It is the naked heart, the inmost core of Christian truth, separated from every addition with which human ignorance, error, ambition, or superstition, had connected it. A famous sect of philosophers there was, anciently, who sought to arrive at true wisdom by selecting from all the schools of philosophy what seemed truest in each, and then uniting them in a new system.
But the purpose of these modern eclectics is better still, to reject what is unique to each school, and retain that radical and seminal central truth, which Jesus proclaimed; to bow to no human wisdom, be led by no finite will, governed by no fallible authority, but to be free, absolutely and unreservedly, from all constraint upon thought, inquiry, conscience, faith, except the constraint of the revealed Word, and the willing allegiance of the conscientious mind.
It is impossible for imagination to conceive a more sublime position for man or angel, in earth or heaven, than this, that of a spirit awake and independent, owning no control but that of the Being which made it, and to Him and His will surrendered without reserve. - This is the result to which the principles of the Reformation we're aiming, however imperfectly.
Those principles insist on freedom of thought, liberty of conscience, the right of private judgment, independence of human control, in the strictest sense. They permit and require every person to inquire of the Scriptures, and then decide for himself with unqualified submission. to God, with absolute independence of man.
What denomination has most consistently adhered to them, which has thrown away every creed but the Bible, and unseated every judge but Jesus? If I understand the subject correctly, no Christian denomination today does this.
What honesty of mind, what singleness, directness, and steadfastness of will, what resolute allegiance to conscience and God, would it demand of the disciples of such a church, however! It might be excusable for others to inquire lazily for truth, and with a dragging foot follow the path of their convictions; for they have cast a portion of their responsibility upon others, and professedly learn much from human teachers.
But for those who claim to be free from the interference of every human invention, to plant their faith and risk their salvation on the words of Jesus alone, they are guilty of most inexcusable madness if they stop short at any secondary knowledge, if they do not draw industriously from that infinite fountain, if they are not as absolutely subjected to God as they are freed from man.
For the object of their liberty is not, that they may follow wildly their own momentary and undisciplined impulses, that they may take up and lay down at pleasure the thoughts and pursuits which expediency may suggest.
They would be set free from the control of man, as the planets are, that they may the more exactly and blissfully observe the true orbit appointed by their Maker; made free by the truth, that they may obey the truth, by the truth be sanctified, and thus arrive at that only honor which a rational soul should desire, or in which it can find its well-being.
Has anyone fully realized this great idea in his own - mind and history? Is there anyone who has been thus gloriously true to his trust? Let us believe that there have been many such. We think that we have known them, some, shining out illustriously to brighten and shame the world some, in the humblest retirements of life, to call forth the admiration and eulogy of the few who see them there, and who marvel that God should not have placed them on high among men.
Let us hope that there are many beyond what is supposed, who have arrived at this unique knowledge.
But does it characterize any community? Do we see the community, which bears upon its very chest the token of this holy and resolute independence, which is imbued throughout with this heavenward and unbreakable allegiance to conscience, unswayed by human opinion, reputation, and fashion, consecrated to duty, and sacrificing to duty all selfish and worldly ends?
Do we see the community, which has so thrown off the dominion of man, that it is led neither in its opinions nor its practices by the fluctuating standard of the popular breath, but is subject to the supreme and unbending law of God?
I think not. Liberty of thought and opinion is strenuously proclaimed; in this proud land it has become almost a wearisome rant; our speeches and journals, religious and political, are made nauseous by the vapid and vain-glorious reiteration.
But does it, after all, characterize any community among us? Is there anyone to which a qualified observer shall point, and say, "There, opinion is free?"
On the contrary, is it not a fact, a sad and deplorable fact, that in no land on this earth is the mind more fettered than it is here? That here, what we call public opinion has set up a despotism such as exists nowhere else?
Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Henry Ware, Jr. (1794-1843) As true today as when he wrote it.