Page images

pared, examined, reflected on, digested. This intimate acquaintance with Scripture he then applies to the human heart, and to the motives, spirit, and conduct of the great body of persons professing the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel ; and deduces a variety of remarks from this source, solid, practical, and many of them profound. This kind of knowledge, therefore,

, is so far from checking the flow of spiritual consolation, that it purifies and enlarges it; whilst the Divine Spirit, who is indeed the only effectual teacher, but who ordinarily works by means, increases by this very method all the strength, and activity, and influence of the Gospel, and prepares the mind for every act of penitence, faith, love, and joy.

In truth, it cannot be dissembled, that a chief defect of modern divinity, and modern preaching, is the superficial and cursory manner in which they are pursued. Frequently in stations of much public influence, and in writings which are fixing the taste of the age, it may fairly be questioned, whether more depth of meditation, more of a spirit of devotion and prayer, more acquaintance with Holy Scripture, more reference to existing evils in persons who espouse evangelical sentiments, more use of the records of ecclesiastical history in resolving difficult cases, would not raise the tone of religion, and extend, as well as strengthen, the foundations of real piety.

All persons, it is true, cannot make equal attainments. A variety in natural endowments and advantages for early study, as well as in the pressure of immediate duties, will produce important differences. But this consideration should heighten our esteem for such a writer as our author-gifted for this particular purpose ; with a mind strong, clear, upright; in a situation to make and preserve his observations, matured by a long course of opportunities for improvement; and whose reflections are the more valuable as they were penned in the retirement of his closet, without any view to publication, and are therefore free from the unfavourable bias which the expectation of the judgment of the public sometimes communicates.

The high value of deep religious knowledge in this best sense of the expression, is incalculable. It qualifies a minister of religion to speak with the authority becoming his office. It enables him to meet the infidel fully acquainted with his subject, and with the evidences of the religion which he preaches. It assists him in guiding and directing his people in the course of their difficult and varied duties and trials. It gives him the facility of discovering plausible but dangerous innovations in doctrine and practice: It leaves him the full use and advantage of each scriptural topic which he has to treat. It forms his manner of stating and applying truth on the model of the Holy Scriptures, which are thus infused into all his principles and habits.

Especially, a deep knowledge of religion qualifies a minister for making continual advances in personal piety, as well as in public usefulness. He who has a partial acquaintance with truth, is prone to imagine he knows every thing, is led by names and terms, and confines himself to a circle of topics which lose much of their elasticity and value in his bands; he reads many parts of bis Bible with an interpretation not collected from a careful comparison of its several statements, but composed of his own opinions, and applied violently to all subjects; and thus makes but small advances in real grace, and the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

But a thorough knowledge of truth lays a foundation of humility and constant growth in solid godliness; it raises a man above systems and names ; it expands his conceptions of Christianity; it allows to the Scriptures all their scope, all their force, all their authority; and thus his instructions are not of one fixed and unimproved character, but continually ripen with his own ripening piety, faith, and love.

At a period when, by the mercy and grace of God, an extensive revival of pure Christianity is taking place, it is more than ever important that a solid and adequate knowledge of Christian truth should be cultivated. For, in proportion as religion is more widely spread, the corruption of man will mingle with it in various ways; and nothing can so directly tend to correct errors as they arise, as a full and really scriptural knowledge of religion-truth accompanied with all the attributes and guards, with all the consequences and uses, with all the bearings and proportions which surround it in the Holy Scriptures. No part of the Bible is superfluous. Every thing is stated there in the best possible manner, and for the very purpose of being employed by the ministers of religion. To strip the truths of Christianity of these necessary defences, to divest them of their proper ornaments, to expose them naked and unprotected to the vain fancies and abuses of man, is to preach another Gospel. Such a doctrine is truth no longer. And it may accordingly be observed, that in all the revivals of religion in the past ages of the church, the chief scandals and impediments that have arisen, have manifestly sprung from defective knowledge of Scripture, united with the presumption wbich too commonly attends it.

But general observations like these have less weight. Let an example be taken. The im

portance of a clear and thorough knowledge of religion cannot be better exemplified than in the doctrine of the fall and corruption of our nature; a fundamental truth; and the one on which our author in his “ Thoughts” dwells, with perhaps the greatest force. This doctrine includes a variety of weighty, and humiliating, and deeply practical points; man's alienation of heart from God; his impotency to every thing spiritually good; his extreme propensity to what is external and sensual; the ruin of his moral nature; in a word, his guilty, helpless, and lost condition.

Now the student who is acquiring from his Bible a competent and adequate knowledge of this great subject, will gradually feel the ground on which he stands with respect to every thing connected with it. He will see, without surprise, the opposite and apparently contradictory truths which are stated in the Sacred Volume, and stated as frequently and fully as those which declare man's lost estate; his accountableness before Almighty God, the force of conscience, the duty of repentance, faith, and love; the guilt which the sinner incurs by neglect and disobedience to the exhortations and commands addressed to him in the Gospel. Difficult as these truths may appear, he will perceive them to be most unequivocally stated in the Bible, and will therefore never make such representa

« PreviousContinue »