« PreviousContinue »
who has ever censured either the late or the present Norrissian Professor for choosing some other place for the delivery of theological lectures? Why then should the Margaret Professor be censured, who, in leaving the schools, only follows their example ? In fact, the divinity schools, whatever may have been their original destination, are calculated, according to their present construction, for the mere purpose of public disputations. They have not the requisites of a public lecture room. The doctors and professors, indeed, are well provided with seats, and some few seats are provided for the masters of arts; but in the space, which is allotted to the undergraduates, not a single seat is provided. If any one complains then, that I have deserted the schools, let him say why the younger part of the University should be exposed to the incon. venience of standing during a whole lecture, of standing on a cold pavement, when convenient benches are provided for them in another place? It is true, that I have not exchanged the schools for that place, where one of my learned colleagues gives divinity lectures ; but I have exchanged them for a place, to which the subjects of discussion are certainly appropriate. Nor is the selection of this place a matter of choice only ; it is a matter of necessity. For where is the lecture room, where are the schools in this University, which, however inconvenient, or however crowded, could contain the audience, which is now before me? I shall proceed therefore, without further apology, to the business, for which we are here assembled.
The Lectures, which I propose to deliver, will re.
late to every branch of Theology. Such is their connexion, that without some knowledge of the whole, it is hardly possible to form a due estimate of any part. Indeed, whatever be the business of our study, we should previously ask what are the objects of inquiry; for till this question has been answered, we know not its real meaning. In the first place therefore the several parts of Theology must be described.
In the next place, they must be properly arrang. ed. A course of Lectures may contain all the divisions and sub-divisions, into which Theology is capa. ble of being resolved; but unless it contains them in a luminous order, it never can produce conviction; it can never lead to that, which is the ultimate object of all theological study, the establishment of the great truths of Christianity. To effect this purpose, the several parts must be so arranged, that the one may be deduced from the other in regular succession. The evil consequences which follow the violation of this rule, may be best explained by an example. Suppose, that a Professor of Divinity begins his course of lectures with the doctrine of Divine Inspiration ; this doctrine, however true in itself, or however certain the arguments, by which it may be established, cannot possibly, in that stage of his inquiry, be proved to the satisfaction of his audience, because he has not yet established other truths, from which this must be deduced. For whether he appeals to the promises of Christ to his Apostles, or the declarations of the Apostles themselves, he must take for granted, that those promises and declarations were really made; that is, he
must take for granted the authenticity of the writings, in which those promises and declarations are record. ed. But how is it possible, that conviction should be the consequence of postulating, instead of proving, a fact of such importance ? This example alone is sufficient to shew the necessity of method in the study of Theology, the necessity of arranging the several parts in such a manner, that no argument be founded on a proposition, which is not already proved. For if (as is too often the case in theological works) we undertake to prove a proposition by the aid of another, which is hereafter to be proved, the inevitable consequence is, that the proposition in question becomes a link in the chain, by which we establish that very proposition, which at first was taken for granted. Thus we prove premises from inferences, as well as inferences from premises; or, in other words, we prove-nothing.
Nor is it sufficient merely to describe and to arrange the several parts of Theology. The grounds of arrangement, the modes of connexion, must also be distinctly stated. For hence only can be deduced those general principles, without which the student in Divinity will never be able to judge of the proofs, which are laid before him.
When we have proceeded thus far, our next object must be to learn where we may obtain information on the manifold subjects, which will gradually come under discussion; that is, we must obtain a knowledge of the best authors, who have written on those subjects. But for this purpose it is not sufficient to have a mere catalogue of theological books,
arranged alphabetically, or even arranged under heads, unless the heads themselves are reduced to a proper system. Nor is it sufficient to inform the hearer of the titles only of those books which it may
proper for him to read : he should be informed, at least to a certain degree, of their contents: he should be informed also of the different modes, in which the same subject has been treated by different authors, and of the particular objects, which each of them had in view. Further, since many excellent treatises have been produced by controversy, and many by other occasions, which it is always useful, and sometimes necessary to know, in order to view the writings themselves in their proper light, a knowledge of theological works should be accompanied with some knowledge of the persons who wrote them, a knowledge of their general characters, of the times in which they lived, and of the situations in which they were placed.
Lastly with this knowledge of authors, if it be properly disposed, may be united a knowledge equally instructive and entertaining, a knowledge of the advancement or decline of theological learning, a knowledge of how much or how little has been performed in the different ages of Christianity.
A course of Lectures so comprehensive in its plan, as to embrace the manifold objects, which have been just enumerated, may appear too much for one lecturer to undertake, especially for the lecturer, who is now addressing you. And, even if he had ability for the undertaking, it might still be apprehended, that, before he had done, the patience of the most indulgent
auditory would be exhausted. But it would be for. eign to the very plan of these Lectures to deliver copious dissertations on single points of Divinity, in which case they might never be brought to a conclusion. They relate indeed to all the branches of Di. vinity, however minute; they describe, as well the fruits which have been gathered, as the store-houses in which the fruits are preserved; but they do not contain the fruits themselves. Or they may be compared with a map and a book of directions, from which the traveller may learn the road which he must take, the stages which he must go, and the places where he must stop, in order to arrive with the greatest ease and safety at his journey's end. Descriptions of this kind are no less useful in travelling through the paths of knowledge, than in travelling over distant lands. And it is a description of this kind, which will be attempted in these Lectures.
Here it may be asked, What is the end of the journey, to which these Lectures are intended to lead ? Is it the object of elements, thus general and comprehensive, to generalize Christianity itself, to represent it in the form of a general theorem, from which individual creeds are to be deduced as so many corollaries? Or is it their object to maintain one particular creed to the exclusion of all others? The latter may appear to be less liberal than the former, but it is only so in appearance; while the advantages ascribed to the former, are as imaginary, as those possessed by the latter are substantial. It is difficult to conceive any thing more painful or more injurious to the stu