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history of so interesting a country as ours. To us, who live in the same age with the writer, and have constantly before our eyes the very objects, customs, manners, and institutions which he describes, many of his delineations must, of course, be superfluous. But these travels will go down to posterity, and be received as an extremely valuable legacy, while mere general descriptions of men and things, at this early period of our national existence, will be read with coinparative indifference. What would not the literati of England, France, or Germany, now give for four such volumes of early annals and facts, as Dr. Dwight has bequeathed to an equally remote posterity ?
But his great work is the System of Divinity, which, as Professor of Theology, he delivered to the students of Yale college, and which was published soon after his death. It would be foreign from our present design to attempt an extended analysis of this elaborate system ; but we cannot do justice to the character of its author, or to our own feelings and estimate of its value, without offering to our readers a hasty outline. Preliminary to this, however, we deem it proper to notice the two opposite errors which extensively prevail, in regard to systematic theology
With a very respectable class of intelligent and thinking Christians in our country, there is nothing like reducing the doctrines of the Bible to a regular and connected system. And in their view, everything which disclaims allegiance to such a system, must be loose, declamatory, and unsafe, if not positively erroneous.
Give us,' say they, 'not a medley of disconnected truths, doctrines and precepts, leaving the mind always bewildered and unsatisfied; but let them be ranged under their proper heads, that we may see their bearings and relations, and how they strengthen and elucidate each other.
We want a creed which has a beginning, a middle, and an enddrawn out in distinct propositions, to which we may, in an orderly manner, refer all the important truths of revelation.'
That we have ourselves no objection to systems of divinity, will more fully appear in the sequel ; but the danger is, that through the mighty influence of sectarian biasses, they will be placed on a level with the inspired volume, if not virtually made paramount to its authority. Imperfection is stamped on every human performance. When a man sits down to the great work of preparing a complete system of divinity, he is extremely liable to be swayed by feelings, motives, and prejudices, of which he is little aware.
Early impressions secretly cling to him. The sect to which he belongs, perhaps, urges him to the undertaking. Opinions first imbibed, he knows not when or why, but long cherished as sacred, are now to be defended and set in the strongest possible light. Under these circumstances, what, but immediate inspiration, could secure a professed systematizer from erring in a greater or less degree? And when, after long and wasting toil, the work is completed, how natural is it for the author to regard himself as fully committed to defend it : and to feel all the solicitude of a parent for its reputation and success. Henceforth, the Bible must of course give its sanction to his scheme, because he is sure that his scheme is true.
We do not say, that all systematical writers are in equal danger of erring in their expositions, arguments, and conclusions; but that the wisest and ablest of them are exposed to err, when they least suspect any danger. And if this be true of pious and learned divines, in the very act of laborious investigation, it cannot be supposed that common Christians are less liable to be warped by an overweening attachment to systematic theology. That which purports to be a complete system, especially if written by some favorite champion of their party, must needs embrace all the important truths of revelation, and why should they give themselves the trouble to inquire any further ? That the Bible should teach any great truth, not found in their standard, or that it should give a different bearing to the same truths which are contained in both, seems in the bighest degree improbable. To be exactly right, is, in their estimation, to embrace all the articles of their faith; and sound theology is synonymous, not so much with an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures, as of the definitions, reasoning, and technical phraseology of an admired polemic. Accordingly, when any of his doctrines or positions are assailed, and they are driven to the Bible for weapons of defence, the appeal is often made to that infallible standard, not so much as a test, as to find arguments and texts to support the system. This is no ideal representation. It is what takes place, every day and hour.
Surely, it were infinitely better, never to have seen a system of divinity, than thus to receive even the highest human authority,as the ultimate rule of faith or practice.
But many, in their zeal against such writers as Calvin, and Edwards, and Bellamy, and Hopkins, and Dwight, go very far into the opposite extreme. Nothing in their view is so mischievous and alarming, as creeds, confessions, and systems of theology. The Bible, the Bible, they reiterate, is the only safe and allowable creed-not indeed as we have it, ' in our own tongue wherein we were born ;' but as corrected and improved by the help of new translations and expurgatory criticism. Such a version you may read; but you must not presume to decide positively, in regard to any doctrine which it seems to teach. And much less must you state any of its doctrines in the form of a system, or creed, however concise, or however manifestly coincident with the divine record. The moment you venture on this ground, numbers are horror-struck at your temerity, and you must expect to be denounced as a presumptuous meddler with things too sacred for human touch. To tell what you believe, and why you believe, and above all, either to put your creed upon paper in your own language, or to give even a qualified assent to what any man has compiled in the form of a general system, is to renounce the authority of Christ, of the evangelists, and apostles, and to set up human fallibility in its place.
All this, and much more to the same effect, is sounded through the land, and chiefly by the very men, too, who with all their reverence for the exact words of Scripture, are employing their utmost ingenuity to translate its life and soul away, leaving a mere · dead letter ;' to teach 'no doctrines in particular;' to threaten nothing in earnest; and to require no obedience which the unsanctified heart cannot render, no meetness for heaven which it does not already possess.
Now the truth undoubtedly lies between the two extremes which we have mentioned ; but much nearer to the first than the last. Systems of divinity are not entitled to all the reverence with which they are sometimes regarded by religious partisans; and far less are they such terrible and impious usurpers of the rights of conscience, as they have often been represented. Like other systems, they are highly convenient and beneficial, when ably drawn up, and when referred to, not as original au
thorities, but as helps to the student. The legitimate use of our standard theological writers is no more to supersede the study of the Bible, than the same use of a system of chemistry, or botany, or astronomy, or intellectual philosophy, is to excuse the student from investigating the laws and phenomena either of matter or mind. In religion, our ultimate appeal is to the word of God, just as in physical science it is to his works. To say nothing of the infinite hazard of relying implicitly upon the expositions of men, it is just as unphilosophical, as it would be to close the book of nature, and take it for granted that the system, or text book before us, contains all that is known, or ever can be found out, by the most diligent investigation. The man who attempts to reduce every revealed truth to what he conceives to be its appropriate place in his system, will be likely to meet with the same difficulties, as if he were to attempt a perfectly scientific classification of all the objects in nature. can only approximate towards perfection in either case; and in both, this is found to be sufficient for all practical purposes.
But on the other hand, nothing can be more unreasonable than the indiscriminate censure which has been lavished upon creeds and systems. They are adapted to aid the biblical student, by bringing kindred doctrines together, and giving him a connected view of their harmonious relations, just as the student of nature is assisted by the classifications of Linnæus, and other distinguished philosophical writers. If the former is liable to place too much reliance upon his favorite system, so is the latter. . The mind may, in either case, be fettered, or misled, by fallible authority ; but it is now quite too late to sustain the sentence of condemnation against a good thing; on