« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
us to the favour of the Almighty, then moral and theological truth is of no use to man. St. Paul was a zealous Jew, and verily believed, that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth ; so he breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the Christians. Did this belief justify blasphemy and persecution ? and is it to be inferred, that when a man really believes error, he is, by the reality of his belief, constituted virtuous ? This would open a door to all the evils of the most outrageous fanaticism, and abrogate the whole moral law, under pretence of conscience.
With all this sincerity of belief, St. Paul styles himself the chief of sinners, because he had persecuted without a warrant, had culpably and rashly overlooked (what he might and ought to have seen), that Jesus was no subverter of the Jewish law,
that he was no enemy to the God and King of Israel, but came indeed from him, acted by his commission, and displayed all the signs and credentials of the Messiah, in whom the law and the prophets were finally to be completed.
No firmness of persuasion, can authorize a man to act wrong, on the pretence of conscience—we should learn even to suspect the possibility of guilt's mixing itself with what we call our speculative opinions. Error may be innocent; but not as long as truth lies before us, and we may, if we do our duty, discover it.
In matters of religion, the legislature has wisely and liberally conceded to every subject of the realm, the right of private judgment, but let it be a judgment of discretion.
The Scriptures teach one faith only, which, like the sun, was intended to enlighten the whole world; and if without using those means of coming to the knowledge of the truth, which God has put into our hands, men, after a slight inspection of particular texts, select from them opposite creeds, (as fancy or caprice may dictate,) there will be little prospect of arriving at a reasonable certainty with regard to the correct interpretation of scripture.
The only mode, of determining differences, is by, a recurrence to first principles, to trace the stream to the fountain head, or to appeal to that primitive, church, which was nearest to the times of the apostles. To this test the author confidently refers, relying on the indulgence and candour of the public, for a serious and patient perusal.
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and
vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ; for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead; bodily." Col. ii, 8, 9.
CHRISTIANITY, in its infant state, was attacked by two formidable adversaries ; the Jew and the Gentile, both well qualified and not less disposed to give it a severe examination.
It was first proposed to the Jews (warmly attached to the Mosaic institution ill understood), and its pretentions were to be tried by the correspondence of its principles and history, to the doctrine and predictions of their sacred books. The writings of the Jews to which the appeal lay, are in all hands; and with what triumphant superiority the followers of our Saviour reasoned from them, we see in their numerous publi
cations still extant, and especially in those of the great apostle St. Paul ;-so that if all the scriptural learning, and all the bigotry of Judaism could not obstruct the rise of Christianity, as we know it did not, it may fairly be presumed that truth and reason were on its side.
From the Jews, we turn to the Gentiles, flourishing in arts and letters, and at that time devoted to an idolatry, grown venerable by its antiquity, and calculated to captivate the many, by the pomp of its rites, the magnificence of its temples, and the gaity of its festivals. The pride of Gentile wisdom, at first kept its professors from taking more than a superficial view of the new religion. But its rapid progress among the people, added to its declared purpose, of prescribing the faith and regulating the manners of mankind, broke through this real or affected indifference, roused at length the attention of the great and wise; and provoked the zeal of both, to shew itself in every species of hostility. The great persecuted, the learned reasoned ; yet the disciples of Jesus made such a luminous defence of the doctrines of