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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 sect, 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 paraphrasts ; 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 there. fore 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 differèd. 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
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
from the same principles. The scriptures were written in distant ages, and allude to many transactions, then, but not now, familiarly known in the world, addrest to people who differed from us, as much in manners, ceremonies, customs, and opinions, as in language. An acquaintance with these transactions and differences therefore, as far as we can attain it, is in effect, as hath been often hinted already, a more thorough acquaintance with the scriptural idiom and dialect. If after this we proceed to the study of systems and commentaries and controversies, we have acquired a fund of our own, from which we may form a judgment in regard to their jarring sentiments. But if without any such fund for judging, without a competency of knowledge either in scripture-language or scripture-history we have immediate recourse to system-makers and expositors and controversialists, we are perfectly bewildered, and must therefore either deliver ourselves up implicitly to the guidance of some one or more whom we pitch upon at random, or be lost in absolute scepticism. The study of language and history doth not indeed present you with particular opinions, formed upon particular passages of scripture ; it is for that very reason quite above the suspicion of partiality. But it doth what is much more valuable. It furnishes us with those first principles of knowledge, from which an attentive and judicious person will be enabled to draw proper conclusions, and form just opinions for himself. The other way is indeed better adapted to gratify the laziness of the sciolist, who would be thought learned, but cannot bear, even for the sake of learning, to be at the least expense of thought and reflection.
The man who advises such an easy method, which I acknowledge is by far the commonest, is like one who tells you,“ This writing, the contents of which you are anxious to be acquainted with, you need not take the trouble to peruse yourself. It is but dimly written, and we have now only twilight. I have better eyes, and am acquainted with the character. Do but attend, and I shall read it distinctly in your hearing." On the other hand he who with me advises the other method is like one who says, “ Take this writing into your own hand. I shall procure you a supply of light, and though the character is rather old, yet with some attention, in comparing one part with another, you will soon be familiarized to it, and may then read it for yourself.” In a matter of little moment, and where there can be no danger of deception, it may be said, and justly said, the first method is the best, because the easiest and quickest. But suppose it is an affair of great importance to you, and that there is real danger of deception ; suppose further, that your anxiety having led you to employ different readers, the consequence hath been, that each reader, to your great astonishment, discovers things in the writing, which were not discovered by the rest; nay more, that the discoveries of the different readers are contradictory to one another ; would you not then be satisfied, that the only part a reasonable man could take, would be to recur to the second method mentioned ? Now this is precisely the case with the point in hand.
I shall illustrate the difference between these methods by one other example, and then have done. You in. tend to travel into a foreign country, where you propoșe to transact a great deal of business with the