Images de page

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 deci. sions 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 abstruse 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

[ocr errors]

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 presumptuous 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

[ocr errors]

geniously observed, that the ministers of religion are much in the same situation with those builders, who in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, whilst they worked with one hand, were, on account of their enemies from whom they were continually in danger, obliged to hold a weapon with the other.

Let it here be remarked, that these two last branches, the christian system and polemic divinity, though perfectly distinct in their nature, are almost universally and very commodiously joined together in the course of study. The consideration of every separate article of religion is aptly accompanied with the consideration of its evidence; and the consideration of its evidence necessarily requires the consideration of those objections, which arise from a different representation of the doctrine. Thus the great branches of the theoretic part of this profession, though properly four in their nature, are in regard to the manner in which they may be most conveniently learnt, justly reducible to three, namely Scripture Criticism, Sacred History, and Theological Controversy. These are sufficient to complete the character of the theologian, as the word is commonly understood; who is precisely what our Lord has denominated “a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, who can, like a provident householder, bring out of his treasure, new things and old.”

But even what is sufficient to constitute an able divine, is, though a most essential part, yet not all that is necessary to make a useful pastor. The furniture has been pointed out, but not the application. In the former, we may say, lies the knowledge of the profession, but in the latter, the skill. This second part

I intend to make the subject of another discourse.

But before I conclude the present, I shall beg leave briefly to observe to you, that when first I set about composing these lectures, I was in some doubt, whether I should use the Latin language or the English. I weighed impartially the arguments on both sides, and did at last, I think with reason, determine in favour of the latter. On the one side some appear. ance of dignity pleaded ; on the other, real utility. It may be said to draw more respect to the profession as a literary study, that the tongue employed be unknown to the vulgar. On the other hand it is no reflection on the proficiency in learning which you my hearers may have heretofore made, to suppose, that not being so much accustomed to the use of Latin as of your moth. er-tongue, ye should not with the same quickness and facility, apprehend what is conveyed in the one, as what is delivered in the other. It is not barely knowing the words and the construction of a language, that will make us apprehend it with perfect readiness, when spoken. For this purpose long practice is necessary even to the best proficient. For so powerful is the influence of habit on association, that even when a person has made so great progress in the language, as that he can hardly ever be at a loss, when sufficiently attentive, for explaining a term or analysing a sentence, yet if his opportunities of hearing it read or spoken have not been frequent, it will be difficult to him, for any continuance, to give the necessary attention. A man is said to understand a tongue, when there is an association or mutual attraction established in his mind be. tween the words both single and combined, and the ideas they are intended to signify. But though this connection may be soon established, it is practice only

« PrécédentContinuer »