« السابقةمتابعة »
would be impossible to eradicate ignorance and error; but nothing can come from God which contradicts universal Reason. Reason is the only guide of rational beings. It is by this alone that they are able to distinguish between truth and error; between absurdities which ought to be rejected, and principles worthy of being received. When Christians, of any denomination, admonish us to renounce our reason, the admonition itself is given upon principles which they deem to be perfectly rational. They are compelled to ascribe their belief in the truth of Christianity, to the convictions of the Understanding; and when they urge, that it is the duty of fallible man, to submit his reason to the doctrines of revelation, the position is founded upon the argument, that man is liable to numerous errors, but the Oracles of God cannot err. As no Protestant will conform to the advice of an advocate for the Roman tenet of transubstantiation; as he will not fail to pronounce it absurd, in defiance of the inhibition, by what authority does he enforce it? or why does he not perceive the fallacy of this principle, when adopted by himself?
Every Christian will acknowledge that we ought to submit our opinions to the Oracles of God. But the grand question is, how shall we dis
tinguish the Oracles of God, from the doctrines of Man? The interpretations which they give to the language of Scripture, although they may seem to approach nearer to its current phraseology, are still hypothetical. Some matters of fact are related in such clear unequivocal language, that no explanation will be necessary, for none can be clearer. When expositors find themselves obliged to deviate from the language of Scripture, they can do no more than give their own opinions respecting its genuine sense. These opinions may be false. They may approve themselves to our reason, and we may adopt them as truths; but in this case they are enforced by the authority of Reason. The sentiments. of Christians, upon numberless points, are extremely various, and opposite to each other, and yet they universally appeal to the Oracles of God as vouchers for their truth. Whence does this diversity of opinion proceed, and how are the contentions engendered by them to be remedied?
The subject deserves our attention.
If we advert to the origin of human knowledge, we shall find that it is derived from two sources; from absolute facts recorded or made
known to us; and from legitimate inferences. The one depends upon proofs rendered obvious to the senses; the others are the deductions of reason. The evidence of the senses is prior to that of reason; it is more immediately obvious, but its limits are very circumscribed. Extensive and innumerable, may be the just inferences from obvious facts, although these should be comparatively few.
To the evidence of Fact, belong those articles of revealed religion, which occupied our attention under the preceding head. Every Christian believes in them by his confidence in the Revelation. He knows that they were repeatedly published at the introduction of Christianity, and that the primitive churches were established upon those principles. The knowledge by Induction, relates to certain conclusions drawn immediately from these facts; or from different expressions incidentally used, by the first preachers of Christianity, which had some reference to them. This Induction is a source of much valuable knowledge; but it is a source of much contention, and of many errors. It is here that debates commence. Inferences may possess various degrees of évidence from the possible, and the probable, to the indubitable. Opposite inferences will be
drawn by different persons, according to the precise point of view in which they behold the subject; and by the same person at different periods, in proportion to his more extensive knowledge of peculiar circumstances. Gross ignorance will certainly draw wrong conclusions. Partial knowledge is very liable to err, because inferences drawn from a single fact, or from a few circumstances, to the total neglect of others, which belong also to the subject, generally induce a precipitancy of decision, which farther examination will find to be unwarranted.
Those who would establish particular doctrines by Inferences, are biassed, much more than they apprehend, by adventitious circumstances. Their former habits and modes of thinking, familiarize their minds to principles, which appear extravagant to persons who are not under a similar influence. The prejudices imbibed in early life, will fetter the exercise of their reasoning powers in more advanced years. A residue of first impressions will not always be effaced, by a perception that they were not sanctioned by reason. The authority of great names has no small degree of force. Wise and learned men must be supposed to know better than others; and their opinions will always be
advanced with peculiar earnestness, in every cause where these opinions are in unison with our own. We shall illustrate the above positions by a few instances.
Those converts from Paganism, to whom the doctrine of a metamorphosis was familiar, did not discover any absurdity in receiving, in the most literal sense, the expressions uttered by our Saviour, at his last supper with his disciples; and they were afraid of violating the terms, "take eat, this is my body; this is my blood, drink ye all of it," by giving them a metaphorical import. That love of the marvellous, so natural to ignorant minds, also rendered the literal sense infinitely more impressive; and it communicated an imposing solemnity to the ordinance. The authority of a Church, to which infallibility is ascribed, and the early prejudices of education, continue to silence the voice of reason.
The rite of baptism was uniformly practised upon the first Christians. This is an historical fact. It was at that period an initiating ordinance. Every convert from Judaism, or from Pagan Idolatry, appeared to be regenerated, as it were, by baptism. They were emblematically washed from the obsolete injunc tions of one religion, and the impurities of the