« PreviousContinue »
eyes and maketh wise the simple.” The institution to be given by the Messiah, is represented by the prophets, as “a highway so patent that the way-faring men though fools should not mistake it,” and as an intimation written in so large and legible a character “that he who runs may read.” And Paul, in order to signify to us, that there was nothing of difficult investigation in this doctrine, and that the knowledge of it was easily attainable by those who were willing to hear and learn it from the apostles of Christ, says concerning it, “The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise. Say not in thine heart who shall ascend into heaven (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart ; that is, the word of faith which we preach.”. And indeed the apostle doth in this, but apply to the new dispensation the same character of plainness and perspicuity, which Moses had formerly affirmed of the old. “ This commandment," said he, “ which I command thee, this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldst say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldst
Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” Nor indeed would it be one jot less absurd, to suppose, that in order to attain this divine instruction we should be under the necessity of diving into the depths of human systems, rummaging the re
cesses of voluminous commentators, or exploring the fine spun speculations of idle theorists, than that we should be obliged to scale the heavens or to cross the
It is not therefore on account of any thing ab. struse or difficult in the matter itself, that learning is of importance ; nor is it for the acquisition of the most essential truths, which are ever the most perspicuous. But its importance to the theologian ariseth from these two considerations; first, that he may be qualified for the defence of religion against the assaults, to which, either in whole or in part, it is exposed from its adversaries; secondly, that he may become more and more a proficient in the sacred style and idiom, and be thereby enabled to enter with greater quickness into all the sentiments of the inspired writers. The languages of holy writ are now dead languages. Learning of one kind is necessary to attain an acquaintance with them, and consequently with those things which they contain, however perspicuously expressed. In the infant state of the church, miraculous gifts, especially the gift of tongues, and that of prophecy, superseded the necessity of human learning altogether. Now that these are withdrawn, we cannot hope to be perfectly 'acquainted with the mind of the spirit, till by the use of the ordinary means, which God hath put in our power and requires us to employ, we come to understand the language which he speaks. And, as hath been observed already, the history and criticism, which we have recommended, are nothing else, but the natural aids towards such a proficiency in the sacred tongues. This however is a species of knowledge, which it requires no extraordinary genius or talents to enable us to attain. Common sense, time, and application will do the business. Eminent talents, if they get a wrong direction, will make us err more widely than we should have done with moderate abilities. In travelling, if we happen to mistake our road, the swifter our motion is, we shall in equal time go so much the farther wrong. But as there is a kind of learning, that is solid and useful to the theologian, there is a kind also, which is visionary and hurtful to him. Of this sort are the abstract philosophy, the ancient dialectic and ontology, which universally for a succession of ages reigned in the schools as the perfection of science, the summit of human wisdom ; to whose usurped authority even the christian theology itself hath been most unnaturally subjected, and with whose chains and fetters she still appears more or less encumbered in all the most celebrated systems of our different sects. Disregarding the apostles' warning, men, however they differed in other things, seem to have agreed in this, in
spoiling the doctrine of their master, with philosophy and vain deceit after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” This artificial logic or science of disputation was at bottom no other than a mere playing with hard words, used indeed grammatically and according to certain rules established in the schools, but quite insignificant, and therefore incapable of conveying knowledge. 'Tis in the language of our poet,
Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy, and in the still more emphatic language of our apostle, “ vain janglings and oppositions of science falsely so called, which minister strife and contention, but tend not in the least to godly edifying.” Thus much I thought it necessary to observe in order to prevent
our thinking of men above what we ought to think, and particularly to prevent our valuing them for those acquisitions which were in fact an obstruction to their advancement in spiritual knowledge, and not a further
But it will be asked, and the question is extremely pertinent, In what manner and with what frame of spirit ought we to set about the examination of the scriptures ? An attention to this is of so much the greater consequence, that if many have failed in this undertaking, we have the strongest reason to believe, that the failure is more justly chargeable on the heart than on the head, on the want of that disposition, which if it invariably accompany our inquiries, we have the greatest reason to hope they shall be crowned with success. The first thing then, I would here take notice of as an indispensible requisite, is sincerity. By this I mean, an habitual and predominant desire in the inquirer to discover in scripture not what may serve to authorize his own ideas, and give a sanction to the cobwebs of his own fancy, or of the fancy of others which he has adopted, but what is the genuine mind and will of God, however unacceptable it may prove to flesh and blood, in order that he may
believe and practise it. It is this which our Lord hath termed " a single eye,” opposing it to an eye that is vitiated and discased, concerning which he hath assured us, that “ if our eye be single, our whole body shall be full of light.” And to the same purpose it is, that he elsewhere affirms that “ if any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” If this be the real, the primary purpose of the student's inquiries, he shall have no reason to dread success.
" For the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.' It is in the same way we must interpret the words of the prophet, “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” The term the wise, as opposed to the wicked, it is well known, doth in the scripture idiom always denote, they who sincerely serve and honour God; “ for to man he said, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding."
The second quality requisite in the examiner of sacred writ, is humility. This is to be understood as opposed to pride and an overweening conceit of our own discernment and acuteness, than which I know not a more unteachable quality in any pupil.
Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit; there is more hope of a fool than of him.” As this disposition of humbleness of mind leads to a modest diffidence of oneself, it powerfully inclines on the other hand to recur frequently to the father of lights, by fervent prayer and supplication, for light and guidance in his way. Those possessed of this engaging frame of spirit, are characterized in holy writ under the several epithets of the meek, the humble, and the lowly. As when we are told, that “God will guide the meek in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way.” God resisteth “ the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." And , though the Lord be “high, yet he hath respect to the lowly.” And in order to inculcate the necessity of this temper in every genuine disciple, our Lord hath said, “Whosoever will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein.” The apostle employs a still bolder figure, where he says,