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MISTAKES in Religion pass
for matters of small importance, because they are supposed to have little or no con. nexion with our present or future happiness.
The following pages directly oppose this tenet, now become extremely popular, by a winning appearance of candour and free inquiry, which its patrons never fail to plead in favour of it.
To expose, therefore, the favourite conceit, “that men are in no danger of destruction from embracing false doctrine,” is become needful, and will serve as a proper introduction to this essay.
Were the conceit then true, that mistakes in religion are matters of small importance, it must be true also, that a well-informed judgment would be of no more value towards obtaining acceptance with God, than one blinded by the spirit of error.
Good prin ciples and bad must no longer influence the mind according to their nature, and therefore should lose their names. Ignorance would stand upon a level with knowledge,
and false conceptions of God, with those which are just: for no preference can be due to one above the other, if the practical influence of both be the same.
More glaring absurdities than these are, cannot be named. The notion, therefore, from which they necessarily follow, must itself be false.
But the mischief this libertine opinion does, equals its absurdity. What can pour contempt on all religion more, than to suppose mistakes about it are of no consequence? Will any man study to know the mind of God, after he is persuaded ignorance in that respect has no hurtful tendency? or value the bible, when the truths contained in it, instead of being accounted principles of life and action, are degraded into speculative points, which we may neglect without guilt, and deny without loss or danger to the soul? Or what power of commanding faith in the doctrines he hath revealed, can be said to remain with God, when authority over conscience is supposed entirely to rest on every man's own apprehension of truth, not on his written word ?
A conceit so pernicious, we may be sure must contradict the judgment and practice of Christ and his apostles. Accordingly we find, they are absolute in requiring men to receive the truths they taught as necessary to salvation. “Except ye believe that I am He ye shall die in your sins," saith the Lord. “Preach the Gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be damned.” The practice of the apostles was founded upon this decisive tone of their divine Master. Hence, when certain teachers at Philippi deviated from the faith, St. Paul calls them dogs, to excite universal detestation of their errors, and charges the church to beware of them. He commands the churches of Galatia to took upon them as aecursed, who preached any other gospel to them, than that they had heard from his mouth. And he places here. sies in the same dreadful predicament with adultery, as a work of the flesh. St. Peter,
, perfectly harmonizing with his brother Apostle, expresses himself in as strong terms on this head. “ There shall be false teachers,”
among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."
St. John commands the faithful not to receive into their houses any teacher who should bring with him any other doctrine,
than he had taught them himself; charging them “not to bid such a one God speed; lest by so doing, they should become partakers,” not of his speculative mistakes, but " of his evil deeds."
It is evident from these passages, (a few of many which might be alleged) that Christ and his apostles were extremely jealous to preserve the doctrine they taught uncorrupted, as a matter of the last importance. No art can reconcile their declarations, warnings, and commands, to the conceit, that mistakes in religion have little connexion with our present or future happiness, Nor is it possible to reverence their judgment and practice as an infallible precedent, unless we regard these declarations, warnings, and commands, as decisive, that false doctrine is poison to the soul, and to be sound in the faith, necessary to acceptance with our Maker.
The authority and practice, therefore, of Christ and his apostles, will justify every well-meant attempt to prove the malignant nature of mistakes in religion.
Every one exposed in this Work, is fairly deducible, I apprehend, from the prophecy of Zacharias : a part of scripture highly deserving peculiar attention ; because it certainly contains that very system of divinity, which