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BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF
DELIVERED TO THE
AT THE EASTER VISITATIONS OF 1734 AND 1735.
PON a serious and attentive review of the general state of religion ainongst us, and of the particular controversies now depending, I could not think of any subject more useful, or at this time more seasonable, than the subject of fundamentals. The name is a noted name, frequently occurring in religious debates: but the notion is often left obscure, and the application is so various among contending parties, that it may be difficult to fix any certain rule for it, though it is allowed, on all hands, that much depends upon it.
Lord Verulam, at the beginning of the last century, expressed his judgment of the great importance of distinguishing rightly between points fundamental and points of further perfection; so he worded the distinction, though, I think, not accurately. At the same time he complimented the Divines of that age, as having done their parts to entire satisfaction upon that article a. But upon more mature consideration, twenty years after, or nearly, he apprehended that some further improvement was still wanting, and so he recommended it, among the desiderata in theology, to the care and diligence of succeeding Divines b.
The subject has since passed through many learned and judicious handsc, most of them complaining of the per
* See Advancement of Learning, p. 320, 321. first ed. A. D. 1605.
Augmentum Scientiarum, lib. ix. p. 532, 533. ed. Paris. A. D. 1624. • 1635. Mede's Letters, Opp. vol. ii. p. 1064—1074.
1638. Chillingworth, part i. chap. 3d. p. 115.
Esercitat. Theolog. p. 712, &c.
plexities appearing in it, but all bearing testimony to the great weight and importance of it d.
The very name of fundamental carries in it some confuse general idea of weight and significancy; which again rises in proportion to the dignity of the subject whereunto it belongs. Every art or science, every society, system, or constitution, has its fundamental rules, laws, principles, or constituents, which it rests upon, and whereby it subsists. The word fundamental, in such cases, seems to mean the same thing with essential, and to denote that wherein the very essence or subsistence of the subject spoken of is contained. And as there is a just distinction to be made between essentials and circumstantials, so is there the like just distinction to be made between fundamentals and extrafundamentals, or non-fundamentals. When we apply the epithet fundamental either to religion in general or to Christianity in particular, we are supposed to mean something essential to religion or Christianity; so necessary to its being, or at least to its well-being, that it could not subsist, or not maintain itself tolerably without it.
There is in Scripture itself, as well as in the reason of the thing, ground sufficient for distinguishing between points fundamental to Christianity and points of smaller
1693. Dr. Clagett, vol. ii. Serm. second and third.
1719. Alphons. Turretin de Articulis Fundamentalibus. d Ardua satis et tamen necessaria est disquisitio de dogmatibus et erroribus fundamentalibus. Hinc enim pendent disputationes et deliberationes de libertate prophetandi, de tolerantia et moderatione, de hæresi, de secessione, de scismate, de unione et syncretismo ecclesiarum, de excommunicatione, &c. Voetius, Disp. 5. Conf. Spanheim. p. 1289.
Res sane difficilis, sed cujus difficultas incredibili quadam utilitate compensatur. Nam, primo, Te dogmatum fundamentalium a cæteris distinctio, in pruri magnopere adjuvabit. Secundo, Ea res ad Christianorum concordiam munitam viam parabit : quomodo enim pacis iniri consilia, antequam illud in genere decernatur, quid sit dogma fundamentale, nec intelligi quidem potest. Steph. Gausen. Dissert. Theolog. p. 104. edit. Halæ.
moment. There are the weightier matters, and the matters less weighty; some things deserving our most earnest heed, others requiring no more than ordinary or common care. I shall not take up your time in commenting upon the several texts which appear to have intimated the distinction, or to have expressed it in termse. The whole tenor of the New Testament abundantly authorizes the distinction, while it lays a very particular stress upon some doctrines more than upon others, and while it condemns the contrary tenets as subversive of the Gospel, or as frustrating the grace of God, or as rendering the false teachers altogether unworthy of Christian communion. The whole conduct of our Lord's Apostles sufficiently declares the same thing: but I shall instance only in St. Paul, that I may not be tedious in a plain case. There were in the days of the Apostles, Judaizers of two several kinds; some thinking themselves obliged, as Jews, to retain their Judaism along with Christianity, others conceiving that the Mosaical law was so necessary, that it ought to be received, under pain of damnation, by all, whether Jews or Gentiles. Both the opinions were wrong; but the one was tolerable, and the other was intolerable. Wherefore St. Paul complied in some measure with the Judaizers of the first sort, being willing, in such cases, “ to become all things to all menf;" and he exhorted his new converts of the Gentiles to bear with them, and to receive them as brethren 6. But as to the Judaizers of the second sort, he would not “ give place to them by sub“jection, no not for an hour, lest the truth of the Gospel” should fatally suffer by ith. He anathematized them as subverters of the faith of Christ, and as a reproach to the Christian namei. This single instance may suffice to point
• See the texts brought together and descanted upon in Hoornbeeck, Socin. Confut. lib. i. cap. 9. p. 188, &c. Velthuysius, Tract. de Fundament. p. 705. Frid. Spunheim. tom. iii. 1058. 1305. Turretin. de Fundam. p. 7, 8.
See 1 Cor. ix. 19—23. Acts xvi. 3. Acts xxi. 21—26. & Sec Rom. xiv. xv. Coloss. ii. 16, 17. Gal. ii. 5, 21.
i Gal. i. 7, 8, 9. v. 12.