« PreviousContinue »
reproach, and contempt. So when Christianity was propagated in the Roman empire, the emperors had no objection against its spreading among the people, until they found that the Christians exercised no charity towards their religion; but as soon as they perceived this, they immediately commenced the most virulent enemies and persecutors of the meek and harmless disciples of Christ. The Pagans cultivated universal harmony and mutual charity among themselves, notwithstanding their various objects and modes of worship, for they considered all their own religions as absolutely equal in point of truth, divinity, and inportance. And had the Christians only allowed them to consider their religion in the same light, they would have treated them with the same candor and forbear
But the Christians understood the genius and spirit of the gospel too well, to place it upon a level with any other scheme of religion in the world. They had imbibed the opinion of the inspired teachers, who unanimously condemn every system of religion but the true. The prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, reprobate all false teachers and false sentiments, with the greatest freedom and severity. Christ denounces the heaviest woes against the Scribes and Pharisees, who taught for doctrines the commandments of men, which, in his view, made void the doctrines of grace. And with what a spirit of confidence does the apostle Paul address the Galatians on this serious subject: "Though we, or an angel from heaven,
“, preach any other gospel unto you, than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before; so say I now again, if any man preach any oth
1 er gospel unto you, than that ye have received, let him be accursed." All the inspired writers speak the same language, and breathe the same spirit towards those
who deny the first principles of the gospel. They have never, in any of their writings, let drop a single expres. sion, which requires or even allows us to exercise the least catholicism towards those, who maintain any system of sentiments, which is subversive of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
6. If the gospel is a scheme of religion composed of the doctrines of grace, then modern catholicism is real infidelity. Men of modern catholicism make no distinction between essential and non-essential doctrines; but universally embrace, in the arms of charity, all sects or denominations of men, who believe the Bi. ble to be the word of God, whether they profess Arianism, Socinianism, Materialism, Universalism, or any other particular system of Religious principles.* And what is still more remarkable, they are so lavish of their charity to these needy objects, that they have little or none to spare for others, who are more strict and orthodox than themselves. Mr. Locke, in his Reasonableness of Christianity, labors to prove, that all a man needs to believe in order to be saved, is this single propo:ition, that Jesus is the Christ. And Dr. Price is equally liberal in his religions sentiments. In a letter to Dr. Priestley, he expresses his most ardent wish that this sentiment might be stamped on every human mind, “That worth of character, and true integrity, and consequently God's acceptance, are not necessarily connected with any particular set of opinions.” Yet this great and catholic divine, in one of his late sermons, first gives a concise and accurate account of the doctrines of grace, and then reprobates them as
"Indeed this charity is as mysterious as the faith of the mo bigotted Cath lic; it is equally full of contradictions; and seems resolved to found itself, not upon evidence, but upon the want of it.”- Dr. Witherspoon's Ecclesiastical Characters istics, Mazim xií Occa.
the most absurd set of principles to be found in the Christian world.
This is modern catholicism, which extends to all but those, to whom it ought to extend; and which would break down all distinction between essential and non-essential doctrines, that every man may have full liberty to embrace any scheme of religion, however false and absurd.
Now is not such a catholicism real infidelity? Does it not carry in it a disbelief of all that Christ, the prophets, and the apostles have said concerning the fatal tendency of corrupt sentiments in religion? And does it not at the same time, equally carry in it a disbelief of all the fundamental principles of Christianity? Can any man really believe the essential doctrines of the gospel, and yet believe that he or any other person may disbelieve and deny them at his pleasure, without the least danger or guilt? This would be to set a lower price upon Christianity, than the Jews set upon its Divine Author, and to betray the doctrines of grace, for less than thirty pieces of silver.
Besides, this catholicism tends to beget and diffuse a deistical spirit among all ranks and classes of men. For if once they imbibe the notion, that the gospel may be made to mean any thing, every thing, or nothing; that it has no essential and fundamental doctrines which are absolutely necessary to be believed in order to salvation; they will readily draw this easy and natural conclusion, that it is of no real importance, whether they believe the gospel to be of divine inspiration or not. And were it true, that men might be saved without believing a single doctrine of the Bible, it would be difficult, indeed, to shew why they could not as well be saved without believing the Bible itself. Modern catholicism, therefore, which sets the doc
trines of grace and all the fundamental principles of Christianity in such a low and trifling light, serves more to propagate the spirit of deism and universal skepticism, than all the boasted and specious arguments of professed infidels. Indeed let any one only adopt this catholic principle, and there is nothing to restrain him from embracing the grossest errors and absurdities, that can possibly be suggested. This is already exemplified in Dr. Priestley, who would fain pass for a warm and bold defender of Christianity, after he has exerted the whole strength of his genius and the whole force of his learning, to subvert some of the fundamental principles of both natural and revealed religion,
7. If the gospel is a scheme of religion composed of the doctrines of grace, then there may be a propriety in forming and subscribing creeds or confessions of faith. These are considered in a very bad light by men of moderation and catholicism. They would have the Bible to be the only standard of orthodoxy, and represent creeds and confessions of faith as a clog to inquiry, a source of hypocrisy, and even a violation of the sacred rights of conscience and private judg. ment. But let us consider whether there be any just ground to discard all creeds and confessions of faith. If a man may believe the divinity of the gospel, and yet disbelieve and deny the doctrines of grace which are the fundamental principles of the gospel; then his most ample profession of believing the inspiration of the Scriptures, is no proper evidence of his being sound in the faith, and established in the first principles of the oracles of God. There is therefore a necessity of having some standard more particnilar and definite, than the general standard of the Scriptures, if we wish to ascertain, whether a man really believes the doctrines of grace, which are the distinguishing principles of Christianity. And if such a standard be
it is as easy to form it, as to distinguish and define the nature and essence of the gospel. For if the gospel be plain and easy to understand, then it is easy to distinguish and collect the first principles of it, and to throw them into the form of a creed or confession of faith. Nor do any at this day, if I conjecture right, object against creeds because they do not understand them, but because they do. And, after the first principles of the gospel are thus thrown into the form of a creed, a man may solemnly subscribe them as articles, which he now believes, and which he always will believe. For the doctrines of grace are not mere opinions, which a man may change every day in the year, but real, es
: sential, important truths, which he may know to be truths, and which he is obliged always to believe and profess, at the risk of his life. There is a wide difference between essential and non-essential truths, or between bare opinions, and infallible doctrines. The primitive martyrs understood this distinction, and accordingly gave up their lives, rather than give up the essential doctrines of the gospel. Paul likewise understood this distinction, and therefore kept the faith, at the ex. pense of his life. And upon the ground of this distinction, the inspired writers, exhort Christians to maintain a firm and unshaken adherenee to the doctrines according to godliness. The wise men bids us, “buy the truth, and sell it not." Paul forbids the Ephesians to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” He tells the Colossians that they would render themselves acceptable to God, “if they continued in the faith grounded and settled, and