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greatest consequence to every one, who would arrive at a thorough acquaintance with the Bible.
But though the elements of these tongues are to be learnt in the schools appropriated to the purpose of teaching them, we are not therefore to affirm, that a divinity school has nothing to do with them. The books of the Old Testament are the only books extant, which are written in the genuine ancient Hebrew. And though the writings of the New Testament make, in respect of size, but an inconsiderable part of what is written in Greek, their style, or rather idiom, has something in it so peculiar, that neither the knowledge of the elements of the language, nor an acquaintance with the Greek classics, will always be sufficient to remove the difficulties, that may occur, and to lead us to the right understanding of the sacred text. To this the knowledge of the Hebrew will be found greatly subservient: for as the penmen of the New Testament were of the Jewish nation, and had early been accustomed to the manner and phraseology of the Septuagint, a literal version of the Old Testament into Greek; there is a peculiarity in their idiom, to be master of which requires an intimate acquaintance with that peo. ple’s manner of thinking (and in this every people has something peculiar) as well as a critical attention to their turn of expression, both in their native tongue, and in that most ancient translation. Leaving therefore the rudiments of those tongues, as what ought to be studied under their several professors, or privately with the help of books, I shall consider what may be necessary, for begetting and improving in us a critical discernment in both, as far as holy writ is concerned. What is necessary for the attainment of this end I shall
comprehend under the name of biblical criticism. This } I consider as the first branch of the theoretical part of the study of theology, and as particularly calculated for the elucidation of our religion, by leading us to the true meaning of the sacred volume, its acknowledged
Again, the christian revelation comprising a most important narrative of a series of events, relating to the creation, the fall, the recovery, and the eternal state of man; and the three first of these including a period of some thousands of years now elapsed, and being intimately connected with the history of a particular nation, during a great part of that time; the knowledge of the polity, laws, customs, and memorable transactions of that nation, must be of considerable consequence to the theological student, both for the illustration and for the confirmation of the sacred books. On the other hand, it will not be of less consequence for the confirmation of our religion, and the recommendation of this study, by rendering our knowledge in divinity more extensively useful, that we be acquainted also with those events, which the propagation and establishment of christianity have given rise to, from its first publication by the apostles, to the present time. The whole of this branch we may denominate sacred history, which naturally divides itself into two parts, the Jewish and the ecclesiastical, or that which preceded, and that which has followed, the commencement of the gospel dispensation.
Further, as the great truths and precepts of our religion are not arranged methodically in sacred writ, in the form of an art or science, but are disclosed gradually, as it suited the ends of Providence, and pleased
the divine wisdom to reveal them, and as some of the truths are explained and the duties recommended in some respect incidentally, as time and circumstances have given the occasion, it is of consequence that the theological student should have it in his power to contemplate them in their natural connexion, and thus be enabled to perceive both the mutual dependence of the parts and the symmetry of the whole. Arrangement, every one acknowledges, is a very considerable help both to the understanding and to the memory; and the more simple and natural the arrangement is, the greater is the assistance which we derive from it. There are indeed few arts or sciences which may not be digested into different methods; and each method
have advantages peculiar to itself; yet in general it may
be affirmed, that that arrangement will answer best upon the whole, wherein the order of nature is most strictly adhered to, and wherein nothing is taught previously, which presupposes the knowledge of what is to be explained afterwards. This branch of study I call the christian system ; and it is commonly considered as the science of theology strictly so called ; the other branches, however indispensable, being more properly subservient to the attainment of this, than this can, with any propriety, be said to be to them.
Nor is it any objection either against holy writ on the one hand, or against this study on the other, that there is no such digest of the doctrines and precepts of our religion exhibited in the Bible. It is no objection against holy writ, because to one who considers attentively the whole plan of Providence regarding the redemption and final restoration of man, it will be evident, that in order to the perfecting of the whole, the
parts must have been unveiled successively and by degrees, as the scheme advanced towards its completion. And if the doctrines to be believed and the duties to be practised, are delivered there with sufficient clearness, we have no reason to complain ; nor is it for us to prescribe rules to infinite wisdom. On the other hand, it is no objection against this study, or the attempt to reduce the articles of our religion into a systematic form, that they are not thus methodically digested in the Bible. Holy writ is given us, that it may be used by us for our spiritual instruction and improvement ; reason is given us to enable us to make the proper use of both the temporal and the spiritual benefits which God hath seen meet to bestow. The con. duct of the beneficent Father of the universe is entirely analogous in both. He confers liberally the materials or means of enjoyment, he gives the capacity of using them; at the same time he requires the exertion of that capacity, that so the advantages he has bestowed, may be turned by us to the best account. then at liberty, nay it is our duty, to arrange the doc. trine of holy writ in such a way, as may prove most useful in assisting us, both to understand and to retain it.
It has been objected more plausibly against every attempt of reducing the principles and precepts of religion to an order, which may be called merely human and artificial, that it has but too plain a tendency to stint the powers of the mind, biassing it in favour of a particular set of opinions, infusing prejudices against what does not perfectly tally with a system perhaps too hastily adopted, and fomenting a spirit of dogmatism whereby we are led to pronounce
positively on points which scripture has left undecided, or to which perhaps our faculties are not adapted. That this has often been the consequence on the mind of the systematic student, is a lamentable truth, which experience but too clearly evinces. On inquiry, however, it will generally be found to have arisen not so much from the study itself, of which it is by no means a necessary consequence, as from something wrong in the manner of conducting it. Let us then, like wise men, guard against the abuse without renouncing the use, that is, without relinquishing the advantage which may result from this study properly pursued.
And the more effectually to guard us against this abuse, let us habitually attend to the three following important considerations. First, that every truth contained in divine revelation, or deducible from it, is not conveyed with equal perspicuity, nor is in itself of equal importance. There are some things so often, and so clearly laid down in scripture, that hardly any, who profess the belief of revealed religion, pretend to question them. About these, there is no controversy in the church. Such are the doctrines of the unity, the spirituality, the natural and moral attributes of God, the creation, preservation and government of the world by him; the principal events in the life of Jesus Christ, as well as his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the doctrine of a future judgment, heaven and hell, together with all those moral truths which exhibit the great outlines of our duty to God, our neighbour and ourselves. In general it will be found, that what is of most importance to us to be acquainted with and believed, is oftenest and most clearly inculcated ; and that, as we find, there are degrees in be