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parts must have been unveiled successively and by degrees, as the scheme advanced towards its completion. And if the doctrines to be believed and the duties to be practised, are delivered there with suffi. cient clearness, we have no reason to complain ; nor is it for us to prescribe rules to infinite wisdom. On the other hand, it is no objection against this study, or the attempt to reduce the articles of our religion into a systematic form, that they are not thus methodically digested in the Bible. Holy writ is given us, that it may be used by us for our spiritual instruction and improvement; reason is given us to enable us to make the proper use of both the temporal and the spiritual benefits which God hath seen meet to bestow. The conduct of the beneficent Father of the universe is entirely analogous in both. He confers liberally the materials or means of enjoyment, he gives the capacity of using them ; at the same time he requires the exertion of that capacity, that so the advantages he has bestowed, may be turned by us to the best account. We are then at liberty, nay it is our duty, to arrange the doctrine of holy writ in such a way, as may prove most useful in assisting us, both to understand and to retain it.
It has been objected more plausibly against every attempt of reducing the principles and precepts of religion to an order, which may be called merely human and artificial, that it has but too plain a tendency to stint the powers of the mind, biassing it in favour of a particular set of opinions, infusing prejudices against what does not perfectly tally with a system perhaps too hastily adopted, and fomenting a spirit of dogmatism whereby we are led to pronounce
positively on points which scripture has left undecided, or to which perhaps our faculties are not adapted. That this has often been the consequence on the mind of the systematic student, is a lamentable truth, which experience but too clearly evinces. On inquiry, however, it will generally be found to have arisen not so much from the study itself, of which it is by no means a necessary consequence, as from something wrong in the manner of conducting it. Let us then, like wise men, guard against the abuse without renouncing the use, that is, without relinquishing the advantage which may result from this study properly pursued.
And the more effectually to guard us against this abuse, let us habitually attend to the three following important considerations. First, that every truth contained in divine revelation, or deducible from it, is not conveyed with equal perspicuity, nor is in itself of equal importance. There are some things so often, and so clearly laid down in scripture, that hardly any, who profess the belief of revealed religion, pretend to question them. About these, there is no controversy in the church. Such are the doctrines of the unity, the spirituality, the natural and moral attributes of God, the creation, preservation and government of the world by him ; the principal events in the life of Jesus Christ, as well as his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the doctrine of a future judgment, heaven and hell, together with all those moral truths which exhibit the great outlines of our duty to God, our neighbour and ourselves. In general it will be found, that what is of most importance to us to be acquainted with and believed, is oftenest and most clearly incul. cated ; and that, as we find, there are degrees in be
lief as well as in evidence, it is a very natural and just conclusion, that our belief in those points is most rigorously required, which are notified to us in scripture, with the clearest evidence. The more is exacted where much is given, the less, where little is given.
The dogmatist knows nothing of degrees, either in evidence or in faith. He has properly no opinions or doubts. Every thing with him is either certainly true, or certainly false. Of this turn of mind I shall only say, that far from being an indication of vigour, it is a sure indication of debility in the intellectual powers.
A second consideration is, that many questions will be found to have been agitated among theologians, as to which the scriptures, when examined with impartiality, cannot be said to have given a decision on either side, though were we to judge from the misrepresentations of the controvertists themselves, we should be led to conclude, that contradictory decisions had been given, which equally favoured both sides. It has not been duly attended to by any party, that a revelation from God was not given us, to make us subtle metaphysicians, dextrous at solving abstrusę and knotty questions, but to make us good men, to inform us of our duty, and to supply us with the most plain and most cogent motives to a due observance of it. From both the above observations, we should learn, at least, to be modest in our conclusions, and not over dogmatical or decisive, in regard to matters which may be justly styled of doubtful disputation or of deep research.
The third consideration is, never to think ourselves entitled, even in cases which we may imagine very clear, to form uncharitable judgments of those who
think differently. I am satisfied that such judgments on our part are unwarrantable in every case. Of the truth of any tenet said to be revealed, we must judge according to our abilities, before we can believe; but as to the motives by which the opinions of others are influenced, or of their state in God's account, that is no concern of ours. Our Lord Jesus alone is appointed of God the judge of all men, and are we pre. sumptuous enough to think ourselves equal to the office and to anticipate his sentence? “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” When Peter obtruded upon his master a question of mere curiosity, and said concerning his fellow disciple ; “What shall become of this man ?” he was aptly checked by his Lord, and made to attend to what nearly concerned himself, " What is that to thee? Follow thou me."
Once more. It has been the fate of religion, from the beginning, to meet with contradiction. Not only have the divinity (and consequently the truth) of the whole been controverted, but several important articles thereof have been made the subject of disputation, and explained by different persons and parties in ways contradictory to one another; therefore that the student may be enabled, on this momentous subject, to distinguish truth from error, and to defend the former against the most subtle attacks of its adversaries, the patrons of the latter; it is necessary for him, to be acquainted with theological controversy, which is the fourth and last branch of the theory of theology.
I would not be understood to mean by this, a thorough knowledge of all the disputes that have ever arisen in the church. Such a task would be both
endless and unprofitable. Of many of these, it is sufficient to learn from church history, that such questions have been agitated, and what have been the consequen
To enter further into the affair will be found a great waste of time to little purpose. But it is a matter of considerable consequence to us, to be able to defend both natural and revealed religion against the attacks of infidels, and to defend its fundamental principles against those, who, though in general they agree with us as to the truth of christianity, are disposed to controvert some of its doctrines. A more particular acquaintance therefore with the disputes and questions in theology of the age and country wherein we live, and with the distinguishing tenets of the different sects, with which we are surrounded, is necessary to the divine, not only in point of decency, but even for self defence.
It must be owned at the same time, that this thorny path of controversy is the most unpleasant in all the walks of theology. It is not unpleasant only, but unless trodden with great circumspection, it is also dangerous. Passion, it has been justly said, begets passion, words beget words. It is extremely difficult to preserve moderation, when one is opposed with bigotry; or evenness of temper, when one is encountered with fury. The love of victory is but too apt to supplant in our breasts the love of knowledge, and in the confusion, dust and smoke, raised by the combatants, both sides often lose sight of truth. These considerations are not mentioned to deter any of you from this part of the study, but to excite all of you to come to it properly prepared, candid, circumspect, modest, attentive, and cool. It has been truly and in