« ForrigeFortsæt »
world, which will certainly save the soul. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” By faith the soul is rested on Christ alone for salvation. Without this faith, it is impossible that the act by which we are to be saved can be performed; and as there “is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Christ alone-if he be discredited and rejected, we perish of course. You perceive, then, that faith is not a mere speculative, inoperative crediting of a fact; but that it is required and is essential, on account of the use that is to be made of it--the influence that it is to have practically on its possessor. Men may quarrel if they will with this appointment of their Creator; but it is utterly false to say that faith produces no practical effect, which may not be produced on those who want it. He who has faith-I repeat-rests for salvation on the only and the all sufficient Saviour: he who has not faith, must rest on some false foundation, which will certainly be swept away in the hour of his utmost necessity:
The connexion between truth and duty is made the subject of a section, in a summary given of the fundamental principles of our church, in the introduction to the Form of Government.. It stands thus: “ Truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, is its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Saviour's rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.' And no opinion can be either more pernicious, or more absurd, than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man's opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded, that there is an inseparable connexion between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth, or to embrace it."
This section was intended directly to counteract a loose and dangerous notion, which is very prevalent in the world, and is recommended by the guise of liberality, or enlarged charity, which it assumes, and of which it always boasts. The notion to which I refer is commonly expressed in these words—“ It is no matter what a man believes, if his life be right.” Mr. Pope, who was infinitely a better poet than a divine or casuist, and who is known to have borrowed the leading principles of his moral system from the infidel Bolingbroke, has lent his sanction to this absurd and pernicious notion.-He says
“ For modes of faith let graceless bigots fight,
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.”
It is highly probable that the sentiment I combat has derived not a little of its currency from this very couplet. Let us then examine it carefully. For “graceless bigots," who “fight" for religion, we make no apology. Let them receive all the reprehension and all the ridicule with which any one may be disposed to treat them. Fighting for religion, either with military arms, or with words dictated by angry and malevolent passions, is contrary to the whole scope and spirit of the gospel
. “The weapons of this warfare are not carnal,” but spiritual; although they are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” of error. But is it true, that "a man's faith cannot be wrong, if his life is in the right?” Let us try to ascertain clearly, if we can, what is meant by this assertion. In a certain sense a man's life comprises all his thoughts, words, and actions; and, of course, if these be all right, his faith will be right. But Mr. Pope certainly did not mean to express such a bald truism as this. He doubtless meant to express precisely the notion already stated in other words that if a man's external conduct be right, it is no matter what is his faith, or what he believes.” Now, in regard to this I remark, that a supposition is here made of what does not take place in fact, except partially in a few rare instances, and these of such a character as to be unworthy of approbation or imitation: and therefore I deny the truth and justice of the proposition altogether, and maintain that
it promulges a most dangerous practical error. It is calculated, and was really intended to teach, that a man may lead a good life, let his faith be what it may; and consequently that belief or inward principle, is of little or no account-having no necessary or natural connexion with right conduct. It has already been shown, and I hope satisfactorily, that the heart searching God judges of our character entirely by what is within us-Outward conduct is nothing in his sight, further than as it is the fair expression of the temper of our hearts, and the nature of our motives; and consequently if these be wrong, our final judge will condemn us, be our visible practice what it may. But I ask can our principles and motives be all wrong, and yet the outward conduct be right? We indeed readily and gladly make the admission, that from the influence of early education in establishing right feelings, or from not seeing the legitimate tendency of their own principles, or from the predominancy of common sense and the strong perception of moral obligation, men sometimes act much better than we should expect them to do, from the sentiments which they avow. In every such case we are wont to say, and with great propriety, that the man's heart is better than his head. Even here, however, you observe, the heart is supposed to be right-the intellect only is perverted. But is such a man to be held up as an example, or as exhibiting the general effect of in ward principle on outward conduct? No, assuredly. He acts rightly only because he acts inconsistently. And there is always danger that he will discover his inconsistency; and on doing so, that he will change his good conduct, rather than his bad reasoning
I confess I hardly know how to reason with a man, who would maintain that my faith and opinions have not a natural and almost necessary influence on my outward conduct. Such an influence they must have, if I do not play the hypocrite, or act irrationally. An honest, reasonable, and consistent man, always acts agreeably to the principles which
he has imbibed, and the opinions which he maintains. It is this which gives him the character he sustains. To act otherwise, is ever considered as proceeding from weakness, from cowardice, or from dissimulation. I know of no dictate of common sense, or any self evident truth, more clear, than that a rational being, so far as he acts rationally and honestly, must act agreeably to what he believes to be right: which is only saying, in other words, that his faith must have a natural influence on his pràctice.
Those who deny the connexion between truth and duty, faith and practice, must surely set some bounds to their system. If not, what, I ask, is the use, in any case, of endeavouring to discover moral truth? If truth and falsehood are exactly on a footing, as to a good influence on the mind and on practice, there is surely little reason to be inquisitive or zealous in regard to truth. Yet these very men are earnest contenders for what they affirm to be truth. But further—will they maintain that a man may be an atheist, be free from all fear of a judgment to come, believe that there is no such thing as moral obligation, and that he is the wisest man who takes the largest share of present sensual gratification; and yet be as good a man, and as good a member of society, as a truly pious Christian? Is not the whole experience of the world arrayed against such doctrine? Does not that experience demonstrate, that so far as the atheistical and other corrupt sentiments I have mentioned are known to be embraced by an individual, they render him, in general estimation, a moral monster; and that so far as they prevail in a community, they are destructive of all order, peace, safety, and happiness, in society-overturning it from its very foundations? And yet to all this length will the system I oppose go, if carried to its full extent. It is therefore false and pernicious, and that in the highest degree.
Having now shown that there is an indissoluble connexion between truth and duty, faith and practice, inward principle and outward conduct, I think
it proper and important to observe, that it belongs not to us to determine the exact degree of erroneous faith, which may consist with holding what is essential to salvation. This is known only to God. And here we find the proper and ample ground of true Christian charity; so far as it has a bearing on this subject. We may believe that an individual is in many respects erroneous, and yet hope that he holds all essential truth-That, although, agreeably to the Scripture representation, he has been building with much swood, hay, and stubble,” which will be burned, and he suffer loss; still he may be saved, “ yet so as by fire."
Be reminded, however, and remember it carefully, that when you make allowance for the errors of others, this is not to admit that they are not errors. Think not that these errors will consist with innocence, or even with safety, in yourselves. They may not be incompatible with salvation in another, and yet they may be so in you. Your light and information may give you a responsibility which others have not; and no'error is too small to be avoided. Never yield to the idle talk, which you will probably often hear, " that all religions are equally good.” Alas! the world abounds with religions which are ruinously bad. You may believe, too, that salvation may be possible in a particular religion, without allowing it to be as good, or half as good, as another; just as I may admit that a certain vehicle may possibly carry an individual to the place of his destination in safety, without admitting that this vehicle is at all to be compared with another--Another may be safer, easier, swifter, and in all respects incomparably better.
My dear youth-it is a prevalent and lamentable evil of this age and place, that a large proportion of the people have no consistent or digested system of religious sentiments and principles. They have picked up one opinion here, and another there: these opinions they have never closely examined; they have never compared them carefully with the Scriptures, the standard of truth: they live along-uncom