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“ Scriptures (to which they all appeal) for “ the understanding the Christian Religion. “ What from thence, by an attentive and “ unbiassed search, I have received, reader, “ I here deliver to thee. If by this, my “ labour, thou receivest any light, or con“firmation in the truth, join with me in “ thanks to the Father of lights, for his con“ descension to our understandings. If, “ upon a fair and unprejudiced examination, “ thou findest I have mistaken the sense and “ tenor of the Gospel, I beseech thee, as a “ true Christian, in the spirit of the Gospel “ (which is that of charity) and in the “ words of sobriety, set me right in the “ doctrine of Salvation.”
A THEOLOGICAL DISQUISITION,
It was asserted, in a preceding Disquisition, that the Jewish and Christian Dispensations alone, contain those principles which are most correspondent with our best conceptions of the Divine Being, in his relative character, and in his conduct towards rational and moral agents; and that his wisdom determined to form a deposit of religious and moral principles, by the progressive influence of which, the human race may be conducted from ignorance to knowledge, and from a state of moral depravity to the love of religion, and the practice of virtue; and thus become participants of the blessings in reserve for the Righteous. In that Disquisition we attempted to investigate the manner in which these purposes were accomplished; and the extensive benefits produced in former ages. We shall now proceed to evince, that the grand design of CHRISTIANITY is to complete the plan of infinite benevolence, by the uni
versal diffusion of the purest principles of religion and virtue;—by proposing the most encouraging motives to the practice of their various duties;—and by ensuring permanent happiness to those who shall be rendered capable of enjoying it.
We have hitherto been able, in our former Disquisitions, to ,confine our attention to principles received by moralists and theologians, leaving them to apply these principles to their own speculative opinions; but we enter upon the subject before us under the conviction, that a strict neutrality cannot always be maintained. It is our professed design to inquire into those doctrines which are essential to Christianity; which constitute its characteristic excellencies, and which give it great pre-eminence over the Jewish Dispensation itself. But so many opinions have been proposed to us, under the character of Essentials; and some of these are so contrary to each other, that, were we to repose a confidence in human authority, no one could extricate his mind from embarrassments.
The high importance of religion is itself a copious source of contrarieties. This inspires a perpetual anxiety lest we should lapse into dangerous errors. Such anxieties, improperly in, dulged, and ill directed, plunge us into errors