תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

as befits our very limited comprehension, and cautious also of attempting to subject the divine nature itself to the reasonings of the human intellect, it neither dogmatizes with the calvi. nists on the mystery of redemption, nor rationalizes with the arian on the essence of the Divinity, but confines itself to that which has been expressly revealed on either topic, satisfied that it contains nothing repugnant to the sound convictions of our natural reason,

If the hope of such a mediation could be realized, how great in a country, circumstanced as Ireland, would be the advantage redounding to the cause of true religion! The divisions of protestants have long afforded a plausible argument to the advocates of the church of Rome. Some divisions indeed are perhaps inevitable among those, who conceive it to be their most solemn duty to study their religion for themselves, instead of submitting their minds implicitly to the dictation of others; but it is the duty of all protestants to lessen such divisions as much as possible, and this duty should be felt to be more urgently obligatory, where union is more especially important to the maintenance of the common faith. When the cry of heresy has been raised against all protestants, though more especially against the established church as possessing the chief political advantages, it is time for those who have separated from the established church to consider, whether they

have indeed at this day sufficient reasons to justify a schism, which must weaken the general defence.

It is apprehended that, in this country, much of the distinctness, which now holds presbyterians in separation from the established church, is the result rather of tradition and habit, than of any real peculiarity of religious sentiment. The opinions inculcated in the sermons of doctor Bruce are indeed generally abhorrent from those of the establishment; but it is believed, notwithstanding the contrary persuasion which he has declared, that such opinions are confined to a small minority, at least of the northern presbyterians. The publication of these sermons may however even prove serviceable to the cause of religious union, by disposing those who have not yet sufficiently reflected on the true nature of their faith, to consider seriously what are the opinions which they hold, and why they remain in separation. And why may it not be hoped, that a serious and temperate discussion of the tenets advocated in the sermons, may terminate in bringing over those who are now professedly arians, to juster sentiments of religion? If such effects should indeed arise from this controversy, it would have been most happy that the occasion had been afforded by the sermons of doctor Bruce. That these effects may actually be produced, it shall be the endeavour of the writer of this trea

tise to review his book with a moderation and candour, which, while nothing of the truth is compromised, may best conduce to the important end of religious conciliation.

In regard to many of the observations of doctor Bruce the author of this treatise readily professes a concurrence of opinion, and particularly in regard to some of those, by which he has recommended the study of the sacred writings. Even however in recommend. ing the study of the scriptures, it must be remarked, he indicates a disposition to lower the standard of scriptural interpretation, representing the opinions which may be formed by the more ignorant classes of society as the best cri. terion of the doctrines, which all are required to believe. The gospel of Christ certainly was preached to the poor, and this circumstance was properly indicated by our Saviour, as a characteristic of his mission of mercy. But is it therefore reasonable to constitute ignorance the test of the knowledge of that religion, into the mystery of which even the angels desire to look ?

The sacred writings contain much, which the unlearned may study with advantage, nor is any doctrine necessary to the salvation of men, which may not be sufficiently communicated to persons in the humblest class of society. It is however a very different thing to urge, that the opinions, which such persons may form for themselves by their own unassisted perusal of the sacred writings, should be regarded as comprehending all, which it would be desirable that even themselves should understand of the divine communications. The ignorant man, we may trust, shall not be condemned for the want of that knowledge of religion, which he had no opportunity of acquiring ; but it is the appointment of the divine providence, that others should be placed in more favourable situations, and these are bound to avail themselves of the advantages, with which they have been blessed above their brethren, and to extend to the latter the benefit of those advantages, in the religious instruction which they have thus become qualified to impart.

Whoever reflects with calmness and moderation on the various opinions, which have been entertained in regard to religion, must perceive how constantly extreme opinions tend to coincide in a common conclusion. In this instance we find the rationalizing arian urging exactly the same principle as the mystical enthusiast. The latter, referring all his doctrine to the immediate and perceptible influences of the spirit, maintains that the untutored mechanic must be competent to communicate all that man can learn of his most important interests ; the former, that he may shun the reasonings of men furnished with the aids of human learning, directs the lower and imperfectly educated classes to read their bibles for themselves, and to rest persuaded that the opinions which they may thus collect by their own perusal, are all which it can be necessary that man should know of his religion. In each case the ignorant man is set up as the authority for religious truth, and the enthusiast and the rationalizer so far make a common cause. The man of moderate opinions will however consider the best faculties of the most improved understanding as worthily exercised in studying the revelations of his Maker, and in giving to the less informed the benefit of researches, which they must be unqualified to make. The apostle Paul did indeed admonish Timothy to avoid oppositions of science falsely so called, and the Colossians to beware lest any man should spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit ; but the philosophy, which set itself up as learned beyond the divine communications, was very different from that which is em. ployed with humility in searching into those communications, and unfolding their true meaning to the ignorant. If it can be necessary to cite authority to prove that ignorance may be a cause of dangerous error in religion, we have the testimony of the apostle Peter, who * says of the epistles of Paul, that they contain things hard to be understood, “ which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also

* Peter, ch. 2, v. 16.

« הקודםהמשך »