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grow in grace, then the painful contemplation of God serves to make sinners grow in sin and alienation from God. Let all inquire whether they are ripening for life, or deatb.
For the Hopkinsian Magazine.
CONNEXION BETWEEN WAVERING BELIEF AND UNSTABLE
Remarks upon James 1. 8-A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
[Concluded from page 231.] From what has been advanced in the preceding essay, the following inferences may be drawn:
1. A person, who is unsteady in his belief, frequently changing his sentiments, and wavering between opposite schemes of doctrine and morals, is not to be regarded as a real christian. It is true, that uniformity of belief, in a great degree, may sometimes be · found in those who are destitute of religion. There may be some under such a strong delusion as to have become confirmed in a
system of error, which they hold fast, without wavering, as long · as they live, and never find their fatal mistake until they open
their eyes in the eternal world. And there may be others, who have received a religious education, have been taught the truths of the Bible, and have gained such a knowledge of those truths, and become so fully convinced by the evidence which supports them, that nothing can shake their belief in them; while, at the same time, they 'hold the truth in unrighteousness,' and have never lobeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which has been delivered them.' So that steadiness of belief, whether the doctrines believed are false or true, is no certain evidence that one is a christian.
But, on the other hand, upsteadiness of belief ever exhibits eridence of a want of true religion. Such unsteadiness, as has been shown, arises from that ignorance of the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, and inattention to the evidence on which they rest, which flow from hatred to the truth. Those under the light of the gospel, who love divine truth, will learn it, embrace it, and abide in it. But those who hate the truth, are not to be regarded as christians; for all real christians have received the love of the truth, that they may be saved.' A person, therefore, who is unwavering in his belief, ought not to be viewed as a christian. And this appears to have been the conclusion of the apostle
James. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given bim. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea, driven of the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall -receive any thing of the Lord.'
2. It will follow, from what has been advanced, that christians are not chargable with bigotry or self-sufliciency, on account of their firm and unwavering belief of their religious sentiments. Such a charge is often brought against them, by the opposers of the sentiments which they embrace. But it has been made to appear, that steadiness of belief is essential to christian character: and must a person, then, be bigotted and self-sufficient, in order to be a christian? To say this, would be to speak reproachfully of christianity. But why should christians be bound to change their sentiments? They have formed them by a diligent and unbiassed perusal of the sacred scriptures, the plain and infallible standard of both faith and practice. They know that the scheme of doctrine which they have embraced, is in accordance with the word of God, and must, therefore, be true. And besides, they find this scheme daily confirmed by their own experience and observation. They have in themselves the witness of the truth of the leading doctrines which they embrace. It is impossible, therefore, that they should waver in their belief of the essential doctrines of their boly religion. They both know the truth, and know that they do know it. Those who embrace fundamental error, may think, yea be very confident, that they know the truth. Errorists may be very sincere, and very sure. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death.' But christians are sincerely right, and have confidence in God. They lean not to their own understandings, but have 'set to their seal that God is true,' Wby, then, should they fluctuate in their belief? It is not laying any claim to infallibility, for them to remain fixed and settled in the belief of those doctrines which they have received from the intelligible and infallible oracles of God, and which commend themselves to every candid mind and enlightened conscience, as well as to every good and honest heart. They ought indeed to keep their minds open to conviction, as to any minor mistakes which they may bave made, and to endeavor to grow in knowledge as well as in grace; but it is absurd to require them to change their belief in the essential principles of that system of truth and duty, which they have received from that fountain of divine knowledge which liveth and abideth forever.' Bigetry does not consist in abiding in the truth, or in 'holding fast the form of sound words;' but in obstinately adhering to error, when clearly exposed and fairly refuted.
3. It is not improper or unreasonable for christians to subscribe a creed, or confession of their faith. One of the principal objections against forming and subscribing a creed, is, that it implies a promise not to change one's sentiments, whatever new light he may gain,-a promise not to increase in knowledge-not to grow wiser. But this objection is without the least weight, if christians ought to be steady and unwavering in their belief of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel; and so they certainly ought to be, if they both know the truth, and know that they do know it. It is not improper or unreasonable for christians to promise that they will steadfastly adhere to the essential principles of their belief, expressed in their confessions of faith; for they are sure that these must stand, and that whatever new truths they may learn, will not subvert, but perfectly accord with and confirm that systein of doctrines which has been delivered them in the scriptures of truth.
4. This subject shows the fallacy of that maxim of the poet, which is so often quoted, and so much admired:
. “He can't be wrong whose life is in the right.' Understood in one sense, this maxim is, no doubt, correct. It is true that a good life, in the strict and proper sense of the phrase, flows from good principles as much as a good heart. A good life is not only a moral, but a religious and godly life; and such a life results from the belief and love of the essential doctrines of the Bible; for it is the truth only 'which is according to godliness.'
But this is not the sense in which the above maxim was meant by the poet, and is understood by most who quote and admire it. The meaning intended, and commonly received, is this; that he is a virtuous and good man whose life is moral, whatever errors he may hold, and however fluctuating he may be in his belief. But here is a palpable fallacy, which our subject enables us to detect. Two things are here taken for granted, neither of which is true; first, that a virtuous and good man may embrace and retain ever so many and great errors, and perpetually fluctuate from one scheme of false doctrine to another, and secondly, that a man's erroneous and fluctuating belief may have no influence upon his practice, which is directly contrary to the assertion of the apostle James, that 'a donble-minded man is unstable in all, his ways.
5. It may be inferred from the preceding observations, that good sentiments are as important as good practice. Good moral and religious practice cannot flow from essentially erroneous moral and religious sentiments, any more than sweet water can flow from a bitter fountain, or good fruit grow upon a corrupt tree. A man's practice may be bad, whose sentiments are good; for men naturally love to practice evil, and may be drawn away by their lusts, and enticed to do what they are convinced is wrong, and what their own consciences condemn.
But, on the other hand, a man's practice cannot be good, whose sentiments are essentially and widely erroneous; for, in the first place, a good man will not embrace and retain such sentiments, and it is a good mar only whose practice is really good, in a moral and religious view; and in the second place, a wicked man, who loves to practice evil, will feel himself justified by erroneous
sentiments, in following the desires and devices of his depraved heart; so that the instances are very rare, if they ever occur, in which a wicked man, who has imbibed great errors on moral and religious subjects, maintains even a fair exterior, and much less a truly moral and religious conversation. The lives of inen are often worse, but rarely better than their creeds.
In this respect, as well as in others, it is not a matter of indirference what men believe. It is as important that men should know and believe the truth, as it is that they should understand aud do their duty.
6. This subject throws light upon a fact, for which it lias been thought difficult to account. I allude to the great diversity of sentiment among those who prosess to derire all their knowledge of religion and morals from the same sacred volume. From the earliest period, the christian world bas been divided into various denominations, which have been multiplied and ramified almost without limits. These denominations have differed not only respecting the rites and forms of religion and the externals of morality, but respecting the essential and fundamental doctrines and duties of the gospel; while, at the same time, they have generally professed their belief in the sacred scripturis, as the inspired and sufficient rule of faith and practice. This fact has often perplexed the minds of believers, while unbelievers have taken occasion from it to justify their rejection of the counsel of God. This diversity of sentiment has been accounted for in various ways.. Some have attributed it to the obscurity and apparent inconsistency of the sacred writers. But to account for it in this way, falls little short of calling in question the inspiration of the scriptures, which are professedly given for the instruction of all classes of men, and which all are required to understand and believe.-Some bave attributed the difference of sentiment in the christian world, to the difference in the natural abilities of men. But this must be incorrect; for the difference in the natural abilities of men, exists to as great a degree among those who are united in sentiment, as among those who differ; and it exists, and forever will exist, in heaven, where there can be no diversity of sentiment. Others have attributed the difference of sentiment among professing christians, to the different modes of education which have prevailed. But in reply it may be said, that the different modes of education have been the effect, and not the cause, of the diversity of religious and moral sentiment.
The subject under present consideration furnishes a satisfactory solution of the difficulty above mentioned, and discloses the true source of that diversity of moral and religious sentiment, which has so much distracted and puzzled the christian world. It is the same as the source of that unstea:liness and fluctuation in belief, to which so many are addicted. It is the blindness of the heart, that moral depravity which darkens the understanding and perverts the judgment, which causes men to 'love darkness rather than light,' and leads the 'unlearned and unstable to wrest the scriptures to their own destruction.' If all who have prosessed the christian religion, bad received the love of the truth,' they would have been of ‘one mind,' and there would have been no diversity or change of sentiment, from the days of the apostles to the present time. But even now, notwithstanding the different modes of teaching, preaching, and writing, to which the difference of sentiment has given rise, it is possible for any honest inquirer after the truth, to find it. The obstacles in his way are great, but not insuperable. They may be overcome, and ought to be overcome, as to all essential matters; for there is no imperfection in the scriptures, which are able to make men wise unto salvation.'
7. This subject shows the reasonableness of disciplining professors of religion, for heresy as well as for immorality. Why should professors be disciplined for immorality? Doubtless because immorality furnishes evidence of an unrenewed heart. But heresy, i. e. the embracing and avowing of fundamental error, furnishes equal evidence of an unrenewed heart; for a professor who einbraces and avows such error, is necessarily unsteady in his belief, having at least once apostatized from the faith which he professed, and thus given reason to apprehend that his heart is not right with God.'
8. In the light of this subject, the condition of saints appears happy and safe. They know the truth, and know that they know it; and the truth makes them free from doubt, perplexity, and change, and lays a solid foundation for their hope of heaven.
Finally, the condition of sinners appears miserable and dangerous. If they know and believe the truth, they hold it in sin, and make it the occasion of their greater condemnation. If they are ignorant of the truth, they are in darkness and perplexity, fluctuating from one error to another, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, Their minds are like 'the troubled sea, which cannot rest. Ever leaning, there is the utmost danger that, through the deceptive arts of heretics, the devices of Satan, and the blindness of their own hearts, they will never come to the saving knowledge of the truth.'