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Every branch of religious knowledge is desirable, every part of truth important, but all we can know, on certain points, is attained by reasoning, and is only supported by inference. What is made out by inferential reasoning is more or less certain, according to the nature of the premises, and the agreement of the conclusions with them. No premises can be more indubitable than first principles. Inferences fairly deduced from them have strong moral evidence of certainty. Figurative and detached passages are not to be compared, as premises to reason from, with first principles. Considered by themselves, their import will remain dubious: consequently conclusions made from them must be very uncertain. Let plain christians judge for themselves, in every instance, whether the reasoning they hear used to support any particular religious opinion, be founded on first principles, or on what is figurative and detached.
Prop. VII. The fundamental truths of the gospel, which all christians admit, ought to be regard ed as the grounds of christian union.
There is no prospect that christians will soon be agreed in all their opinions, or in the adoption of the same external modes of worship: but ought they on this account to continue disunited and at variance? Certainly not. To the first principles of religion they should adhere, as a
common ground of union, and consent to abide by them in all their proceedings in the worship of God. None ought to be excluded from any of the privileges of christianity who believe the leading truths of the gospel, and act consistently with that belief. There seems no way of healing the breaches which exist in the church, and of bringing christians to unity in one brotherhood, to walk together in love, but by inducing them to return and steadily adhere to the first principles of their religion. The unlearned christian need be under no apprehension of acting wrong, in receiving as his christian brethren, all who worship the one God, believe that Jesus is the Christ, and imitate his example.
It is presumed enough is said to convince the impartial reader of the necessity and utility of adhering to first principles. To his serious
consideration it is submitted.
To Professors of Christianity in General.
Men and Brethren,
THOUGH a large preface to a small book is considered preposterous, yet a short one is in some degree necessary, and, in general, well received. With this in view, I shall briefly introduce the following pamphlet to your notice.
For the most part of my life, I have held the doctrines professed, by what are called orthodox christians, and much in the same manner, that is, without examination. But when I came to reflect upon them, and to search the scriptures impartially, for such doctrines as three persons in the godhead, a trinity in unity, and two natures in Jesus Christ, I could find no such words, nor any phrases analogous to them. But what fully convinced me of the erroneousness of those sentiments, was Mr. Wright's Anti-satisfactionist, a work that cannot be too highly valued. That I might put my opinions to the strictest investigation, I
wrote the following dialogue, in which I have adopted many of Mr. Wright's arguments, and sometimes in the author's own words. But as it was written without any intention of publication, there are no quotations marked.
Let not any be too hasty in blaming me for changing my sentiments: before they censure,
let them examine.
Nottingham, October 21, 1808.
Criton. I am glad to see you, friend Philo; we have frequently talked of the principles generally received in the christian world. I could wish us now to examine, by the standard of reason, how far these principles agree with the scriptures in general, and with the gospel of Jesus Christ in particular.
Philo. So far, Criton, from objecting to what you propose, I am glad of the opportunity, provided you do not reason away the plain meaning of scripture, but make it agree, and harmonize with itself.
Criton. When I speak of using reason, in judging of scripture, I mean no more than what you have said, to make it harmonize, and agree with itself, in opposition to a false method, adopted by some, of selecting here and there a particular passage, without paying any regard to its connection. There are two opinions very prevalent, though both erroneous: the one de
clares human reason to be a sufficient guide, in matters of the greatest importance, to the exclusion of revelation; and the other maintains that reason has nothing to do with religion, but that all must depend upon inspiration. The one makes man a God unto himself; and the other makes him only a machine in the hands of God. The Almighty requiring us to believe in a revelation, not manifested unto us, and yet binding upon us, is a powerful argument, to show the necessity we are under to use our reason, in matters of religion: for, if we have no criteria by which we may judge of revelation, we are then liable to be deceived; and if we have, how are we to use them, but by trying, comparing, and proving? The best judge of the matter; that ever was upon earth, said to those who heard him, Search the scriptures, for they testify of me. Now we know, that searching implies more than mere reading, and means a diligent, earnest, and studious examination. The apostle Paul highly commended the Bereans for searching the scriptures, to know whether those things which he taught were agreeable thereun
to or not.
Philo. So far we are agreed: but you told me, the last time we were together, that you had altered your religious opinions, and wondered that you had remained so many years in error and ignorance, as you expressed it, of the truth. Now, for my part, I hold the same doc