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for supposed errours in opinion, none, I think, can be found which will.
You will not, my Christian brethren, suppose that I deem it indifferent what religious opinions men embrace. The diligent inquiry after truth is the sacred duty of all accountable beings. Our religious opin. ions are intimately associated with the temper of our minds and the course of our lives. If we do not improve the means we possess to acquire right views of Christian doctrines, we may form those inveterate prejudices, which will close our minds against the light of instruction, and render us unable to judge of the evidence, or to appreciate the worth of truth; and we may violate the first principles of our religion, while we suppose we are promoting its highest purposes. If we be not settled and grounded in religious opinions, we may be carried about by ev. ery wind of doctrine : in principle, we shall be ex. posed to the confusion which attends ignorance ; and in practice, to many of the evils which accom. pany intentional errour.
3. To state the meaning of heresy in ecclesiastical history.
Ecclesiastical heresy is opposition to the opinions of the predominant sect in any country. Soon af. ter the Roman empire became Christian, an use was made of the term, very different from its original import; but the word then bore no determi. nate meaning. They, who usurped dominion in the church, made the term heresy an engine to aid them in their efforts to maintain their despotism. Here. sy and orthodoxy were defined by the ruling power of the day : the orthodox man of one period was the
heretick of another. For example, there was a long and violent struggle for superiority between Trinitarians and Arians. These sects alternately acquir. ed predominance, and alternately deposed and banished bishops and inferior presbyters as hereticks. When the struggle for domination in the church in a degree ended, and a particular denomination was invested with the ruling power, then human confes. sions and articles of faith were permanently established, and all opinions opposed to the publick test of orthodoxy were stamped with the impression of heresy. Ecclesiastical courts then arraigncd men for their thoughts, and punished them for speculative opinions. The love of truth, the diligent study of the bible, the sincere worship of God, according to the dictates of an enliglitened conscieace, if it led professors aside from the prescribed forins, exposed them to fines and imprisonment, to stripes, and to the stake ; in a word, to the severest punishments that ever were inflicted on the most atrocious felon. The highest characters, emperors, and pon. tiffs, assembled around the fires, which were lighted to burn hereticks.
During the long interval between the Council of Nice in the fourth century, and that of Trent in the sixteenth, at least in the western empire, professed Christians formed their religious opinions, not from the scriptures, but from the dogmas of the church; and it is well known, that the least deviation from the prescribed rule of faith, or the established form of worship, exposed a member of the Christian community to the loss of property and reputation, of liberty and life. Nor were men much better situat.
ed in the English church. The name of the mas, ter was changed, but the spiritual tyranny was continued under the houses of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The same servile submission to ecclesiastical authority, the same blind reception of the prescribed articles and established formularies, were required, which the Romish Hierarchy demanded from all; and non-conformity was punished with similar pains and penalties, though not with equal sacrifice of human life. At the revolution under William and Mary, an act of toleration was passed ; and dissenters from the establishment have since been protected in the quiet exercise of the rights of conscience, on the condition that they pay tithes to the national church, and submit to be deprived of some important rights of citizens.
In our happy country, different denominations of Christians are not merely tolerated—they are placed in a state of perfect equality. Every man in his re. ligion is free, and may without molestation worship his Gcd according to the dictates of his conscience. But where the sword of persecution is arrested in the hands of the religious bigot, it often happens, that the odium of heresy is retained, and the frightful name of heretick is used as a powerful instrument to subserve the purposes of a party. When the great body of a nation adopt the same system of Christian doctrine, the prevalent sect too often man. ifest a disposition to disturb those who are opposed to their scheme of speculation in the exercise of the rights of private judgment. They endeavour to control the sentiments of all around them, and to check, by the force of publick opinion, inquiries
which may militate with their peculiar system, and to deprive the individual of his living, his reputation and influence, who dares to bring their favour. ite doctrines to the test of reason and scripture. No measure has been found more effectual to accom. plish this design than the cry of heresy. When a man is once denominated a heretick, he is by many considered as a fair object of abuse. The desertion of his former friends is justified. To excite the fears of the timid, and to rouse the apprehensions of the serious against him, is deemed an act of piety. He may by his works display a mind highly cultivated, and in practice give an exemplification of all Christian graces, yet it will be denied that he possesses either the spirit or the principles of the gospel ; and it will be considered as meritorious to render his best labours useless, and to make his life misera. ble.
4. To point out the evil consequences which result from the establishment of human creeds as the test of orthodoxy.
Christ, the only legislator in the church, has made his gospel the suficient rule of faith and practice to all his disciples. When his direction is disregarded, and human creeds are substituted in the place of scripture, strife, domination, and schism are the consequences. The prevention of errour and here. sy has always been the pretext for the introduction of human creeds; but in fact, creed-makers have at different periods introduced all manner of errours and absurdities into the church; and where creeds become a part of a national establishment, they perpetuate the errours they introduce. Human tests
are never favourable to the impartial study of truth ; but they always occasion bitterness and uncharitableness among brethren. The attenipt to secure union and good fellowship in the Christian community under tests made and enforced by human authority, has every where failed; and it is time to seek harmony and love among Christians by other means. Shall not experience make the Christian world wiser ? Every discerning mind, that will diligently examine the subject, must be convinced that the Christian community has suffered more from the attempt to erect human formularies as the standard of orthodoxy, than from the combined efforts of all the enemies of our religion. In view of these evils, shall the Christian world persist with the same zeal to support human impositions, and to denounce the same anathemas against all dissenters? If they do, similar causes will continue to produce similar effects.
Consider for a moment the pernicious influence which the subscription to human articles of faith must have on the clergy of a national establishment. The ministers of the altar are under much greater restraint in the study of scripture, than the people to whom they preach. They must profess and preach such doctrines as their church has pronounced orthodox : they must maintain the opinions which maintain them in their offices. Reasoning from common principles of human nature, can men, thus bound and shackled, study the sacred oracles with an unbiassed judgment, and preach in its purity and simplicity the truths of the gospel ? Where there is no national establishment, if a particular