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THE HE noxious difeafe of indifference to religion in any fociety, is always greatly cherished and promoted by a factious and divifive spirit in others, by ill-placed and intemperate zeal about points of leffer importance, and of a doubtful nature. Scepticism and bigotry, how oppofite foever to one another, yet are often fimilar in their influence, and productive of the fame effects; they are both equally repugnant to the true fpirit of religion. They agree in taking away all diftinction between the primary and fecondary truths of religion; the one by depreffing the former into the obscurity of the latter; the other by exalting the latter to the dignity and importance of the former. The Sceptic affaults the fyftem of religion by undermining its foundation; the bigot by erecting an unwieldy fuperftructure of perishing materials.

It would be extremely improper for me, at prefent, to make a differtation on the various fects and factions which enjoy a legal indulgence amongst us, and far more to enter into a difcuffion of their feparating principles. Perhaps it might juftly be thought to favour of that very spirit of animofity which we condemn as so prejudicial to the moral influence of true religion. But in general one might venture to affirm, without offend

ing the most angry difputant, that the far greater number of controverfial points among Proteftants are carried to a much greater height, and profecuted with a keener zeal, than their weight and importance will bear; that amidft fo many queftions agitated with fo much uncharitable humour, the effential points of religion feem to be but little understood, and ftill lefs regarded; and that its moft facred laws are often trampled on in the rage of difputation.

What manifold mischiefs doth not this factious and turbulent fpirit produce? Particularly in caufing many fuperficial enquirers to think that religion is merely a subject of dispute and opinion, without any relation to life and manners; that its tendency is fo far from promoting peace on earth, that it ferves only to divide mankind more and more. Thus it is that profeffing Christians, by their unchriftian animofities, have furnished infidels with the moft plaufible objections against our holy religion: whereas was this truly amiable inftitution but fairly delineated, as taught by our Saviour and his Apoftles, and its exalted virtues exhibited in the lives of its votaries; it could not fail to gain more profelytes than the moft excellent apologies that were ever written in its defence. Thefe may convince the judgment by difplaying its evidence; but this would reach the heart, and captivate the affections to its love and obedience. Happy, indeed, were it, for Proteftant members of churches, that

are called reformed, if the experience of past ages taught them wisdom to differ in peace and charity, and to unite their influence against the adverfaries of their common faith. Was this the cafe, our religious controverfies would even become fewer in number, because the minds of men would be better difpofed for feeing and embracing the truth, which prejudice and paffion are fo apt to disfigure and conceal from

our view.

To conclude, let us carefully fuppress a spirit of faction and party, so destructive of our mutual union; and amidst unavoidable differences of opinion, let us still preferve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Sermon before the General Affembly, 1767.


TH 'HE most candid method of judging of Chriftianity, is to confider it as one scheme which will be found to be all confiftent, wherein the feveral parts, as the ftones of an arch, are connected with and fupport each other. Some feparate points may give occafion for debates, and be attended with fome difficulty; but we ought not to judge of the ftrength of particular objections, till we have impartially confidered revelation in its full extent and natural fimplicity,

What Lord Bacon fays of fcience in general, may be well applied to Chriftianity : "Were it not better (fays he) in order to take a full view ́of a noble hall, to fet up one great light than with a final lamp to look into every feparate corner ?"-Many of the objections that have been propofed against the Chriflian religion, if attentively confidered, and candidly examined, may indeed be turned into arguments in its favour. For instance, can that be called an impofture that propofes no motives of worldly honours, riches, or fenfual pleasure, to attract our esteem, or invite our choice? Does that religion bear any marks of enthusiasm, which regulates our zeal by reafon and prudence, calms our furious paffions, enlightens our minds with knowledge, difpels our melancholy thoughts, and diffuses a well-grounded joy? Is it the cause of fuperftition? It is the beft, and I may venture to affirm the only fecurity against it, as it gives us the most just and amiable notions of the Supreme Being, as it relieves the confcience from its guilt and fears, reduces the form of religion to great fimplicity, and infpires the foul with a rational and steady fortitude. Yea, the danger of fuperftition is rather increased than diminished by infidelity and irreligion; for it is not poffible to diveft mankind of that fear which arises from frailty and guilt; and if they should be bereaved of a rational and benevolent religion, it would be eafy to

graft upon that fear any fuperftition their own folly might devife, or the craft and policy of defigning men might impofe. Is Chriftianity an enemy to learning? Where have the fciences flourished fo much as in Chriftian countries, or been fo much improved as by learned Christians ? The reading of the fcriptures, and the reformation of religion, enlarged the minds of men, and encouraged a spirit of free inquiry. Is it a friend to flavery? On the contrary, it delivers the mind from the tyranny of paffion, and from the fears of guilt; it calls upon us to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. The fpirit of the gospel is a spirit of liberty, abhors oppreffion of every kind, civilizes our nature, and teaches us humanity even to our enemies. It was Chriftianity, when fully established, that abolished flavery, the cruelty of mafters to their fervants, of parents to their children, the barbarous cuftom of expofing infants, and the bloody fhews of gladiators, which were fo common in heathen Rome in its most civilized ftate, but were prohibited by laws of Christian emperors. Does it excite feditions, and kindle wars? Thefe have taken their rife in every age from the lufts and paffions of men, which first war against the foul, and which religion fubdues and calms. Often has it been the occafion, never the cause of perfecution; for nothing is more contrary to the genius of it, when well underftood, and not perverted by false gloffes.

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