« FöregåendeFortsätt »
what they affirmed, and to practise what they required. But we, who have not so learned Christ, define christian ljberty orherwise; and, if we be asked, What is christian liberty? we answer. It is liberty to be a christian. One part of christianity consists of propositions to be believed: Liberty to be a christian believer is liberty to examine these propositions, to form a judgment of theni, and to come to a self-determination, according to our own best abilities. Another part of christianity consists of duties to be performed. Liberty to be a practical christian is liberty to perform these duties, either as they regard God, our neighbour, or ourselves. Liberty to be a christian implies liberty not to be a christian, as liberty to examine a proposition implies liberty to reject the arguments brought to support it; if they appear inconclusive, as well as liberty to admit them, if they appear demonstrative. To prétend to examine christianity, before we have established our right to do so, is to pretend to cultivate an estate, before we have made out our title to it.
The object of christian liberty, that, with which a man, who would examine christianity, has to do, is a system of christian doctrine : but, having established the doctrine of right, before we proceed to exercise this right by examining the religion proposed to mankind by Jesus Christ it is absolutely necessary to inquire what we ought, on sound prihciples of just and fair reasoning, to expect to find in it. I know some truths without revelation. I have a full demonstration in nature, that there is one God—that it is impossible that there should be inore than one-that he is an intelligent Spiritand that he is a wise and bountiful Being. Should any religion, which pretends to be divine, affirm, there is a plurality of gods-God is not an intelligent Spirit-God is an unwise and an unkind being-I should
have a right to reject this pretended revelation. Indeed, should a revealed religion allow my demonstrations, and afterwards explain them in a manner quite subversive of my former explications of them ; should it affirm, God is, as you say, a wise and bountiful being : but he displays his wisdoin and goodness not in governing his intelligent creatures as you have imagined; such a moral government, I will prove to you, would shew a defect of wisdom and goodness : but he displays the supreme perfection of both by providing for such and such interests, and by bestowing such and such benefits, as have either escaped your notice, or were beyond your comprehension. In this
case, I ought not to reject revalation, for, although I can demonstrate without inspiration the wisdom and goodness of God, yet I cannot pretend by the light of nature to know all the directions, and to ascertain all the limits of these perfections.
Lay christianity before me who will, I expect to find three things in it, which I call analogy, proportion, and perfection. Each of these articles opens a wide field of not incurious speculation, and each fully explained and applied would serve to guide any man in his choice of a religion, yea in his choice of a party among the various divisions of christians : but alas! we are not employed now-a-days in examining and choosing religious principles for ourselves, but in subscribing, and defending those of our ancestors ! A few hints then shall serve.
By analogy I mean resemblance, and, when I say a revealed religion must bring along with it analogical evidence, I mean, it must resemble the just dictates of nature. The reason is plain. The same Supreme Being is the author of both. The God of nature has formed man for observing objects, comparing them together, laying down principles, inferring consequences, reasoning and self-determining; he has not only empowered all mankind to exercise these abilities, but he has even constrained them by a necessity of nature to do so; he has not only rendered it impossible for men to excel without this exercise, but he has even rendered it impossible for them to exist safely in society without it. In a word, the God of nature has made man in his own image, a self-determining being, and, to say nothing of the nature of virtue, he has rendered free consent essential to every man's felicity and peace. With his own consent subjection makes him happy; without it dominion over the universe would make him ciserable.
The religion of nature, (I mean by this expression, herc, the objects, which display the nature of the Deity, and thereby discover the obligations of mankind,) is in perfect harmony with the natural constitution of man. All natural objects offer evidence to all : but force it on none. A man may examine it, and he may not examine it: he may admit it, and he may reject it: and, if his rejection of the evidence of natural religion be not expressed in such overt acts as are injurious to the peace of civil society, no man is empowered to force him, or to punish himn; the supreme moral Governor of the world himself does not distinguish him kere by any exterior punishments; at most he expresses his displeasure by marks attached to the person of the culprit, and concealed from all the rest of his fellow creatures ? and the glory of civil society is not to encroach on the moral government of God.
Christianity comes, pretends to come from the God of nature; I look for analogy, and I find it; but I find it in the holy scriptures, the first teachers, and the primitive churches.
In all these, I am considered as a rational creature, objects are proposed, evidence is offered: if I admit it, I am not entitled thereby to any temporal emoluments; if I refuse it, I am not subjected to any temporal punishments : the whole is an affair of conscience, and lies between each individual and lais God. I choose to be a christian on this very account. This freedom, which I call a perfection of my nature; this self-determination, the dignity of my species, the essence of my natural virtue ; this I do not forfeit by becoming a christian, this I retain, explained, confirmed, directed, assisted by the regal grant of the Son of God. Thus the prerogatives of Christ, the laws of his religion, and the natural rights of mankind being analagous, evidence arises of the divinity of the religion of Jesus.
I believe, it would be very easy to prove, that the christianity of the church of Rome, and that of every other establishment, because they are establishments, are totally destitute of this analogy. The religion of nature is not capable of establishment, the religion of Jesus Christ is not capable of establishment: if the religion of any church be capable of establishment, it is not analogous to that of Scripture, or that of nature. A very simple example may explain our meaning. Natural religion requires a man to pay a mental homage to the Deity, to venerate his perfections, by adoring and confiding in them. By what possible means can these pious operations of the mind be established ? could they be forced, their nature would be destroyed, and they would cease to be piety, which is an exercise of judgment and will. Revealed religion requires man to pay a mental homage to the Deity through Jesus Christ, to venerate his perfections by adoring and confiding in them as christianity directs; by repentance, by faith, by hope, and so on. ble to establish those spiritual acts? A human establishment requires man to pay this christian mental homage to the Deity by performing some external ceremony, suppose bowing to the east. The ceremony, we grant, may be established:
How is it possi
but, the voluntary exercise of the soul in the performance, which is essential to the christianity of the action, who in the world can establish this? If the religion of Jesus be considered as consisting of external rites and internal dispositions, the former may be established: but, be it remembered the establishment of the exterior not only does not establish the interior, but the destruction of the last is previously essential to the establishment of the first.
No religion can be established without penal sanctions, and all penal sanctions in cases of religion are persecutions. Before a man can persecute, he must renounce the generous tolerant disposition of a christian, No religion can be established without human creeds; and subscription to all human creeds implies two dispositions contrary to true religion, and both expressly forbidden by the author of it. These two dispositions are, love dominion over conscience in the imposer, and an abject preference of slavery in the subscriber. The first usurps the rights of Christ; the last swears allegiance to a pretender. The first domincers, and gives laws like a tyrant; the last truckles like a vassal. The first assumes a dominion incompatible with his frailty, impossible even to his dignity, yea denied to the dignity of angels; the last yields a low submission, inconsistent witř his own dignity, and ruinous to that very religion, which he pretends by this mean to support. Jesus Christ does not require, he does not allow, yea he expressly forbids both these dispositions, well knowing, that an allowance of these would be a suppression of the finest dispositions of the human soul, and a degrading of revelation beneath the religion of nature. If human inventions have formerly secularized christianity, and rendered such bad dispositions necessary in times of ignorance, they ought to be exploded now, as all christians now allow this theory_The Son of God did not come to redeem one part of mankind to serve the secular views, and unworthy passions of the other: but he obtained freedom for both, that both might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of their lives, Luke i. 74, 75. When churches reduce this theory to practice, they realize, in actual life what otherwise makes only a fine idea decyphered in books, and by so doing they adorn their christianity with the glorious evidence of analogy.
Suppose the God of nature should think proper to reveal a simple system of astronomy, and to require all mankind to examine and believe this revelation on pain of his displeasure. Suppose one civil government, having examined this Vol. III.
revelation, revelation, and explained the sense, in which they understood it, should endeavour to establish their explication by temporal rewards and punishments. Suppose they should require all their subjects to carry their infants in their arms to a public school, to answer certain astronomical interrogations, to be put by a professer of astronomy; as, in general, Wilt thou, Infant of eight days old! Wilt thou be an astronomer? Dost thou renounce all erroneous systems of astronomy? In particular, dost thou admit the true Copernican system? Dost thou believe the revealed explication of this system? And dost thou also believe that explication of this revelation, which certain of our own predecessors in the profession believed, which explication the government has adopted, and which we your masters, and parents, in due obedience, receive? Suppose a proxy required to answer for this infant ; All this, I, proxy for this child, do stedfastly believe: and suppose from this hour the child became a reputed astronomer. Suppose yet further, this child should grow to manhood, and in junior life should be pressed, on account of the obligation contracted in his infant state, to subscribe a certain paper called an astronomical creed, containing, mathematical deñinitions, astronomical propositions, and so on, and should be required for certain rewards to examine and approve, teach and defend this creed, and no other, without incurring the penalty of expulsion from all public schools, a deprivation of all honours, which he might be supposed on other accounts to merit, an exclusion from all offices of trust, credit, and profit, in some cases a loss of property, in others imprisoninent, in others death. In this supposed case, I ask, would not the establishment of this system be an open violation of the doctrine of analogy, and should I not have a right to reason thus? The revelation itself is infallible, and the author of it has given it me to examine: but the establishment of a given meaning of it renders examination needless, and perhaps dangerous. The God of nature has given me eyes, instruments, powers, and inclinations to use them; eyes, faculties, and dispositions as good as those of my ancestors, and instruments better: but all these advantages, which may be benefical to me, if they confirm the truth of the explication, may be fatal to me, if they lag behind, or ken beyond the bound of the creed. Nature says, a constellation is a collection of stars, which in the heavens appear near to one another. This is a plain simple truth, I open my eyes, and admit the evidence. Revelation says, each fixt star is a sun,