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is this all that they intended by subscription to these articles ? Is there nothing more than this included in that part of his Majesty's declaration prefixed to the articles, in which it is ordained, that “no man here. after shall either print or preach to draw the articles aside any way, but shall submit to it in the plain and full meaning thereof; and shall not put his own sense or comment to be the meaning of the article, but shall take it in the literal and grammatical sense ? Does not this language intimate, that our business is not with the intentions of the legislature, but with the literal and grammatical sense of the words which we are required to subscribe? Does it not plainly teach us, that the only intention of the legislature with which we are concerned is, that we take the words which they have prescribed in their obvious and literal acceptation? The design of the legislature by these articles, as it is set forth in the declaration alluded to, was for the avoiding of diversities of opinions, and for establishing of consent touching true religion : but this design is frustrated if men are to subscribe them without regard to their meaning, and to "convert them into articles of peace.”
III, Upon Paley's principles, subscription to articles of faith should not be required by any church as the condition of admission into its offices. His reasoning against a literal interpretation of the thirty, nine articles, in so far as it proves any thing, tends to the conclusion that subscription to a confession of faith is in every case improper ; and I would have considered it more candid to have made a frank avowal
a of a consequence which he must have foreseen as
necessarily resulting from his premises. “ They who contend,” says he,“ that nothing less can justify subscription to the thirty-nine articles, than the actual belief of each and every separate proposition contained in them, must suppose, that the legislature expected the consent of ten thousand men, and that in perpetual succession, not to one controverted proposition, but to many hundreds. It is difficult to conceive how this could be expected by any who observed the incurable diversity of human opinion upon all subjects short of demonstration."
This reasoning, in as far as it proves any thing, proves too much; for if human opinion on all subjects short of demonstration has an incurable diversity, will not this diversity prevail with regard to what Mr. Paley considers to be the intentions of the legislature in excluding from the offices of the church? Articles of belief, according to this view, must in every case be improper, since there will always be a diversity of opinion among mankind on subjects that admit only of moral or probable evidence.
In this opinion I cannot concur. For, though it were admitted, that the articles which form the terms of communion in the reformed churches are too complex, and that they embrace as fundamental, what, among sincere believers in christianity, may fairly be the subject of diversity of opinion ; still I should contend, that as there are first principles in all human science, so there must be in religion elementary truths, which, though better understood at one time than at another, are in all ages and for ever the same. Science, because it is susceptible of improvement, must be subject to change, and the system of chemis. try which may suit the present age may be quite antiquated in less than half a century; but the doctrines of both natural and revealed religion, because they are immutable truth, are unalterable.
Is it objected to creeds and confessions, that they arrest the progress of knowledge, and are a hinderance to the human mind in the freedom of its inquiries ? Does not this objection take for granted, that christian theology varies in different ages like those sciences which owe their existence, as well as their progress, to human discovery? A system of doctrine, which has been designed not to amuse but to save mankind, and which has its origin in the revelation which God has given to man, must be the same in all ages. Some of its truths may be more distinctly apprehended, and more impressively felt at one time than at another ; but they are in themselves essentially and always the same, and among the things most surely believed by all who hold " the Faith once delivered to the saints." In this respect the nineteenth century has no superiority over the first ; and the most distant and enlightened age will be sanctified and saved by the same discoveries of truth and mercy which gladdened the hearts of patriarchs and prophets, and for the excellency of the knowledge of which apostles, and martyrs, and confessors, counted all things but loss. The revelation which God has given of himself and of his counsels, has long ago been completed; and, therefore, there can be nothing added to its great and fundamental doctrines. The denunciation is fearful against him who makes the attempt: “Though we,
or an angel from heaven, preached any other gospel you
than that which we preached unto you, or than that which ye have received, let him be accursed *.
IV. The doctrine of Paley authorizes us to commit an act which, on the principles of common honesty, is unjustifiable. It allows us solemnly to declare, that we believe what in fact we do not believe. Should not the man who would thus act in the intercourse and transactions of human life forfeit the reputation of uprightness ? Paley maintained his view of subscription to the thirty-nine articles on the principle of expediency,—a principle, which as was formerly noticed, the oppressors and scourgers of mankind have ever professed to follow.
I take leave of this subject by remarking, that whatever opinion may be formed respecting the propriety of making articles of belief terms of communion in a christian church, every principle of equity and uprightness forbids us to subscribe to a confession of faith, unless we can bona fide declare, that it is substantially the expression of what we believe.
Gal. i. 6.
ON THE DUTIES WHICH RESPECT OURSELVES.
MAN, doubtless, is laid under the most sacred obli. gations to feel concerned for his own moral improvement and happiness, and to use all proper means to secure and promote them. These are duties which he owes to himself; and the violation of which is peculiarly criminal in him,-since he thus so far frustrates the glorious design of his being, by rendering himself unfit for discharging his obligations either to God or
Is it not in proportion as he takes pains in enlightening his understanding and conscience, that he is capable of clearly and readily discerning the will of God, and of forming just and enlarged conceptions of the rule of duty ? Is it not in proportion to his diligence in cultivating the purest and best feelings, and in forming the best habits, that he rises in the scale of moral excellency? Is he not bound, therefore, by ties which it is guilt and misery to dissolve, to improve the means and opportunities with which Providence favours him for advancing in the attainments of piety, righteousness, and true holiness?