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CLXXXVI. TO J. L. HOSKYNS, ESQ. (In answer to a question on the Preface to the third volume of Sermons.)
Rugby, September 22, 1839. It is always a real pleasure to me to keep up my intercourse with my old pupils, and to be made acquainted not only with what is happening to them outwardly, but much more with what is going on in their own minds; and in your case I owe you especially any assistance which it may be in my power to render, as I appear to have unconsciously contributed to your present difficulty. If you were going into the Law, or to study Medicine, there would be a clear distinction between your professional reading and your general reading; between that reading which was designed to make you a good lawyer or physician, and that which was to make you a good and wise man. But it is the peculiar excellence of the Christian ministry, that there a man's professional reading and general reading coincide, and the very studies which would most tend to make him a good and wise man, do therefore of necessity tend to make him a good clergyman. Our merely professional reading appears to me to consist in little more than an acquaintance with such laws, or Church regulations, as concern the discharge of our ministerial duties, in matters external and formal. But the great mass of our professional reading is not merely professional, but general; that is to say, if I had time at my command, and wished to follow the studies which would be most useful to me as a Christian, without reference to any one particular trade or calling, I should select, as nearly as might be, that very same course of study wbich to my mind would also be the best preparation for the work of the Christian ministry.
That the knowledge of the Scriptures is the most essential point in our studies as men and Christians, is as clear to my mind as that it is also the most essential point in our studies as clergymen. The only question is, in what manner is this knowledge to be best obtained. Now,
omitting to speak of the moral and spiritual means of obtaining it, such as prayer and a watchful life, about the paramount necessity of which there is no doubt whatever,our present question only regards the intellectual means of obtaining it, that is, the knowledge and the cultivation of our mental faculties, which may best serve to the end desired.
Knowledge of the Scriptures seems to consist in two things, so essentially united, however, that I scarcely like to separate them even in thought; the one I will call the knowledge of the contents of the Scriptures in themselves; the other the knowledge of their application to us, and our own times and circumstances. Really and truly I believe that the one of these cannot exist in any perfection without the other. Of course we cannot apply the Scriptures properly without knowing them; and to know them merely as an ancient book, without understanding how to apply them, appears to me to be ignorance rather than knowledge. But still in thought we can separate the two, and each also requires in some measure a different line of study.
The intellectual means of acquiring a knowledge of the Scriptures in themselves are, I suppose, Philology, Antiquities, and Ancient History; but the means of acquiring the knowledge of their right application are far more complex in their character, and it is precisely here, as I think, that the common course of theological study is so exceedingly narrow, and therefore the mistakes committed in the application of the Scriptures are, as it seems to me, so frequent and so mischievous. As one great example of what I mean, I will instance the questions, which are now so much agitated, of Church authority and Church government. It is just as impossible for a man to understand these questions without a knowledge of the great questions of Law and Government generally, as it is to understand any matter that is avowedly political; and therefore the Politics of Aristotle and similar works are to
me of a very great and direct use every day of my life, wherever these questions are brought before me; and you know how often these questions are mooted, and with what vehemence men engage in them. Historical reading it appears that you are actually engaged in, but so much of History is written so ill, that it appears to me to be desirable to be well acquainted with the greatest historians, in order to learn what the defects of common History are, and how we should be able to supply them. It is a rare quality in any man to be able really to represent to himself the picture of another age and country; and much of History is so vague and poor that no lively ima can be gathered from it. There is actually, so far as I know, no great ecclesiastical historian in any language. But the flatnesses and meagreness and unfairness of most of those who have written on this subject may not strike us, if we do not know what good history should be. And any one very great historian, such as Thucydides, or Tacitus, or Niebuhr, throws a light backward and forward upon all history; for any one age or country well brought before our minds teaches us what historical knowledge really is, and saves us from thinking that we have it when we have it not. I will not cross my writing, so I must continue my say another sheet.
The accidental division of my paper suits well with the real division of my subject. I have stated what appears to me to be the best means of acquiring a knowledge of the Scriptures, both in themselves, and in their application to ourselves. And it is this second part which calls for such a variety of miscellaneous knowledge; inasmuch as, in order to apply a rule properly, we must understand the nature and circumstances of the case to which it is to be applied, and how they differ from those of the case to which it was applied originally. Thus there are two states of the human race which we want to understand thoroughly; the state when the New Testament was written, and our own state. And our own state is so connected with, and dependent on the past, that in order to understand it thoroughly we must go backwards into past ages, and thus, in fact, we are obliged to go back till we connect our own time with the first century, and in many points with centuries yet more remote. You will say then, in another sense from what St. Paul said it, “ Who is sufficient for these things?" and I answer, “No man;" but, notwithstanding, it is well to have a good model before us, although our imitation of it will fall far short of it. But you say, how does all this edify? And this is a matter which I think it is very desirable to understand clearly.
If death were immediately before us,-say that the Cholera was in a man's parish, and numbers were dying daily,—it is manifest that our duties,-our preparation for another life by conforming ourselves to God's will respecting us in this life,--would become exceedingly simple. To preach the Gospel, that is, to lead men's faith to Christ as their Saviour by His death and resurrection; to be earnest in practical kindness; to clear one's heart of all enmities and evil passions;—this would be a man's work, and this only; his reading would, I suppose, be limited then to such parts of the Scriptures as were directly strengthening to his faith, and hope and charity, to works of prayers and hymns, and to such practical instructions as might be within his reach as to the treatment of the prevailing disease.
Now can we say, that in ordinary life our duties can be made thus simple? Are there not, then, matters of this life which must be attended to? Are there not many questions would press upon us in which we must act and advise, besides the simple direct preparation for death? And it being God's will that we should have to act and advise in these things, and our service to Him and to His Church necessarily requiring them; is it right to say, that the knowledge which shall teach us how to act and advise rightly with respect to them is not edifying?
But may not a man say, I wish to be in the Ministry, but I do not feel an inclination for a long course of reading; my tastes, and I think my duties, lead me another way.” This may be said, I think, very justly. A man may do immense good with nothing more than an unlearned familiarity with the Scriptures, with sound practical sense and activity, taking part in all the business of his parish, and devoting himself to intercourse with men rather than with books. I honour such men in the highest degree, and think that they are among the most valuable ministers that the Church possesses. A man's reading, in this case, is of a miscellaneous character, consisting, besides the Bible and such books as are properly devotional, of such books as chance throws in his way, or the particular concerns of his parish may lead him to take an interest in. And, though he may not be a learned man, he may be that which is far better than mere learning,-a wise man, and a good man.
All that I would entreat of every man with whom I had any influence, that if he read at all-in the sense of studying,-he should read widely and comprehensively; that he should not read exclusively or principally what is called Divinity. Learning, as it is called, of this sort —when not properly mixed with that comprehensive study which alone deserves the name,-is, I am satisfied, an actual mischief to a man's mind; it impairs his simple common sense, and gives him no wisdom. It makes him narrow-minded, and fills him with absurdities; and, while he is in reality grievously ignorant, it makes him consider himself a great divine. Let a man read nothing, if he will, except his Bible and Prayer Book and the chance reading of the day; but let him not, if he values the power of seeing truth and judging soundly, let him not read exclusively or predominantly the works of those who are called divines,