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The apostles required men to believe upon the evidence they exhibited and not to believe without evidence and without judging for themselves, whether the gospel were true, or false.
The right of private judgment is consistent with the duty of Christians to be entirely united in their religious sentiments. Paul enjoins this duty upon them.--“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that
but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” The proper exercise of private judgment is so far from being a bar to the entire union of Christians in their religious sentiments, that it is the only thing, that can bring them to think, to speak, to judge alike and be perfectly joined together in the belief of the same essential doctrines of the gospel. The proper exercise of private judgment is like a magnet, to draw them together in their religious sentiments, without the least condescension to each other.
The proper exercise of private judgment is consistent with the duty of those, who are sound in the faith, to censure and reject such heretics, as run into gross and fundamental errors, that are subversive of the gospel. Those, who properly exercise their private judgment, know how to distinguish fundamental errors from fundamental truth, in the professors of religion ; and therefore can consistently perform the trying duty of censuring and excluding from their communion such as make shipwreck of their faith. Those, who abuse their right of private judgment, have no reason to complain of others for censuring them for the abuse of it.
I may still further observe, under this head, that it is consistent for God to condemn those, who abuse their right of private judgment. He does condemn those, who are under strong delusions to believe a lie. They never would have run into such fatal errors, if they had properly exercised their right of private judg. ment. Though God allowed them to judge for them
selves, yet he never gave them a right to judge wrong. All the doctrines and duties, which Godhas revealed; and all the precepts and prohibitions he has given in his word, are entirely consistent with the right and duty of private judgment. And no man, who really understands the nature of this right and duty, can raise a solid, or even a plausible objection against it.
6. It appears from the whole tenor of this discourse, that none, who believe the right of private judgment in matters of religion, can believe the too common and prevailing notion of universal catholicism. This no. tion is altogether unscriptural and unreasonable. It is built upon three false principles. One is, that the doctrines and duties of Christianity are not consistent with each other. A second principle is, that if they are consistent, no man is able to see their consistency. And a third principle is, that it is not necessary, that any man should see their truth and consistency, in order to embrace the gospel and be saved. Every one of these principles is false. It is false, that the doctrines and duties of Christianity are not consistent ; for they are perfectly consistent. It is false, that no man can see their consistency; for every man can, if he would properly exercise his judgment and conscience, see their consistency. And it is false, that it is not necessary, that any man should see their truth and consistency, in order to embrace the gospel and be saved; for it is only through the sanctification and belief of the truth, that men can be saved. As all these principles are false, so the notion of universal catholicism, which is founded upon them, must be equally false. Nor is it merely false, but extremely dangerous. It naturally tends to lead men into Deism and downright scepticism. For if men cannot know, that the dictates of their own reason and conscience are true, they cannot know, that the Bible is true, or that any of its doctrines and duties are true. They must be infidels. The notion of universal catholicism is a false and dangerous opinion, greatly prevailing at the present day and producing the most fatal effects.
Finally, this subject calls upon three classes of men to do their duty immediately.
First, it calls upon errorists, who have embraced error instead of truth, to shew themselves men and embrace truth instead of error. If they would only exercise their right of private judgment, as they ought to do, it would effectually cure them of their errors.
Secondly, this subject calls upon those, who hold the truth in unrighteousness to renounce their enmity and opposition to the great and important doctrines, which they know to be true ; and cordially embrace the gospel. Let not this be their condemnation, that light has come into the world and into their minds, but they still love darkness rather than light.
Lastly, this subject calls upon those, who know and love the truth, to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints and employ every proper method to preserve and promote it. Let them attend more, than is the practice at the present day, to the first principles of the oracles of God. This is a duty, which Christians are in great danger of neglecting, while so many are lying in wait to deceive the unwary and unguarded.
TRUE KNOWLEDGE THE FOUNDATION OF TRUE
PHILIPPIANS, 1. 9. And this I
that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.
Philippi was a chief city in Macedonia, whither Paul was called to preach the gospel by a vision, in which “ there stood a man of Macedonia and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. Paul obeyed this heavenly vision and went to Philippi, where he preached the gospel and converted Lydia, the Jailor and others, whom he formed into a Christian Church. Though the members of this church were few in number, yet they sustained a most excellent character ; and the apostle wrote this epistle to them, not so much to reprove them, as to commend them for their growth in knowledge and every christian grace. He addresses them in language of high approbation and esteem. “Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you ; for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now ; being confident of this very thing, that he, who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” There can be no doubt, but these Philippian Christians both knew and loved God. And what was true of them is equally true of all other real Christians, which warrants us to say,
That the true love which Christians exercise towards God, is founded in the true knowledge of God, I shall,
I. Consider what we are to understand by Christians having the true knowledge of God;
II. Show how they gain the true knowledge of God; And,
III. Show that their love to God is founded in their true knowledge of God.
I. Let us consider what we are to understand by Christians having the true knowledge of God. It is readily conceded, that this cannot mean, that Christians have a full and comprehensive knowledge of God. For none by searching can find out God; none can find out the Almighty unto perfection. No created beings ever have had, or ever can have a full and comprehensive knowledge of their uncreated, self-existent, independent, almighty and infinite Creator. Neither men, nor angels are capable of acquiring,or even of receiving a full and comprehensive knowledge of God. Nor can we conceive it to be possible for God to make beings capable of having a full and comprehensive knowledge of himself
. For none, but a Deity, can comprehend a Deity. It is not to be supposed, therefore, that Christians ever had, or ever can have a full and comprehensive knowledge of God. But there may be a true knowledge of God, wbich is not a full and comprehensive knowledge of him. The difference between a perfect knowledge of God and a true knowledge of God is very plain and intelligible. A perfect knowledge of God implies a knowledge of all things, which are true concerning God; but a true knowledge of God implies the knowledge of some things only which are true, concerning God.---Though men do not know every thing, that is true, in respect to any created object; yet they know