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OF THE CONDUCT WHICH STUDENTS OF DIVINITY
OUGHT TO PURSUE.
HAVING in the three former lectures pointed out the principal branches both of the theory of theology, and of the ministerial charge; and having explained to you the method in which I propose to treat both parts of that course, I now proceed, as I signified on the last occasion I had of speaking from this chair, to offer my sentiments in regard to the conduct, which you my hearers ought to pursue, and to the character as students which you ought to maintain, thatyou may profitably prosecute this important study.
The scheme, of which I have given you an outline, I would fain, if possible, adjust in such a manner, as that it may be completed in four sessions at the most. My reason for limiting it to this number of sessions, is obviously that the greater part of the students may have occasion, if they will, to hear the whole. No doubt by extending it to six times as many, I might make the course more perfect; but of what consequence would that be, if it were thereby rendered less useful? And less useful it must be, if but a small portion of it can be received by the same set of hearers. Ad
mit that, on the other hand, a few who live in this city and neighbourhood should honour us with their attendance for a longer period; if the instructions to be given are of real consequence, it will hardly be thought presumptuous to affirm, that, considering the slipperiness of most people's memories, and the length of an interval of four years, those few will not altogether mis-spend their time in hearing them repeated. When the method of teaching is almost entirely by a course of lectures, unaccompanied with any lessons to be got by heart, there are very
few learners, on whose minds a single hearing will make an impression sufficiently strong and durable. I would have you to remember, gentlemen, that it is little, extremely little, that I, or any professor of divinity, can contribute to your instruction, if you yourselves do not strenuously co-operate to promote this end. The most that we have to do, is to serve as monitors to you, to suggest those things which may be helpful for bringing and keeping you in the right track of study, and thus for preventing you, as much as possible, from bestowing your time and pains improperly. Your advancement will, under God, be chiefly imputable to your own diligence and application. Students of divinity are commonly, against the time they enter the theological school, arrived at those years of maturity, when cool reflection begins to operate, when a sense of duty, a regard to character, and an attention to interest rightly understood, prove the most powerful motives. And if there be any here, with whom these motives have no weight, it is a misfortune we cannot remedy. We can only say to such, and we do it most sin
cerely, that their attendance in this place will be to little
purpose, that it were much better for themselves, and probably for the public, that they would employ themselves somewhere else.
You cannot here be considered as school-boys. We claim no coercive power over you
kind. Our only hold of you is by persuasion. And for attaining this hold, our only dependance is on your own discernment and discretion. We proceed on the
supposition, that you are not only willing, but even anxious, to learn something every day, by which you may advance in fitness for the great end in view.
Will it be pleaded on the other side, that there is no knowledge to be learnt in a divinity school which may not be learnt out of it? Passing what may justly be urged in opposition to this plea, on the advantages resulting from both example and practice in the different exercises, which hardly any reading can supply; and admitting it in the fullest extent, in which any reasonable person will desire, it ought to be remarked, that the same objection lies against all schools and colleges whatever. There are few difficulties in the way of science, which eminent natural abilities, accompanied solely with assiduous application, will not surmount. But what then? Such extraordinary talents fall not to the lot of one of a thousand. It is not with geniuses, but with understandings of the middling rate, that we are chiefly concerned. Besides, even where there are uncommon talents, which by their own native force are capable of conquering difficulties insuperable to ordinary and unassisted minds, yet even of such uncommon geniuses we may truly say, that, with proper assistance, the same diffi
be no person
culties would have been surmounted by them more easily and in shorter time. You may travel through a country, where you never were before, though there in your company
that knows any better than yourselves, the regions you have to traverse, or the cities you have to visit, or the objects most worthy of attention you have to observe. But surely you must acknowledge that it would be an immense advantage to be accompanied in travelling by one who is well acquainted with the country, with every province in it, and every considerable town, who could bring you to every place and every object that were deserving of your notice, and conduct you by those roads which would present you with the most extensive prospects. With such an assistant and fellow traveller, it cannot be doubted, but you might acquire more useful knowledge of the country and of the people in a month, than you could otherwise do in a year. And it must be owned, that the use of a divinity-school is but ill answered, if the study be not, by its means, at least facilitated to the learner. A professor of divinity, if he does not usurp what he has no title to, claims no advantage over a student but that which years and experience have given him; an advantage, in which the student in time, if it is not his own fault, may be his equal, perhaps his superior. We demand no attention from you, but such as an experienced mariner would be entitled to from those who are setting out on their very
voyage. And here I cannot help observing, that in the way, in which attendance in the divinity school is still given by some of our students, very little can be expected from it. I know the excuse that is
generally produced by students for their great deficiency in this respect. They are engaged in other business, some as preceptors in private families, others in teaching schools. But are excuses like these admitted in students as a sufficient reason for absenting themselves from the inferior classes? Is their attendance in these dispensed with by the master for the greater part of the philosophy-course? On what a miserable footing would our university education stand, if such a plea as this were to be received as a sufficient apology, and if such a sham attendance, as is sometimes given here by students, were enough to entitle our young collegiates to academical degrees? Every person of discernment must perceive, that on such a plan of procedure, our colleges would quickly go to wreck, and our schools be shut up, because they would infallibly lose all credit nd utility. Now I would fain be informed what valid reason can be produced, why this plea should rather be admitted here? Is any branch of philosophy of equal importance to one who is intended for the ministry, as those branches of theology are, which we have shown to be immediately connected with, and preparatory to the sacred function? Or is it fit that there should be less caution in regard to the preparation for holy orders than is thought necessary for attaining the degree of master of arts ? It is manifest that our church did not think so, when those statutes were enacted by her, which regard the licensing of probationers, and the ordaining of pastors. But those statutes, though they still remain unrepealed, are greatly relaxed by the manner we have got of executing them. These things well deserve your serious and mature consideration.