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When this principle, spurious and fantastical as we generally find it, is allowed to operate freely, it unhinges every sacred obligation, and reduces the beautiful fabric of Christianity to a heap of rubbish and confusion. What is essential in religion must no longer be enforced according to the rule of God's word, and the model of the primitive church: what is circumstantial and indifferent must not be fixt by lawful authority, adjusted by the rules of good order, and directed to general edification. All must submit to the fancy of the individual; to the effrontery of self-conceit, under the assumed name of tender conscience. And as men, when they make their separate notions and surmises the rule of judging, must be variously determined in their opinions, it is evident that, under the influence of this vague mode of thinking, neither unity nor uniformity can prevail.
A very little acquaintance with the present state of religion may convince any man, that a great variety of sects and denominations, and amongst them abundance of opposition, detraction, bitterness, and unchristian censure, not to mention danger
ous and pernicious errors, have sprung from this source, to the prejudice of that charitable and benevolent spirit which is essential to the disciples of Christ. For the conscience which is unduly tender on the side of its possessor, is generally found rough and callous when it comes into contact with his neighbour.
Again: the bulk of mankind, who seldom think deeply, observing such disions and dissensions amongst nominal professors of Christianity, are led to imagine that so many sects of the same religion are, in reality, so many distinct religions; and that, as the members of each of these sects are equally tolerated and protected in society, one religion must be as good as another; that they all conduct their votaries to the same place; and, consequently, that it is perfectly immaterial to which of them they attach themselves, or how long they deliberate before they have determined in their choice.
Hence the progress is easy to a secret surmise, that, if all religions are equal amongst themselves, an adherence to the form of either of them cannot be matter of
any great moment; that, as the right of private judgment operates so freely, a man may shape his religion agreeably to his own ideas, as well as in conformity with the opinions and practice of any body of men; that if he only take heed to support in the world a decent deportment, and serve God in his own way, he shall be perfectly safe, however singular in his system of devotion.
But, to his own way he naturally adds at his own leisure. The great work is continually put off to a more convenient season, and the convenient season never comes. This is, indeed, an indulgence beyond the permission of our laws. The act of toleration has not conceded, even to tender consciences, the infidel liberty of contemning every form of devotion; but as the lapse of error is rapid upon the declivity of private judgment, this liberty has been claimed upon principle in its fullest extent. One of the most eminent separatists of our age having laid it down as a maxim, that the state has no right to enquire what religion he chooses to profess, confidently adds-Or whether I choose to have any religion at all. And it is notorious that, in compliance
with the assumption of private judgment, that law of the state which enjoins regular attendance at some place of public worship, is seldom, or never, enforced.
It is, then, evident, that the laxity of sentiment which countenances unlimited separation, dissolves all the powers of wholesome discipline. Even personal admonition may be rejected with pride and sullenness, upon a presumption of civil impunity, or of religious liberty: for whilst a general opinion of the lawfulness of separation prevails, every man regards his union with the national church, or with any other body of professors, as matter of choice, and that choice as a thing in itself wholly indifferent.
Hence, if a member of the established church is reproved for any irregularity of conduct, or if he encounter the slightest inconvenience or want of accommodation, he withdraws from the society of his brethren, and joins some separate sect; if he cannot submit to the rules of this order, he goes to another; and if his notions and conduct cannot be duly accommodated in any sect, already formed, there is an ob
vious expedient, to found a new sect of his own, or to subside in the solitary meditation of a quietist. And all this while he continues to avow the profession of Christianity, and even retains the hope of salvation through Christ.
Such disorders are produced amongst those who have some remaining sense of moral responsibility, and some regard to their condition in a future state. But these are not the only evils consequent upon an unbridled laxity of principle and discipline. To this laxity we must, in a great measure, ascribe the profane licentiousness of thousands in our land, who live without hope and without God in the world. To this we must ascribe the pernicious vices and horrid crimes by which they are disgraced in this world, and the misery they are doomed to suffer in the world to come. A mistaken candour, a spurious liberality, have set them at liberty from all salutary controul in the period of their youth. Because the opinions and the conduct of men are free, the church could not effectually claim them as her children, and subject them to a religious education. It was not the choice of their parents to bring