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turn. In these circumstances it is not a little surprising, that a man's courage and consistency prove sufficient to bear him up under the oppressive consciousness that he really possesses very little, if any, valid claim to the distinction at which he aims. Yet, we have no doubt that, by a little practice, the difficulty of retaining self-possession, and of exhibiting all the ordinary marks of sincerity, may be easily surmounted. We are disposed to think that the state of mind produced in such situations, approaches very near to that most extraordinary of all intellectual phenomena, a complete self-imposed, mental fraud, or a state of sincere credence, growing by degrees out of a false conception, of whose falsity the mind must be either fully or in part conscious, when it is first admitted. By familiarity with the illusion, those sensations of disgust and disapprobation which accompanied its first reception, are lost; and when this association between the object and its appropriate emotion is dissolved, the object itself will appear to the apprehension, divested of those qualities which were the original basis of the association, and come at last to be contemplated in a light the very reverse, and possessed of qualities the complete opposites, of those with which, at first, it stood connected. It is obvious that this process is greatly facilitated whenever interest, or passion, or prejudice, or inveterate habits, incapacitate the judgement for its full exercise, and invite the heart into the snare.
The case may admit of many palliations, in reference to sciences purely human. A man, though he may suspect the fact, may not be thoroughly aware how distant he is from any thing bordering on proficiency, in the science he professes to teach; the materials of a sounder knowledge may never have fallen in his way; they may occupy a wide extent, and be attended, in the acquisition, with many difficulties, which he is naturally incapacitated to surmount. These things may have aided the imposition which he has practised upon himself, and therefore ought at least to soften the censure which judges may be disposed to pass upon him. There are many tendencies and temptations to take up with superficial knowledge in secular sciences. But this is not the case with that science which is purely Divine. Similar palliations cannot be found in this case, as in the other, for the man who, with an utter ignorance of the very first principles of Divine truth, sets up, either with or without the important consideration of being an authorized teacher, for a proficient, because the great and exclusive depository of Divine truth, is equally accessible to all it is the first and the last thing, by way of an authority, which its disciples have to consult; and it is so constructed, as to be completely within the compass of ordinary powers. These things, therefore, make ignorance less excusable, and detection more
certain; while they place all men who consult the original source of information, in an equally advantageous situation for judging, upon the principles of common sense, how far a teacher's views are, or are not, regulated by the ultimate standard. We would not be understood to say that no one man possesses greater advantages than another, for acquiring a critical or minute acquaintance with Divine truth; but simply, that the import of the word of God, in general, upon all the fundamental articles, is attainable with the utmost facility by all who are in the disposition required by Christ: "Except "ye become as little children, ye can in no wise enter into the "kingdom of heaven."
That the New Testament is neither an ambiguous nor a subtile book, we must be allowed to maintain, notwithstanding the painful consequence of being obliged to infer from it the mental guilt of many, who sincerely misinterpret its meaning. There is an error that may lie deeper in the heart, than in the intention. He who denies that any man can be culpably erroneous who is sincere, is driven to the necessity of denying, that revelation contains any distinct and definite disclosure of truth, or that it was intended for the common benefit of mankind. It may be to many minds, as it certainly is to our own, a distressing result, to be compelled to infer, in the case of an individual otherwise amiable and trustworthy, that notwithstanding he professes to have made revelation the subject of his careful and constant study, he is yet in a state of profound misapprehension of the essential dictates of Divine truth. Yet this has always appeared to us an inevitable consequence of having any definite views of truth; and it is surely an incomparably less evil, than affirming that revelation is so obscure, and so subtile, as to present insurmountable difficulties to the formation of any definite theory of truth; or that opposite theories may with equal plausibility be grounded upon it; or that no theory at all, or every theory, may be held with equal advantage to the moral and religious character. In some parts of these Dissertations, the Author seems to hold the latter of these principles, that is, when treating of the character of Christ. He thinks it of no importance whether he is believed to be man, or God; a Divine, or a human being: he is still a Saviour, in either case. But when he speaks of what he is pleased to call the popular and fushionable doctrines of grace, sudden conversion, death-bed repentance, separation from worldly amusements, &c., he then loses all his indifference, and does not hesitate boldly to declare his persuasion, that both teachers and taught are in an error as palpable as it is pernicious. Their perversity, and prejudice, and misinterpretation of the language of Scripture, and the guilt of their mental errors, are all charged upon them again and
again, with all those aggravations of the immoral tendencies of such sentiments, which disturbed the Author's imagination, in a style not altogether accordant with the charity he at first professes, and we think we may say at complete variance with truth and justice.
Now, we conceive that the claims of Scripture, as a Divine revelation, cannot be maintained, without holding that all they contain was designed to be believed; nor can their utility as a universal revelation be inferred, but upon the supposition of their simplicity and intelligibility.
Upon these principles we are unavoidably led to infer that these Dissertations are at utter variance, in many important points, with the dictates of revelation. We have not indeed often been so unfortunate as to meet with a volume so completely in opposition to all our established views of truth, and indeed to any thing like a rational and philosophical theory of morals and religion. It will be expected that we should exhibit some proof of our assertions, and we now address ourselves to the task of #briefly contrasting some of the Author's views, with the plain testimony of Scripture.
Mr. W. begins his Dissertations, with a chapter on Religion and Superstition, which, while it assumes to be at once philosophical and erudite, dwindles into the most jejune and idle common-place. The following specimens may prove satisfactory to those who wish for proof.
True religion discovers itself in rational acts of piety; in prosperity, it keeps the mind calm, feeling grateful acknowledgements to the Author of all good, and in the height of its gratitude keeping clear of intemperate exultations, deeply impressed with the uncertainty of all earthly joys. During sufferings and trials, religion teaches a patient submission to God's will: in our intercourse with the world, it manifests its influence, by honesty, integrity, and charity; and in private life by purity in all our thoughts, words, and actions. True religion produces humility; it claims not exemption from error; it treats with candour and toleration, those who differ from us in some principles; and shews its superior excellence by a readiness to do good even to enemies. True religion exemplifies that sublime and extensive charity so much celebrated by the Apostle, and acted up to by Jesus Christ.
False religion has many branches. Hypocrisy is false religion, assuming the name and the cover of religion, with its external services and appearances, to conceal the workings of an evil heart. The hypocrite covers himself with a mask, and acts under disguise. The hypocrite looks one way and acts another, keeps always in view some selfish purpose or some gratification, which he wishes to conceal. The hypocrite is always the foremost and the loudest in his professions. The character given of the Pharisees by our Lord, presents us with a finished picture of hypocrisy. pp. 1, 2.
But this is worthy of being delivered from a professor's chair, in comparison with much that follows.
After indulging us with a chapter, in which there is much that is objectionable, on Reason, (he means, the use of reason in religion,) he enters upon Faith. Among other passages of a very similar character, we have the following, which professes to be a solution of the question, Is faith essential to salvation?
But faith is particularly insisted upon as essential to salvation; and if we are to believe the doctrines of several churches, we are not to expect salvation, without we be fully possessed of this lively faith in Jesus Christ. I would not wish to advance any thing to diminish our opinion of the necessity of this divine virtue; but certainly many things may be offered to moderate this high doctrine, and to make it more consistent with the equity of the divine administration, and the unavoidable condition of men. In the first place, these churches who advance these high doctrines, differ widely among themselves, in what they advance as fundamental doctrines, each insisting that their principles, and their's only, lead to salvation. This consideration creates, therefore, some doubts regarding this doctrine. And again, not one of these churches is able to settle what are the articles that are to be regarded as essential, and, without the belief of all and each of which, we cannot attain to eternal happiness. But there is another important point to be settled, before we can establish this doctrine. If no man can be saved without faith in Christ, what must become of all those good men, who lived in the world before the coming of Christ, and who were ignorant of him, not through any fault of their own, but placed in such situations, by the appointment of God himself? And in like manner, what must become of all those, who have been in the world since the coming of Christ, but who have never had an opportunity of hearing his gospel, or the words of eternal life? And what can be said in behalf of those people adjoining to christian lands, pagans or mahometans, but who are bound down as fast by their prejudices, and prevented from knowing him, as ignorance or darkness can make them? And what is the situation of some upright and honest men, living among christians and professing christianity, and diligent and honest in their enquiries, yet have never been able arrive at that full faith which they eagerly seek after, and to such a degree, as to remove all apprehensions and doubts? It is sufficient to state these cases, and to leave them to the good sense and charitable decision of those, whose minds and understandings are not bound down by the fetters of prejudice. Is it possible to reconcile doctrines of this kind, with the equity of the divine administration? Or with the liberal declaration of our Lord? In what sense are we to understand, that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than for those to whom the gospel is preached, but who have not profited by it? These cities were cities of the most abominable wickedness. Their crimes were shocking to human nature; and if allowance shall be made for them, how much more must we expect
it, for those good and virtuous men, who have lived in heathen countries, ignorant, unavoidably ignorant of Jesus Christ? Men will be rendered accountable for the talents and privileges they have received, not for those which they never enjoyed.' pp. 54-57. • Making faith, this inward principle, the great test, and the sole test of the christian character, opens many doors to impositions; for it is easy for every profligate to set up pretensions to such attainiments. And people of this character, without any serious principles of religion, may be more positive and clamorous than the sincere and upright christian. Another unhappy consequence arises from this being the sole test, it encourages bad people to cherish their evil dispositions and vices, as having faith, they are satisfied that all is well. Further I have to remark, that this doctrine not only leads to impositions on the world, but it causes men themselves to fall into gross mistakes. It is not easy to make plain and simple people comprehend what is meant by faith; and this class is generally the dupe of such impositions. The act of believing may appear to them no more than giving their assent to such and such articles, as their spiritual guides may dictate, without making the smallest efforts to understand them, or any attempts to examine or enquire into their truth or falsehood. And they are deterred from examining or doubting, by being assured that their eternal salvation hangs upon the belief of such doctrines. A man may be a deceiver and hypocrite, an impostor, dishonest, fraudulent, an oppressor, and domestic tyrant; yet all these may be overlooked, but to be guilty of this kind of heresy can never be forgiven. We hear much of dangerous doctrines, of damnable doctrines, but not so often of damnable actions.' pp. 57, 58.
Upon this passage, so remarkable above all things for inconclusiveness of reasoning, we have to notice, that the Author has completely overlooked the nature of that faith which is defined to be saving, by the theorists whom he endeavours to controvert. We know of no sober Calvinists who wish to separate faith from its effects. They consider its validity as. discoverable only by its effects, and perpetually teach that
faith without works is dead.". Again, with regard to the dilemma to which he thinks he has reduced the advocate for the necessity of faith, we must be permitted to say, that all the consequences he enumerates are equally applicable to the unquestionable import of Scripture, and we transfer them to that authority which says, "The whole world lieth in the wicked one;" and "Without faith it is impossible to please God."
We are not prepared, nor is it necessary for us, to say, how God will deal with those who have had no opportunity of believing the Gospel; but of all those who have, we know it is said, "He that believeth not shall be damned;" and, "If ye "believe not that I am He, ye sbal! die in your sins."
At page 77, on the inutility of dark doctrines, Mr. Watson says,
If this then be the case, what are we to say to those in