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6 HOLD FAST THE FORM OF SOUND WORDS, WHICH THOU HAST HEARD OF ME, IN FAITH AND LOVE WHICH IS IN CHRIST Jesus.”2 Tim. i. 13.
It is one of the great excellencies of the Christian Religion, and a strong proof of its divine authority, that it commends itself to the reason and understanding of men ; addressing us as rational creatures, and claiming our assent on account of the proofs which it offers. In other words, it "requires faith for the principle of our obedience, only because it produces evidence for the ground of our faith.” The divine Founder of this religion and his apostles after him, every where recommend freedom of thought. They allow, they encourage, they urge their hearers to examine for themselves. Our blessed Lord commanded the Jews to search the scriptures ;* and it was his own moving expostulation with that blinded people-Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right at In the acts of the apostles we find St. Luke commending the noble Bereans for searching the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Surely, then, it is a privilege, which christians in all ages enjoy, before they receive any religious doctrine, to examine whether it be consonant to right reason and the word of
- it is a most invaluable part of that blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” Nor is it merely a privilege, it is a most solemn and momentous duty ; for “ if the christian religion be from heaven, it cannot
* John v. 39.
+ Luke xii. 57.
# Acts xvii. 11.
be a matter of indifference what its real doctrines are ; nor can its Author have given us the liberty of professing others in their stead."
Should it be objected, that the most of mankind are incapable of investigating this subject, that the nature of their pursuits, or their limited knowledge, actually forbids it, the reply is, that all which can be required of any man is to use the talents and opportunities he possesses ; and never let him doubt that he shall be called to account only for the right improvement of that light which his Creator has given him, be the same more or less clear. Much time and study, great natural abilities, extensive acquirements, are not necessary to satisfy an humble and honest christian on all the essential points of faith and practice. But then, let the precept of St. Paul be constantly borne in mind-PROVE ALL THINGS, HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS coop.t While this text remains on record, we can never, with impunity, neglect any helps we may have for discovering the good and the right way. We are bound to prove, or examine, all things, as much as circumstances will allow, and after such examination, to adhere steadily and firmly to that which is good.-In all matters of doubt or difficulty, the christian's first recourse will be to his BIBLE. On that alone, his faith is to be founded and built up; and nothing is to be required of him, as “necessary to salvation," that is not read therein, or may be proved thereby."! But in his study of scripture, he will often meet with difficulties not easily solved—some things hard to be understood –
+ 1 Thes. v. 21.
# Art. vi.
$ 2 Pet. iii. 16.
for the explanation of which he will need, as did the treasurer of the Ethiopian Queen, some one to guide him.* His next recourse, then, will be to his spiritual teachers, to those who are authorized and set apart purposely for his instruction in divine things. “ Few indeed, or none, can judge of any thing without relying in some measure on the knowledge and veracity of others. We should always judge for ourselves as far as we can, but where we evidently want either capacity, or learning, or time for it, as we frequently do in worldly affairs of great moment no less than in religion, we are both allowed and obliged to depend on our fellow men.”+ This is perfectly agreeable to scripture, and consistent with the liberty of rational beings. It is a part of the christian scheme, that " wherever men clearly see their own way, it leaves them to pursue it; where they must unavoidably rely upon the direction of others it points out to them their proper guides, provided for them by a regular economy, of which Divine Wisdom was the author, and which his Holy Spirit will accompany to the end of the world.” With such instruction as the simple word of God can give and with such help as may be obtained from the ministers in holy things, an honest and sincere christian, however unlettered he may be, can hardly fall into any considerable error.
Or if he happen to err, we may suppose his error a venial one, after having diligently consulted both the sacred scriptures and those who are authorized to expound them. Nor is it improbable that
1 Acts viii. 31. Secker.