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to search the Scriptures honestly, according to our means and ability, or of some sinister and corrupt bias of the mind, which might and ought to have been corrected. This it must be left to the Great Searcher of hearts to determine. To his own Master every one must stand or fall. It were presumptuous to deny the hope of salvation to those whose consciences accuse them not of error, even though we may justly think our own salvation would be endangered by following in their steps.
But why, then, not enlarge the pale of our communion, and give the right hand of fellowship to those of whom we entertain this charitable persuasion ?—The answer is simply this :—Though we may admit the innocency of error, under the supposed circumstances, we cannot honestly put it on a level with truth. This would be practically denying the truth, and convicting ourselves of falsehood. Nor would it even be consistent with the duty we owe to those who hold the error. “Brethren,” says St. James, “if any “ of you do err from the truth, and one con“ vert him; let him know, that he which con“ verteth the sinner from the error of his way
shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins b." But how shall this
b James v. 19, 20,
be done, if we admit such persons into our communion whilst they maintain opinions, even on important points, which we deem it our bounden duty to reject ?
Another question, however, here occurs :Who shall decide upon controverted opinions? Who shall determine “what is truth” between disputants disposed on neither side to yield ? This question directly involves the right of private judgment; a right that every man may reasonably claim in a matter pertaining to his own personal well-being ;a right, moreover, which ultimately every man not only may, but will exercise, secretly or openly, notwithstanding all attempts to fetter his moral or his intellectual powers. Nevertheless, since we presume that truth does actually exist in holy writ; since every profession of the Christian faith is supposed to be thence deduced; and since our own profession of it, whatever it may be, is by us presumed to exhibit that faith entire and pure; can we be blameless or excusable in acting as if we thought otherwise ? How can we evidence our sincerity and integrity, but by maintaining our own persuasion, to the exclusion of contrary persuasions ? How, in any proper acceptation of the phrase, can we be said to “hold fast “ the profession of our faith,” if we swerve from this simple rule of conduct ?—Even upon
the broadest principle of private judgment, no latitude is allowable for indifference to the truth, when once our judgment is deliberately formed, and grounded upon conviction. And what is the proper ground of such conviction ? Undoubtedly, to entitle it to any weight, it implies the careful exercise of reason, both in weighing the evidences of revelation and in ascertaining its import; that the inquirer may frame his creed, and regulate his conduct, by what he deems to be the sole criterion of unerring truth. On subjects so momentous, what ingenuous mind can consent to form a hollow and delusive union with sentiments repugnant to his own ?
In applying these observations to ourselves, as members of a Church, whose pretensions have long been recognized, both at home and abroad, as classing it among the purest of the reformed churches in Christendom, matter of serious reflection presents itself to our minds. When it is considered, that the truth set forth in the Church of England is that which was generally received in the primitive ages of Christianity; that, which after having been obscured and defaced
c Hebr. x. 25.
by a long series of corruptions, was restored to its original purity and lustre, through the labours of men“ mighty in the Scriptures,” and devoted to the cause of truth; that, moreover, which was then sealed by the blood of martyrs, and has since been stedfastly upholden by the learned, wise, and good; shall we be charged with “the foolishness of boasting,” if we say,
that the question,“ What is “ truth ?” admits now of a satisfactory answer, by a reference to the system of faith and worship adopted in the confessions and rituals of our venerable establishment ?
Too true it is, that the Scriptures, though the only infallible standard of religious truth, are continually alleged in support of opinions the most opposite to each other. Yet this does not derogate from the perfection of Scripture itself; nor ought it to shake our confidence in its truth. The sources of many
of these variations it is not difficult to trace. Doctrines there are, in revealed religion, in themselves mysterious and profound; above the reach of our limited faculties clearly to apprehend; or, for wise reasons of the Almighty, not entirely unfolded to our view. Upon these, ardent, inquisitive, and incautious minds will ever be in danger of “mak“ ing shipwreck of their faith.” Doctrines
may also be perverted, or rendered obscure, by the arts of controversialists to uphold a favourite hypothesis, or by ambiguity in the use of terms of definition, or by inadvertency of whatever kind.—Again, there are questions, arising out of matters of unnecessary and unprofitable speculation, which men are wont to engraft upon the more essential truths of revelation, and to argue them with even more warmth and vehemence than matters of greater moment. There
may also be positions in Scripture not so distinctly propounded as to preclude different deductions from them, even among persons well qualified to decide, and on which it were therefore wise to forbear too magisterial a decision. In all these cases, it
may truly be said, that the differences originate not with Scripture, but with the Interpreters of Scripture. Truths, however, there undoubtedly are, and those of the highest order, which, being fundamental and necessary to the whole system of our faith, are also, for the most part, so clearly revealed, that they can hardly be either rejected or vitiated, but by those who handle the word of God deceit“ fully.” When, therefore, it is said, and truly said, that “the Bible, and the Bible “only, is the religion of Protestants,” it by no