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THE CRITICAL STUDY OF THE BIBLE, THE VITAL PART OF A
IT is a declaration of the divine Spirit, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
We might, indeed, reasonably suppose, that if the Bible be a revelation from God, that it would bear upon it some striking impress of his moral character; and that in this, together with its adaptation to the nature and exigencies of our race, it would shine by its own light, and evince internal evidence the most convincing, of the divinity of its origin. That this accords with fact, observation and experience both attest. Whenever divine truth has been divested of the appendages with which human wisdom would adorn it, whenever it has been sought with an humble spirit, and has been set forth in its native simplicity, it has commended itself to the consciences of men with power; it has won its own way, has had free course, and has been glorified. In proof of this, the history of its triumphs furnishes the most ample evidence. The day of Pentecost witnessed them; our own age has witnessed them; we ourselves have seen them; and in view of the wondrous changes which have been wrought in individual and in social character, we have been led to feel, that it is not by human might, or wisdom, or eloquence, but by the gospel of our God, which is his power unto salvation.
Such considerations and facts as these have for ages past, exerted a powerful influence throughout the protestant world. It is an influence which has rescued the Bible from the dark recesses in which it had long been hidden, and has exalted it as the only standard of truth and the rule of duty.
Time was, when in countries norninally Christian, the circulation of the Bible was prohibited by law, and confined to a wicked and a crafty priesthood. From them alone, the people were to receive instruction and guidance. To regard the authority of the word of God, as superior to that of a human tribunal, to appeal to its decision, in opposition to priests and reverend councils, was Nov. 1829.
The Critical Study of the Bible.
frowned upon as heresy, the most dire and damnable. But that age has past away. The mighty reformation, of which Luther and Calvin were the master spirits, convulsed the systems under which the nations long had groaned, delivered the people from the shackles of papal domination, and directed them from their degraded state, to lift up their eye to the standard of revealed truth, which was now exalted as the light of the moral world.
Since then, a spirit of free inquiry has generally distinguished Protestant Christians. They have been the professed advocates for the supremacy of truth. Though in many instances, even they have evinced too much love of spiritual dominion, yet all the religious freedom which has blessed our world, has found its home among them. Thus in our happy age and country, the Bible has been long esteemed, as the grand tribunal of appeal, by which every opinion is to be tried, and every controversy silenced.
But though in our times we have sufficient light to make the darkness of past ages visible, yet of that light, we ourselves have not felt the full and happy influence. Though the Bible has nominally the high place which it claims amongst us, yet its truths have not been sought with sufficient earnestness, nor have we given it that undivided and fixed attention which it deserves. This charge, in its general import, will no doubt be acknowledged; but to speak more definitely, we think it to be a serious fact, that in the pursuits of the Christian ministry, the study of the Bible has not the place which, in this age particularly, its relative importance demands.
The age in which we live is characterized by a spirit of noble enterprise, by the general diffusion of knowledge, but especially by the prevalence of a refined infidelity. The infidelity of our age is not like that which once arose, with daring front, and lifting high its arın, railed out aloud its blasphemies against Jehovah, threatening, by its own might, to exterminate from earth every vestige of Christianity. When the walls of Zion thus were stormed, there were not wanting men, who, girt with armor of etherial temper, stood ready to repel the rude attack. They acted well their part. But now infidelity has changed its position, and its aspect has assumed the name and the garb of Christianity, has entered into the sanctuary, has taken into its hand the book of God, with the contents of which it has become familiar, and with ingenuity more than human, has diverted the precepts of truth from their real intent, and has clothed error in a form that seems to be divine.
This is an infidelity, which in its external aspect is very amiable. It calls forth respect, by the apparent candor, and the liberality of its spirit. It challenges no open opposition. It is wily and ingenious, and difficult of attack. It glories in its pride of learning, in its lofty fellowship with the style, the spirit, and the genius of ancient Prophets and Apostles; and while its principles are all congenial with its own depraved feelings, like the arch tempter of our Saviour, it relies for the success of its argument upon its appeal to the authority of God himself. Now in contending with an infidelity like this, it is not enough that the ministers of the word
draw from revealed truth those simple principles which are obvious to every honest mind, and when wielded well, are sufficient in the warfare with an infidelity that is bold and undisguised. The infidelity of which we speak, is one which takes advantage of present circumstances. It travels back to former ages, acquaints itself with the history, the literature, the laws and the manners of those to whom were first committed the oracles of God, and with the idioms and the usage of their sacred writers; and from this high ground, it throws obscurity round the mental vision of plain good men, and draws arguments in opposition to the simple principles of Christianity, which, if fairly drawn, would be decisive. It is true, the honest mind that seeks enlightening influence from above, may satisfy itself with regard to the essential truths which God designed to teach. “ The meek he will guide in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way.” But it becomes the avowed defender of the truth, to meet the enemy in his own fortress; to take the ground to which he is challenged, lest if he shrink, his reluctance or inability, be imputed to the weakness of his cause.
The demands made upon the students for the ministry, by the exigencies of the present age, may be more clearly seen, if we consider the fact, that the state of popular theological opinion in this country, is fast approaching what it has been for some time past in Germany. There, those who hold the station of Christian Teachers, have dignified themselves by the name of Rationalists. They have not merely exercised their reason, in judging with regard to the evidences of revelation, but in deciding what ought to be its dictates. They have been very skilful in bringing its doctrines to harmonize with their own preconceived opinions, and their feelings. Their results they defend by arguments drawn from oriental idiom, and the usage of language. With them, the plain evangelical doctrines of human depravity, and the regeneration of Christians, have originated in a general misunderstanding of the meaning of the sacred writers. They suppose that the strong expressions respecting the pervading depravity of man, are mere Hebraisms, which have reference only to the external conduct. Regeneration, denotes only a reform of moral habits. Salvation by grace, denotes nothing special in the economy of God, in regard to man, but only the happiness conferred by the exercise of his general benevolence. The election of grace, denotes no uninerited act of sovereign love on the part of God, in behalf of those who are saved, but merely his endearing kindness, exercised towards those who choose to love him. The mighty works of our Saviour, though acknowledged to be deeds of mercy, which evince his holy character, may yet he all accounted for from natural principles. And with many, the declarations of David and Isaiah, respecting the happiness of future times, are the poetic effusions of holy men, who sang as poets are wont to sing, of the expected glory of their nation, and of golden ages yet to come. These are but a few of the grand results, at which in modern times, thousands have arrived, who are called Protestant Christians, who bear the name of Christian Doctors, who stand in the sanctuaries of the church, and
who minister her altars. This light which they have struck out in the philosophy of religion, they dispense to others as fast as prejudice will give way for its admission.
Now we know that it is a declaration of the divine word, that the “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” And although every true Christian, taught by the Spirit, may satisfy his own mind that in interpretations like these the principles of revelation are divested of all their energy and their value, yet this is not sufficient for the prosessed defender of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” It becomes him not only to show that the Bible is a revelation from heaven, but to guard its several truths from the abuse of an ingenious and a wily interpretation. And for this, the mere might of eloquence is not sufficient. The clear illustrations which a fine genius may derive from history, from natural or moral science, are not sufficient. The question to be discussed is one of simple fact. The inquiry is, What did the sacred writers mean to teach? Have we understood their idiom and their usage, or have we mistaken it? We are aware that the truths made known by God to “ holy men of old,” must have been communicated in language accordant with the usage of those to whom the Scriptures were addressed, or else to them the Scriptures would have been no revelation. If then, informing our opinions, we have not been at the pains to become familiar with their usage, if we have rather substituted our own, it becomes us soon to be aware of the fact, and to bow to the supre!nacy of truth, although it may break up our long established systems, and scalter to the winds the doctrines we have cherished with our affections. Truth is eternal and powerful, and must prevail, and the sooner we discover it, and yield to its dictates, the more safe and happy will it be for ourselves.
But if we feel a strong confidence that such interpreters as have been mentioned, have themselves perverted the words of truth, that, influenced by the pride of learning, and the genius of a false philosophy, they have entirely misconceived the meaning and the spirit of the sacred writers, then it becomes us to prove their error, not by an appeal to mere human authority, or by any long course of moral reasoning, but by an eviction of the truth of God, from the very words which the Holy Spirit has indited. While searching the Scriptures thus, we may feel that we stand on firm ground. Having sought the truth from its very fountains, we may preach it with the more boldness. But without such an humble study of the Bible, however splendid may be our education, however much of eloquence, of literature, or science it may have embraced, it is yet defective in its vital parts.
It is much to be lamented, that the mode of studying theology, which has long prevailed, has been such as to give great advantage to the interpreter of the Scriptures, whose feelings are opposed to evangelical truth. The state of theological science as it has existed in some of the most eminent schools, in our own country, as well as in other countries, bears a strong analogy to the state of natural science in the times which preceded the rise of Sir Francis
Bacon. In those ages the schools were splendid, and the teachers men of high renown. They labored long and hard. To the pursuit of science, they unreservedly gave their lives. But they saw not the right course. They approached the mysteries of nature, not as scholars, but as theorists. They gave to dogmatism the place of enlightened reason. System after system appeared, each having its train of earnest advocates, who for its defence were skilled in all the arts of controversy. But notwithstanding all their efforts, their results form but a sad monument of human imbecility.
Bacon, whose name has a high place in the history of philosophy, formed no new sect or theory. He merely directed the attention of the world to the right mode of studying nature.
He taught the student, instead of assuming the place of a dogmatist, to take that of an humble inquirer ; instead of learning or forming systems, and then exercising his ingenuity in bringing nature to harmonize with them, to learn simple facts, and thence to deduce those general truths which, when rightly classified, would well deserve the name of science. This discovery, so simple in its nature, shed new light upon the philosophic world. Upon this simple principle Newton ascended from observing the fall of an apple, to learn the great law of gravitation, and thence to form a body of science, which was so well based and so firm as to stand by its own strength, and to mock all contradiction.
The volume of revelation, like that of nature is but an exhibition of simple facts. The doctrines of the Bible are not speculations. They are all facts. In obtaining, therefore, a system of divine truths, it becomes us to approach the oracles of God with no preconceived opinion, however plausible; with no favorite theory, however rational it may appear. We must take the place of humble inquirers. We must have the spirit of little children; a spirit marked by humility, simplicity, and godly sincerity. We must study the Bible to learn its simple facts and precepts, and keep our minds so well balanced, as to embrace at once whatever it clearly teaches, however far it may be above the reach of our reason, or remote from our conceptions, and to discard at once every religious doctrine or opinion which is not sanctioned by the seal of heaven.
But, alas ! how few comparatively approach the Bible with a spirit like this. How few of those who enter upon the study of theology for the sake of extending their qualifications as teachers of revealed truth, who are not unduly bound by their prejudices to some system, which they are determined to sustain by the testimony of God. The spirit of prayerful, calm, unbiassed investigation, seems almost overwhelmed by the storms of Christian controversy. Thence it is, that the interior of the Christian sanctuary has presented such vantage ground, to the advocate of a refined infidelity. He has en ed, and has found the defender of evangelical truth, unused to the weapons with which he should have been familiar. Thence it is that a Gesenius has smiled contempt, upon the intellectual theology of Great Britain. He has seen how fast bound in the fetters of system are many of the Doctors of the English church, and how numerous are their interpretations