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ESSAY ON TRUTH:
CONTAINING AN ENQUIRY INTO ITS NATURE AND IMPORTANCE; WITH THE
CAUSES OF ERROR, AND THE REASONS OF ITS BEING PERMITTED.
THE multifarious and discordant sentiments which divide mankind, afford a great temptation to scepticism, and many are carried away by it. The open enemies of the gospel take occasion from hence to justify their rejection of it: and many of its professed friends have written as if they thought, that to be decided amidst so many minds and opinions were almost presumptuous. The principal, if not the only use which they would make of these differences is, to induce a spirit of moderation and charity, and to declaim against bigotry.
To say nothing at present how these terms are perverted and hackneyed in a certain cause, let two things be seriously considered : First, Whether this was the use made by the apostles of the discordant opinions which prevailed in their times, even amongst those who "acknowledged the divinity of our Saviour's mission ?" In differences amongst christians which did not affect the kingdom of God, nor destroy the work of God, it cere tainly was: such were those concerning meats, drinks, and days,* in which the utmost forbearance was inculcated. But it was otherwise in differences which affected the leading doctrines and precepts of chris
* Rom. xiv, 17, 20.
tianity. Forbearance in these cases would, in the account of the sacred writers, have been a crime.
Let us candidly enquire, christian reader, whether, notwithstanding the diversity of sentiments in the christian world, truth may not be clearly ascertained? Whether it be not of the utmost importance? Whe-ther the prevalence of error may not be accounted for? And lastly, Whether the wisdom, as well as the justice of God, may not be seen in his permitting it?
WHAT IS TRUTH ? In attempting to answer this question, I desire to take nothing for granted, but that christianity is of God, and that the scriptures are a revelation of his will. If christianity be of God, and he have revealed his will in the holy scriptures, light is come into the world, though the dark minds of sinful creatures comprehend it not. It does not follow, because many wander in mazes of fruitless speculation, that there is not a way so plain that a way-faring man, or one who “ walketh in the truth," though a fool, shall not err. The numerous sects among the Greeks and Romans, and even among the Jews, at the time of our Saviour's appearing, did not prove that there was no certain knowledge to be obtained of what was truth. Our
Lord considered himself as speaking plainly, or he : would not have asked the jews as he did, “Why do
ye not understand my speech ?” The apostles and primitive believers saw their way plainly: and though we cannot pretend to the extraordinary inspiration which was possessed by many of them; yet if we humbly follow their light, depending on the ordinary teachings of God's holy Spirit, we shall see ours.
Truth, we may be certain, is the same thing as what in the scriptures is denominated “the gospel, common salvation,” “the common faith,'
„*o the faith once delivered to the saints,” “ the truth as it is in Jesus,” &c.; and what this is, may be clearly understood by the brief summaries of the gospel, and of
the faith of the primitive christians, which abound in the new testament. Of the former the following are a few of many examples:"God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life - The Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost-I am the way, the truth, and the life : no man cometh unto the Father but by me-To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins-We preach Christ crucified, to the jews 'a stumbling-block, and to the greeks foolishness; but to them that believe, the wisdom of God, and the power of God- I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified--Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast what I preached to you, unless ye have believed in vain: for I delivered unto you first of all that which l'also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures--This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief-This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son-Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
If language have any determinate meaning, it is here plainly taught that mankind are not only sinners, but in a lost and perishing condition, without help or hope, but what arises from the free grace of God through the atonement of his Son; that he died as our substitute; that we are forgiven and accepted only for the sake of what he hath done and suffered ; that in his person and work all evangelical truth concentrates; that the doctrine of salvation for the chief of sinners through his death, was so familiar in the primitive times, as to become a kind of christian proverb, or “saying;” and that on our receiving and retaining this depends our present “ standing," and final “salvation.” If this doctrine be received, christianity is received : if not, the record which God hath given of his Son is rejected, and he himself treated as a liar.
When this doctrine is received in the true spirit of it, (which it never is but by a sinner ready to perish) all those fruitless speculations which tend only to bewilder the mind, will be laid aside; just as malice, and guile, and envies, and evil-speakings, are laid aside by him who is born of God. They will fall off from the mind, like the coat of the chrysalis, of their own accord. Many instances of this are constantly occurring. Persons who, after having read and studied controversies, and leaned first to one opinion and then to another, till their minds have been lost in uncertainty, have at length been brought to think of the gospel, not as a matter of speculation, but as that which seriously and immediately concerned them: and embracing it as good news to them who are ready to perish, have not only found rest to their souls, but all their former notions have departed from them as a dream when one awaketh.
Corresponding with the brief summaries of the gospel are the concise accounts given of the faith of the primitive christians.--"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God-Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
-If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." The sacred writers did not mean by this language to magnify the belief of one or two divine truths at the expense of others; but to exhibit them as bearing an inseparable connexion : so that if these were truly embraced, the other would be certain to accompany them. They considered the doctrine of the person