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one, " that all seeming discord is harmony not ununderstood," a rational faith will convince us concerning the other, that what appears most improbable must be yet true—that the religion of our Redeemer is founded upon a rock—that no part of it is futile or delusive, and that though heaven and earth be dissolved, not the least of his words shall pass away. Some facts are, indeed recorded which we cannot in all respects reconcile to our preconceived opinions upon the moral government of the Universe; many mysterious doctrines are announced to us, which baffle the attempts of the most ingenious and the most learned to explain them-many practical precepts are laid down, the performance of which may be irksome to flesh and blood; but if the scriptures be once admitted as of divine original, every scruple must from that instant be subdued, and every objection must be stifled.
The founder of Christianity tells us plainly and concisely what we are to do, and what we are to avoid. He sets before us speculative and practical propositions, often without condescending to notice their difficulties, and always, I had nearly said, without attempting to solve them. In challenging our assent to the one, and our compliance with the other, he appeals, indeed, to our understandings, but with our prepossessions he does not struggle. He addresses us not with the eloquence of a declaimer, or with the subtlety of a logician; but in the simple and authoritative language of a divine teacher. This, for example, is the doctrine which our Father who is in heaven has revealed. That again is the commandment which the Lord thy God has commanded thee. In the same manner do the writers both of the Old and New Testament relate as eyewitnesses, events, for which they do not pretend to account as philosophers ; and indeed whensoever a preternatural agency is once admitted upon the strength of testimony, where is, I say, not the necessity, but even the propriety of having recourse to causes purely and confessedly within the ordinary course of nature for the explication of effects, to which, both in our own conceptions and in the supposed cases, they are inadequate, and therefore I contend inapplicable. Upon the same principles we cannot reason directly from common situations to the greater or less importance of
command that is given to those, who were employed as the prophet of Judah was, where the voice of God distinctly commanded him, where the hand of God visibly acted with him, where the moral as well as physical circumstances of his situation and character, and consequently where his sense of duty and obligation to perform it were altogether un
There is no mystery surely, but common sense, in saying that peculiar cases are to be interpreted by peculiar laws, that extraordinary commissions require extraordinary exertions, that they imply, and in regard to the prophet, were accompanied by extraordinary aids, and that the neglect of those aids justly subjects the offender to an extraordinary degree of punishment.
Mistake me not. Far be it from me to cramp the exercise of your reason; for my aim only is to point
out the particular principles which are to direct you in exercising it properly and consistently. Upon points of fact, you are like the Beræans, to examine whether these things be so. Upon points of doctrine you are not only allowed, but encouraged to give an account of the hope that is in you. And when you consider that your dearest interests are staked upon exact apprehensions of your duty, the importance of the question, while it restrains your rashness, should also stimulate your industry. At the same time, however, that you are putting forth your collected strength to discover what is truth, you should bear in mind the weakness that may expose you to error in forming your faith. You should ever be on the watch against the fallibility of your judgments, the waywardness of your prejudices, the impertinence of your curiosity, and the delusions of your pride ; you should carefully abstain from every wish to lower the sense of scriptural doctrines to the standard of your very limited and very deceitful reason ; you should hear without credulity, and even repel with firmness, the specious representations of others, who, striving to be wise beyond what is written, would substitute their own crude opinions and unauthorized conjectures for the infallible oracles of the living God.
Such is the cautious and humble conduct which becomes us in matters of speculation ; and surely upon subjects of practice we have yet greater reason to be on our guard against the turbulence of our passions, and the stubbornness of our habits, the delusive influence of our secular inte
rests, and the dangerous refinements of a most thoughtless and most degenerate world. The commands of God are too peremptory to be resisted, too pure to be corrupted, and too clear to be explained away. Hence, if false prophets should arise, and according to our Saviour's predictions shew signs and wonders, they could not absolve you from the belief of any one proposition the Gospel contain, or from the discharge of any one duty it prescribes. Though a man of God should tell you that an angel requires you to go back with him, you must not without examining his pretensions presume to taste one drop of water or one morsel of bread, in the place of which you know that the Lord has commanded
shall eat no bread and drink no water. You must not desert a plain, though perhaps an irksome, duty, because a subsequent injunction, the authority of which is disputable, may be more agreeable to your wishes, and in reference to the ordinary rules of action more intelligible to your reason. Has God affirmed ? you must assent without wavering. Has he commanded ? you must without hesitation obey. For the authority of the lawgiver is in all such cases the clearest vindication of the law, as well as the sole direction for him
upon whom it is imposed.
Straight indeed and plain are the paths of truth and virtue ; but if we turn aside to the right hand or to the left, we have no security for being able to go
back to the innocence we have abandoned. We shall reluctantly yield to an obligation, the force of which we have once endeavoured to elude. In our
researches we shall be entangled in the mazes of uncertainty, and in our conduct we shall soon be plunged in the pit-falls of temptation. He that multiplies the artificial difficulties of securing his salvation, deservedly forfeits all hope of pardon for not vanquishing those which are real and unavoidable. For a time, indeed, a very short time, the arts of sophistry may be employed in extracting self-approbation from self-deceit—in perverting industriously the operations of our reason, and hushing the secret and unwelcome remonstrances of our consciences. Those arts may induce us to plant one supposed obligation against another which is real and acknowledged, and to plead a permission announced by an angel, for doing that which the immediate voice of God had before forbidden us to do. They may embolden us to seize some hasty and hollow apology for our obstinacy, it may be, in the partial obscurities, and for our captiousness in the seeming contradictions, of the holy Scriptures. They may teach us to exchange the solidity of argument for the petulance of wit—to prefer the ingenuity of hazardous explanation to the humility of implicit acquiescence—to venture on less crimes, because on other occasions we have abstained from greater—to justify our sins of negligence, because we are exempt from sins of presumption—to shift off the danger of errors from ourselves, and plant it upon the insidious misrepresentations of others—misrepresentations adopted before they were brought to the test of inquiry, and unsuspected, like the pretended permission of the angel, because they were