Archibald Forbes.

The Christian library: a weekly republication of popular religious ..., Volume 6 online

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and, to my present limited capacities, so incompre-
hensR»k as it may.

Are we, then, to exdode reasoa from the busi-
ness of religion 1 By no means. It woold be as ab-
surd to attempt it, as it woold be impossible to ac-
oempUsh it The whole afihir of piet^ is a process
of reason : but then it is reason suonutting itself to
the guidance of revehuion. Reason bears the same
relation to religion, and performs the same efice,
as it does in the system of jurinrudence : it exa-
mines the evidence, bv whicn a law is proved to be
an enactment of the mialature; interprets aceord-
ing to the known use of terms and phrases, its ri|^t
meaning, and then subnuts to its authority. Thus
in matters of religion, its povince is to examine the
evidences by which tne BiMe is proved to be a re-
velation from God ; having done this, it is to' ascef-
tain, the fixed use of language, its true
meaning; and then to submit to its anthority. by be-
lieving whatever it reveals, and obnring whatever
it enjoins. This 'a what we mean tiy prostratiiisr
our reason before the tribonalof revelation, than
which surely nothing can more accord with the de-
si^ of Che Bible, or the ignorahce of the human

Bat, suppose reason should meet with palpable
oentradictioos in the word of God, is she to believe
themt This is potting a case which cannot hap-
pen, since it is supooeing 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, b not one kind of evidence for
the divine authority Of revelation, derived from its
contents 1 and if so, may not reason make the na-
tureofadoetnneatestof itslmthl At best this is
but a secondary species of evidence, and cannot op-
pose the primary kind of proof. If it oannot be

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proved that a doctrine is rMXy an interpolation, and
there is at the same time tlH the evidence that the
case admits of, that it is a part of divine revelation,
DO difficaltj in the waj of understanding its mean-
ing, no seeming mystery in its terms, Aoald lead
us to reiect it ; ve most receive it and wait for far-
ther light to understand it.

Revelation is the sun, reason the eye which re-
eeives its beams, and applies them to all the purpo-
ses of life, for which, in ceaseless succession they
flow in upon us : and it can no more be said that re-
velation destit^ or degrades reason, by guiding it,
than it can be said the solar orb extinguishes the
power of vision, by directing its efforts.

Docilitjr then, my dear children, by which I mean
a submission of the human understanding, in mat-
ters of religion, to the word of God, is essential to
all true piety. I insist upon this with more eamest-
nes, becatise it is easy to perceive, that the tenden-
cy of the present age is in an opposite direction. A
haughty and flippant spirit has arii>en, which, un-
der the pretext of fmidom of inquiry, has disco-
vered a re^less propensity to throw off the au-
thority of divine trntn: a spirit more disposed to
leach the Bible than to be taught by it ; to speculate
i^KNi what it should be, than to receive it as it is ;
a spirit which would receive the morality of the
word of Qod as it finds it, but which is perpetually
mnployed in mending its theology; which, in fact,
would subvert the true order of things, and, insteaa
of subjecting reason to revelation, would make rea-
son the teacher, and revelation the pupil. Be-
ware, my children, of this dangerous spint, which,
while if pays flattering compliments to your under-
standing, is injecting tne deadliest poison into your

4. AprmfftrfiU sjnrU is essential to a right diepo-
ritioa for inquiring into the nature of true piety.

Religion is an MJBbit so spiritual in its nature, so
trsmernkmRTy important in its cooseonenees, and so
freqoentiv ndsnadeTstood; and, on the other hand,
we ooraeives are so liable to be misled in our judg^
meols by the bewildering influence of internal de-
pravity, and external temptation, that it betrays the
aoat criminal indifference, or the most absurd self-
eonidence, to enter on this subject, without constant
earnest supplicatioa for direction to the Father and
Fountain or lights. -

The religious world is like an immense forest,
through which iies the ri^t road to truth and hap-
piness ; but besides this, there are innumerable paths
nnming in all directioas ; ^veir wav has its travel-
lers, each traveller thinks he is right, and attempts
to prove it. bv referring to the map which he carries
k Us hand, m such circumstances, who, that values
Id9 soul or her eternal situation, would not seek for
nidance to him who has promised to disclose to us
ly his spirit the path of lire 1 When voung people
.'roit to the efforts of their own unaidea reason, uid
neglect to ask for the guiding influence of the eter-
nal CM, it is matter of little surprise that they are
Ibund >*alldng in the paths of error. There is a
degree of pride and independence in this, which
Qod often punishes, by leaving them to the seduc-
tions of sophistry and fiUsehood. In addition then,
to the greatest seriouaneas of mind, and the most in-
t desire af

i after truth, and the mo6t unprejudiced
approach to die oracle of Seripture, pray constantly
to God to reveal to yon the Jiature or true piety, and
to dispose you to embrace it This is the way ap-
pointed by God lo obtain it "If any man lack wis-
dom, let him ask d God, who givetn to all men li-
berally, 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 Hflat«€jr Father give his Holy
Sj^rit to them that Mk Htm.'* "I wiU instraet

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 sufllcient to enjoin and encou-
rage the temper I now recommend. I have no hope
of those who neglect habitual prayer for divine il*>
lumination. 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.



Truth and error^ mv children, are essentially disK
tinct, and diametricafljr opposed to each other. Itu
important to perceive in every case this difference,
to embrace the one, and reject the other. To have
the judgment misled in its decisiontt, on any subject,
is an evil, which, as rational creatures, we sboula
ever depiecat'e *, but to be mistaken on that subject,
where " he that believeth shall be saved, and he
that believeth not shall be damned,'* is most fearftil,
most fatal. To be in error on the topics of literal
ture. science, commerce, history, is a mere incon-
veoknce, at worst a derogation ftrom our mental
reputation, or our worldly comfort ; but to be ftin-
damentally wron^ in reli^on, is an evil which
commences its chief mischief from the day of our
death, and perpetuates itself through all the ages
of eternity.

I need not inform you, that there prevails an end-
less variety of opinion on the sub|ect of religion.
This circumstance, however, with pious minds it
might be a matter of regret, with philosophic ones,
is no cause of surprise. Infidels, who profess to
study theology in tne book of nature, are divided
into many sects. Scarcely a subject exists, how*
ever plain, and apparently incapaole of producing
a diversity of opinion, but what is viewed by di^
ferent men in various lights. What clashing opi-
nions exist among lawyers, concerning the precise
meaning of the words of a statute, which was
drawn up with the most anxious care to avoid all
litigation. Th^ different opinions should exist on
the meaning of the Scriptures, is len to be wonder-
ed at, when we consider how deeply we are all in-
terested in the matter of revelation, and how apt
we are in cases of personal interestjto have our
judgments biassed by our feelings. The Bible, if
read in heaven by holy angels and spirits made per-
fect produces no discordant opinions there. It is
to the depravity of human nature, that all religious
error is to be traced.

Diversity of sentiment, although confbssoll)^ nn
evil, has been productive of some benefits. It has
afforded opportunity for the more vigorous exercise
and conspicuous display ei Christian charity and
forbearance between the various sects ; while It is
a constant pledge for the purity of the sacr^ text
A^ they all profess to draw their opinions from the
Bible, they of course maintain a constant and sleep-
lessj^ousy over each other's treatment of the word
of God. Their opposition to each other converts
them all into vigilant guardians of the source of
their faith ; so that although thev have corrupted
the streams of truth, they have jomtly guarded the
purity of the/MMitoffi. The suspkion of any libei^
ties having been taken with the wordof God, would
be an evil more to be deplored than the existence
of a diversity of <^ion on the sacred text. WhUe
the genuineness of the statute is admitted^ and the
incomuitibility of the judge is nmintamed, the
wrangtings of counsellors cannot subvert the foun-
dation of justice.

StUl, however, these oppoeite sentiments cannot
of course be mU right* Althoogh error is mnltl-

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form, truth is imiform ; tod it is of infinite coose-
qaeQce, that ive shoald embrace the one and reject
une. other.

1. Some erron nnqoestionaUy exclade a man
from salvation. " He that believeth shall be-saved,
Atid he that believeth not shaU be damned.^ Kow
certaialy from this language it is evident that sal-
valioa is suspended on a belief of the gospel^ and
of coarse upon a belief of the true go^cl, not
on the belier of a false one. If, therefore, what
vfe believe is not the same as that which the
word of God reitmlt, it is n#t the gospel; and
such a faith will not save ns. To ascertain with
precision what troths are essential to the hope
of eternal life, is a very diificaU task : to say how
&r a person may go in error, and yet after all be
saved, is what no mortal shoald presamo to do. —
When a man, however, disbelieves the Bible to be
the word of God; or rejects the doctrine of the
atonement ; or the jastificaUon of the soul by faith :

^ or the necessity of divine influences to renew and
sanctify the heajt, or the obligation of true boU-
aess: I do not see how such an individual can ba
saved. He subverts the very fofmdatioos of the

Sospel. S^mtihing most be believed, as our Lord
imself tells us, in order to the possession of ever-
lasting happiness ; and if tkiu tbin){B may be dis-
believed, and yet a sinner be saved, it is difficult to
find out what there is leA for him to bdlieve. If
some sentiments, then, are essential to a saving
faith, we should be most tremblingly afVaid of error:
and as it is not for OH to say how titi an individual
may j^ in error in order to be excluded from the
blessings of the gospel, wa shonld oertainhr be
alarmM at the least deviation from the tmui, aa
there is no doubt that one wrong notion jprepares
the mind for the Deception cf another. This leads
me toobeervQ,

2. That all error has a tendency to pdlate the
mind, to the d^gred in whidi it exists: and there-
fore must be so &r sinAiL

« Sanctify them by thy truth," said onr Lord,
" thy wopd is tniih." Now if truth sanctifies, error
must oorropt the minJ ^ eze^ two causes so dia-
metrically opposite to each other, as these are. can be
supoosed to produce the same efieets ; whicn is ab-,
sura. Whatever isaot troth must be error. What-
ever opinion we prolMs to have received from the
word of God, most be classed under one or the otlter
of these heads, and must have some influence or other
upon our religious character, as it appears in the
sight of God. Wrong sentiments may not produce
immoimli^ in the life, but if they corrupt our secret
motives ; if they reader us spiritually proud, and
lead us to glory before God^ if they make us self-
confident and self4ependeot; if thev cause us la
lean to our own understanding j if they lead us to
look with contempt upon others| if they keep us
from using any means of grace instituted by God,
they poUute and injure the mind in the sight of its
Omniscient Creator. The least disease in the body,
although it be unobserved by others, or yet unfi!h
by the subject of it, is an inpry to the healths It
may never come te a fatal attack, or bring on death,
but still it is injurious to the frame and it is precise-
ly thus with error io the mind.

All religion is founded ufM (minion. It bei^ins
with the reception of truth into the understanding:
a therefore the whole truth u not reeeived^ some
part of the moral means Mpointed for our spiritual
improvement is not applied : and if an^i^ thing con-
trary to the truth u received, acaase is m operation
upon our minds, opposite to the right one. The
order of piety is the order of nature: first, we rer
ceive an opinion, then our feelings are excited by
the apinion, and thctt the will resolves to act,
tiBderthai»iMn«aof th« MiBtrs; as is the opi-,

nioOfSuch are the feelings ; and as axe the feeling%
such are the resolutions and the actions. If &a
opinion, therefore, is wrong, all tbat follows must
be wrong, as to ito moral character in the sight of

t am aware that a di^kuky pretonts itself heve
to many young persons, which ooes apt a little per-
nlex them. ThiBy see individuals who have cm-
oraoed the widest extremes of opinion, equally eib-
emplary for the discharge of all the relative and
social obligations. They see those who have eBb>
braced error, as useful, peaeeftil, ornamental mem-
bers of socie^ as those who have received the trutk
This is undoubtedly a fiict. I know very many
who have rejected almost all that is peculiar to
Christianity], who are yet amongst the most truly
respectable inhabitants of the places in which they
live. But this does not disprove my statementa
nor in any dearee prove that error \b innocent ana
harmless. There are two lights in which the hii>
man character is to be viewed > its aspect towards
meu, and that which it bears towards God. Now I
do not mean to say that religious error aiay in any
material, or visible degree, alter the former. A maa
nuiv be a good su^ect, neighbor, husband, fatheri
traaesman, master, with aiMf or with aa leligkma
opinions at all. Biany infidels have been exemplar
rv in their attention to all the duties of social Ufa.
This, however, 6nly proves that error does not al-
ways disfigure the character in the sight (^ aaai
but we are now mere particalarly speaking of ila
aspect towards God. In this view or it there mi^
be a degree of obliquity trnly awful, i^le all iseot^
rect towards man. Pride of intellect and oi heart;
seIf-«uAeiettcy and seli^dependeace ; a stout and
pertinacious resistance to Jehovah's authority ^ a
peremptory refusal to sabmi| to his sahemes and
will, may all be rifo in the soul, while every thinir
is fair in the exterior. God lo<)keth to the heart;
and in his eye the character is decided by the slate
o€ the mind. ReligSoa, properiy speaking, has to
do with God and heaven : It is a right dispoaitieft
towards God and a spiritual preparation for the ce-
lestial state, which, as is perfectly evident, may be
wanting, where there are the most splendid social
virtues. What I affirm then is, that error, aeoord*
ing tothe degree in which it existSp must vitiate
the character, and depraye the heart in the sight oC
God \ must obstruer the growdi aed exerdseef the
religmas principle : must tmfit the person for divine
fellowship here, and for eternal glory hereafter.

Error on religious subjects is not a mere Intel*
leetual delect; it is not the result of mere weaiN
ness of understanding $ its seat is in the heart: it
springs from carelessnees. prejudice, ^de, er seme
other operation of our depravity, wnich exerts «
bewildering influeiMse on the jodgmenL We are an
oertaialy aocouatabte to God for it as for evil con-
duct. It is not to be concel?ed for a moment, thai
we are responsible for the exercises of etery iacul*
ty of the seul, yet not for the understanding, which.
is the noblest of them all. If a man may hdUv€
error and yet be innocent, he mey pntuh it without
ffuilt ; and if this be the ease he may employ all
his focuUies; his talents, his time, hie induenee, in
a direct opposition to the counsels of heaven, and
sdl the revelations of God, and yet be without Mama.

If these things are correct, then error is oertainlir
ciiminal. How can there be a doqbt of thiel It
a man may disbelieve a less important truth, and
yet be innocent in that act of hie disbelief; then he
may reject a more important one, and be equally
faultless. If he may discredit one truth, wHho«t
guilt, then he may discnedit two ; if two, ten ; if .
ten, half the Bible; if half the Bible, the whole;
and Viet be ianoctnt, even though he be a deist or
atheist, prcrrided he be «o( iauneral, and pxofesa al

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the same time to be inqoiring after truth. And
Iben why is it said to all the world. " He that be-
Mttih Dol shajl be damned Y* And what saith the
8cru>ture in other places 1 *' For this cause God
shall send them strong delusions, that they should
believe a lie, that they all might be damned, who
believed ftot the truth." " But though we, or an
aogel from heaven, preach any other gospel onto
TouL than that which we have preached unto toO|
let him be accuned. As we said before, so I say
now again, If any man preach any other goq^I
unto you than that ye have received, let him be ac^
cursM." ''Whosoever tranagresseth and abideth
not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not Gtod." " If
diere come any unto you, and bring not this doc-
trihe» receive him not into your houeei neither
bid him God speedy for he that biddetK him God
speed is partaker of his evil deeds.'' Hence-
forth be no more children tossed to and fro, and
carried abont with every wind pif doctrine, by
the sleight of men, and cimniDjr oraAiness, where-
by 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.''
^Foc the time will come when they will not endure
sound doctrine ; but afler their own lasts. shaU they
heap to themselves teachers,^ having itching cars;
andf they shall torn away their ears from the truth,
and shall be tnrned unto fables." " There win-e
fhlse pxophets also among the pec^le, even as there
shall be false teachers aoiioigyoti, who privity shall
bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord
that Douj^ht them, and brinar upon themselves swift
destmctiion ; and many shaB follow their pernicious
ways, bv reason of whom the way of trath shall be
evil ^icen of; whose judgment now of a long time
lingeretk not, and their damnation slumbereth hot"*

Yhteeaad many more similar texts decide the
poiat. thac enors are Mameable and destructive ;
that toey spring from the depravity of our nature,
wad daoeMtrate « heut, fai so fhr as they prsvail,
not yet brought into subjection to Christ.

Bewam tltpta, mr dear children, of that 8puri($tas
candor, w4iieh looks with an equal eye on alt opi-
iHoaei wWeh tiUks of the innoecnee of error, and
thus difases a balefVil indHTerenee to the trutfa.-^
TiheadaM of P«^, who was a f)Pee-thinking Ro-
nmn OadkoHe, has been cireulaied round society by
imanamble ecbMSL

' For mofles of&lth let graeden zeabti fight :
Hii can't be wrong whose Kfb' is in the right."

This you win 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 scrip-
tural sense of the term, must proceed from a rigot
creed y if therefore, the life be right, so must luso
the creed. Bar 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
opmions arc 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 bap-
tij«ed hv the name of charity. But though it may
wear the smiling countenance of this heavenly vir-
tue, it has an inldel heart. If this counterfeit, hol-
low thing, which dares to Uke to itself the sacred
nam^ (if charity,, had not renounced the Bible, it
would have certainly known, that errors in faith
art the. of&pring of a heart wholly or partially un-

* ii Thfs. iL 11, VL Gal. i. 8, 9. 9 John 9, 10,
IL Eph. iv. U. Heb. xiii. 9. 2 Tia. iv. 3. S

renewed, and as decisive a proof, ;k> Ihr as they pr»*
vail, of a want of relicion, as an uasaoctifltd me*

Contend earnestly then for the tttiih osee deliTet^
ed to the saints, i would not have you bigot8/-t«
This however, is a va^ue and plastic term which
in the slang of modem mfideliQr» has been geaemlly
applied to every one who attaches impoitance to r»*
ligious opiuons. If by a bi|[Ot, la meam an ovet^
wewng attachment to sentiments, confessedly of
lesser importance than aoany others} at a bUad
zeal for optnions, adopted rather from custom than
convictionj^ or a spirit of intolerance, cotitempt, and
persecution, towards tihoee who diier from us in the
articles of their belief; if this be bigotry, be you no
bigots ; abhor and avoid a dispoaiticdn of this kind.
Adopt all your sentuneifts aAer a dose ejmmin»*
tion, and upon a full conviction of their tmth.—
Apportion your zeal for their diffusion upea the
scale of their relative importance. Exercise the
ereatest forbearance and candor towards those who
differ from you j but at the same tin>e contend for
the articles of vour faith as maaers of infinite con*
sequence. Defend your opinions^ with an enlight*
eMd» dispassionate, but, at the mme time ardent
zeaL Insist upon the connection of right sentimenta
with right feelings, that the former, when really
held lead to the latter, and that the latter can never
exist without the former. If ikia is what is meant
by bigotry, then may you possess it more and more*
^ink not from the charge, if Mi« be its meaninc
in the lips oC those who use it. If yon partake of
Uofii faith and gemune holinesis you must expect
that the one will be called enthusiasm, and the other
bigotry; Disregard both the accnaatietts, and ba
not deterred by opprobions namea fhnU the- pursuit

Do you ask me what are right s e ntimen t s 7 I n»-
plv, sesrch the Scriptures for yonraelves, with do-


with prayer, with eanesmeas. No

can etxpceas the ininite importance of entering,
without delay, en a deepi and sokmn examination
into these matters.* Call no maa master, but eon«
sok the otacie of heaven. One evil» never ewm^
to be iteloaoed. ii, that many peopte io not and will
net^distingmsh. They are pleased with diffinrmit
preaohecs) who bring as difi^reni goKiek ar the
Koran is diflferent fyom the Bible. They are aa
ready te put themselves in the way of hearing error
as trath, and swallow down whatever comes, pro-
vided only it is fracefnlly administered. Elegant
language, good locution, theatriaal attitudes, fasei»
natinglmagery, are to th« of far more importanea
thanthe trath. They are like childi^en rosbing into
the diop of an apothecary, tasting at. random of
every vial, and seleeting the most imposing in ap^
pearance, without the power of distinguishmg me-
dioines from poisons. And even where there is
some general attachment to right sentiments, in how
few case.s is this attended with aa enlightened abili^
ty to defend and enforce^hem. Our young people
do not sufficiently store their minds with the proofr
and arguments of the opinions they have adopted.
They are satisfied with believing without proof.—
This is not the case with the advocates of error.—
They are instructed in the whole system of attack
and defence. They are skilful in all the manoeuvres
of controversy ; sophisms, assertions, interrogator

♦ Without pledging myself to approve of every
expression contained m the answers of the Assem*
bly's Shorter Catechvim. I know not where to find a
sununary of Christian doctrines expressed with so
much breviiyaod so much precision. And although
I do not approve of the practice of teaching this cate-
chism to ebldren below the age tif twelve, yet all
oor yoadt afaore dmt age should be acqaaittted with

Online LibraryArchibald ForbesThe Christian library: a weekly republication of popular religious ..., Volume 6 → online text (page 46 of 121)