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light, with force and brevity, have done an inestimable service to mankind ; and enabled multitudes to prove this part of religion, who, without such assistance, would hardly have undertaken, and much less have accomplished the task.
But there remains to be considered another most important branch of religion, to which though all are called upon to assent, few indeed are competent to prove ; and strictly speaking none are so: since it relates to things confessedly above human comprehension. I mean those points of our faith which are called mysterious, such for example as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and some others. Should it be said, where is the necessity for assenting to that which it is admitted we cannot understand ? I should answer nearly in the words of a late most learned, impartial, and candid defender and expounder of our articles. That it is for the sake of forming a religious society, by associating as many as can agree so far as to use the same form of worship and instruction, and to abstain from all disputes. The object of such a society is the maintenance of religion itself, which without it could hardly be supported. Hence almost
every wise and good man connects himself with some such society ; with that with which his own particular opinions most nearly accord : though probably almost every man finds it necessary to submit his own judgment in some points to that of the general body to which he belongs, without which he would find it difficult or impossible to unite with them in religious worship. The great point of union in our Church consists in our articles, the object of which is thus explained by the author to whom I have just alluded. “ without them we could not have one body of doctrine taught to all the people, and that we want such unity to keep men from dissensions. But where (he continues) is the great good of keeping men from dissensions ? because while they are disputing and doubting, their principles are unsettled, and they cannot have right religious sentiments. And what is the great importance of their having right sentiments ? because from their sentiments men act !.” Thus he shews the influence which our belief, even of unintelligible points of doctrine, has upon our conduct; with which it
· Hley's Lectures, vol. ii. p. 2.
would not appear at first sight to have any connection. We regulate it by the general principles of the society to which we belong; but we could not belong to it without agreeing with it in all matters upon which we had reflected and been convinced; and submitting our judgment to it in others which lie beyond our comprehension. Such was the conduct of the able and excellent man himself whom I have been quoting. Though he explained and defended all the articles of our Church with admirable learning and sagacity, yet he was far from pretending that he thoroughly comprehended them all. In speaking upon that of the Trinity he professes, “in the most unequivocal manner, that he does not understand it.” He admits, that he “ uses words without ideas.” He pretends “only to unite the different sayings of Scripture in the best manner he can, though, in a manner confessedly imperfect : but this imperfection he adopts lest he should run into a greater evil, by putting a forced and wrong construction on Scriptural sayings, in order to reduce them to the level of his own human capacity'.
With such an example before us we may surely say, that the injunction of the text to prove all things, and the right of private judgment founded upon it, are perfectly consistent with submission to the opinions of a long series of learned men upon mysterious points of faith, and the judgment of our Church upon controverted doctrines, which are in their own nature almost interminable.
Such was the opinion of another most able and learned man, who lived at the period of the Reformation, and who was as well entitled as any man could be to set up his own judgment in such matters, and to retain it, rather than to surrender it to that of any body of men whatever. I allude to Erasmus, who, in speaking of some of the disputed doctrines of
“ there is nothing wherein I acquiesce more securely than in the assured judgments of the Church. Of reasonings and arguments there is no end 1.” It is true that for this sentiment his admirer and biographer, Dr. Jortin, is disposed to censure him. But I think without sufficient cause. For he ob
that day, says,
Jortin's Life of Erasmus, vol. i. p.
jects to it in this manner.
by reasoning justly we arrive at truth; and by implicit belief in the decisions of others, without examination, we take the way to fall into error.” But it appears to me, that Erasmus is speaking only of matters above reason; and which reason therefore cannot determine: and where our only alternatives are perpetual disputes on the one hand, or, on the other, not a blind submission to, but a justifiable confidence in the judgment of others, and those of great number, learning, and weight, who we may well believe, have made as near an approach to the truth upon the particular subject, as the nature of the case admits; and against whose opinion no individual can oppose
great hazard at least of presumption and error. Except it can be maintained, that there are in religion no doctrines of this description, none upon which we cannot arrive at absolute certainty, by a process of just reasoning, I see not how the conclusion can be avoided, that to live in peace
with each other, which is one great end of Christianity itself, we must be content, upon points of faith which transcend the