworn, that the