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He is now taught that the only key adequate to give him the proper knowledge of God and his duty, are the scriptures themselves, separated from all human admixtures, and stripped of every human gloss. To what they reveal, he is taught reverently to bow, whether it squares with one or another of the creeds which men have adopted, or whether it squares with none of them. To aid him in his researches, the industry of learned men of various countries has furnished many instruments. And by the faithful use of these, and the saculties of reason and judgment with which God has gifted him, he is enabled to discover the corruptions which have crept into and disfigured the sacred text, to elicit more clearly its meaning, to establish the consistency of scripture with itself, and to attain and unfold more correct notions of the character and design, of the writings of the Prophets and Evangelists and Apostles of the Old and New Testament.
This criticism of the sacred text, with a view to understand and establish its purity, has almost of necessity led to an equally free and resolute investigation of the doctrines it teaches, or is alleged to teach. Men are fast learning to feel, even in the very bosom of the most exclusive churches, that no system, nor creed, nor confession of faith, has any claim on human affection or belief, unless it coincides and corresponds with the Bible.
I know very well, indeed, that anti-scriptural creeds have not, in as many instances as they ought, been openly renounced. But when you consider how difficult it is to break the union of truth with error, which has been for ages cemented, and is still maintained by
prejudice and blind attachment, you will not wonder at this. How is it upon other subjects? What are the disputes which now agitate the senate-houses of Europe, and the difficulties which vex the cabinets of her Kings, and the almost phrenzy which has seized the multitude of their subjects, but new proofs of the obstacles which attend every effort to disunite truth and error, thus bound and held together? Still we see those efforts gradually succeeding. So is it upon the subject of religious doctrine. We do not indeed find large bodies of men, together and of course, renouncing the faith in which they have been educated, and embracing a more rational system; but we do find that a mighty change has come over the mode and phraseology in which favorite points of faith are stated and defended. There is every proof we could desire, that the necessity of softening down the more repulsive and revolting peculiarities of the belief of certain sects is felt; probably the strongest proof of it, is the disputes, carried on frequently with a very great degree of warmth, as to the true nature and importance of some of these very peculiarities. There are violent leaders, indeed, who seem determined if possible, to pursue with a high hand the exclusive and illiberal measures which they have devised. But, I trust in God, that the great mass of men whom they are thus endeavoring to affect, are in heart opposed to the design. The right of private judgment in all matters of this sort is more and more, not only theoretically but practically admitted and acted upon; and the time is hastening forward, when the extreme measures to which some religionists are now giving their strength and influence, will be regarded only with abhorrence, and remembered only with shame.
The increasing taste and advantages for the study of biblical criticism and interpretation, and the spirit of inquiry on the subject of religion generally must further—they have already furthered the progress of the gospel in its purity and simplicity. The last half century has accomplished wonders in helping to the true understanding and the genuine text of the sacred scriptures; and every year is doing its full share. We feel no little pride in the fact, that our own country has not been backward, but that its scholars have added very valuable contributions to this department of theological learning. Something has even been done towards a new translation of the scriptures, which learned men of almost every Protestant denomination concur in declaring desirable. Three years since, a clergyman of our own denomination* gave the world a new translation of the Book of Job with valuable notes, which has been eagerly welcomed across the water; and he has now added an equally valuable translation of the Psalıns, with nates. Probably, should his life and health be spared long enough, he will translate the whole of the Old Testament. Other denominations have been and are constantly helping this great and good work of scriptural interpretation.
All this looks well-well for the cause of truth, and we should therefore rejoice at it. I care not for Unitarianism, unless it be truth. Let us have truth, whatever it costs; be it at the sacrifice of every opinion,
* Rev. Mr. Noyes, of Brookfield, Mass.
however cherished and valued now. Our faith should be held at all times, open to the severest scrutiny. We should be willing to meet and to weigh every objection. If it will not abide this test, and any other, the severest even, then for one I say, we need something better and purer. And I am sure that if men will rightly use the advantages which they now enjoy, divesting their minds of all prejudice, praying for the aid and blessing of God, and seeking for nothing but truth—truth will break upon them in all its unclouded brightness; the gospel will be revived in its purity, and go on conquering and to conquer with its primitive power.
PREVALENT SPIRIT OF FREE INQUIRY ON THE SUBJECT
The human mind, busy in its search after the true and the valuable upon all other subjects, could not pass by religion, the greatest of all. Accordingly, authority and prescription have come to seem but slender arguments in behalf of any existing abuses. The errors of past days, the belief of their predecessors, be they more or less remote, find the men of the present unwilling to receive them as matters of inheritance; and they must submit to be handled and scrutinized with very
little tenderness on account merely of their alleged origin or antiquity. The field of truth has been and continues to be explored with an earnestness of search,
and an almost sceptical inquisitiveness, which leaves no objection nor difficulty unnoticed. And the result of all this has been beneficial. Mere traditions, indeed, have lost their authority; but truth itself has had its immovable foundations bared to the broad light of day, and the admiring gaze of millions, by the removal of the rubbish which had gathered around them. The spirit of liberal inquiry has in this way exercised itself upon religion, and with the same fearlessness and vastly greater power, than when it listed the banner of the Reformation and advanced beneath its földs.' That which we call the Reformation, we have learnt was the merest beginning of reform ;-it did not enter and penetrate the strong holds of error; it only beat down some of its outposts, and gave a partial liberty to some of its slaves. Even this was a great service to mankind. Much greater ones remained, however, to be rendered, some of which it is the glory of our own day to witness. We have lived to see almost every subject in any way connected with our faith, visited and enlightened by the influence of this spirit of inquiry. The evidences of the gospel revelation have been examined and discussed with great fidelity and thoroughness; the doctrines which it declares, sought after and preached with zeal and plainness; the objections and even the cavils of the unbeliever, met and treated with great patience and candor, and triumphantly answered ; and as a result of the whole, Christianity shown to be more and more worthy of man's love and trust. Its various conflicts have only relieved it of many of its corruptions which were like gangrenes upon its vitals; and disabled its , unsought allies--the