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God; must obstruct the growth and exercise of the religious principle: must unfit a person for divine fellowship here, and for eternal glory hereafter.
Error on religious subjects is not a mere intellectual defect; it is not the result of mere weakness of understanding; its seat is in the heart it springs from carelessness, prejudice, pride, or some other operation of our depravity, which exerts a bewildering influence on the judgement. We are as certainly accountable to God for it as for evil conduct. It is not to be conceived for a moment, that we are responsible for the exercises of every faculty of the soul, yet not for the understanding, which is the noblest of them all. If a man may believe error and yet be innocent, he may preach it without guilt; and if this be the case he may employ all his faculties, his talents, his time, his influence, in a direct opposition to the counsels of heaven, and all the revelations of God, and yet be without blame.
If these things are correct, then error is certainly criminal. How can there be a doubt of this? If a man may disbelieve a less important truth, and yet be innocent in that act of his disbelief; then he may reject a more important one, and be equally faultless. If he may discredit one truth, without guilt, then he may discredit two; if two, ten; if ten, half the bible; if half the bible, the whole; and yet be innocent, even though he be a deist or atheist, provided he be not immoral, and profess at the same time to be inquiring after truth. And then why is it said to all the world, "He that believeth not shall be damned?" And what saith the scrip
ture in other places? "For this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth.” "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so I say now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.' "Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed! for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds." "Henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait. to deceive." "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines, for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." "There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction; and many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of; whose judgement now of a
long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not."*
These and many more similar texts decide the point, that errors are blameable and destructive; that they spring from the depravity of our nature, and demonstrate a heart, in so far as they prevail, not yet brought into subjection to Christ.
Beware then, my dear children, of that spurious candour, which looks with an equal eye on all opinions; which talks of the innocence of error, and thus diffuses a baleful indifference to the truth. The adage of Pope, who was a freethinking Roman Catholic, has been circulated round society by innumerable echoes.
"For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight:
This you will perceive is an equivocal expression. In one view of it nothing can be more correct; for in every case a right life, that is, right in the scriptural sense of the term, must` proceed from a right creed; if, therefore, the life be right, so must also the creed. But the design of the author was to teach that a right life might stand connected with any creed, or no creed, and that, therefore, religious opinions are of no consequence whatever. This you will perceive is the popular and dreadful dogma of infidelity. This bantling of skepticism has been foisted into the christian world, and profanely baptised by the name of charity. But though it may wear the smiling countenance of this heavenly virtue, it has an infidel heart. If this counterfeit, hollow thing, which dares to
2 John 9, 10, 11. Eph. iv. 14. 2 Pet. ii. 1, 2.
* 2 Thes. ii. 11, 12. Gal. i. 8, 9. Heb. xiii. 9. 2 Tim. iv. 3.
take to itself the sacred name of charity, had not renounced the bible, it would have certainly known, that errors in faith are the offspring of a heart wholly or partially unrenewed, and as decisive a proof, so far as they prevail, of a want of religion, as an unsanctified life.
Contend earnestly then for the faith once delivered to the saints. I would not have you bigots. This however, is a vague and plastic term which in the slang of modern infidelity, has been generally applied to every one who attaches importance to religious opinions. If by a bigot, is meant an overweening attachment to sentiments, confessedly of lesser importance than many others; or a blind zeal for opinions, adopted rather from custom than conviction; or a spirit of intolerance, contempt and persecution, towards those who differ from us in the articles of their belief; if this be bigotry, be you no bigots: Abhor and avoid a disposition of this kind. Adopt all your sentiments after a close examination, and upon a full conviction of their truth. Apportion your zeal for their dif fusion upon the scale of their relative importance. Exercise the greatest forbearance and candour towards those who differ from you; but at the same time contend for the articles of your faith as matters of infinite consequence. Defend your opinions with an enlightened, dispassionate, but, at the same time ardent zeal. Insist upon the connexion of right sentiments with right feelings, that the former, when really held, lead to the latter, and that the latter can never exist without the former. If this is what is meant by bigotry, then may you possess it more and more. Shrink not from the charge,
if this be its meaning in the lips of those who use it. If you partake of true faith and genuine holiness, you must expect that the one will be called enthusiasm, and the other bigotry. Disregard both the accusations, and be not deterred by opprobrious names from the pursuit of eternal life.
Do you ask me what are right sentiments? I reply, search the scriptures for yourselves, with docility, with prayer, with earnestness. No language can express the infinite importance of entering, without delay, on a deep and solemn examination into these matters.* Call no man master, but consult the oracle of heaven. evil, never enough to be deplored, is, that many people do not and will not distinguish. They are pleased with different preachers, who bring as different gospels as the Koran is different from the bible. They are as ready to put themselves in the way of hearing error as truth, and swallow down whatever comes, provided only it is gracefully administered. Elegant language, good elocution, theatrical attitudes, fascinating imagery, are to them of far more importance than the truth. They are like children rushing into the shop of an apothecary, tasting at random of every vial, and selecting the most imposing in appearance, without the power of distinguishing medicines from poisons, and even where there is some general attachment to right sentiments, in how few cases is this
* Without pledging myself to approve of every expression contained in the answers of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism, I know not where to find a summary of Christian doctrines expressed with so much brevity and so much precision. And although I do not approve of the practice of teaching this catechism to children below the age of twelve, yet all our youth above that age should be acquainted with it as a synopsis of right sentiments in religion.