Billeder på siden
[ocr errors]


these, and many other passages which might be quoted, it is evident, not only that truth is important and necessary to salvation, but that error is guilty, and in many instances is connected with the loss of the soul. "If a man may disbelieve one truth, and yet be free from sin for so doing, he may disbelieve two; and if two, four; and if four, ten; and if ten, half the Bible; and if half the Bible, the whole and if he may be a Deist, and yet be in a safe state; he may be an Atheist, and still go to heaven." To such awful lengths may the principle be pushed, that there is no guilt in mental error. "Let those," says Dr. Priestley, "who maintain that the mere holding of opinions (without regard to the motives and state of the mind through which men may have been led to form them, will necessarily exclude them from the favour of God, be particularly careful with respect to the premises from which they draw so alarming a conclusion." Nothing can be more sophistical than this passage; for we do not, in maintaining the guiltiness of a false opinion, leave out the state of the heart; but contend that all errors in the judgment have their origin in the depravity of our nature, and, in so far as they prevail, discover a heart not brought into subjection to Christ. A perfectly holy mind could not err in the opinion it derived from the word of God: and it may be most fairly presumed that there are certain fundamental truths, which cannot be rejected, without such a degree of depravity of heart, as is utterly incompatible with true piety towards God.

It is to be recollected, that the holiness required in the word of God, is a very superior thing to

what is called morality. Holiness is a right state of mind towards God, and it is enforced by motives drawn from the view which the Scriptures give us of the Divine nature, and of the Divine conduct towards us. If our views of God, and of his scheme of mercy, be incorrect, the motives which influence us cannot be correct. Hence all right feeling and conduct are traced up by the sacred writers to the truth. Do they speak of regeneration? they tell us we are "begotten by the incorruptible seed of the word." Do they speak of sanctification? they ascribe it, so far as instrumentality is concerned, to the truth; and the truth itself is characterized as a "doctrine according to godliness." It is evident, that without the truth, or, in other words, without right opinions, we can neither be born again of the Spirit, nor partake of true holiness. The whole process of practical and experimental religion is carried on by the instrumentality of right sentiments; and to suppose that holiness could be produced in the soul as well by error as by truth, is not only contrary to revelation, but no less contrary to reason. If truth sanctify, error must in some way or other pollute; for to suppose that two causes, not only so distinct but so opposite, can produce the same effect, is absurd; and the Scriptures everywhere insist upon the importance of the truth, not merely on its own account, but on account of its moral effect upon the soul.

If this view of the subject be correct, Christian charity cannot mean indifference to religious sentiment; for if so, it would be a temper of mind in direct opposition to a large portion of Scripture:

nor are we required, by this virtue, to give the least countenance to what we think is error. We may, indeed, be called bigots; for this term, in the lips of many, means nothing more than a reproach for attaching importance to right sentiments. No word has been more misunderstood than this. If by bigotry is meant such an overweening attachment to our opinions, as makes us refuse to listen to argument; such a blind regard to our own views, as closes the avenues of conviction; such a selfish zeal for our creed, as actually destroys benevolence, and causes us to hate those who differ from us; it is an evil state of mind, manifestly at variance with love: but if, as is generally the case, it means, by those who use it, only zeal for truth, it is perfectly consistent with love, and actually a part of it; for "charity rejoiceth in the truth." It is quite compatible with good will to men, therefore, to attach high importance to doctrines, to condemn error, to deny the Christianity and safety of those who withhold their assent from fundamental truths, and to abstain from all such religious communion with them as would imply, in the least possible degree, any thing like indifference to opinion. It does appear to me, that the most perfect benevolence to men, is that which, instead of looking with complacency on their errors, warns them of their danger, and admonishes them to escape. It is no matter that they think they are in the right-this only makes their case the more alarming; and to act towards them as if we thought their mistaken views of no consequence, is only to confirm their delusion, and to aid their destruction.

It is true we are neither to despise them nor. persecute them; we are neither to oppress nor ridicule them; we are neither to look upon them with haughty scorn nor with callous indifference ;-but while we set ourselves against their errors, we are to pity them with unaffected compassion, and to labour for their conversion with disinterested kindness. We are to bear, with unruffled meekness, all their provoking sarcasms; and to sustain, with deep humility, the consciousness of our clearer perceptions; and to convince them that, with the steadiest resistance of their principles, we unite the tenderest concern for their persons."


And, if charity do not imply indifference to religious opinions, so neither does it mean connivance at sin. There are some persons whose views of the evil of sin are so dim and contracted, or their good nature is so accommodating and unscriptural, that they make all kinds of excuses for men's transgressions, and allow of any latitude that is asked, for human frailty. The greatest sins, if they are not committed against the laws of society, are reduced to the mere infirmities of our fallen nature, which should not be visited with harsh censure; and as for the lesser ones, they are mere specks upon a bright and polished surface, which nothing but a most fastidious precision would ever notice. Such persons condemn, as sour and rigid ascetics, all who oppose and condemn iniquity; revile them as uniting

* I cannot recommend too strongly, two admirable sermons by Dr. Wardlaw, entitled "Man responsible for his Religious Belief," in answer to a sentiment of a contrary nature, advanced by Mr. Brougham, in his inaugural speech at Glasgow.

in a kind of malignant opposition to the cheerfulness of society, the very dregs of puritanism and barbarism; and reproach them as being destitute of all the charities and courtesies of life. But if candour be a confounding of the distinctions between sin and holiness, a depreciating of the excellence of the latter, and at the same time a diminishing of the evil of the former; if it necessarily lead us to connive with an easy and goodnatured air at iniquity, and to smile with a kind and gentle aspect upon the transgressions which we witness;→→→ then it must be something openly at variance with the letter and the spirit of revelation: and surely that candour which runs counter to the mind of God, cannot be the love on which St. Paul passes such an eulogium in this chapter. We are told by the word of God, that sin is exceedingly sinful; that it is the abominable thing which God hates; that the wages of it are death; that by an unholy feeling we violate the law: we are commanded to abstain from its very appearance; we are warned against excusing it in ourselves, or in each other; we are admonished to reprove it, to resist it, and to oppose it, to the uttermost. Certainly, then, it cannot be required by the law of love, that we should look with a mild and tolerant eye on sin. Love to man arises out of love to God; but can it be possible to love God, and not to hate sin? it is the fruit of faith, but faith purifies the heart; it is cherished by a sense of redeeming love; but the very end of the scheme of redemption is the destruction of sin. Indulgence of men in their sins, connivance at their iniquity, instead of being an act of benevolence, is the greatest cruelty:

« ForrigeFortsæt »