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solution of it from some other quarter. Have patience, and as you grow acquainted with the scope of the whole by frequent and attentive reading, you will daily find fewer difficulties; they will vanish of themselves. The more perspicuous parts will insensibly reflect a light on the more obscure. If you had the helps to be obtained from history, geography, the knowledge of the manners and polity of the people, which in effect are perfectly coincident with the study of the language, and which may be all comprehended in these two sources, sacred history and biblical philology, you will be daily fitter, as I said before, for being interpreters for yourselves. And I will take upon me to say, that if this method were universally pursued, and all temporal interests were out of the question, the differences in opinion about the sense of scripture would be inconsiderable. In that case, there would not be one controversy among the disciples of Jesus, where at present there are fifty. And there would be no such thing as classing ourselves under different leaders, which has been so long the disgrace of the christian name.
We can read the rebuke which Paul gives to the Corinthians, for distinguishing themselves thus in the true spirit of sectarism, one saying “I am of Paul, another I am of Apollos, a third I am of Cephas," and we remain insensible all the while, that the rebuke strikes much more severely against us, than it did against them. Has not this been universally the method in the christian world for many ages? I am an adherent of the Roman pontiff, says one, and I of the patriarch of Constantinople, says another. And among protestants one says, I am of Luther, another I am of Calvin, a third I am of Arminius. Ay, but were not some of these, men of the most respectable characters ? None is more ready to acknowledge it. But were not Paul and Peter and Apollos, the apostles and first ministers of Christ, also men of the most respectable characters ? Yet with what warmth and indignation, do we see one of themselves disclaiming a distinction, which he accounts injurious to the honour of his master, and subversive of his cause. But to proceed. The disciple in each sect is first instructed in the principles or system of their respective leader, and afterwards with the assistance of what they call an orthodox commentator, that is a zealous partisan of the sect, he is sent to the study of scripture. The first object is manifestly to make him of the party, the second to make him a christian, or compounding both views together, to make him, just such a christian, and so far only, as is compatible with the principles of the party. The effect sufficiently demonstrates the absurdity of the method. All of them almost, without exception, of the most opposite sects and most discordant principles, when thus prepared, find without difficulty their several systems supported in scripture, and every other system but their own condemned. How unsafe then must it be to trust in men! When we thus implicitly follow a guide before inquiry, if we should even happen to be in the right, it is, with regard to us, a matter purely accidental. No protestant dares advance the same thing with regard to searching the scriptures, because in doing this we obey the express command of Him, whose authority, in profession at least, all protestants hold to be more venerable, than even that of the founders of their several sects.
But when is it then, that you would think it proper to recur to systems and commentators? The answer is plain. After you have acquired such an insight into the spirit and sentiments of sacred writ, that you are capable of forming some judgment of the conformity or contrariety of the doctrine of these authors to that infallible standard. With the examination of such human compositions, the studies of the theologian
+ ought, in my judgment, to be concluded, and not begun. The disciple of the son of God ought, above all men, to be able with regard to merely human teachers, to apply to himself the words of the poet,
Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri.
I shall even suppose, that we could put an interpreter into your hands, who would always guide you right, and this is more than any man, that does not claim infallibility, can pretend to do. Yet even in that case, I am not satisfied, that this would be the best method for the young student to take, in order to arrive at the understanding of the scriptures. To learn, seems, with many, to imply no more than a bare exercise of me. mory. To read, and to remember is, they imagine, all they have to do. I affirm on the contrary that a great deal more is necessary, as to exercise the judgment and the discursive faculty. I shall put the case, that one were employed to teach you algebra ; and instead of instructing you in the manner of stating and resolving algebraic equations, he should think it incumbent on him, only to inform you of all the principal problems, that had at any time exercised the art of the most famous algebraists, and the solutions they had given; and being possessed of a retentive memory,
shall suppose, you have a distinct remembrance both of the questions and the answers ; could ye, for this, be said to have learnt algebra ? No, surely. To teach you that ingenious and useful art, is to instruct
in those principles, by the proper application of which, you shall be enabled to solve the questions for yourselves. In like manner, to teach you to understand the scriptures, is to initiate you into those general principles, which will gradually enable you of yourselves, to enter into their sense and spirit. It is not to make you repeat by rote the judgments of others, but to bring you to form judgments of your own ; to see with your own eyes, and not with other people's. I shall conclude this prelection with the translation of a short passage from the Persian letters, which falls in entirely with my present subject. Rica having been to visit the library of a French convent, writes thus to his friend in Persia concerning what had passed. Father, said I to the librarian, what are these huge volumes which fill the whole side of the library ? These, said he, are the Interpreters of the scriptures. There is a prodigious number of them, replied I; the scriptures must have been very dark formerly and very clear at present. Do there remain still any doubts ? Are there now any points contested? Are there, answered he with surprise, Are there ? There are almost as many as there are lines. You astonish me, said I, what then have all these authors been doing? These authors, reţurned he, never searched the scriptures, for what ought to be believed, but for what they did believe themselves. They did not consider them as a book, wherein were contained the doctrines which they ought to receive, but as a work which might be made to authorize their
own ideas. For this reason, they have corrupted all the meanings, and have put every passage to the torture, to make it speak their own sense. 'Tis a country whereon people of all sects make invasions, and go for pillage; it is a field of battle, where when hostile nations meet, they engage, attack and skirmish in a thousand differ
My next discourse will relate chiefly to the advantages resulting from a proper study of holy writ, the manner of conducting it, particularly with this view, that the student may form to himself a digest of its doctrine.