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ESSAY XIII.

On the USE of REASON in connection with RELIGION.

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HERE is an argument which has been often triumphantly urged by the Roman Catholic writers, and which is, indeed, fo fpecious and im pofing, so apparently just in its principle, and extenfive in its confequences, that I do not wonder it fhould be regarded as the pillar and ground of their faith. If, fay they, the truth and neceffity of a divine Revelation be admitted, it cannot be doubted but it is equally neceffary that the true fense of that revelation fhould by fome means be afcertained. Now common fenfe and daily experience fully evince, that the majority of mankind are wholly incompetent to enter into any fuch difcuffions; and alfo, that the opinions of private Individuals, who may be fuppofed best qualified to form a right judgment, are so oppofite and difcordant, that there is not the moft diftant probability that the genuine doctrines of christianity fhould ever be established on a firm and folid foundation, except there exifts fome common standard of religious truth, to which it may be lawful for all men to appeal, in cafes of doubt and difficulty, and to which

which they fhall be indifpenfably obliged to fubmit and where fhall we find that ftandard but in the decifions of the Univerfal Church! which is under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit-which is founded upon a rock, against which the gates of Hell fhall never prevail!whofe voice is the voice of God, against which it is folly, prefumption, and impiety for any particular member of that holy and mystical body to oppofe his own fallible reasonings and un. authorized opinions. This is the faint outline of that grand argument upon which the Romanifts always profefs their readiness to reft the whole controverfy between them and the Proteftants; and this is the argument which the advocates for Proteftantifm in general practice every artifice to evade, and of which they feem to be often staggered and confounded by the force; and I do not in the leaft wonder that this fhould be the cafe. For For many fucceffive centuries this maxim had been regarded as facred and incontrovertible; and when the Proteftants, therefore, first found themfelves under the neceffity of calling it in question, they avoided giving any greater fhock to their own prejudices, as well as thofe of their antagonists, than they were by the preffure of the occafion led, or rather driven to do; and therefore they contented them felves with denying the infallibility of the Church but they ftill admitted that the Church migh justly claim authority in controverfies of faith; and

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and that what the Church taught was to be received as true, unlefs it could be proved con. trary to the tenor of Scripture. But in the profecution of the controversy, the Protestants quickly found themselves involved in new perplexities: for either every private Christian had a right to judge whether the doctrines taught by the Church were agreeable to Scripture, in which cafe the authority of the Church was an empty found, without any real meaning; or if the Church was allowed to judge of the conformity of its own doctrines to the declarations of Scripture, then the authority of the Church was plainly equivalent to the infallibility claimed by the Romanists: The only difference, according to the obfervation of a witty writer, confifting in thisthat in the one cafe, the Church never could err;—and in the other, that it never did err For a long time, however, the learned and re. verend champions of Protestantism contented themselves with infifting upon, and making the moft they could of this curious distinction: and it was not, perhaps, till the Bangorian Controverfy took place, at the beginning of the prefent century, that this abfurd and ridiculous fubterfuge was compleatly abandoned; and that the right of individuals to appeal from the authority of the Church to the authority of the Sacred Scriptures, was admitted in its full extent, with an explicit avowal and approbation of all its confequences.

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It is well known how great a clamour that memorable Controverfy excited: the Church did not want for able and valiant defenders of the faith; but, alas! the fatal blow was given, and Church-authority, that mighty Dagon, was at length thrown proftrate upon the ground! Notwithstanding, however, that we who live in this enlightened age are able clearly to discern the fallacy of this boafted argument in behalf of Church-authority, it required a force of mind and an acuteness of penetration, which perhaps no one man ever poffeffed, compleatly and at once to detect this dangerous and delufive fophifm. Many generations paffed away after the Reformation had taken place before the most rational, liberal, and intelligent perfons of the Proteftant communion could prevail upon themselves to acknowledge that every private Chriftian was under an indispensable obligation to exercise his own Reason and judgment, in forming his opinions in Religion; and that the authority of the Church, and the decifions of Fathers and Councils, as fuch, ought not in the smallest degree to bias his determinations. These maxims, which to us appear so just and obvious, were univerfally reprobated, as fraught with the moft mifchievous confequences;-as lifting up the doors that herefy and fchifm might enter in.-The utmost wildness and extravagance of fentiment leading to a general state of intellectual anarchy, they imagined must be the inevitable refult of fuch an unbounded freedom of difcuffion. It requires R 2 indeed

indeed at prefent no extraordinary fagacity to fee the weakness and futility of these apprehenfions; nay, it really requires great ftrength of mind to feel the full force of an argument, however subtle and plaufible, which we have always been accustomed to confider as confuted; and we cannot therefore without difficulty conceive the prodigious weight of the impreffion which it must have made on the minds of thofe who had from their earliest years been taught to regard it as facred for its truth, and venerable for its antiquity. Yet it appears to me, that though human authority has been compleatly difcarded, the province and ju rifdiction of Reafon have never been fo accurately defined as to preclude all further difcuffion upon the fubject. It is even impoffible perhaps to fix fuch precife boundaries to her dominion as to enable any man upon just grounds to pronounce" hitherto fhalt thou come and no farther;" and as po precife line of distinction can be drawn, or at least can be clearly difcerned in this cafe, fome will be apt to attribute more to human Reason as a judge of divine truths than fhe is entitled to claim; and others will be inclined to depreciate and to degrade that noble faculty of the mind below its juft value. Notwithstanding this remediless difference of fentiment, I hope I may be permitted to offer a few obfervations upon this fubject, without juftly incurring the charge of prefumption; for as matter widely diffufed may be condenfed though it can

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