Page images
PDF
EPUB

than as human compositions, but much more, as claining the character of divine revelation. As I became acquainted with the original languages, and with ancient oriental usages and manners, I applied my knowledge in these, for removing obscurities and doubts, where they occurred in scripture. In some cases, I thought I succeeded, in others not. As to the last, I was not impatient, not doubting, but as the light of knowledge advanced, I should see farther and more distinctly. I can say with truth, I was not entirely disappointed. I soon after attempted the reading of controversial writers, and first, those which regard the general controversy, whether the scriptures contain a revelation from God, or, which amounts to the same, whether christianity be a divine communication to mankind, or a mere human figment. I began with the attacks made upon our religion, as I made it a rule to hear the plea of a party first in his own language, and not in the words of an angry and perhaps uncandid antagonist. After reading an attack, if there was any thing specious in it, I considered with myself, how I should answer the principal arguments, if urged upon me by an adversary with a view to discredit religion, or if they were proposed as difficulties by a friend, who intended only the removal of his own doubts. If I found myself puzzled by the arguments, not being satisfied with any answer which occurred to myself, I had recourse, as soon as possible, to the best I could hear of from others. But it sometimes happened, on the contrary, that, on a little reflection, I thought myself able to refute the antagonist's arguments, in which case I never inquired about any answers that might have been published. In consequence of this method I have read many more attacks upon revelation than defences of it. I carried this so far once, as to set about the publication of an answer* to a very subtle attack on the christian religion by a late celebrated metaphysician, before I had an opportunity of perusing the work of any former answerer; a conduct which I would not recommend to any body's imitation, as it exposes one to mistakes and misrepresentations, which may be easily avoided. I shall further add on this article, that the only species of assault made against revelation, which is totally independent of its contents and history and therefore may be previously studied and understood, is that which is aimed against the possibility of all miraculous facts. This question is purely abstract and metaphysical, and would be the same, it must be owned, whatever the history, character or genius of our religion were.

So much for the subject in general, the different kinds of proof of which it is susceptible, and the different sorts of objections to which it is exposed. So much also for the best method of preparing ourselves for understanding the subject, with its evidence, and for refuting the objections. I shall in my next discourse consider, how we may most profitably pursue our inquiries into the different parts of the subject, and examine the controversies which these have given rise to.

The Dissertation on Miracles in answer to Mr. Hume,

9

LECTURE IF.

Of the Cliristian System ...the Scriptures ought to be the first study...

afterwards Systems and Commentaries may be occasionally consulted.... bad consequence of beginning the study of Theology with Systems and Commentaries.

I now proceed to the consideration of the parts of the christian system, and the controversies that have been carried on concerning the explication of these by different sects of christians. As method tends both to accelerate and to facilitate our progress in every discussion, it will naturally occur to every considerate person, that some methodical digest of the tenets and precepts contained in our Bible would be at least a matter of great conveniency. That it is not of absolute necessity we may warrantably conclude from this undeniable fact, that there neither is any such digest in scripture, nor was there in the church in the earliest and purest times. But on the other hand these considerations are no arguments against its utility. God, in the economy of grace, as in the economy of nature, supplies man with all the materials necessary for his support and well being, but at the same time requires the exercise of those faculties with which he hath endowed him, for turning those materials to the best account. Thus much may be said in apology for sy'stem makers of different denominations, many of whom I doubt not have intended well, whose success in this department we cannot at all admire. So it is however, that we have great plenty of systems in many things flatly contradicting one another, all pretending to be founded on, or at least conformable to the doctrine of holy writ.

Amid such variety how is the young student to proceed ? Must he begin with adopting implicitly one of these pretended treasuries of christian doctrine, studying assiduously both the theoretic part and the practical as the standard of truth, as the very quintessence of our divine institution ; must he learn from it and from such commentators as are coincident in their religious sentiments, to understand the scriptures, to ascertain the sense of every thing that appears ambiguous, to solve every thing that is difficult, and to enlighten every thing that is obscure ? On the other hand, what security shall our young pupil have, that the guide who has been assigned to him is equal to the office? How shall he know that he is not following the train of a mere ignis fatuus, instead of the direction of a heavenly luminary? You cannot say, he may arrive at this knowledge from scripture, for by the hy. pothesis, which is indeed conformable to the general practice almost every where, the young student is from this teacher 'to learn to understand the scripture, not from scripture to learn to judge of this teacher; for were this last to be the case, he must be previously acquainted with the mind of the spirit as manifested in the scriptures, and not take the mind of the spirit on the word of his teacher.

Ay, but the teacher we assign him, say they, is cele.. brated for knowledge and piety, and is of great repu

tation among the orthodox as an orthodox divine. As to his knowledge and piety, are we to sustain ourselves perfect judges of these accomplishments, or have not pedantry and hypocrisy sometimes imposed even upon the generality of men ? But admitting that the character you give him were in both respects perfectly just, do even these qualifications, however valuable, secure a man against error either in doctrine or practice ? Have not several, whom in charity we are bound to think both knowing and pious, maintained in many instances opposite opinions, each extremely positive as to his own, and extremely zealous in defence of it? And as to orthodox, I should be glad to know the meaning of the epithet. Nothing, you say, can be plainer. The orthodox are those who in religious matters entertain right opinions. Be it so. How then is it possible I should know who they are that entertain right opinions, before I know what opinions are right? I must therefore unquestionably know orthodoxy, before I can know or judge who are orthodox. Now to know the truths of religion, which you call orthodox, is the very end of my inquiries, and am I to begin these inquiries on the presumption, that without any inquiry I know it already? Besides, is this thing which you call orthodoxy, a thing in which mankind are universally agreed, insomuch that it would seem to be entitled to the privilege of an axiom or first principle to be assumed without proof? Quite the reverse. There is nothing about which men have been, and still are, more divided. It has been accounted orthodox divinity in one age, which hath been branded as ridiculous fanaticism in the next. It is at this day deemed the perfection of orthodoxy in one country, which in

« PreviousContinue »