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of the truth, in all circumstances, and in the face of all opposition, which the truth demands at the hands of those who have honestly received it; and which it will undoubtedly receive, from every man who is deeply and thoroughly convinced that it is the truth, and that all else is but vanity,-yea, worse than vanity,--delusion; delusion and a lie.”
But while many, through misapprehension and mistake, are opposed to religious controversy, many, it is to be feared, are opposed to it because they are indifferent to, or opposed to the truth itself. They condemn the contending earnestly for the faith, because they contemn the faith itself. Some artfully deny controversy, and hold up its abuses and its incidental evils, in order to destroy free inquiry, which would endanger their established errors, and their blinded votaries. Others are so inflated with the idea of their own infallibility, that their insufferable arrogance cannot bear to have oracular declarations, which of course are the voice of God, called in question. Others, again, oppose controversy, but it is only controversy for, and in defence of, the truth; while they are to be freely permitted to controvert against the truth. Laziness, pride, intolerance, impiety, indifference to all religious truth, and above all, a secret feeling that the stirring of the waters of controversy may arouse their slumbering but uneasy consciences: these, it is to be feared, constitute the prevailing motives with too many of those who, under the pretence of peace and charity, and the glory of God and the good of souls, cry out against all controversy, unless it be about the paltry questions of some municipal election, or the beggarly elements of mere earthly things.
And when some even good and pious people affirm that controversy is of no use, we would reply, in the language of Dr. Beecher, “It is nearer the truth to say, that no great advance has ever been made in science, religion or politics, without controversy. And certain it is, that no era of powerful theological discussion has ever past away, without an abiding effect in favour of truth. The discussions of Augustine, of Luther, and of Calvin, are felt to this day; and the controversial writings of Edwards, have been to error, what the mounds and dykes of Holland have been to the sea."
Contending earnestly for the faith, is, therefore, an imperative and all-important christian duty. "Stand fast in one spirit with one mind, striving together (wrestling together) for the
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faith of the Gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries." "Why halt ye between two opinions?" When God's truth is at stake, neutrality must be criminal, and indifference to the truth is, of all others, the enemy most to be dreaded.
Only let our zeal for the truth be combined with charity for the persons of all who oppose it. This discrimination between our accountability for holding and defending the truth, and the accountability of every man only to God, and not to man, for his religious opinions, is the true secret by which we may "speak the truth in love," and so defend it as to maintain peace and charity, even towards its assailants. This will enable us to honour the truth, without dishonouring ourselves,—to be firm and calm,—and with a warm heart to preserve a cool head, and a graceful tongue.
THE PROVINCE OF REASON, ESPECIALLY IN MATTERS OF
1 Thess. V: 21.—1 Peter, III: 15.—Matthew, VI: 23.-Luke,
XI: 34.—Rom. I: 22. In the first of these passages of Scripture, we are taught not to receive implicitly as the true doctrines of God, what may be inculcated even by the ministers of God We are to listen to them with reverence, but not with unthinking acquiescence. We are, ourselves, to search the Scriptures, to become familiar with their truths; and having thus proved that what is taught is scriptural, and therefore true, we are to hold it fast as "good,” to lay it up in our hearts, and to practise it in our lives. In accordance with this general precept, our Saviour, on more than one occasion, called upon his hearers to judge,—not of the truth or reasonableness of what he taught,--(for how could they believe in heavenly things whose nature transcended their finite capacities,)--but to judge of the evidences which he gave, that He was an infallible teacher, and that all, therefore, that he said, was indubitable truth.* The Apostles, also, in enforcing any duty, do not hesitate to appeal to the reason and conscience of men, and to characterize the whole of piety, both as it is “the obedience of faith,” and as it is the obedience of the life, a "reasonable service."
In the second passage we have quoted, christians are exhorted, in view of the opposition and hatred to which they and their holy religion are exposed, to see that their knowledge of God is an experimental, saving and sanctifying knowledge, that they may be ever ready to give to every one that asketh it, a reason of the glorious hope that is in them, both as it regards the irresistible strength of the external evidences of the gospel, and of the unspeakable peace and power of its internal working to the salvation of all who believe.
In the third passage, our Saviour compares the reason of man to the eye. If the eye is prevented from a clear and perfect vision by any film or impediment, or by want of sufficient light, then, just as surely as we attempt to use it, will it mislead and injure us. But, if the eye be in itself sound, and the light by which it sees be pure, then will its perceptions be correct, and our steps well ordered. In like manner, reason may be vitiated, or its present light may be obscure, or it may be wholly incapable of judging of the truth before it, by reason of its spiritual and supernatural grandeur; and if, in such circumstances, it is made the judge and standard of truth, it will, and must, lead us into error. But, when reason is in itself perfect, and the evidence before it is sufficient and capable of being fully appreciated and understood, then it will lead us to right and proper conclusions, both as to truth and duty.
*John v: 31; and x: 37, 38; and xxi ; 25. 1 John, iv: 1. +1 Cor x: 15. Rom. xii: 1.
In the last passage quoted, we are informed that such is the present vitiated and perverted state of human reason, that even those who have made the most pompous professions of their love of wisdom, and have claimed to be wise above all others, have proved themselves to be vain and foolish,--have darkened their own hearts, and the hearts of others,--have obscured the knowledge of God, and of duty, preserved to them by primitive traditionary revelation-and, not liking to retain this knowledge of God, have been involved in inextricable doubts and difficulties, both as it regards God and the chief good, and everlasting life. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them, because of the blindness of their hearts."
We are thus brought to the subject of the present discourse, namely, the province of reason in matters of religion. It has been asserted, and is still maintained, theoretically by Deists, and Unitarians, and by thousands practically, that reason is a sufficient, and the only necessary guide in matters of religion, and that revelation is either unnecessary and useless, and therefore untrue, or that, being to some extent, and for some purposes, necessary, reason is the standard by which its doctrines and its duties are to be judged. “Whatever opinion agrees not with reason, (says Smalcius, one of the fathers of modern Unitarianism,) is inadmissible in theology, and to admit such doctrines, we neither can, nor ought to, be induced, even by the express words of the Spirit of God himself.”* According to Dr. Beard, one of the most recent and very learned defenders of Uniterianism,† "The fundamental peculiarity of the antitrinitarian movement is the deference paid to human intelligence as the judge, though not the source of religious truth." The same author says,* "As witnesses, the Apostles and primitive christians are invaluable; as authorities, they are revolutionary.” “We may be excused, (he continues,) if we think that these expounders of christianity did not always rigidly adhere to its sole and perfect type, as found in the mind of the Lord Jesus himself.”+ He also adds, “Let it not be supposed that, therefore, the writer holds every part of Scripture to be of equal authority. Such an idea is a gross and pernicious error. All Scripture is in some way profitable, but all is not alike valid.”
*See his words quoted at length in Smith's Testimony to the Messiah, vol. i., pp. 75, 76.
† Historical and Artistic Illust. of the Trinity, by J. R. Beard, D. D. London. 1846 : p. 196.
Similar affirmations we might adduce from various acknowledged writers of this denomination of "rational believers," as they proudly call themselves. But this is needless, as it has been affirmed among ourselves that "the religious element in man received a new stimulus and direction at the coming of the Son of Man, and the promulgation of his holy religion. Yet its chief and most potent manifestations are still characterized by much that is arbitrary, wayward, contradictory and inconsistent.” “God, in the mean time,” it is added, "gives us REASON to examine, to defend, to CORRECT, to IMPROVE, or to FORSAKE these accompanying errors." Reason, therefore, and not any written revelation, it is affirmed, is the source, or at least the arbiter and judge of religious truth. Is it so? This question, it may be perceived, lies at the foundation of all inquiries into religious doctrine, and determines at once, whether God, in His WORD, or REASON in EACH INDIVIDUAL HEART, is to be the standard and judge of religious truth.
To come to a proper conclusion on this subject, we must, in the first place, understand what reason is, and secondly, what are its capacity, limits, and present condition, and this will at once point out its province in matters of religion.
What, then, is reason? Reason, derived from the Latin verb to think, is the power or faculty of thinking. “It is (says Locke,) that faculty in man whereby he is supposed to be distinguished from the beasts, and wherein it is evident he much surpasses them.” “It denotes that power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, and by which we are enabled to combine means for the attainment of particular ends," and "to deduce (adds Webster,) inferences
*Hist. and Art, Illust. of the Trinity, p. 7. +Ditto, p. 7.