« PreviousContinue »
professors of the gospel, and help him to decide for himself on controverted points in religion.
That many errors still remain in the church must be evident to every serious person who reflects on the opposite opinions entertained by christians, on most subjects in religion; for two opposite notions cannot both be true. Opposing parties are frequently charging each other with heterodoxy and heresy. How is the unlearned christian to determine for himself which of the clashing opinions are true, and which false? I know of no method so safe, or so easy, as to bring every thing to the test of first principles, which are admitted by all parties.
1. Amidst the contrariety of opinions maintained respecting the godhead, all parties admit that there is but one God. Let the unlettered christian bring the notions which have so long divided the church into parties to the test of this principle, which is universally granted. Common sense will teach him that three distinct persons, subsistences, or intelligent agents, must be three distinct beings; and that three persons, or distinct intelligent agents, each of which is strictly and properly God, can make neither more nor less than three Gods: consequently, if what all admit respecting the divine unity be true, what many contend for respecting the trinity must be false. He may easily perceive that it is much safer to abide by a principle which compels universal assent, and which accords with the plainest
dictates of reason, than to admit notions which reason cannot comprehend, and about which christians have ever been divided. In the justness of this conclusion he will be confirmed by an attention to the plain language of scripture. When he finds that the first principle of the law was, Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord; that the first of all God's commands to his ancient church was, Thou shalt have no other Gods but me; that Jesus himself taught the same doctrine, and that the great apostle of the Gentiles insisted that to us there is but one God, the Father, he need not hesitate to reject, as erroneous, the trinitarian hypothesis with all its perplexities. Thus, by the exercise of common sense on the plain declarations of scripture, and a determined adherence to a principle which all admit, the unlearned may find their way out of a labyrinth in which so many have been bewildered, and find deliverance from absurdities which have for ages disturbed the christian world.
2. What relates to the future destinies of mankind must strike every person of reflection as most momentous. On this subject, however, the opinions of christians greatly differ. The majority suppose that the wicked will be tormented in hell fire to all eternity: some suppose that they will be totally destroyed and cease to exist for ever; while others think that the whole human race will be ultimately pure and happy. How is the unlearned christian, who has but little leisure for reading and study, to judge which of these opi
nions is true, and which erroneous? Let him bring them severally to the test of that leading truth of the gospel, that God is love, and that he acts in the character of a FATHER. It will naturally strike him that a being who is love is not likely to punish his creatures to all eternity; that it is impossible a loving father should either annihilate his offspring, or place them in eternal torments; but that it is agreeable to common sense to suppose he will find means to make them all ultimately virtuous and happy. He may justly reason that it is more likely for wise and good men to be mistaken, in the sense they give of a few phrases and detached passages of scripture, about which the most learned and pious differ, than that God should act inconsistently with what all agree is his revealed character and relation to mankind. By adhering to what is generally admitted to be a fundamental part of christian truth, the divine love and paternity, he may find relief from a variety of gloomy apprehensions, and attain to more cheering views of futurity.
3. While the christian world continue agitated by so many clashing opinions and perplexing notions respecting the person of Christ, how are plain men to know what to think on the subject? Let them steadily adhere to that first principle of christianity, which all parties admit, i. e. that the man Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the son of the living God; and receive or reject what is matter of controversy as it agrees or clashes with it. Common sense teaches that the same individual
person cannot be a being of two distinct orders at the same time. The same person cannot be a man and a creature of an inferior class; he cannot be of the angelic order and one of the human race; much less can he be the self-existent God and a creature at the same time. If the power of God transformed a man into an insect, it must cause him to cease to be a man; so if God chose to become man he must necessarily cease to be God; for things essentially distinct cannot become identical. Such are the dictates of common sense. As all christians admit that Christ was truly man, and this is so clearly the doctrine of the gospel that it cannot be questioned, the unlearned may safely reject as erroneous all notions concerning his person which are inconsistent with his true humanity.
4. All notions that are irreconcileable with the idea that Christ actually died and rose again must be false; for his death and resurrection are so plainly stated in the New Testament, that all christians admit their reality, and receive them as essential truths of the gospel. Common sense teaches that God could not die; consequently, that if Christ had been truly God he could not have died and risen from the dead; that the second person in the trinity could no more die than the first or third; and that, if the popular notion of the divinity of his person be true, the real Christ was incapable of dying. It follows that, as it cannot be denied that the real Christ died, not merely what was not essential to his existence, he could not be the true God.
5. While christians are divided about the doctrine of atonement and satisfaction for sins, they all agree that the free forgiveness of sins is an essential doctrine of christianity, and that the free mercy of God is plainly revealed in the gospel. The unlearned may decide between the contending parties, by bringing the points on which they differ to the test of those in which they agree. Nothing but common sense is necessary to teach an impartial person that if God be merciful he cannot be vindictive; that if he acts towards sinners on the ground of free mercy he does not stand upon sa tisfaction to his justice and the atonement of his wrath; and that, if he forgives sins freely, he does not cancel them on the ground of satisfaction having been previously made, by a righteous person, on behalf of the offender. Common sense must ever dictate that a debt cannot be both paid and freely forgiven; that the sentence of law cannot be executed and the offender pardoned.
6. Some christians contend that man will continue to live when he is dead, in a separate state, before he is raised from the grave; others contend that he will remain completely dead until the morn of the resurrection; all acknowledge that life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel, and that the future state of man is inseparably connected with the resurrection from the dead. Here again the illiterate has only to use his common sense in order to decide which opinion is most consonant with what both parties acknowledge to be an essential doctrine of christianity.