« ZurückWeiter »
The first of them begins with this observation ; That it is of great use to examine the cafe of doctrinal, or speculative points in Religion; how far they are of an indifferent nature, as to the belief of them ; whether, as such, they be capable of being made terms of Sala vation ; and whether the doctrine of the Trio sity be of this kind.
To such a persuasion it is owing, that a great number of Christians neglect the consideration of the essential doetries of Christianity : For, being prepoffefs'd with an opinion that such matters do not at all concern them, in that they do not affect their future happiness, why should they spend their time upon subjects of no consequence, and perhaps as little entertaining to their taste and humour ? But if Unbelievers can be convinced, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not merely Speculative; or that speculative doctrines may, if God pleases, be required of us, as necessary conditions of Salvation ; they then must think themselves concern'd to enquire whether God has reveald them to us, and required us to believe them.
Another reason, the Author has given, why he thought an enquiry into the nature of do&trinal, or speculative points so seasonable, is, That the arguments, whereby the Innocency of Error in such points has been defended, subvert all Religion, both natural and reveald.
Having thus observd the importance of the subject, he proceeds to state the question in dispute ; where he takes particular care to fix the meaning of the terms, and to free them. from that ambiguity in which they have been used, either thro' ignorance, or design. In the
prosecution of this subject he has a particular regard, as he himself says, to a celebrated piece, intitled, The Innocency of Error, asserted and vindicated, written by Dr. Sykes ; who has taken great pains to reduce the notion into a formed scheme, whereas before it was only dropp'd occasionally, in loose and naked propositions. From this piece therefore our Author cites several passages, where the doctrine is formally stated. As thus ; Error is an affent of the mind to a proposition as true, which is not so. If er. ror extends no farther than the mind, 'tis what I call SIMPLE ERROR: If a man proceeds upon this false bottom to regulate his practice, such error is then called a praftical one. Again : If we guard against evil practices, if we take care that our actions are but right, and agrecable to the Laws of Christ ; I do not see what harm can enfue. Again : If errors of the understanding are criminal, let all be so, and punish philosophical ones, as well as theological. Then follow fome remarks upon the Doctor's inaccuracies and inconsistencies; which we shall pass over, having collected enough to shew, that the affertors of the innocency of error mean, by speculative errors, such errors as relate to points that are only che objects of our under standing, without having any influence upon our actions ; of which kind they suppose the doctrine of the Trinity, and other mysteries of Christianity to be.
The first argument that is brought in proof of this notion, is, That in the perceptions of the mind, men are perfectly palive.
This argument, our Author observes, will equally render all errors innocent, the mind be ing equally pallive in those perceptions upon
which we ground our judgment in practical truths, as in speculative ones. We act in consequence of our judgment; and our judgment is made in consequence of our perceptions : And therefore if in speculative truths, the agreement or disagreement of the terms of a proposition appears necessarily to the mind, and the mind judges necessarily according to the appearance of things; the progress of the mind is the same in its judgment concerning practical truths, and consequently errors in such points are equally involuntary and unpunishable.
The same consequence will also follow in refpect to the belief of Christianity in general, as well as any particular doctrine of it : The mind being passive in its perceptions, and judgments, it is not in any man's power to determine how the evidence for the truth of Christianity shall appear, or whether he shall ji.dge according as things do appear ; from whence it must follow, in this way of reasoning, that error in respect of the truth of Christianity, is as innocent as error in our notions of the Trinity : So that, as our Author takes notice, the advocates for the Innocency of error use the very fame way of arguing, in fupport of their favourite scheme, which the late Mr. Collins and other Infidels have used against free will, in order to destroy Religion in general.
Their second argument is only the consequence of the former ; That error cannot be punishable, because we cannot repent of error ; i. e. can have 910 sting of Conscience, no remorse, no self-condemning notions for baving been in an error, unless it has affected our actions ; alledging this reason for it, That 'tis a contradiction to be fully
persuaded of any point, and to repent of it at the same time. Upon which our Author obferves, ist, That men may be punished for what they Cannot repent of, because their incapacity to repent may be owing to themselves. 2dly, That tho''tis a contradiction to be fully persuaded of any point, and repent of it at the same time; yet that persuasion may be criminal, as arising from the neglect of the proper means of conviction, or from vicious passions, which may hinder those means from having their proper effect. But 3dly, That this argument, were there any force in it, would prove practical errors as innocent as speculative ones. For, if a man be fully persuaded, tho' erroneously, of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of any action, he cannot be fo fully persuaded, and repent of that action at the same time: And if he cannot so repent of it, he cannot, in the opinion of these Gentlemen, be punished for it.
The third Argument is this; that the Evil lies not in them (speculative Errors) but in the frame and disposition of mind, which tends to betray men into them. To which our Author anfwers, that this Argument proves directly, that Speculative Errors are punishable as well as prattical ones, because they may, and often do arise from an evil frame and disposition of mind; from pride, from self-conceit, from obstinacy, from worldly interest.
The last Argument that our Author mentions, he quotes from Mr. Chub, and it is this ; That Speculative Doctrines must be innocent, because they are not so clearly revealed as to leave no room for Error ; and it is absurd to suppose that a wise and good Being should create us capable of Error,
and punify us for erring : To which he replies, That if we be capable of understanding and believing any truth, we may be punished for not doing it; or else there is an end of all Religion at once, because we are capable of fiuning, and consequently, according to this way of reasoning, we are not punishable for sinning, tho capable at the same time of avoiding the fin. The general Remark which our Author makes upon all these arguments is, That either they prove nothing, too much, or something foreign to the purpose; that no argument has been advanced concerning the innocency of speculations, or notions in particular, as distinguish'd from practical truths, but only such as prove all errors innocent, or all punishable.
Having therefore shewn the weakness of their arguments, he proceeds to consider more particularly the tendency of the modern opinion concerning the Innocency of Error in speculative points, and shews that it necessarily leads to Deism, tho' every advocate for it may not perhaps understand the Nature and consequence of his. own doctrine. If speculation, as opposed to practice, cannot be the proper subject of duty,, it is (according to them) because it has no inberent goodness or evil, such as we ascribe to moral actions ; or, to use their own terms, because there is no moral fitness, or unfitness in matters of speculation. Which argument will equally prove, that all the positive duties, both of the Old and New Testament, are of an indifferent nature, and that we can no more be obliged to observe the Sacraments, than to believe the Mysteries of Chriftianity ; because we cannot deduce our obligation to the observance of them from the eternak and immutable reason of things, but only from