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mind of a heathen, and on that of a Christian, is manifest. Where no divine revelation was concerned, as in the case of theh-eathen, the question, “ What is truth ?” could create but little solicitude. It was limited to human opinion, and not referable to any authority binding upon the inquirer.
Whatever influence the result might have upon the understanding, it would have little power to control the will. The will is, for the most part, but feebly actuated by the simple perception of truth; its chief impulse arises from the apprehended consequences of the truth. Respecting these consequences, the heathen inquirer was involved in darkness and uncertainty. His moral and religious speculations were scarcely more interesting than disquisitions on physical subjects. His intellectual faculties might be awakened and gratified by the research ; but his heart and affections would remain untouched. He might become a more enlightened sophist, or a more expert disputer ; but would make slow and doubtful advances to perfection as a moral agent.
It is not until the question bears reference to something more than human speculation, that it creates a deep and permanent interest. With records before him, professing to be of divine com
munication, the inquirer who asks, “ What is “ truth ?” asks, in effect, What doth God require me to believe and to do ? For the answer to this question, he has recourse, not to fallacious or fallible oracles, but to such as can neither deceive nor err. He places himself under the guidance of an authority paramount even to his own judgment;—an authority which calls upon him to submit his finite and often erroneous conceptions to those of Wisdom infinite and infallible which claims the entire control over his most unruly affections; and obedience to which is no less his interest than his duty, no less his profitable than his reasonable service.
This view of the subject involves, however, consequences of greater moment than may at first be apprehended, with reference to the rules and principles whereby we are circumscribed, not only in our inquiries after religious truth, but also in our conduct towards those who either set it at nought, or substantially differ in their views of it from ourselves. To ascertain the proper boundaries of our liberty in this respect, is a matter of no light concern; if we would
the evils of a dangerous latitudinarianism on the one hand, or on the other, of an uncharitable and presumptuous spirit.
There are those who seem to imagine that they are free to speculate as unreservedly upon religious opinions, even though declared in holy writ, as on any other subjects of investigation ; and that they may regard with equal tokens of satisfaction
every religious persuasion, whether embracing tenets entirely accordant with their own, or tenets which they themselves could not embrace without self-conviction and self-reproach.
A latitude like this might well consist with the notions of a heathen philosopher, bound by no other obligation than the deference due to the superior talents of others, or the confidence he might repose in his own imaginary superiority; and who, whatever were the opinions to be adopted, knew that he was following a fallible guide. But the believer in revealed religion cannot take to himself this liberty, without an implied denial of the
perfection of that word which he professes to acknowledge as divine. If there be any such thing as religious truth affecting our eternal interests, and authenticated as proceeding from Infinite Wisdom itself, this can never be a fit object for human caprice to sport with, or respecting which errors of carelessness or of indifference can be regarded as free from blame.
It has been a favourite sentiment, however, with infidel writers, and even with some who would not willingly be included in that class, that we may conceive the “Father of all” to be pleased with diversities of faith and worship, just as an earthly parent may accept with complacency different tokens of affection from his offspring, and reward them with equal favour. But religion, revealed religion, knows no such puerile fancies; nor will the parallel itself hold good, if the fact be admitted that a divine revelation has been made of the kind of faith and worship required of us. For, in that case, (which is the case as it actually stands,) our heavenly Father hath not left it to our option what kind of offering we are to bring, but hath prescribed what that offering shall be; and if, notwithstanding this, we presume to choose for ourselves, instead of complying with His injunctions, shall we not rather be regarded as children of disobedience, than as children of His love and favour? In short, the sacred oracles being put into our hands for the express purpose of making known God's will, it is at our peril that we presume to swerve from that will. Truth is, in its very nature, exclusive of error. It admits not of contrarieties. Whether it affirms or denies, whether it prohibits or commards, it speaks decisively, and makes no compromise.
But almost self-evident as this principle appears to be, it is not without its difficulties, when we come to apply it to particular cases. Is religious truth (it may be said) so clearly revealed, even in the sacred oracles, as to admit of no difference of opinion, without incurring the charge of contumacious opposition to the Divine will ? Are we warranted in peremptorily dogmatizing on the various subjects it involves ? Does error necessarily imply heretical pravity ? Or may we (like that Church against whose presumptuous claim to infallibility we have long since protested) deny the hope of salvation to all who are not within the pale of our own communion ?
In answer to these questions, let it be observed, that when we speak of truth as excluding error, we speak of it as it exists in the written word itself, not as delivered in the words of man's interpretation. The latter must ever be fallible; the former never
No harsh judgment is passed on involuntary mistake or ignorance, no positive guilt is attached even to tenets irreconcileable with God's word, unless the error be the result either of some habitual unwillingness