« PrécédentContinuer »
Yea, it is plain you have no notion of any possible way for you to judge of your neighbour's belief, whether it be what you call orthodox or not, but by comparing it with your creed, i. e. with what you believe to be the true sense of Scripture. For, as you say, (p. 20.) 'having settled your principles according to your understanding of Scripture, you do necessarily judge of particular cases according to them, or agreeable to your own judgment of the true meaning of the Scriptures. Nor indeed, sir, has any body else any other way of judging. For there can be no other. And in fact, all parties, however they differ in their disputes, yet agree to a tittle in their conduct. They all have but one and the same way to judge of their neighbour's orthodoxy, viz. by comparing their neighbour's profession, with what they themselves believe to be the true meaning of Scripture, i. e. with their own creed. For we must judge by what we believe to be the true sense of Scripture, or not make the Scripture our rule of judgment, in any respect at all 1.
So that it is plain, that all the great zeal, loud out-cries, and hot disputes against creeds and confessions, being used as a test of orthodoxy, must have arisen from some misunderstanding of the case; or else men have not been honest; but rather disputed against creeds in general, merely because they hate and want to get rid of the established creed of their country. Had it not been for this circumstance, they might have been as great friends to creeds and confessions as any of their neighbours. Now which of these, my friend, is the case with you? Do you hate Calvinism? Do you dispute against creeds, because you disbelieve our confession of faith, and
7 The admirers of Dr. Taylor look upon those as orthodox, who understand the Scripture as he has explained it. For they esteem his writings,' as being a just exposition of the word of God in those doctrines or articles which are contained in them. Nor would they choose a man to instruct their children in divinity, who did not judge of truth and error, as Dr. Taylor does. And why should they condemn that in others, which they approve of in themselves? Or why should they desire to misrepresent it to the world, when at the same time, rightly understood, they and all the world must agree to justify it? Let them confute, if they can, what we mean to maintain. Or if they know they cannot, let them own it; and not try to blacken, by misrepresentations, what they dare not but justify, rightly represented
want to get rid of it? No, you say; the man is guilty of scandal who imputes any such corrupt design to you.' (p. 28.) Very well, sir; it remains therefore, that your dislike of creeds, as tests of orthodoxy, must be founded on some mistaken notion of the thing. Which mistaken notion, were it removed, all the dislike of so orthodox, and so honest a man, would immediately cease. And accordingly it is observable, that having in your letter granted the whole I designed, by my three questions, to lead gentlemen on your side to feel they must grant; or turn skeptics, on the one hand; or deprive particular Christian communities of their right to judge for themselves, and act according to their own consciences, on the other; I say, having granted the whole I designed, you state a question absolutely of your own making, and set yourself to dispute against a point no denomination of Christians ever professed to maintain. To be sure, it appears to me so very absurd, that instead of its being espoused by almost all Christians since the reign of Constantine the great, as you imagine, I very much doubt whether there ever was in any age, so much as one man of tolerable sense that meant to hold it. You indeed insinuate that a certain gentleman maintains it. But I dare say you can no sooner get him to believe it, than you can to believe that the same thing may be, and not be, in the same sense, and at the same time. And it is not fair to put a meaning to a man's words he never intended.
VI. The question you dispute against, is this,' whether particular Christian communities, having drawn up in writing a confession of faith, agreeable to their present judgment of the true sense of Scripture, have not just right and authority to IMPOSE it on themselves, and all their members, as a test of orthodoxy, and term of communion; and for the future use it as such?' (p. 6.) By the word 'IMPOSE,' you afterwards explain yourself to mean, "they oblige themselves to use it as a test of orthodoxy as long as they live; even although they are in fact afterwards convinced that it is not orthodox." Or, in other words, "they bind themselves to believe, profess, and practise according to it, and not to alter in the least, although they see just cause for alteration. (p. 11-19.
Strange notion! Bind themselves not to alter their belief, although afterwards they see just reason for it! But if I do, in fact, see just reason to alter my belief, i. e. what appears to me to be just reason, I cannot but alter my belief. It is not in my power to believe a doctrine to be taught in Scripture, while at the same time I am fully convinced it is not taught there. And no man living ever meant to oblige himself to this. Indeed, it would be to oblige himself to an absolute contradiction; to believe a thing to be, and not to be, in the same sense, and at the same time. For, as I before said, a creed consists of a number of articles, which I believe are taught in the sacred Scriptures. And therefore said articles are not my creed, if I do not believe that they are taught in Scripture. But to believe they are taught in Scripture, and to believe that they are not taught in Scripture, at the same time, is to believe a thing to be and not to be; which is what you must be sensible, on the least reflection, no man ever meant to do. If the church of Rome is vain enough to believe herself infallible; yet she never was so absurd as professedly to oblige herself to persevere in her belief of her own infallibility, although in time to come she should be fully convinced of her mistake.
But to believe they are
'They may not alter their principles,' (you say, p. 11.) or at least their profession afterwards, thougli on further inquiry they should think they had mistaken the sense of Scripture at first;' i. e. they are obliged to proceed to silence a minister, or censure a private christian, as an heretic, directly against the light of their own consciences, when they are fully persuaded they are sound in the faith, the error not being in them, but in their own creeds. To set which notion in all its horrors, you tell a long story of a church trial, carried on upon this scheme, and conclude with saying, 'That if the church have a right to make a contrary judgment, if they see just reason for it,' then tests of orthodoxy must be given up. (p. 19.) So that this is the precise notion of tests of orthodoxy with which you are so terribly frighted, and against which you dispute so zealously, as having in all ages of the church been the grand source of all imposition, tyranny, and persecution. Although at the same time it does not appear that this notion
of a test of orthodoxy, was ever embraced by any Christian church in the world.
Among all the reformed churches, none are more zealous for creeds and confessions, as tests of orthodoxy, than the church of Scotland. And Mr. Dunlop, professor of divinity in the university of of Edinburgh, in his preface to their confession, who wrote to show the justice, reasonableness, and necessity of it, as a PUBLIC STANDARD OF ORTHODOXY, may be supposed to speak the common sense of that church. But he expressly saith, edit. 2. p. 143. According to the principles of our confession, every man would search after the truth with the utmost impartiality; attend to the voice of divine revelation, though it may sound very differently in his ears from the public standard of any fallible church. It is base and inglorious, for any person to dissemble the truth when he discovers it, or neglect any proper means of spreading it in the world, because he may thereby disoblige the majority and lose their favours.' Again, p. 147. As good men will never subscribe a confession but when persuaded in their consciences of the conformity of its articles to divine revelation; so they will with courage oppose themselves to it; when convinced of their error, they will not be afraid openly to abandon it, and will prove as zealous in promoting what they now see to be the mind of God in the Scripture, as if there had never been such a thing as a human creed in the world.' Thus far this author, celebrated by all the friends of creeds and confessions, as one who has written genteelly and unanswerably. Read him, my good Scripturista, and answer him fairly, and we will all come over to your side. For we all maintain, that we have a right to change our sentiments, when we see just reason for it.'
But till then, we ought to persevere in the truth, how much misrepresented soever it is; yea, although dressed up as absurd in itself, and the native source of almost all evil.
But since you are so orthodox and 'so honest a man, and apparently a man of sense, pray let me stand and wonder a little, and in my turn be really surprised,' how you ever came to think the Christian church in all ages meant to espouse tests of orthodoxy in the sense you have charged upon
them. Can you produce any history to prove that this was the case in the primitive times, or in later ages? Does Eusebius say so, or the celebrated Du Pin? Does Sleiden, or Burnet, or Neal, or Bowers, or any other historian of credit? To be sure, so honest a man as you, would not charge so black and absurd an opinion upon the Christian Church in all ages, out of pure wilful malice, on purpose to bring an odium upon all the friends of creeds. And how a man of your good sense could possibly be guilty of so gross a mistake, is very hard to say. To attribute it to wilful malice, I cannot; to attribute it to your ignorance, I do not know how to do it. And on the whole, I am really surprised.' You don't pretend to quote but one author, and it is not only plain from his piece, but he expressly tells me by word of mouth, that he never meant any such thing: but if he did, how does this prove that the Christian church in all ages have been in this scheme? Or what warrant had you to raise such an evil report against the church of Christ?
As to the questions, you state, p. 6, 7, 8. &c. The answer is short.' Who have right to make such tests of orthodoxy?' No body. What principles should be put into such tests?' None at all. And who should be bound by them?' None in this world, or in the next.
But you have said so much about imposition, and persecution, (p. 21-28.) that we must stop here a few minutes, lest ignorant people should be imposed on. You do not mean to charge your own scheme, my good friend, with being a persecuting scheme. Nor do you think it necessary that our churches should give up their right to judge for themselves, and become indifferent to all principles, as willing to receive an Arminian or Socinian to communion, as an orthodox Christian; and particularly declare that it is no matter what men's principles be, if their lives are but good; and so commence Pagans, in order to avoid the dreadful guilt of impo
m The Pagans in the apostolic age exceedingly cried out against the Christian sect, for damning all parties but their own. i. e. for preaching as their Master had bid them, he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark xvi. 16. Nor all the various tribes of heathen idolaters, with all their different gods, were in full charity with one another: and so they all joined to look upon the Christian sect, as unsocial and inimical to the human kind. See Warburton's Div. Leg.