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mendation 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 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 connection, 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 may have advantages peculiar to itself; yet in general it may be affirmed, that that arrangement will answer best upon 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 conduct 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. We are then at liberty, nay it is our duty, to arrange the doctrine 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 some thing 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
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 belief as well as in evidence, it is a very natural and just conclusion, that our belief in those points is most rigorously required, which are notified to us in scripture with the clearest evidence. The more is exacted where much is given; the less, where little is given. The dogmatist knows nothing of degrees, either in evidence or in faith. He has properly no opinions or doubts. Every thing with him is either certainly true, or certainly false. Of this turn of mind I shall only say, that far from being an indication of vigour, it is a sure indication of debility in the intellectual powers.
A second consideration is, that many questions
will be found to have been agitated among theo logians, as to which the scriptures, when examined with impartiality, cannot be said to have given a decision on either side, though were we to judge from the misrepresentations of the controvertists themselves, we should be led to conclude, that contradictory decisions had been given, which equally favoured both sides. It has not been duly attended to by any party, that a revelation from God was not given us, to make us subtle metaphysicians, dextrous at solving abstruse and knotty questions, but to make us good men, to inform us of our duty, and to supply us with the most plain and most cogent motives to a due observance of it. From both the above observations, we should learn, at least, to be modest in our conclusions, and not over dogmatical or decisive, in regard to matters which may be justly styled of doubtful disputation or of deep research.
The third consideration is, never to think ourselves entitled, even in cases which we may imagine very clear, to form uncharitable judgments of those who think differently. I am satisfied that such judgments on our part are unwarrantable in every
Of the truth of any tenet said to be revealed, we must judge according to our abilities, before we can believe; but as to the motives by which the opinions of others are influenced, or of their state in God's account, that is no concern of ours. Our Lord Jesus alone is appointed of God the judge of all men, and are we presumptuous enough to think ourselves equal to the office and to anticipate his sentence? “Who art thou that judgest another "man's servant? To his own master he stand