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· IV. The practical lessons for regulating Christian conduct, which the commendation of the Bereans suggests, are the following:
1. The necessity of exercising liberality towards all professing Christians.
I mean not by this liberality, an equalization of all religious principles; but rendering to every denomination its just due. They all avow the doctrines which they have embraced, and the foundation upon which they consider these doctrines to rest. In our intercourse with those who differ from us, we ought to imitate the noble Bereans. They attended to the things which the apostles unfolded to them. They did not believe without evidence; they did not reject without examination. Thus we are bound to act towards all men, but especially Christians. Such liberality of feeling and conduct does not imply, that they who display it, “ are ever learning, and never coming to “ the knowledge of the truth.” It does not reduce them to their level, who are indifferent about the belief of one God or twenty gods, because the belief does not break our bones or pick our pockets.
The liberality which is now recommended, is closely and inseparably connected with independence of opinion, and decision of conduct. It is not a tame surrender of our own views, and an abandonment of that deportment which those views have produced, but merely treating every class of men as they deserve. Others are frail as well as ourselves. We may be mistaken as well as they. Examine, therefore, with care and diligence, their pretensions. They have a right to claim such examination from you: or if you reject their right, unquestionably they upon the same ground may reject your right to have your doctrines examined by them. The exact rule of righteousness in this, as well as in all other cases, is, “ What“soever ye would that men should do to “you, do ye even so to them: for this is “ the law and the prophetso.”. This rule, which is the rule of liberality that we are enforcing, is too much neglected and openly violated by the different denominations of Christians, in their intercourse with each other. Did they adhere more strictly and honourably to the spirit, as well as letter of this rule, there would be, comparatively, little of that hostile spirit and conduct, which now disgraces their name and profession. But unfortunately, they act in too many instances, as if their morality and religion were to be determined, not according to the high and lofty standard of revelation, but according to the low, the intriguing, and sinful standards of human corruption. Against such conduct, it is both a duty and privilege to protest.
a Matt. vii. 12.
2. Ministers of the Lord Jesus are bound to make their discourses, illustrations, and defences of the contents of the Scriptures.
Thus the apostles acted, and have left their example for the imitation of their successors, the pastors and teachers in the house of God. Had they always acted thus, we would have had but few heresies, and those of little consequence in the Church. But, unfortunately, soon after the days of the apostles,“ philosophy and vain deceit” superseded the Word of God. The authority of the schools was substituted for the authority, thus saith the Lord. Instead of regarding the Scriptures as the only standard of information concerning the truths VOL. II.
which we must believe concerning God, and the duties which God requires of man, the ministers of the Gospel adopted other standards, in addition to the Scriptures. Hence as we always love our own inventions more than the revelation of God, respect for the latter rapidly diminished, and the traditions of men became the law of the Church.
It is to be regretted that, even after the reformation, too much of this spirit was displayed by the ministers of the Gospel. The first reformers and their immediate successors, were, it is true, powerful in the Scriptures. But a race of men soon sprang up, who introduced the philosophy of Plato and Socrates in the pulpit, in place of the Seriptures. Would to God none of them were left to mislead and ruin poor sinners! But the Church of God still suffers from multitudes of this class. These are they who preach morals, not in connexion with the doctrines of the cross, but as a sophist would teach them. Christ crucified constitutes no part of their discourses: or if he be introduced, it is as they would introduce the head of a sect, the author of a new
scheme of philosophy. These ministers, fike the ancient heathen, have become vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart is darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they have become fools, and changed the glory of God, as it appears in the face of Jesus Christ, for a phantom of their own creation.
3. Nothing, which ministers preach, ought to be received for truth, if it accords not with the Scriptures.
Since there are ministers who corrupt the truth, as we have already stated, congregations ought to be on their guard, so as not to be seduced by them. How can they avoid this consequence, if they do not compare the sermons which they hear with the Scriptures. Your salvation, my hearers, depends upon your receiving the truth in the love of it. If, instead of receiving the truth, you receive error, and die under the influence of that error, your ruin is inevitable. Remember that the treasure of the Gospel is committed to earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are frail creatures as you are, to whom we