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Good Words 1860
Do not Err from the Truth


There is danger lest you should. If, in the times of the apostles—in the very childhood of Christianity—the tares sown by the enemy were so rank in their luxuriant growth, that there were some who denied the Divinity of Christ, and some who allied impurity to devotion, and some who rejoiced in imagined release from all obligation to personal obedience, surely the peril is not less imminent now, when almost every man deems himself inspired, and has some formative theory of his own. When we consider the close and indissoluble connexion between faith and practice, and how a man's life is of necessity shaped and moulded by his sentiments, we cannot look upon it as a thing indifferent that he should have an orthodox creed. We cannot forget that the Moslem enters upon fierce wars of extermination; and the Japanese, amid barbarous rites, holds festival to spurn the cross; and the Thug strangles on principle, and finds his merit in the multiplication of his murders; and the Hindoo, personally merciful, defends infanticide, and mourns that widows are no longer burnt nor victims immolated, as over some lost privilege —all because of their opinions ; and that, even where the sentiments have no direct, causal influence upon the practice, they are collaterally and always influential, leavening the nature and evolving the tone of the entire man. We cannot, therefore, regard it as a trifling matter to "err from the truth," by a departure from "the faith once delivered to the saints." By many in the present day this will be thought a scrupulous and old-world fear, altogether inconsistent with the breadth and liberality of the present times. There are those even among the teachers of religion who denounce creeds and denominations almost as vehemently as infidelity and sin; and who seem to think it their special mission to pull down, not only the "middle walls of partition," but the ancient landmarks which guard the poor man's heritage. If, by the idolatry of creed, which they denounce, they mean a blind and traditional adhesion to a system of unfelt truth—a thing of rubrics and genuflexions—something which heats the fierce feelings of the partisan, but which clasps not the truth in its affections, as the tendril clasps the tree; if, by denominationalism, they mean the churlish narrowness, which, in a time of drought, vaunts selfishly of its own wringing fleece, and can see no good or blessing beyond the curtains of its own tent—then have at them, brave iconoclasts!—and, as things which ought to pass away, and which are unworthy of the Christianity which they disfigure, root them out of our Churches, if you can. But if creeds be, as they ought to be, but expressions of an inner life, "forms of sound words," draping the living truth; and if denominations, careful to preserve that charity which is the "bond of perfectness," are but, as they ought to be, towers of strength for combined resistance and aggression—then, in proportion as we value our Christianity, these, its expressions and habitations, will be regarded and sustained. We are jealous of that pantheistic benevolence to which all religions are of equal esteem, and which renders its sentimental adoration, whether the deity be libertine or holy, whether the altar be crowned with flowers, or red with the dripping blood. The man who professes universal love without some central affection, has a selfish heart within him. The large charities of our land—the tireless compassions which are swift in the relief of suffering—the beneficence, which, in its abandonment to generosity, would almost "coin its heart, and drop its blood for drachmas," —whence do they spring? Who are the men who sustain them? Not the loungers at the cafe or the club, to whom life is an endless migration, an eccentric orbit, a perpetual quarantine, — their affections are too diffuse and frittered for such practical action. No; but the men of local ties, and central attractions, and happy homes, who have learned, from the preciousness of their own family treasures, the worth of such blessings to the world ; and, from their own agonising anxiety in some crisis of trouble, to sympathise with the homeless and the desolate around them. And so it is in the developments of the religious life. It is dangerous to loose off from quiet anchorage in matters of belief, and from the communion of saints in matters of Christian fellowship. "We have seen men in our own day who have imbued themselves with the sentiment of Pope's hackneyed and heretical couplet—

"For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight,
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right."

And, in their new privilege of fancied intellectual freedom, they have cast from them the restraints of creed; and they have outgrown the stature of the sects; and they have gathered round them a company of congenial spirits, as motley and equivocal as that of David in the cave of Adullam; and for a while they have leaped and shouted in the intoxication of their liberty. But we have followed those men in their melancholy progress; and, one by one, they have shifted from the foundation-truths of Christian faith and hope; and they have rushed, irreverent, into the holy place; and licence of thought has induced laxity of life, until, homeless and wild as any Bedouin of the desert, they have prowled about among the Churches— spiritual Ishmaels,—"their hands against every man, and every man's hand against them." It is no light thing to err from the truth; for in the heart of error there is sin. In this wondrous age —this age of enormous publicity, and of bold thinking, and of unbounded revelry of speculation —this danger assails all. Some, it may be, from an old-fashioned honesty of ignorance, which is unable to comprehend, (here and there one, perhaps, but very, very few,) some from intellectual pride, some from stubbornness of soul, but most from sheer love of evil, and hatred of the restraints of godliness, thus err from the truth. The chief source of infidelity is not in the head, but in the heart—not that the understanding is bewildered by the feebleness or lack of evidence, but that the heart "loves darkness rather than light, because its deeds are evil." Reader, art thou in danger? Is there one, whose eye is upon this page, on whom a cloud of doubt has darkened, or who, by the bland and jesuitical suggestions of some infidel acquaintance, has had his faith in gospel verities unsettled and shaken? My brother, haste thee to cast out the demon from thy soul. Crush it, like a serpent, for there is death in its gripe and in its fang. It behoves us all, in the impending struggle of the times—a struggle, if we mistake not, fiercer than the world has known—to take care that, "rooted in the faith," we "hold fast the form of sound words." We do not ask—the genius of Christianity would rebuke us if we did—your feudal or traditional submission to its sovereignty. Build not your faith upon ancestral reverence, nor educational bias, nor customary orthodoxy, nor upon a minister's unsupported words. Search the Scriptures for yourselves. Only, take care to come to the investigation stripped of carnal prejudices and preconceived hostility, with your spirit softened into a docile frame, and your pride humbled into a willinghood to learn—and, above all, seeking the guidance from on high in all the fervency of prayer; and the promised Spirit shall "lead you into all truth;" and you "shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." It is marvellous how much the conversion of the soul tends to the correctness of the theology, as if the regenerating grace took the scales from the eyes, as well as the veil from the heart. We have known a man, whose dwelling was on the shores of a lovely lake, beneath the shadow of a beetling hill, in one of the most secluded and beautiful parts of our island-home. The preachers of the gospel had failed to penetrate among the sparse population, and the man's only teachers were the heir-loom of an old family Bible, and G6d, as His own Interpreter. But the Holy Spirit arrested that man under the arching sky; and, in the shade of the brown woods, he wrestled for pardon, and obtained it, and walked in the light of God's countenance for years, before he knew that there were any in the world of like experience, consciously happy in a Saviour's love. And in the after-time, when the truth was carried into that pleasant vale, that man—a ready agent in its spread—was found to have a correct creed, as well as a consistent life. He had sat at the feet of Jesus. He had heard many "sermons on the mount." In the woodland aisles of one of nature's many-pillared minsters, the Spirit had "opened to him the scriptures;" and he had become a disciple of God's own teaching, filled with those grand and inspiring beliefs, which only needed arrangement to become a vital and accurate system of theology. Try this experiment for yourselves. Submit yourselves, in personal surrender, unto God. Cry penitently for mercy. Embrace the reconciliation of the great atonement, and the truth will be its own witness. Ascending into a region sublimer than that of induction, yours shall be the evidence, not of testimony only, but of consciousness—the satisfying feeling of the truth, which reason fails to compass; and your triumphant answer to all cavil and to all compromise will be, in the language of the Book, ''He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself."


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