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the labours of those who have gone before him, he does not acquire a distinct notion of the various opinions that have been entertained concerning the several parts of the Scripture system, and an apprehension of the train of argument by which every one of them is supported.
A review of the controversies forms a principal part of a course of theological lectures. We do not bring forward to the people all the variety of opinions which have been held by presumptuous inquirers, or superficial reasoners. To men who have not leisure to speculate upon religion, and who require the united force of all its doctrines to promote those practical purposes, which are of more essential importance than any other, it is much better to present "the form of sound words," as it was once delivered to the saints," unembarrassed by human distinctions and oppositions of science, and to imprint upon their minds the consolation and "instruction in righteousness," which, when thus stated, it is well fitted to administer. This is the business of preaching. But this is not the only business of students of divinity. You are not
masters of your profession, you are not qualified to defend the truth against the multiplicity of error, and your conceptions of the system of theology have not that enlargement and accuracy which they might have, unless you study the controverted points of divinity. It is true that there have been many disputes merely verbal; that there have been others that cannot be called verbal, the matter of which is wholly unimportant; and that perhaps all have been conducted with a degree of acrimony which the principles of Christian toleration, when thoroughly understood, will enable you to avoid. These general remarks will find their proper place after reviewing the particular controversies. But in that review you will meet with many which turn upon points so essential to the Christian faith, where the arguments upon both sides appear to have so much force, and have been urged in a manner so able, and so well fitted to enlighten the mind, that you will think it childish to affect to despise theological controversies in general, because there has been some impropriety in the manner of their being conducted, or because some of them are insignificant.
The time was when the decision of all theological con
troversies turned upon a kind of traditional authority. The writers in the first four centuries of the Christian church were supposed to be much better acquainted with the mind of the apostles, and to have been in a more favourable situation for knowing the truth upon all difficult questions, than those who apply to the study of theology. in later times. They were dignified with the name of the fathers. Their opinions were resorted to with a kind of reverence, which is not due to any human compositions. They were considered as the only sure interpreters of Scripture; and such confidence was reposed in their interpretation, that their works were sometimes placed very nearly upon a level with the inspired writings. The charm of human authority was dispelled by the Reformation. An accurate enlightened criticism has appreciated the merit of the Christian fathers. We allow them all the credit, which is due to honest men attesting facts that came within their own knowledge. We venerate their antiquity; we prize that knowledge of the early rites of the Christian church, and of the tradition of doctrine from the days of the apostles, which can be derived only from them. Above all, we consider their writings as an inestimable treasure upon this account, that by their mention of the books of the New Testament, and by the quotations from Scripture with which they abound, they are to us the vouchers of the authenticity of the sacred books, and of the manner in which the canon of Scripture was completed. But our sense of their merit, and of their importance to the Christian faith in the character of historians, does not induce us to submit to them as teachers. Without any invidious detraction, with every indulgence which the manners of the times and the imperfection of other early writers demand for the Christian fathers, Protestants adhere to their leading principle, which is this, to consider the Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith. They have learned to call no man their master, because one is their Master, even Christ and in interpreting the words of Christ and his apostles, they consider themselves as no less entitled to judge for themselves, and as, in some respects, no less qualified to form a sound judgment, than those who, living in earlier times, had prejudices and disadvantages from which we may be exempt. I cannot express this principle
better than in the words of our Confession of Faith:"The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."
This is the principle to be followed in that review of the great controversies of religion, which forms a prominent subject of my lectures. I may often give you, from ancient writers, the history of opinions, and may occasionally combat those misrepresentations of that history which are found in modern authors, eager to call in every aid to support their particular systems. But I shall quote the Christian fathers as historians, not as authorities. I know no authority upon which you ought to rest in judging of the truth of any doctrine but the Scriptures, and therefore I consider sacred criticism as the most important branch of the study of theology. We are to avail ourselves of an intimate acquaintance with the language of the New Testament, i. e. with the meaning of single words, with the usual acceptation of phrases, and with the real amount of figurative expression. We are to study the general customs of the people amongst whom that language was used, and the habits of thinking which might dictate a particular phraseology to some writers. We are to investigate the mind of an author, by comparing his language in one place with that which occurs in another, and we are to endeavour to attain a full and precise conception of the whole doctrine of Scripture upon every point, by laying together those passages of Scripture in which it is stated under different views.
It is by this patient exercise of reason and criticism that a student of divinity is emancipated from all subjection to the opinions of men, and led most certainly into the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. It is the great object of my lectures to assist you in this exercise, and I may hope, after having bestowed much pains in going before you, to be of some use in abridging your labour. by pointing out the shortest and most successful method of arriving at the conclusion. I shall not decline giving my opinion upon the passages which I quote, and the comparison of Scrip
ture which I shall often make. But I do not desire you to pay more regard to my opinions than to those of any other writer, unless in so far as they appear to you upon examination to be well founded. You will derive more benefit from canvassing what I say than from imbibing all that I can teach; and the most useful lessons which you can learn from me are a habit of attention, a love of truth, and a spirit of inquiry.
ARRANGEMENT OF THE COURSE.
OUR Shorter Catechism, and our Confession of Faith, are formed upon the course in which systems of divinity commonly proceed, and both of them are clear and well digested. You will find another excellent abridgment of the ordinary course in Marckii Medulla Theologiæ, a duodecimo of 300 pages, which used to be the text book in St. Mary's College, and which, in my opinion, ought to be read by every student of divinity, not early, but before he finishes his studies. You will see in this little book all the controversies that have been agitated. But you will see them in the order of the system, and the order is this. After a general account of the nature of theology, and of the Scriptures as the principle of theology, the following subjects succeed one another. God and the Trinity-the decrees of God-the execution of these decrees in the works of Creation-a view of the visible and invisible world-the Providence and government which God exercises over his works-man-the state of innocence— the fall-the consequences of sin-the covenant of gracethe person, offices, and state of the Mediator of the covenant the benefits of the covenant-the duties of those who partake of the benefits—the sacraments-the Church -the final condition of mankind.
Upon all these subjects, the orthodox doctrine is stated, and the objections that have been made to the several parts of the doctrine are answered, so that every chapter contains an account of the several opinions, that have been held upon all the points that occur in the chapter. I was afraid to entangle myself in this course, partly from an apprehension, proceeding both upon the number of subjects which it embraces, and upon the experience of other professors of divinity who have engaged in it, that it was likely to stretch out to such a length, as to leave me no hope of finishing my lectures during the longest term of