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which hath been branded as ridiculous fanaticism in the next. It is at this day deemed the perfection of orthodoxy in one country, which in an adjacent country is looked upon as damnable heresy. Nay in the same country hath not every sect a standard of their own? Accordingly, when any person seriously uses the word, before we can understand his meaning, we must know to what communion he belongs. When that is known, we comprehend him perfectly. By the orthodox he means always those who agree in opinion with him and his party, and by the heterodox those who differ from him. When one says, then, of any

teacher whatever, that all the orthodox acknowledge his orthodoxy, he says neither more nor less than this, “all who are of the same opinion with him, of “ which number I am one, believe him to be in the

right.” And is this any thing more, than what may be asserted by some person or other, of every teacher that ever did or ever will exist? “ Words," it was well said by a philosopher of the last age,

are the counters of wise men and the money of fools." And when they are contrived on purpose to render persons, parties, or opinions the objects of admiration or of abhorrence, the multitude are very susceptible of the impression intended to be conveyed by them, without entering at all, or ever inquiring into the meaning of the words. And to say the truth, we have but too many ecclesiastic terms and phrases, which savour grossly of the arts of a crafty priesthood, who meant to keep the world in ignorance, to secure an implicit faith in their own dogmas, and to intimidate men from an impartial inquiry into holy writ.


But would you then lay aside systems altogether, as useless or even dangerous ? By no means. But I am not for beginning with them. I am even not for entering on their examination, till one has become, in the way formerly recommended, if not a critic, at least a considerable proficient in the scripture. 'Tis only thus, we can establish to ourselves a rule by which we are to judge of the truth or falsehood of what they affirm. 'Tis only thus, that we bring systems to be tried at the bar of scripture, and not scripture to be tried at their's. 'Tis only thus, we can be qualified to follow the advice of the prophet in regard to all teachers without exception, “ To the law and to the testimony, “if they speak not according to this word, they “ have no truth in them.” 'Tis only thus, we can imitate the noble example set us by the wise Bereans, in exact conformity to the prophet's order, of whom we learn, that they did not admit the truth of Christ's doctrine even on the testimony of his apostles, but having candidly heard what they said, “ searched the scriptures daily to see if " these things were so." 'Tis only thus, we can avoid the reproach of calling other men xa Inyn TO! masters, leaders, dictators, to the manifest derogation of the honour due to our only master, leader, and dictator, Christ. 'Tis only thus, we can avoid incurring the reproach thrown upon the Pharisees, concerning whom God says, o their fear towards “me is taught by the precepts of men." But then

it will be said, if the scriptures are to be our first study, will it not be necessary, that, even in reading them, we take the aid of some able commentator? Perhaps I shall appear somewhat

singular in my way of thinking, when I tell you in reply, that I would not have you at first recur to any

of them. Do not mistake me, as though I meant to signify, that there is no good to be had from commentaries. I am far from judging thus, of commentaries in general, any more than of systems. But neither are proper for the beginner, whose object it is impartially to search out the mind of the spirit, and not to imbibe the scheme of any dogmatist. Almost every commentator hath his favourite system, which occupies his imagination, biasses his understanding, and more or less tinges all his comments. The only assistances, which I would recomm

mmend, are those in which there can be no tendency to warp your judgment. It is the serious and frequent reading of the divine oracles, accompanied with fervent prayer; it is the comparing of scripture with scripture; it is the diligent study of the languages in which they are written; it is the knowledge of those histories and antiquities to which they allude. These indeed will not tell you what you are to judge of every passage,

and so much the better. God hath given you judgment, and requires you to exercise it. “ And why even of yourselves judge ye not what “ is right?" If sufficient light is brought to you,


wherewith to see, will ye not take the trouble to use them, and observe what is before you; must

be told

every thing as though you were blind or in utter darkness? The helps therefore, which I recommend, are such as pronounce nothing concerning the import of holy writ, but only increase the light by means of which the sense may be discovered. The student I would have in

and if you

a great measure to be self-taught, a well conducted attempt at which, is, in my opinion, the true way of preparing himself for being taught of God. Whoever thinks that this method will not do, ought openly and honestly to disclaim the principle, that “ the scriptures are able to make the man of God “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Such a one on the contrary hath in effect, whatever he may imagine, abandoned the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity and absolute sufficiency of scripture. He hath not entirely purged out the old leaven, but retains a hankering after some human and unerring interpreter. If he differs with Rome, it is not really about the needfulness of the office, but about the person or persons who shall fill it.

Let us consider a little the consequences of the other method, which indeed is by far the most common, not only with papists but even with protestants of all denominations, and which I would call beginning our theological studies where they should end, with systems and commentaries. To what other cause can we justly impute it, that so much of implicit faith, so much of unrelenting bigotry, and so many divisions prevail in the christian world, especially among the pastors themselves, those who ought to be the foremost in propagating more liberal sentiments of the Gospel of Christ? The young student new

come from college, where he was taken up with other matters, enters on the study of theology quite raw and unexperienced. He is told, if a protestant, that the whole of his religion is contained in the Bible; and even, if a Romanist, he is informed that the scriptures are inspired and consequently true, and that they contain many at least of the christian


doctrines. The foundation is laid by some favourite system of the party to which he belongs, which is warmly recommended by him who has the direction of his studies. When that is done, he is desirous to commence the study of holy writ. He begins, and as may be naturally expected, being quite a stranger to the character of the nation, to whom the sacred writers belonged, and of whom they write, knowing nothing of their polity, laws, customs, manners, ceremonies, to which there are so frequent allusions, and having but a smattering of the sacred languages, and nothing of the idiom, he is often puzzled to find out the

If his fomer reading do him no prejudice, it is well; much good is not to be expected from it. Impatient to get rid of his perplexity, and to know every thing as he proceeds, some expositor must be consulted. An expositor will be got that shall corroborate the effect produced by the system. If the place of his residence be Rome, one interpreter is put into his hands; if it happen to be Moscow, another; if Oxford, a third; if London, a fourth; and if Geneva, very probably one who differs in his sentiments from all the four. Have ing no criterion of his own, whereby he can form a judgment of the justness of their interpretation, and having an unbounded trust in the wisdom of his tutor, and the penetration of the authors he has recommended, he easily adopts in every thing their explications and solutions. His vacant mind, like what the lawyers call a derelictum, is claimed in property by the first occupant. That author, and others of the same party, commonly keep possession ever after. To the standard set up by them,

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