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Upon the important subjects of evidence and of doctrine, as upon others, connected with the interpretation of Scripture, much useful information will be gained by a reference to Bishop Watson's Theo logical Tracts. The peculiar doctrines of our own Church are admirably explained and defended in the works of Bishop Burnet and Dr. Hey; while every kind of critical knowledge, applicable either to the truth, meaning, or history of the books of the New Testament, is deposited in that ample store-house of theological instruction, the great work of Michaelis, translated and illustrated by our learned countryman, Bishop Marsh. · It is scarcely necessary to observe that every subject, connected with morals or religion, will be found ably treated and satisfactorily elucidated in those works, which occupy such an important place in our national literature, the sermons of our great divines. Two of these I have already had occasion to mention; and among a host of names, of whom any nation and language might well be proud, I will call to your recollection those of Jeremy Taylor and Barrow; of Powell, Balguy, Bishop Butler, and Jortin. The last writer has united, in an eminent degree, the taste and attainments of a scholar with the research of a theologian; and his Remarks on Ecclesiastical History will ever attract attention from their learning and wit, as from their variety of matter and moderation of sentiment.
You will perceive that much of the knowledge so truly desirable may be attained without having recourse to the learned languages ; and there is no doubt but a person of good understanding using proper diligence may, by the helps supplied in our own tongue, gain sufficient insight into the meaning of Scripture to satisfy his own mind and regulate his own conduct. Such a course of study will preserve him from the vague and confused notions, which disturb the minds of those, who boldly pronounce upon the true sense of the Sacred Volume, without any previous information and without the guidance of a good commentator. But it will not authorize him to usurp the province of an expert critic or a well-disciplined theologian. It will not justify him in pronouncing his aútòs ēpa upon a disputed text; still less in declaiming with bitter arrogance upon the soundness of other men's faith, or the correctness or incorrectness of their opinions. Such unfounded confidence and such contemptuous dogmatism are too often the fruit of scanty information and superficial views; for, in general, it has been observed that modesty and candour attend most frequently upon superior attainments. And for this very reason, in addition to others of equal weight, I have felt it my duty to impress you strongly with a sense of the vast importance of acquiring accurate information upon a subject, which is so intimately connected with your conduct here and your destiny hereafter.
3. In the course of the preceding observations, I have endeavoured to remove some objections, which appeared to arise from a supposed interference with a profession, already set apart for this peculiar branch of study; and from the time, which it must withdraw from the duties of any other employment. Upon
these two points I have urged, and, I trust, not in vain, that duty imperatively calls upon us all to gain the knowledge; and that a plan judiciously laid down and steadily pursued will occupy no time, but what may be better spared from vacuity or amusement. One more objection may perhaps bé urged; to which however, in the last place, a reply may be given equally satisfactory with those, which have been already offered.
It may be apprehended that a more general and extended study of the Scriptures on the part of layimen may generate a spirit of controversy, subversive of the comfort and good order of society, and prejudicial to those very interests of religion, which we are so anxious to uphold. Now this is one of the very evils, which the adoption of the suggestions, now proposed to your acceptance, appears to be calculated, in no ordinary degree, to diminish. For it has been already observed that, with superior knowledge a spirit of candoúr and fairness is usually associated; while the sciolist and superficial are hasty and dogmatical, in exact proportion to the scantiness of their information and the confusion of their ideas. An accurate perception of the truths of religion enables the sound and sober theologian to discriminate between what is clear and what is doubtful; between what is essential and what is less important. It enables him to understand how truly and how wisely, in the genuine doctrines of the great Author of our redemption, the practice of charity is elevated above the mere pretensions of faith or the vain assumptions of knowledge. Although therefore it be probable, and
even desirable, that increased attention to this awful subject may lead to increased discussion ; yet the spirit of such discussions will be purified by benevolence, in proportion as they are enlightened by wisdom. In the friendly collision of minds differently informed, intellects less capacious and less stored will gradually yield to the influence of superior judgement and more extensive acquirement. The dim views of the superficial and half-learned will, in process of time, be cleared from the mists of error and prejudice; and the confidence, with which untenable positions have been maintained, or unnecessary restrictions imposed, may at length subside into that “meek and quiet spirit”, which is, above all other virtues, the appropriate “ ornament” of a disciple of Christ.
(PREACHED, JANUARY 30a, 1831.)
THE RESPECTIVE DUTIES OF SUBJECTS AND PRINCES.
1 Pet. ii. 16.
AS FREE, AND NOT USING YOUR LIBERTY FOR A CLOKE OF
MALICIOUSNESS; BUT AS THE SERVANTS OF GOD.
From a resemblance, which has been observed between them in matter and even expression, Michaelis argues that St. Peter, when he wrote this Epistle, had seen that of St. Paul to the Romans. We may, I think, safely advance further than the conclusion
a My duty having required me to preach on this day, I did not shrink from the discharge of it ; although the difficulty of treating a subject, in itself delicate and arduous, was considerably increased by the peculiar situation of the country and aspect of the times. The fearful events of last winter, the turbulent disposition of the peasantry, with the horrid and cowardly acts of incendiaries, cannot be soon forgotten. May it please the Almighty to give the inhabitants of this country a more just sense of the blessings they actually enjoy! May He dispose the lower classes to confide more cheerfully in the endeavours of their superiors to improve their comforts; and may He bestow on all ranks and conditions an honest and hearty determination to lay aside selfish views, and unite in one common and cordial effort to promote the general good!
I have only to add that this Sermon, which I was requested to print at the time, is now published precisely in the form, in which it was preached.
6 Marsh's Edit. Vol. IV. p. 324.