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ceive all things. My teacher is infallible, and I am not to cavil at his instructions, however in some things they may transcend my ability to comprehend them.”
Yes, the bible, the bible alone, is the infalli. ble teacher in religious matters, um whose authority there does and can lie no appeal ; before whose solemn dicta, reason must bow in humble silence, to learn and to obey. This is docility, by which I mean, not a supple disposition to believe what others believe, or to adopt the creed which they would impose upon us; no, this is surrendering our understanding to be enslaved by human authority: but teachableness, means going direct to the master, with this determination, whatever he teaches I will believe, be it so sublime, so humiliating, so novel, and, to my present limited capacities, so incomprehensible as it may.
Are we, then, to exclude reason from the business of religion ? By no means. It would be as absurd to attempt it, as it would be impossible to accomplish it. The whole affair of piety is a process of reason; but then it is reason submitting itself to the guidance of revelation. Reason bears the same relation to religion, and performs the same office, as it does in the system of jurisprudence; it examines the evidence, by which a law is proved to be an enactment of the legislature ; interprets according to the known use of terms and phrases, its right meaning, and then submits to its authority. Thus, in matters of religion, its province is to examine the evidences by which the bible is proved to be a revelation from God; having done this, it is to ascertain, according to the fixed use of language, its true meaning; and then to submit to its authority, by believing whatever it reveals, and obeying whatever it enjoins. This is what we mean by prostrating our reason before the tribunal of revelation, than which surely nothing can
more accord with the design of the bible, or the ignorance of the human mind.
But, suppose reason should meet with palpable contradictions in the word of God, is she to believe them? This is putting a case which cannot happen, since it is supposing that God will give his sanction to a lie. There can be no contradictions in the word of God; the thing is impossible. But still it will be replied, Is not one kind of evidence for the divine authority of revelation, derived from its contents ? and if so, may not reason, make the nature of a doctrine a test of its truth? At best this is but a secondary species of evidence, and cannot oppose the primary kind of proof. If it cannot be proved that a doctrine is really an interpolation, and there is at the same time all the evidence that the case admits of, that it is a part of divine revelation, no difficulty in the way of understanding its meaning, no seeming mystery in its terms, should lead us to reject it; we must receive it and wait for further light to understand it.
Revelation is the sun, reason the eye which receives its beams, and applies them to all the purposes of life, for which, in ceaseless succession they flow in upon us : and it can no more be said that revelation destroys or degrades reason, by guiding it, than it can be said the
solar orb extinguishes the power of vision, by directing its efforts.
Docility then, my dear children, by which I mean a submission of the human understanding, in matters of religion, to the word of God, is essential to all true piety. I insist upon this with more earnestness, because it is easy to perceive, that the tendency of the present age is in an opposite direction. A haughty and flippant spirit has arisen, which, under the pretext of freedom of inquiry, has discovered a restless propensity to throw off the authority of divine truth; a spirit more disposed to teach the bible than to be taught by it; to speculate upon what it should be, than to receive it as it is; a spirit which would receive the morality of the word of God as it finds it, but which is perpetually employed in mending its theology; which, in fact, would subvert the true order of things, and, instead of subjecting reason to revelation, would make reason the teacher, and revelation the pupil. . Beware, my children, of this dangerous spirit, which, while it pays flattering compliments to your understanding, is injecting the deadliest poison into your soul.
4. A prayerful spirit is essential to a right disposition for inquiring into the nature of true piety.
Religion is an affair so spiritual in its nature, so tremendously important in its consequences, and so frequently misunderstood; and, on the other hand, we ourselves are so liable to be misled in our judgements by the bewildering influence of internal depravity, and external temptation, that it betrays the most criminal indifference, or the most absurd self-confidence,
to enter on this subject, without constant earnest supplication for direction to the Father and Fountain of lights.
The religious world is like an immense forest, through which lies the right road to truth and happiness; but besides this, there are innumerable paths running in all directions; every way has its travellers, each traveller thinks he is right, and attempts to prove it, by referring to the map
which he carries in his hand. In such circumstances, who, that values his soul or her eternal situation, would not seek for guidance to him who has promised to disclose to us by his Spirit the path of life? When young people trust to the efforts of their own unaided reason, and neglect to ask for the guiding influence of the eternal God, it is matter of little surprise that they are found walking in the paths of
There is a degree of pride and independence in this, which God often punishes, by leaving them to the seductions of sophistry and falsehood. In addition, then, to the greatest seriousness of mind, and the most intense desire after truth, and the most unprejudiced approach to the oracle of scripture, pray constantly to God to reveal to you the nature of true piety, and to dispose you to embrace it. This is the way appointed by God to obtain it. any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto them which are your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him." “1 will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye.”
These, surely, with a thousand other passages of similar import, are sufficient to enjoin and encourage the temper I now recommend. I have no hope of those who neglect habitual prayer for divine illumination. I expect to see them left to embrace error for truth, or to content themselves with the mere forms of godliness, instead of its power.
On right sentiments in Religion.
TRUTH and error, my children, are essentially distinct, and diametrically opposed to each other. It is important to perceive in every case this difference to embrace the one, and reject the other. To have the judgement misled in its decisions, on any subject, is an evil, which, as rational creatures, we should ever deprecate; but to be mistaken on that subject, where “ he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned,” is most fearful, most fatal. To be in error on the topics of literature, science, commerce, history, is a mere inconvenience, at worst a derogation from our mental reputation, or our worldly comfort; but to be fundamentally wrong in religion, is an evil which commences its chief mischief from the day of our death, and perpetuates itself through all the ages of eternity.