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be vested with a public character in the church, should not be entirely unacquainted with their writings. The first controversy that claims our attention is the deistical, as this strikes directly at the foundation of all. Could one have an opportunity of studying this at his leisure, in what order he pleased, and had all the necessary books at his command, I should advise him to begin with those which relate to the intrinsic evidence of our religion, then to proceed to what regards the extrinsic evidence, first prophecy, because most nearly related to the former branch, then miracles, and lastly every collateral confirmation that may be brought from history. But as it rarely happens, that one can prosecute a plan of this kind in the order or manner in which it is proposed, there is no great matter, though you take occasion of perusing the books of greatest name on the one side or the other as they fall in your way. The only thing I insist on, is that this study ought to be posterior altogether to the study of sacred writ and sacred history, if you would enter into it with understanding, if you would not expose yourselves to be misled and imposed on, mistaking the specious for the solid, not enough, enlightened to distinguish the plausible from the true. As to the particular questions that have arisen among christians, those which claim our first attention are, doubtless, such as subsist between protestants and papists. Next to these the several distinguishing tenets which characterize the various tribes or sects, that come under the common name of protestant, Lutherans, Socinians, Arminians, Calvinists, Antinomians; and to these we may add those questions, which have been for some time hotly agitated in this island;
for though several of them are in themselves apparently of little moment, yet they have been productive of momentous consequences. Such are the questions in relation to the externals of worship and forms of government, about ceremonies, sacraments, and ordination, and which constitute the principal matters in dispute between the church of England and Dissenters, and by which several of our sects, such as Anabaptists, Nonjurors and Quakers, are chiefly discriminated. . As to the numerous controversies which have in former ages made a noise in the church, and are now extinct, or which are still agitated in distant regions, Greece or Asia for example, it is enough with regard to these, to know what church history hath recorded concerning their rise, progress and decline, concerning the quibbles and phrases (for we can rarely call them principles) which have afforded the chief matter of their altercation. I do not speak in this manner, as if all our controversies in the West were of themselves of greater importance than the eastern disputes, or as if the modern were superior to the ancient. I am far from thinking, that the cavils and logomachies of our Supralapsarians and Sublapsarians, Remonstrants, Antiremonstrants, and Universalists of the last age, or of our Seceders both burgesses and antiburgesses, Reliefmen, Cameronians, Moravians, and Sandemanians, are one jot more intelligible or more edifying, than those of the Sebellians, Eutychians and Nestorians and Monothelites and Monophysites, and a thousand other ancient and oriental distinctions. The only thing that can give superior consequence to the former with us, is their vicinity in time and place, and the propriety there is, that for the sake of others, the
christian pastor should be prepared for warding the blows of those adversaries, to whom his people may be exposed. I say for the sake of others, for we may venture to affirm, that no man of common understanding, who hath candidly and assiduously studied holy writ in the manner we have recommended, can find the smallest occasion for his own sake of entering into such labyrinths of words, such extravagant ravings, as would disgrace even the name of sophistry; for even that term, bad as it is, implies art and inge, nùity, and at least an appearance of reason, which their wild declamation can very rarely boast. I am not of the mind, that the student should think it neces. sary to inquire into the several grounds and pleas of all the above mentioned sects and parties. Some of them, as the principal heads of our disputes with the Romanists, and the chief questions that have been started concerning the divinity of Christ, his expiation of sin by the sacrifice of himself, and concerning the operation of the spirit, it will be proper to canvass more thoroughly. As to those of less note, since it is chiefly for the sake of others our theologian studies such questions, he must judge how far it is needful by the situation in which he finds himself.
Method of prosecuting our Inquiries in Polemic Divinity..... The use to
be made of Scholia, Paraphrases, and Commentaries....Danger of rely ing on human guidance in matters of Religion.
Now come more particularly to the method of prosecuting these inquiries in polemic divinity. The briefest, and, therefore, not the worst way, is by means of systems. And of these, I own, I generally like the shortest best. My reason is, that all of them, without exception, have on certain topics, and in some degree or other, departed from the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus. They have indulged too much to imagination, and fallen at times into the dotage about questions and strifes of words which minister contention, and not godly edifying, and they have not sufficiently known, or acknowledged, the limits on those sublime subjects, which God hath assigned to the human faculties. It ought never to be forgotten by the student, that the deity hath prescribed bounds to the human mind, as well as to the mighty ocean, and in effect tells us in his word, “ Thus far shalt thou come and no farther, and here shall thy airy flights, thy proud excursions be staid. If the student can, let him provide himself in some of the most approved systems on the different sides. 'Tis error, noť truth, vice, not virtue that fears the light. You may rest assured of it, that, if any teacher exclaims against such a fair and impartial inquiry, and would limit you to the works of one side only, the reason is, whatever he may pretend, and however much he may disguise it even from himself, he is more solicitous to make you his own follower, than the follower of Christ, and a blind retainer to the sect to which he has attached himself, than a well instructed friend of truth, without any partial respects to persons or parties. On reading an article in one system, let him peruse the correspondent article in the others, and examine impartially by scripture as he proceeds; and in this manner, let him advance from one article to another, till he hath canvassed the whole. 'Tis more than probable, that on some points he will conclude them all to be in the wrong ; because all may go farther than holy writ affords a foundation for deciding, a thing by no means uncommon; but in no case, wherein they differ, can more than one be in the right. If he shall find it ex. pedient afterwards to inquire more narrowly into some branches of controversy, he will have an opportunity of reading books written on purpose on both sides the question. If he should not have it in his power to consult different systems, he will find a good deal of some of our principal controversies in Burnet's exposition of the articles, and Pearson on the Creed. When thus far advanced, he may occasionally as he finds a difficulty (and in my opinion he ought not otherwise) consult scholia and commentaries. Of these I like the first best, both because they are briefer, and because they promise less. The scholiast proposes only to assist you in interpreting some passages, which, in the course of his study, he has met with things that serve