Page images

of this or that renowned name; and supporting their conclusions by bold and perplexing criticisms and interpretations of Scripture. Hence so many daring appeals from revelation to reason and philosophy! Hence such and so many objections brought against doctrines plainly revealed in God's word, if language have any determinate meaning! And so many consequences charged upon these doctrines, with a design to invalidate their divine authority; as if being made, by every disingenuous art, to have the show of unreasonableness, were sufficient to prove the plainest revelation of the Holy Spirit a falsehood! Hence such liberty in interpretation and criticism on the word of God, as the learned would never endure in interpreting or criticising Virgil or Horace! These things prove that such persons are strangers to that earnest, hearty, sincere desire to know the truth, which brings the enquirer to a humble willingness to be taught of God, and in submission of understanding to seek wisdom from his word and Spirit. It is indeed most evident, that many, who profess to be influenced by this sincere desire to know the truth, are not troubled with suspicions that they are, or can be, wrong. They have made up their minds before they begin the enquiry, and you will not find them willing to make the least concession; but, in the management of the controversy, resolved to vindicate and contend for every tittle; and, where arguments fail, to make use of the other

arts of controversy, with which skill in the management of their weapons, and anger against their opponents, can supply them! Where a cause is thus maintained, we may easily know that there is none of that earnest desire of learning the truth, that anxious fear of mistaking it, that self-diffidence, and those doubts concerning the sentiments held at present, which constitute the godly sincerity that leads the enquirer to the word and Spirit of God for direction and teaching. These things taken together, will on scriptural grounds cut off many confident pretenders to sincerity from their claims, as entirely, as they exclude Annas and Caiaphas, and the chief priests, Scribes, and Pharisees, from being sincere enquirers into the truth of the Old Testament; when, in support of their authority and reputation, and influenced by pride and anger, they, under colour of their law, put to death Him "of whom Moses and the "prophets did write, even Jesus of Nazareth, the "Son of God."-And as to men of another spirit, who appear sincere, humble, and willing to be taught of God in their enquiry after truth, but do not entirely agree with what has been laid down; I would only wish them to observe the distinction established between some and others of these doctrines. Such persons do not, I dare say, materially dissent from those which have been mentioned as necessary to salvation: as, therefore, I allow them to have been in the main taught of

God, so I only require the same allowance for myself. Let it be supposed that the same God, who according to his promise hath led both, as far as is needful to salvation, in the same way, has in other things left us to differ, for the mutual exercise of candour and forbearance, till that time when we shall know even as we are known.

II. I would observe, that this change in my sentiments took place very gradually.

When any person suddenly changes his religious opinions for others very different from them, it is no inconsiderable evidence of a changeable and fickle disposition. It gives cause to suspect that he was not well established in his former sentiments; and that he had taken them upon trust, and was a stranger to the arguments by which they might be defended, and to the objections which might be urged against them. If worldly interest, reputation, or conveniency seem to favour the change, there is room for a presumption that these had an undue influence upon him if not, it may be insinuated that he was deluded with specious appearances; that he did not allow himself time to weigh the arguments on each side; and that he had only changed one set of notions for another, without having duly considered either of them. Such objections may reasonably be made, and the consequences of precipitate changes too often justify them. But though I was always, and still am, of a headlong impetuous spirit in other things;

and when once I have purposed, can have no rest from incessant agitation of mind, till I have accomplished my design: yet in this particular I acted in direct opposition to my natural temper. Indeed at first I did in some instances too much betray my impetuosity: but at that time I acted not in the character of an enquirer, but in the full confidence that I was pleading the cause of truth, and had no more thought of becoming what the world calls a Methodist, than of turning Mahometan. But after that first hurry was over, though commonly in earnest, and sometimes in considerable perturbation of mind, I was outwardly calm and satisfied; being generally enabled to believe that, if I were in any thing at present mistaken, I should some time be guided to the truth.-My determination to set about this enquiry proceeded not so much from auxious fears about my own soul, as from a deep sense, impressed upon my heart, of the importance of my ministry, the worthi of the souls committed to my charge, and the awful account to be given of them; and as I all along bestowed some pains in instructing my people in what I believed to be the truth, I was preserved from any discomposing fears, or undue disquietude of mind. I sat down very coolly to search for the truth, I proceeded very gradually, and with extreme caution; I took no one opinion upon trust; I gave up none of my sentiments, until the arguments by which I had learned to defend them


were satisfactorily answered; nor did I admit any new articles into my creed, till either every objection was obviated, or I was pressed with such as were still more unanswerable. Much, very much, prayer and meditation preceded every change of sentiment; and I was nearly three years, from the beginning of my enquiry, before I came to a determination what was truth. So long, deliberately, and step by step, I examined the premises, before I finally proceeded to draw my conclusion. I perceive much cause to be ashamed of my my unteachable temper: for with such opportunities as were afforded me, if I had improved them, I might have attained to the knowledge and belief of the same truths in a much shorter time. But the Lord, I trust, led me in this way, and left me thus far to my own natural pride of heart; that it might more evidently appear, I received not my doctrines from man, but that indeed, in the first instance, I learned them from the word and Spirit of God.

III. I would observe, that I changed my religious views, without any teaching from the persons to whose sentiments I have now acceded. For a considerable time after the commencement of my enquiries, I would not so much as read what they had to urge in their own behalf. I entered indeed into a correspondence with Mr. —: my intention, however, was not to learn from him, but to dispute with him; and when he waved controversy,

« PreviousContinue »