« PreviousContinue »
sition of a book of Euclid to the demonstration of the first. For what other arguments can we produce, to shew that those writers had such assistance, than arguments deduced from the writings themselves ? And does not this argumentation imply, that the truth of those writings is already established ? It must be established therefore without an appeal to inspiration, or it cannot be established at all. For as long as this truth remains unestablished, so long must inspiration remain unproved. The credibility therefore of the sacred writers must be estimated, in the first instance, as we would estimate the credibility of other writers. We must build on their testimony as human evi. dence, before we can obtain the privilege of appealing to them as divine.
The branches of Theology, which have been hith.. erto described, are those, which require the same kind of treatment, as we apply to the investigation of an. cient writings in general. We now come to a more important part of our duty, on which we shall be qualified to enter, (and then only,) when we have obtained a competent knowledge of the preceding branches. When the authenticity and credibility of the Bible have been established in the manner, and by the steps above-mentioned, we are then enabled to collect evi. dence for the divine origin of our religion. When a prophecy, so descriptive of a particular event as to warrant the belief, that this event was meant to be described, when such a prophecy is recorded in a book, which we have proved to have been written some centuries before the event, we have the strong
est evidence, that the person, who delivered the prophecy, was endowed with more than human wisdom. Or, if a miracle, ascribed to a particular person, is
a recorded in a book, which we have already proved to be worthy of credit, we have again the strongest evi. dence, that the person, to whom the miracle is ascribed, was endowed with more than human power. If then such persons deliver doctrines, which from their internal excellence are worthy of being communicated from God to man, we may argue to the reality of such communications, and regard the prophecies and miracles, as credentials of a divine commission. Thenceforward we may view the Bible, as a work containing the commands of God: thence. forward we may treat it as the fountain of religious faith.
Such are the steps, by which we must gradually advance toward the evidence for the divine origin of our religion.
From evidences we might proceed immediately to doctrines. But as this interval is the
proper place for examining the subject of inspiration, we must assign this place to it in our plan of study. The arguments, which are used for divine inspiration are all founded on the previous supposition that the Bible is true : for we appeal to the contents of the Bible in proof of inspiration. Consequently those arguments can have no force till the authenticity and credibility of the Bible have been already established.
Nor is the establishment even of these points sufficient for our purpose.
We must likewise have established
the divine origin of our religion, before we can prove inspiration. For nothing but either divine testimony, or fulfilled prophecy can confirm it.
These general observations are sufficient to shew how far we must have advanced in our study of Theology, before we are qualified to enter upon this branch of it.
The next branch of Theology relates to Doctrines. When we have learnt to interpret the Bible, and have gone through the evidences for our religion, we are qualified to study its doctrines. Our knowledge of the former will enable us to judge, whether doctrines are warranted or not warranted by Scripture: and if they are, our knowledge of the latter will enable us to perceive the force of their obligation, and convince us, that it is our interest, as well as our duty, to adopt them.
As the creeds, which have been professed in different ages, and by Christians of different denominations, are not only various, but sometimes contradictory, yet all agree in claiming the Bible for their
support, their respective claims must be examined with all the attention, which is due to so important a subject. But as those claims require, each of them, a separate examination, and therefore some one religious ereed must be the first object of consideration, there cannot be a doubt in regard to the question, where it is our duty to begin. When we have obtained a knowledge, and have learnt the value, of our own system, we may undertake to compare it with others, and again examine those points, in which one or more of them shall be found to differ from it.
Lastly, when we have thus acquired a knowledge both of the doctrines themselves, and of the founda. tions, on which they are built, we shall find it as use. ful, as it is entertaining, to trace the progress of religious opinion through the different ages of the Christian world. And, as this progress of religious opinion cannot easily be traced, nor satisfactorily explained, without knowing likewise the external causes, which operated in promoting the adoption of them, we must sum up our theological studies with the study of ecclesiastical history.
Let us now recapitulate the branches of Theology, thus formed and arranged according to the principle laid down at the beginning of the Lecture. 1. The first branch relates to the Criticism of the
Bible. 2. The second to the Interpretation of the Bible. 3. The third to the Authenticity and Credibility of
the Bible. 4. The fourth to the Divine Authority of the Bible,
or the Evidences for the Divine Origin of the
religions recorded in it. 5. The fifth branch relates to the Inspiration of the
Bible. 6. The sixth to the Doctrines of the Bible, which
branch is subdivided into
land. (6) Doctrines deduced by other Churches. 7. The seventh and last branch relates to Ecclesiasti
Having thus given a general description of the several branches of Theology, and having arranged them in such a manner, that a knowledge of the one may lead to a knowledge of the other, I shall proceed in the next and following Lectures to give a more minute description of them, as they successively come under particular review.