« PrécédentContinuer »
employing the other talents necessary for the right discharge of the pastoral function. As then the consideration of the other branches inust occupy a part of our time, what profitable purpose, it may be asked, will be answered, by some detached discourses on a very few points of divinity, the most that the same students could ever have occasion to hear? Could this give so much as an idea, not to say
the knowledge of the harmony, connection, and mutual dependance of the whole? Is then so important a branch as polemic divinity to be entirely overlooked? and if not, in what manner is it to be treated that the end may best be answered? It is by no means to be entirely overlooked; but in what manner it ought to be conducted (all circumstances considered, both as to the time allowed for the study, and the other matters equally essential to be discussed) is a question much more difficult to answer. In the digest that may be made of the articles both of natural and of revealed religion, if it were possible, as it is not, within the compass of the few sessions to which the attendance of students is commonly limited, to comprehend such a digest, together with the arguments that may be warrantably urged, not only in confirmation of the whole in general, but in support of all the principal controverted points, hardly any thing either new or curious could be offered by us. We should be laid under the necessity of giving at best but a very indistinct, and therefore a bad compilation, because by far too much abridged, from the topics and arguments which have been fully treated by various controversial writers. In so ample a field therefore, I say not, the best thing we can do, but
the only thing we can do, that will answer any useful purpose, is to give directions, both as to the order in which the student ought to proceed in his inquiries, and as to the books or assistances he ought
If these directions are properly attended to by him, and if they are followed by the right improvement of his leisure hours (and without this improvement the lectures of divinity halls will be of no significancy), it may be hoped, that a competent knowledge might in a little time be attained, both of the evidences of our religion, of its essential articles, and of all the principal controversies that have arisen concerning them.
But first, as to the order in which our theological inquiries ought to be conducted, it may not be improper to observe here in the entry, that religion hath been often and not unaptly divided into natural and revealed. The former of these subdivides itself into other two parts, namely what concerns the nature and providence of God, and what concerns the duties and prospects of man. The first of these is commonly called natural theology, the second ethics; both comprised under the science of pneumatology, whereof they are indeed the most sublime and most important parts; and which science is itself a branch of philosophy, in the largest acceptation of the word, as importing the interpretation of nature. That to a certain degree the knowledge of divine attributes and of human obligations are discoverable by the light of nature, scripture itself always presupposeth. As to the former, “ The heavens," we are told, “declare the glory of God, and the firmament .6 sheweth his handywork.” Again, “ The invi
“sible things of him from the creation of the world, “are clearly seen, being understood by the things “ that are made, even his eternal power,
and god“head.” Nay our methods of arguing on this subject from the effect to the cause, scripture itself disdains not to adopt and authenticate. “ He that “planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that form"ed the eye, shall he not see?” And as to the latter, the duties incumbent on men, our Bible in like manner informs us that " when the Gentiles who “ have not the (written) law do by nature the things “ contained in the law, these having not the law
are a law to themselves; who show the work of “ the law written in their hearts, their conscience “ also bearing witness, and their thoughts mean“ while accusing or else excusing one another." Now in strictness of speech neither natural theology nor moral philosophy, nor (which is also sometimes comprehended under the same general name) the doctrines of the immateriality and natural immortality of the soul, fall within my province as a teacher of christian theology. They are in fact preliminary studies, and constitute a part of the philosophic course.
It is however necessary, in order both to prevent mistakes and to obviate objections, to observe, that I do by no means intend to insinuate, that these studies are unconnected with the christian system, and therefore unnecessary.
On the contrary I think them of the utmost consequence. As it is the same God (for there is no other) who is the author of nature and the author of revelation, who speaks to us in the one by his works, and in the other by his spirit, it becomes his creatures re
verently to hearken to his voice, in whatever manner he is pleased to address them. Now the philosopher is by profession the interpreter of nature, that is of the language of God's works, as the christian divine is the interpreter of scripture, that is of the language of God's spirit. Nor do I mean to signify, that there is not in many things a coincidence in the discoveries made in these two differ
The conclusions may be the same, though deduced, and justly deduced, from different premises. The result may be one, when the methods of investigation are widely different. There is even a considerable utility in pursuing both methods, as what is clear in the one may serve to enlighten what is obscure in the other. And both have their difficulties and their obscurities. The most profound philosopher will be the most ready to acknowledge that there are phænomena in nature for which he cannot account, and that divine, you may depend upon it, whatever may be his attainments, hath more arrogance, than either know.. ledge or wisdom, who will not admit, that there are many texts in scripture which he cannot explain. Nor does this in the least contradict the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of sacred writ; for though every thing which proceeds from God, it must be of consequence to us to be acquainted with, and therefore requires diligent attention especially from the minister of his word, yet all the truths revealed are not of equal consequence, as we learn from scripture itself. The most important things are still the plainest, and set in the greatest variety of lights. Now, if God is pleased to address us in two different languages, neither of
which is without its difficulties, we may siderable assistance in comparing both for removing the difficulties of each. But though, as l observed, natural theology and ethics are strictly the province of the philosopher, it may not be amiss, to suggest in a few words concerning the former, that the use of reading elaborate demonstrations of the being and perfections of God, is more perhaps to fix our attention on the object, than to give conviction to the understanding. The natural evidences of true theism are among the simplest, and at the same time the clearest deductions from the effect to the cause. And it were to be wished, that the subject had not been rather perplexed, than facilitated, by the abstruse and metaphysical discussions, in which it hath been sometimes involved.
But to come to the proper department of the christian divine, the first inquiry, that occurs on this subject, is concerning the truth, or, which in the present case is precisely the same, the divinity of our religion. The grand question, to adopt the scripture idiom, is no other than this, Is the doctrine which Jesus Christ preached, from heaven or of men? That it is from heaven, is the avowed belief of all his disciples; that it is of men, is on the contrary the declared opinion of Jews and pagans. The Mahometans, indeed, acknowledge its divine original, but as they at the same time maintain, that we have no standard of that religion now existing, the scriptures both Jewish and Christian being totally corrupted, in their account, even in the most essential matters, we are under a necessity of classing them also with the infidels of every