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IN BEHALF OF THE
BAPTIST ACADEMICAL INSTITUTION
[WRITTEN IN 1811 OR 1812.]
IN calling the attention of the public to a new seminary, intended to be established near London, for the education of candidates for the christian ministry, we are desirous of presenting a short account of the motives by which we are actuated, and the objects we have in view.
We beg leave to premise, that nothing is farther from our intention than to interfere with the respectable seminaries already subsisting, from which the church of Christ has derived essential benefit. We congratulate the public on their institution, rejoice in their prosperity, and feel a cordial concurrence with the views of their generous patrons and supporters. We are persuaded, however, that the ground is not yet so fully occupied as to leave no room for a farther extension of the means of instruction to students in theology; and that, among the churches of the Baptist denomination, at least, a difficulty is frequently
experienced in procuring young men possessed of those qualifications which the state of society renders desirable. Having been supplied by the noble munificence of a worthy individual, with a house and premises at Stepney, well fitted for an academy, we are desirous of realizing the liberal intentions of the donor, by carrying into execution the plan of public utility he has meditated.
At this period, no apology can be necessary for attempting to assist young men, designed for the ministry, in the acquisition of such branches of knowledge as may qualify them more completely for the successful discharge of that sacred function: since, whatever prejudices unfavourable to learning may have formerly prevailed in serious minds, they appear to have subsided, and christians in general admit the propriety of enlisting literature in the service of religion. From the recent multiplication of theological seminaries among protestant dissenters, such an inference may be fairly deduced. While we assert the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures for every saving purpose, it is impossible to deny the usefulness of the knowledge derived from books, in unfolding many of its obscurities, explaining many of its allusions, and producing more fully to the view the inestimable treasure it contains. The primary truths of revelation, it is acknowledged, offer themselves at first view in the sacred volume; but there are latent riches and gems of inestimable value, which can be brought to light only by a deeper
and more laborious research.
There are number
less exquisite harmonies and retired beauties in the scheme of revelation, which are rarely discovered without the union of great industry with cultivated talent. A collection of writings, composed on various occasions, and at remote intervals of time, including detached portions of history the most ancient, and of poetry awfully sublime, but often obscure,-a book containing continual allusions to manners unknown in this part of the world, and to institutions which have long ceased to exist, must demand all the aid that ingenuity and learning can bring towards. its elucidation.
The light of revelation, it should be remembered, is not opposite to the light of reason; the former presupposes the latter; they are both emanations from the same source; and the discoveries of the Bible, however supernatural, are addressed to the understanding, the only medium of information whether human or divine. Revealed religion is not a cloud which overshadows reason; it is a superior illumination designed to perfect its exercise, and supply its deficiencies. Since truth is always consistent with itself, it can never suffer from the most enlarged exertion of the intellectual powers, provided those powers be regulated by a spirit of dutiful submission to the oracles of God. The evidences of christianity challenge the most rigid examination; the more accurate and extensive the inquiry, the more convincing will they appear. Unexpected coincidences between
inspired history and the most undisputed remains of antiquity will present themselves, and striking analogies be perceived between the course of providence and the supreme economy of grace. The gradual developement of the plan of revelation, together with the dependence of its several parts on each other, and the perfect consistency of the whole, will employ and reward the deepest investigation. In proof of the assistance religion may derive from learning, rightly directed, we appeal to the writings of an Usher, a Newton, and a Bryant; to the ancient apologists of christianity, who, by means of it, unmasked the deformities of polytheism; to the reformers, whom it taught to remove the sacred volume from the dust and obscurity of cloisters, and exhibit it in the dialects of Europe; and to the victorious impugners of infidelity in modern times. Such are the spoils which sanctified learning has won from superstition and impiety, the common enemies of God and man. Nor must we forget to notice, among the most precious fruits of cultivated reason, that consciousness of its own deficiencies, and sense of its own weakness, which prompts it to bow to the authority of revelation, and depose its honours at the cross; since its incapacity to solve the most important questions, and to satisfy the most distressing doubts, will be felt with the truest conviction, and attested with the best grace, by such as have made the largest essay of its powers.
An unconverted ministry we look upon as the greatest calamity that can befall the church; nor would we be supposed to insinuate, by the preceding observations, that education can ever be a proper substitute for native talent, much less for real piety: what we mean to assert is, that the union of all will much enlarge the capacity of doing good. Without descending to particulars, we must be allowed to remark, for example, that the art of arranging ideas in their proper order, and of investigating the nature of different sorts of evidence, as well as an acquaintance with the fundamental rules of composition and rhetoric, are of essential service to a public speaker.
The existing state of society supplies additional reasons for extending the advantages of academical education. If former periods have given birth to more renowned scholars, none ever produced so many men of reading and reflection as the present; never was there a time when books were so multiplied, knowledge so diffused,--and when, consequently, the exercise of cultivated talents in all departments was in such demand. When the general level of mental improvements is so much raised, it becomes necessary for the teachers of religion to possess their full share of these advantages, if they would secure from neglect the exercise of a function, the most important to the interests of mankind. If, in the days of inspiration, there were schools of the prophets, and miraculous infusions of wisdom did not supersede human