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advantageously circumstanced for all necessary information, as to hesitate in my conclusion? The application is, in promptu. And it is a matter that we must not forget, that the late Dr. Worthington, and other eminent characters now living, assure us, that the world grows better, and therefore that the ancients are less entitled to our credit and confidence than the moderns. Again,
§6. 3. The attempt to "determine by history what "was the faith of Christians in early times, indepen"dently of any aid from the scripture, that we may "thereby gather what was the doctrines of the apos"tles," has been long ago solidly refuted, and justly exploded by the great Chillingworth, and other eminent Protestants, in their controversy with the Papists. There is no admitting of it but at the expense of one of the noblest principles, and strongest pillars of the reformation from popery: "That the scripture is the only "rule whereby to judge of controversies;" and it appears to me that the revival of it into a rule would directly tend to restore the popish privilege of rendering blind obedience to our spiritual guides. For every attempt to explain scripture by scripture principles, would be checked as wrong and dangerous, while the unlearned, that is, the body of the Christian church, would be called upon to embrace, on the word of a few learned, and every Christian church on the ipse dixit of its pastor, however unqualified to make a fair report, to submit to the opinions of the ancient church for their guide: which leads at once to imposition and imposture on the one hand, and to blind obedience, superstition, and an abject deference to human authority in matters of conscience on the other. Besides,
$7. 4. The above method of proceeding is plainly reproved by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. For it is the same principle must give it life as was adopted by the Jewish doctors, which taught them to appeal, on every occasion, from revealed evidence to human traditions, or a pretended oral law; the sayings and opinions of their ancients, which they reckoned a good guide for the right understanding of the
Mosaic writings. But this pretended guide, instead of being honored and recommended, is by our Lord opposed and reproved, Matt. xv; Mark vii, &c. Nor does it make any difference, in the present argument, whether the human traditions and opinions be written or unwritten.
§8. 5. The scheme proposed is, moreover, highly untheological in its consequence; for it is inconsistent not only with human fallibility, but also with free agency and accountableness. In physics, indeed, we may often with certainty infer the cause from the effect; but in ethics and religion, where the morality of an act, or the truth of an opinion, is in debate, it is absurd to say, that because a fallible creature acts or thinks in this or that manner, he therefore ought to do so; nay, it is so untheological that it strikes at the root of all religion, natural and revealed. For if men confessedly imperfect and uninspired are not always liable to err, they are not free, and therefore not accountable. Therefore the "opinions" of such persons, though they lived in the apostolic age, and supposing them to be exactly ascertained, can be no safe medium of proof. They are utterly incapable of affording us any objective certainty, any more than ours to those who shall come after us. Their antiquity makes no difference, because that does not alter their nature; nor does it much matter, for the same reason, whether they are few or many. Wherefore without better materials, whether orthodox or heterodox, the controversial warrior will do little execution on a reflecting, judicious mind, though he should charge his "cannon" with them, together with his "small arms.'
§9. 6. I shall venture a step farther, and profess to you, dear sir, that the method you propose for settling our opinions, appears to me illogical; as teaching us to infer the truth of the premises from the fact of the conclusion. In other words, it makes the conclusions of men, who were fallible and fickle as ourselves, and which they pretended to draw from the premises of revelation, to be a safer guide by which to form our judgment, than revelation compared with itself, the
premises from which they professedly inferred their conclusion; that is, we are led by it to assume a fallible conclusion, and from the gratuitous assumption to pronounce upon the truth of the premises.
$10. 7. Once more; if we have no better guide than this, we are exposed as a prey to perpetual skepticism, it being insufficient from its very nature to settle the mind. If this guide leads any one to the temple of truth, it is by accident, and not because it was ever designed for that end; we cannot, therefore, put any confidence in it while we are following its footsteps; the event would always appear dubious, and the prospect of success would never be sufficient to counterbalance the toil. In short, it directly tends (supposing the sole motive of the inquirer to be the love of truth) to retard the pace of industry, and to clip the wings of genius; and, therefore, can be no genuine friend to free inquiry.
I think, sir, that thus far I have stood on firm ground in my reasoning; there is no theological truth to be found, in which we may put any confidence, without some data, some first principles of this Divine science, possessed of objective certainty; but the foundation you have chosen for your polemical building is an uncertain one, and the guide you recommend is, in my apprehension, a "very bad" one; seeing it is so far from lessening our difficulties, as Christians and theologians, that it considerably increases them; it is found to be insufficient from the experience of all ages, and undeniable facts; it is what our most eminent reformers from Popery, and Protestant polemics, have solidly refuted in their opposition to blind obedience, church authority over conscience, and arbitrary power; it is reproved and condemned, in its principle by our Lord himself; is untheological, as incompatible with the moral state of man in this life of fallibility and imperfection; is contrary to the rules of just reasoning, by gratuitously assuming the conclusion of the practical syllogism included in it; and, finally, is deserving of a charge of no small magnitude, its being of a skeptical tendency. What weight my arguments have in
opposition to the fundamental principles of your controversial and historical writings against the orthodox faith, is left to your candid examination, and the ver-' dict of the impartial public.
$11. Having shown the necessity of some principles, as data peculiar to the science of which we treat, and endeavored to shew the insufficiency of what you substitute for that purpose, it may naturally be expected, that I should be explicit in avowing what is it that I judge deserving of that important claim; and this I very willingly do, but with the greatest brevity; seeing it would seem impertinent to defend in form, what you have not in form attacked. My data then are, Divine Revelation, and that only, and the whole of it. And it appears to me on the maturest reflection, that if Divine revelation self-compared doth not answer that purpose, nothing else will; and that whatever else is set up for that purpose, is demonstrably fallacious. "The positive evidence of scripture (as I "have observed elsewhere) holds the same rank in the"ology, as experimented evidence does in reference to "any hypothesis in philosophy. As, in the latter case, "there is no disputing in favor of a system against "facts, phenomena, and experiments; so in the former "case, no reasoning can be valid in opposition to posi"tive evidence, or express discernible authority."* Common sense, right reason, the opinions of the good and great, &c. have their use, and an important use in their proper places; but they are no data in Christianity. As to the order of investigation, preceding revelations, and Divinely authenticated facts, are the only safe rule by which we ought to examine any particular part of scripture. Every foregoing dispensation of religion, and indeed every revealed fact is, I may say, a torch lighted in heaven, to illuminate those that follow, until we come to the "sealing of prophecy," or the end of the canon; and every succeeding one, to the last, reflects a still more abundant light on all that went before. Wherefore, let all that revere the au
*Antipedob. Examined, chap iii, §2.
thority of heaven, all the friends of revelation and rational inquiry, attend more to this light that shineth in a dark place, and not (I mean as the principal, and only safe means) not to the false lights of human opinions (early or late) in the church, by following which we expose ourselves to wandering and danger every step of our road, while in pursuit of truth and happiness.
$12. If it be objected, That a diversity of opinions still obtains among those, who are agreed in their data, and method of inquiry, I would briefly reply in the following particulars:
1. To urge this objection is the same as to urge that men do not form their opinions mechanically, but freely; and that some of them reason falsely. But what then? Shall I depreciate and reject a rule, concluding it is not a good one, because I know not how to use it?
2. The objection implies, as far as it has any force, that men are not accountable for their mistakes, nor liable to make any, provided their means are sufficient; which amounts to little less than self-contradiction. It is much the same as to object against an experiment, an accurate experiment, in philosophy, because the consequences, which the learned draw from it, are various.
3. While men are free and accountable, it is no less necessary, that the disposition of the mind be right, than that the principle be well chosen. Free inquiry of itself will never insure success, without a right use of that freedom. This is the only way, that I know of, to avoid bad consequences, and any other, short of this, must prove abortive.
But let us not forget, that the good disposition which we need for this purpose, is not only to be cultivated by the use of means, but also is to be received, in the habits of it, from the Divine favor, as a matter of gospel promise. If there is any thing of a spiritual nature promised in the word of God, there is the promise of a Divine influence to be obtained by asking for it; that is, importunate seeking in God's appointed