« PreviousContinue »
tageous to ourselves, it must be highly salutary to others who are within the circle of our influence. Even in a private sphere, we have opportunities of instructing the young and uninformed. If proficients ourselves, we shall impart knowledge with less embarrassment, solve the difficulties of the inquisitive with more ease, and lead them forward with greater delight. Perceiving the harmony of divine truths, with their mutual dependence and connexion, our attachment to them will be more firm, and we shall be enabled to recominend them with becoming zeal and modest confidence.
§ 5. While such advantages attend progressive religious knowledge in private life, how much more advantageous will it be to public instructors. They have a more difficult office to fulfil, and a greater variety of characters to address. The speculative sceptic should have no cause to triumph over the ministers of divine truth, as if they could not meet him on his own ground, and foil him with his own weapons. While he despises and ridicules the doctrines of our religion, let the edge of his boasted reason be turned upon himself. Falsehood cannot endure the test of close examination. If we are but sufficiently acquainted with comprehensive principles, every error may be proved, at least virtually, to be subversive of itself, and
every vice may be shewn to be folly. When, too, the messengers of the King of heaven have enlarged and correct views of revealed truth, in all its parts and bearings, they are better able to give every one his portion of instruction or advice, of reproof or comfort, in due season; better able to judge on what articles of their message to lay the strongest emphasis, what parts ought to be brought most frequently to view, what deviations from truth or duty are most dangerous, and by what means different errors may be most effectually checked or subverted.
$ 6. Polemical discussions, when conducted as they ought to be, are a species of public instruction, being an appeal to the general notice, on the comparative claims of different sentiments. Most disputed points have difficulties which require more than a slight knowledge of the subject: and when any one presumes to correct whole systems of doctrine without suitable information, truth is liable to suffer, and error to be propagated. Yet something more than mere knowledge is necessary for disputants. Controversy conducted without candour, stirs up the worst of passions, indulges in unhallowed recriminations, insinuates suspicions of unworthy designs, rouses the spirit of bigotry from his slumbers, and, while it animates the excesses of
party zeal, weakens the bonds of Christian amity. Divide and conquer is the maxim of an enemy.
§ 7. The great importance of progressive religious knowledge may be estimated from the salutary influence it possesses on Christian duties. It is a valuable guide to profitable devotion and useful practice. Yet we should be on our guard in estimating practice, as well as in deciding upon doctrine. The Jewish Pharisees, who rejected the Prince of Life, were very expert practitioners in their way. But their obedience was not fashioned according to the divine rule; was not directed to a worthy end, did not flow from a right principle. Approved practice includes devotion, the proper exercise of the heart and affections, as well as the external part of service. As a pretended devotion which is not accompanied with the discharge of personal and relative duties, is essentially defective; so our duties without a devotional temper, are but a body without the soul.
§ 8. Having pointed out briefly the excellency of religious knowledge, and some advantages which it is capable of affording, I shall now presume to offer a few words of advice, especially to my younger brethren in the ministry (as the result of long experience,) respecting
its attainment. And, first, seek it in the performance of known duty. In this enterprise, our divine Teacher leads the way. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”* This is the path, “ walk ye in it.” Conscientiously improve your talent, and you shall add to it. “ To him that hath shall be given.” To attempt the depths of knowledge or the heights of speculation by any other proz cess, is to encounter a dangerous voyage with crowded sails, while the ballast has been left behind. “ Whom shall he teach knowledge ? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” † This reply to the important inquiry implies, that selfish indulgences and im, moderate worldly attachments, are incompatible with profitable knowledge. Until the heart and affections are withdrawn and weaned from grovelling pursuits, such as those mentioned in the context, the learner is not qualified to receive even the rudiments of saving knowledge, much less to make a desirable proficiency. I
* 1 John vii. 17.
# Isa. xxviii. 9.
Propheta docet, Doctores, Sacerdotes, Proceres populi, quorum erat tueri integritatem doctrinæ et conciliorum publicorum, adeo longe discessisse à tramite veri, ut plane inepti sint ad reram doctrinam salatis, fundatam in antiqua
$ 9. Some indeed have taught otherwise ; urging, not only that indifference to all tenets leaves reason free, but also that religious practice is of little use in order to discern truth, and to guard against error. But it should be remembered that habitual practice forms the character; and therefore a defective practice forms a defec. tive character. He who expects to succeed by defect, “ sows the wind and shall reap the whirlwind.” When did the ancient Jews become corrupt in doctrine, but when they degenerated in their practice? When did the church of Rome deviate from sound, scriptural principles, substituting the acts of councils and the mandates of presumptuous men, for the oracles of God, but when the clergy and laity became voluptuous, “greedy of filthy lucre,” ---receiving honour one from another on unauthorized grounds of distinction,--and immoral in their conduct? When men mis-improve or neglect the means of knowledge which Ģod has
doctrina Patriarchali et Mosaica, recte percipiendam et digerendam : Esse enim doctrinam Scholasticam ejus tem, poris, ad quod ipse respicit, doctrinam accommodatam ad ingenia puerilia, qualis fuit Pharisaica ; non masculam, solidam, bene cohærentem, qualem oportet esse doctrinam veræ religionis, quæ homioi adulto et exercito satisfactura sit : Sed constare præceptis traditionum antiquarum nomine commendatis, independentibus et inter se neutiquam cohærep!ibus.
VITRING. in loc.