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testants, the only tribunal, in the last resort, in all questions of faith? Do they admit an appeal from the verdict of this supreme arbitress, either to the judgment of individuals, or to that of any societies of men, whatever denomination you may please to give them, or with whatever jurisdiction you may think fit to vest them? Is not her decision, on the contrary, admitted on all hands to be final ? Hear the church of England on this point. Article sixth, entitled, “Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” And again article twenty-first, entitled, “Of the Authority of General Councils. When they (general councils) be gathered together (for as much as they be an assembly of men whereof all be not governed with the spirit and word of God) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared, that they be taken out of holy scripture.” Hear on the same head the avowed sentiments of the church of Scotland. Westminster Confession, first, chapter, entitled, of the Holy Scripture, sixth paragraph. “ The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture ; unto which nothing at any time is to be added.” Again chapter thirty-first, entitled, Of
Synods and Councils, fourth paragraph. “All synods or councils, since the apostles' time, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred, therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be read as an help in both.”
I am aware that an argument may be drawn (which to some will no doubt appear plausible) from these very declarations. If private
If private men have erred, if even synods and councils have erred, would it not be extreme arrogance in me, may one say, unassisted and alone in my inquiries, to think that I should escape error, altogether? But how easily is this plea retorted. If private persons, if even the wise and learned have erred, if synods and councils have erred, what security have I in their direction? Yet that all these have erred, egregiously erred, appears unquestionably from their mutual contradictions and jars. On the other side, there is no such ground of fear from the aforesaid reflection (as one would at first imagine) that in our inquiries into scripture we shall err materially, even though alone and unassisted by any human expositor or council. I have before now assigned the reason, why human interpretations of scripture, whether private or what hath been called authoritative, are, notwithstanding the perspicuity of that book, so infinitely various. The same would be the fate of any book whatever that were treated in the same manner. Men begin with deriving their opinions from another source, and being perfectly full of these opinions and wedded to them, they have recourse to scripture, not to discover the doctrines contained there, but to discover there their own opinions, that is, in other words, to exercise all their art and ingenuity to give such a turn
to the expressions of scripture, as will make them seem to authorize their favourite notions. Often men's worldly interest too, which blindeth even the wise, is concerned on a side. That scripture should be intelligible, is implied in the very idea of its being a revelation of the will of God. That this revelation stands in need of a revelation in order to be understood, that is in other words, is itself no revelation at all, is indeed the doctrine of the Romanists, and a doctrine of importance with them, inconsistent as it is, to make room for their infallible interpreter. But the protestant doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture, without any such interpreter, doth clearly imply, that it is possest of all necessary perspicuity. How strongly is this affirmed in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession above quoted, the seventh paragraph ? “ All things in scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” In the judgment of the reformed churches therefore, in the judgment of our own in particular, the study of scripture itself is not only the safest, but the only safe way of arriving at the knowledge of divine truth, since it is both the only infallible rule, and in all essential matters sufficiently perspicuous. And permit me to add, were there greater risk of error than there is, error itself must be less culpable to those who enter seriously and impartially on this examination, and thus take the best method in their power for avoiding it, than it is to those, who blindly and lazily admit opinions for no better reason, than because they are the opinions of the country, or of the sett, in which they have been educated, or of some celebrated doctor whom they have been early taught to revere. Such, it is manifest, have no better reason for their being christians, than the Jews have for their not being christians, the Turks for their being Mahometans, or the 'Tartars for their being pagans; and whatever apology may be made for the illiterate, and those whose time is mostly occupied in earning daily bread, surely there is no excuse for those, who have had the advantage of a liberal education, and who have the prospect of serving in the church as lights to others.
But should any be disposed to object, How is it possible to study by the aid of human compositions, and avoid the influence of human teachers ? Though the method you have recommended is by no means that which is commonly pursued; yet it requires a good deal of reading and study, besides that of scripture, as well as the common method. You do not enjoin us to begin with systems and controversies, and commentators, and scholiasts, and påraphrasts; on the contrary, with these, you tell us, the study of theology should be concluded and not commenced: but do you not require us to apply directly to certain histories and antiquities, do you not desire us to betake ourselves to grammars and lexicons, to have recourse to the study of languages, particularly the Oriental and the Greek, to become acquainted with the scriptures in the original tongues, and with the ancient translation of the seventy? All this is most certain truth, but do you observe no difference in the effect which these different methods may be expected naturally to produce? We recommend the study of the scriptures, as containing the whole of christian theology. But then the scriptures were written neither in this age, nor in this country, nor in our language. We have indeed a translation of them, which is in the main a good one, but which, though it may serve the purposes of the generality of christians, ought not to satisfy the ministers of religion, who should be in a capacity of solving the doubts and removing the difficulties of others. We do not ascribe infallibility to any translator ; and therefore when this term is applied to holy writ, it is of the original only, that it must in strictness be understood. Had a complete revelation been given at once in our own age and country, and had been committed to writing in our own tongue, it is manifest that little or no human learning would have been necessary. But in all the respects mentioned the actual case greatly differed. A long tract of ages is comprehended between the commencement and the sealing or conclusion of this revelation, the languages in which it is written are foreign, the country which was the scene of those wonderful exhibitions it contains of divine power and mercy is remote, and the period, in which that whole manifestation was closed, is at the distance of many centuries from the present. Out of these very circumstances duly attended to, results the necessity of all those studies we have recommended. If the oracles of God are delivered in foreign languages, it is certain, that unless we are supplied with supernatural means of coming at this knowledge, the study of the languages is the only natural and ordinary means. It were easy to show the necessity of all the other studies