Page images

and responsible being, which the Scriptures either expressly set forth, or manifestly assume to be true, and which do in fact constitute the basis of all the doctrines which they teach; and I have endeavoured to show, that it is only when we take our stand upon these views as upon a 'vantage ground, that we can truly discern the meaning of many parts of Christian doctrine.

I hope that my reader will see, that in thus requiring that what we learn from the Bible should harmonize with the light in our consciences, I am not detracting from the true authority of the inspired Book, but only putting it in its true place. What that place is, is distinctly marked in 2 Tim. iii. 16, “ All Scripture which is given by inspiration of God, is also profitable, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Now it is manifest that unless in my own conscience I am perceiving the righteousness of the will of God, revealed in any doctrine, I cannot be instructed in righteousness by it. For instruction in righteousness must mean here, the instruction received in the conscience, that is, the awakening and nourishing within me of the perception and love of righteousness, which cannot take place when I am receiving a doctrine in the way of submission to authority, without really perceiving the righteousness that is in it.

And besides, I cannot feel satisfied that I have rightly understood what doctrine the inspired writer

meant to teach, whilst I do not myself perceive righteousness in it,-for I cannot believe that any thing is really of God but what is righteous,—and therefore, whilst I do not see the righteousness of the doctrine, I cannot be sure that I am not putting a wrong interpretation on the inspired text, and at all events I am not really believing the truth of it, -however fully I may be persuaded that there is a truth in it, though I do not see it, which ought to be believed. I am not instructed in righteousness, by believing that there is a truth in a doctrine, but by acknowledging and closing with the truth, which I myself perceive in it.

When a man has once become persuaded that the Bible is divinely inspired, he often seems to think that this persuasion lays him under an obligation, no longer to try or judge of the contents of the Book by his conscience, but to submit himself to all that he reads there, and to receive it implicitly;--and thus he learns to put away his conscience, and to turn it from the use for which it was given, and also to turn the Scriptures from the use for which they were given,—and yet, notwithstanding all this, to have the semblance of obeying his conscience which commands him to honour God's word. But whilst he is in this state, he is lying under a strange delusion, —for he is mistaking the conviction that he ought to be believing a thing, for the actual believing of it he is mistaking submission to the authority of God, for the belief of the truth of God.

The error here arises from an ignorance of God, and of his purposes towards us--it arises from regarding God—not as a loving and righteous Father, who desires for us that we should become partakers of His love and righteousness, by appreciating the excellence of these qualities, and loving them and receiving them into our hearts,—but as a Sovereign who insists on our absolute submission to His behests, indifferent whether we see and sympathize with His love and righteousness in them or not.

This is to merge the moral attributes of God in His natural attributes of power and sovereignty,—it is to say of God that what He does is the rule of righteousness--instead of saying that what He does is according to righteousness. And it has also a tendency to lead us on to say, that He is more glorified by the manifestation of His power and sovereignty in making the creature what He will, whether good or bad, than by the manifestation of the influence of an apprehension of His love and righteousness, on the heart of the creature, which He has made capable of discerning good from evil,—in prevailing on it, of its own free choice to abandon all other expectations of good, and to take Him, and His love, and His righteousness, for its whole desire, and its whole portion.

But this is not the religion which Jesus Christ taught. He did not come preaching the sovereignty of God, but preaching His righteousness, and declaring Him to be the Father. And moreover, He did not come in His own name—that is, He did not come claiming submission from men, on the ground of His own personal and official authority—but He came requiring them to receive His doctrine, on the ground of its intrinsic truth, as discerned by their own consciences. He said, “If I speak the truth, why do ye not believe me?” (John viii. 46,) thus appealing to something of God within their own hearts, which could distinguish truth from falsehood, and which they were bound to consult, in judging of the things which He said to them. And thus it appears,—that the authority on which the gospel is to rest, is the authority of truth recognized and felt in the conscience, and not any outward authority however purporting to be of God,—and that those who do rest it on an outward authority, are really subverting its principles by so doing.

I do not mean that a man is to sit down to the Bible, in the spirit of a judge rather than of a disciple,—but I mean that the true discipleship consists, not in a blind submission to authority, but in the discernment and love of the truth, not in subjecting the conscience to a revelation which it does not understand, but in educating and feeding the conscience by the truth apprehended in the revelation.

But if men were called on by Jesus to try what He himself personally taught them, by a light within them—we are surely bound to try by the same light, the things which have come down to us, through the written word. And those who would teach the things which are contained in the written word, ought to remember, that their teaching is really of no use, unless they make them clear to the consciences of the learners, that is, unless they show, in the things taught, a righteousness of God which the consciences of the learners can apprehend and approve.

It must be evident to every one, that the sole ground on which men can be considered culpable in preferring wrong to right, is the assumption that they have something within them by which they can distinguish right from wrong, and discern the excellence of what is right and the evil of what is wrong. But we all naturally and necessarily make this assumption, and consider those to be culpable who, in any circumstances, prefer wrong to right. Now truth in morals and in religion, is only another name for what is right, and falsehood, another name for what is wrong, -and thus that inward witness which judges of right and wrong within us, is the only real test by which we can judge of truth and falsehood in religion.

That this inward witness is hardly perceptible in the case of some persons, and that its judgment is limited to outward actions, in the case of others, is no objection to the statement here made. For the witness is as a seed sown in the heart of man, and if it is unused, it lies dormant. But still it remains true, that it is only by the awakening and the strengthening of this witness, that there is any real growth within us, either in morals or religion,and therefore the only real instruction in the Scriptures or the doctrines of religion, is that which is

« PreviousContinue »