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proper use of our reason in the interpretation of the Gospel, we suppose that it contains doctrines which it does not teach: or, we give the name of right reason to some narrow prejudices which deeper reflection and more enlarged knowledge will dissipate; or, we consider a proposition as implying a contradiction, when, in truth, it is only imperfectly understood. Here, as in every other case, mistakes are to be corrected by measuring back our steps. We must examine closely and impartially the meaning of those passages which appear to contain the doctrine: we must compare them with one another: we must endeavour to derive light from the general phraseology of Scripture and the analogy of faith; and we shall generally be able, in this way, to separate the doctrine from all those adventitious circumstances which give it the appearance of absurdity. If a doctrine, which, upon the closest examination, appears unquestionably to be taught in Scripture, still does not approve itself to our understanding, we must consider carefully what it is that prevents us from receiving it. There may be preconceived notions hastily taken up which that doctrine opposes; there may be pride of understanding that does not readily submit to the views which it communicates; or reason may need to be reminded, that we must expect to find in religion many things which we are not able to comprehend. One of the most important offices of reason is to recognise her own limits. She never can be moved by any authority to receive as true what she perceives to be absurd. But if she has formed a just estimate of the measure of human knowledge, she will not shelter her presumption in rejecting the truths of revelation under the pretence of contradictions that do not really exist; she will readily admit that there may be in a subject some points which she knows, and others of which she is ignorant; she will not allow her ignorance of the latter to shake the evidence of the former; but will yield a firm assent to that which she does understand, without presuming to deny what is beyond her comprehension. And thus availing herself of all the light which she now has, she will wait in humble hope for the time when a larger measure shall be imparted.

The importance, and indeed the meaning, of the principles which I have stated, would be best understood by

examples. But were I to attempt to exemplify them, I should anticipate the subjects upon which we are to enter. These principles will often recur in the progress of my Lectures upon the particular doctrines of Christianity; and therefore I shall content myself with having stated them in this general manner at present.

A right apprehension of this fourth use of reason in matters of religion constitutes the defence of Christianity against a large class of objections, that are often urged against some of its peculiar doctrines. You will find it therefore occasionally stated in all the writers who treat of these doctrines, and if there is a proper selection of your reading, just views upon this important subject will become familiar to your minds at the same time that you are studying the Scripture system. The best preparation for these views is sound logic, which, in teaching the right use of reason, ascertains its boundaries, and guards against the abuse of it. You bring that furniture with you when you enter upon the study of divinity. You improve it during the prosecution of that study, by reading Bacon, Locke, and Reid, and the other writers who treat of the intellectual powers, and by all those exercises, which render your own intellectual powers more sound and more acute, which increase their vigour, while they check their presumption. I would recommend to you particularly to read and study upon this subject, Reid's Essay on the Intellectual Powers, and five chapters of the 4th book of Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding, which treat of assent, reason, faith and reason, enthusiasm, wrong assent and error. They contain a most rational, and I think, when properly understood, a just view of reason in judging of the truths of religion; and every student ought to be well acquainted with them.

Potter, Prælectiones Theologica, vol. iii.

VOL. 1.




THE last preliminary observation arising out of the general view of the Scripture system respects the controversies, to which that system has given occasion. Even those, who agreed as to the divine authority of the Christian religion, have differed very widely in their interpretation of its doctrines. These differences have not been confined to trifling matters, but have often touched upon points which are said to concern the very essence of the religion, and they who held the opposite opinions have discovered a mutual contempt and bitterness, very inconsistent with the spirit which might be supposed to animate the disciples of the same Master.

When we endeavour to account for the controversies in religion, we must begin with recollecting that there is hardly any subject of speculation, upon which those by whom it has been thoroughly canvassed have not differed in opinion. The degrees of understanding and the opportunities of improvement are so various, and there is such variety in the circumstances and connexions which direct men to their first opinions, and which insensibly warp their judgment, that the same subject is seldom viewed by two persons exactly in the same light. Minuter shades of difference are generally overlooked by those who agree in important points. But there are opinions so far removed from one another, that no explication of terms, no concessions which either side can make in consistency with their own principle, are sufficient to reconcile them. Hence the different systems which have been framed, and zealously maintained with regard to several branches of natural theology and pneumatics, with regard to the principles of morality, with regard to politics, I do not mean the politics of the day, but the general science of politics, and with regard to various questions in natural philosophy.

Any person who is conversant with the writings of the ancient and modern philosophers knows that without opposition of interest, merely from a difference in the mode of exercising the understanding upon subjects which appear to be within the reach of the human powers, controversies have been agitated ever since men began to speculate, and, after receiving the fullest discussion, have revived in a new form with fresh vigour.

But, notwithstanding this multiplicity of controversies, which the love of disputation has produced upon all other subjects, it may occur to you, that the authority, with which a messenger of heaven speaks, should put an end to all dispute with regard to the subjects of his mission, amongst those who acknowledge that he comes from God. You consider it as essential to a divine revelation, that all which is necessary to be known should there be delivered in explicit terms, and you think it impossible that any Christian should deny those propositions which are clearly contained in Scripture. A little attention, however, to the circumstances of the case will enable you to reconcile the existence of theological controversy with these principles.

The different parts of my discourse upon this subject are, from their nature, so blended together, that I shall not attempt to keep them asunder by separate heads. But the points to which I am to call your attention, as serving to account for the multiplicity of theological controversies, are these the manner in which the truths of the Gospel are to be learned,—the nature and importance of these truths the sentiments and passions, which, from the weakness of humanity, frequently operated in the breasts of persons who speculated concerning them—and the genius of that philosophy in which many of those persons were educated.

The truths of the Gospel must be deduced from an interpretation of the words of Scripture; and this interpretation admits of variety, according to the measure in which those who profess to interpret are acquainted with the language, the manners, and the phraseology of the writers, according to the attention which they bestow, and the honesty of mind with which they receive the truth. In the plainest language that can be used, there are metaphorical expressions which some may stretch too far, and others

may consider as not admitting of any direct application to the subject. In every discourse extending to a considerable length, there are limitations of general expressions, arising out of the occasion upon which they are used, that may be overlooked, or that may be perverted; and with regard to the Gospel in particular, there are pre-conceived opinions, which, by bending every proposition to a conforinity with themselves, may lead men far from the truth, without their being conscious of showing any contempt of the authority of the revelation. These causes have operated even with regard to the meaning of the precepts of the Gospel, and have produced that casuistical morality, which, while it acknowledges Scripture as the standard of practice, has abounded in controversies concerning the application of that standard to particular cases.

But the controversies, with which you are chiefly concerned, respect not so much the practical parts of our religion as its doctrines; and you will not be surprised at the multiplicity of these, when you recollect the imperfect measure in which the Gospel has opened to the human mind new, interesting, and profound subjects of speculation. We found formerly, that, while the Gospel brings the most convincing evidence of the great facts in natural theology, it leaves all the intricate questions which have occurred concerning these facts just where they were; and that, while by revealing a new dispensation of Providence it necessarily mentioned the existence of persons not known by the religion of nature, their relation to us, and the conduct of that scheme in which they are engaged for our benefit, it has communicated only such information, with regard to this new set of facts that are to be received upon the authority of revelation, as is of real importance, leaving many points in darkness. Here is the most fruitful subject of controversy that can be conceived. The propositions revealed in Scripture are so few and simple, that it is hardly possible for those who rest in Scripture to disagree. But the pride of human wisdom does not readily submit to be confined within bounds so narrow. Those, who have been accustomed to speculate upon other subjects, continue their speculations upon religion, and, forgetting the proper province of reason with regard to truths that are revealed,

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