« PrécédentContinuer »
which every one of these has given occasion ; would it be possible, considering the shortness of our sessions, a great part of which must be employed in hearing the exercises of the students, to finish, even in thrice the time that our canons require the students to attend us (and it is well known that these canons have grown into disuse) such a course in a way that would be accounted satisfactory? What then can be done, when so much more than the discussion of that branch is necessary, absolutely necessary, for answering the end of this profession? Who sees not, that the end is not so much to make an acute disputant in theology, as to make a useful minister? I would not be understood to treat contemptuously a talent that is necessary
for the defence of truth; but I must say, that in common life, where there is one occasion of exerting that talent, there are twenty occasions of employing the other talents necessary for the right discharge of the pastoral function.
As then the consideration of the other branches must occupy a part of our time, what profitable purpose, it may be asked, will be answered by some detached discourses on a very few particular articles of divinity, the most that the same students will ever have occasion to hear? Can this give so much as an idea, not to say the knowledge, of the harmony, connection, and mutual dependance of the several parts ? Could a student in architecture, for instance, ever acquire, I say not skill, but what would be necessary to form a taste in that noble and useful art, by having occasion to hear a few detached prelections, at one time perhaps on the Ionic scroll, and the manner of forming it, at another on the Doric triglyphs, at another on the foliage of the Corinthian capital ? Many such learned and elaborate discourses might he hear on the beauty and effect of particular ornaments and little parts of an edifice, without ever attaining an ability of judging of the symmetry of the whole, and of the proportions which, in order to produce the best effect in respect both of elegance and of use, the great and constituent members ought to bear to one another. Yet without this he would remain totally ignorant of the art all the while. Now it is certain, that all the knowledge necessary for the attainment of that art, may, when compared with the christian theology, be comprised in a very small compass.
Is then so important a branch as controversial theology to be overlooked altogether ? If not, in what manner is it to be treated, that the end may best be answered ? It is not to be overlooked; but in what manner it ought to be conducted with us, (all circumstances considered) is a question, which it is much more difficult to answer. In the digest that might be made of the articles of the christian system, of the disputes that have arisen out of these articles, and of the arguments that have been or might be produced in support of controverted truths and in confutation of pernicious and plausible errors, if it were possible, as it is not, to give such a digest in the time to which we are limited; hardly any thing very new or deserving the pains on the one part, or the attention on the other, which it would certainly cost, could be offered by us. We should be laid under the necessity of giving at best but a very indistinct compilation (because far too much abridged) from the topics and arguments which have been, over and over, fully treated by con
troversial writers. In so ample a field, therefore, I say not the best thing we can do, but the only thing we can do to any purpose, is to give some directions, first, as to the order in which the student ought to proceed in his inquiries, and secondly, as to the books and assistances which he ought to use.
If these directions are properly attended to and followed, it might be hoped, by the right improvement of his leisure hours (and without this improvement the lectures of divinity schools will be of no significance) that a competent knowledge might in a little time be attained ; and that, both of all the essential articles of the christian system, and of all the principal controversies that have arisen concerning them,
The same observations nearly might be made in re. lation to the second branch of the same general head, the sacred history. Indeed in some other universities, this is made a separate profession. When that is the case, the professor of divinity hath scope doubtless, for making greater progress in the other branches of the theological studies. But for my part, I am not of opinion, that attending what are commonly called historical lectures, that is, an abridgment of history distributed into lectures, whether the subject be sacred or civil, is the best way of acquiring a sufficiency of knowledge in this branch. I see many disadvantages it has, when compared with reading well written histories, but know not one advantage. Were such a method however more advantageous, when sufficient time is given for prosecuting it, than in my judgment it is, it would not answer with us. Your whole at. tendance here would not be sufficient for attaining a competency of knowledge on this article ; though it were the only subject ye were to be instructed in from this chair ; and though we were to treat it in the most compendious manner possible. Is this branch then to be omitted ? By no means.
But all that with propriety can be effected by us is, to convey some notion of the nature and origin and essential parts of this species of history, to trace as briefly as possible the latent springs of the principal changes, with which the ecclesiastical history in particular presents us; and as on the last mentioned article, to offer suitable advices to the student, first as to the order in which he ought to proceed in the acquisition of this necessary branch of knowledge ; secondly as to the books and assistances which he ought to use.
As to the only remaining branch of the same general head, biblical criticism, it will require to be managed in a different manner. It is for this reason I here mention it last, notwithstanding that I gave it the first place in the enumeration of the parts into which the theory of theology may properly be divided. When I speak of biblical criticism as a very considerable branch of the study incumbent on every divine, I would not be understood to mean an acquaintance with many of the commentators, who have criticised upon the sacred text, but principally the acquisition of some general canons in scriptural criticism, especially the criticism of the New Testament, by which we may often be enabled both to judge without the aid of commentaries, and when we shall think it proper to use that aid, to decide between contradictory comments. Now though all the first principles of criticism on the style and idiom of scripture are perhaps to be found scattered in an almost endless variety of volumes, written on the subject of the christian religion, they are not to be collected from these without the utmost labour and difficulty. The most of our commentaries, it must be owned, are too bulky for the generality even of theological students. And we are sorry to add (but it is a certain fact) that in several of these commentaries, what is of little or no significancy so immoderately preponderates what is really valuable, that we may almost say of them, as Bassanio in the play says of Gratiano's conversation, “ They speak an infinite deal of nothing. Their reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff, you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not worth the search.” To lay down therefore proper canons of sacred criticism, to arrange them according to their comparative merit, so that we may readily apprehend the
way in which they are to be applied, must be a very useful labour to all in general, but of particular consequence to the young student. It is the more so, because could we once arrive at being adepts in the critical science, the help of the commentator would be much more rarely needed; we should serve as commentators to ourselves.
Allow me to add, that this study is the more necessary in a protestant divine, for two reasons. The first is, because the Bible is acknowledged by such to be the foundation, from which alone all that is necessary both to be believed and to be practised by the christian may be learnt.
be learnt. Whatever therefore is subservi. ent to the elucidating of the sacred pages, must be of the utmost consequence to him. The case is very different with the Romanist, who assigns to tradition, to the fathers, to councils, and to popes, an authority