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his Maker at his word, will rarely find himself embarrassed. But, in order to do this, he must be prepared to yield up every opinion of his own to the declarations of God.
To exhibit the justness of these views, I observe, that the religious part of the Christian church has adopted a single system of doctrines, from the Apostles' day to the present time. The observing reader of ecclesiastical history will find this truth irresistibly forced upon him as his eye is passing through the annals of Christianity. The most remarkable example of it is presented to us by the almost absolute harmony of the confessions and creeds adopted by the several Protestant countries. Christians, therefore, have, in every age and country, found the language of Scriptures sufficiently plain, and the meaning sufficiently obvious, to unite in the construction of the former and the adoption of the latter. Nor have they felt any very material embarrassment, either from the figurative nature of the phraseology used by the writers, or the profoundness of the doctrines which they have disclosed.
But the meaning adopted by the great body of Christians, in the several ages of the church, is, beyond all reasonable doubt, the true meaning. It cannot be supposed that God would leave his children, as a body, materially to mistake the meaning of his word, nor cause his word to be so written that they would of course mistake the meaning in this manner, while reading it with diligence, integrity, and reverence. But, if the obvious meaning be not the true one, both these suppositions must, so far as I can see, be admitted.
VI. If the obvious meaning of the Scriptures be not the true one, the great body of mankind could not reasonably be reproved or threatened for not believing them.
To believe the Scriptures is to believe their meaning. But the persons in question are unable, however inclined, to annex any meaning to them besides the obvious one. To believe them, therefore, would, in most cases, be out of their power, and could deserve neither threatening nor reproof. Yet every reader of the Bible must have seen very many instances in which this unbelief is severely censured and terribly threaten
ed. He that receiveth not my words, hath one that judg-
VII. If the obvious meaning be not the true one, the provision made in the Scriptures for the salvation of men is imperfect and ineffectual.
Every meaning of every scriptural declaration, which is not furnished by the plain, obvious construction of the words, must be derived from critical learning and ingenuity. How few are there, how few have there been so learned and so ingenious, as to be able to persuade mankind, or to give them any solid reason for the persuasion, that they, and they only, have certainly discovered the meaning of the word of God. Where, when, and who have been these favourites of heaven?
These men, also, must be supposed to be more able, or better inclined, than God himself, to use language in a manner entirely perspicuous and decisive. Where and when have such specimens of ingenuity and critical skill existed ?
They must also be supposed to unite in giving the same construction to Scriptural passages.
The true sense of each passage is certainly but one, and all who discover it must therefore be absolutely agreed. Where do we find this agreement?
They must also possess sufficient weight and authority to engage
the attention and secure the submission of mankind to their decisions. Who ever had this authority ?
Contrary to all this, the Scriptural critics who have actually existed, have never had sufficient learning and skill to create a belief among men of piety, that their doctrines, when varying from the obvious meaning of the Scriptures, have been true, or supported by satisfactory evidence. Some of them have been men of real talents and extensive learning. Others have challenged to themselves such talents, and attempted to display such learning with not a little ostentation ; but have nev
er been able to convince mankind that they possessed this superiority of character. Nor have either had any considerable success in gaining followers, except among those who were plainly unwilling to follow Christ.
At the same time, the language in which they have delivered their opinions, has been less clear, definite, and satisfactory, than that of the Scriptures. Technical or philosophical language is certainly capable of being so used, as to express the doctrines of mere philosophy and the truths of science, appropriately so called, especially of physical science, with more precision than the common language of men. Had the theology of the Scriptures been intended only for learned men, and disclosed merely as a science, which was to expand their views and regulate their opinions, it is not improbable that it might, have been communicated in technical language. But it was actually intended for all men, and must, therefore, be made known to them in the common language of men, since nine hundred and ninety-nine, out of a thousand, could not possibly understand any other. For the communication of plain doctrines, duties, and facts, the only things interesting to such men, as being the only things essentially to be believed and done by them, the common language is incomparably better fitted, as being more perspicuous and more impressive than any other. Who does not perceive, who has not a thousand times felt, that the doctrines, precepts, and facts contained in the Scriptures, are there expressed with incomparably more felicity than in the most studied periods and the most nicely selected phraseology of the ablest uninspired writers.
The writers in question, also, have agreed almost in nothing, and have differed endlessly about every thing. It is not difficult for men to harmonize in the truths of physical science, because they ordinarily excite no interest, awaken no passion, and generate no bias. But the doctrines and duties of religion produce the strongest interest, and start into action every feeling, and every prejudice. Hence the views of different persons concerning them are variously and wonderfully warped from each other, and from truth. Hence, also, the very language, which they adopt in communicating their opinions, is often perverted by them, and is used variously, and, in a manner, chiefly, or only, perplexing to their readers.
On the innumerable diversities of opinion among these writers it is unnecessary to expatiate, because it is every where known and acknowledged. A single example will sufficiently exhibit it for the present purpose. St. Paul says, in so many words, that “ Christ is over all, God blessed for ever.” This plain, unambiguous declaration, conveys one, and only one, obvious, and that a perfectly definite meaning. In equally express terms, Christ calls himself a man, and the Son of Man. The obvious meaning of these declarations has been denied by several classes of men, who have called themselves Christians. The Cerinthians, Ebionites, Socinians, and others, believed him to be only a man. The Docetae and Manichees believed him to be only God. The Sabellians believe him to be a mere manifestation of God. The Arians believed, that he was a superangelic being, created before any other creature; and the followers of Apollinaris held that he was two distinct persons, one divine, the other human. Who, amid this diversity, would be able, should he desert the plain meaning of Scripture, and follow the explanations of men, to adopt any opinion concerning this subject ?
Nor have such writers possessed, nor can any writers possess, such weight and authority, as might secure the submission of mankind to their decisions. The declarations of uninspired men can rise no higher than opinion and advice; their precepts than recommendations; nor their promises and threatenings than mere conjectures. Whatever they threatened or promised, although professedly derived from the Scriptures, would be believed, as it always has been believed, to be merely an imposition, or the dream of a distempered brain. So far as God was supposed to have spoken, it would be received as truth; so far as it was only the comment of an uninspired man, it would be regarded, and with unobjectionable propriety, as doubtful or false. Who, after reading the comment, would not ardently wish for a sight of the text, that he might know how the doctrine or the precept, the threatening or the promise, appeared as it came from the hand of God?
From these observations, it is, I think, certain, that if the obvious meaning of the Scriptures be not the true one, the provision made in them for the salvation of men is imperfect and ineffectual; that men could not know what to believe, what to fear, or what to hope; but would be left in that state of suspense, which, in a case of such immense moment, must, if seriously felt, be productive only of anguish, and terminate only in despair.
I have now finished the observations which I have thought it proper to make on this highly interesting subject. As I have never heard nor seen it discussed, and as it deeply concerns every person who is in possession of the Scriptures, I shall consider myself justified in having examined it at length. If the arguments here adduced have the same weight in the view of my audience which they possess in my own, they will be satisfied, that all the declarations of God in the Scriptures are to be implicitly received ; and that they are to be received in their obvious meaning