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The circumstances which rendered the composition, and publication, first from the pulpit, and then from the press, of the following Exposition, less a matter of choice than of necessity, are notorious in this city, and are fully detailed in the appended documents. It is enough, to say here, that an accusation of having violated the law of Christ, contained in the subject of the Exposition, and of having endeavoured to cloak that violation by a corrupt misinterpretation of the law itself,—an accusation publicly made, not anonymously, but by an individual, who, for more than forty years, has figured, more or less prominently, in the religious history of Scotland, who is understood to possess considerable influence over one portion of public opinion, and whose age and rank in life seemed to forbid the supposition of hot-headed rashness or vulgar exaggeration, in any charge he might think it his duty to bring forward, was, with unprecedented activity, circulated throughout the city, copies of it having been handed to almost every family, and even widely dispersed, over remote parts of the country.
In these circumstances I felt constrained, in justice to the ministry with which I have been intrusted, and to the truth which I conceived to be misrepresented, to make, as public as possible, my real views of an important passage of Scripture, which, according to my accuser, I had not only misinterpreted, but my misinterpretation of which, I had also embodied in a course of conduct, equally inconsistent with the honour due to the divine law, and the regard due to the public peace. The Exposition was delivered from the pulpit in two lectures, on the evenings of the third Sabbaths in December, 1837, and January, 1838, and immediately afterwards sent from the press.
Looking back on the very remarkable manner in which I have been compelled to publish my views of the various topics discussed in this Exposition, I cannot help perceiving that I have been “ led by a way that I knew not, and in a path that I had not known;" and cherishing the hope that this statement of the truth, on an important, and but imperfectly understood portion of the law of Christ, may, by His blessing, be productive of some salutary results.
So far as I am personally concerned, I send these illustrations of Scripture into the world, with the undoubted assurance that their perusal must convince every unprejudiced judge that the calumnious charge
brought against me is unfounded. But my own vindication is a matter of comparatively light import
I trust something has been done to show, that neither the doctrine nor the law of Christ has any affinity to slavish principles ; * and that it is equal
*“I shall always lament the indiscretion of ecclesiastics” (it is to be regretted equally in the case of Christian laymen) “ when they contend for opinions, which, in their legitimate and practical consequences, lead to the extravagance of Rousseau, where he tells us that • Le Christianisme, ne prêche qui servitude et dépendance. Son esprit est trop favorable a la Tyrannie pour qu'elle n'en profite pas toujours. Les vrais Chretiens sont faits pour etre Esclaves.'— Lettre a M. de Beaumont, p. 198. Anxious for the honour of my religion, for the comfort and instruction of my fellow Christians, and for the happiness of my fellow subjects, I shall always declare, in the words of an eloquent prelate, “ That grandeur and elevation of mind, that sublimity of sentiment, that conscious dignity of our nature, redeemed at so high a price, which true religion keeps alive; which Holy Scripture dictates; and which the Spirit of the Lord inspires, will ever be pushing us on to the attainment and preservation of those civil rights, which we have been taught by reason to know are ours, and which we have been made to feel by experience, are of all others the most indispensable to human happiness.'—Warburton's Alliance, p. 258." Dr Parr. Characters of the late Charles James Fox, by Philopatris Varvicensis, vol. ii. p. 732. Lond. 1809.
It is a curious fact, that during the agitation in this city, produced by the incidents which led to this publication, a vender of infidel books, of the worst kind, proclaimed in a placard, that my assailant was a just expositor of the Christian doctrine on Civil Obedience ; that all my jesuitical attempts to give a different gloss to it were unsuccessful; and that Christianity being opposed to truth and liberty, must be false and mischievous. It seemed strange and portentous, to see one of the oldest and staunchest dissenters in the land, rushing to the rescue of the compulsory system of supporting Christian institutions, and to hear an inveterate hater of Christianity uttering screams of delight, at the unnatural act, in which, while others saw only what appeared less like the display of principled zeal than of personal rancour against a brother, who merely sought, in the most
ly the dictate of revealed truth, sound reason, and enlightened policy, that, of all things, religion should be the most free-“Res,” as Lactantius has it, “ præter ceteras voluntaria.” Humani juris et naturalis potestatis est unicuique quod putaverit colere: nec alii obest aut prodest alterius religio. Sed nec religionis est, cogere religionem, quæ sponte suscipi debeat, non vi.” * It is more than sixteen hundred years since these words of truth and soberness were spoken by Tertullian. Alas! that, amid all the light of the nineteenth century, they should be, obviously, so imperfectly understood, believed, and exemplified !
From the, necessarily, very limited time in which, amid the numerous and laborious avocations connected with the pastoral care of a large congregation, the following Exposition was prepared, it is far from being what, for the sake of the cause, fully as much as for my own sake, I should wish; but I have “ done what I could,” and I rejoice to know that my Master accepts a man, “not according to what he hath not, but according to what he hath.” effectual way, to protest against the indignity offered to his religion, by making it the subject of state support, and to keep himself free of the sin and shame of participating in the insult, the shrewd Atheist rejoiced to see what he accounted a deadly wound inflicted on Christianity, by the hand of “ an old Disciple.”
* “ It belongeth of right unto mankind, that every one may worship as he thinketh best : nor does the religion of any man harm or help another. Neither indeed is it the business of religion to compel religion, which ought to be taken up willingly, and not against the will."— The Address of Q. S. Tertullian to Scapula Tertullus, President of Africa. Translated by Sir David Dalrymple, p. 3. Edin. 1790.