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OBLIGATIONS OF THE WORLD
THE USE OF ORAL AND WRITTEN LANGUAGE TO BE
ATTRIBUTED TO A SUPERNATURAL REVELATION.
“WHOEVER,” says the celebrated Tholuck, “stands on a lofty mountain, should not look merely at the gold which the morning sun pours on the grass, and showers at his feet; but he should sometimes also look behind him into the deep valley where the shadows still rest, that he may more sensibly feel that sun is indeed a sun. Thus is it also salutary for the disciple of Christ, at times, from the kingdom of light to cast forth a glance over the dark stage where men play their part in lonely gloom, without a Saviour, without a God !” The inquiry has no doubt often occurred to every reflecting mind, What had the condition of the world now been, had no supernatural revelation ever been imparted to men ? The design of these lectures, my young friends, is to call your attention to the Bible, and to exalt and honour, in
your estimation and my own, this great book. The most fearful blow that can be directed against the best interests of men, is aimed by unbelief; and owes its success, not unfrequently to an imperfect knowledge of the Bible, as well as neglect of its sacred precepts. Can then a higher service be performed for the youth of our country than to vindicate its claims, assert its superiority, and challenge for it the scrutiny of the incredulous, and the admiration of every devout mind?
We look for greatness in all the works of God. We gaze upon the exterior universe, and exclaim with the Psalmist, “ Marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty ; in wisdom hast thou made them all !” We expect a supernatural revelation to exhibit its Divine author in the same illustrious and splendid character in which he appears in the works of creation and providence. Nor are such expectations disappointed or deceived. Infinite intelligence belongs to the Deity. We see it in his works, and we see it in his word. At the first glance, we can scarcely fail to perceive that the God of creation and providence is the God of the Bible, and that the system of truth revealed in the Scriptures must have originated with the same being who created and governs the world.* When, however, we examine the Bible carefully and minutely; when we explore the treasures of its pages, and seem for the moment to grasp the full measure of its wonders and its knowledge; how is our admiration heightened! The words of the apostle break almost instinctively from our lips; the expression of his feelings becomes the
* The spirit of this remark is largely illustrated in that incom; parable work, “ The Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature,” by Joseph Butler, LL. D.
best expression of our own,—“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God !"
It was the remark of a sensible and thinking layman, many years ago made to the writer, that “it sometimes seemed to him that the Bible is as much greater than all other books, as its Author is greater than all other authors.” I am well persuaded that the seeming extravagance of such an observation will diminish with our increasing acquaintance with this wonderful volume. Tindal, a deistical writer in the early part of the seventeenth century, in his work entitled, “ Christianity as old as the Creation," labours to show that it was impossible for God to teach men what they did not know before, and that the perfection of the human mind is such, that it admits of no addition from a supernatural revelation. I cannot but hope that the presumption and preposterousness of this remark will appear in the following pages. It is not surprising that a deist should depreciate a supernatural revelation. But it is matter of surprise that, as Christians, we should not appreciate it more highly. There is no book in any country, in any language, in any age, that can be compared with this. From one page of this wonderful volume, more may be acquired, than reason or philosophy could acquire by the patience and toil of centuries. The Bible expands the mind, exalts the faculties, developes the powers of the will and of feeling, furnishes a more just estimate of the true dignity of man, and opens more sources of intellectual and spiritual enjoyment than any other book. Science and literature have taken deep root in this consecrated soil. No book furnishes so many important hints to the human mind; gives so many clews to intellectual discovery, and has 50 many charms in so many departments of human inquiry. In whatever paths of science, or walks of human knowledge we tread, there is scarcely a science, or pursuit of permanent advantage to mankind, which may not either trace its origin to the Bible, or to which the Bible will not be found to be a powerful auxiliary.
Whether we consider its influence upon an oral and written language; upon history and literature; upon laws and government; upon civil and religious liberty; upon the social institutions; upon moral science and the moral virtues; upon the holiness which fits men for heaven, and the peculiar spirit and exalted character which prepares them to act well their part on the earth; upon the happiness they enjoy in the present world, or upon the agency and power by which these desirable results are secured ; we shall be at no loss to see that the world in which we live is under everlasting obligations to a supernatural revelation. In this enumeration of topics, you have the general outline of the following lectures.
The present opportunity will be devoted to the thought, that the use of oral and written language is to be attributed to a supernatural revelation. The art most necessary for man, even from the commencement of his existence, must have been language. If not an indispensable instrument of thought, yet without it, his mind must of necessity be confined within a very narrow and limited range. His most immediate wants, the play of various passions, and perhaps an imperfect and incoherent narrative might be indicated by signs and the expression of his features. Communications less apparent than these those shades of emotion, those fainter recollections, and above all, those more intricate combinations of thought
arising from the experience of others, as compared with, and confirming, modifying, or refuting his own,
_these must be debarred him until he is in possession of an oral language.
And how could man ever have invented articulate speech? Universal observation shows that children learn to speak by imitation; and “where the opportunities of imitation are wanting, the use of articulate speech is unknown.” If I mistake not, it is a fact well ascertained that not an instance is found of the use of articulate sounds as the signs of thought, unless taught immediately by God, or gradually by those who had themselves been instructed. We see not how it is possible for language to have been of human invention. Its structure is too complicated and artificial. It must have required the previous use of language to have constructed the most simple language of the most uninstructed tribes. And whence is it, if language were of human invention, that the oldest languages are more complete in their structure than those languages that have been more recently formed; and why, as we mark the progress of improvement, are we not carried back to some early and rude state of this invention ?
The use of language is so necessary to the convenience and comfort of man, and the difficulty of forming it so obvious, that it is not unreasonable to suppose it would be immediately conferred upon him by the Author of his existence. He had a body “curiously and wonderfully made," and a mind so capacious, strong, and penetrating, that he was before his apostacy, the greatest, as well as the best of men: and yet, must this “noblest work of God” have been, very imperfect without speech. Nor is it easy to see how his attainments could have been so