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any miracle been wrought before his eyes? Has God assured him, beyond any doubt, of the fruition of his hopes? Yet he ventures much, ventures all, for the chance of worldly fortune can he venture nothing for the hope of heaven? Let him walk in the way of the christian precepts. That cannot harm him, whether there be a future life or not. Let his conduct follow their weight of evidence. No reasonable being can gainsay, or condemn him for being governed by what he allows to be the strongest probability. This is the only safe or wise course. "Let him do the will of God, and he shall know of the doctrine whether it be from God." If he will not do this, if he is averse to the strictness of christian virtue, he has cause enough to suspect the source of his scepticism.
So also are the Scriptures to be regarded,—being admitted, as by most persons they are, to be a divine revelation they are to be regarded, in some important respects, as other books are. Men, for instance, are not to take up the Bible and read it, as if they expected it to do them good, or give them light, in any unusual or unknown way. They are not to expect any illumination in perusing the Scriptures, other than that of reason and piety. Some other, may be given in extraordinary cases, but they are not to require miracles. They are not to expect to understand this book because it is the Bible, in any other way, or upon any other principles of interpretation, than they would use to gather the meaning of any ancient book. And as many portions of the Bible, the speculative and con
troversial parts, particularly, are clothed in the polemic phraseology of the age, and have taken their hue and form, from ancient disputes, states of mind, customs of society &c.—as all this is true of some portion of Scripture, the unlearned reader cannot without more information, than most persons possess, reasonably expect to understand those parts at all. Suppose that a plain reader, totally unacquainted with the systems of Plato or Aristotle, or with the Manichean philosophy, should, in perusing an ancient book, meet with a passage crowded with the terms and modes of thought borrowed from either of these systems. Can you doubt, that with the aid of any common sense he would at once say, "I do not understand this!" Would he not justly conclude that he must read other books, and make himself more acquainted with the speculations of that ancient period, before he could understand the passage which had fallen under his notice?
So he would judge of ancient profane writings, and so he ought to judge of ancient sacred writings. The wisdom that speaks in the two cases, is different; but the method of interpreting that wisdom is the same in both. But so, most christain readers do not judge. They read the Bible, as if it were a modern book. Or, they feel as if it would dishonor the Bible, to suppose that any part of it were necessarily obscure or unintelligible to the unlearned reader. They look upon the Scriptures, as a direct revelation, or as the immediate and express word of God himself, rather than as a series of messages declaring, after the man
ner of the times, the will of God. And entertaining the former of these impressions, they rightly argue that a book purporting to be a revelation to mankind, unless all men can readily understand it, is no revelation. But there can be no doubt, I presume, that this impression is a mistaken one. The sacred writers were commissioned to declare certain truths; and they were left to declare them after their own manner, and the manner of the age; and it is no more easy to understand the Bible than it is to understand any other ancient book. This conclusion must be admitted, whatever may be thought of the reasoning. Explain the doctrine of inspiration as we may—it is an unquestionable truth, and every enlightened student of the Bible must know it, that there are considerable portions of it, which cannot be understood without much study, and without, to say the least, some learning, which the body of the people do not possess. Every sensible man who has really studied his Bible, must know that this is the case with considerable portious of the Prophecies and Epistles. The people at large are reading these continually, and think to derive benefit from them, and do, no doubt, affix to them some vague meaning; but they do not, and cannot understand them. They comprehend what is practical for the most part, and all that is essential; but much of what is speculative and controversial, I repeat it, with their present knowledge, they do not and cannot understand.
This may be a hard saying to many; but I believe it ought not, being unquestionably true, to be witholden. It may be an unpopular doctrine, but that circumstance
I hope does not prove it unimportant. There certainly is a mistake on this subject; and the greatness of the error, is but the greater reason for correcting it. Besides, the error is far from being harmless. This constant reading of what is not well comprehended— this attempt to grasp ideas which are perpetually escaping through ancient and unintelligible modes of thought and phraseology, this formal and forced perusal of obscure chapters with a sort of demure reverence, tends to throw dulness, doubt and obscurity into all our conceptions of religion. The Bible, too, instead of being a bond of common faith and fellowship to Christains, is made an armory for polemics. And there are some controversies among the body of Christians which can never be intelligently and properly settled till they qualify themselves in a better manner to understand the Scriptures. One of two grounds ought to be taken. Either the people-I except a few intelligent, though general readers-either the people as a mass, the generality of our parishes must procure Libraries, must purchase books that will illustrate the Scriptures, and read them, or they ought to give up all pretension to understand that portion of our controversies which is founded on Biblical criticism. I mean for instance, the Scriptural arguments on such controversies as those upon original sin, total depravity, predestination, and the atonement; and the evidence on these subjects, it is well known, is usually gathered from the obscurer portions of the Prophecies and Epistles. The question concerning the Trinity seems to me a plain one,
although some of the arguments on this subject require an acuteness of criticism on language, and an understanding of circumstances and states of mind in the ancient world, to which but too few, even of the priesthood, can lay claim. And yet multitudes of men and women are confidently deciding controversies on the most difficult questions of philology and interpretation, who never read-not Hebrew or Greek-but who never read a book on criticism, who never read a book on ancient customs, who never read a book on the circumstances of the primitive age, on the difficulties and disputes prevailing, on the Jewish prejudices or the Gentile systems of philosophy :— and if I were asked what I would give for the critical judgment of these men and women, I answer, nothingnothing at all. I derogate nothing from their general intelligence. And their judgment may be good, even on the point in question, as far as their common sense will carry them; and upon the general strain of the Scriptures, they may judge well, and may come, on the whole, to a right conclusion. But upon deep questions of criticism, they ought not to pretend to judge. I give that credit to the modesty of many among us, as to presume that they do not undertake to decide upon matters of this sort; and to those who have not this modesty, it may be fairly recommended as the first step of a good and sound judgment.
I would particularly guard what I have said on this subject from injurious misapprehensions. I certainly do not discourage the reading of the Scriptures. I only urge the needful preparation for it in regard to those