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« and not after Christm." This was the earnest warning of Saint Paul; and Saint John describes men who learned and taught in the world a doctrine which the. world was too willing to receive, even the denial of the Incarnation of Christ: and he prescribes the belief of this doctrine as a standard, to guide and regulate the judgment of those whom he exhorted to use their own discretion in trying the several spirits, whether they were of God".
Reason in its proper sphere has nevertheless much occupation in the concerns of Religion. Her province is to examine the evidences of the truth, both internal and external, and to ascertain whether it is not in the highest degree improbable, that our Christian faith is of the invention of man, and whether it is not an indisputable fact, that it is of the revelation of God. Reason and judgment will also be necessary to the historian, in the illustration, arrangement, and connection of the sacred records; to the interpreter of prophecy in ascertaining its
m Coloss, ii. 8. ni John iv. I. 3. 5. 2 John 7. 10. ·
object, in inquiring into its fulfilment, and in elucidating its highly figurative and frequently mysterious language; to the critic in examining the purity of the text, and removing its grammatical difficulties; to the commentator in explaining and fixing its sense and meaning; and to the controversialist in his earnest contest for the faith delivered to the saints. But when the whole doctrine has been proved to be from God, and there is no just reason to suspect the integrity and authenticity of the several texts in which it is contained, or the legitimacy of the conclusions which are drawn from those texts, there remains no further appeal to human reason. However the authority or the mysterious nature of the Incarnate Christ may exceed our comprehension, or restrain our will, it is not lawful to accommodate them to the prejudices of any earthly philosophy, to make the power of the human mind the measure of the truth, or to reduce the revelations of infinite Wisdom to a level with the degrees of human prepossession.
Philosophy has had its advocates among the presuming and inquisitive. Tradition claims the homage of the superstitious, who recommend as an infallible standard that, which the very existence of controversy proves to be indecisiye. Reverence for the manners and opinions of antiquity, especially when those opinions and manners have contributed to the happiness of succeeding generations, if it be not an act of the highest wisdom, is certainly one of the most amiable weaknesses of mankind. The Christian philosopher, in his trial of all things, will however inquire into the origin, the authority, and the intrinsic merit of every traditional ordinance, nor vainly attach himself to such as had a known and definite rise, distinct from apostolical precedent or institution. He will not admire with a blind credulity what is ancient or what is universal, without examining whether it agrees with the order, the obedience, and the truth which the Scriptures prescribe, whether it tends to the promotion of good works, and whether it contributes to the honour of the one Mediator who came in the flesh. There
are traditions which have sapped the foun: dations of morality, and have detracted from the glory of the Redeemer. Falsehood and impurity have the sanction of antiquity, and superstition was canonized in the remotest ages, and among the many mediating demons of pagan idolatry.
Tradition must therefore be weighed in the balance, that the dross of human corruptions and inventions may be separated from the pure metal of apostolical allowance and divine institution. While the Lord of life conversed with the Jews, and was offended by their vain traditions, he continually referred them to the true source from which all those traditions were derived, and at the same time discountenanced the vain love of innovation, by observing in his own practice, and accommodating to the use of his own dispensation, varioús rites and ordinances which had not previously received the sanction of divine authority. In this and in every other respect, let his example be the rule and guide of us his unworthy disciples. In our judgment of ecclesiastical ceremonies, novelties will have no merit, merely because they are not the relics of antiquity, and traditions will claim no respect, but as they are found good to the use of edifying, and are consistent with that sober decency and settled order, which become the ministrations of the Church. In the interpretation of scriptural truth, where there is no difficulty in ascertaining the sense, there will be no occasion of consulting foreign authorities; and where there is any doubt concerning the true import of a text, which the collation of other texts will not remove, that exposition will be most secure, which, without infringing on the known faith and practice of the Gospel, is recommended by the earliest and the best collateral evidence, which has been received always, every where, and by all men. There is no variety of religious opinion which was not agitated by the ancient controversialists. So rapid was the decay of truth, which may have been indirectly designed to uphold the paramount authority of the Scriptures, that there are few material errors which were not discussed by the Apostles