Page images
PDF
EPUB

by promise or oath never to believe, think, act or teach, except in conformity with its arbitrary instructions. Yet, however much we may commiserate the weakness or folly or rashness or hardihood of such an individual, or however much we may dread and deplore the consequences likely to result from his future influence as a spiritual guide or ecclesiastical dignitary, he will be lauded and honored by his party as a bold, consistent, high-minded, unflinching advocate of orthodoxy. But is there honesty-is there independence-is there magnanimity in such a course, or in the mind that can be constrained to pursue it? “ The dogmatist (says Campbell) knows nothing of degrees, either in evidence or in faith. He has properly no opinions or doubts. Every thing with him is either certainly true or certainly false. Of this turn of mind I shall only say, that far from being an indication of vigor, it is a sure indication of debility in the intellectual powers.” “In all cases (remarks Beattie) where dogmatical belief tends to harden the heart, or to breed prejudices incompatible with candor, humanity, and the love of truth, all good men will be careful to cultivate moderation and diffidence."*

* We have not designed, in this rambling essay, to approach the question about the necessity or the expediency of creeds, confessions, and articles of religion. It will be time enough to reject them, when experience shall have proved it practicable for any church to exist without them. We merely hold, that the public teacher of Christianity ought to be thoroughly conversant with Scripture in order to be qualified to subscribe honestly to any creed or formulary. When he has thus voluntarily and conscientiously subscribed, he is of course bound to preach accordingly. He cannot, in good faith, adhere ostensibly to any church or ecclesiastical connexion, while opposed to its doctrines or government. It is his duty to leave such connexion whenever he finds it irksome, oppressive or criminal to comply with its known and acknowledged requisitions, or to fulfil his own promises and engagements.

As to children, and the mass of the people, they must ever be, in a large measure, dependent on parental and ministerial instructions. So much the greater is the urgency for a well educated, faithful, devoted ministry, to give the proper tone and character to every gradation of inferior and subordinate teachers. Nor do we object to the use of theological systems, How often do we see men who have heard or perused only one side of a furious controversy, declare themselves perfectly convinced, and unalterably fixed in their opinions ? They act like an ignorant jury, whose passions are excited and whose judgments are thereby swayed or bribed to assent to any measure or award which a skilful advocate may urge in behalf of his client: and who would, if then called upon for a decision, undoubtedly find an unrighteous verdict. They would decide under the influence of passion, prejudice and partial information. Such injustice or ini. quity, however, is generally prevented by their being compelled to hear counsel for the defendant also. They therefore gradually become cool and self-possessed while listening, it may be, to a clear, simple, judicious, matter-of-fact argument or statement from the opposite party : or, if their passions shall be again appealed to, the two directly contrary fires will destroy or neutralize each other's effects, and leave them once more in the exercise of reason and common sense. We ought, then, in all our pursuits after truth, particularly when sought amidst the flames of controversy, to be “ persuaded that moments of passion are always moments of delusion; that nothing truly is what it then seems to be ; that all the opinions which we then form, are erroneous ; and all the judgments which we pass, are extravagant.” Blair.

commentaries, etc., provided they be rigidly tried and judged by the law and the testimony,' and not implicitly followed as paramount and infallible guides. But, the Bible first, above all, without rival or peer, always open and in hand, constantly studied without note or comment, and with the single purpose of arriving at the mind of the Spirit in the language of the Spirit.

The answer of Luther to his friend George Spalatinus, on being requested to give him his advice concerning the best method of acquiring sacred knowledge, deserves to be remembered and practised by every student in divinity. After recommending to his notice certain parts of the writings of Jerome, Ambrose and Augustin, he exhorts him always to begin his studies with serious prayer : for, says he," there is really no interpreter of the Divine word, but its own Author.” He adds: “Read the Bible in order from the beginning to the A single notorious fact might lead us, without further in. quiry, to suspect the dangerous tendency of theological systems, devised to regulate and control human reason. It is this: We universally find that, at least, ninety-nine hundredths of mankind, learned and unlearned, live and die fully persuaded of the truth and excellence of the doctrines and ceremonies of that particular sect to which they happen to belong by birth. The evil of instilling party prejudices and opinions into the youthful mind must therefore be conceded : or we must allow that the creeds of Papist and Protestant, of Socinian and Athanasian, are equally good and true. Nay, by the same rule, we ought to apologize for the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the Pagan. For these, too, believe as they have been taught. Such is human nature: whatever men may have imbibed from early childhood with implicit confidence, they inflexibly retain and cherish-especially every thing of a sacred nature. A kind of superstitious veneration, a solemn dread of indulging what might be accounted an impious curiosity, ordinarily prevents all future investigation, and confirms them in the faith of their fathers. Now, what argument can be plausibly advanced a priori for preferring the system of one sect to that of another ? How ought an unbiassed individual (if one there be,) still ignorant of Christianity but desirous to become acquainted with its principles, to choose among them ? How would you advise him to proceed? Would you direct him to this or that sectarian system or confession, and assure him of its entire agreement with the Scriptures ? But, sup. pose he should ask, Does not every sect possess a system or profess a creed founded, in like manner, exclusively upon the same Scriptures? Do they not all affirm that the word of God--the Bible—is the only authentic and unerring criterion by which to distinguish truth from falsehood ? And do they not all loudly proclaim their ability to establish by it every tittle of their doctrine and church polity? He would be exceedingly perplexed, and utterly at a loss to know where to begin or what course to pursue, unless his own good sense should suggest to him the obvious propriety of neglecting them all for the present, and of recurring at once to the sacred paramount standard which all receive as infallible and reverence as divine.

end."

Finally : What is there so captivating or magical or potent

in a mere name, that we should suffer ourselves to be duped or dazzled by it or subjected to its dominion? It can neither protect us from error and mischief, nor guide us in the sure road to heavenly peace and happiness. Why do we not then study the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than the gospel of Luther, or Calvin, or Hopkins, or Wesley? Why do we not, in this respect, heed the injunction of the Apostle to the primitive converts, not to account themselves the disciples of Paul or Apollos or Cephas or of any other huinan teacher or master, however eminent or gifted? And why, when we pretend to take the Scriptures as our only authority, do we dread a sentiment or doctrine or truth evidently set forth therein merely because it may be in favor with an unpopular or dissenting party? Why do we hesitate to welcome truth, even though a heretic or infidel may have stumbled upon it ? If, indeed, we ever become earnest, dispassionate, persevering seekers after truth, we shall inevitably subscribe to many things which have been admitted by all the beligerant Christian sects-not because they admit them, but because the Bible clearly reveals them. We shall retain much that is common to all. We shall not be Calvinists perhaps, nor Arminians. We shall have become the honest followers of Jesus Christ and of him only. If so, we shall be ready to extend our charity to all his sincere disciples, by whatever appellation they may be known among men. We shall estimate Christian sincerity by the life and practice, rather than by the profession. We shall learn to judge by the fruits, and not by the peculiarities of a creed. Let us then dare to make the gospel the only basis of our faith, and the only rule of our conduct. And we may calmly bid defiance to the slanders and reproaches of an illiberal, bigoted, misjudging, captious world.

If we know our own hearts (the faithful pastors should be able to say,) we fain would be divested of all sectarian and of all secular pride and prejudice. We would preach to guilty perishing sinners neither this nor that distinguished divine or reformer. We would preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. We would acknowledge ourselves bis servants and his only. We would glory in his cross, and in being esteemed his ambassadors and ministers ; and as such, we should feel ourselves invested with an official character and authority infinitely above what any man or ecclesiastical body can impart.

Should we then ascend to the fountain head, and no longer be contented with the shallow and turbid streams, which are flowing in every direction from spurious or poisoned sources, wonderful and glorious would be the effects. How soon would petty distinctions vanish away-party animosities cease--and Christians every where be disposed to banish envy, malice, pride and bigotry!“ Universal charity would throw wide her arms, and humility stoop to the tenderest offices of beneficence. Dove-like meekness would smile with benignity in her heart and candor upon her lips." “ Blessed are the peace-makers : for they shall be called the children of God."

ARTICLE II.

The COMPARATIVE MORAL PURITY OF ANCIENT AND MOD

ERN LITERATURE.

By Edwin D. Sanborn, Prof. Lat. and Gr. Languages and Literature, Dartmouth College,

Hanover, N. H.

LITERATURE is the mirror of national character. It reflects both the beauties and deformities of the age, in which it originates. The learned and the common mind acting reciprocally upon each other, the characteristics of both are transmitted to posterity in the productions of genius and art. Superior mental endowments are, undoubtedly, the gift of God, yet these find their appropriate stimulus in the excitements of the popular mind, and are fostered by popular praise. In the world's literary history, we occasionally meet with an author who lives in advance of his age and writes for a more enlightened posterity. Such were Homer, Dante, Milton and Bacon. Others act as the teachers and guides of their contemporaries. They discuss those subjects which are of deepest interest to the common mind. Seeing the multitude eagerly contending for principles but imperfectly conceived and partially understood, bringing to the task a nicer discrimination and a more comprehensive intellect, they collect the scattered elements of truth, as they

SECOND SERIES, VOL. III. NO. II.

« PreviousContinue »