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of proper means. We must search for them. It is therefore an object of the first and greatest importance with us, to exert ourselves in their developement and defence. We consider them so vast, so valuable, and so interesting, that nothing could tempt us to forego the pleasure of searching for, so that we may obtain them.
But, in order to be successful in our inquiries for religious, or indeed for any other truths, it is indispensably necessary for us to be convinced that there are truths yet to be discovered. It would be a very unfavorable prepossession, and tend to defeat the object we would accomplish, if we should be possessed of a firm conviction, that we have reached a ne plus ultra of the christian faith, and that we understand all the truths contained in the divine record. A firm persuasion that we can receive instruction, and discover new ideas, is a necessary and essential step towards obtaining them.
It may be true that we have obtained clearer views of the divine character, and brighter evidences of his unlimited goodness, than some of our christian brethren; but, what then? Must we stop where we now are, and make no further inquiries ? Must we believe that we have found out every truth, and learned every duty? Were this the case, what should we do more or believe more, than others? More than Luther, or Calvin, or Arminius? They did much towards effecting a reformation, we all admit; but, after ages have found that they left much undone. And should we stop now--where we are we fear that generations yet unborn might say the same of us. It is therefore indispensably necessary that we should advance advance, even "till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." And if we hold correct opinions, we need not fear as to their final prevalence and triumph. It is as certain that they will
finally prevail and triumph, as it is, that truth is stronger than error.
If it should be asked, where correct opinions may be obtained? we would answer—in the divine record.And if it should be asked, how they may be obtained? we would answer-by “searching the scriptures daily.” We would not ask the religious inquirer to rest satisfied, tho he may have read volumes and volumes of comments, until he has examined, for himself, the sacred scriptures. We would not ask him to give his assent to any doctrine, however much venerated it may be for its antiquity, or supported by prescription, until he has tested it by the "law and the testimony." It is saidand to their everlasting honor too--of the Bereans, that they "were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things" -which they had heard--"were so." And if we would imitate them, and gain that honorable distinction to which they were entitled, we must never rest satisfied with what this, or that man says, unless he speak such truths as are found in the divine record. We must in all cases, appeal to that; and by its decision we must abide. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God."
It is however, important to remark, that religious inquiry, like every thing else, should be conducted in a prudent and proper manner. Regard to time and place is extremely necessary. We should not enter upon a work of such magnitude and importance, hastily and untimely. Christians, of all denominations, concur with us on this particular. But, we are obliged to dissent from them, when they tell us--if the doctrine we advocate be true, it is not now a proper time to give it publicity. If the time has not yet arrived when truth may be proclaimed and inculcated with safety, tell me,
for heaven's sake, when will it arrive? Has not the world long enough been overrun with error, and enveloped in darkness? Have not superstition and bigotry long enough held mankind in bondage-in mental slavery? Have not enough innocent men, women and children, fallen victims to the christian's Moloch? Has not the earth drank enough of the blood of christian and infidel warriors? Have not the destructive feuds long enough existed between Catholics and Protestants? Has not the imagined purity of the church long enough been defended, by the united exertions of fire and sword? Has not the heart of sensibility long enough wept over, scenes of human anguish, and been torn in contemplating the imaginary evils of another world? Yes-oh, yes. The time has come-it now is when a new era should commence; and truth, reason, and religion should successfully contend against error, ignorance, and fanaticism. The time has indeed come; and we hail the auspicious period with rapture. We congratulate ourselves on the happy prospect before us; and after ages shall rejoice to behold light, truth, and freedom, universally prevail.
It is vain to suppose that such puerile objections will have any weight in the minds of candid, intelligent men. If the doctrine is true, let it be publicly proclaimed; and if it be not true, free inquiry and candid discussion will silence its advocates. It must be brought to this test; by this test it must be tried; and we are willing to abide by the result. We wish to deceive no man, in matters of religion; nor do we wish to be deceived ourselves.
The present age is peculiarly propitious to religious inquiry. Every man is seeking for truth, professedly; and every man, we doubt not, will eventually find it. In past ages it was not.so. Turn back the historic page, and you will observe a wonderful propensity in man, to
retard the progress of religious inquiry; but, you will observe too, thank heaven, a few fearless spirits, urged on by a love of religious freedom, overleaping the bounds of common prudence, to fan the kindling flame; so that it might, at some future day, set the world on fire. When once a love of religious liberty, (which invariably leads to free inquiry,) gets possession of the mind, it will indeed display itself in a wonderful manner. If it cannot exert its influence in the land of its nativity, it will even carry its possessor across a wide waste of waters, and dwell in a land of solitude and danger. It will there deposit its holy spark; and even if that spark should be smothered for a while, by the unholy fiat of oppression, it will grow the more impatient by restraint, and intense by long confinement; so that, when it shall burst from its confines, as it certainly will, sooner or later, the world may well gaze in wonder and admiration, on its rapid spread to the four corners of the earth, and its increasing splendor, as it rises to mingle with its pure original, in heaven.
The spirit of inquiry has already gone forth, as did the dove from the window of the ark, and will not return, till it can bring with it the olive branch of universal peace. It will go forth "conquering and to conquer," ⚫ till it shall prevail against every thing that is opposed to liberty and truth. It will "overturn, and overturn, and overturn," the "strong holds" of civil and ecclesiastical domination, until HE shall come, whose right it is to rule in the minds of men, and sway the mild sceptre of peace over the intelligent creation.
One word more, particularly addressed to those that may lend their assistance, and favor us with the result of their inquiries, and we have done. The Society, for whom I speak this evening, proposes for its object, the investigation of scripture truths; the diffusion of moral and religious information; and the extension of liberal
christianity. And in accomplishing this object, it is not to be expected-it cannot be expected-that all will think, or speak alike; that every one will hold the same opinions ;-nor do we think that such a thing would be desirable, were it possible. We anticipate a diversity of opinions; but, whether they be original or selected, whether brought here in one's own language or in another's, we hope and expect to hear them expressed in a tone of conciliation and christian forbearance. We hope never to hear, in this place, the voice of aspersion, bitter invectives, or illiberal sarcasms. Yet we would wish to hear every opinion stated with clearness, and in forcible language. And this may be done without wounding the most tender mind, or offending the most delicate one. Let the truth be spoken in plainness and simplicity. It requires no external decorations. It appears the most lovely and attractive, when dressed in its simplest attire. It is like "true loveliness :" :
"When unadorn'd adorn'd the most."
It need only to be advanced in its native purity, to be admired and received by all who are seeking for it.
Let it be added, for our encouragement, while we are in pursuit of religious truths, that the Savior has declared-"seek, and ye shall find." And let it be remembered also, that he has said-"If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed ;-and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Let this encourage us to diligence and perseverance. Let it awaken in us a spirit of inquiry; and let it arouse us to a determination, that we will know, for ourselves, "what is truth," and what is not!