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of faith and piety in the world; he talks of two great classes of men, saints and sinners, the regenerate and unregenerate, and he does not hesitate to pronounce confidently to which of those classes any individual belongs. He attaches great importance to particular abstract doctrines, and refined and shadowy distinctions, of the truth of which, as he affirms, or insinuates, he is made certain by a sort of supernatural illumination, but which persons, who have not been thus favored, are compelled to own themselves unable to comprehend or admit. These latter are then denounced by him as lacking spiritual discernment; as being men of obdurate minds, who are not yet recovered from the consequences of Adam's sin, and who by pride of intellect and rooted depravity of heart, inseparable it is asserted, from the 'natural man,' are rendered incapable of receiving the things which be of God.' But what claim, what commission, I repeat the question, can he show, authorising him to pronounce thus dogmatically concerning the faith and condition of his fellow Christians? Who has constituted him a master and judge?
He alleges, perhaps, certain impressions, private feelings, or confident persuasions, as furnishing evidence that he is infallibly right. Evidence to whom? Not to others, surely, who may think that those impressions and feelings savor strongly of fanaticism or imposture. Not to himself, unless he has so much confidence in his understanding and heart, as to believe himself incapable of delusion or mistake.
But admit that he has no hesitation of judgement on points of an abstruse nature, and no suspicion of the state of his affections, how is he justified in going about to inspire distrust of the soundness of other men's faith, or of the sincerity of their piety and goodness? perhaps to impair their influence, and render their names odious and hateful to their fellow Christians? They reject, it may be, certain doctrines or views which he deems fundamental or important. But what then? They are not responsible to him for their opinions. To their own master they must stand or fall. Their creed is a matter between themselves and their God. The Father of the universe alone knows to what influences untoward or happy, they have been subjected, what degree of penetration and skill was originally granted them, what opportunities they have enjoyed, and how they have used them. It is his prerogative, and not man's, to judge.
The advocate for uniformity, and zealot for certain favorite hypotheses, may think that he is promoting the safety of his fellow Christians by bringing them over to his opinions, and that benevolence therefore, authorises, and even requires him to interfere. But before he sets about converting others, would it not be as well for him to inquire whether his own conceptions and feelings are not somewhat too narrow and confined? Let him pause for a moment, and for once try whether he cannot conceive it possible, that persons may be on the road to heaven and happiness, though they may not choose to walk in the little by-path which he fan
cies the shortest and best. Let him put his thoughts on the stretch to discover what there is absolutely preposterous or absurd in the supposition, that God may view with equal complacency those who admit, and those who reject certain airy speculations, which men in different ages have woven into their uncertain and fluctuating creeds. Let him consider which is the greater evil, that men be allowed the privilege of thinking for themselves in matters of religion, so long as they do not divulge sentiments subversive of morality and good order, or that he should violate the precepts of charity in the attempt to obtain their consent that he shall think for them.
I can conclude my somewhat desultory remarks on the subject of candor and bigotry with nothing more appropriate than the following observations of one, who was for many years the ornament, and should have been the pride, of English Episcopacy. I refer to the late Bishop Watson, a man who is always to be named with respect, and to whose labors, it should be remembered, the christian world is indebted for the best popular defences of Christianity and of the Bible, against the coarse ribaldry of Paine, and the insidious eloquence of Gibbon.
'What!' he exclaims, 'shall the church of Christ never be freed from the narrow-minded contentions of bigots; from the insults of men who know not what spirit they are of, when they would stint the Omnipotent in the exercise of his mercy, and bar the doors of heaven against every sect but their own? Shall we
never learn to think more humbly of ourselves, and less despicably of others? to believe that the Father of the universe accommodates not his judgements to the wretched wranglings of pedantic Theologues; but that every one, who, with an honest intention, and to the best of his ability seeketh the truth, whether he findeth it or not, and worketh righteousness, will be accepted of him? I have no regard for latitudinarian principles, nor for any principles, but the principles of truth; and truth every man must endeavor to investigate for himself; and, ordinarily speaking, he will be most successful in his endeavors, who examines, with candor and care, what can be urged on each side of a greatly controverted question. This sort of examination may, in some instances, produce a doubt, an hesitation, a diffident suspension of judgement; but it will at the same time produce mutual forbearance and good temper towards those who differ from us; our charity will be enlarged, as our understanding is improved. Partial examination is the parent of pertinacity of opinion; and a froward propensity to be angry with those who question the validity of our principles, or deny the justness of our conclusions, in any matter respecting philosophy, policy, or religion, is an infallible mark of prejudice; of our having grounded our opinions on fashion, fancy, interest; on the unexamined tenets of our family, sect, or party; on any thing rather than on the solid foundation of cool and dispassionate reasoning.'
'If different men,' he afterwards adds, 'in carefully
and conscientiously examining the scriptures, should arrive at different conclusions, even on points of the last importance, we trust that God, who alone knows what every man is capable of, will be merciful to him that is in error. We trust that he will pardon the Unitarian, if he be in an error, because he has fallen into it from the dread of becoming an Idolater, of giving that glory to another which he conceives to be due to God alone. If the worshipper of Jesus Christ be in an error, we trust that God will pardon his mistake, because he has fallen into it from a dread of disobeying what he conceives to be revealed concerning the nature of the Son, or commanded concerning the honor to be given him. Both are actuated by the same principle-THE FEAR OF GOD; and, though that principle impels them into different roads, it is our hope and belief, that, if they add to their faith charity, they will meet in heaven."*
Such sentiments are worthy a man and a Christian, and whether he who holds them and acts conformably to their spirit, be Trinitarian, or Unitarian, I can never cease to regard him as a brother.
• Preface to Theological Tracts.
D. N. C.