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I need not inform you, that there prevails an endless variety of opinion on the subject of religion. This circumstance, however, with pious minds, it might be a matter of regret, with philophic ones, is no cause of surprise. Infidels, who profess to study theology in the book of nature, are divided into many sects. Scarcely a subject exists, however plain, and apparently incapable of producing a diversity of opinion, but what is viewed by different men in various lights. What clashing opinions exist among lawyers, concerning the precise meaning of the words of a statute, which was drawn up with the most anxious care to avoid all litigation. That different opinions should exist on the meaning of the Scriptures, is less to be wondered at, when we consider how deeply we are all interested in the matter of revelation, and how apt we are in cases of personal interest, to have our judgements biassed by our feelings. The Bible, if read in heaven by boly angels and spirits made perfect, produces no discordant opinions there. It is to the depravity of human nature, that all religious error is to be traced.
Diversity of sentiment, although confessedly an evil, has been productive of some benefits. It has afforded opportunity for the more vigorous exercise and conspicuous display of Christian charity and forbearance between the various sects; while it is a constant pledge for the purity of the sacred text. As they all profess to draw their opinions from the Bible, they of course maintain a constant and sleepless jealousy over each other's treatment of the word of God. Their opposition to each other converts them all into vigilant guardians of the source of their faith; so that although they have corrupted the streams of truth, they have jointly guarded the purity of the fountain. The suspicion of any liberties having been taken with the word of God, would be an evil more to be deplored than the existence of a diversity of opinion on the sacred text. While the genuineness of the statute is admitted, and the incorruptibility of the judge is maintained, the wranglings of counsellors cannot subvert the foundations of justice.
Still, however, these opposite sentiments cannot of course be all right. Although error is multiform, truth is uniform; and it is of infinite consequence, that we should embrace the one and reject the other.
1. Some errors unquestionably exclude a man from salvation. 6 He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Now certainly from this language it is evident that salvation is suspended on a belief of the gospel, and of course upon a belief of the true gospel, not on the belief of a false one. If, therefore, what we believe is not the same as that which the word of God reveals, it is not the Gospel; and such a faith will not save us. To ascertain with precision what truths are essential to the hope of eternal life, is a very difficult task: to say how far a person may go in error, and yet after all be saved, is what no mortal should presume to do. When a man, however, disbelieves the Bible to be the word of God; or rejects the doctrine of the atonement; or the justification of the soul by faith ; or the necessity of divine influences to renew and sanctify the heart, or the obligation of true holiness; I do not see how such an individual can be saved. He subverts the very
of the Gospel. Something must be believed, as our Lord himself tells us, in order to the possession of everlasting happiness; and if these things may be disbelieved, and 'yet a sinner be saved, it is difficult to find out what there is left for him to believe. If some sentiments, then, are essential to a saving faith, we should be most tremblingly afraid of error; and as it is not for us to say how far an individual may go in error in order to be excluded from the blessings of the Gospel we should certainly be alarmed at the least deviation from the truth, as there is no doubt that one wrong notion prepares the mind for the reception of another. This leads me to observe,
2. That all error has a tendency to pollute the mind; to the degree in which it exists, and therefore must be so far sinful.
“ Sanctify them by thy truth,” said our Lord, “ thy word is truth." Now if truth sanctifies, error must corrupt the mind; except two causes so diametrically opposite to each other, as these are, can be supposed to produce the same effects; which is absurd. Whatever is not truth must be error. Whatever opinion wo profess to have received from the word of God, must be classed under one or the other of these heads, and must have some influence or other upon our religious character, as it appears in the sight of God. Wrong sentiments may not produce immorality in the life, but if they corrupt our secret motives; if they render us spiritually proud, and lead us to glory before God; if they make us self-confident and self-dependent; i they cause us to lean to our own understanding; if they lead us to look with contempt upon others; if they keep us from using any means of grace instituted by God, they pollute and injure the mind in the sight of its Omniscient Creator. The least disease in the body, although it be unobserved by others, or yet unfelt by the subject of it, is an injury to the health. It may never come to a fatal attack, or bring on death, but still it is injurious to the frame and it is precisely thus with error in the mind.
All religion is founded upon opinion. It begins with the reception of truth into the understanding: if therefore the whole truth is not received, some part of the moral means appointed for our spiritual improvement is not applied; and if any thing contrary to the truth is received, a cause is in operation upon our minds, opposite to the right one. The order of piety is the order of nature: first, we receive an opinion, then our feelings are excited by the opinion, and then the will resolves to act under the influence of the feelings; as is the opinion, such are the feelings; and as are the feelings, such are the resolutions and the actions. If the opinion, therefore, is wrong, all that follows must be wrong, as to its moral character in the sight of God.
I am aware that a difficulty presents itself here to many young persons, which does not a little perplex them. They see individuals who
ave embraced the widest extremes of opinion, equally exemplary for the discharge of all the relative and social obligations. They see those
. who have embraced error, as useful, peaceful, ornamental members of society as those who have received the truth. This is undoubtedly a fact. I know very many who have rejected almost all that is peculiar to Christianity, who are yet amongst the most truly respectable inhabitants of the places in which they live. But this does not disprove my statements, nor in any degree prove that error is innocent and harmless. There are two lights in which the human character is to be viewed ; its aspect towards men, and that which it bears towards God. Now I do not mean to say that religious error may in any material, or visible degree, alter the former. A man may be a good subject, neighbour, husband, father, tradesman, master, with any or with no religious opinions at all. Many infidels have been exemplary in their attention to all the duties of social life. This, however, only proves that error does not always disfigure the character in the sight of man; but we are now more particularly speaking of its aspect towards God. In this view of it there may be a degree of obliquity truly awful, while all is correct towards man. Pride of intellect and of heart; self-sufficiency and self-dependence; a stout and pertinacious resistance to Jehovah's authority; a peremptory refusal to submit to his schemes and will, may all be rife in the soul, while every thing is fair in the exterior. God looketh to the heart; and in his eye the character is decided by the state of the mind. Religion, properly speaking, has to do with God and heaven: it is a right disposition towards God and a spiritual preparation for the celestial state, which, as is perfectly evident, may be wanting, where there are the most splendid social virtues. What I affirm then is, that error, according to the degree in which it exists, must vitiate the character, and deprave the heart in the sight of