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that which, if it be an error, is one against which He has uttered his most severe denunciations. And what do we transgress? There are numberless commands to love God only; not one to love Christ as God.
Then with respect to the doctrine of the atonement. What are the attributes of God on which peculiar stress is laid ? A just God, a merciful God, God is love. Supposing by any possibility that it should not be true, that the atonement is the means appointed by God for the salvation of men, into what a dangerous, and on their own principles sinful, error are those fallen who uphold it. They entirely change the nature of these great attributes : they make God to be, according to our human conceptions of these attributes, as applied to a fellow-creature, neither just nor merciful. They shorten the arm of the Lord, and will not allow him the power of pardoning, except on receiving an atonement which has no relation whatever to the offence. It is vain to say that these objections are obviated by the Mystery of the Trinity and Atonement, to which our reason must bow. If it is a mystery it is hidden, and can have no effect on the mind. If it is simplified and explained, it becomes a worship of Christ, and a belief that his sufferings were necessary to enable the God of infinite power and love to receive with favour the sincere penitence and earnest efforts after obedience, of the creatures whom he created weak and liable to sin.
Another point on which our opinions are held to be most erroneous and worthy of punishment is, that we cannot feel that deep love and reverence for Christ which those do who consider him as an infinite being making satisfaction for infinite sin. We freely confess that for this we cannot love and reverence Christ. We consider all the love so given, as taken from Him who has said, “ My son, give me thy heart!” Surely if there is the remotest possibility of error in loving Christ on these grounds, it must be peculiarly displeasing to Him whom our opponents are so fond of representing as a jealous God. We do concede that in many of those calling themselves evangelical there is a more tender and vivid love to Christ than is found among ourselves, but we believe that this love has frequently in it too much of a love similar to that which heathens feel for the beneficent deity of their theologies who stands between them and the avenger, or at least, that it has too much of that selfish, though no doubt grateful love, which would be felt to a person, who at great personal sacrifice, saved us from a terrible but merited punishment, to have much beneficial effect on the heart. It is not the love which gathers round the object of it holy affections and human sympathies, which loves Christ as
be ic. doctrinessurance be evangealyation,
the perfection of the moral greatness of humanity, as one who suffered not only for us but with us in all the tenderest affections of our nature, as one bearing the message of love and mercy from on high, exemplifying by his actions the dealings of God to man, and sacrificing for this great end all that human nature holds dear.
Lastly, as regards our eternal salvation, which those who hold what they assume to be evangelical doctrines, affirm with the most entire assurance can only be secured by a firm belief in these doctrines, though we by no means hold that a man will be judged for his opinions, yet we do believe that the actions and feelings which are the consequences of such opinions may have an eternal effect on the happiness of those minds which embrace them. Blasphemy and idolatry as we conceive it to be in fact, though not in intention, to derogate from the sublime dignity of the eternal God by elevating his son to an equality with him, yet not for this alone do we imagine that the serene Majesty of the Deity will visit with anger his erring children.
Deep as we must conceive would be the sorrowing displeasure of an earthly parent, if the children of his love should dare to attribute to him such feelings and such conduct as those who hold the doctrine of the atonement do not scruple to make the prominent attributes of the God of love, yet not for these opinions alone, proceeding as they often do from error, fear and weakness, do we believe that those who hold them will be severely judged by the All-just. But the pride, the injustice, the false assuming of infallibility to themselves, and false attributing of wilful error to others; the disunion of family and Christian love; the cruel persecutions, if not now by fire and bodily torments, yet with the more deep-felt anguish of terrified imaginations and broken hearts, are not these things worthy of fearful retribution, and will they not receive it?
6 Who art thou, O Man," who in defiance of the express command, “ judge not that ye be not judged,” darest not only to judge, but to condemn another man's servant, because he cannot see with thine eyes, hear with thine ears, and believe upon thy convictions? In speaking of the great danger to the heart and life which we conceive to arise from these peculiar doctrines, we would not dwell on Antinomianism, because, though it most naturally flows from them, it is denied by the holders of them in the present day, though we believe it has on many a very considerable and unfavourable, though unacknowledged influence. How can we expect those who believe that they shall be saved by the blood of Christ to labour much at working out their own salvation? What a strong temptation it is to our in
dolence and selfishness to believe that faith in the divinity of Christ is more important than conformity to his humanity! Among the first of the evil effects which we conceive these doctrines to have on our conduct, is the manner in which they represent the Deity.
It is truly said that all our ideas of deity must be taken from the mind of man, with the attributes infinitely enlarged. It is equally true, or perhaps it is the same thing to say, that according to our conceptions of deity, will be our ideas of what constitutes excellence. As we conceive the deity deals with his creatures, so shall we think it right to deal with our fellow-men. It is the experience of all ages, that the religious opinions, the ideas of deity, have a very powerful effect on the conduct of man to man. The cruel and licentious deities of heathen nations, make cruelty and licentiousness almost considered as virtues, The belief that the deity is strict to mark, and severe to punish every transgression, has been one great cause of sanguinary laws. The belief that God will punish with his severest eternal displeasure, error, whether wilful or unavoidable, has produced that spirit of persecution which has filled the Christian world with blood and terror. Nothing has a more unfavourable effect on the human mind, than the idea of superiority arising from opinion alone; it is the foundation of spiritual pride, it is the very spirit of the Pharisee; it says, “ stand by, for I am holier than thou.” What a hardening effect it must have on the heart of man, to go abroad among his fellow creatures, with the belief that by far the greater number are doomed to everlasting punishment; to meet with the smile of affection or even greet with the common courtesies of society, those, whom if they honour and love the deity they proclaim, they must expect to rejoice in seeing delivered up to unutterable torments. RETRIBUTION for opinions involving such fearful consequences must come. It will come, when the conviction is forced on their minds of the true nature of that Essential Love, whom they have represented as visiting the finite offences of those he created liable to sin and error, and placed in circumstances where they could not avoid them, with infinite and unutterable anguish; as regarding it for his glory that multitudes of his children should, even for no fault which they could have avoided, be doomed to everlasting destruction; that even those favoured few who escape should be purchased by the blood of the innocent, and only on the condition of believing in unimaginable dogmas. It will come when they meet the mild reproach of the benevolent Jesus, of him whose only rebuke was to hypocrisy, for having in his name caused sorrow and terror
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to walk through the earth, for having assumed to be more beloved than the rest of his disciples, for having denounced to unintentional error the punishment of wilful sin. It will come when they meet those who have been led by their misrepresentations to think evil of Christianity, to vilify their blessed Saviour, to make shipwreck of their faith. It will come, when they are fully aware of the impediments which their opinions have caused, to the progress of the pure light of Christian faith ; when they know those who have been made hypocrites by fear or by pride; those who have been deterred from examining the truth; those who have not dared to avow their convictions; the children who have despised their parents because they hold not what they conceived to be the true faith ; the parents who have devoted their children to eternal misery; the bonds of love which have been broken; the bitter tears which have been shed. It will come when they meet in glory those whom they have dared to pronounce should be banished for ever from the presence of the Lord; the persecuted in body or in mind; the martyrs to sincerity of every age and opinion. Would it not be wise before they risk all these awful consequences, to reflect for one moment whether it is not possible that these opinions may be false, and if there is the smallest ground for thinking they may be so, to weigh most carefully, and with an unprejudiced mind, every argument and fact, before they rest in such dangerous results. Then, and not till then, will they be freed from any responsibility as to their consequences. We say not that we have discovered the truth; far be it from any erring human mind so to presume; we think it the duty of every one never to cease his inquiries into truth as far as the means are in his power; but we do think that our errors, whatever they may be, are slight in their consequences in comparison with those of our opponents, and in this most particularly do we conceive we have the advantage, that we attach no moral defect to opinion alone, if conscientiously adopted ; and that we hold truth in such deep reverence, that we would lay no impediment whatever, in the way of that free discussion and inquiry from which alone she can spring. It will be said that among the holders of these opinions are and ever have been many of the most excellent of men, the most devoted of martyrs. We believe it, and we rejoice in the belief. Human nature is too strong, Christianity is too strong, to be overborne by any opinion. In the most corrupted state of every religion have been found some, who, acting from those moral influences which God has engraved on the tablet of the húman heart, have been kind, just, and virtuous. In all forms of Christianity more especially, its spirit of love and the example of its founder have produced many characters worthy of our strongest admiration, rising up as they have done in spite of the errors mingled in their creeds.
Even these very opinions whose general consequences we so much deplore, we believe have in many minds led to a higher degree of excellence than would have been attained under any other. Adopted by a person of tender conscience and a sensitive heart, they will most likely produce religious results more marked, but not so pure; more vivid but not so spiritual ;-a deeper terror of sin, a stronger fear of offending God, a warmer love for that merciful Saviour to whom they believe they owe all their hopes of eternal happiness; a more tender and earnest anxiety to rescue the souls of their fellow creatures from the ruin which they conceive hangs over them, and consequently a more entire self-sacrifice for this purpose, and as leading to it, for the general welfare of the human race, so far as it is affected by these exclusive opinions. In conceding this, however, we by no means intend to say that we do not consider the evils as far-overbalancing the advantages. We believe that if some have been led by these opinions to a high degree of moral excellence and self-sacrifice, numbers have fallen short of what they might have attained to, had their aim been to imitate the moral perfection of Christ, rather than to hold a correct faith as to his nature; that if in some they have excited that spirit which has led men to “ give all their goods to feed the poor,” or even “ to give their bodies to be burned,” they have in no instance produced that higher charity, “ which thinketh no evil, believeth all things, hopeth all things.”
We cannot conclude without again distinctly stating, that for opinion alone, however erroneous, or however dangerous in its consequences, if carefully and conscientiously adopted, we do not believe that any man will be condemned. It is for the pride and presumption that may be mixed up with the belief, that any opinions are infallibly true, and can alone recommend men to the favour of God, for the hardness and injustice of condemning myriads of their fellow creatures to an everlasting torment which they would shudder at inflicting practically on one individual for an hour, for teaching and receiving without the most careful and unprejudiced examination, doctrines, so adverse to the moral attributes of God, to the moral improvement of man; for these things we do believe that those who hold them will, in a heaven of peace and love, meet a retribution-a retribution flowing out of God's Realities, when found to have no fellowship with man's exclusive Notions.