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severe examination . * They inculcated the duty of scrutinizing , with unlimited freedom , every prejudice and every opinion , however sanctioned by great names , or seemingly consecrated by time and authority . Whatever notions they were induced to adopt ,
after patient and deliberate investigation , they freely and fearlessly avowed ; but while exercising this freedom they did not neglect to accompany the disclosure of their opinions with the reasons for embracing- them , and urged upon others to imitate their frankness and sincerity . u The wisdom of our
ancestors , " so much dwelt upon by the venal and superstitious , had no influence in their decisions , unless it were proved to be " wisdom" by diligent and rigid inquiry , and found to be consonant to the impartial conclusions of an enlightened judgment , unaffected either by fear or interest .
Were not these great moral teachers the " burning and shining- lights " that animated the men of their day with the love of knowledge and freedom ? Is it right that such men should be suffered to sink into
oblivion or neglect ? As our gratitude is immeasurably due to them for their instructive lessons and examples ,, why should not these benefactors of mankind be held up to the attention of the present generation ? For what
* How few act u [> to the noble teeliug nf Dr . Middleton ! " L persuade myself , " says he , < that the life and faculties of man , at best but limited , cannot be employed more rationally and laudably than in the search of knowledge ; and especiall y of that sort which relates to our duty
< uul conduces to our happiness . In these inquiries , therefore , wherever I perceive ; "iy glimmering of truth before me , I readily pursue , and endeavour to trace it t ( * its source ; without any reserve or caution of pushing the discovery too far , ° r opening too great a glare of it to the
public . I look Upon the discovery of any thing which is true as a valuable acquisition to society ; which caniiot possibly » un or obstruct the good effect of arty ol » er truth whatsoever : for they all partttke of one common essence , and necess » rily coincide with each other ; &ndlike
, . "e drops c > f rain which fall separately into the river , mix themselves at once Wl th the stream , and strengthen the geueral current . " Middleton's Pief . to 1 < r «* Inquiry .
philuntUropists ever cherished or inculcated more liberal , sentiments , or more manfully or effectively asserted the dignity of the human character tyy the pre-eminent exercise of human reason ? Though uniting the most
ardent love of truth with the pureat moral conduct , and much as they laboured to promote human improvement and happiness , they could not avoid , and were not exempt from , the application to themselves of those
vituperative epithets which are too commonly bestowed where there is any difference of opinion . * But doea not this seem to be the kind of persecution that every man must expect to suffer if he inquires freely , and may therefore be led to conclusions
different from those of his neighbours , however conciliating * may be his temper or liberal his conduct ? Reprehension , obloquy , and perhaps calumny , are too usually the portion of
the person who merely doubts ; and no ordinary degree of intrepidity is requisite to him who may deem it & duty to avow a change of religious opinion , or dissent from his associates or the multitude . Lamentable ,
indeed , is the slow progress and confined extent of candour and charity \ but how much more ought that inaii to be esteemed , who scorns to compromise his love of truth and
sincerity in order to retain the notice ot the unthinking and uncandid , or whti disdains to sacrifice his regard for veracity and rectitude at the shrine ol ' hypocrisy and venality , whatever
re-* " Let us not only allow every one to read the Bible for himself , but let us licit esteem him the less , because his conclusions and opinions are opposite to our own : let us not call him heieredox arid ! ourselves orthodox , —him foolish aud outselves rational and wise ; let us not shtit him Out from our communion on earfh *
nor either hope or fear that he will be * excluded from the higher fellowship of heaven ; in short , let us encourage free inquiry ; let us set up Scripture above system ; let us revere integrity of mind ; let us iu our inquiries and debates seek truth , and not pre-einiuence ; let us always bear in mind thatTrutb came down from heaven in company with Love , twinsisters of divine extraction : and tljatt
neither will reside apart from the other with us mortalfci *'—Wr . Asplaitd ' s L ^ wst to Rev . H . Norris .
Kthinent Men of the last Generation . $ 4 !>
vo . XXI . 2 z
Monthly Repository (1806-1838) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), June 2, 1826, page 349, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/mruc/issues/vm2-ncseproduct2549/page/33/