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For till Christians are united amongst themselves, it will be in vain for them to expect, to make much progress in bringing infidels and heathens to the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel. Be it that measures of conciliation may not be unattended with some inconvenience, or even danger--an apprehension however, which I believe to be perfectly groundless,) still as the danger (if any) is of a civil and secular nature, and cannot be extended to our religious interests, it ought not to be brought into competition, with the paramount object, of establishing Christian amity and
peace. The security for our faith, is in ourselves and in our God, and requires no other protection or support. If we are true to him, and honour him not with our lips only, but in our lives and conversations, he will not desert us, nor suffer our Christian liberty to be withdrawn from us, either by force or fraud. When we were few in number, and destitute of worldly strength, by the force of truth and reason alone, we triumphed over superstition and error, in all the plenitude of their power and dominion. And is it to be imagined, that now when we are relatively as strong, as we were formerly weak, we can be
again brought under the yoke of bondage, by those who are comparatively sunk into impotence and decrepitude ? I make no apology for throwing out (not unseasonably I trust) these few observations, because I think the time is come, when it is the bounden duty of every clergyman, to deliver from the pulpit his conscientious opinion upon a matter which lies within their peculiar province: and which has so long agitated and divided this land.
It remains only to add a few words, upon the third and last point to be considered, which respects our duty to the Holy Spirit, as he is our God. And this will consist in praying to him for that influence which he can shed abroad in our hearts, for the confirmation of our faith, the increase of our hope, and the extension of our charity: and in offering to him that worship to which we believe him to be entitled, as the third person of the blessed Trinity. But as the former part of this subject has been already very much anticipated in this discourse, and the latter part, we shall immediately be engaged in performing, in the most solemn and appropriate manner, at the table of our Lord, I shall now conclude, with ascribing to him, conjointly with the Father and the Son, all power and glory, might, majesty and dominion, henceforth and for ever.
1 THESSALONIANS v. 21.
Prove all things: hold fast that which is good,
The best things are liable to abuse ; and when abused become prejudicial in proportion to their value when properly employed. Life, health, and wholesome food, the first of natural blessings, may be, and frequently are perverted from their legitimate and useful ends, to the purposes of excess, sensuality, and sin; and terminate in disease, death, and the terrors of a future judgment. And so it is with our moral advantages. What crimes have not been perpetrated in the name of liberty, when it has been suffered to degenerate into licentiousness! How often has charity become totally extinct, when prudence and frugality, passing their proper bounds, have grown into avarice and rapacity! And
has not even religion itself been made a curse to mankind, when it has been corrupted by bigotry or fanaticism. It is fit that we should bear these things in mind when we come to the consideration of such propositions as those which are contained in the text; which establish a doctrine of the highest importance to us, and the most consistent with reason ; but which is at the same time peculiarly liable to be misunderstood, and has often in fact produced the most lamentable errors.
This doctrine asserts absolutely the right of private judgment in the matter of religion, accompanied with a strong apostolic injunction to exert it. As this is a precept the truth of which cannot be disputed, but which requires great caution and moderation, when we come to reduce it to practice; my object will be to endeavour to explain the limitations and qualifications, which, in common with most general propositions, should be annexed to it, to make it a valuable or even a harmless rule of conduct. I am aware that they who would be most likely to make a good use of it, are precisely those by whom it is little, if at all, adopted; they preferring to trust implicitly in this matter to the ministers of that