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standard in faith and practice: they objected to her that she claimed a dominion over the souls of men which God alone can hold; and they object that she set aside the supremacy of Christ by encumbering his gospel with her own traditions. Not alone for alleged errors in doctrine, but for this error in the very root and foundation of her constitution, they separated from her communion, and protested against her jurisdiction. They declared the Bible to be the only ground of a Christian's faith—the only guide of his religious convictions, and they claimed for themselves the right of private judgment and of individual interpretation. We make the same declaration and assert the same claim, and we neither restrict nor nullify it by creed, catechism or confession, by tests or articles, by pains or penalties. Modern Protestant churches, like the reformers, speak proudly of religious 11berty, but like the reformers also, it is a liberty they are very unwilling to share-a liberty for themselves and not for others: without claiming infallibility in name, they assume it in reality; and without giving, as Rome does, the promise of unerring guidance, they aim at an authority as despotic, and would wrest a submission as slavish.
The energetic maxim of Chillingworth, “ The Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants,” is ever and ever repeated even by those who are pledged to find in it the Athanasian creed and the thirty-nine articles, and by others who are compelled to extract out of it the Westminster confession and the longer catechism. With a zeal that never grows fatigued, it is translated in every tongue and circulated in every nation; nay, the lisping child must have it to the very letter, and a fierce war-cry is opened should a school, by selections or omissions, leave the youthful mind without an opportunity to study the patriarchal genealogies, the prophesies of Daniel, or the apocalypse of Saint John. The wide circulation of the Bible we regard as a great social blessing; but when it is sometimes asked, whether its indiscriminate reading is suited to all ages and classes, the very question is taken as an evidence of popery or infidelity in the proposer. To doubt the perspicuity of God's word, is is said, is to doubt the wisdom of God's providence. The first object of man in speaking to man, is to be understood; how much more in God addressing his creatures, and on the most momentous concerns! The Bible, it is asserted, is so plain that the child may understand it, that he who runs may read, and that way-faring men, though fools, shall not err therein. If this be true, it is in itself the death-blow of creeds, for then they are both unnecessary and absurd-unnecessary, because the statements can be as clearly, can be as easily found in the Bible as in the creed; absurd, because it is monstrous folly to attempt making that more distinct which is manifest enough already. The Bible being, on the orthodox theory of plenary inspiration, literally the word of God, there is even a degree of impiety in the presumption of pretending to give a summary of its meaning in human fabrications, whether from Trent or Augsburgh, from the palace of the Lateran or the hall of Westminster.
That simplicity is a characteristic of the Bible, at least in its main tendency, I cordially admit; it is the especial quality of the gospel. I could desire no better test by which to try the value of creeds. If the evangelists John or Matthew were again to appear on earth, bringing with them their first simplicity, ignorant of the wrangling disputes, of the vain scholasticism which have disturbed this world and the church since they were taken to their rest—if the Athanasian document were put into their hands, there is nothing in their gospels which enables me to think they could understand it; if moreover they were told that the whole of it could be deduced from their writings, I speak in all earnest solemnity when I say, that at such an assertion I can conceive of them as no otherwise than utterly bewildered and surprized.
Take our Lord's sayings and discourses as reported by his evangelists, and contrast them with the creed we are discussing. With what undisguised simplicity is God ever spoken of, always presented in some intimate relation to our duty or his own providence—as an object of worship, of trust, or of love! Pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him. Touch me not for I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Such is the clear and touching phraseology in which Christ always speaks of God, and thus gives, not a scholastic dissertation, but a revelation to human affections. And in the same spirit of simplicity is his own nature also manifested; he who in all things was meek and lowly in heart, who went about doing good, and came to seek and save the lost. Astonishing mysteries indeed has Athanasian theology made out of these plain statements, having found in them a trinity in unity, and a unity in trinity; the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate; the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible; the Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal, and so on; and though each is distinctively asserted to be uncreated, incomprehensible, and eternal, we are to believe on pain of eternal damnation, that they are not three eternals, but one eternal-not three uncreated, but one uncreated—not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible. Surely of all incomprehensibles this theological jumble is the most incomprehensible. If to defy contradiction by the very sublime of absurdity be a safeguard from refutation, the Athanasian creed must stand eternally unconfuted. Plausible falsehood, however ingenious, may be stripped of its sophistries, but there is a certain degree of wild fabrication which may challenge all the efforts of philosophers and logicians, yet remain as firm as before in the bulwarks of its impenetrable nonsense. It may be truly said that these are things on which we cannot reason; most certainly they are, for they subvert at once all possible principles of reason and of truth. But the climax of these astounding marvels is, that we are assured that if we do not hold this Catholic faith, “ without doubt we shall perish everlastingly.” And this precious document, this compilation of monkish mysteries and scholastic jargon, is set forth as the accurate definition of the Christian faith-the test of saving belief or of damnable heresy; this production of crazy or crafty churchmen, this concentration of hoary absurdities, of bewildered metaphysics, and of savage bigotries, presumes to utter the judgment of God, and to launch the thunder of the skies. Beginning with the pride of infallibility, it closes consistently with a sentence of perdition; and for this there is pleaded the language of the gospellanguage evidently misinterpreted, as any language must be which would identify the spirit of Christ with the spirit of Athanasius. So on the ground of two false assumptions, those who pride themselves in this Athanasian orthodoxy are privileged to denounce with a safe and quiet conscience perdition on their heretical brethren. First, it is assumed that when the gospel says, “He that believeth not,” it must mean, he that believeth not the three creeds; and, secondly, it is assumed that when the gospel says, “He that believeth not shall be condemned,” the condemnation implied is everlasting destruction. This is in the genuine spirit of Church and Creed Christianity, fencing in a little and a barren paradise with the brambles and the briars of theological definitions, making holiness and virtue dependent on ecclesiastical syllogisms, and shutting out all from heaven who may be compelled to disagree with the doctors of Nice, or the compilers of our English liturgy, who hold the faith of Milton and Locke, but cannot be convinced by Bull, Waterland, or Sherlocke. Creeds pronounce perdition, and Churches hold. up Creeds; and ministers come forth to magnify the glory of these Churches and to maintain the verity of these Creeds ; but men of meek tempers and tolerant hearts seem half ashamed of their work, and in the effort to soften dogmatical ferocity, make a vain effort at compromise between their consistency and their charity. It is all fruitless: the dark and damning malediction is written on these Creeds with a pen of adamat; the preacher's feelings are of no avail, and he is commanded by his system to proclaim them aloud and afar—to hold them as warrants of eternal death to all who gainsay or deny them. At the best, orthodox charity, after all admissions, can only embrace different shades of Trinitarians; Unitarians must still remain outside the pale of hope ; if therefore condemned we must be, it is of but small importance in what form or on what theory. To those who are to enter the regions of the lost for ever, questions on essences and persons, with many other most grave disquisitions, can signify but little; nor can much consolation be derived from the reflection, that but a hair's breadth from the Unitarian heresy, theology by evasions and distinction might have given us a refuge in the doctrine of Sabellianism. We are, however, most gravely told that he who receives not the Athanasian Creed, cannot be saved—a Creed at which reason, as it was well said, stands aghast, and Faith itself is half confounded; a Creed, of which it was better said, that it is alike contrary to common sense, to common arithmetic, and to common charity.
Were the exposure of the Athanasian formulary the design of this Lecture, I should feel that I had undertaken a very needless and a very presumptuous task, needless, because in this age there are few that attach any importance to it; presumptuous, because, if minds are not affected by its self-confutation, I have not the vanity to pretend to any argume which could shake their convictions. But one can scarce