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be exempted from error, or to be maintained immoveably in the truth, is a privilege which belongeth not to man in the present stage of his existence; a privilege which he has no reason to expect, whether he consults his own experience, the history of other men, or the recorded promises of God. - To be liable to error is the common property of human nature, from which there is no exception in history, and from which the Scriptures lead us not to expect any exemption. The deceivableness of the heart of man is a truth which is written in the plainest and most legible characters, and is confirmed by the experience and observation of every day. Error is nevertheless represented as an evil which we should labour to avoid, and not as a judgment under which we should patiently acquiesce. “Be• ware of false prophets, which come unto “ you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they “ are ravening wolvesh.” “Believe not “ every spirit, but try the spirits whether “ they are of God: because many false' pro
h Matt. vii, 15.
," phets are gone out into the world.” Such also is the solemn declaration of the Lord of hosts, by the prophet Jeremiah: “ Heark“ en not unto the words of the prophets “ that prophesy unto you: they mak “ vain: they speak a vision of their own “ heart, and not out of the mouth of the “ Lord.... I have heard what the pro“phets said, that prophesy lies in my “ name, saying, I have dreamed, I have 66 dreamed. ... The prophet that hath a “ dream, let him tell a dream; and he that “ hath my word, let him speak my word “ faithfully. What is the chaff to the " wheat ? saith the Lord.”
Instances are frequently occurring, in which the wisdom of this world is proved to be very foolishness. The success of the most plausible speculations, and of the most consummate schemes of policy, is often counteracted by some secret principle of error in which they are severally conceived; and a system of philosophy, which was at one time received every
i 1 John iv. 1.
k Jer. xxiii. 16. 25. 28.
where without opposition, is now universally exploded, and shewn to be at variance with the visible operations of nature. And can it excite any just offence or surprise, if in matters in which the senses of men have no concern, and in the interpretation of a volume which many cooperating causes render hard to be understood, the weak should be mistaken, and the designing should deceive; so that the parable is realized, in which the Church is compared with a field in which the enemy is employed in sowing evil seed! The knowledge that these things have occurred, and the probability that they will continue to occur, suggest the necessity of caution and vigilance; of caution, in examining the claims of the spirits; and of vigilance, in distinguishing the spirit of Truth from the spirit of Error.
II. The principal means of pursuing this important investigation, in subordination to the supreme authority of the word of God, are the reason and philosophy of
Matt. xiii. 24, 25.
men, their written and their unwritten traditions, and the various measures of divine assistance and illumination which some have received, and which many have pretended to receive, in the interpretation of the sacred volume. Each of these has been recommended as an absolute and exclusive standard by men of different tempers and dispositions, by the inquisitive, the superstitious, and the enthusiastic: all, properly restricted and defined, have their use in the exposition and illustration of the Christian doctrine, and in the confutation of error, when they are applied to the advancement of Christian virtue, and in subserviency to the great Christian profession, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
Reason is not a definitive standard of religious opinions. Wise men are seldom found to ask the advice of another, without being persuaded that the person whom they consult possesses superior judgment and penetration in the difficulty which perplexes them, and which of themselves they are not able to resolve. It is none but the reasoner who professes to seek information from the Scriptures, and in the issue disallows their authority, who carries a circuitous and childish appeal from himself to another, and from another to himself, from his reason to the Scriptures, and from the Scriptures to his reason again. The will of men is not the measure of the law of God, nor is their knowledge the standard of his truth. The history of the Church of Christ exhibits too many proofs of the effects which a philosophizing spirit has produced on the interpretation of the Gospel, and of the vanity of all attempts to abate the rigour of its precepts, or compromise the sublimity of its doctrines; and it is a fact which cannot be denied, that the writers of the pretended age of reason, acted the part of the sceptic under the assumed character of the philosopher. The effects of a presuming philosophy upon the true religion were foreseen and predicted even in the time of the Apostles: " Beware " lest any man spoil you through philoso“phy and vain deceit, after the tradition “ of men, after the rudiments of the world,