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gion, if duly explained by the ministry of the word, requires not great talents for its comprehension, but may be practised by men of very common capacities. It is urged again, that the people are directed to examine the word of God, (John v. 39,) and are commended for making that examination, (Acts xvii. 10, 11); and argued, that it is unlikely that that book should be difficult to which they are referred. It is, doubtless, highly desirable that every man should read the Scriptures. It would be a means of reviving much of that divine knowledge which he had previously acquired, and would thus be a source to him of great comfort and edification. It would also be some security against false or careless instruction on the part of his ministers ; and it might be, in many instances, a mode of attaining fresh accessions of information, new impressions, and new convictions, of a sound nature : but the command of the Saviour, and the commendation of the sacred historian, allude rather to the investigation of the doctrines of the ministry, than to the formation of others unassisted by ministerial instruction. It may be very easy for the Jews to have searched the Old Testament, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the doctrines are to be found in it which a teacher may have affirmed to be a particular portion of its contents; but not for the Christian to interpret the New Testament, in these days, without human assistance. And there is nothing. in Scripture or experience to make us think the contrary. The composition of the christian Scriptures is of a nature peculiarly difficult of interpretation. Not only the circumstances under which they were written are remote and not easily discoverable ;
the manners and customs of the persons immediately concerned, peculiar and obsolete ; and the style of writing, in several respects, singularly idiomatic;—but the facts that these Scriptures were not addressed directly to ourselves, but to others, and at a great distance of time; that in many places they indirectly teach the great truths of religion, by being written in immediate allusion to certain circumstances of different and ancient people, and leaving us to gather doctrines from incidental notices ; and that they, in various parts, touch on the same topics in divers manners, so that much collation is necessary; being in all these respects much unlike a work of human genius, where the author aims at perspicuity, and intends to deliver his ideas so that it is scarcely possible for his meaning to be mistaken ;-these facts, among others, render the New Testament extremely liable to misconception. St. Peter also informs us, that in the Epistles of St. Paul are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable, wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. But there is one circumstance—the many and wide disagreements between the opinions of sects and individuals who peruse the Scripture for instruction—which may alone evince no slight degree of difficulty attending its interpretation. Numbers of persons read the Scriptures with a desire of arriving at the truth, and approach the volume with prayer for divine illumination; and yet of that multitude, how many view in very different lights the selfsame passages, and draw extremely dissimilar and even opposite conclusions from the entire revelation. Now if the Bible were easily understood, these dissensions would not arise amongst men who study the sacred lessons with like teachableness and devotion. If a written document were simple and unequivocal in its subject and composition, it would, in all probability, be understood nearly, if not precisely, in the same manner by almost any number of readers, who, with moderate talents, inquired into its signification; and the general result of private researches into God's word, by men of good understanding and pious sentiments, can be accounted for only by its frequently apparent ambiguity.
The difficulty of discovering in many matters of common concern the sense of Scripture, as well as the vast importance of a due perception of its truths, render it very desirable to use every means in our power of ascertaining its purport with all practicable precision. It is foreign to my immediate design, to make any allusion to the critical examination of its text. My object is now rather to direct attention to certain methods of verifying the results of that criticism, and to affix on them that value to which they are justly entitled.
An anxious inquirer into truth, after examining the opinions of commentators on any controverted point of Scripture, and forming the best judgment in his power by the consideration of their arguments and of any additional ones of his own, is naturally desirous of receiving, if possible, some corroborations of the accuracy of his decision, derived, in some measure at least, from independent sources. Two such extrinsic meansimmediately present themselves his natural reason, and the writings of the apostolic fathers; and they stand preeminently above all other auxiliaries that can be imagined. But such has been the abuse of reason, that its legitimate office must be guarded by some kind of definition.
In calling reason to aid our inquiries after truth, it is not insinuated, that by our rational powers we could have wrought out for ourselves any of the
ublime and mysterious revelations of Scriptures neither is it intended that we can thoroughly com-prehend, or could it be expected, as reasonable beings, thoroughly to comprehend every portion of 1 a volume which has the Almighty for its author, and: in many places for its subject. It is signified, prin-'* cipally, that our reason may be exercised in judging of the excellence of those doctrines or dispensations of God revealed in his holy word, which are not superior to our comprehension.
This is one use of reason, to which it is applied by dissenters as well as by churchmen. It is not un. common for any alleged truth of Scripture to be defended or disputed, as being reasonable or uno; reasonable. But something more is required, probably, in support of this application of the rational faculty, than the general concurrence of mankind, particularly by those who make the Scriptures their only oracle. It is possible it might, without any but human authority, be only a lamentable instance of the pride of human intellect. The practice however rests on infinitely higher grounds. In several in. stances in Scripture, God has explicitly referred his dealings with men to the arbitration of their reasonable judgment. He has authorised us to employ reason as an independent test of the wisdom and
goodness of such of his dispensations as are level to our capacities. The inspired warrants of this exercise of the faculty are extremely perspicuous. They need only be read with common attention and reflection in order to be perceived. They are so simple, that I shall content myself with merely referring the reader to the Bible for some of the most remarkable examples, though they are at the same time so beautiful and instructive illustrations of our argument, that it is with reluctance I refrain from expounding their signification. The reader then is requested, carefully and intelligently to peruse the following texts:.Ezek. xviii. 25, 29 : - Matt. vi. 30 ; vii. 11: Luke v. 31; xiii. 15, 16: Rom. v. 10; vii. 32. I think it is impossible to read these passages, with even prejudices hostile to the reception of the opinion, without perceiving that the Holy Spirit has addressed our reason as a separate and distinct arbiter of the righteousness of such of the dealings of God with mankind as He has enabled us to comprehend. We have seen then, I trust, the legitimacy of the use of reason under this limitation.
With respect to the second auxiliary which we have specified, the writings of the apostolic fathers, " ! their utility towards a right understanding of Scripture is equally unquestionable. But it may be necessary, to making our argument intelligible to the general reader, to enter into some particulars.
Among the eminent Christians who lived in the first centuries after the establishment of Christianity in the world, many were the authors of works, some of which have been transmitted to our times. These distinguished writers are called the Fathers of the