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[Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1832, by J. & J. Harper, in
the Office of the Clerk of the Southern District of New York.]
It is matter of deep regret that the popular vocabulary of Christian doctrine should contain so large a proportion of vague and undefined or illdefined terms. That a religion based upon a revelation from heaven, designed, not to confound, but to instruct its votaries,—a religion naturally to be regarded as the native element of Truth, the
ath, the appropriate sphere of clear knowledge and unambiguous diction, from which the dimning and darkening mystifications of error were entirely banished,—that such a religion, in the utterances of its disciples, should abound in terms and phrases, many of them of incessant recurrence, to which no precise ideas were ordinarily affixed, is certainly an infelicity never enough to be deplored. Hence the angry controversies which have agitated and rent so often the Christian world. Hence too the ill-starred partition of the church into various conflicting sects, each clustering pertinaciously around some chosen form of words, which its opponent as pertinaciously rejects. That this diversity of creed among Christians, like every other species of evil, is overruled, in the counsels of God, for good, cannot be questioned for a moment; yet as little, we think, is it to be doubted
that the thing in itself is an evil, and one which the more perfect operation of Christianity will finally
We are well aware that this ambiguity of language, and the consequent indefiniteness of apprehension which obtains in regard to the objects of religious faith, arises in great measure from the intrinsically mysterious nature of the subject matter of revelation, and the limited grasp of the human intellect, so unequal to the mastery of the grand and overwhelming themes of the inspired oracles. But after every abatement on this score, the conviction still remains, that a less pardonable cause is at the bottom of much of the evil of which we complain. It cannot surely be doubted that the sacred volume was given to man in order to be understood. It would be at once a gross misnomer as to the book itself, and a foul reflection upon its Author, to denominate that a revelation which was at the same time sò shrouded in triple mystery as to baffle the discernment of the unlettered, and to mock the prying researches of the curious and the learned. Not that we count upon the practicability of all classes of readers becoming equally well versed in its contents; for as this revelation is couched in languages which have ceased to be vernacular to the people of any nation, a superior insight into its disclosures will ever accrue to those who make themselves familiar with the sacred original tongues; and as the facilities for this attainment are constantly increasing, and light is pouring in from numerous other sources upon the interpretation of the inspired writings, it is easily conceivable that each successive generation shall advance far beyond its immediate predecessor in every department of biblical science. In seeking, therefore, for the source of that. blindness in part,' which hath happened to the religionists of every age, we cannot be mistaken in referring it, in great measure, to the neglect of the original languages of Scripture. Men have not been studious to ascertain with absolute precision the ideas attached by the Holy Ghost to the words and phrases employed by the sacred penmen. Neglecting the canons of philology, heedless of investigating the usus loquendi in respect to leading words and phrases, and paying but slight attention to the sources of archæological illustration, they have too often imposed a construction upon the language of holy writ derived from the systems of the schools, the placets of renowned doctors, or the dictation of ecclesiastical synods. Alas! how many venerable theories and darling dogmas in theology would be demolished, as by a magician's wand, by the simple touch of the finger of philological exegesis! Here then, we repeat it, in the failure to resort to the original fountain-heads of truth, we find a large portion of the obscurity of religious language adequately accounted for; and as we here find the bane, here also we come to the knowledge of the antidote.
Again, it must be admitted that there is, in the mass of men, an innate aversion to a rigid examination of the grounds of the opinions they have once adopted, or to a critical analysis of the terms by which they are ordinarily expressed. They do not
like to have the quiet of their faith disturbed by an insinuation of the weakness of the grounds upon which it rests. The ancient and accredited technicalities of religion, hallowed as they are by long usage, and wedded to the thoughts, if not to the affections, by early association, are clung to with the most unyielding tenacity. We shrink from the rude process of investigation. Inquiry strikes us as little short of profanation, and we shudder at it as at the lifting up of axes against the carved work of the sanctuary. Although we may be in fact unable to substantiate our belief fully to our own minds, yet the bare thought of a change, as the result of canvassing our opinions anew, fills us with alarm, and binding our established persuasions still closer to our hearts, we say with Job, 'I will die in my nest,' admitting no treacherous doubts within the precincts of our faith for fear of a mental insurrection. Thus the dreary bird of night
-“ does to the moon complain Of such as wandering near her secret bowers, Molest her ancient solitary reign.”
But surely it will be conceded that truth is at all times to be preferred to error, though it should be supposed that the error were one of a comparatively slight and innoxious character. The rigid scrutiny of our opinions, therefore, is but the homage due to truth; and the man who aids us in disabusing ourselves even of an innocent error, may justly lay claim to some measure of the gratitude bestowed upon him who puts us in possession of a new truth.