The multifarious and discordant sentiments which divide mankind afford a great temptation to scepticism, and many are carried away by it. The open enemies of the gospel take occasion from hence to justify their rejection of it; and many of its professed friends have written as if they thought that to be decided amidst so many minds and opinions were almost presumptuous. The principal, if not the only, use which they would make of these differences is to induce a spirit of moderation and charity, and to declaim against bigotry.
To say nothing at present how these terms are perverted and hackneyed in a certain cause, let two things be seriously considered:—First, Whether this was the use made by the apostles of the discordant opinions which prevailed in their times, even among those who “acknowledged the Divinity of our Saviour’s mission?” In differences among Christians which did not affect the kingdom of God, nor destroy the work of God, it certainly was; such were those concerning meats, drinks, and days, in which the utmost forbearance was inculcated. But it was otherwise in differences which affected the leading doctrines and precepts of Christianity. Forbearance in these cases would, in the account of the sacred writers, have been a crime. Paul “would they were even cut off” who troubled the Galatian churches by corrupting the Christian doctrine of justification. And it is recorded to the honour of the church at Ephesus, that it “could not bear” them that were evil; but “had tried them who said they were apostles and were not, and found them liars,” Gal. 5:12; Rev. 2:2. Secondly, Whether an unfavourable opinion of those who reject what we account the leading principles of Christianity, supposing it to be wrong, be equally injurious with a contrary opinion, supposing that to be wrong? To think unfavourably of another does not affect his state towards God: if, therefore, it should prove to be wrong, it only interrupts present happiness. We have lately been told indeed, but from what authority I cannot conceive, that “the readiest way in the world to thin heaven, and to replenish the regions of hell, is to call in the spirit of bigotry.” Far be it from me to advocate the cause of bigotry, or to plead for a bitter, censorious spirit, a spirit that would confine the kingdom of heaven to a party; but I do not perceive how this spirit, bad as it is, is productive of the effects ascribed to it. If, on the other hand, through an aversion to bigotry, we treat those as Christians to whom an apostle would at least have said, “I stand in doubt of you,” we flatter and deceive them; which is really “the readiest way in the world to thin heaven, and to replenish the regions of hell.”
Surely there is a medium between bigotry and esteeming and treating men as Christians irrespective of their avowed principles. Certainly a benevolent and candid treatment is due to men of all denominations; but to consider all principles as equally safe is to consider truth as of no importance.
Excerpt: Fuller, Andrew. “An Essay on Truth: Containing an Inquiry into its Nature and Importance, with Causes of Error and the Reasons of its Being Permitted,” in Tracts, Essays Letters, etc.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 524–525). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.