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The reader is now requested to compare this with the assertion of Dr. Woods, and to judge of the fair. ness of the representation. The principles of interpretation, as here stated, are such, as no: Divine of any school will at the present day call in question. They are such as Dr. Woods himself, I will venture to affirm, continually applies in practice. The difference between him and the Polish Divines is only as to the cases, to which the principle is to be applied, and not as to the principle itself. A thousand instances may be brought, in which Dr. Woods will apply the principle without hesitation. No one will reject with more decision than Dr. Woods the obvious meaning of all those passages, numerous and frequent as they are, in which bodily organs and human passions are. ascribed to God. He will exercise his reason in the interpretation of all those passages, which will teach him to set aside as inadmissible, the plain, obvious, and literal meaning of the words that are used.
Luke xiv. 26. Our Saviour says, “ If any man hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Dr. Woods, I trust, will be slow to insist on the plain and obvious sense of this text, as the true meaning of it. He will doubtless make reason his guide, in its interpretation ; and applying his knowledge of oriental idioms, will set aside, as utterly inadmissible, the literal and obvious meaning of the words ; not suspecting that he is thus exposing himself to the harsh censure from some less
enlightened and liberal interpreter of scripture, of taking the liberty to alter or “ set aside the obvious sense of the Bible.”
Matt. xxvi. 26, 28. Our Saviour says, “ This is my body,—this is my blood ;" and John vi. 53. “ Verily, verily I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” Dr. Woods, I suppose, will be as much shocked as any Polish Divine of the whole Socinian school, or any English or German Unitarian, at the idea of adopting the obvious sense of these expressions, as the real meaning of him who uttered them. Nor will he much regard the honest Catholic, who, pressing him with the literal meaning of the words, charges him with perverting the scriptures ; and destroying their authority by thus subjecting them to reason in their interpretation. But why thus shocked, and why not adhere to the literal sense with the Catholic, unless the principle be admitted, that reason is to be employed in the interpretation of scripture? Unless calling to its aid all the resources of learning, experience, and common sense, it may authorize us to set aside the obvious sense by supplying us with proof, that, in any given case, the obvious sense cannot be the true sense ? This is quite a different thing from such an arbitrary alteration of the word of God, or setting aside its true meaning, as is implied in what Dr. Woods has laid to the charge of the Polish Socinians and modern Unitarians.
But who, let me ask, is the man that manifests the truest reverence for the word of God ? Is it he who indolently and carelessly takes the meaning that first presents itself, however absurd, or contradictory, or even impossible that may be; or he who, when the meaning that first presents itself is attended with difficulty or doubt, sets himself with patient and laborious study to ascertain, whether it be the meaning intended by the writer ; a meaning, which if it be the word of God, will certainly contain neither an impossibility, a contradiction, nor an absurdity? Is it he, who without suffering his reason to judge in the case, accepts the meaning, which has been assigned to it in an age of ignorance and superstition, and which ecclesiastical authority has sanctioned, enforced, and perpetuated ; or he, who using his own reason, instead of trusting that of another, applies all the helps that time, and industry, and learning have furnished, to the discovery of its true meaning ?
We not only avow the principle, that reason is to be our guide in the interpretation of Scripture, but we declare that we know not a higher act of disrespect and irreverence to the word of God, than he is guilty of, who, rejecting the free use of reason in its interpretation, exposes it to contempt by attributing to it communications, which could not have been made by the same God, who is the author of our reason. We profess none of that loyalty of faith which consists in implicit subjection to the creed of a master ; which is expressed by degrading and undervaluing our reason or refusing its use, and thus becoming prepared to receive absurdities, contradictions, and impossibilities for divine instructions. We think it to be doing no honour to our sacred books to be ready to believe both sides of a direct contradiction, because we think that we find them there. We are satisfied, from the very circumstance that it is a contradiction, or an absurdity, that we must have misunderstood what we there read. We suspend our faith, and apply ourselves with all the aids that reason, learning, industry supply to ascertain the source of our error, and to discover the truth. We believe that Unitarians, by doing this, have done much toward relieving our religion from articles of faith, and the scriptures from opinions attributed to them, which they never taught, which have been a reproach to our religion, and the occasion of its being rejected by many; who would gladly have received all that it has taught, had it been presented to them unmixed with the absurdities and impossibilities, with which they have seen it associated in popular creeds.
In order to estimate the relative tendency of the two systems, as respects benevolent action, whether in relation to the common interests of life, or that highest kind of it, which is directed to the spread of the gospel, and the salvation of men ; we have only to compare together the views which have been given of the leading doctrines of the two systems; particularly as they relate to the character and dispositions of the Author of nature, his moral government, and the moral
nature of man, and his condition, as a state of trial and probation for an endless being.–To this comparison I confidently invite you, in the assurance that no further illustration is necessary; and that you cannot fail to be convinced, that no opinions on these subjects can be better calculated, than those which we maintain, to purify and exalt our best affections, and to strengthen the motive to every kind of benevolent exertion.
I am persuaded too, that upon a fair comparison, Unitarians will not be found in fact to be behind other Christians in their benevolent exertions. Neither in Europe nor America are they liable to any peculiar reproach for the want of activity and engagedness in promoting humane and benevolent designs. In accomplishing all the great purposes of christian charity, as relates both to this and another life, it is believed they have taken their full share of interest, and have contributed their full share of exertion with their persons and their property.
In proportion to their numbers, no denomination of Christians has furnished more distinguished examples of ardent and disinterested zeal, personal sacrifices, and active exertion in the cause of truth, for the advancement of pure religion, and to promote humane and benevolent objects. None have contributed more largely to some of the most valuable institutions, by which the present period is distinguished. They have taken an active and leading part in promoting the great ends of the Bible Society, and the Peace Society.