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It is a trite and frivolous objection, which some have made against subscriptions and articles of faith, that it is setting bounds to the freedom of inquiry, and requiring a conformity of sentiment that is incompatible with the various opportunities and capacities of different persons. The same objection might be urged against the covenanting of the Israelites,* and all laws in society. If a religious community agree to specify some leading principles which they consider as derived from the word of God, and judge the belief of them to be necessary in orler to any persons becoming or continuing a member with them; it does not follow that those principles should be equally understood, or that all their brethren must have the same degree of knowledge, nor yet that they should understand and believe nothing else. The powers and capacities of different persons are various: one may comprehend more of the same truth' than another, and have his views more enlarged hy an exceeding great variety of kindred ideas; and yet the substance of their belief may still be the same. The object of articles is to keep at a distance, not those who are weak in ihe faith, but such as are its avowed enemies. Supposing a church covenant to be so general as not to specify one principle or duly, but barely an engagement to adhere to the scriptures as a rule of faith and practice, the objection would still apply; and it might be said, One man is capable of understanding much more of the scriptures than another, and persons of more enlarged minds may discover a great deal of truth relating to science, which the scriptures do not pretend to teach: why, therefore, do we frame articles to limit the freedom of inquiry, or which require a conformity of sentiment incompatible with the opportunities and capacities of persons so differently circumstanced? The objection, therefore, if admitted, would* prove too much. The powers of the mind will probably varv in a future world; one will be capable of comprehending much more of truth than another; yet the redeemed will all be of one mind, and of one heart.
Every one feels the importance of articles or laws, in civil society; and yet these are nothing less than expositions or particular applications of the great principle of universal equity. General or universal equity is that to civil laws, which the Bible is to articles of faith; it is the source from which they are all professedly derived, and the standard to which they ought all k> be submitted. The one are as liable to swerve from general equity, as the other from the word of God: and where this is proved to be the case in either instance, such errors require to be corrected. But as no person of common sense would on this account inveigh against laws being made, and insist that we ought only to covenant in general to walk according to equity, without agreeing in any leading principles, or determining wherein that equity consists; neither ought he to inveigh against articles of faith and practice in religious matters, provided that they comport with the mind of God in his word. If articles of faith be opposed to the authority of scripture, or substituted in the place of such authority, they become objectionable and injurious: but if they simply express the united judgment of those who voluntarily subscribe them, they are incapable of any such kind of imputation.
* Neb x. 2f>. Vol. VIII. ?9
It has been observed that sinful propensities are commonly, it not always, the original propensities of human nature, perverted or abused. Emulation, scorn, anger, the desire of property, and all the animal appetites, are not in themselves evil. If directed to right objects, and governed by the will of God, they are important and useful principles; but perverted, they degenerate into pride, haughtiness, bitterness, avarice, and sensuality.
By this remark we may be enabled to judge of the propriety and impropriety of bestowing commendation. There are some, who. for fear of making others proud, as they say, forbear the practice altogether. But this is contrary to the scriptures. We hare only to hear what the Spirit saith unto the seven churches in Asia, to perceive the usefulness of commending the good for encouragement, as well as of censuring the evil for correction. Paul, in bis Epistles, seldom deals in reproof, without applauding at the same time what was praiseworthy. This, doubtless, ought to be a model tor us. Those who withhold such commendation tor tear of making others proud, little think of the latent vanity in their own minds which (his conduct betrays. If they did not attach a considerable degree of consequence to their own opinion, they would not be so ready to suspect the danger of another's being elated by it. A minister, fifty or sixty years ago, after delivering a sermon and descending from the pulpit, was accosted in rather a singular manner by another minister who had been his hearer. Shaking bim by the hand, and looking him in the face, with a smile, " 1 could,"
said he, "say something, 1 could say something,
but, perhaps it is not safe; it might make you proud of yourself." JVo danger, my friend, replied the other, I do not lake you to be a man of judgment.
Yet there is real danger of our becoming tempters to one another, by untimely and improper commendation. Man has too much nitre about him.to render it safe to play with fire. Whatever may be said by worldly men, who have adopted Lord Chesterfield's maxims, and whose only study is to please, it is oot only injurious, but by men of sense considered as inconsistent with good manners to load a person with praises to his face. Such characters axe flatterer* by profession, and their conduct is as mean as it is offensive to a modest mind; for what is flattery, but insult in disguise? Its language, if truly interpreted, is this, 'I know you to be so weak and so vain a creature, that nothing but praise will please you; and as I have an end to answer by obtaining your favour, 1 will take this measure to accomplish it.'
The love of praise, has been called " the universal passion," and true it is that no man is free from it. There are some, however. who are much more vain than others. It is the study of a flatterer (o find out this weak side of a man, and to avail himself of it: but good men are incapable of such conduct. If they see another covetoas of praise, they will commonly withhold it, and that for the good of the party. It is true, I have seen the vanity of a man reproved by a compliance with his wishes, giving him what he was desirous of, and that in full measure, as it were, pressed down. He did not seem to be aware that he had thirsted for the delicious draft till the cup was handed to him; Ihe appearance of which covered him with confusion. But this kind of ironical praise is a delicate weapon, and requires a quick sensibility in the person who receives the address, as well as in him who gives it. It is, however, hardly consistent with the modesty, gentleness, and benevolence of Christianity.
When two or more persons of a vain mind become acquainted, it may be expected they will deal largely in compliments; playing into each other's hands : where this is the case, there is great dan. ger of the blind leading the blind till they both fall into the ditch.
To a wise and humble man, just condemnation is encouraging; but praise beyond desert is an affliction. His mind, sanctified by the grace of God, serves as a refiner to separate the one from the other ; justly appreciating what is said to him, he receives what is proper, and repels what is improper. Thus it may be, we are to understand the words of Solomon: As the fining-pot for silver, and the furnace for gold, so is a man to his praise.'
The scriptures never address themselves to the corrupt propensities of the mind, but to its original powers; or, to use the language of the ingenious Bunyan, they have "nothing to say to the Diabolians, but to the ancient inhabitants of the town of Mansoul." Men address themselves to our vanity ; God to our emulation. If we follow this example, we are safe.
The occasion of all these reflections, Mr. Editor, was my finding the other day, among a number of old loose papers, the following tale which carries in it the marks of being a true one; and with which I shall conclude this paper :—" A young minister,, (whom I shall call Eutychus,) was possessed of talents somewhat above mediocrity; his delivery was also reckoned agreeable. He was told by one of his admirers in an evening's conversation, how much his sermons excelled those of the generality of preachers. Alas, the same thought had occurred to himself! Hence he easily assented to it, and entered freely into conversation on the subject. On retiring to rest, he endeavoured first to commit himself to the divine protection. Tt was there, while on bis knees, that he first felt his folly- Overwhelmed with shame and confusion before God, he was silent; seeming to himself a beast before him. At the same time, a passage in the Acts of the Apostles, flashed like lightning in his mind : And they shouted and said, It is the voice of a God, and not of a man And he was eaten of worms, because he gave not God the glory. There seemed to him a considerable analogy between his case and that of Herod. Herod was flattered and idolized—his heart was in unison with the flattery— he consented to be an idol, and gave not God the glory—for this he was smitten by an angel of God, his glory blasted, and his life terminated by an humiliating disease. I also have been flattered, (said Eutycbus,) and have inhaled the incense, I have consented to be an idol, and have not given God the glory. God, I am afraid, will blast my future life and ministry, as he justly may, and cause me to end my days in degradation and disgrace! About the same time, these words also occurred to him. Woe to the idol shepherd his arm shall be dried up, and his right eye shall be darkened! He could not pray !—Groaning over the words of David, Oh Lord, thou knowest my foolishness, and my sin is not hid from thee, he retired to rest. The next morning, the same subject awokewithhim. He confessed,and again bemoaned his sin: entreated forgiveness for Christ's sake, and that his future spirituality might not be blasted. Cast me not away from thy presence, said he, take not thy Holy Spirit from me! But he could not recover any thing like freedom with God. The thought occurred to him, of requesting one of his most intimate friends to pray for him: but this only occasioned a comparison of himself with Simon the sorcerer, who importuned Peter, saying, Pray to the Lord for me, that none of these things come upon me.