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the declarations of his will. Now, I might ask : Is it not probable, that a people so highly metaphysical as Europeans at this day are, may ascribe much of the matter found in this book, to sources of which the writers themselves never so much as once thought? Is it not even likely, that much which the later sacred writers cite, and apply purely with reference to the prior Revelation, may be mistaken for arguments drawn from the properties of the Divine mind, and then be applied in a way perfectly foreign to their intentions? This I think is likely, and it is what I believe has been constantly done. System after system has then been resorted to; and thus, what was at first plain, authoritative, and practical, has been made difficult, obscure, inconsistent, and perplexing. It would be almost endless to recount the expedients to which men have had recourse, in order, as they have supposed, to remove the difficulties in which they found themselves entangled ; but which, as far as I can see, would have disappeared at once, had they taken pains to make themselves acquainted with the history and character of the authors on whom they were engaged.*
Let us now proceed to point out the means, by which these difficulties and inconsistencies may in all probability be removed. Under the schoolmen of the dark ages, this could not be expected ; they do not seem to have had the least idea of the ignorance and folly which adhered to their systems. A wider field of inquiry, however, has been opened since those times; and, as we have been favoured with an almost unlimited intercourse with the East, it is now in our power thoroughly to investigate their literature, habits, and manners. But these are not the only privileges with which we have been blessed. We have also richly endowed establishments, large and valuable libraries stored with every sort of provision, in variety and abundance sufficient to satisfy the most sanguine. In addition to this, the character of the
* On this subject see the following sheets, Diss. I. sect 8, p. 35.
times in which we live imperiously call upon us for increased exertion. Infidelity and dissent do not only assail us from without, but a want of unity both in feeling and opinion within : all of which, as I believe, may be traced to one source, and to one only; namely, the want of a deeper acquaintance with the word of truth. This had, indeed, a far greater influence, as every one knows, when it was less encumbered with human systems, and was better understood. The language generally held by unbelievers then was, “ How do these Christians love one another!” The question of later times has been, “ Has Paganism or Christianity tended most to spread ruin, devastation, and woe, among mankind ?" And would to God there were less ground for its application !
These being the facts of the case then, What, I may ask, are we as Churchmen, and as a Body here constituted for the purpose of promoting sound learning and religious education, bound to do? I will take for granted, what we all know, that the study of theology has been on the decline for the last hundred years at least, in this country; and, that at this day very little appears among us truly deserving that name. To inquire into the cause of all this would be fruitless, and perhaps vexatious. We cannot do better, therefore, than sedulously to look forward, and to redeem the time, by all the means placed within our power; and these, I will maintain, are abundant and sufficient. I will not argue this point further, however, on the ground of expediency. I will now endeavour to apply to the conscience the dictates of higher and less disputable authority: “ Study to shew thyself approved unto God,” says the Apostle in our text; and, on this ground I shall now take my stand.
What, it may be asked, in the first place, could have induced St. Paul to press this precept upon Timothy, if there was in reality no necessity for his being thus studious ? or, if, as it is the practice at this day, he thought that a mere cursory or casual perusal of the Scripture would be quite sufficient for the edification of the Church? No one could object to the authority of Timothy; for he had been ordained, authorised, and elevated into, a public teacher by Paul himself; and yet the Apostle seems to have thought that times would come, in which this authority would avail but little ; and such times were actually witnessed. The heretics, we find, on the one hand, and the persecutors on the other, brought abundant proof to the conscience of every believer, that weapons more potent and effectual than those of the flesh ought then to be wielded ; and, that the WORD OP God, which is the sword of the Spirit, drawn forth in all its native pointedness and force, could alone insure victory and success, and eventually bring down the approval of the Almighty. And perhaps I may now ask: Do not the times in which we live seem to intimate, that some such siftings and trials as these may at no distant period visit us? Has not something not unlike heresy already lifted its head among us, and furnished us with some of the principles, the conclusions, and indeed the feelings, which are said to have originated with a Cerinthus, or some such misguided character of antiquity? Is not infidelity, too, apparently on the increase, morality on the decline; and the respect, once supposed to be due from the lower to the higher ranks of society, every where fast wearing away? I must confess, I either see, or think I see, these things too plainly to be mistaken ; and, if this be the truth, Is it too much to suppose that there must be some cause for it? We are taught, that if they forsake God's laws, he will visit their offences with a rod and their sin with stripes.* And, does not history inform us that this actually took place ? Captivity after captivity visited the sons of Israel; and the lukewarmth of the Churches of Asia succeeded in effectually removing their candlesticks.—But enough on this topic.—Repentance saved the devoted Nineveh ; and repentance, such as will produce its legitimate fruits, will both save us and bring down the approval and blessings of the Almighty on us. Let his approbation, then, be sought in the way which he himself has recommended, namely, by faith and perseverance in every good work generally, and by studying rightly to divide his word in particular. And then, if God be for us, (and in such a case we may entertain the fullest assurance that he will), who, we may ask, can be against us? If He, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, at whose commands nations and empires rise and fall, flourish and decay, condescend to become and to continue our Father and Friend, then shall we not fear, although the earth be moved, and the mountains be shaken, for we shall find that our bread shall be certain, and that our waters shall never fail. To the ministers of religion I would say, “Ye are the salt of the earth ; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewithal shall it be salted ?" If the unction of the Spirit have forsaken you, and your light have been either put out or obscured ; if your sun have gone down at noon, or your candle been placed under a bushel or a bed, wherewithal shall the gloom and darkness now appearing in the horizon be dispelled, or the earth be secured from the fury of the impending storm ? The powers of nature will, when that shall be poured out, afford neither to you nor to your flocks any asylum. The rocks will refuse to fall upon you ; the hills will never cover you. But to them who fear His name shall the Sun of righteousness indeed arise with healing in his wings; they shall find the shadow of the great rock in the weary and withering land; and their rest shall be sweet, refreshing, and constant. The arrow that flieth by day, and the pestilence which wasteth at noon, shall pass harmless over their habitations; and the destroying angel, which shall smite the first-born, disarmed by the symbols of the sacrificed Lamb, shall only wield his avenging sword, that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testi
mony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.—Psalm xix. 7.
It should be observed, that the words just cited form part of a context which is opposed, or rather given in addition, to some particulars preceding them : in order, therefore, to give them their full force, it will be just to notice them in this connection. This Psalm begins, then, by stating that “ The heavens declare the glory of God," and so on; plainly and unequivocally appealing to the works of creation in testimony of His almighty power; it next proceeds to shew, in what respects His revealed will differs from or excels the declarations thus made, either in the kind or the effects of the instruction which it has to impart.
- We may here remark, that there generally appears to be in society an unnecessary disagreement on this subject, which it certainly is desirable should be reviewed and corrected. One class of interpreters is almost perpetually insisting on the necessity of cultivating and urging natural theology as the most safe, the most certain, and the most explicit. Another, that every appeal to the works of God, as witnessed in nature, is incapable of affording either instruction or encouragement, and calculated only to place us in the situation in which it left the heathen, professing to be wise, but in reality becoming fools. Both these exclusive views appear to me to savour in a high degree of party spirit - to be unreasonable—and to be contrary to the practice of the sacred writers themselves. Nothing, surely, can be more certain, than that the heavens do declare the glory of God, and that the firmament sheweth forth his handy-work; or, that this is repeated day after day, and night after night, —