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relative to the great doctrine of atonement, but they have no doubtful or delusive meaning, they are oracles from heaven, and let men use what art they please in torturing such expressions as these, they cannot prevent us from seeing what the general sense of scripture is—-" That it hath pleased God to give us eternal life only in his Son, and in his Son as suffering and dying for us.” Thus hath God bestowed
man the est gift his eternal plenitude could provide, and beyond which, heaven itself hath nothing more valuable or glorious to impart.
Why this precise mode of redemption, by the death and sufferings of Christ, was preferred to all other, in the eternal purpose of the Godhead, exceeds the power of human reason to discover, because the attribute of wisdom, which is out of the reach of man to apply to this enquiry, is here most materially concerned. It is a subject of pure
revelation. By his own reason, man can add nothing to what is revealed, and without impiety, he can alter nothing. But when it hath been proved by fact, that a religion was revealed, in which this mode of redemption is employed, then reason may lend her modest aid, to shew (what a rational religion seems to expect should be shewn) that this precise mode of atonement is conformableto all our ideas of divine goodness and justice. Nay, that it best quadrates with, as it is seen to be the most proper means of, a restoration to a free gift, when it is become justly forfeited. This difference in the application of reason to religious matters, Moses hath not obscurely intimated to the Israelites, where in his last direction for their conduct, he says, “ The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us, and to our children for ever ;” and if I should not observe this
sage direction, but vainly endeavour to explain mysteries, which the gospel hath left unexplained, I should justly incur the censure of Jerome to his adversaries,-“ Why do you pretend, after so many ages are elapsed, to teach us, what was never taught before — why attempt to explain what neither Peter nor Paul, thought it necessary for man to know.” Ad Pammachium De Erroribus originis.
It appears to me, that all the real doctrines of religion, as contained in the new testament, are defensible upon the purest principles of reason, without sacrificing any one that is clearly revealed, though it may appear to be mysterious. But those writers who deny the divinity of Christ, and are pleased to style themselves by the title of rational Christians, (with the implied insinuation of course, that the title does not belong to those christians who differ from them in doctrine,) pretend to teach
and study christianity on a more liberal plan, to clear it from a load of superstition and corruption, to emancipate the minds of those who believe in it, from the shackles of narrow prejudice, and to enable them to think boldly for themselves. Now pleas and pretensions such as these, must address themselves to many minds, with great effect. They are particularly calculated to work upon the feelings of the young and inexperienced, who may be easily caught by the sound of such assumptions, without the ability to examine, with any justness, their foundations.
To an ardent mind, of strong natural powers, which is eagerly panting after the acquisition of truth, and is beginning to feel a confidence in its ability to pursue investigations for itself ; that invitation must indeed be flattering, which calls upon it to rise to an elevation above all vulgar prejudice, to enlarge the field of its speculation and enquiry, to divest religious belief of all mystery, and to embrace no article of faith, beyond what it completely understands.
But it cannot be too earnestly recommended to all, to pause, and consider, whether these pretensions rest on that solid foundation, which can entitle them to operate, with any effect, upon reasonable minds : let us see what is meant by the title, Rational Christians. Does it mean that in matters of religion we should only believe, where reason tells us, we ought to believe?
If that be the only meaning, l-agree to the position--all christians refer themselves tothie scriptures, for the foundation of their opinions,--they believe only, because their reason assures them, that these scriptures come from God, and that the truths which they embrace, are in these scriptures, really contained. Or do they, who assume the name of Rational Christians, mean it to be understood, that they can only consent to extend their faith, to matters which they fully comprehend. If such be their meaning, it becomes them to reflect, whether, in the great truths of nature, in many of the most ordinary events of life, they do not believe, where their ignorance is most complete, and most insuperable. In physics we cannot comprehend the primary cause of any thing, neither of the light by which we see, nor of the elasticity of the air by which we hear, nor of the fire by which we are warmed. In Physiology we cannot tell what first gave motion to the heart, nor what continues it, nor why we are able to move our arm to the right or left by a simple volition, nor comprehend the principle, by which our body was first formed, nor by which it is sustained, nor by which it will be reduced to dust. The fall and redemption of the human kind, are not more incomprehensible than the creation and preservation of the universe ; and it is somewhat remarkable,