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à concise statement of the general arguments. His mode of writing is not distinguished by close inferential reasoning, but his opinions are given in the didactic form. Some of his notions on metaphysical subjects we might be disposed to controvert, but we must confine our remarks to more important topics.
Assuming, from the great differences of sentiment which subsist among professors of Christianity, after the lapse of so many centuries, that the inethods hitherto employed in investigating theological truth are defective; and conceiving that we “ possess infallible means of acquiring certainty respecting every essential article of Christianity," he appears to aim at
deducing, by an adherence to certain opinions generally ad· mitted by mankind at large, a chain of principles, which when
applied, in connection with a given series of rules, to the interpretation of scripture, will lead to an unerring result. That the author's intention is good we will not dispute; and that, if prosecuted by an intellect of high order, chastened by the humility which vital religion inspires, it might lead to some beneficial result, we have no doubt. Imperfections would cera tainly attach to it, as to every product of merely human faculties; but it would be distinguished by a simplicity and uniformity of conclusion, which would put the integrity of the motive beyond suspicion. But if the principles are rather assumed, than fairly deduced from adequate premises ; if the laws instituted for the interpretation of scripture, when applied to different passages, lead to the most heterogeneous conclusions, and if these are mingled with continual aspersions upon those who think otherwise, we cannot but suspect that, whatever may be the professions of such an author, his real design is to attack a class of sentiments which are obnoxious to him, and to find a specious pretence of venting his dislike of those who profess them. They who undertake the arduous task of reforming the sentiments or manners of mankind, should be particalarly cautious to repress their own passions in their reasonings and exhortations; and the propriety of their conduct, in this respect, is the best proof ihey can give of the purity of their intentions.
The first essay, which relates to “ the importance, nature, and use of first principles in religion" may be considered as containing the philosophy of the author's system.' It is introduced by stating that " The gospel is addressed to rational creatures, who acknowledge the fundamental doctrines of morality; and therefore 10 person can be qualified to receive benefit from revelation, until he understand those first principles on which Christianity is built. The knowledge of numeration is not more necessary in order to be taught arithmetic, than an acquaintance with natural religion in order to understand revelation. Christianity illuse
trates the laws and doctrines of morality, as fundamental principles, and enforces them from new motives.' p.4.
Most of our readers will doubtless be of opinion, that there is in this passage much to be explained, and more to be proved, before it can be admitted as the basis of a theory: the author does not, however, condescend to the task of convincing those who may differ from him, but immediately proceeds to apply his doctrine to the education of youth, recommending them to be instructed in the exercise of their moral powers, as « a necessary preparation for enabling them to understand the fundamental doctrines of natural religion, as the first principles of Christianity." We are afterwards informed that
• Those proportions,' (propositions, we suppose) - which are perceived by mere intuition, and admitted without any process of reasoning, are denominated first principles, or self-evident axioms. The principles of natural religion rest on these primary truths, and therefore are agreeable to reason : they are understood and believed without the aid of revelation.' p. 7.
As far as we understand the author, who blunders sadly with his “ first principles" and 6 primary truths,” we are constrained to differ from him ; for we are of opinion that the process of arriving at the truth, which he wishes to establish, is one of the chief sources of the errors which corrupt and disfigure Christianity ;-the plan of adjusting the gospel to the prior persuasions of human reason, instead of establishing the reasonableness of receiving by faith those truths which rest for their demonstration on divine authority. · Reason is justly employed in ascertaining the faet, and the import, of a divine rexelation ; but having done this, it inust gire precedence to that principle, which is to be regarded not less as a grace of the Christian temper, than as an exercise of the human mind.
We are decidedly of opinion, that this fundamental doctrine of Mr. Smith might be demonstratively confuted, by an ap. peal both to the tenor of the gospel and the history of its suc- : cess. The natural religion which he makes the basis, the essential prerequisite, of a belief in Christianity, and which Christianity assumes as axiomatic, includes a knowledge of God, an acknowledgement of his government, and a sense of obligation to obey him; it includes a knowledge of the nature of man, and of a future state of retribution ; and even includes a consciousness of man's guilt in the sight of a righteous God, and a conviction of the insufficiency of reason as a guide to heaven! An acquaintance with all this is as necessary, in order to understand revelation, as a knowledge of numeration is to be taught arithmetic! The history and condition of man are the proper answer to such a doctrine. We must proceed to remark briefly on other passages of the work.
In stating the evidence of the authenticity and truth of the scriptures, Mr. S. has omitted the strong argument for the divine authority of the Jewish scriptures, derived from the appeals which our Lord and his apostles made to them. In the ninth Essay, the chief design of Christianity is stated to be “ the formation of the human character after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness.” That this is one important end of Christianity we strenuously maintain, and regard with extreme disgust every scheme of doctrine which fails to enforce it. But it struck us as extraordinary, that in an essay on this subject, Mr. S. should neglect to state, explicitly, the manner in which the gospel promotes this design. He overlooks the affecting way in which it'exhibits the atone. ment of Christ as the only foundation of hope to the penitent; a hope which at the same time affords peace to the conscience, and wins and purifies the heart. The cause of this omission may be discovered from the subsequent parts of the work, which do not indicate that the author's opinions accord with such a view of the subject. '
In the introduction to the second part, Mr. S, says,
• The sentiments which I deem erroneous, affect the principal articles of Christianity, and have been very generally diffused. While the great and essential doctrines in the Calvinistic system are admitted, I object only to the extraneous sentiments, which have been employed in their illustra. tion. The chief design of this second part is, to distinguish the pure oracles of truth from the fictitious matter with which they have been mixed in the best theological systems. pp. 134, 135.
In conformity with this design, the first and second essay in this part contain rules for interpreting the scriptures, and forming a system of principles from them. The general rules are just, but Mr. S. is often mistaken in the application of them. They are followed by five long essays to explain scripture terms, such as anger, blood, Christ, covenant, death, darkness, faith, fellowship, grace, election, justification, nature, &c. These form the largest part of the volume, and the ex. planation given to most of these expressions differs materially from the sense in which they are usually understood. Mr. S. frequently endeavours to persuade his readers, that there is no material variation between his sentiments, and those ex. pressed in the Confession and Directory of the Church of Scotland; but they who peruse his work with a judicious and critical eye, will be of opinion, that its object is to subvert many of the most important doctrines of that church, as well as those of our own establishment, and of Protestant churches in general ever since the reformation. Professedly unconnected with party, we are not indisposed to approve every serious and well conducted attempt to assimilate the views of Christiaus to the unstrained sense of scripture; but at the same
time we siew it as an important duty, to guard our readers against every effort, whether open or concealed, to explain away its genuine and important truths. That, amongst the friends of serious religion, some have expressed their sentiments in a manner not consistent with metaphysical precision, and have nrisinterpreted some passages of scripture, we readily admit. A work therefore, from an able divine, which should candidly state the minor errors into which some evan. gelical preachers fall, is a desideratum in the religious world, and might be productive of useful effects. But such a treatise would be very different from a performance which, under a hypocritical profession of attachment to orthodox creeds, and the theological language in common use, should attempt to explain away the fair and obvious meaning of the terms adopted in the scriptures, on the most important subjects.
After a careful and impartial perusal of this work, and notwithstanding our approbation of many observations in it, we are strongly inclined to consider it in the less estimable character. This we are compelled to do, by observing that it contains the smallest possible quantity of pious reflection and sentiment, and is distinguished by a contemptuous treatment of contrary opinions, and by frequent sallies of affected wit and sneers of indecent ridicule.
Diffuse and superficial as these Essays are, it is impracticable to advert to them all ; but we shall select a few topics for observation, which will show that our opinion is well-founded.
On the important article of justification, Mr. S.'s ideas appear to be confused and inconsistent. He allows, p. 142, that when Paul and James speak of being justified, “the two apos. tles are prosecuting different subjects, and employ the same terms in different senses.” But in p. 169 he says, the literal sense of what James says, must regulate our explanation of Paul's words ; which is the reverse of what is done by some commentators.". The usual representations of divines on this head he greatly disapproves : “ to make the scanty materials on this subject which the sacred oracles afford us, suit the learned plan of the theologist, he twists and expands them, until very little of their original shape remains.” No subject can be of greater importance to accountable and sinful beings, than that which respects the foundation of their hope, and the ground of their acceptance with God; and to intimate that on this subject, the information in the scriptures is scanty, is to cast an unjust reflection or revelation, and evinces either an inattention to its discoveries, or an indisposition to admit them. Mr. S. adds, “ though it be said, that a man is justified by VOL. IV.
faith, without the deeds of the law, it does not therefore follow that nothing more than faith is necessary; the Saviour was of opinion, that both repentance and forgiveness of those who injure us, are necessary; and James positively affirms, that a nian is not justified by faith only.” Repentance, and forgiveness of injuries, are indeed essential to the formation of the Christian character, and indispensable as the fruits and evidence of true faith ; but to insinuate that they are necessary as the ground and cause of justification is to insinuate that we are justified by works. This is not taught by the Saviour's doctrine, and would be inconsistent with the assertion, “ that the justification of the ungodly is an act of pure grace, on God's part, conferred on account of the Redeemer's atonement," which Mr. S. seems to admit, though many of his explications are quite incompatible with this statement. '
He does not explicitly deny the doctrine of human depra. vity, but he seems to think that sin is contrary to the principles which belong to human nature in its present state, p. 58; and he is much displeased with those divines who assert, that man by nature is destitute of spiritual life. In explaining the term death, he very unnecessarily departs from the subject to vent his acrimony on Calvin. We are not solicitous to defend that writer, but justice requires us to say, that on comparing Mr. Smith's quotations from the Institutions in pages 253 and 255, with the original, we found them to be unfair and mutilated. An expression in one of them," that human nature being all flesh, can bring forth nothing but death,” affords Mr. S. an upportunity to introduce the following wretched attempt at wit: 65. This Aesh becomes a passive animal, that the devil mounts, on which with whip and spur, he gallops away to hell.” (p. 254.) When a Christian divine so far forgets the seriousness and dignity of his character, as to print such vulgar slang as this, sober argument needs not follow him. Even the just severity of criticism is suspended by pity, for the melancholy and contemptible situation to which he debases himself. Res turning to his subject, Mr. S. does not allow the terms “ spiritual death,” in a moral sense, to be applicable to any but 6 abandoned sinners, greatly corrupted with gross immoralities.” p. 260. Through the whole of this essay his statements are confused, and fail to distinguish between the natural capacities and the moral indisposition of the human mind, in its fallen state. But though on this, and many other heads, his opinions are in opposition to the articles of the church of Scota land, Mr. S. in the following passage has hit upon an expédient to reconcile them, which we cannot pass without remark. .. . ..