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student ought to proceed in his inquiries, and as to the books or assistances he ought to use. If these directions are properly attended to by him, and if they are followed by the right improvement of his leisure hours (and without this improvement the lectures of divinity halls will be of no significancy) it may be hoped, that a competent knowledge might in a little time be attained, both of the evidences of our religion, of its essential articles, and of all the principal controversies that have arisen concerning them.
But first, as to the order in which our theological inquiries ought to be conducted, it may not be impro. per to observe here in the entry, that religion hath been often and not unaptly divided into natural and revealed. The former of these, subdivides itself into other two parts, namely what concerns the nature and providence of God, and what concerns the duties and prospects of
The first of these is commonly called natural theology; the second ethics, both comprised under the science of pneumatology, whereof they are indeed the most sublime and most important parts; and which science is itself a branch of philosophy, in the largest acceptation of the word, as importing the interpretation of nature. That to a certain degree the knowledge of divine attributes and of human obligations are discover. able by the light of nature, scripture itself always presupposeth. As to the former, “ The heavens,” we are told, “declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” Again, “ The invisible things of him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power, and godhead.” Nay our methods of arguing on this subject from the effect to the cause, scripture itself disdains not to adopt and authenticate. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?” And as to the latter, the duties incumbent on men, our Bible in like manner informs us that “when the Gentiles who have not the (written) law do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law to themselves; who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” Now in strictness of speech neither natural theology nor moral philosophy, nor (which is also some times comprehended under the same general name) the doctrines of the immateriality and natural immortality of the soul, fall within my province as a teacher of christian theology. They are in fact preliminary studies, and constitute a part of the philosophic course.
It is however necessary, in order both to prevent mistakes and to obviate objections, to observę, that I do by no means intend to insinuate, that these studies are unconnected with the christian system and there. fore unnecessary. On the contrary I think them of the utmost consequence. As it is the same God (for there is no other) who is the author of nature and the author of revelation, who speaks to us in the one by his works, and in the other by his spirit, it becomes his creatures reverently to hearken to his voice, in whatever manner' he is pleased to address them. Now the philosopher is by profession the interpreter of nature, that is of the language of God's works, as the christian divine is the interpreter of scripture, that is of the language of God's spirit. Nor do I mean to signify, that there is not in many things a coincidence in the
discoveries made in these two different ways. The conclusions may be the same, though deduced, and justly deduced, from different premises. The result may be one, when the methods of investigation are widely different. There is even a considerable utility in pursuing both methods, as what is clear in the one may serve to enlighten what is obscure in the other And both have their difficulties and their obscurities.
The most profound philosopher will be the most ready to acknowledge that there are phænomena in nature for which he cannot account; and that divine, you may depend upon it, whatever be his attainments, hath more arrogance, than either knowledge or wisdom, who will not admit, that there are many texts in scripture which he cannot explain. Nor does this in the least contradict the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of sacred writ; for though every thing which proceeds from God, it must be of consequence to us to be acquainted with, and therefore requires diligent attention especially from the minister of his word, yet all the truths revealed are not of equal consequence, as we learn from scripture itself. The most important things are still the plainest, and set in the greatest variety of lights. Now if God is pleased to address us in two different languages, neither of which is without its difficulties, we may find considerable assistance in comparing both for removing the difficulties of each. But though, as I observed, natural theology and ethics are strictly the province of the philosopher, it may not be amiss, to suggest in a few words concerning the former, that the use of reading elaborate demonstrations of the being and perfections of God, is more perhaps to fix our attention on the object, than to give convic
tion to the understanding. The natural evidences of true theism are among the simplest, and at the same time the clearest deductions from the effect to the
And it were to be wished, that the subject had not been rather perplexed, than facilitated, by the abstruse and metaphysical discussions, in which it hath been sometimes involved.
But to come to the proper department of the christian divine, the first inquiry, that occurs on this subject, is concerning the truth, or, which in the present case is precisely the same, the divinity of our religion. The grand question, to adopt the scripture idiom, is no other than this, Is the doctrine which Jesus Christ preached, from heaven, or of men? That it is from heaven, is the avowed belief of all his disciples; that it is of men, is on the contrary the declared opinion of Jews and pagans. The Mahometans, indeed, acknowledge its divine original, but as they at the same time maintain, that we have no standard of that religion now existing, the scriptures both Jewish and Christian being totally corrupted, in their account, even in the most essential matters, we are under a nécessity of classing them also with the infidels of every other denomination. Would we know in what manner the truth of our reli. gion may be most successfully defended let us consider in what way it hath been most strenuously attacked. Upon a careful examination of all the multifarious assaults that have been made by argument against the christian institution by its adversaries, they are almost all reducible to these two classes. They are either attempts against the character of the institution itself, and are produced to evince that it is unworthy of God, and unsuitable to those original sentiments of right and
wrong which we derive from natural conscience ; or they are levelled against the positive proofs of revelation, and propose to invalidate its evidence. In the first the subject may be said to be considered as a question of right, in the second as a question of fact. Accordingly objections of the former kind are properly philosophical, of the latter historical, and critical.
As to those of the class first mentioned, upon the most impartial examination I have ever been able to make of them, I have always found, that the much greater part proceeded from a total misapprehension of the subject. The spirit of the church, or rather of churchmen, of the hierarchy, hath been mistaken for the spirit of the gospel; and the absurd glosses of corrupt and fallible men have been confounded with the pure dictates of the divine oracles. To the candid and intelligent inquirer, there will appear in many of the boasted arguments produced by the most renowned champions in the deistical controversy, a manifest ignoratio elenchi, as the logicians term it. And I will take upon me to say, that an intimate acquaintance with the mind of the spirit as delivered in holy writ, in its native simplicity and beauty, unadulterated by the traditions and inventions of men, will do more to dissipate the clouds raised by such objectors, than whole torrents of scholastic chicane and sophistry. And even in those objections, in which we cannot say there is a mistake of the subject, we shall often find a woful mistake of the natural powers and faculties of man. Nor do I know a better method of answering cavils of this nature, than that which has been so successfully employed by Bishop Butler in his admirable treatise entitled, “The Analogy of Religion natural and revealed to the Con