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Who imitate the example of the Noble BEREANS, in receiving
the WORD OF GOD with all readiness of mind, and searching the SCRIPTURES daily, whether the doctrines taught by Men are agreeable thereto.
BRETHREN, NOTWITHSTANDING all the discouragements that have been formerly in the way of free enquiry into religion, there are many of our fellow christians, especially in Britain, who now see it to be the duty and privilege of every individual christian, to enquire as far as he is able, into every thing that his religion requires him either to believe or practise: and if there be any, to whom providence hath given a capacity and opportunity of enquiring into truth, with more leisure and exactness than others, they should use the talents heaven hath blessed them with, though not merely for themselves, but for the instruction of others, who have not the same advantages which they have.
As christians should be examplary for virtue and goodness, so they should be distinguished from a corrupt world, by a diligent search after truth, and an honest and open profession thereof, notwithstanding the difficulties and discouragements they are liable to upon that account, which, with purity and holiness of life, universal love to mankind, and patience under sufferings, which they cannot honorably avoid, will recommend the truth and cause of their crucified master, who suffered before them in the cause of truth. By such methods, the doctrine of Christ prevailed in the hands of a few weak, inconsiderate men, without power, riches, or learning; in opposition to the leading interests of this world, in the hands of self-interested priests, powerful prinçes, proud philosophers, the wisdom of men, and the prejudices of the people, under the influence of superstition and heathen darkness.
A diligent search after truth is the most commendable exercise of a christian. It is a precious treasure when found, and should be pursued for its own sake; listened to with attention, temper, and charity; to which we should give an open ear, a candid mind, and an ingenuous heart. As it carries with it the evidence of its own divinity, we should pay it the respect it deserves, not only by an inward conviction, but an open declaration of its perspicuity, force, and efficacy. Every man that would be free, honest, and wise, has an intiinate concern in the success of truth; and is under a moral obligation to contribute all in his power, to the success and service thereof.
As truth cannot be wrong in itself, so it cannot lead to any thing wrong. It is our indispensible duty to lie open to the evidence of truth, and lay aside every bias and prejudice that may hinder us to embrace it. Above all things it should engage our serious regards. Truth is the rule that God himself follows, he is engaged to defend it, and for this end sent his Son into the world to bear witness to the truth. All our comfort in life and death depends upon our knowing and embracing the truth.
Be not then discouraged, brethren, in your diligent search after truth, and cordial embracing of it when found, because, perhaps, it agrees not with the received opinions of great men, whether ancient or modern; nor with schemes of religion, whether authorized by greater or lesser authorities, established in national churches, or adopted by dissenting parties ; none of these is the rule of your faith. The scriptures alone claim that honor. Whatever is added by human schemes or interpretations, should be peremptorily rejected as dangerous innovations.
As to the ancients, whatever esteem others may have for them, you may certainly judge of what they taught with the same liberty, as of any
other writers; yea, the neglect of them can have no bad consequence, since the divine rule, which teacheth all that is necessary, is complete without them.
The fathers in the first three centuries, had no settled systems of religion but the scriptures, on which every one had his own speculations, which differed as much as in any age since. On the doctrine of the Trinity especially, they gave their imaginations great latitude, which appears from their expressions and explications of scripture on that point; so that it would be difficult to determine, what was the settled notions of those times, since they not only differed from one another, but with themselves. But at the fourth century, in the heat of furious zeal and opposition, among proud contending parties, the doctrine was reduced to articles, which were armed with sanctions, and the civil powers called in to enforce them, under the severest penalties; so that whom church authority could not convince, the secular power might compel, without any regard to scripture at all. Having assumed the power of dictating to fellow-christians, there followed every kind of unchristian treatment towards dissenters from the schemes they had established, and persecution was carried on in the name of the Lord Jesus, the king of peace: and as it was necessary they should be thought to have the countenance and approbation of heaven, instead of scripture authority, the doctrine of miracles,
pretended to be wrought by themselves, or predecessors, was propagated, which issued in all the superstition and servile worship of the Romish beast.
Whatever weight was laid upon
miraculous powers in the first centuries, and continued in the Romish church, to make their other doctrines and practices pass for truth; and whatever reverence our modern doctors may pretend is due to the doctrines of the ancients on that account, it will appear evident to every impartial enquirer, that no argument can be taken from that quarter, to favour the schemes invented by the ancients, but what equally tends to support and countenance all the impostors of the church of Rome since that time: nor can any argument be drawn from this, or any other thing but the scriptures, to make any doctrine pass for truth, but what takes just as much authority from revelation, which alone, without any other help, authenticates the truths we ought to believe in religion. It is a strange compliment protestants pay to papists, in their avowed adherence to human traditions, in opposition to the scriptures as the only rule of faith!
In such a deplorable situation was religion from the fourth century, for many hundred years, , under all the tyranny, superstition, ignorance, and craft of the beast, that the advocates for human authority among protestants, find little but what