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FOUNDATION OF TRUE RELIGION.
In the most extensive sense of the term, a doctrine is any thing that is taught. But in common language it is used to denote a truth taught in the Bible. In what is taught by man, there are false, as well as true, unimportant, as well as important doctrines. But in the word of God there are no false or unimportant doctrines; though some are to us much more important than others. The more important doctrines of the Bible-those in which we have a special interest, are the truths which it teaches respecting the character and government of God, the character and work of Christ, the duty and character of man, the immortality of the soul, and the condition both of the righteous and the wicked in another world.
The distinction between a doctrine and precept is this: A doctrine is a truth which the Bible proposes to our belief. A precept is something which requires our obedience. That God is good, is a doctrine which we ought to believe. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," &c. is a precept which we ought to obey.
By many, the doctrines of the Bible are thought to be of little consequence. Not a few, even of those who acknowledge the great importance of practical religion, frequently speak with lightness respecting these doe trines, and appear to consider any special efforts to ascer tain what they are, or to explain and defend them, as little better than labor lost. But all of this description are in a great error. They have not duly considered the
connexion between doctrine and practice, and the influence which the one has upon the other. The plain matter of fact, that the practical religion, inculcated by the precepts of the Bible, can be successfully promoted no longer than its doctrines are understood and defended, seems never to have occurred to their minds. The object of this Tract is to show that,
Doctrinal knowledge is the foundation of true religion. It is here asserted, not merely that doctrinal knowledge is of great importance in religion, that it enlightens, strengthens, and confirms the Christian in his duties and his hopes, but that it is the foundation of true religion, that, without which the thing cannot exist, and all pretension to it is either delusion or hypocrisy. This will be sufficiently evident to every reader who candidly considers the following facts.
1. The duties of the Bible are founded upon its doctrines.
What God has required his creatures to do, he has not arbitrarily required, but required for good and sufficient reasons. These reasons are found in the doctrines which he has revealed. The duty of loving God is founded upon the doctrine that he is supremely good. If he was not a good Being, it could not be the duty of creatures to love him. And if he was not the best of all beings, it could not be their duty to love him supremely.
The duty of repentance is founded upon the doctrine of human depravity. If mankind are not sinners, they have nothing to repent of. And the question respecting the extent of their sinfulness or depravity, must obviously settle the question respecting the extent to which repentance is a duty.
The duty of faith in Christ depends upon the doctrine that he is the true Messiah. Unless he is as he claims to be the Son of God, unless he actually "made his soul an offering for sin," and unless "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him," it cannot be the duty of perishing sinners to trust in him as their Saviour.
The duty of submission to the will of God under trials, depends upon the doctrine that God governs the world in righteousness. If there is any event which takes place
without his agency and in opposition to his wise and holy purposes, we cannot be under obligation to be reconciled to it. True submission to the will of God under trials, is nothing more or less than submission to these things, so far as the design and hand of God are in them.
The duty of keeping the Sabbath holy, depends upon the doctrine that the Sabbath is a divine institution. If God does not require mankind to set apart one day in seven to be devoted especially to the purposes of religion, and if the first day of the week is not now the particular day to be thus devoted to his service, we are not under obligation to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy."
It is a duty to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. He himself declared that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. The martyr Stephen died calling upon his name. All the primitive Christians were in the practice of offering prayers and singing praises to him. And all holy beings in heaven and on earth are represented by John as saying, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever." But this duty of worshipping Christ depends upon the doctrine that he is one with, and equal to the Father; for we are expressly forbidden to have or to worship more Gods than one.
It is generally agreed that prayer is a duty. But this cannot be a fact unless the doctrine of our dependence upon God is true. If there is any respect in which we are not dependent on God, in that respect it cannot be our duty to pray.
It is our duty to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to do them all the good in our power. But all these duties are founded upon the doctrine of disinterested affection. If it is right, as some pretend, to make our own interest or pleasure the principal object of our regard, it cannot be duty to love others as ourselves. If, as is often asserted, mankind are incapable of exercising a disinterested affection, it cannot be their duty to love their enemies; for it is impossible that a known enemy should be embraced by any other than a disinterested affection.
It might be shown that every duty inculcated in the
Bible depends on some doctrine, and is one of its practical results. But every one is willing to allow that there can be no true religion where the duties of the Bible are not performed. If then these duties are founded upon the doctrines, it is a plain case that the doctrines lie at the foundation of all true religion. But it may be said, although the duties of the Bible are founded upon its doctrines, yet it is of little importance to know its doctrines, as all these duties may be performed, whether the doctrines be understood, or not. To this it is replied, the duties of the Bible cannot all be performed without a knowledge of its doctrines; for
2. The performance of some of these duties necessarily implies a knowledge of the doctrines.
It is a duty to believe the doctrines of the Bible. It is a duty to continue steadfast in the belief of these doctrines. It is a duty to contend earnestly for the vindication of these doctrines. It is a duty to discountenance the efforts of all those who are attempting to propagate false doctrine. But we cannot believe any doctrine with which we are not acquainted. We cannot stand fast in the faith of the gospel unless we know what this faith is. We cannot "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," unless we know what are the doctrines which were committed to their trust. We cannot know who false teachers are, nor take one efficient step to counteract their poisonous leaven, unless we are able to distinguish the doctrines of the Lord from the commandments of men.
Admit then that true religion consists in performing the duties which the Bible inculcates. Here are duties, and very important ones too, which cannot be performed without doctrinal knowledge. To believe the truth, to continue in the truth, to vindicate the truth, to reject error, and to refuse to countenance those who would subvert the gospel, is a part of that practical religion which the Bible inculcates. Though there are many who do not consider that these duties are any part of true religion, or any thing which the scriptures require, yet it is a fact there are few points in Christian practice which they enjoin with more frequency or treat as subjects of greater importance. A quotation of one half of the pas