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Of the Science of Theology, and its several Branches.
That we may discover what is necessary for the acquisition of any science, we ought to consider attentively the end for which it is made the object of our pursuit. If the ultimate end be knowledge, or that entertainment which the mind derives from the perception of truth, the properest plan of teaching must be very different from that which ought to be adopted, when the end is practice. And as this last admits a subdivision (for there may be practical ends of very different sorts) the method best adapted to one sort may not be the best adapted to another.
I explain myself by an example, which comes directly to the point in hand.
The christian theology may be studied, first, like any other branch of liberal edu. cation, in order to gratify a laudable curiosity ; or secondly, to qualify us for acting the part of christians by practising the duties of the christian life; or lastly, to qualify us for discharging the office of christian pastors. It is manifest, that if, for answering properly the first of these purposes, a good deal more is requisite, than would suffice for attaining the second, yet much less is necessary for the accomplishment of both these ends, , than for answering the third. With regard to the first, which terminates in the acquisition of knowledge; theology is now very rarely, if ever, in this country, studied, like other sciences, purely for its own sake, as a part of genteel education, which (abstracting from its utility) is both ornamental and entertaining. Why it is not, though we may trace the causes, no good reason that I know of can be assigned. And with regard to the second view of teaching, namely to promote the practice of the duties of christian life, every minister of a parish is thus far a professor of divinity, and every parishioner is, or ought to be, thus far a student.
It is, I may say, solely for the third purpose, the most comprehensive of all, to fit us for the discharge of the duties of the pastoral office, that theological schools with us have been erected. I say this end is the most comprehensive of all. The least of what is required in the christian pastor, is that he may be qualified for discharging the several duties of the christian life ; for in these he ought to be an ensample to the flock. Further, whatever, in respect of knowledge, supplies the materials necessary for edifying, comforting, and protecting from all spiritual danger the people that may be committed to his charge, or is of use for defending the cause of his master, must evidently be a proper study for the man who intends to enter into the holy ministry. Again, whatever may enable him to make a proper application of those acquisitions in knowledge, so as to turn them to the best account for the benefit of his people, is not less requisite. To little purpose will it be for him to be possessed of the best
materials, if he have not acquired the skill to use them. The former we may call the theory of the profession; the latter the practice. That both are necessary is manifest. The first without the second, however considerable, may be compared to wealth without economy. It will not be found near so beneficial to the owner, and those who depend on him for their support, as a more scanty store would be, where this virtue is understood and practised in perfection. Nor will the second do entirely without the first ; for the best economy in the world can be of no value, where there is no subject to be exercised upon. Hence arises a twofold division of what is proper to be taught to all who have made choice of this profession, a division which merits your particular attention. The first regards purely the science of theology, the second the application of that science to the purposes of the christian pastor.
Under what concerns the science, I would comprehend all that knowledge in relation to our holy religion, which serves immediately to illustrate, to confirm or to recommend it. I say, immediately, because there are several acquisitions in literature which the christian divine ought previously to have made, and which are not only important, but even necessary in the way of preparation, though the connection of some of them with the christian theology may, upon a superficial view, appear remote. Such are the Latin tongue, moral philosophy, pneumatology, natural theology, and even history both ancient and modern, but especially the former. But though several branches of knowledge may contribute less or more to all the different purposes of illustrating, confirming and recommending religion, it is evident that some studies are more directly adapted to one of these purposes, and others to another.
Let us begin with the illustration of our religion. It is proper to acquire a right apprehension of the subject, before we consider either its evidence, or what may serve to recommend it. The knowledge of the christian theology, in the strictest sense of the word, is no doubt principally to be sought for in the books of the New Testament. It was for the publication of this religion throughout the world, that these books were originally written. They contain the doctrine which first our Lord Jesus Christ himself, afterwards his apostles in his name, by their preaching, promulgated to mankind. As those great events, which make the subject, and serve as a foundation to the whole, were not accomplished till the ascension of our Lord, Christianity as a religious institution, authoritatively given by the Almighty to the human race, may be considered as commencing from the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
I said, that the knowledge of our religion was principally to be learnt from the books of the New Testament, but neither entirely nor solely from these books. In these, there are frequent references to the doctrines contained, the precepts given, and the facts recorded in other books of an older date, as comprising also a divine revelation supposed to be already known, and therefore not always quoted, when referred to, so as to be engrossed in the writings of the disciples of our Lord. These are the books of the Old Testament. Though both are of divine authority, and though each is eminently useful to the right understanding of the other, there is this difference in the reception due to them from christians. The import of the declarations and the obligation of the precepts in the scriptures of the Old Testament are more properly to be interpreted and limited by those of the New, than the declarations and precepts of the scriptures of the New Testament can be by those of the Old. The reason is obvious. The Mosaic dispensation was introductory and subor. dinate to the Christian, to which it pointed, and in which it had its consummation. It was no other, than the dawn of that light, which by the coming of Jesus Christ has arisen on the nations in all its glory. Things necessarily obscure in the former are cleared up by the latter. From this also we learn to distinguish things of temporary, from things of perpetual obligation. It happens in several instances, that what was incumbent under the weakness of the first economy is superseded by the perfection of the last.
Now for attaining a more perfect knowledge of the scriptures, none will question the utility of studying carefully those languages in which they were originally composed. These are especially the Hebrew and the Greek. I say especially, because a small part of the Old Testament is written in the Chaldee, which ought rather perhaps to be considered as a sister-dialect of the Hebrew, than as a different tongue. But as there are other schools in which these languages are taught, they have never with us been considered, as consti. tuting any part of the courses of divinity. They are more properly preliminary studies than branches of the theological science. Permit me only to observe, in passing, that they are nevertheless studies of the