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their own party would chance to gain some accession to it from our numbers.
I will not allege, that it is unbecoming to regard what they may say of our discussions. But as a Protestant I may say, that the love of truth ought to be a consideration predominant over all others. I must say, that the supposition we cannot and may not discuss theological questions, about which different opinions are entertained among us, is in fact, (though our friends certainly do not design it to be,) reproachful to us, and to the cause of truth, which we profess above all things to love. What! Have not good men, in every age, differed in regard to their views of some things not fundamental in religion? And are we to suppose, that the period is now come, when even the nicer shades of sentiment either must be, or must be professed to be, the same in all? It is useless to claim an imaginary perfection, which does not, and never did, and never will exist, in the present world; and to the cause of truth it would be deleterious, in a high degree, to suppress in any way, or discourage the spirit of inquiry, when conducted with sobriety and decorum.
I am so well persuaded of the truth and propriety of these sentiments, that I cannot hesitate to lay before my Christian brethren, who believe in the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God, the following considerations, to invite their examination of this subject. If any of them should think proper to reply to what I may suggest, I can anticipate, with confidence, that it will be done in a friendly and Christian manner. The opponents of our common faith shall not be gratified with our disputes. We hope to set them a good example of sober and temperate discussion; and to show
them that the orthodox, while they sincerely believe the doctrines which they profess to believe, are ready to discuss, and desirous to illustrate every principle which they receive.
Instead of making divisions between those who love and worship the same God and Saviour, I fully believe that discussion, (such as it ought to be,) will always tend to prevent it; and this, in exact proportion to the light which may be thrown by it upon any topic in theology. If our reasons for rejecting the doctrine now to be discussed are valid, can I hesitate to believe that you will incline to our opinion? If you, on the other hand, find them insufficient, and shew them to be so, are we so unreasonable as to persevere in our opinion? I answer, No; and I confidently answer so, because, although I may not be permitted to say it of myself, I can say it of my brethren beloved in the Lord, that they love truth more than they do party-opinions; and that they only need to have the truth clearly developed, in order to embrace it.
On the other hand, if the subject in question should sleep, differences of opinion will still continue to exist, as they now do, respecting it; and the danger that, in such circumstances, this topic will be magnified, and be the occasion of alienated feeling, is certainly not to be overlooked.
I am satisfied that the time has come, when it is necessary to examine well the doctrines which we believe and inculcate. The watchful opponents of our common faith have their eyes on all the steps of its advocates, and will demand a reason for all that they inculcate. But independently of this, the love of truth should be enough to stimulate us to the highest efforts, in order to know what we ought to believe and teach.
We ought highly to venerate the pious fathers in the Church, who have given us summaries of Christian doctrine, which they sincerely believed; but as the ministers of truth, we are obliged to call no man master upon earth. We have a heavenly master, who has made his word the supreme and only rule of faith and practice. That word we must investigate, to know whether the doctrines of our Symbols are true; and not taking those doctrines as already established, bring the word of God to their test. Thus lived and acted Luther, Zuingle, Calvin, and all that blessed host of worthies, who burst asunder the bonds of tradition and human authority; and we, their children in respect to professed principles, may venture to walk in their steps.
It is just as much our individual duty now, to bring every principle of the creed of the Protestant Churches to the test of the divine word, as it was the duty of the Reformers to bring that of the Catholics to the test of Scripture. This position is absolutely certain; unless we can prove that the formers of Protestant Symbols were inspired. If they were not, they may have erred in some things; and if so, it is important to us, if possible, to know in what they have erred. But how shall we, or how can we know this, unless their creeds are subjected, anew and repeatedly, to the test of the Scriptures?
Will it be said, that the dwarfs of modern days only exhibit their pride and self conceit in attempting a comparison with those giants of yore? If it should, my answer would be; That dwarfs as we are in modern days, we stand, at least, upon the shoulders of those ancient giants, and must needs have a somewhat more extended horizon than they. To speak plainly, the whole word
of God represents the path of the Church, like that of the just, to be as the light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The Kingdom of God always has been, and still is progressive. Glory is bursting in upon the Church, in various ways intimately connected with making her light to shine still more brightly. Is she yet perfected in doctrine? Are all the treasures of the divine word yet unlocked? Are her fairest days past, and her brightest constellations set, to rise no more? The thousand years" of glory yet to come, will supply a ready answer to these questions.
So long as we profess to be Protestants, and of course profess to believe that the Bible is the sufficient and only rule of faith and practice, so long, if we act consistently, we believe in the Symbols of faith which we receive, only because we find them supported by the Scriptures. It is not only lawful then to put them to this test; but it is an imperious duty for every man to do it, who is able to do it. There may be a show of modesty and humility in receiving what others have believed, without examination and without scrutiny; but in every case, where there is ability to investigate and bring to the Scripture test, a failure to do it must arise from undue regard to the authority of fallible men, or from mere inaction-from absolute sloth.
Such are the sentiments, which, with all my reverence for the Reformers and for our Symbols of Faith, I entertain; and which I do not hesitate openly to avow, and am not unwilling to defend. And such, I doubt not, are your views and feelings. Such, indeed, are the sentiments which you have expressed; and to which I shall have occasion to advert, in the commencement of my next Letter.
I cannot close the present without adding, that, placed in the situation where you and I are, with our responsibilities for what we teach, Scriptural investigation of every doctrine connected with the Christian religion, becomes doubly a duty.
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
It is grateful to find that your sentiments, in respect to the real foundation of Christian doctrines, agree so entirely with mine; and I trust I may add, with the fundamental principles of the Protestant religion. In pp. 100, 101, &c, of your Letters, you have undertaken to show and reprove the "weakness" of Unitarians, in attempting to support their views by the authority of great names. You say, p. 101, "The weakness of this plea is so obvious, that a formal refutation of it will not be thought necessary, by any impartial reader." In the sequel, you say very justly, that Transubstantiation and and other "gross errors and most wretched superstitions" might be proved to be true, if this mode of argument could be adopted.
In Letter IV, p. 111, you say, "The word of God, as the orthodox believe, is the only certain test of divine truth; the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Of course, that which is not found in Scripture, however extensively and unanimously it may have been received by those who love the Christian name, must be rejected, as forming no part of the precious system, which God has revealed to man for his salvation." You then