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manner which we fhould have deemed most eli gible and efficacious.
3dly, It must be confeffed that Reason, though of admirable ufe in judging of the evi. dences and investigating the doctrines of revelation, is yet incapable of producing uniformity of opinion: This the Romanifts urge as an irrefragable proof of that infallibility to which they advance fo bold a claim, and which is, as they fay, abfolutely neceffary to the preservation of the unity and purity of the Chriftian faith. But, as Dr. Clarke admirably obferves, "the true unity "of Christians is not a unity of faith in the bond "of ignorance, or a unity of profeffion in the bond "of perfecution, but a unity of the Spirit in the "bond of peace".
Experience proves that a diverfity of fentiments in Religion is not attended with those pernicious effects which in former times even wife and good men in general fo needleffly apprehended. Those who are in the habitual practice of reading the Sa. cred Scriptures with a view to their religious information and improvement, can fcarcely fail to imbibe much of the fpirit of Christianity; in comparison of which a juft view of its fpeculative doctrines is of little confequence. Diversity of opinion imbibe where it fubfifts affords ample scope for the exercise of fome of the most amiable of the Chrif tian virtues; and it is not improbable that a coincidence of opinions may at length take place in the Chriftian world, which the flaming zealots of
of the prefent age would view with aftonishment.
with unrelenting barbarity, he urged the legal murder of Servetus; but is that execrable action therefore lefs the fubject of our indignation or abhorrence? And St. Paul, whose fincerity when breathing out threatenings and flaughter against the difciples of Chrift no one can doubt, does not fcruple to ftyle himself the chief of finners, and not worthy to be called an Apoftle, because he perfecuted the Church of God. St. Paul well knew, after his converfion at leaft, that the virtue which muft recommend us to the favour of God does not confift in a blind and furious zeal for even truth itself, and much lefs for pernicious dogmas fraught with falfhood and folly, but in what he ftyles the fruits of the Spirit, patience, long fuffering, juftice, temperance, meeknefs and charity: "though I give my body to be burned," fays that great Apoftle," and have not charity, it profiteth "me nothing." The Pharifee defcribed by our Saviour as praying in the Temple, is represented as entertaining a very high idea of his attainments in moral excellence; his fincerity as far as appears was unimpeachable; yet we are af fured that the Publican went down to his house justified rather than the other: The truth is, that a man's believing himself to be virtuous no more constitutes virtue than a man's believing himfelf to be skilled in the fciences conftitutes learning. The Scripture declares, that if we have not the spirit of Chrift we are none of his :
let us beware then of an error fo fatal as must be the fuppofition that because we are fincere, i. e. because under the influence of a ftrong delufion, we vainly and falfely imagine our actions conformable to the ftandard of moral rectitude, we cannot justly incur punishment for any fpecies of misconduct proceeding from the most corrupt heart or depraved inclination.
4thly, The laft obfervation I have to make, whether it may be thought the conceffion affords an advantage to the Roman Catholics in this argument or not, is, that it appears to me an undeniable fact, that the bulk of unlearned Chriftians are, as the Catholics alledge, wholly incompetent to enter into thofe difcuffions which are neceffary to form an opinion upon juft grounds, either respecting the evidences or the doctrines of Christianity. I am fenfible that the generality of Proteftant writers have maintained that the evidences of Christianity are so strong, and the doctrines of Christianity fo clear, that the unlearned multitude may fafely be left to decide for themselves upon these important points; and I readily acknowledge that they ought to be left at full liberty fo to do; but as a question of fact, I cannot but admit that they are incompetent to form a true and accurate judgment; how then is this apparent incongruity to be reconciled? Concisely, and I think fatisfactorily, thus: I deny the
laim of the Romish Church to infallibility; or
of any Church whatever to any degree of authority, for the reafons fo often and fo ably urged by various writers: It is a claim wholly unfupported by Reafon or Scripture: it is a most daring ufurpation over the confciences of mankind: it is raising an infurmountable obstacle in the way of religious information and improvement: "it brings to one dead level every mind," and it has a tendency to produce an univerfal torpor of all the mental powers; but I do not think it neceflary in order to invalidate this claim, to maintain, that all perfons are fufficiently qualified to judge for themselves upon religious fubjects. I content myself with afferting, that all men have a right to judge for themselves; and when the right is once established I have no doubt but those who are qualified to judge, will in general exercise that right; and though there may be a confiderable difference of opinion amongst thofe who are best qualified to judge, yet when perfect freedom of investigation is allowed, and the abi. lities exerted in the fupport of oppofite opinions may be fuppofed nearly equal, thofe who are engaged on the fide of truth muft upon the whole poffefs a manifeft advantage over those who are engaged in the cause of error; and however im perceptible the bias may originally be, if it is real, the effects must in time be apparent. Truth muft infenfibly and gradually gain ground, till it fhall at length attain a decided and permanent superi ority; and the experience of all ages demonftrates