LIBERALITY OF SENTIMENT
A generous disposition a man feels towards another who is of a different opinion from himself; or, as one defines it, “that generous expansion of mind which enables it to look beyond all petty distinctions of party and system, and, in the estimate of men and things, to rise superior to narrow prejudices.” As liberality of sentiment is often a cover for error and scepticism on the one hand, and as it is too little attended to by the ignorant and bigoted on the other, we shall here lay before our readers a view of it by a masterly writer.
“A man of liberal sentiments must be distinguished from him who hath no religious sentiments at all. He is one who hath seriously and effectually investigated, both in his Bible and on his knees, in public assemblies and in private conversations, the important articles of religion. He hath laid down principles, he hath inferred consequences; in a word, he hath adopted sentiments of his own.
“He must be distinguished also from that tame undiscerning domestic among good people, who, though he has sentiments of his own, yet has not judgment to estimate the worth and value of one sentiment beyond another.
“Now a generous believer of the Christian religion is one who will never allow himself to try to propagate his sentiments by the commission of sin. No collusion, no bitterness, no wrath, no undue influence of any kind, will he apply to make his sentiments receivable; and no living thing will be less happy for his being a Christian. He will exercise his liberality by allowing those who differ from him as much virtue and integrity as he possibly can.
“There are, among a multitude of arguments to enforce such a disposition, the following worthy our attention.
“First, We should exercise liberality in union with sentiment, because of the different capacities, advantages, and tasks of mankind. Religion employs the capacities of mankind, just as the air employs their lungs and their organs of speech. The fancy of one is lively, of another dull. The judgment of one is elastic; of another feeble, a damaged spring. The memory on one is retentive; that of another is treacherous as the wind. The passion of this man are lofty, vigorous, rapid; those of that man crawl, and hum, and buz, and, when on wing, sail only round the circumference of a tulip. Is it conceivable that capability, so different in every thing else, should be all alike in religion? The advantages of mankind differ. How should he who hath no parents, no books, no tutor, no companions, equal him whom Providence hath gratified with them all; who, when he looks over the treasures of his own knowledge, can say, this I had of a Greek, that I learned of a Roman; this information I acquired of my tutor, that was a present of my father: a friend gave me this branch of knowledge, an acquaintance bequeathed me that? The tasks of mankind differ; so I call the employments and exercises of life.
In my opinion, circumstances make great men; and if we have not Caesars in the state, and Pauls in the church, it is because neither church nor state are in the circumstances in which they were in the days of those great men. Push a dull man into a river, and endanger his life, and suddenly he will discover invention, and make efforts beyond himself. The world is a fine school of instruction. Poverty, sickness, pain, loss of children, treachery of friends, malice of enemies, and a thousand other things, drive the man of sentiment to his Bible, and, so to speak, bring him home to a repast with his benefactor, God. Is it conceivable that he, whose young and tender heart is yet unpractised in trials of this kind, can have ascertained and tasted so many religious truths as the sufferer has?
“We should believe the Christian religion with liberality, in the second place, because every part of the Christian religion inculcates generosity. Christianity gives us a character of God; but my God! what a character does it give! God is LOVE. Christianity teaches the doctrine of Providence; but what a providence! Upon whom doth not its light arise! Is there an animalcule so little, or a wretch so forlorn, as to be forsaken and forgotten of his God? Christianity teaches the doctrine of redemption: but the redemption of whom?–of all tongues, kindred, nations, and people: of the infant of a span, and the sinner of a hundred years old: a redemption generous in its principle, generous in its price, generous in its effects; fixed sentiments of Divine magnificence, and revealed with a liberality for which we have no name. In a word, the illiberal Christian always acts contrary to the spirit of his religion; the liberal man alone thoroughly understands it.
“Thirdly, We should be liberal, because no other spirit is exemplified in the infallible guides whom we profess to follow. I set one Paul against a whole army of uninspired men: ‘Some preach Christ of good will, and some of envy and strife. What then? Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. One eateth all things, another eateth herbs; but why dost THOU judge thy brother? We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.’ We often inquire, What was the doctrine of Christ, and what was the practice of Christ; suppose we were to institute a third question, Of what TEMPER was Christ?
“Once more: We should be liberal as well as orthodox, because truth, especially the truths of Christianity, do not want any support from our illiberality. Let the little bee guard its little honey with its little sting; perhaps its little life may depend a little while on that little nourishment. Let the fierce bull shake his head, and nod his horn, and threaten his enemy, who seeks to eat his flesh, and wear his coat, and live by his death: poor fellow! his life is in danger; I forgive his bellowing and his rage. But the Christian religion,–is that in danger? and what human efforts can render that true which is false, that odious which is lovely? Christianity is in no danger, and therefore it gives its professors life and breath, and all things, except a power of injuring others.
“In fine, liberality in the profession of religion is a wise and innocent policy. The bigot lives at home; a reptile he crawled into existence, and there in his hole he lurks a reptile still. A generous Christian goes out of his own party, associates with others and gains improvement by all. It is a Persian proverb, A liberal hand is better than a strong arm. The dignity of Christianity is better supported by acts of liberality than by accuracy of reasoning: but when both go together, when a man of sentiment can clearly state and ably defend his religious principles, and when his heart is an generous as his principles are inflexible, he possesses strength and beauty in an eminent degree.”
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.