ePub 版

an infallible divinity? You will soon see, if you will examine the transcriber. He writes now as he has always written; that is, as he happens to have accuracy, diligence, knowledge of the language and facts, leisure, patience, and a legible hand. None of all these circumstances will be altered by a miracle, because it is the Bible that he is copying. These remarks will of course be understood to apply only to those ages, that preceded the invention of printing. No parchment becomes of a firmer texture, because the scriptures are inscribed upon it; and no ink is made on that account indelible. Hebrew points and letters do not cast off their nature, because used in the book of books; and all the influences, that time exerts upon language, must still act in their full and natural course. These are not conjectures, but facts: and so are all the conclusions connected with them. Banish all remains of the leaven of that opinion, which supposes this book to be, in its condition and materials, no book, as others are; as if, for example, no various readings are to be found in it, because it is inspired. Various readings actually occur in it, and only one reading can be the right one: this is a matter of positive evidence, and not of speculation. Of course, we must examine them with care; we must distinguish and choose between different readings; and here the same knowledge and skill are requisite, that must be brought to all other human books. Indeed, the Bible stands more in need of these than any other book, because it is about the most ancient, as to the greatest part, and the first foundations of it. Through how many hands, how many nations and ages, has it been transmit. ted! and yet Providence, as we shall presently see, has taken care to preserve it through natural means, in a manner beyond example; and we may be fully satistied of its authenticity, in its whole scope and contents, so far as they are of importance to us : yet we are not to infer these things a priori: as if the Bible were written in heaven, and not on earth ; by angels and not by men. By such suppositions we do not honour, but disgrace and injure it. Great part of the most impudent objections that have been brought against it, have been taken from this air-built armoury; and many a champion fights still on the same ground, as if he were contending for the Koran of Mohammed, and some Gabriel who brought it from heaven. I cannot enlist on this side ; not because the enemy is formidable, but because the field of battle is in fairy land. By a young theologian, such a hypothesis, unsupported certainly, and for the most part palpably false and visionary, would be very disgracefully assumed. It obstructs his sight, and stunts his judgment: it prevents him from inquiring.

from collecting, from examining, from illustrating on sound principles; and cramps what he may possess of those good gifts of heaven, intelligence and penetration. Many have plainly professed, I cannot read a book, which is no book like others; and some, after great labour and pains, have sunk at last into the same oppressive indolence. Luther, who had a clear and excellent genius, was embarrassed by no foolish notions of this sort; and I am well persuaded that no intelligent mind will ever consent to be so. At least I have witnessed in more than one instance, how hard it is, to bring a person to right understanding and rational views in the use of the Bible, who has once in him such a pestilent quagmire of absurdity. He perpetually imagines, when he takes up the Bible, that he is holding what is not a book ; and does not allow himself to see what he sees, nor to hear what he hears. Heavenly shadows are flitting before him; -forms from the realms of the Peris and Neris; and how often against all truth, utility and consistency! The worst of this is, he learns to despise or neglect, in the commencement of his studies, those external aids, the want of which will cleave to him forever afterwards; and, like other deficiencies, which seldom show all their bad consequences at first, will probably prejudice him at length against the aids of which he actually avails himself. He does not know perhaps the first principles of those helps, and so much the worse. He is contending, as he supposes, for the things of God and the scriptures, while he is in reality fighting for his own poverty against the true means and sources of knowledge,--for the cataract upon his eyes.

Do not despise, my young friend, the knowledge which is intended to prepare you for such a use of the Bible as has now been recommended. What that use is, must be left to your riper years more perfectly to understand and experience. Do not suffer yourself to be deterred by the common misuse, the often downright impious application, of what is called biblical criticism: but study languages, kindred languages ; make yourself familiar with the rudiments of this delicate and philosophical and learned department :--collect whatever you are able to collect, even if it should have but a remote reference to your immediate object. Have early in your hands an interleaved copy of the Bible in its original tongues; in which you may note variations, objections, conjectures, remarks, rules for future use and judgment. But do not form decisions yet : you are at present too young: perhaps the study itself, especially of the Old Testament, is too young, to permit thoroughly matured and final decisions. Ten or twenty years hence, you and all of us will be in a very different part of the course from that in which we are now engag

ed. We shall have thrown down many a critical scaffolding, because the wall will be completed; we shall receive many things as sure, which now seem uncertain to us; and shall not find ourselves the worse for the change. At present, be like the bees, who collect their honey from every flower; but let it be honey which you collect, not poison, not refuse. Cherish always the childlike simplicity of your veneration for the Bible, thougb you may sometimes see it profaned by the hands of its critics : criticism has no share in this injury except accidentally. The language-master and the interpreter are two very different beings; as we may see by so many fluent teachers of new idioms. These men may have a perfect acquaintance with the language, and yet know nothing at all of the author: to them a veil hangs before his plainest meaning ;-to say nothing of his less common and obvious beauties of thought. So it is always likely to be with the mere language-master of the Bible, because it is the oldest, and the most comprehensive of books :-for this very reason however, he appears to be a useful and even indispensable thing, -purblindness excepted ;-and in grammar and the minutiæ of criticism even that may serve some good end.—In short, my friend, do not neglect the appurtenances and the scaffolding of theology; but remember that the appurtenances are not the thing itself, and the scaffolding is not the building. This will preserve you both from the pride of criticism, that has frozen up many a good mind; and from uncritical looseness and extravagance.

P. S. Verbal instruction is the most proper, in language, and the first elements of criticism. I do not, therefore, perplex you yet with any list of books. Richard Simon is the father of the criticism both of the Old and New Testament in modern times; but it is too soon for you, as yet, to read him. A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament, such as it ought to be, has not yet appeared.* Use Walton's Prolegomena,t and Wahner's “Antiquitates Hebræorum;"'I both rich and useful books for beginners : but better still, attend to what your instructers will deliver to you on both collections of the sacred books. They will have used whatever was worth using, that is to be found in the catalogues ; and the rudiments of every science are best learned by oral communication and practice.

* We have it now in Eichhorn's valuable Introduction to the Old Testament.

† Briani Waltoni Apparat. Biblic. 1673, folio. Dathe's Edit. Leip. 1777-8.

I Gotting. 1743. 2 vols. 8vo.

[ocr errors]



Virtue is said to be the principle of popular governments. It may, and unquestionably does exist, in a greater or less degree, in every form and state of society; but, in a political view, there is not that demand for it in most other countries, which there is in this. It is not necessary to the action or support of a despotic government. The strong arm of absolute authority requires, on the part of the subjects, the cooperation of no higher principles, than servile fear and passive obedience. These degrading and unresisting qualities produce that abject submission of the people to the uncontrolled will of a master, in which despotism consists.

Popular governments, on the contrary, cannot flourish, or even exist long, without virtue. It is their sustenance, their life-blood. In a community, like ours, every thing depends on the tone of public morals. The reason is obvious,--the people are the sovereign; their will, their passions, their caprices direct the movements of the system, and determine its condition. The more the people, therefore, are accustomed to regulate their minds, to repress all selfish and corrupting propensities, to listen to the voice of conscience, to pay a due regard to merit in the distribution of offices, to love their country, to respect the laws, to che. rish the interests of learning and religion, to delight in and labour to promote the order and welfare of the community; the more they have, in short, the dispositions and habits, which reason and our religion enjoin; the more benign and salutary the operation of our political institutions will evidently be, and the greater their stability.

The first and great requisite, then, in the citizens of a free state, is that they be virtuous. And to describe all our duties in this relation, would be to write a complete treatise of ethics. Whatever improves one's character as a man, renders him also a better citizen. Whatever elevates a freeman in the scale of moral worth, contributes to the health and vigour and preservation of his government;-a government, which, in its turn, exerts a favourable influence upon the character of the people, in proportion as it is administered agreeably to its genius and spirit. For if by a reaction of the effect upon the cause, the tendency of arbitrary power is, as all history testifies, to corrupt its subjects; the reign of law and justice, which is the perfection of civil liberty, acts, on the contrary, not less in unison with the best principles of human nature,—with our moral sentiments, with reason and conscience. It is to the soul of man, its faculties and affections, what congeniality of soil and climate is to vegetable nature. In this happy disposition of things, virtue finds those genial influences, which are most propitious to its life and growth.

What can be more demonstrative of the superiority of a free, over an arbitrary government ? In the latter system (if system it may be called) virtue has no place allotted to it; in the former it is the one thing needful, the great animating and sustaining principle. It would be absurd to tell the slaves of despotism, that patriotism and public spirit, or even the private and personal virtues, are necessary to the maintenance of their master's authority. He wants no such aid. The noble and generous principles of our nature are regarded by him with an eye of jealousy; they are hostile, and therefore odious, to the tyrant; his strength is the corruption and degradation of his subjects. A republic, on the contrary, from its very frame and texture, supposes the existence of virtue in the people. It is its proper and natural element. There must be some virtue, or liberty soon ceases to breathe. And the more sparingly vice is permitted to mingle its impurities, the fewer and milder will be the disorders incident to the body politic.

While a free people enjoys the exclusive privilege, if I may so speak, of public virtue; every virtue of every individual has some connexion with the good of the state. Temperance is favourable to that state of mind and body, which is necessary to the knowledge and discharge of his various duties. Industry, frugality and economy place him in circumstances to act with independence in bestowing his suffrages. Patience enables, and prudence disposes him, to bear quietly and cheerfully those public burthens, which are unavoidable under every form of government; while fortitude, courage, and patriotism' qualify and impel him, to defend the laws, the rights, and the liberties of his country.

The importance of virtue in a republic will be quite as apparent, if we advert to the source of human actions and habits, the dispositions and affections of the heart. A good man regulates his conduct by the laws of his Creator; he acts from a sense of duty, from a regard to reason and conscience, from a love to God and his fellow creatures. If other considerations have their influence, they hold a place entirely subordinate, and are suffered to act only as auxiliaries. Now, what may we expect, in relation to the public, from a man, who is thus governed and actuated? We may expect, in the first place, that, being superiour

« 上一頁繼續 »