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cation will do the business. Eminent talents, if they get a wrong direction, will make us err more widely than we should have done with moderate abilities. In travelling, if we happen to mistake our road, the swifter our motion is, we shall in equal time go so much the farther wrong. But as there is a kind of learning, that is solid and useful to the theologian, there is a kind also, which is visionary and hurtful to him. Of this sort are the abstract philosophy, the ancient dialectic and ontology, which universally for a succession of ages reigned in the schools as the perfection of science, the summit of human wisdom; to whose usurped authority even the christian theology itself hath been most unnaturally subjected, and with whose chains and fetters she still appears more or less encumbered in all the most celebrated systems of our different sects. Disregarding the apostles' warning, men, however they differed in other things, seem to have agreed in this, in “ spoiling the doctrine of their master, with philosophy and vain deceit after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” This artificial logic or science of disputation was at bottom no other than a mere playing with hard words, used indeed grammatically and according to certain rules established in the schools, but quite insignificant, and therefore incapable of conveying knowledge. 'Tis in the language of our poet,
Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy, and in the still more emphatic language of our apostle, “ vain janglings and oppositions of science falsely so called, which minister strife and contention, but tend not in the least to godly edifying.” Thus much I thought it necessary to observe in order to prevent
our thinking of men above what we ought to think, and particularly to prevent our valuing them for those acquisitions which were in fact an obstruction to their advancement in spiritual knowledge, and not a furtherance. .
But it will be asked, and the question is extremely pertinent, In what manner and with what frame of spirit ought we to set about the examination of the scriptures ? An attention to this is of so much the greater consequence, that if many have failed in this undertaking, we have the strongest reason to believe, that the failure is more justly chargeable on the heart than on the head, on the want of that disposition, which if it invariably accompany our inquiries, we have the greatest reason to hope they shall be crowned with success. The first thing then, I would here take notice of as an indispensible requisite, is sincerity. By this I mean, an habitual and predominant desire in the inquirer to discover in scripture not what may serve to authorize his own ideas, and give a sanction to the cobwebs of his own fancy, or of the fancy of others which he has adopted, but what is the genuine mind and will of God, however unacceptable it may prove to flesh and blood, in order that he may
believe and practise it. It is this which our Lord hath termed " a single eye,” opposing it to an eye that is vitiated and diseased, concerning which he hath assured us, that “ if eye be single, our whole body shall be full of
And to the same purpose it is, that he elsewhere affirms that “ if any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” If this be the real, the primary purpose of the student's inquiries, he shall have no reason to dread success.
( For the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.” It is in the same way we must interpret the words of the prophet, “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” The term the wise, as opposed to the wicked, it is well known, doth in the scripture idiom always denote, they who sincerely serve and honour God; “ for to man he said, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding."
The second quality requisite in the examiner of sacred writ, is humility. This is to be understood as opposed to pride and an overweening conceit of our own discernment and acuteness, than which I know not a more unteachable quality in any pupil.
" Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit; there is more hope of a fool than of him.” As this disposition of humbleness of mind leads to a modest diffidence of oneself, it powerfully inclines on the other hand to re. cur frequently to the father of lights, by fervent prayer and supplication, for light and guidance in his way. Those possessed of this engaging frame of spirit, are characterized in holy writ under the several epithets of the meek, the humble, and the lowly. As when we are told, that “God will guide the meek in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way.' God resisteth “ the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” And though the Lord be “high, yet he hath respect to the lowly.” And in order to inculcate the necessity of this temper
every genuine disciple, our Lord hath said, “Whosoever will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein.” The apostle employs a still bolder figure, where he says,
“ If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise."
The third and last quality I shall mention, is patience. Nothing can more endanger our forming false conclusions in any study, which we are prosecuting, than impatience and precipitancy in our advances. Our very zeal and ardour itself, which is a commendable quality in every laudable pursuit, is apt to mislead us, unless checked by this virtue as a bridle. In spiritual, as in secular matters, God requires of us the use of those means, which he hath put in our power ; and to serve as a motive to our obedience in this, he hath given us the promise of his spirit to assist us. Now all means operate gradually ; time therefore is necessary, which requires patient and repeated application. And as to the promises which God hath graciously given for our encouragement, it is our duty in regard to this, as well as in regard to every other promise, to wait patiently on him, in the persuasion, that he will not withhold what instruction is requisite, any more than other good things from them who seek him. It was said by an heathen poet, Φρονειν οι ταχεις 8κ ασφαλεις, Those who are in haste to know, seldom take the surest road. If this may be asserted in general, much more may
it in the present case.
The young student is so much exposed, both from what he hath occasion to see, and from what he hath occasion to hear, to have the opinions of others obtruded upon him, before he is in a capacity to decide, that it is not easy to resist giving perhaps too hasty an assent, when these opinions shall appear to be plausibly supported. Nay sometimes his good qualities themselves, his candour, his confidence in the judgment of those who are older and wiser than himself, may betray him into this fault. But he ought to remember, that till he have acquired the first principles of the critical knowledge of the sacred idiom, he is not, in dubious matters, a competent judge either of plausibility or truth. The dogmatism of others, instead of engaging an easier assent, ought to render their opinions the more suspected. This patient cautiousness in judging will be also an excellent guard against his being seduced by an immoderate attachment either to antiquity or to novelty ; extremes which are differently affected by different tempers. Some are more ready to adopt an opinion implicitly, because it is ancient, others, because it is new. Both are faulty, though in my judgment the latter is the greater fault of the two. Errors may doubtless be very old, that there are many such we know; but truths in religion natural or revealed cannot be entirely new. And even with regard to the explications that may be given of particular passages of scripture, it is always a shrewd presumption against them, if there is reason to believe that, in the course of so many centuries, they never occurred before. At the same time it must be owned on the other hand, that no prescription can be pleaded for any tenets whatever, in opposition to reason and to common sense. The great aim of scriptural knowledge is to clear the truth from that load of rubbish, with which in the track of ages it hath been in a great measure overwhelmed, through the continued decline of piety and good sense, and through the increase of barbarism, and the gradual introduction of a monstrous species of superstition, a heterogeneous and motley mixture of something of the form of christianity (whose name it dishonoured) with the beggarly elements of