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But what is meant by the immutability of the christian doctrine? While the apostles were yet alive many varieties of opinion had crept into the church. The usurpations and impositions of popery were the slow accumulation of ages, each year adding or altering something. And since the Reformation began, what a host of sects have risen up, each one insisting on something new? Catholic writers compute the number of these sects, to which a single century gave birth, and which they are pleased to represent as the spawn of Protestantism, at about three hundred. Certainly, therefore, it cannot be said, that the christian doctrine is immutable, understanding thereby the christian doctrine as actually professed and held by men calling themselves Christians.
Perhaps it will be said that these diversities of faith are the heresies, with which the church has been afflicted; that there always has been, nevertheless, an orthodox body who have held fast to the same form of sound words. This, however, is not true. Who is yet to learn that orthodoxy is neither more nor less than the opinions of the majority for the time being. At one time it required men to worship the Virgin Mary as the mother of God; at another to believe in the metaphysical quibbles of the schoolmen; at another to regard the rant and extravagance of fanatics as the work of inspiration. With regard to the doctrine of the trinity, too, orthodoxy has explained it, now as meaning merely three modes in which one and the same person operates; now as meaning literally three
persons as distinct from one another as Peter, James, and John; and now as meaning neither three modes of operation, nor three proper persons, but three indefinable distinctions. Orthodoxy at the same moment, also, is different in different places. At this very moment, orthodoxy at Rome consists in believing that Pius the Eighth holds the keys of heaven and hell; orthodoxy in England in admitting the Arminian construction of the Thirtynine Articles; orthodoxy in this country in professing to hold the Assembly's Catechism, for substance, while almost every article of it is denied or materially qualified in what is called orthodox preaching, and in the orthodox periodicals. Orthodoxy, therefore, is very far from being the same thing yesterday, today, and forever.
What, then, I ask again, is meant by the immutability of the christian doctrine? It means that the leading principles, the central and fundamental truths of our religion, as taught by Christ and his apostles, are forever the same. They have been variously combined by human ingenuity, and sometimes almost wholly obscured and neutralized by the traditions, or inventions, with which they have been connected; still the truths themselves change not. They will be, and perhaps they ought to be, differently illustrated and differently applied in different states of society, according to the circumstances of the church, and the progress of the human mind; still, as the central and fundamental truths of the gospel, they are and must be the same yesterday, today, and forever. The body, the outward
forms and ceremonies, the costume, if I may so express it, of Christianity, may put on, and perhaps with propriety, new shapes and appearances, to accommodate itself to the changes in the public taste, and the public necessities; but the great central principles which constitute its essence, its vitality, its very soul, must be, like the God from whom it emanated, without variableness or shadow of turning.
If this be so, we may conclude that they are the wisest, who, rejecting the wood, hay, and stubble, that have been built on the true foundation, are chiefly anxious to adhere to the simplicity there is in Christ, which is all that will endure. Every age has had its controversies, and these controversies have been continually changing their subjects, as the advancement of knowledge has had the effect to loosen one error after another from the mass of antiquated and cherished superstitions. Each controversy rages for its little day, and perhaps to but little purpose; but meanwhile the great reformer, Time, goes on with his silent work, and the controverted doctrine is at last abandoned by both parties. Some may fear, perhaps, that in this process of reducing Christianity to its great elementary truths, the whole system will be refined away. Those who apprehend this, however, do injustice to that providence which is pledged to protect the church against he gates of hell. It is the opinions, the speculations, he systems of fallible men, that are continually yieldig before the searching and inquisitive spirit which is
abroad. The truths of God are, and of necessity must be, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
THE LAW OF LOVE.
It is painful to witness the number of those, who have been driven to hostility against Christianity, not by what this religion is in itself, but by the spirit of hatred, exclusiveness, and dominion with which so many of its professed advocates have disgraced it. 'Is this the religion,' it has again and again been asked, ' of which you boast, and which you would have us adopt-a religion which, for doctrines, at best but speculative, mysterious, and hard to be understood,exalts one and another set of men to the dignity of favorites of heaven; bestowing upon them, frail and erring though they be, a sanction for warring with and oppressing their fellows; breaking up brotherhoods and families; slaying many a good man by that very slowest and worst of deaths, the destruction of private reputation; cursing such as God hath not cursed; and consigning to a terrible, everlasting wretchedness, even those who profess to draw from the same spiritual fountain with themselves, and who, for aught we can perceive, are as pure, and generous, and noble, as any who tread the earth? Can you
imagine that we will subject ourselves to such a thraldom ?'
Such is the language, at least, of practical infidelity. But is it so? Is there any sanction for such dispositions and practices to be drawn from the religion which was brought by the meek and affectionate Jesus from the benevolent Parent of the universe? Oh, no! Our religion is a law of love, which has no fellowship with men's sectarian animosities, or their thirst for spiritual dominion; a law, which is fitted to bind together in an indissoluble chain of brotherhood the whole family of the good; causing the soul to be perpetually going out of herself for the benefit of all around her; and exerting its influence to tame the fiercer passions of human nature, to cherish and refine the gentler affections, to graft the social on the selfish feelings, and to strengthen the former till they become the active and impelling springs of human conduct.
Our religion, we say, is the law of love. Does this need proof? Let us refer then to the teachings of that revelation from which we derive it. What exhibition does it make of the character of God, who, if he has given us a law, must have framed it according to the principles by which his own conduct is regulated? In the simplest and most impressive imagery it tells us that, 'God is love;' that 'even as a father pitieth his children, so doth the Lord pity those who trust in him.' And, in still more touching language, it represents him as saying, 'Can a mother forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on