« VorigeDoorgaan »
the perception of certain fixed principles is an essential prerequisite to the very act of judging, so it is necessary, to the forming of a right judgment, that the leading principle, or rule of judging, be founded in truth ; for, without this, the mind can never distinguish and hold fast that which is good.
Thus, one man may have laid it down as a principle, that the world has hitherto wandered in ignorance and error, and, consequently, that reason commands him to strike out a new path diametrically opposite to the maxims which have been generally received. Another may have resolved, that the voice of reason has been audible in all ages, and in all ranks of society ; and, therefore, that nothing can be certainly right which has not obtained the common consent of mankind. With a third it may be the leading axiom, that every man is an independent agent : he therefore insists upon having an opinion of his own, and labours to display the peculiarity of this opinion as a proof of his independence: whilst a fourth contends, that every thing ought to submit to established precedent and public authority. These men may
make the fairest deductions from the principles which they respectively acknowledge ; yet it is scarcely possible, that, upon a single question of importance, the judgment of any two of them can coincide, And, as truth is always consistent, and error various, it must follow, that three of them, at least, want a perfect rule of judging, and are under the direction of erroneous principles.
The first operation, then, of a right judgment, in matters of religion, must be to discover certain just principles, and ascertain their truth and stability. And here it might be deemed a subject of lawful deliberation, whether religion be altogether the suggestion of human reason, and, as such, adopted by all nations, in consequence of its natural and obvious fitness; or whether it rests upon the authority of a divine revelation. But, as I address myself to those who acknowledge the name of Christians, I shall not go back to this question, but take it for granted that the historical facts of our canonical Scriptures are admitted, at least, in general terms. It is still, however, the province of a right judgment, to determine, from internal and
external evidence, the question of the sacred authenticity of these Scriptures, and of their genuine derivation from the God of Truth.
And when this is decided in their favour, as we will suppose it must be upon impartial investigation, the next operation of a right judgment is, to compare the several parts of these Scriptures with each other, and ascertain their true meaning and design. Here the candid inquirer will take especial care, not to be led by the doubtful construction of a sentence, or the mere sound of words, to set one portion of Scripture against another, or to interpret a few passages
in opposition to the general tenor of the whole: for right reason will not hesitate in confessing, that the Spirit of God is the spirit of truth; and that truth is always consistent with itself.
It is also the office of a right judgment truly to distinguish between those ordinances and precepts which are of a local and temporary nature, and those which are of universal and perpetual obligation; and to be careful that neither private interest, the bias of temper, popular opinion, nor the prejudices of education, have any corrupt influence
When judgment, rightly exercised, has proceeded thus far, it will have obtained a leading principle, whereby to regulate its own operations in particular cases. It will, henceforth, possess a general rule, whereby to prove all things, and to ascertain that which is good. It will also begin to perceive the legitimate bounds of its own deliberation : for the word of God is not to be disputed by man. If he who judges righteous judgment, and holds fast that which is good, remarks, in this word, some doctrines which are above his comprehension, he will, notwithstanding, acknowledge the obligation of receiving them, as they are delivered, with reverence and respect; because God is wiser than man. If he discover some precepts and ordinances, for which he cannot assign an obvious and adequate reason, he will, nevertheless, submit to the duty of observing them with humility ; because they are stamped with an authority which is not to be controverted by the children of the dust.
Here the situation of the devout inquirer into the principles of religion may be illustrated by a comparison with the orderly
subject of a civil state, whom we will suppose to have been informed that a certain law is in force, and has been established by the constituted powers.
He is not bound, by his allegiance, to admit the existence of such a law upon vague report: it is his just privilege to inquire for an authentic copy. But when this has been procured; when he sees and recognizes the name and stamp of his sovereign, and all other marks of genuineness, which candour is entitled to demand ; when the law comes with these credentials, it must be received in its full extent and operation.
The same person now exercises his reason in the attentive examination of this law, in order that he may be guarded against an undesigned offence, and may learn how far he is affected by its injunctions and provisions. Here he perceives some regulations established, which his own judgment would not have suggested, and some clauses which seem to bear hard upon his individual interest. But private judgment and interest must submit: the whole is ratified by an authority which it is his duty to acknowledge and to respect. Having ascertained