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BY THE LATE GEORGE CAMPBELL, D. D. F. R. S. Ed.
PRINCIPAL OF MARISCHAL COLLEGE, ABERDEEN.
The favourable reception of the Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, and the desire of many to have an opportunity of perusing Dr. Campbell's prelections on the other branches of his theological course, have prompted the editor to offer to the public the following work. The Lectures on Ecclesiastical History the author had prepared for the press, having carefully transcribed and corrected them. The prelections now published were composed for the benefit of the students of divinity in Marischal College, without any view to publication. They were first delivered in the years 1772 and 1773, and the author continued, during his professorship, to read them to the students, as they had been at first composed. Indeed, they were written so closely, as to admit very little addition or alteration.
But though they want the benefit of the author's corrections, the language, it is presumed, will not be found very deficient in that perspicuity, precision and accuracy, which distinguished Dr. Campbell as a writer. His other acknowledged qualities as an author, the judicious and attentive reader will not be at a loss to discern. He will discover in this volume, great ingenuity with no affectation of singularity, freedom and impartiality of spirit without any propensity to fabricate new theories, acuteness of understanding without percipitancy or impatience in judging; endowments perhaps rare, but of the first importance in theological discussions.
To students of theology these discourses will be highly useful. They are more of a practical nature, than his lectures formerly published, and they abound in valuable counsels and remarks. From this volume and from the author's work on the Gospels, the student will learn, both by precept and example, how his industry and ingenuity may be most profitably employed.
The greater part of the abstract theological questions, which have afforded matter of inexhaustible contention, and the precarious speculations of some of our late intrepid theorists in religion, Dr. Campbell regarded as worse than unprofitable. In these theorists, he observed a fundamental mistake, in regard to the proper province of the reasoning faculty. Impatience in judging, he thought, was another great source of the evil alluded to. “Some people," he remarks in his last preliminary dissertation to his work on the Gospels, “have so strong a propensity to form fixed opinions on every subject to which they turn their thoughts, that their mind will brook no delay. They cannot bear to doubt or hesitate. Suspense in judging is to them more insufferable, than the manifest hazard of judging wrong." He adds a little after, “In questions, which have appeared to me, either unimportant, or of very dubious solution, I have thought it better to be silent, than to amuse the reader, with those remarks in which I have myself found no satisfaction.” Never could teacher, with a better grace, recommend a patient cautiousness in judging. His premises, which are often of greater importance than a superficial reader is aware of, are commonly sure; the proper and obvious inferences he often leaves to the reader to deduce. The conclusions, which the author draws, are so well limited, and expressed in terms so precise, and so remote from the ostentatious and dogmatical manner, that the attentive reader is inclined to think; that he sometimes achieves more than he had led us to expect.
On questions that have been rendered intricate by using scriptural terms in a sense merely modern, and of such questions the number is not small, Dr. Campbell's clearness of apprehension critical acuteness and patience of research have enabled him to throw a good deal of light. The Lectures on Ecclesiastical History afford some striking examples of his success in this way. And his work on the Gospels abounds in illustrations of scripture that may be of great utility in reforming our style in sacred malters, and in shortening, if not deciding, many theological questions. Some good judges have no hesitation in saying, that they never saw the scripture terms, heresy and schism, well explained, till they read Dr. Campbell's Preliminary Dissertations. Former writers had been so far misled by the common and modern acceptation of the terms, as to include error in doctrine as essential
to the notion of heresy, and to make a separation from communion in religious offices the distinguishing badge of schism. The primitive and genuine import of the words is so clearly ascertained by the author, that if a person unacquainted with the ecclesiastical and comparatively modern language were to read the dissertation, he would wonder, that there should ever have been any difficulty or difference of opinion on the question. This is only one instance out of many that might be produced from the same work, in which the reader will find the obscurity, wherein a subject was formerly involved, vanish entirely, and the genuine conceptions of the most venerable antiquity unfolded to his view. When that great work is understood and studied with the attention it merits, may it not be expected to have considerable influence, in leading men to look for the good old paths, that may have been long untrodden, and known but to few?
In the preface to the work above quoted, speaking of expositors of scripture the author has the following remark. “If I can safely reason from experience, I do not hesitate to say, that the least dogmatical, the most diffident of their own judgment, and moderate in their opinion of others, will be ever found the most judicious.” To judge by this criterion, few authors have a better claim to our confidence than Dr. Campbell. Few have seen the right track so clearly, and few have advanced in it with a firmer step.