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RIGHT OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT, &c.
WE are informed in various parts of the
evangelical history, that Jesus Christ upbraided the Pharisees with their obstinacy, and with their indolence. Very attentive to the appearances of nature around them, they should have been still more attentive to the signs of the times. The advent of the Mefiah had been long ago predicted, and its attendant circumftances minutely specified. They, however, difregarded these evidences of our Saviour's Messiahship, and with this inattention he thus reproaches them. When ye fee a cloud arise out of the west, straight way ye say, there cometh. a Mhower, and so it is. And when ye fee the south. wind blow, ye say, there will be heat, and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it, that ye
do not discern this time? And,
WHY EVEN OF YOURSELVES JUDGE YE NOT WHAT IS RIGHT?
Jesus Christ, by this expoftulatory reproof, evidently intimates, that it is our indispensible duty to exercise our reason. in matters of relia gion; and this duty is the more strongly inculcated by reproaching the Pharisees with a neglect of it. Other passages of a similar import might be selected from the New Testament. But to this pointed declaration of our Blessed Saviour, I would now wish the attention of the reader to be steadily directed.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is frequently divided into two parts; that which is to be believed, and that which is to be practised. Both these parts are delivered to us in the scriptures ; and it is our business to consider what information is there communicated respecting them. The speculative part of revelation has a special reference to the understanding, and contains doctrines which require our belief. These doctrines are declarations made concerning the nature, the properties, and the relations of certain persons or subjects with which we are concerned. The perfons and subjects in which we are interested
as intelligent and accountable agents, are, GodFesus Christ-the gospel the present state, and the world to come,
The declarations or doctrines respecting these most momentous points of Re. velation, must be the subjects of our enquiry. We must use our reason or judging faculty, not only to ascertain the evidences with which the gospel is attended; but also to find out the Specific meaning of the inspired penmen, concerning these interesting subjects.
The faine spirit of investigation should be applied to the practical branches of revelation. Is it of confequence to know what we are to believe? It is equally important that we know what we are to practise. In perusing the scriptures, we must therefore use our reason to ascertain the nature, number, and importance of the precepts, moral and positive, which it is incumbent upon us to obey. We must enquire into the origin of these duties, into the motives by which they are enforced, and into the advantages with which the discharge of them is accompanied. The duties we owe to God, to ourselves, and to our fellow creatures, together with the right administration of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, claiin our particular attention. These precepts and institutions, as well as the doctrines which have been already mentioned, are contained in the word of God.
But alas !--in all ages of the church, different opinions have been entertained respecting them, () and this dissonance of sentiment has given rise to violence, confusion, and even to the shedding of blood. The scriptures were wrested out of the hands of the people. A particular interpretation was imposed upon their contents. Some dared not to judge even of themselves. Others who dared were punished with an inquisitorial severity. But religion is a personal concern; the scripture thould be in the poffeffion of every individual, and our reason should be exercised in the fear of God, to ascertain its true meaning. The inspired wiiters would not communicate error for our belief; nor recommend evil for our practice. But unless we are attentive, cautious, and humble, we may misinterpret their writings, and yet confidently imagine ourselves to be acquainted with their genuine sentiments.
So far was Jesus Christ from prohibiting, or even discouraging the exercise of reason in matters of religion, that he exhorts his difciples to the use of it, and condemns his enemies for the neglect of it. Prophecies and miracles, the two most capital evidences of his Messiahship, were a direct address to this ennobling principle of our nature. His apostles also, in their epistles to the primitive Churches, inculcate the fame important doctrine, and press it home with great folemnity upon the hearts and confciences of the first converts to the Christian religion. Nor in the succeeding ages of the church
have those ministers of the gospel, who underAood the commission of their divine Master, ceafed to appeal, upon the awful topic of religion, to the understanding's of mankind:
'Tis reason our great Master holds so dear;
Many, indeed, are the inducements which fhould operate with Christians, to judge even of themselves what is right in matters of religion. A few of the most obvious, and confequently the most intelligible, are here respectfully fubmitted to the attention of the rising generation.
1. We should judge even of ourselves concerning the religion of Christ; because the faculty of judging lies in our poffeffion?
The Divine Being gives nothing in vain. It is the characteriftic of wisdom to adapt certain means to certain ends.. The poffeffion of a mean indicates an end. Who ever doubted that the eye was formed for seeing, the ear for hearing, and the other senses to perform their respective functioos? Equally improper would it be to doubt whether reason was given us to ascertain what revelation presents to the human mind. We find ourselves in the poffeffion of a faculty by which we receive ideas compare them with one another, and then draw