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son of things, and to the analogy of faith, to be able to distinguish what doctrines are thus important in the general, and what not. Yet there is no giving an exact catalogue of those important or fundamental doctrines; though it is for the most part easy to say of any particular doctrine which may be mentioned, what class it may be reasonably referred to; and whether, or how far, it may be worth contending for. We cannot give a complete catalogue of virtues, any more than of articles of faith, so as to be positive, that those particular virtues, and in such a particular degree, are necessary to all persons, or to any person that shall be named. The precise "'lantity of virtue (if I may so call it) absolutely necessary to salvation, is no more to be defined, than the precise quantity of faith. Yet we know, in the general, that sincere and universal obedience to what God commands (allowing for infirmities) is necessary to salvation : and in like manner, sincere and universal assent to what God reveals makes up the other part of the terms of acceptance; as faith and obedience together make up the whole.
2. They who assert the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity take it for granted, among Christians, that faith in the Gospel of Christ is necessary to the salvation of all men, who are blessed with Gospel light; and that men shall perish eternally for unbelief, for rejecting that Gospel-faith, once sufficiently propounded to them: “Go
ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every “ creature: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be “ saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned k.”
3. They conceive farther, that as we are in duty bound to receive the Gospel-faith, so are we likewise obliged, and under pain of damnation, to preserve it whole and entire, so far as in us lies; and neither to deprave it ourselves, nor to take part with them that do. It is our bounden duty to “hold fast the form of sound words— “ in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus' :" to be " sound in the faith m:” to “speak things which become " sound doctrinen:" to " examine whether we be in the “ faith•;" and in a word, to “contend earnestly for the « faith once delivered unto the saints P." So much for the obligations we lie under, to keep the faith of Christ whole and undefiled. Next, we are to observe how dangerous a thing it is to corrupt the true faith in any heinous degree, either by adding to it, or taking away from it. One of the earliest instances of gross corruption by adding to the faith of Christ appeared in the converted Jews, or Judaizing Christians, who taught the necessity of observing circumcision and the law of Moses together with Christianity. Against those false apostles, who taught such pernicious doctrine, St. Paul drew his pen, looking upon them as subverters of the Gospel of Christ 9. And he was so zealous in that matter, as to say, “ Though “we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel
* Mark xvi. 15, 16. compare John iii. 36. Revel. xxi. 8.
than that which we have preached unto you, “ let him be accursed r.” Where by another Gospel, he does not mean another religion substituted in the room of Christianity; (for those false teachers were Christians still, not apostates ;) but some adulterous mixtures, tending to evacuate the Gospel-law, and to frustrate the grace of Gods.
I shall give a second instance of gross corruption; not in adding to, but in taking from the Christian doctrine, in an article of very great importance. There was in the days of the Apostles, and after, a sect of opiniators, who (whether being ashamed of the cross of Christ, or whether thinking it impossible for God to become mant)
1 2 Tim. i. 13.
i. 13. ij. 2. n Tit. ii. 1. I Tim. i, 10. 2 Tim. iv. 3. • 2 Cor. xiii. 5. compare Rev. xiv. 12. p Jude 3. compare 1 Tim. iv. 6. 4 Gal. i. 6, 7. ? Gal. i. 8.
• Gal. ii. 21. v. 2. Alii quoque hæretici usque adeo Christi manifestam amplexati sunt divi. nitatem, ut dixerint illum fuisse sine carne, et totum illi susceptum detraxe
were pleased to deny that Christ Jesus had any real humanity, but that he was a kind of walking phantom, or apparition ; had no human flesh, but imposed upon
the eyes and other senses of the spectators.
These men were afterwards called Docetæ, and Phantasiastæ; which one may well enough render Visionists, or Visionaries. We are next to take notice how St. John treated them, and what directions he gave to other Christians concerning them. He considered them as deluding teachers, that subverted foundations; and he gave them the name and title of antichrists. “ Every spirit that confesseth “ not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of “God. And this is that spirit of antichrist u,” &c. In another place, speaking of the same men, he says, “ Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess " not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh : this is a de“ceiver and an antichrist.” It is manifest that he does not point his censure at the Jews, who denied that the Messiah was come; for he speaks of new men, that had then lately “ entered into the world,” whereas the Jews had been from the beginning : besides, that the Jews did not deny that Jesus (or the man called Christ Jesus) had come in the flesh. Therefore, I say, St. John levelled 'not this censure of his against the Jews, but against some Christian heretics of that time, and those particularly that denied our Lord's humanity; in opposition to whom, he exhorts the brethren to “ abide in the doctrine of “ Christy,” and not to receive the gainsayers into their houses, nor to salute them with God speed, lest they should become thereby partakers of their evil deeds 2. By evil deeds I understand the overt acts of that heresy, the teaching, spreading, and inculcating it. Thus heresies, that is, the teaching or promoting of pernicious doctrines, are reckoned among the works of the flesh a by St.
rint hominem, ne decoquerent in illo divini nominis potestatem, &c. Novat. c. xxiii. p. 87. edit. Welchman. * 1 John iv. 3.
* 2 John 7.
y 2 John 9. 1 2 John 11.
a Gal. v. 19, 20.
Paul: who also calls false teachers deceitful workers b, and evil workers C; because the promoting and encouraging of false and dangerous doctrines is a very tice, a wicked employ: which I hint, by the way, for the clearer explication of St. John's meaning in the phrase of evil deeds.
I shall mention a third Scripture instance of gross corruption in doctrine, which was the denial of a future resurrection; dangerous doctrine, subversive of Christianity. St. Paul very solemnly admonished the Corinthians d, to prevent their giving ear to such pernicious suggestions : and he afterwards excommunicated Hymenæus, Philetus, and Alexander, for spreading and propagating them, delivering the men over to Satan, that they might learn not to Vlaspheme e.
From the three instances now mentioned, it may sufficiently appear, that the corrupting or maiming Christianity in its vitals, by denying or destroying its prime articles, or fundamental doctrines, is a very dangerous thing; and that we are obliged, under pain of damnation, neither to do it ourselves, nor to abet, countenance, or encourage those that do, by communicating with them.
4. But it is farther to be observed, that in slighter matters, in things not nearly affecting the vitals of Christianity, the rule is for Christians to bear with one another; not to divide or separate, but to agree among themselves; so to disagree in hąrmless opinions, or indifferent rites, as to unite in faith and love, and in Christian fellowship f. Peace is a very valuable thing, and ought not to be sacrificed even to truth; unless such truth be important, and much may depend upon it. A man is not obliged, in all cases, to declare all he knows; and if he does declare his sentiments, and knows them to be true, yet he need not insist upon them with rigour, if the point contested be of a slight nature or value, in comparison to the Church's peace. Let him enjoy his own liberty in that case; and let others have theirs too; and so all will be right. Let them differ so far, by consent, and yet live together in peace and charity. But then, as to weightier matters, it concerns us carefully to observe, that rules of peace are but secondary and subordinate to those of piety or charity, and must veil to them. Peace must be broken in this world, whenever it is necessary to do it for the securing salvation in the next for ourselves or others : and a breach of peace, in such instances, is obedience to the higher law of charity, is conforming to the primary and great commandments, the love of God, and the love of our neighbour. Therefore peace, in such cases, must be sacrificed to truth and charity, that is, to the honour of God, and the eternal interests of mankind.
di Cor. xv.
b 2 Cor. xi. 13.
Philip. iii. 2. Compare 1 T'im. i. 20. 2 Tim. ii. 16, 17, 18. f Rom. xiv. xv. Coloss. ii. 16, 17.
These things premised, it remains now only to inquire what kind of a doctrine the doctrine of the Trinity is; whether it be of such a slight and indifferent nature as not to be worth the insisting upon at the expence of peace; or whether it be of such high value and importance, that it ought to be maintained as an essential of Christianity against all opposers. This is the great question now before us, and I shall endeavour to examine into it with due care and application.
The gentlemen who look upon it as a non-fundamental, have several things to urge, but such as may most of them be reduced to three heads, as follow. 1. That the received doctrine of the Trinity is not clear enough to be admitted for a fundamental. 2. That it is merely speculative, or however, not practical enough to be important. 3. That it is not sufficiently insisted upon in Scripture, as of necessity to salvation. Now, in return to these three considerations, I shall endeavour to show, in so many distinct chapters, that the doctrine is sufficiently clear, and also practical, and insisted upon likewise in Scripture, as much as the nature of the thing needs or requires.