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ARRANGEMENT OF THE SUBJECT MATTER.
1. In treating of religious Societies in the present Times, the great business seems to be, to give a right account of what are called Articles of Religion, including under that name, Creeds, Confessions of Faith, and all declarations of opinion or doctrine by which one religious community is kept distinct from another. These therefore must be considered as the principal objects of our attention. They may be so considered safely, as their nature cannot be explained without introducing all subjects which relate to religious society.
2. It is sometimes found useful to consider a subject in two different and opposite methods :according to the first, we begin with the present fact, inquire the cause of it, and mount up, from cause to cause, till we come to first principles : according to the second method, we begin from first principles as the original cause, and trace out a series of effects, till we come to that which is the object of our researches. Let us not neglect either of these methods.
We find Articles of religion subsisting; we ask what is the cause of their being made?—the first answer is, because without them we could not have one body of Doctrine taught to all the people: we next ask, why do we want to have such unity of doctrine?-in order to keep men from dissensions.Where is the great good of keeping men from dissensions? because while they are disputing and doubting, their principles are unsettled, and they cannot have right religious sentiments.-And what is the great importance of their having right sentiments? because from their sentiments men act.
3. If we begin from first principles, we say, to bring men to right conduct is the design of all religious institutions: (religious conduct, when regulated by reason, will be right conduct) : in order to bring about religious actions, we want religious sentiments : or, trying to form religious sentiments is the effect of endeavouring to bring about religious conduct: to form and strengthen religious sentiments, we want the mind to be free from doubt and perplexity, we want an uniformity in teaching ; in order to secure uniformity in teaching, we want assent to one body of doctrines from every teacher belonging to any one Society.
This latter method we shall, in effect, pursue; though we shall sometimes seem for a while to deviate from it.
4. According to this method then we must first mention, a little more particularly, the general end or design of religious Societies. It is, to make men perform all their several Duties with spirit and constancy : to give them motives, and inspire them with sentiments and affections, for that purpose: affections so well directed, as never to carry them into any hurtful measures; so strong and powerful, as to enable them to overcome all difficulties and temptations.—This supposes that men
can be brought to agree in using the same modes of religion : when they cannot, the end or design of forming a particular religious society, is to associate as many as can agree, so far as to use the same form of worship and instruction, and to abstain from all disputes.
If any one says, what need is there of Religion in order to make men perform their duties? why cannot morality and laws answer the purpose ? we refer him to what has been said before in the 19th Chapter of the first Book.
5. Articles of Religion must be considered as means of answering the ends of religious Society; if they are used for any other purpose, they are abused: when men are called upon therefore to join in one form of instruction, and as a security, to give their assent to a collection of opinions, every thing ought to be done with a view to the end now described. And as they should be called upon by those in Authority to declare their opinions with this view, so when they do declare them, they should give some attention to the same purpose. Indeed all men should be as open and frank as possible; and when they can chuse their expressions, they should take those which are the most simple and proper ; but if forms are fixed upon for them, and one and the same form for many different ranks and sorts of persons, they should then consider the reasons for which they were fixed upon: expressions seemingly absolute have very frequently a particular reference, and by that they are to be limited and interpreted : so that assent must be guided by the purpose which men in authority have in view when they require it.—This will be seen more plainly hereafter ; it is now affirmed chiefly with a view of properly laying out our subject.
6. There is one difficulty which may be mentioned now :-assent must depend upon the design and purpose of Articles of Religion ; but who is competent to judge of Articles of Religion as means of promoting right conduct? is every man to take for granted that he understands their end and design, and the manner in which they attain it? or are there but few that can limit and interpret the
• Sect. 16 and 17.
• Book i. Chap. 10.
expressions contained in them by such considerations? Perhaps the best answer which we can give to these questions, may partake of the imperfection of human things. The common people should be. directed by the informed, (or Philosophers'); both as to doctrines and the manner of assenting to them: and such common people will, in effect, treat a Body of Doctrines only as a discriminating mark of the community to which they belong: the best informed should search to the bottom of the matter: intermediate persons must go partly upon the judgment of others, and partly upon their own; in different degrees, according to the degrees in which they are informed.
The greatest nicety seems to arise in the case of the Ministers of Religion; they seem to have pretensions to judge of reasons, and yet their chief business is to teach what is prescribed by authority. -In reality, they seem likely to be in three different capacities at different times; they will sometimes be philosophers, sometimes teachers, sometimes
When they are to act as Philosophers, they should examine into the foundations and reasons of things ; when as teachers, they have only to deliver established doctrines; when as men, they must avoid doubts and perplexities as much as possible. It will require some fairness of mind to distinguish the occasions on which they are to assume these different characters, we can only say, they must distinguish them as well as they are able. And, I should imagine, that they should give different sorts of assent in these different capacities ;--when they are so old and so informed as to come into our class of Philosophers, their assent will imply their having examined into the grounds of the opinions to which they subscribe: when they are less informed, but sufficiently so to commence teachers, their assent will imply that they have considered the opinions in a competent degree; that they are willing to teach according to them as far as their teaching goes; and that they have not any decided opinion against any of them. When they attend public worship as mere men, they will repeat Creeds chiefly for edification and devotion. A Creed will become a kind of Hymn; a grateful recollection of God's mercies.-On this principle it may be, perhaps, that Creeds are sometimes sung. Yet even the ordinary people may give a wrong assent: and their assent will be wrong if they do not really prefer, on religious considerations, their Church to others.
CB. I. Chap. iv. Sect. 3. .
7. But a plain honest man will say, I can tell when I speak truth and when I speak falsehood; and that is the main matter in giving my assent to any thing.-We answer, we certainly are not to forget the duties of Veracity whenever we make any declaration : we are sincerely to say whether the meaning of the Articles is our meaning, so as to deceive no intelligent person whom we undertake to inform ; but the meaning of the Articles will depend upon circumstances as well as upon words ;-and veracity itself, though plain in many cases, is not so in all : there is real falsehood, and there is apparent falsehood which is not real.
If this is a right representation of the case, (whether it is or not will appear better hereafter,) assent to Articles of Religion must be regulated by the nature of Veracity in general, and by the particular ends for which Articles were contrived; or, to speak more fully, by the nature of veracity, and the nature of religious Societies; that is, on the nature of religious sentiments, the efficacy of unity of Doctrine in promoting such sentiments, and the need there