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lieved that the Scriptures were especially written for those who, it was foreseen, would embrace and obey them.
IV. The doctrines formed by the obvious meaning of the Scriptures, are the only doctrines which have spread vital religion in the world.
Those who heard the Apostles preach, and their successors through the two first centuries and the earlier parts of the third, were almost universally incapable of annexing any other ing than the obvious one, to the declarations of the Scriptures. This is the only character given them, both by their friends and their enemies, and is therefore unquestionably their true character. It is hardly necessary to mention, because so well known and so universally acknowledged, either the vast multitude of these Christians or the prominent excellence of their character. In the numerous instances in which religion prevailed in the succeeding ages of the church, it prevailed solely by the preaching of the very same doctrines. This was true, particularly with regard to the prevalence of religion in Egypt, under Dionysius and Athanasius ; in Africa, under Cyprian, Augustine, and Fulgentius; in Italy, under Ambrose, under the Gregorys; in the Lesser Asia, under St. Bernard; also in France, the numerous followers of Peter Waldo and of John Huss; those of Wickliffe also, and the very numerous Christians among the reformed in the various Protestant countries. To these may be added the numerous Christians found in this country, from its early settlement, and the vast multitude which, in many Protestant countries, between the years 1730 and 1760, became public professors of religion. Let every man employ himself in reading diligently ecclesiastical history, particularly that branch of it which records the prevalence of practical piety, and he will see irresistibly that, when these doctrines have been preached and believed, vital religion has flourished; when they have not, it has regularly decayed. Such has always been the fact heretofore; such is the fact at the present time.
If I am asked on what ground I assert, that the persons of whom I have spoken were vitally religious, and that others were not,--I answer, on that which the Scriptures have made
the evidence of vital religion, the conduct of the respective classes of men. “ By their fruits," says our Saviour, speaking of those who are not Christians, “ shall ye know them.” Those who have embraced these doctrines have, in a manner honourable to human nature, adorned the doctrine of God their Sam viour, by bringing forth those fruits which, he declares, spring from evangelical repentance, faith, and holiness. Of this fact, as it respects the early ages of Christianity, there can be no debate, nor, it would seem, as it respects the reformers and their followers. There is as little reason to doubt it concerning the great body of Christians who have followed them, even their enemies themselves being judges. Even by those multitudes who have held the doctrines in question, they are daily declared to be truly religious, and placed among the best of mankind. On this subject, however, I cannot expatiate, but will conclude my observations concerning it by a quotation or two from distinguished adversaries of these doctrines. One of these, Robert Forsyth, Esq., a learned civilian, and who appears to have no great reverence for Revelation, says, “ There is one remark which we think ourselves bound in
justice to make, although it appears to us to be some“ what singular. It is this, that from the earliest ages, down " to our own days, if we consider the character of the an“ cient Stoics, the Jewish Essenes, the modern Calvinists 6 and Jansenists, when compared with that of their antagonists, “ the Epicureans, the Sadducees, the Arminians, and the Je“ suits, we shall find that they have excelled, in no small degree, “ in the practice of the most rigid and respectable virtues, and “ have been the highest honour of their own ages, and the best “ models for imitation to every age succeeding.”
Dr. Priestley also acknowledges, that “ those who hold these “ doctrines have less apparent conformity to the world, and
seem to have more of a real principle of religion, than his - own followers; and that those who, from a principle of religion, o ascribe more to God and less to man than other persons, (the distinguishing characteristic of these men,)“ are men of the greatest elevation of piety.” But if these doctrines have, and others have not, produced this mighty effect in the succes
sive ages of the church, it is, I think, clearly certain that they are that truth of God, which Christ declares makes men free from the bondage of sin, and which, St. Paul declares, are the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth. In other words, they are the genuine doctrines of the Gospel.
V. The Scriptures are actually written in such a manner, that their obvious meaning is their true meaning.
Every rhetorical critic, perplexed with no theological debates, and having no religious system to support, has remarked that the language of the Scriptures is distinguished from all other books by its simplicity, its native, uncontrived character, its accordance with the most artless speech of men. It would have been impossible for this opinion to have been universal, had it not been founded in fact. In perfect accordance with it, every man who reads the Scriptures without any particular design, and allows his own views and feelings to take their natural course, feels this truth irresistibly. Every such man feels that he has never met with any other writings which were so remarkable for a manner so artless, and so purely natural. Particularly, every plain man here finds himself entirely at home; converses with those who speak in the manner to which he has been used from his infancy; and sees facts, and doctrines, and precepts presented to him, with a plainness which is elsewhere unrivalled.
The Scriptures themselves long since declared this to be their true character. The wisdom of God, or, in other words, Christ says, Prov. viii. 8, 9—“ All the words of my mouth are “ in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in “them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and “ right to them that find knowledge :" i. e. “ there is nothing “ in my words that is writhed or twisted, nothing perplexing ; “ but they are all plain to him who possesses that understand“ ing which consists in the fear of the Lord.” The Prophet Isaiah says, “ That when a king” (i. e. Christ) “ shall reign “ in righteousness, the eyes of them that see (i.e. of Christians and pious men) “ shall not be dim. The heart of the rash « shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers
“ shall be ready to speak plainly." In other words, Christians shall understand distinctly the things of religion, and those who before spoke of them indistinctly and obscurely, shall then be able to speak, and shall actually speak, in a manner clear and very intelligible. .
The same Prophet also says, that under the dispensation of the Gospel, the way of holiness shall be a highway; and that wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. Of the same period he declares, that the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold. A multitude of other passages, of the same import, might easily be added to these were it necessary. All plain Christians have, in every age and country, found these declarations completely verified in the satisfaction, comfort, peace, and hope which they have found in the invitations and promises ; in the direction of their duty furnished by the precepts, and in the enlargement of their religious knowledge produced continually by the doctrines. These benefits are experienced and declared, even by those of the humblest character, even by children and servants; and it is remarkable that those who have found difficulties in such passages of Scripture as especially direct the faith, practice, and hopes of mankind, have not found these difficulties in the want of an obvious meaning, but in their own unwillingness to receive that meaning, and in their wishes to find some other which would better suit with their own preconceived opinions.
To the observations under this head two objections may not improbably be made. The first is, that much of the scriptural language is figurative, and therefore obscure; the second, that several subjects, and particularly doctrines declared in them, are profound and mysterious, and demand the greatest human understanding to comprehend them.
Concerning the former of these objections, I observe, that although the language of the Scriptures is extensively figurative, it is not for that reason obscure. Figurative language, when used according to the dictates of nature, is scarcely at all less obvious, or less easily understood, than that which is literal. Savages and little children use figurative language more than any other persons, and yet all which they use is perfectly understood by other savages and other little children, to whom it is addressed. All the figures employed in the Scriptures are those of mere nature, and are therefore explained by the mind of every one who knows the language of nature. The figurative phraseology in the Bible, which is obscure, is not that which the writers intended to use, but that which is made figurative by those who comment on their writings.
Concerning the latter objection, I observe, that the doctrines and precepts necessarily connected with salvation are unattended with any difficulty, except what arises from our inclinations. Many doctrines, actually revealed, are inexplicable in their nature, and many others in their antecedents, attendants, and consequents. They
They are connected with many things their connection with which is inexplicable. In both classes we may find or make difficulties ; but the difficulties do not arise, in the proper sense, from the revelation, but from our curiosity. I will illustrate this assertion by an example. We are taught that the soul will exist in a separate state. There is no difficulty in admitting the truth of this declaration, nor any want of evidence that it is true; because it is a declaration of God. But if we suffer our curiosity to wander in a series of inquiries, in order to find out where, what, and how long, we may easily meet with so many and so great difficulties, that we may be ultimately induced, as others probably have been, to reject the doctrine altogether. We are taught that there will be a resurrection, and our understanding easily receives the instruction. But the single question, “ Will the same body rise ?” may easily involve us in a sufficient number of perplexities to cast extreme obscurity over the resurrection itself, and persuade us to say with Hymeneus and Philetus, that the resurrection is past already.
All such difficulties arise, not from the thing revealed, but from the philosophical curiosity with which it is investigated by ourselves. Let it even be remembered, that the decisions furnished by this investigation are never matters of faith, and never obligatory upon the conscience, and that the investigation itself is very often perplexing as well as idle, and mis. chievous as well as useless. He who will be contented to take