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THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
OF THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE, AS HELD BY ALL
1 TIMOTHY, i. 11.
THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL OF THE BLESSED GOD.
We are all agreed in applying to the religion we profess, the character of it given by St. Paul in these words. It is the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. It is a heavenly gift, important and interesting in the highest degree. Nothing, therefore, can be more proper, than that we should examine it carefully, and endeavour to understand clearly its nature and contents. All our attachment to it without this must be unmeaning and absurd. My present design is to give you some assistance in making this examination, by answering, in the best manner I can, the following inquiries.
What is the Gospel? What instruction does it convey? What is the information which renders it a GLORIOUS GOSPEL worthy of the blessed God?
The word Gospel, as you well know, is derived, both in the English and the Greek languages, from two words, which signify GOOD NEWS. The very title given it, therefore, in my text, intimates to us its general nature and design. It is a communication of good tidings to mankind from the blessed God.
Before I enter upon an account of the particulars of this information, my views in this and some following discourses require me to observe to you, that there is a great diversity of opinions among Christians on this subject. The different accounts which have been given of the Gospel of Christ are indeed numberless; and they have given rise to many great evils; particularly, the two following.
First. An objection to Christianity has been founded upon them, on which great stress has been laid; and which, I fear, has prevented some from giving the evidence for it a patient and favourable hearing. It has been urged that, if the Gospel was indeed a revelation from heaven, it would be so clear and explicit as to leave no room for such differences, and to preclude all disputes about its meaning; a dark revelation being, as unbelievers say, an inconsistency, which implies a reflection on the perfections of the Deity, and equivalent to no revelation. Those who make this objection go upon the supposition, that God can be the author of no information which is capable of being misunderstood, and consequently of creating disputes. There cannot be a more groundless supposition. God conveys information to us by our reason, as well as by revelation. The light of nature is a light derived from him as well as the light of the Gospel; and there is no more reason to expect, that the one should be so clear as to exclude mistakes and disputes than the other. While we continue such
frail and fallible creatures as we are, it is impossible that we should not be in danger of falling into differences of opinion, and sometimes into gross errours; and to complain of this would be much the same with complaining because we are not made omniscient and perfect beings. There is not a principle of common sense that has not been controverted, nor a truth discoverable by the light of reason, of which different accounts have not been given, and which has not been misconceived and perverted. And yet no one ever thinks of inferring from hence that reason is not the gift of God, or that it is not a valuable gift. There is just as little reason for drawing the like inference concerning Christianity from the different opinions, and the disputes among its professors.
But there is another answer to this objection which is more to my present purpose; and which I shall take notice of, after mentioning the next great evil arising from the disputes among Christians. I mean, the embarrassments they occasion in the minds of many good men.
It is impossible, when plain and honest men hear the different parties among Christians contradicting one another in the manner they do; one saying, this is the Gospel of Christ; and another saying the contrary; and all positive and dogmatical: It is, I say, impossible, that, in such circumstances, a plain man, unaccustomed to inquiry, should not be puzzled, and thrown into a state of perplexity and distraction. Most of these parties lay the greatest stress on their accounts of the Gospel; and too many go so far as to connect salvation with them, and to consign to hell all that do not receive them. I should do an essential service could I remove the stumbling blocks which these litigations throw in the way of common Christians. And my chief inten
tion, in the present discourse, is to attempt this, by shewing you, that Christians, of all parties, however they may censure one another, and whatever opposition there may seem to be in their sentiments, are agreed in all that is essential to Christianity, and with respect to all the information which it is its principal design to communicate. Should this appear, it will set our minds at ease amidst the controversies that take place in the Christian church, and enable us to look with an equal eye of charity and candour on all our fellow Christians: And it will also effectually remove that objection to Christianity which I have mentioned.
In attempting this, I will recite to you those doctrines and facts of Christianity which all Christians believe, and which are so plainly revealed as to exclude the possibility of disputes about them; after which, I will shew you the nature of the differences among Christians, in order to prove that the doctrines universally received are all that are essential.
In the first place; the Gospel teaches us, that there is only one living and true God. This is a fundamental doctrine which the New Testament holds forth to us in almost every page. There is but one being good, says Jesus Christ, that is God. There are, says St. Paul, Gods many; but to us there is but one God, the Father. Many of our fellow Chris ans, indeed, maintain doctrines which seem to clash with this essential doctrine; but they all profess to believe it, and with so much zeal, as to be greatly offended whenever they are charged with contradicting it. Though the Divine nature, according to them, consists of three persons; and the Son (one of these persons) consists of two natures ; yet these three persons make but one being. If there is a palpable absurdity in this, it only proves, that