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periods a chosen few have always cherished and fed that sacred flame, whence the lamps of pure doctrine and the glow of celestial piety might be rekindled, and diffuse anew their renovating light and generous warmth. The sacred oracles predict that offences would certainly come; that, because iniquity should abound, the love of many would wax cold;a that, when there had been a falling away first, the man of sin would be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God;" that antichrist should come, and that his coming would be after the "working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." Thus it is manifest that the divine Spirit foretold -gross corruptions both in doctrine and morals; and ecclesiastical history and daily observation evince how exactly the prediction has been verified to a most deplorable extent. Many ages may yet elapse before this corruption is purged away, and genuine Christianity restored. It may be fairly questioned if it exists in all its purity in any one Christian church on earth. The grand
a Matt. xviii. 7; xxiv. 12.
b 2 Thess. ii. 3, 4.
d 2 Thess. ii. 9, 10.
fundamental principles are preserved in those spiritual communities which, under the blessed light and influence of the Reformation, have been delivered from popish corruption and tyranny. But, in many other respects, particularly in discipline and morals, all of them are still removed from the pure standards prescribed in the sacred scriptures, and ought fervently to pray God to purify them more and more by the influences of the holy Spirit.
The sacred scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and manners. These every Christian is bound to study according to his capacity. If he does so with a sincere love of truth, with a mind open to conviction, and, above all, with a desire of manifesting his faith by the integrity of his life, he will not fail to obtain the divine assistance to render him "wise unto salvation;""" and whatever errors his honest understanding, in regard to inferior points, may adopt, the gracious Judge of mankind will not, through the Redeemer's merits, impute these to him as transgressions, since, "if there be but a willing mind, it will be accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." "If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether Jesus spake of himself."
a 2 Tim. iii. 15.
b 2 Cor. viii. 12.
c John vii. 17.
Such is the view of the Christian scheme which I have attempted to unfold in the four great branches into which I divided it; the facts on which it rests; the doctrines which it delivers, as established by these; its moral precepts, as intimately connected with these doctrines; and the means for preserving and propagating both, which it has provided. Of this sketch the scriptures of the New Testament have exclusively furnished the materials, and I am not conscious of having, in order to serve the purposes of any particular sect, or of maintaining any system of human opinions, stated any thing which I am not convinced to be authorized by this only infallible standard. I have already observed that as there has not hitherto been, so it cannot be expected that, in the present state of human nature, there ever will be perfect unanimity among the professors of Christianity, with respect even to what may be deemed fundamental articles of faith. The most likely method of obtaining an approximation to this unanimity appears to be, to adhere as closely as possible on every point to the expressions of scripture itself, either in the original languages, or in the most accurate translations, and not to consider as essential what may be drawn from these by remote or circuitous inference. Doctrinal inferences, unless they flow from the dictates of scripture as clearly as corollaries from a mathe
matical demonstration, are nothing more than human opinions; and how often have such been obtruded on mankind as the declarations of God himself! Further, any dogma which has little or no connexion with the general purpose of the gospel, or which is not clearly and repeatedly expressed in scripture, or which seems repugnant to reason and common sense, can never be supposed to be delivered as a general article of faith. This principle is so evident, that it is astonishing that it has not uniformly been applied to determine what is to be regarded as fundamental. No person conversant with ecclesiastical history will deny that several articles, thus characterized, were introduced into the Christian system, only when men, attempting "to think above that which is written," perverted scripture, to the sanctioning of their own rash and dogmatical speculations, and dared to determine what Christ and his apostles have not clearly revealed. To these opinions, as peculiarly their own, men have, under pretext of their being the dictates of the spirit of truth, often attached much greater importance than to the clear and undisputed "words of eternal life.” Neither can it be denied, that expressions merely figurative have most erroneously been understood in a literal sense; that others have been
removed from their connexion on which their true signification entirely depends; and that propositions, limited by the circumstances to which they were originally applied, have absurdly, and I may add, perniciously, been converted into general and unvarying truths. Doctrines have thus been violently wrung from particular passages of scripture, and supported with a violence still greater than that which produced them. The following words of Lord Bacon are particularly deserving of attention.
"Seeing the precepts and dictates of scriptures were written and directed to the heart and thoughts of men, and comprehend the vicissitudes of all ages, with an eternal and certain foresight of all heresies, contradictions; differing and mutable states of the church, as well in general, as of the elect in special; they are to be interpreted according to the latitude and proper sense of the place, and respectively toward that present occasion whereupon the words were uttered; or in precise congruity from the context of the precedent and subsequent words; or in contemplation of the principal scope of the place; but so as we conceive them to comprehend, not only totally and collectively, but distributively in clauses and in every word, infinite springs and streams of doctrine to water every part of the church, and the spirits of the faithful. For it hath been excellently observed, that