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upon this ground; but, that some positive reasons or motives, should have been proposed to you to satisfy you, that Protestantism is the true and normal state of the Christian religion ; its rule of faith would have been propounded to you, based upon a series of positions and arguments, not relative or negative, but positive and direct.
But, my brethren, for the better understanding of this point, I wish to draw your attention to a very important distinction, and one which, I fear, is often not sufficiently observed; it is, the distinction between the grounds of adhesion to, or communion with, any Church; and the grounds of conviction of its truth. I am sure, that, if those who have been educated Protestants, inquire, and ask their own minds, why they profess that religion, they would receive an answer such as appears a justification to themselves for remaining in that communion, but yet does not involve the acceptance of the fundamental grounds of the religion. They would say, for instance—and I am sure that many, if they search their own breasts, will find it a reason of great weight—they would say, that they were born and educated in that religion ; that it is the religion of their country; and that they think it shameful to abandon the faith of their forefathers. These are so many reasons, therefore, why they are Protestants; but they are precisely the same grounds which might be given for a thousand ordinary opinions; they are the very reasons by which you might account why you are attached to your country; but they do not include, in themselves, the essential, the radical, reasons, upon which Protestant doctrines are based. They are motives which justify the individual, in his own idea, for remaining in a communion; but, certainly, they contain no pledge of having adopted the principle of any. Others will tell you, that they are of that persuasion, because they take it for granted that their religion is demonstrated ; they have been accustomed to hear it spoken of as a thing satisfactorily settled, and they have not thought it necessary to trouble their minds in inquiring farther; learned men have done it for them; and the
RULE OF FAITH..
principles of the Reformation have been too firmly established, and too'surely demonstrated, to need reconsideration or private study.
You must perceive-and a minute examination would only serve to demonstrate it—that, whoever gives you such reasons as these, for being a Protestant, only gives you such motives as influences him to continue in the profession of his creed; but they are not reasons which touch the grounds whereon Protestantism justifies its original separation from our Church; for the fundamental principle of Protestantism is this, that THE WORD OF GOD ALONE IS THE TRUE STANDARD AND
But, to arrive at this, there is a long course of complicated and severe inquiry. You must, step by step, have satisfied yourselves, not merely of the existence of a revelation ; but, that such revelation is really confided to man in these very books; that they have been transmitted to you in such a state, that the originals have been so preserved, and the translations so made, as, that you are confident, that in reading them you are reading those words which the Spirit of God dictated to the prophets and apostles; and, still more, that you have acquired, or that you possess, the lights necessary for you
to understand them. You must not only be satisfied that the Bible has been given as the word of God; but you must be ready to meet the innumerable and complicated difficulties which are brought by others against the inspiration of particular books, or individual passages ; so that you may be able to say, that from your own knowledge and experience, you are internally convinced, that you have in that book the inspired word of God, in the first place; and, in the second, that you are not only authorized, but competent, to understand it. How few, my brethren, are there who can say, that they have gone through this important course; and, yet, it is the essential ground of Protestantism, that each one is to be considered responsible to God for every particular doctrine which he professes—that each one must have studied the word of God, and must have drawn from it the faith which he
holds. Unless he does all this, he has not complied with those conditions which his religion imposes upon him; and, whatever reasons or motives, he may feel or quote for being a Protestant, it is manifest that they noways lead him essentially to the practical adoption of the ground-work of his religion.
You may, perhaps, be tempted to think that I have overstrained my assertions, for the sake of an argument. You may say, that it is in nowise contrary to the principles of Protestantism, to accept religious truth on the teaching received in education, so that the long and painful process I have described is by no means required from each individual. I will, therefore, justify what I have asserted, by the authority of one considered eminently orthodox among the divines of the Church of England. Dr. Beveridge, in his “ Private Thoughts,” has recorded most exactly the train of reasoning he pursued, regarding the necessity of individual examination in matters of religion; and you will see that he goes much farther than I have ventured to do, in his statement of what Protestantism exacts. In the sixteenth page of this work, he writes as follows, concerning the self-examination which he instituted into the grounds and motives of his belief:
“ The reason of this my inquiry, is, not that I am, in the least, dissatisfied with that religion I have already embraced, but because it is natural for all men to have an overbearing opinion and esteem for that particular religion they are born and bred up in. That, therefore, I may not seem biassed by the prejudices of education, I am resolved to prove and examine them all, and hold fast to that which is best, for though I do not, in the least, question but that upon enquiry, I shall find the true Christian religion to be the only true religion in the world, yet I cannot say it, unless I find it upon good grounds to be so indeed. For to profess myself a Christian, and believe that Christians only are right because my forefathers were so, is no more than the heathens and Mahomedans have to say for themselves—To be a Christian only upon the grounds of birth and education, is all one as if I was a Turk or a
heathen, for if I had been born amongst them, I should have had the same reason for their religion as now I have for my ouin. The premises are the same, though the conclusions be never so different. 'Tis still upon the same grounds, that I profess religion, though it be another religion.” Here, then, according to this learned bishop, not only is the Protestant bound, as I said, to satisfy his mind individually on the ground of his creed, but is no better than a heathen or Turk, if he is a Christian at all upon other grounds. But, then, he bears me out still farther in my assertions, by owning that the great body of Protestants are only such, upon the unjustifiable grounds which he rejects, and which I above enumerated. For he says in continuation : “ I can see but little difference betwixt being a Turk by profession, and a Christian only by education, which commonly is the means and occasion, but ought by no means to be the ground, of any religion.” In which words is found the very distinction I before laid down between motives of adherence, and the principle of conviction; and at our next meeting I shall have better occasion to quote other and stronger authorities, for all I have asserted.
From what I have said, it is evident, that those motives of adherence, do not, necessarily and essentially, lead to that principle; that is to say, that a person may be all his life a member of a Protestant Church, without once taking the pains to examine, by the serious and minute, and difficult method which is required, all the doctrines which he believes; he may possess, therefore, those reasons which keep him in communion with that Church, without his ever being led by them to the adoption of that course which it requires, as fundamental to his religion. Not only so; but I will say, that these motives are contradictory to that principle. For, if any man tells me, that he remains a Protestant simply because he has been so born and educated; that, from what he has heard in sermons, or read in books, he is satisfied that no other sect of Christianity has any grounds to support it—I reply to him, at once, that he is acting in direct contradiction to the principle whereby alone - his religion allows him to be convinced; for conviction, according to that, must be based upon individual research, and individual satisfaction; and not merely, therefore, upon having been born in it, or having been educated in it by others ; nor, on having heard certain doctrines delivered from pulpits, by men as fallible as himself; and, certainly, still less on having heard the doctrines of others represented in a manner which, I have no hesitation in saying, is almost always incorrect, and perhaps often such as to deserve a harsher name. · Now, therefore, on the other hand, let us examine the grounds upon which Catholics stand, viewing them precisely with the same distinction. And, I will own, that the grounds upon which Catholics adhere to their religion, or the motives by which they are brought to it, if they have not been therein educated, are not only as various and as numerous as those which I have mentioned, when speaking of Protestants, but, that they are infinitely more so: and hence, it may be, that Catholics, if interrogated, will give the most various reasons why they are Catholics. But, now, allow me to notice the difference between the two religions.
That the grounds upon which men may be brought to the true religion of Christ are various, is evident, both from the conduct of those whom the word of God has proposed to us as examples, and from that which we have witnessed in all ages, even unto our own. For, there can be no doubt, that in the preaching of the apostles, Christianity was not based upon merely, one point or another; but the preachers of God's word drew their evidences from any just grounds, which they knew must make the greatest impression upon those whom they addressed. It is, in fact, the beauty and the perfection of truth, that it should stand the action of the most varied tests. It is only an impure ore which, while it resists, perhaps, the action of one or two re-agents, will, in the end, yield before the energy of a third; while the pure metal will defy the action of every successive test. Truth may be compared to a gem without a flaw, which may be viewed in different lights ;