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tially erroneous, but supported by some plausible interpretations of the texts relating to the Personæ : it became necessary then to compile the creed commonly called Athanasian, to be couched in expressions opposite to those used by Arius, as an outwork to protect the Christian flock from being beguiled by his insinuations. To instance in one particular point: I know very little of Arius, but have heard enough of the Omoousion and Omoiousion to persuade me he taught the Son was not of the same but of similar substance with the Father, thát is, God made or created another God, numerically distinct from himself, but of the same divine nature, and alike infinite in power, wisdom, goodness, and all the other attributes.
Now I must own this notion seems to me productive of conceptions essentially erroneous, as being derogatory to the Deity by supposing the work of his hand could be equal to himself, and therefore cannot blame the Church for guarding against it by opposite terms sufficient to answer the purpose. For though the common Christian might not exactly know the difference between numerical and specific identity, or similitude of substance, he must know that Same was a different word from Similar; and if he could not tell precisely what was meant by Begotten, still he might know well enough that it was not Made, nor Created ; so would stand upon his guard when he heard anybody using the prohibited words, not to heed anything else they said. This creed, then, as the Church was circumstanced at that time, became a fundamental : but being only circumstantially so, had the greater need of a sacred awe to enforce a regard to it. Therefore Athanasius, or whoever thought proper to assume his name, inserted the damnatory clauses, because they knew the plain man had but one option, either to be orthodox or Arian throughout, and fall into all the errors of that sect; which yet he might innocently slide into by degrees, unless armed against the first approaches with a sacred dread and horror of a speculative mistake they knew must draw fatal consequences behind,
Thus the fundamental article seems to be negative rather than affirmative, to believe there are not three Gods nor the Son a creature; not actually to believe the Trinity in Unity, with all the other hard words employed in the creed : and we may presume they exacted only a verbal, not an intellectual assent. For they must know it was impossible for the vulgar to comprehend them, and that no man can assent to a proposition he does not comprehend, any further than that it contains a truth, though he does not know what it is.
Having made this concession, for fear the free-thinker should tạrn it to a use I never intended, I must remark that there is a very material difference between comprehending the thing affirmed, and comprehending what is said of it: the former is not necessary to gain assent, the want of the latter is no possible ground either of assent or dissent, other than that vague one of an unknown truth. I can believe that something has existed in all eternity without a cause, yet I can neither comprehend eternity, nor how anything can exist without a cause, because all the things I have experience of had causes of their existence. If a man pretends he carries home Paul's church in his pocket, I comprehend clearly what he says, and see plainly it is impossible ; therefore must think him a liar while I take him seriously, and not as a joker meaning a print of the church. If he says he moved two balls lying in close contact upon a billiard-table by touching only one of them, I can easily believe him, though I cannot comprehend how the hindmost ball can begin to move before the foremost has gone off to leave room for it, nor yet how it can give motion to the other before it has any itself; so that the motions of both seem necessarily prior in order and time, to one another. But if he tells me, that motion is the act of being in power so far forth as in power, I do not comprehend what he says, so cannot possibly give either assent or dissent: it may be as true as the Gospel for aught I know, and if I have a good opinion of his judgment and sincerity, I shall believe he has a meaning in the expression, and that it contains a certain truth, though what the truth is I cannot possibly guess.
I doubt not there are multitudes of pious Christians, and many very sensible persons, to whom the Athanasian creed appears much the same language as the act of being in power so far forth as in power, in which case it will be impossible for them to give it an intellectual assent: yet for all that, if they have any opinion of the Church, they may easily believe it contains the true Christian doctrine, and this is enough to keep them from the Arian heresy ; for little as they can comprehend the terms employed, they cannot fail of discerning their contrariety to those of similar substance and a created God, or a creature invested with the divine Attributes, and made equal with God.
16. There seems little danger now to the public from the Arian heresy : it may have crept into the closets of a few speculatists, but you can do nothing with them by creeds : force them to repeat what words you please, they will put their own sense upon them; for the Rosy crusian art of transmutation will work wonders, as often converting gold into base metals as these into gold.
Therefore in my humble opinion this creed might be spared, as being an outwork to a quarter not now liable to attacks, and giving scandal to this enlightened age wherein everybody expects to understand everything: and I have heard some divines express a wish it were dropped out of our Liturgy.
Nevertheless, while it remains an outwork, we ought not to let the enemy make a lodgement upon it; to prevent which was the design of this Chapter, rather than any direct benefit I could expect to do the believer: for the less he concerns himself with particulars
upon this matter, the better. I have said it is one of those points remotely fundamental which were made so by circumstances of times, and as things stand at present circumstanced, seems to retain no more of that quality than enough to render direct
opposition the mark of an enemy, but not an actual reception necessary to characterize a friend.
For my part, I am for enlarging the pale of orthodoxy as wide as possible without breaking the enclosure, and for that purpose would contract the number of fundamentals, for it is by multiplying them that the walls of partition have been run across, dividing the ground into so many little scanty closes. Therefore if a man inadvertently or in private confidence gives me suspicion that he is not perfectly Athanasian, I can give him the right hand of fellowship, if I have none other reason to withhold it. Nay, further, though I fear it will be thought carrying my Christian charity beyond bounds, if he only esteems the introduction and propagation of Christianity as an event eminently providential, doubting of the supernatural facts recorded, and consults the Scriptures jointly with his own reason in forming his idea of the Supreme Being, the administration of the moral world, his religious sentiments and rules of conduct, still I am inclined to admit him into the brotherhood, provided he leaves other people in quiet to believe as much more as they please, without undervaluing or attempting to puzzle them upon that account. But if he shows a fondness to impugn or ridicule things generally holden sacred, I must regard him as an adversary: and since persons of no Religion delight much in such practices, I may suspect him to be a bad man, but at best shall think him indiscreet, unskilled in human nature, and defective in that regard to order and the public good, which is one of the principal moral duties.
17. The want of distinguishing between essential and remote fundamentals, seems to be the fatal rock upon which both the bigot and free-thinker make shipwreck, though they are cast off to opposite sides. The former finds certain institutions, ceremonies, and articles of faith strongly inculcated as necessary to make a
true disciple, so he places righteousness wholly in them : orthodoxy with him is all in all, he hunts sermons, sings psalms, and prays literally without ceasing, and becomes righteous overmuch. He sees no difference between the skin and substance of Religion, nor that because the fruit cannot ripen without the skin, therefore, such strict charge is given to preserve it unbroken: so he crams himself with skin to a surfeit, till he has no room for the fruit. He forgets that Christ will disown those who say unto him, Lord, Lord, but do not the Will of the Father : so doing this Will is the sole essential point, and the Lord, Lord, being necessary only for the sake of that, ought to be repeated no oftener than such necessity requires.
On the other hand, the free-thinker, ever hasty and superficial, looks no deeper than the skin, which he very shrewdly discovers can contain no nourishment for the mind : so he perpetually teazes you with childish questions, What Religion is there in forms and ceremonies? what sacredness in one day, or place, more than another? can God eternally reward, or damn a man according as he says Aye or No to a speculative proposition ? For it never enters into his shallow pate to reflect that things of no moment in themselves may become highly valuable by their connections, and draw consequences of the utmost importance. What is money
you cannot eat it, you cannot drink it, you cannot clothe your back with it, nor warm yourself by it in winter: it is of none other use than to play at chuck, or spin upon a table to please a child, and our forefathers in the infancy of mankind could do very well without it: nevertheless, as the world goes, a competency of it is of necessary use to procure us all other things necessary, and we are forced to teach our children to be carefulof the main chance, without which they will inevitably run themselves into distress and misery.
I suppose he would laugh me to scorn if I should say, that faith may have an effect upon the constitution, or that my pulse and digestion would be ever the worse whatever my opinions were: yet for all that, to use his own favorite verb, I will venture to say that if I should happen to believe arsenic was sugar, it might cost me my life; or if I should lose my faith in exercise, I might pore over metaphysics, till I had brought on a jaundice, and so shorten my days by that heresy; or as this distemper is known to render the sight confused and darken the understanding, I might become a free-thinker.
In like manner, how little soever the Athanasian subtilties may add to the stock of useful knowledge, yet if you teach the plain man to regard them as impositions, he will think himself imposed
upon in other things too, and practise sobriety and honesty no further than to escape the lash of the law, and censures of the world. For he cannot trace these duties to their natural foundations, nor see their reference to his own interests : he thinks them duties because enjoined in the Gospel, and he reverences the Gospel upon the authority of the Church, standing in no situation to examine other evidences. Therefore, it is too early to deprive him of this channel, till you can find some other way of inspiring him with just sentiments of the relation he stands in to his Creator, and his fellow-creatures.
To conclude, though one may easily escape violent extremes, it is very difficult to hit the middle line between a strictness, and looseness of principle; and the more so, because it varies accord
; ing to times, and circumstances, and persons you have to deal with. Being apprized of this difficulty, we ought to use our best discretion upon all occasions, bearing in mind that there are fundamentals not essential, but made so by their connection with others, partly by human nature, and partly by institution : and to preserve our Christian charity with a great backwardness in thinking hardly or contemptuously of our neighbors for believing either too little, or too much: for in our spiritual as well as our natural food, the same quantity may be too little for one man, which is too much for another.
The doctrine of the Redemption, as commonly understood, depends upon that of the Trinity : for the sin of Man, being a wilful disobedience and direct rebellion against God, made such a breach upon his authority as no punishment less than eternal could repair ; nor could this be remitted without violation of the divine Justice, unless upon some meritorious act sufficient to make amends for the flagrancy of the offence committed. Which act must be performed by Man, because Man, having done the injury, must make the reparation : but he being under the dominion of sin, had not strength to do anything good, nor if he had, could it have been meritorious, all his services being of justice due to his Creator and supreme Governor; therefore, it was necessary he