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visioned men believe that Jesus came into the world, and lived and died to propagate trifles. Trifles therefore are no longer trifles when set forth as Christian doctrines. And we have enough to believe and think about without occupying our minds with childish fancies. And we have things enough of high importance to preach and write about, without spending our time and strength on idle dreams.
And the apparently harmless fictions prop up the hurtful ones. And they lessen the influence of great truths. And they make religion appear suspicious or contemptible to men of sense. They disgust some. They give occasion to the adversaries to speak reproachfully.
And if you tolerate fictions at all in Christianity, where will you stop? And if you do not stop somewhere, Christianity will disappear, and a mass of worthless and disgusting follies will take its place. The new creation will vanish, and chaos come again.
And again. A large proportion of the controversies of the Church are about men's inventions. Christ's own doctrines do not so often provoke opposition as the traditions of the elders; nor do they, when assailed, require so much defending. They defend themselves. "The devil's way of undoing," says Baxter, "is by overdoing. To bring religious zeal into disrepute, he makes some zealous to madness, to persecution, to blood. To discredit freedom he urges its advocates into lawlessness. To discredit Christian morality, he induces some to carry it to the extreme of asceticism. To discredit needful authority, he makes rulers of the State into despots, and persuades the rulers of the Church to claim infallibility. To discredit Christianity, he adds to it human inventions." Wesley has a similar sentiment. "If you place Christian perfection too high, you drive it out of the world." And it is certain, that an infinite amount of hostility to Christianity is owing to the folly of divines in supplementing its simple and practical doctrines, by speculative and unintelligible theories. "The one great evidence of the divinity of Christianity," says one, "the master-evidence, the evidence with which all other evidences will stand or fall, is Christ Himself speaking by His own word." But
if you add to His words foolish fancies, or revolting absurdities, or immoral speculations of your own, you destroy that evidence. You make men infidels.
MEN WANT COMMON SENSE RELIGION.
There are multitudes at the present day to whom you must present religion in an intelligible and rational, and in a grave and commanding light, if you would induce them to give it their serious attention. You can no more interest them in mysteries and nonsense, in speculative and unpractical fictions, than you can change the course of nature. The time for theological trifling is gone by. The time has gone by for any form of religion to make its way which does not consist in solid goodness, or which teaches doctrines, or uses forms, that do not tend to promote solid goodness. If religion is to secure the attention of the world,—if it is to command their respect, their reverence and their love,— if it is to conquer their hearts, and govern their lives, and satisfy their souls,-if it is to become the great absorbing subject of man's thought, and the governing power of our race, it must be so presented, as to prove itself in harmony with all that is highest and best in man's nature, with all that is most beautiful and useful in life, and with all that is beneficent and glorious in the universe.
In a word, old dreamy theologies with their barbarous dialects and silly notions, must be dropped and left to die, and the Church and the ministry must live, and act, and talk as men who are dealing with the grandest and most interesting and important realities.
FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS AND THEIR RESULTS.
my readers will have seen before this, the changes in my views were rather numerous, if not always of great importance. And the cases I have given are but samples of many other changes. The fact is, I pared away from my creed everything that was not plainly Scriptural. I threw
aside all human theories, all mere guesses about religious matters. I also dismissed all forced or fanciful interpretations of Scripture passages. I endeavored to free Christian doctrines from all corruptions, perversions, or exaggerations, retaining only the pure and simple teachings of Christ and the sacred writings. I accepted only those interpretations of Scripture, which were in accordance with the object and drift of the writer, with common sense, and with the general tenor of the sacred volume. I paid special regard to the plainest and most practical portions of Scripture. I paid no regard to doctrines grounded on solitary passages, or on texts of doubtful meaning, while numerous texts, with their meaning on their very faces, taught opposite doctrines. I would accept nothing that seemed irrational from any quarter, unless required to do so by the plain unquestionable oracles of God. I could see no propriety in Christians encumbering their minds and clogging religion with notions bearing plain and palpable marks of inconsistency or absurdity. And if a doctrine presented itself in different religious writers in a variety of forms, I always took the form which seemed most in harmony with reason and the plainest teachings of Scripture. Some writers seemed to take pleasure in presenting such doctrines as the Trinity, the Atonement, Salvation by Faith, Eternal Punishment, &c., in the most incredible and repulsive forms, straining and wresting the Scriptures to justify their mischievous extravagances. Other writers would say no more on those subjects than the Scriptures said, and would put what the Scriptures said in such a light as to render it "worthy of all acceptation." As a matter of course, the latter kind of writers became my favorites. Indeed the Scriptures seemed always to favor what appeared most rational in the various creeds. The Scriptures and common sense seemed always in remarkable harmony. The doctrines which clashed with reason seemed also to clash with Scripture : and I felt that in rejecting such doctrines I was promoting the honor of God and of Christ, and rendering a service to the Church and Christianity.
I was sometimes rather tried by the unwarranted and inconsiderate statements of my brother ministers. Take an instance. A preacher one night, in a sermon to which I
FOLLY OF PREACHERS.
was listening, said, "How great is the love of God to fallen man! Angels sinned, and were doomed at once to everlasting damnation. No Saviour interposed to bring them back to holiness and heaven. No ambassador was sent with offers of pardon to beseech them to be reconciled to God. Man sins, and the Deity Himself becomes incarnate. All the machinery of nature and all the resources of Heaven are employed to save him from destruction. One sin shuts up in everlasting despair millions of spiritual beings, while a thousand transgressions are forgiven to man."
Now this doctrine, instead of reflecting peculiar glory on God, seemed to me to savor of blasphemy. It is no honor to be partial or capricious; it is a reproach. A father that should be tenderly indulgent to one of his children, and rigidly severe to the rest, would be regarded with indignation. The doctrine of Divine partiality shocks both our reason and our moral feelings. And it is not scriptural. The Bible says nothing about God dooming the rebellious angels to perdition for one sin, without any attempt to bring them back to obedience; but it does say that God is good to all, and that His tender mercies are over all His works. I accordingly rejected the doctrine. There was quite a multitude of doctrines which entered into the sermons of many of my brother ministers, which never found their way into mine. And there were doctrines which entered into my discourses, which never found their way into theirs. And the doctrines which we held and preached in common, we often presented in very different forms, and put into very different words. They could say a multitude of things which I could not say; things which I could find no kind of warrant for saying. When we met together after hearing each other preach, we had at times long talks about our different views and ways of preaching. I was free in expressing my thoughts and feelings, especially in the earlier years of my ministry, and our conversations were often very animated.
In some circuits, I induced my colleagues to join me in establishing weekly meetings for mutual improvement in religious knowledge. At each meeting an essay was read, on some subject agreed upon at a former meeting, and after the essay had been read we discussed the merits both of the
sentiments it embodied, and of the style in which it was written. When it was my turn to prepare an essay, I generally introduced one or more of the points on which I and my colleagues differed, for the purpose of having them discussed. I stated my views with the utmost freedom, and gave every encouragement to my colleagues to state theirs with equal freedom in return. When my colleagues read their productions, I pointed out what I thought erroneous or defective with great plainness and fidelity. I was anxious both to learn and to teach, and it was my delight, as it was my duty and business, to endeavor to do both. I was not, however, so anxious to change the views of my friends as I was to excite in them a thirst for knowledge. And indeed I did not consider it of so much importance that a man should accept a certain number of truths, or particular doctrines, as that he should have a sincere desire, and make suitable endeavors to understand all truth. It was idleness, indifference, a state of mental stagnation, a readiness carelessly to accept whatever might come in the way without once trying to test it by Scripture or reason, that I particularly disliked; and to cure or abate this evil, I exerted myself to the utmost.
When I was stationed in Newcastle in 1831, I met with Foster's Essays, which I read with a great deal of eagerness and pleasure. One of these Essays is "On some of the Causes by which Evangelical Religion has been Rendered Unacceptable to Persons of Cultivated Taste?" Among his remarks on this subject, he has some to the following effect:
1. Christianity is the religion of many weak, uncultivated and little-minded people, and they, by their unwise ways of talking about it, and by their various defects of character, make religion look weak, and poor, and unreasonable. And many receive their impression or ideas of the character of Christianity more from the exhibitions given of it by the religious people with whom they come in contact, than from the exhibition given of it in the life and teachings of its great Author, or from the characters and writings of His Apostles. An intelligent and cultivated man, for instance, falls into the company of Christians who know little either of the teachings of Christ, or of the