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My appearing in this public manner on that side of the question, which is defended in the following sheets, will probably be surprising to many, as it is well known, that Mr. Stod. dard, 80 great and eminent a divine, and my venerable predecessor in the pastoral office over the church in Northampton, as well as my own grandfather, publicly and strenuously appeared in opposition to the doctrine here maintained.
However, I hope, it will not be taken amiss, that I think as I do, merely because I herein differ from him, though 80 much my superior, and one whose name and memory I am under distinguishing obligations on every account, to treat with great respect and honor. Especially may I justly expect, that it will not be charged on me as a crime, that I do not think in every thing just as he did, since none more than he himself asserted this scriptural and Protestant maxim, that we ought to call no man on earth Master, or make the authority of the greatest and holiest of mere men the ground of our belief of any doctrine in religion. Certainly we are not obliged to think any man infallible, who himself utterly disclaims infallibility. Very justly Mr. Stoddard ob. serves in his Appeal to the Learned, p. 97, “ All Protestants agree that there is no infallibility at Rome ; and I know nobody else that pretends to any since the apostles' days." And he insists in his preface to his sermon on the same subject, That it argues no want of due respect in us to our forefathers, for us to examine their opinions. Some of his words in that preface contain a good apology for me, and are worthy to be repeated on this occasion. They are as follow :
“ It may possibly be a fault ( says Mr. Stoddard) to depart from the ways of our fathers : But it may also be a virtue, and an eminent act of obedience, to depart from them in some things. Men are wont to make a great noise, that we are bringing in in. novations, and depart from the old way: But it is beyond me to find out wherein the iniquity does lie. We may see cause to alter some practices of our fathers, without desplsing of them, with. out priding ourselves in our wisdom, without apostacy, without abusing the advantages God has given us, without a spirit of compliance with corrupt men, without inclination to superstition, without making disturbance in the church of God: And there is no reason, that it should be turned as a reproach upon us. Sure. ly it is commendable for us to examine the practices of our fathers ; we have no sufficient reason to take practices upon trust from them. Let them have as high a character 48 belongs to them; yet we may not look upon their principles as oracles. Na. than himself missed it in his conjecture about building the house of God. He that believes principles because they affirm them, makes idols of them. And it would be no humility, but baseness of spirit, for us to judge ourselves incapable to examine the prin. ciples that have been handed down to us. If we be by any means fit to open the mysteries of the gospel, we are capable to judge of these matters : And it would ill become u8, 80 to indulge ourselves in ease, as to neglect the examination of received principles. If the practices of our faihers in any particulars were mistaken, it is fit that they should be rejected ; if they be not, they will bear examination. If we be forbidden to examine their practice, that will cut off all hopes of reformation."
Thus in these very seasonable and apposite sayings, Mr. Stod, dard, though dead, yet speaketh ; And here (to apply them to my own case ) he tells me, that I am not at all blameable, for not taking his puinciples on trust ; that notwithstanding the high character justly belonging to him, I ought not to look on his principles as oracles, as though he could not miss it, as well as Na. than himself in his conjecture about building the house of God; nay, surely that I am even to be commended, for examining his practice, and judging for myself ; that it would ill become me, to do otherwise ; that this would be no manifestation of humility, but rather shew a baseness of spirit ; that if I be not capable to judge for myself in these matters, I am by no means fit to open the mysteries of the gospel; that if I should believe his principles, because he advanced them, I should be guilty of making him an idol. Also he tells his and my rock, with all others, that it ill becomes them, 80 to indulge their ease, as 10 neglect examining received principles and practices ; and that it is fit, mistakes in any particulars be rejected : That if in some things I differ in my judgment from him, it would be very unreasonable, on this account to make a great noise, as though I were bringing in innovations, and departing from the old way ; that I may see cause to alter some practices of my grandfather and predecessor, without despising him, without priding myself in my wisdom, without apostasy, without despising the advantages God has given me, without inclination to superstition, and without making disturbance in the church of God ; in short, that it is beyond him, to find out wherein the iniquity of my so doing lies ; and that there is no reason why it should be turned as a reproach upon me,
Thus, I think, he sufficiently vindicates my conduct in the present case, and warns all with whom I am concerned, not to be at all displeased with me, or to find the least fault with me, merely because I examine for myself, have a judgment of my own, and am for practising in some particulars different from him, how positive soever he was that his judgment and practice were right, It is reasonably hoped and expected, that they who have a great regard to his judgment, will impartially regard his judgment, and hearken to his admonition in these things.
I can seriously declare, that an affectation of making a shew as if I were something wiser than that excellent person, is exceeding distant from me, and very far from having the least influence in my appearing to oppose, in this way of the press, an opinion which he so earnestly maintained and promoted. Sure I am, I have not affected tj vary from his judgment, nor in the least been governed by a spirit of contradiction, neither indulged a cavilling humor, in remarking on any of his arguments or expressions.
I have formerly been of his opinion, which I imbibed from his books, even from my childhood, and have in my proceedings conformed to his practice ; though never without some difficulties in my view, which I could not solve : Yet, however, a distrust of my own understanding, and deference to the authority of 80 venerable a man, the secming strength of some of his arguments, togetha