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sequently, according to an established proverb, worse in its corruption. No obedience can be acceptable to God, without that which is best of all, and first in order, the obedience of the understanding: no courage is so valuable, as that which contends earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; no temperance so excellent, as that which refrains from high thoughts and presumptuous imaginations. As the thoughts are the principles of action, and all vice and virtue begins in the heart; the scripture, for a natural reason, hath insisted so particularly on the obedience of the mind, and an humble reception of truth. A sound faith is the seed of a virtuous life ; but if there is bitterness in the root, it will extend itself to the branches; and to a discerning palate every leaf will taste of it. All bad principles and irreligious opinions partake of the nature of the place from whence they come; they are not the seeds of grain or of fruit; but the seeds of fire; which from a small spark diffuse themselves abroad into a wide and destructive Hame. How short is this proposition--man may know good and evil independent of God! It is a mere spark : yet this has filled the world with misery, ignorance, idolatry and atheism:
it is the compendium of all heresy, and of all infidelity.
The nature of the subject requires us now to take a short review of the artifices which are employed to draw men into spiritual wickedness. The first and chief of these is to inflate the mind with a false opinion of its own natural powers. He, who undertakes to persuade us, that a man has a native light by which he can know, and a power by which he can do, the will of God, understands the consequences of his success: he knows, that if we follow him thus far, we shall be prepared to receive the rest of his opinions. Few have written against the Christian doctrines, at least in modern times, who have not first endeavoured to make the mind conceited of its own powers. He,
, that publishes to corrupted nature the pleasing doctrines of natural liberty, independence, and the self-sufficiency of the human mind, will never want an audience. Pride and indolence will always be glad to hear, that nothing is required of them, on questions of the highest importance in religion, but to look inwards, and consult their own opinions. The private judgment of an individual, rash and inexperienced as it may be, has been allowed to be
conclusive against the laws and regulations of society: whence vanity will readily infer, that a private person cannot do justice to his own wisdom, till he contradicts the judgment of the public, and strikes into some by-path of his
It has been asserted on the same ground, that no man can fall into condemnation for the errors of his faith ; because sincerity in falsehood will be as acceptable to God as truth itself. But might we not as well say, that poison will answer all the purposes of wholesome food, provided it be eaten with a good appetite? Or that darkness may be substituted for light; and that men may direct their steps by one as well as by the other? If this principle is true, the priests of Baal may find a place in heaven, and Jesus Christ need not have come into the world.
Another way of recommending dangerous opinions is to magnify the authors and abettors of them, as persons of superior knowledge, and great worth, profound scholars, and acute reasoners. They are applauded also, yea, they applaud themselves, for the excellence of their temper, their universal candour and benevoļence. While honest men are apt to betray the emotions of their indignation, the enemies
of their faith prevail upon themselves to practise a sort of political patience, which suppresses its own passions to take advantage of the passions of other men. This patience has nothing of religion in it; but may rather be considered as a kind of anti-christian mortification; a black virtue of a counterfeit angel of light. With this, however, they impose upon the unwary, who are not able to see through specious appearances. They affect to breathe nothing but
peace and gentleness; they leave all others to think as they please, and desire nothing but that freedom of thought which they allow to other people. And who can deny to such accomplished gentlemen, the liberty of insulting all articles of faith, blaspheming the scriptures, defaming the Christian church, and corrupting the morals of Christian people, by undermining the very foundations of morality ? especially when it is considered on the other hand, that piety and orthodoxy have nothing to uphold their credit in the world, but the arbitrary authority, and persecuting spirit of some men, working upon the folly and credulity of others: that all the refinements of learning are on onę side ; bigotry, superstition and ignorance on the other : that all the worst men are with the church, and all the best are against it.
A farther artifice of those who attempt to subvert the faith of their readers, is to pretend a sacred regard to truth, and a laudable desire to rescue the minds of their brethren from error and imposition, A man, who comes to make an impudent attack upon all the distinguishing articles of Christianity, introduces himself to us as a sincere lover of the gospel. He dare not leave his readers to find that out by the perusal of his work; but hopes they will be blind to the mischief of it, when they have conceived a fair opinion of the spirit and candour of the writer. This outward appearance of meekness and charity has always been assumed by those who have had ill designs against the flock of Christ. Disguise is necessary to the success of every impostor; insomuch that our blessed Saviour hath given it as the characteristic of a false prophet-Beware, said he, of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's cloathing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. To secure themselves under their disguise, they caution us largely against censoriousness: they can bear every thing but censure and detection, which they call uncharitableness. We can never offend a thief so much as by following him with a candle, to shew people what he is about : but no good man will fear to give