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love of God to be
citers of contention? They who openly profess what they believe to be christian doctrines, or they who stimulate to violent opposition in consequence of such profession? Were the apostles or the enraged Jews the promoters of contention? Did our Saviour and his apostles coolly calculate upon the worldly consequences of their public profession? Did they recommend such a calculation to their followers? If not; ought a servant of Jesus so to act? Place yourselves in the situation of christian teachers, and ask your own hearts, how you would feel to have discharged your duty had you abstained from the inculation of christian doctrine.
From serious enquirers after truth, of whatever age, or to whatever denomination they may have hitherto belonged, into whose hands these Lectures, as we as those announced in opposition, may fall, I may hope for attention to one or two brief remarks.
Carefully discriminate between opinions
and persons. This caution, you will probably find in the body of the work; but I am induced to call your special attention to it here, because I know several instances in which this artifice has been resorted to with considerable effect. A passage has been quoted, its meaning has been distorted; it has been made to speak a sense which its connection would not justify; then a general inference has been triumphantly drawn, "Can you listen to any arguments which such persons will urge? What must you think of the cause of those who are obliged to have recourse to such arguments?"
Carefully discriminate between argument and virulent invective. You have heard and you will hear again exhortations to flee from such vile blasphemers, lest the phial of the wrath of God be poured out upon you. You have been told and you will be told again, that investigation can do you no good, will only disturb your mind, and render you unhappy. If you are real Christians, such tales will pass by you as the idle wind which you regard not." One thing you
will also remember that for the use of the talent entrusted to him, (that talent which stamps on him the image of God-reason, or understanding) every man is responsible to the Almighty Donor.
Carefully discriminate between argument and ridicule. It has been often said that ridicule is no test of truth. though it certainly be only a counterfeit, it too frequently passes current with the world as a genuine coin. He must be a very Daedalus, or possess the thread of Ariadne, who enters the labyrinth of theological controversy and entertains the slightest hope of escaping without receiving one wound from the Minotaur Ridicule. Malignity, enthusiastical rhapsody, and flagrant outrages of common sense, may be well parried by ridicule, but when it is resorted to by an adversary to silence argument, it is a plain proof that he dares not meet his opponent on equal ground, with equal weapons.
Discriminate between the faults and inaccuracies of the writer, and the weakness or insolidity of the system which he defends. A man must possess talents of
the very highest order, a solidity of judgment, and deliberate prudential caution which fall to the lot of few, to avoid all errors and defects. These errors will assuredly be brought forward and perhaps with considerable enlargement. But, in what way soever inaccuracies may affect the person who committed them, they do not at all affect the system he has espoused. Disregard, therefore, every personal attack. Look to the subject; not to the
There remains one class of persons, to whom I am anxious to offer a few words, namely, the youth of that congregation with which I have the happiness to be connected.
You have entered upon the consideration and discussion of these subjects, with all that ardour which is natural to your age, and which, religion, of all subjects, is so well calculated to excite. Have the following thoughts occurred to your minds?
The controversy, in which we have been engaged, is widely different from other theological controversies, and, I had al
most said, infinitely more important. Of what importance are the points at issue even between Protestants of the Establishment and Roman Catholics, compared with those between Unitarians and Trinitarians? What are all the minor shades of difference between all other denominations of Dissenters and the Established Church, compared with that grand point, on which we differ from them all, the object of religious adoration,-whether he be One Being or Three ?-It may therefore be hoped, that as the subject is so important, your ardour cannot have been culpable, nor your attention ill-bestowed.
But beware, lest an attention to controversial subjects diminish your piety and weaken your concern for christian practice. Here, it appears to me, lies the great danger of a continued attention to disputed points of doctrine. The difficulty is to observe the proper medium. The value of decided, well-fixed, and well-grounded opinions depends upon the influence they have upon the conduct. That preacher surely ill consults the edification of his audience who is perpetually