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AGAINST INDIFFERENCE TO RELIGIOUS TRUTII.
II THESS. ii, 10.
HESE words are a part of that celebrated portion of the epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, in which he foretels the grand apostacy. It seems, that these converts to the Christian religion had misinterpreted some expressions made use of by him in a former letter, and in consequence of it inferred, that the day of judgment was to take place immediately. This filled their minds with great alarms. The apostle, as soon as he heard of their apprehensions, wrote to them a second letter to rectify their mistake, in which he intreats them not to be troubled by any supposed verbal or epistolary revelation of his, as if the day of Christ were at hand; for that before that event there was to be a great falling away from the simplicity of Christian truth, which it would take many years to carry to it's full extent, and
many more to correct. This apostacy he represents under the figure of a man, whom he calls the man of sin, meaning however not an individual being, but a certain power, which
be exhibited in that character. He points out the exorbitant nature of his claims, when he
says, that he will exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, i. e. above the power of the civil magistrate, who in the language of prophecy is called God. The means, by which these exorbitant claims 'would be established, are likewise particularly specified. His coming is said to be with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, i.e. with false pretences to miracles. The cause of his success in such extraordinary pretensions and false proofs is mentioned in the text; it is because Christians who would be thus imposed upon would not love the truth, that is, they would feel no attachment to the Gospel of Christ int it's pure and simple state, but would be indifferent to it. This indifference would prevent them from making that opposition to the encroachments of errour and tyranny, which would be necessary for withstanding them with success, and would permit this antichristian power to establish itself upon the ruins of the Gospel.
Many persons have employed themselves since the period of the reformation in tracing the origin of this extraordinary perversion of the simple religion of Jesus, and have with good reason, I apprehend, attributed it to various causes ; such as men's being ashamed of a crucified master ; their having a desire to assimilate Christianity to Paganism, in order to make proselytes of those who were still Pagans, or to please those who, having become Christians, felt a hankering after their old ceremonies; to the conversion of learned heathens, who introduced their old
philosophy into their new religion; to the kņavery and ambition of priests; and to several other circumstances, which separately or combined together produced this wonderful change. But all these causes would have produced no effect, had they not been aided by that which we have just mentioned, an indifference to the truth in those who professed the Gospel. This the apostle declares would be the grand source of the mischief. Accordingly, “while men slept the enemy sowed tares”. The church of Rome is a vast fabric, the work of many centuries, in which one story has been piled upon another till it has reached the heavens ; but how high soever it has risen, it rests upon an indifference to truth. This is the foundation, upon which the whole edifice is erected, and without which it could not have been raised. The apostle indeed mentions another reason afterward, as the ground of this corruption; for he tells us, that they would not only disbelieve the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness. The latter expression, however, is perhaps only to be regarded as an explanation of the former : those who love not the truth would be fond of those errours, upon which unrighteous claims and vicious practices would be founded.
The natural conse, quences and just punishment of such a temper would be delusion and oppression. I shall not now endeavour to show
the value of Christian truth, to which this passage refers, by pointing out it's tendency above every other system to im
prove and perfect the human character, which how. ever might easily be done; but taking it for granted, that every one will admit of the apostle's authority in assigning the cause of the grand apostacy in this prophetic declaration, I shall mention some instances, in which an indifference to truth, which has been described as being the cause of so much mischief, is manifested, in order that we may be on our guard against this pernicious principle, and avoid hereby the evils which others have suffered, or recover the truths which they have lost. It must be interesting to every one, who knows what are the symptoms of a disorder which has produced evils of so serious a nature, and more especially, if there be some who labour under the malady, without suspecting that they are afflicted with it.
1. Those are indifferent to Christian truth, who will not inquire into the foundation upon which it is built. Respecting some it may be observed, that whatever sentiments they have been taught in early life by their parents or other instructors they always retain, without once inquiring seriously, whether the religion they profess contain any evidence of having come from God, or whether what they have received from others as the religion of Jesus be really the genuine Christian doctrine. Such men may possibly be right in regard to what they believe, and may have embraced a faith, which the fullest inquiry would afford them no reason to change. But the goodness of their faith is wholly owing to
chance, and not to their own active exertions. With different instructors, they would have thought differently. They are now Christians and Protestants, because born in a Christian and Protestant country; but born at Rome, they would have been Papists, and at Constantinople Mahometans. Nor is there any system of religion so absurd, which men may not be taught to believe, if they receive it without inquiry.
I do not say, that such a faith is wholly useless, and that the Christian religion, implicitly believed, produces no good effects, for it may have considerable influence upon the conduct, upon whatever ground it is received: but it is evidently insecure. Let those who have such a faith be exposed to strong temptations, to vicious indulgences, let them only hear the arguments of unbelievers, and they will easily be induced first to doubt the truth of their religion, and afterward to renounce it altogether. Or while their faith in Christianity remains unshaken, let them hear inculcated by persons of authority and influence principles different from those which they have been used to believe, and let the reception ofthose principles be the way to distinction and fame, and they will readily embrace the new doctrine for the old. It was in this way, no doubt, that the early Christians were induced to embrace the errours of the grand apostacy; they had neglected to found their faith upon an examination of the Scriptures ; and whatever ignorance and fraud might recommend