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shall suppose, you have a distinct remembrance both of the questions and the answers ; could ye, for this, be said to have learnt algebra ? No, surely. To teach you that ingenious and useful art, is to instruct you in those principles, by the proper application of which, you shall be enabled to solve the questions for yourselves. In like manner, to teach you to understand the scriptures, is to initiate you into those general principles, which will gradually enable you of yourselves, to enter into their sense and spirit. It is not to make you repeat by rote the judgments of others, but to bring you to form judgments of your own; to see with your own eyes, and not with other people's. I shall conclude this prelection with the translation of a short passage from the Persian letters, which falls in entirely with my present subject. Rica having been to visit the library of a French convent, writes thus to his friend in Persia concerning what had passed. Father, said I to the librarian, what are these huge volumes which fill the whole side of the library ? These, said he, are the Interpreters of the scriptures. There is a prodigious number of them, replied I; the scriptures must have been very dark formerly and very clear at present. Do there remain still any doubts? Are there now any points contested? Are there, answered he with surprise, Are there? There are almost as many as there are lines. You astonish me, said I, what then have all these authors been doing? These authors, returned he, never searched the scriptures, for what ought to be believed, but for what they did believe themselves. They did not consider them as a book, wherein were contained the doctrines which they ought to receive, but as a work which might be made to authorize their own ideas. For this reason, they have corrupted all the meanings, and have put every passage to the torture, to make it speak their own sense. 'Tis a country where." on people of all sects make invasions, and go for pillage; it is a field of battle, where when hostile nations meet, they engage, attack and skirmish in a thousand different ways.
My next discourse will relate chiefly to the advantages resulting from a proper study of holy writ, the manner of conducting it, particularly with this view, that the student may form to himself a digest of its doctrine.
Ilow the Student ought to set about the Examination of the Scriptures....
Directions for forming an Abstract of the Doctrine of Holy Writ.
In my last discourse I purposed to show, that if it was our chief aim, in spiritual matters, to be fed with the sincere milk of the word, to be instructed in the unadulterated doctrine of Christ, we must have recourse to the fountain itself, the sacred scriptures, and begin our studies there. If, on the contrary, like the Pharisees in our Saviour's time, we place unbounded confidence in our several rabbies, the founders of sects and builders of systems; if we are desirous of seeing only with their eyes, that is, in other words, if we are more soli. citous to be their followers than the followers of Christ, and think ourselves safer under their guidance, though acknowledged to be merely human and fallible, than under that of the infallible spirit of truth; if this, I say, be our principal purpose, we ought doubtless to pure sue the contrary method, and make it our first care to be thoroughly instructed in the traditionary dogmas, glosses, comments of that particular champion under whose banners we choose to enlist ourselves, and by whose name we are carnal and mean enough to glory in being distinguished. And after we have sufficiently imbibed all his sublimated theories and subtile ratiocinations, we may venture safely on the study of scripture; we are in no danger of being disturbed by it. Sufficient care will have been taken to prevent our receiving any light from that quarter, that shall serve to undeceive us, and we are as secure as any Pharisee whatever, that if the word of God should contradict our traditions, the former shall give place to the latter, and be rendered of no effect. I believe there are few, who will in so many words avow this to be their plan. But that it is, in fact, the plan of by far the greater number in every region of the christian world, the effect but too plainly demonstrates. It is wonderful, that the consequences of this method in fixing people unalterably in the opinions good or bad which were first infused into them, and in making them view every thing in that light only which will favour their own prepossessions, have not opened the eyes of mankind as to its impropriety. Can that method be esteemed a good one, which all the world sees, or may see, if they will, is equally adapted to promote truth or error, sense or nonsense ; which makes a man to the full as tenacious of positions the most absurd, as of those that are most reasonable, and serves to pervert the only rule, acknowledged by all sides to be unerring, into a mere engine for giving authority to the visions and theories of any dogmatist, who has gotten the first possession of our heads? Is it not in consequence of this, that those of other denominations are astonished to find, that we cannot discover their principles in scripture, and that we are just as much astonished to find, that they cannot there discover ours?
But I am aware of one objection, my doctrine is exposed to, which must at least be owned to be specious. If so many men of distinguished learning and abilities have failed in the attempt of explaining scripture, and forming systems of the christian revelation, how can I (may our young student argue) who, in comparison of these, must acknowledge myself to be both illiterate and weak, hope to succeed in reaching the sense of holy writ, and forming to myself a digest of its doctrine ? That many such, as are now mentioned, have failed in the attempt, is manifest from this, the innu. merable systems and commentaries extant, which in many things flatly contradict one another, whilst each author supports his own side with great appearance of subtlety and display of erudition. Were this objection to be admitted in all its force, I know not by what kind of logic any person could conclude from it, that it were better to choose without examining, than to examine before we choose. The latter may be right, the former must be wrong. That men of great literary fame have failed, can never be a good reason for trusting implicitly to such.
But I insist upon it, that when examined to the bottom, there will not be found so much in the objection, as is supposed. The usefulness of some branches of learning for the more perfect understanding of scripture is indeed undeniable. Is it because the doctrine of revelation is abstruse and metaphysical, and therefore not to be apprehended by any, who have not been accustomed to the most profound and abstract researches ? By no means. The character, which holy: writ gives of its own doctrine, is the very reverse of this. It is pure and plain, such as “enlighteneth the