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NEW SERIES-No. 6.
For November and December, 1819.
ON THE SAFETY OF BELIEVING TOO MUCH.
THERE is a silly argument in much favour with some persons, that it is the part of discretion to profess the doctrines of orthodoxy, because, say they, it is safer to believe too much than too little. If these doctrines are true, they who reject them are in a dangerous error. If false, the orthodox are to be sure in an error, but not in a dangerous one.
We do not enter into the views of those who think something else as good as the truth. We do not conceive of a safe belief, as a thing capable of being subjected to the measures of quantity. We do not see that the terms, too much or too little, are in any way applicable to it. Whatever is more or less than truth, is falsehood. Is it safe to believe what is false in a case where belief has a practical influence? Is it prudent to set our minds at rest, because we believe either the truth or something more, when something more necessarily means, something different?
We think Balaam spoke wisely when he said, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more;" and we think it becomes christians to take equal heed how they add any thing to, or take from, "the things which are written in this book." We are not at all persuaded of the safety of entertaining erroneous views of a subject which has to do with the conduct of life, e. g. the nature of God or of New Series-vol. I.
duty, even if you can dignify your mistake by calling it something more than truth. If your friend promises to render you a service which will save you from bankruptcy, on your conforming to certain conditions, and you, in your affected admiration of his goodness, and real love of your own ease, neglect to perform these conditions, it will fare with you no better, if he keeps his word, than if you had had too little confidence in his friendship, and never had applied to him.
When one man is said to believe more than another, by what rule is his amount of faith measured? One standard is the number and comprehensiveness of the propositions he believes. Now to believe many or unqualified propositions, is clearly no way to be safe, if some of the many are false, and some of the unqualified need to have qualifications made. It is no credit to the understanding to receive what is not true, and if it does this where conduct depends on its decisions, that conduct will be wrong. To say in this sense, that to believe much, is safe, would be of course to make all error, even religious unbelief, or assent to the most demoralizing doctrines, a harmless thing.
We do not mean to say, that any would justify the remark in this sense. We wish only to go over all the ground, by noticing each of the senses in which the phrase can be used. When one class of christians claims to believe more than another, they appear to mean one of two things. First, they seem to have an indefinite idea that they believe more of what is really found in scripture. But can it escape them that this is the very point at issue? We profess to believe all that scripture teaches. They, on their part, assert we do not, We, on ours, contend, that what they call scriptural truth, is human error. While this argument is pending, they stand on the ground, that their belief is the truth. They cannot, to shew their safety in believing more (as they think) than we, say that they believe more of scripture truth, for this is the very question in debate; and if they could prove it, their plea of safety then would be, not that what they believed was either the truth or something beyond it, but that what they believed was the truth itself.
But by this believing much is commonly meant, we suppose, believing what tasks the faith. He is held to have most faith who has made the greatest sacrifice of the common powers of belief; who has assented, in short, at the greatest cost of common sense. There is an idea swimming in mens' minds,-like the floating island of antiquity, now beneath, now above the surface, that God is pleased with the surrender of the intellectual nature; and that in assenting to a proposition, which
we secretly believe would prove false if we had the temerity to examine it, a principle of religious obedience is shewn, and an acceptable service rendered. We have no such views of God, nor of truth. On the contrary, it seems to us, that the christian system and doctrines rest on a broad basis of evidence ;ample evidence to determine a reasonable man on any other part of the conduct of life, as well as the religious. We think we see in this, that God approves the exercise of the understanding in the discovery of truth, and we say that those, with whom we argue, are reduced to this dilemma; either they think it a merit to believe that, which is at the same time repugnant to the reason and revealed in scripture, or else, they think it a merit of itself to believe what is repugnant to the reason, without reference to its being revealed or not. If they choose to stand by the first part of the alternative, we say, nothing repugnant to the reason is revealed in scripture, but on the contrary, the truths of revelation are such as an uncorrupted reason most warmly greets. Much that it could never have reached is revealed, but not the shadow of a sentiment which it rejects. Here then we are at issue; does revelation bring truths to light which reason is reluctant to receive? If not, of course there is no ground for the supposition of merit in receiving such. If so, those with whom we argue are right and safe indeed; but it is on the sure ground of believing what is true on the highest evidence, that of the divine declarations; not on the doubtful ground of believing that which taxes the credulity, and may be true or not.
But the other horn of the dilemma is sharper yet. If it is a merit to believe what the understanding relucts from, where will you set the limit of an innocent credulity? If you can believe this, you are ready for the atrocities of a bloody or sensual worship, for the impurity of Mahometanism, or the idola try of the worshippers of the Lama.
We said, in the beginning of these remarks, that we acknowledge no applicability of the terms more or less to a saving faith. It seems scarcely necessary to say, that we did not mean that one man may not have a stronger, more efficacious, faith than another, because this has no connexion with the subject; it is not alluded to in the plea for indolence which we are examining. We mean, that doctrines are not valuable or safe because they are many or mysterious, but because they are true. Believing more or less is a thing of no moment. It is believing right or wrong. In many cases, it would be hard to affix a sense to the words, which would not violate the uses of language. One
man believes that God is one person, another that he is three. One believes that he is just and merciful; another holds the doctrine of reprobation. In what sense does one believe more than another, except, by more, be meant more incredible? One further remark. To feel one's self safe, because one is satisfied that he either believes what God has revealed, or more, what is it but to say that if he is not acquainted with God's truth, he is acquainted with some equally good method of salvation? It would be difficult to throw more contempt on the gospel revelation, than is done by this; by saying that we feel secure, because if we are not acquainted with the method of salvation which divine wisdom has adopted, we are acquainted with one as good. Let a man, who quiets his conscience by the argument we have been combating, consider this.--Whatever system of doctrine it be which is revealed in the gospel, we have the warrant of divine wisdom for believing, that that and no other, is the best means of bringing men to holiness and Hea ven. That and no other, it is the bounden duty of every christian to search after, and his unspeakable interest to learn. Let men once suppose that they are released from the duty of inquiring for it, because they think they are already possessed of it, or of something equivalent, and there is no end to the delusions which may follow. The truth itself is the thing to be known. It will be an idle excuse, that we thought any form of error would fill its place, whether the error of unbelief or credulity.
OBJECTIONS TO UNITARIAN CHRISTIANITY CONSIDERED.
It is due to truth, and a just deference to our fellow christians, to take notice of objections which are currently made to our particular views of religion; nor ought we to dismiss such objections, as unworthy of attention, on account of their supposed lightness; because what is light to us, may weigh much with our neighbour, and truth may suffer from obstructions which a few explanations might remove. It is to be feared that those christians, who are called Unitarian, have been wanting in this duty. Whilst they have met the laboured arguments of their opponents fully and fairly, they have overlooked the loose, vague, indefinite objections, which float through the community, and operate more on common minds than formal reasoning. On some of these objections, remarks will now be offered; and it is hoped that our plainness of speech will not be construed
into severity, or our strictures on different systems be ascribed to a desire of retaliation. It cannot be expected, that we shall repel with indifference, what seem to us reproaches on some of the most important and consoling views of christianity. Believing that the truths, which through God's good providence we are called to maintain, are necessary to the vindication of the divine character, and to the prevalence of a more enlightened and exalted piety, we are bound to assert them earnestly, and to speak freely of the opposite errors which now disfigure christianity. We trust, however, that when it is remembered, with what language and feelings our views are assailed, we shall not be thought unwarrantably warm in their defence. What then are the principal objections to Unitarian Christianity?
1. It is objected to us, that we deny the divinity of Jesus. Christ. Now what does this objection mean? What are we to understand by the divinity of Christ? In the sense in which many christians, and perhaps a majority, interpret it, we do not deny it, but believe it as firmly as themselves. We believe firmly in the divinity of Christ's mission and office, that he spoke with divine authority, and was a bright image of the divine perfections. We believe that God dwelt in him, manifested himself through him, taught men by him, and communicated to him his spirit without measure. We believe that Jesus Christ was the most glorious display, expression, and representative of God to mankind, so that in seeing and knowing him, we see and know the invisible Father; so that when Christ came, GOD visited the world and dwelt with men more conspicuously than at any former period. In Christ's words we hear God speaking; in his miracles we behold God acting; in his character and life we see an unsullied image of God's purity and love. We believe, then, in the divinity of Christ, as this term is often and properly used. How then, it may be asked, do we differ from other christians? We differ in this important respect. Whilst we honour Christ as the Son, representative, and image of the supreme God, we do not believe him to be the supreme God himself. We maintain, that Christ and God are distinct beings, two beings, not one and the same being. On this point a little repetition may be pardoned, for many good christians, after the controversies of ages, misunderstand the precise difference between us and themselves. Trinitarianism teaches, that Jesus Christ is the supreme and infinite God, and that he and his Father are not only one in affection, counsel and will, but are strictly and literally one and the same being. Now to us this doctrine is most