« PreviousContinue »
carnation, and of the eternal Trinity in Unity, are not a whit more incomprehensible to the peasant than to the philosopher, and much more liable to heretical perversion by the latter than by the former. What mischiefs have been produced by Logic, Metaphysics, and verbal dexterity, when applied to such subjects in pursuit of speculations beyond human limits! How comparatively safe is the reason of the peasant! How much more likely to rest satisfied without being wise above what is written! I am persuaded that the general tenor of ecclesiastical history will prove, that heresies have much more frequently originated with the learned than with the illiterate-and among the earliest heretics recorded we find the sect of the Gnostics, whose very name implies a claim of superior wisdom.
§ 7. But I am not one of those, who argue from the abuse of that which is valuable against its use. I point out its incidental dangers, by no means with a view to discourage the just and humble application of every possible aid to the illustration of the Scriptures,-but to repel the unfair insinuation, that the worst abuses are to be imputed to what is called in the style of such accusers→→→ a vulgar profanation of the sacred volume. It is indeed susceptible of important illustrations from profound research. The knowledge of a philosopher, an antiquarian, or a linguist, every species of talent and acquirement, may be successfully exercised, in the demonstration of its truth, and the exposition of its meaning. But, as our soil may be cultivated, and agriculture improved and adorned by the science of the chymist, and yet does not deny an abundant produce to ordinary labour; so the Bible, while it presents an ample field to exercise the scholar, the critic, and the man of taste, is at the same time rich in bounty to the illiterate and unpolished-its most precious treasures are open to the acquisition of plain and honest industry, and by its fertility, under the vivifying influence of heaven, all ranks are fed.
In these views I am corroborated by an authority, which I am glad to find Mr. O'C. respects-Archbishop Tilllotson. "The best things in the world" (says he in a sermon on Matthew xxiii. 13.) "have their inconveniencies attending them, and are liable to be abused; but surely men are not to be ruined and damned for fear of abusing their knowledge, or for the prevention of any
other inconvenience whatsoever. Besides, this is to cross the very end of the Scriptures, and the design of God in inspiring men to write them. Can any man think that God should send this great light of his word into the world, for the priests to hide it under a bushel; and not rather that it should be set up to the greatest advantage for the enlightening of the world?" "And
though there may be many difficulties and obscurities in the Scriptures, enough to exercise the skill and wit of the learned, yet are they not therefore either useless or dangerous to the people. The ancient fathers of the church were of another mind. "St. Chrysostom
says, If men would be conversant in the Scriptures, and' attend to them, they would not only not fall into errors themselves, but rescue those that are deceived: and that" the Scriptures would instruct men both in right opinions and a good life.' And St. Hierome more expressly to our purpose; • That infinite evils arise from the ignorance of the Scriptures; and that from that cause the most part of heresies have come.' But if what they say were true, is not this to lay the blame of all the ancient heresies upon the ill management of things by our Saviour, and his Apostles, and the holy Fathers of the church for so many ages, and their imprudent dispensing of the Scriptures to the people? This indeed is to charge the matter home; and yet this consequence is unavoidable". "For our parts, we have no fear that our people should understand religion too well: we could wish with Moses, that all the Lord's people were prophets."
Contains a brief Review of the Holy Scriptures.
§ 1. I shall now proceed to a few cursory observations upon the different parts of the Old and New Testament, which I hope may be useful in calling to mind what the Bible really contains, with the actual degrees of clearness and obscurity;-and, at the same time, afford opportunities of taking further notice of our author's arguments, and of introducing auxiliary proofs and illustrations.
To begin with the Book of Genesis:-I would ask an objector, must the account of the creation remain inoperative to the overthrow of idolatry, and the communication of the knowledge of the great Creator, unless it can be compared with the Mythology of the Ancients, or the modern discoveries in Astronomy and natural Philosophy? Must a man have read Longinus before he can feel the sublimity of the divine mandate and its instantaneous effect? Must he have studied all that has been written on the origin of evil, before he can be edified by the history of the fall and the promise of a Redeemer?
I am well satisfied, that the tendency of geological researches, however they may have been sceptically perverted, is to establish and illustrate the Mosaic History of the Deluge; but I am no less convinced, that, without such information, the stupendous event may be believed, and impress the mind with an abhorrence of iniquity, and an awful sense of divine vengeance. Nor will this be unaccompanied with the consolations of mercy:-for the humblest peasant can comprehend the assurance, that the waters shall no more become an overwhelming flood; and that "while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease." (c viii. v. 22.)
It would occasion too long a dissertation to dwell upon the obvious instruction to be derived from the History of Abraham and Isaac, of Jacob and of Joseph. But I trust that all those, upon whose hearts it has been written, will be desirous that it should be imparted to all classes of their fellow-creatures. I will not contend, that the prophecy of Jacob in the 49th chapter can be easily interpreted by an illiterate peasant; but I would not shut it up from his perusal, if it were only for the salutary effect, which the exclamation of the dying patriarch is calculated to produce." I have watched for thy salvation, O Lord!" And if, after meditating at his sepulchre, and imbibing the forgiving spirit of Joseph called forth afresh, we should suppose our peasant to proceed to the Book of Exodus, need we tremble for the consequence? Is the history of, those judgments, which were intended to declare the name of Jehovah throughout all the earth,-to be made a secret? Or shall the communication of it be limited to
* See Exod. ix. 16.
the great, the opulent, and wise? Let us remember the first recorded instance, in which that history was made instrumental to convert from idolatry, and to make one acquainted with the living God. Was it a Philosopher of Egypt, or a King of Canaan? No:-it was Rahab of Jericho! Do we wonder at this singular pre-eminence? It was not singular, when the Lord said to the chief. priests and the elders of the people, "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." (Matt. xxi. 31.)
But, perhaps our author will here observe, that Rahab did not read an account of the miracles of Egypt, but only heard their report ;-for I find he makes a distinction between preaching the gospel and circulating the Scriptures. (p. 51.) And will not this terminate in giving oral tradition a preference to the written word of God? No:-it may be said)-We would not substitute our own words, but give the words of Scripture prudently, in a cautious and abridged form adapted to the capacities of the illiterate. Now, what might be expected in this way, we may judge from what has been already done in the abridgment of the ten Commandments*. And surely this specimen of presumption should admonish us, with all the impressiveness of an awful fact, to listen with the utmost jealousy to the delusive propositions of our author, and, notwithstanding his alarms, to adhere to the pious wish of seeing the 20th chapter of Exodus, and every chapter of the Bible in every cottage in the land.
§ 2. If any are disposed to admit the universally edifying tendency of the historical and moral parts of the Pentateuch, but would plead for the propriety of withholding the ceremonial law, and especially the book of Leviticus, as abrogated and unnecessary-I would, in the first place, intreat him to consider, where is this liberty of abridging to be bounded? Who is to be the authoritative judge? Must we resort once more to the infallibility of the Church? Let the lovers of truth and liberty take heed how they open a door to encroachment. Let all who will, employ themselves in abridging, and expounding, and in disseminating their works, as much as they think fit. I believe that a good deal has been done, and profitably too,
* See Note Ch. II. § 12. near the end.
in this way already. But, at the same time, let the volume of Revelation be every where at hand as God has framed it, that there may be an opportunity of bringing the works and doctrines of men to the test of divine authority. A little reflection will also shew, that the very parts, which at first sight may be deemed superfluous for ordinary readers, are highly useful and important for the right understanding of the whole. The book of Leviticus, for instance, is calculated to impress that essential maxim upon the mind, that "without shedding of blood is no remission*," to illustrate that leading feature of the Christian dispensation-the atoning efficacy of the death of Christ. If a man be ignorant of the sacrifices of the law, how shall he understand the exhortation of the Gospel, to "behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world?" If the ceremonial law be a sealed book to him, you must not only seal the Epistle to the Hebrews, and a very great proportion of the Epistles at large; but also the account of the controversy about circumcision in the Acts of the Apostles, and of St. Peter's vision upon the house top at Joppa, so intimately connected with the conversion of Cornelius and the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles-so that we must surrender some of the plainest historical parts of the New Testament, and it may well be asked, Where shall we stop?
3. With respect to the remaining historical Books of the Old Testament, (besides other diversified instruction in faith and holiness,) one general observation is applicable to them all, that they are calculated to impress the mind deeply and practically, with the doctrine of divine Providence; making manifest God's perpetual observation of the state and conduct of his creatures; what an evil and bitter thing it is to depart from his service, and what blessedness must attend a faithful adherence to it; since the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." (2 Chron. xvi. 9.)
The suitableness of this sacred history to ordinary capacities perhaps will be admitted, though probably it may be alledged, that it is voluminoust. Now, for my part, I have often been struck with a very opposite impression, in contemplating the space, within which so much matter
*See Heb. ix. 22. + See "Thoughts," &c. p. 14. 26. 32. 46.