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may incautiously have received, as we find that others greater and better than ourselves have received, human theories for divine revelation ; and whoever comes to us, with any appearance of reason, to show in what particular we have done this, deserves our thanks, and is entitled to our careful and impartial attention.”
At a time like the present, it is truly refreshing to read a passage from an able writer, which so frankly admits both the past and the present fallibility of the class of Christians to which he belongs; and the possibility that even the writer himself may have “incautiously received human theories for divine revelation." Had the scribes and pharisees, during our Lord's ministry, but possessed candor like this, it might have saved them from the guilt of reproaching and crucifying the Savior of the world. But too many of them “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” Hence, as the Mes. siah taught doctrines contrary to the popular creed, they were prepared to reject both him and his doctrines, and to imagine that they should offer acceptable sacrifices to God, by defamimg the character, and taking the life of his Son. To similar delusions men are still liable.
Should the reviewer who wrote the paragraph which has been transcribed, have opportunity to read the chapters on the Atoning Sacrifice, his self-knowledge and sincerity in writing the last sentence may be sooner brought to a test, than he then anticipated. For it is, perhaps, not improbable, that his present views of the atonement are such as I have endeavored to prove not accordant with the gospel; and I can hardly believe that he will be able to say, that there is not “ any appearance
of in what I have written for that purpose. If not, he must feel bound to give me “a careful and impartial attention.” This is all I have to request of him, or of any other writer, or reader. I frankly adopt his language as my own.
I am as liable to err as he is. If what I have written shall be the means of convincing him of error, the gain will be on his part. Should he or any other writer convince me of error, he may be called the victor, but I
shall be the gainer. And I hope I am not yet too old to learn, or too uncandid to be willing to exchange error for truth.
I have long been pleased with the resolution of President Edwards, which the reviewer has mentioned with approbation. After refleoting on the fact, that “ Old men seldom have any advantage from new discoveries, because these are beside a way of thinking which they have long been used to,"—the good man thus resolved, “If ever I live to years, I will be impartial to hear reasons of all pretended discoveries, and receive them, if rational, how long so ever I may have been used to another way of thinking.” He who acts on this principle, may be ever improving his mind, and correcting his own errors. But a map who flatters himself that there can be no danger of his being in error, while on the popular side of a controversy, gives ample evidence that he is now in error, and is likely to retain it as long as he lives. Persons of this character too often seem to imagine that their time cannot be better employed, than in blasting the reputation of such men as dare to think for themselves ; and who, by inquiry, find reason to deviate from the traditionary path. Less of this practice would be prevalent, if Christians in general would adopt the principle of Bishop Watson. In his answer to Paine, he has this remark, —“A philosopher, in search of 'truth, forfeits with me all claim to candor and impartiality, when he introduces railing for reasoning, and illiberal sarcasm in the room of argument.” Happy it might have been for our country, had this prac. tice been confined to avowed Deists, or had it been buried in the grave of Thomas Paine. But is it not a lamentable fact , that writers, even of the present age,
with high pretensions to Christianity, are not behind Mr. Paine, except in point of time, in regard to “railing,” and “illiberal sarcasm ? ” and that, too, while professedly vindicating the Christian religion, the very soul of which is love ? Is
not to be deplored, that Christians should thus set an example of one of the most detestable vices which ever disturbed the peace of man?
If, during the little time I may have to live, any candid writer shall convince me that my present views of the atoning sacrifice are erroneous, I hope I shall have the magnanimity frankly and publicly to retract them. But at my age, it is not to be expected of me, that I shall engage in controversy to defend what I have written. Should the work be assailed with the spirit of reproach and sarcasm, the writer, whoever he may be that shall adopt this course, may feel persectly assured beforehand, that what he may write will be neither answered nor read by me. Such a spirit, I regard as the bane of the Christian religion, beneath the dignity of a disciple of Christ, and so contagious, that no one can volunteer a contact with it, without danger of contamination.
If writers and readers would adopt the candid sentiments of the Christian Spectator which have been quoted, and would feel and act as becomes fallible men, great advantages might result both from inquiry and discussion. There is not, in my opinion, any reason to suppose, that the people of any sect or party are free from great errors ; and were this view of the matter generally adopted in the inquiries and discussions of the day, the different parties and writers might be mutually useful to each other. But when it is the object of one party to traduce and calumniate another, bitterness and alienation,—not love and unity,-must be the natural fruits. God may, indeed, overrule such controversies for good,-so he may the sanguinary exploits of political warfare ; but both are, in their nature, repugnant to the spirit of the Christian religion, and abhorred in the sight of God. “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, demoniacal. For where envying and strife are, there is confusion · and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Should this heavenly wisdom become duly prevalent, it will not only banish war and persecution, but change the character of theological controversy among Christians.
Each individual will then feel that he is liable to be in error, while he thinks he is in the right. In the same light he will regard all his brethren, whether they agree with him, or dissent from his opinions. He will ponder on past events, particularly on those which occurred during the ministry of the Messiah,-how the majority by a self-sufficient spirit, and an obstinate adherence to traditionary opinions, placed themselves in the wrong, and became revilers and persecutors of the Prince of life and peace ;how often, too, since that time, the minority were in the right, while treated as heretics, infidels, or wicked men,how innumerable and how great must have been the changes of public opinion, since the time that our ancestors were all Pagans,—and how certain it is, that in regard to every such change for the better, the majority were in the wrong, till the change was effected. Dissenters from the popular creed will also understand, that men may have changed their opinions, and still be in error. On each side of a controversy, persons will reflect on the various circumstances from which diversity of opinion may result, besides that of moral depravity of heart,—the great diversity in- mental powers, in the modes of education, in the means of information, and in the leisure and opportunities for inquiry possessed by different persons. Each will also understand, that truth is as important to others, as it is to himself; that others may view the matter in this light, and be as impartial as he is in their inquiries, and yet form different opinions from the same portions of Scripture. We
e may likewise anticipate, that it will be better understood than it now is; that although correct opinions are very important, yet the essence of religion does not consist in correct opinions, but in doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. There is still another consideration which may have a salutary influence. It is this,—that the diversity of opinion among Christians gives opportunity for the trial of their several tempers, that each may better know what manner of spirit he is of, whether, like the publicans,' he loves those only who love him or are of his party, or whether his love, like the love of God, extends to all, even to the evil and unthanksul. These various considerations, under the direction of that wisdom which is from above, will naturally produce in each individual, a humble and cautious spirit in regard to himself, and a brotherly tenderness towards such as dissent from his views. Hence discussions will be conducted with the spirit of kindness, meekness, and forbearance, and for the noble purposes of individual improvement, mutual instruction, and mutual love.
Happy the men who shall be the cordial promoters of such a reformation! And may the God of peace multiply such characters in every denomination of Christians, till all sectarian hostilities shall give place to the fruits of the spirit,“ love, joy, peace," and all the professed disciples of Jesus shall unite in the prayer of their Lord, that they all may be one, even as he and the Father are one.