Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

us, all the outside of our worship contributes towards the inward life and reality of it. Our churches are decently adorned; they who officiate at our altars are decently habited; our daily service is performed, and our sacraments administered, in a becoming and reverend manner; our music is always, or always ought to be, grave and solemn every part and circumstance of our worship is so ordered, as to inspire us with an holy reverance and awe, and so far to keep the outward senses awake, as their vigilance may be of use to give wings to our devotion, and vigour to our minds. Atterbury.

MODERATION AND CANDOUR, IN JUDGING of the RELIGIOUS SENTIMENTS OF OTHERS, RECOMMENDED.

LAWYERS, physicians, soldiers, men in every profession, are wont to acquire a partiality for that in which they have been educated; and, by the almost incredible force of habit, think more highly of its excellencies, and are disposed to defend its defects with more pertinacity than reason will allow. If a prepossession of this kind should be observable in the professors of Christianity, or in the advocates for any particular system of Christianity, a candid mind would be ready rather to apologise for the infirmity, than to condemn it, as springing from a corrupted source of interest or ambition. What interest can an Unitarian or an Arian have in dissenting from the faith esteemed orthodox? If either, or both of them are in er

rour, may the mercy of God forgive them! but let not the unmerciful judgment of man condemn them. What interest can a deist of upright morals (and there are many such) have in contending, that the supreme Being gave no law to Moses, no revelation of his will to mankind by Jesus Christ, but that Moses and the prophets, that Jesus and the apostles, were like Confucius, Zoroaster, Numa, Mahomet, and their several associates; that they pretended to a divine authority, which was not vouchsafed to them? We believe, that the divine missions of Moses and of Jesus may be established, and that they have been repeatedly established, by arguments, which are utterly inapplicable to every other religion which hath taken place among mankind; but we do not take upon us to anathematize, with fiery zeal, every one who does not believe as we do: we pray for his conversion to what we esteem the truth, and we request him to admit, that the sincerity of our belief in Christianity is as great as that of his unbelief; if he thinks otherwise of us, he thinks amiss; if he speaks otherwise, he becomes a calumniator.

This moderation, which, on all occasions, I recommend as proper for us to observe towards those who differ from us, either partially, or wholly, and which, in return, we have a right to expect of them, is not to be interpreted into an indifference either towards Christianity in general, or towards that particular mode of it which is established in these kingdoms. The church of England may be maintained, and it is our duty to maintain it, with zeal regulated by charity, against all its enemies, till they have convinced us, that a less defective

system of doctrine, worship, and discipline, might be peaceably introduced in its stead: and this, if we may judge from what we have read of former times, or observed of our own, the opposers of the establishment will not be able speedily to accomplish.

He, who wishes to repair an ancient fortress, when he sees it attacked by a thousand enemies, disfigured by the rubbish of a thousand ages, cannot, without great injustice, be ranked with those who labour to overturn it.

Nor is the defence of the Christian religion abandoned, when we allow unbelievers the full liberty of producing all the arguments they can in support of their infidelity. Our liberality in this respect proceeds not from any supineness or inattention towards what we esteem of inestimable value, but from a total dislike of dogmatism and intolerance; principles ill comporting with the weakness of human understanding, and with the benignity of the Christian religion; and from a strong persuasion that the result of the most critical scrutiny into the foundations of our faith will be a confirmation of its truth. The time, I think, is approaching*, or is already come, when Christianity will undergo a more severe investigation than it has ever yet done. My expectation, as to the issue, is thisthat catholic countries will become protestant, and that protestant countries will admit a further reformation. In expressing this expectation, which I am far from having the vanity to propose with oracular confidence, I may possibly incur the cen

This was written in June 1795.--Editor.

sure of some, who think that protestantism, as established in Germany, in Switzerland, in Scotland, in England, is, in all these, and in other countries, so perfect a system of Christianity, that it is incapable of any amendment in any of them. If this should be the case, I must console myself with reflecting, that the greatest men could not, in their day escape unmerited calumny. Every age had its Sacheverells, its Hickes, and its Chenells, who, with the bitterness of theological odium, sharpened by party rancour, have not scrupled to break the bonds of Christian charity. Hoadley was called a dissenter, Chillingworth a Socinian, and Tillotson both Socinian and atheist; and all of them experienced this obloquy from contemporary zealots, on account of the liberality of their sentiments, on account of their endeavouring to render Christianity more rational, than it was in certain points generally esteemed to be. I had certainly rather submit to imputations, which even these great men could not avoid, than be celebrated as the mightiest champion of the church, on the system of intolerance, or the most orthodox contender for the faith, on the system of those who maintain, that our first reformers have left us no room for improvement in scriptural learning. With whatever assurance other men may be persuaded, that they have attained certain knowledge of the truth of all Christian doctrines; with whatever zeal, in consequence of that persuasion, they may foster the seeds of persecution; I confess, that there are many points in theology on which I feel myself disposed to adopt an expression of St. Austin, when he is stating the different ways in which he conjectures original sin may have been propagated from pa

rents to children-quid autem horum sit verum libentius disco, quam dico, ne audeam docere quod nescio *.

Herodotus tells us, that Darius asked some of the Greeks, what sum of money he should give them to eat the bodies of their deceased parents, after the manner of the Indians. Upon their refusing to comply on any consideration, he asked some of the Indians, who were accustomed to eat the bodies of their parents, what sum they would take to burn the bodies of their parents, after the Grecian manner: but they, setting up a general outcry, desired the king to have better thoughts of them. Thus it is in religion; every man is attached to the mode of worship, and the system of doctrines, to which he has been accustomed, and he looks upon other modes and other doctrines as bordering on impiety. This disposition is so general, that it may be considered as natural; yet, like many other natural propensities, it may be corrected; it is an evil which may be overcome by good sense. I call it an evil, because it misleads the judgment, and subjects men to the tyranny of prejudice. It was a prejudice of this sort which made Paul a persecutor of Jesus; which made the Jews persecutors of the Christians; which made the heathens persecutors of both Jews and Christians; and which has, at times, rendered the dif ferent denominations of Christians in this country, and in all other parts of Christendom, persecutors of each other. There can be no question that it is the duty of all men to oppose reason to

• But which of these is true, I had rather learn than teach, best I should rashly teach a doctrine of which I am ignorant.Editor.

« AnteriorContinuar »