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THE STANDARD, BY WHICH THIS AND ALL OTHER QUESTIONS IN THEOLOGY AND MORALS ARE TO BE ULTIMATELY DECIDED.
ALL rules set up for the trying of such questions may be reduced to two.
One is, the reasoning faculty of man, deducing conclusions, principles, rules, arguments and mo tives, from the light of nature; or the will, the justice, wisdom, power and goodness of God, as displayed in his works of Creation and Providence. This is denominated the religion of nature, natural theology, moral philosophy, &c.
The other is the volume of revelation. In this God has, by express and clear declarations, exhibited to our view, what we are to believe concerning bim, and what duty he requires at our hands.
Now between these two standards, when rightly applied, there never can be any opposition. For no just inference from the works and Providence of God, will ever be found to be inharmonious, with the conclusions of revelation.-But through the weakness of the human understanding, and perverseness of the heart, the reasoning faculty of man may lead him into conclusions utterly incompatible with the doctrines of revelation. In this case, as the latter is unspeakably more clear and intelligible, and contains many important truths, which are not deducible from the works of nature, it must be resorted to as the supreme Rule, and all the conflicting decisions of the other, however just they may seem, must give way to it.
If the understanding, wisdom and goodness of God be infinite, there can be no appeal from his plain and positive declaration. He can neither deceive, be deceived, or mistaken. “He is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” In the nature of things, the revelation he has given us, must be the supreme tribunal, before which every moral question must be decided.
It is the rule, by which all, who possess it, must be tried at the last day. This authority the Holy Scriptures now claim to themselves.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God ani is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work, 2 Tim. iii, 16. “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." Eph. ii, 20.
The first of these standards is supreme to all nations and individuals destitute of revelation. But the moment revelation is put into their hands, the light of nature becomes subordinate or is absorbed in it. And all its decisions must be tested by it. The most celebrated and perfect systems of theology and morals, adopted by ancient wise men, could not stand this test. Hence it is said, "God hath made foolish the wisdom of this world.”
In regard to revelation, there are but two points, in respect to which the reason of man is called to exercise itself. The first is, to consider the proofs, by which its claim to be from God, is supported. The only remaining question is, what is the meaning of the different words, sentences, and phrases, in which it is delivered. And in deciding this point, the great query is, what sense of any particular word, sentence or phrase, is to be taken as the true sense. Here is a wide field opened for the wild fancy, distempered taste, and unruly passions of men, to rove abroad in. One may insist, that the inspired writers were all philosophers, and to come at the meaning of their writings, we must with metaphysical acuteness, descend far below the surface. If we would have the true, it must be some far fetched, deep and exquisite, sense! Would men of such extraordinary powers speak in the language of the vulgar, and in a manner level to the capacity of children,-in knowledge and learning, This, to be sure, has not been the glory of philosophers, though it may be of him, who came to die for the vulgar. And as he died for them, it would not be surprising slould he speak in a language adapted to their capacities and acquirements, when endeavoring to communicate to them the words of eternal life. Another, like some ancient commentators, may fancy the wbole Bible to be an allegory. And having obtained the grand clue to the riddle, every word and sentence must be squared by this. Another looks for a figure or a mystery in every thing, and wanders off, in an endless aphelion from common sense. Another, avows, that there are no figures in the Bible; every thing is to be taken in a literal sense; and becomes as great and foolish a wanderer, though in an opposite direction.
But the only true answer to the question, is this. The plain, most natural, and obvious sense, which considering the nature of language, and the scope of the writer, would most readily offer itself to the mind of a sober, judicious and upright inquirer after truth, is the true sense.
God has spoken to men in their own language. If he had spoken in a dialect perfectly superior and unknown to men, it would have been no revelation at all. It is only in a language that they understand, and in writings subject to the same general rules of interpretation, as other compositions in that language, a revelation can be made. If an entire new
set of rules or principles of interpretation are to be adopted in explaining the terms and phrases in which a revelation is conceived, it can be no revelation to us, till by another revelation we are told what these are. If then it be adınitted that the Bible is a revelation of the will of God to men, it must also be admitted, that we are to explain the grammatical sense and real meaning of it, as we do that of any other book written in the same dialect; and the most natural, easy, and obvious sense, considering the nature of human language and the scope of the writer, must be the true. It is by the Scriptures, explained by this rule, the question under consideration is to be decided. If the justice of this rule of interpretation be not adınitted, then divine revelation must be given up, as too uncertain, vague and equivocal, to determine any thing. It is well known that by labored criticisms, strained interpretations, and far fetched senses, the most opposite and absurd systems may be supported by the Scriptures.
But the justice of the above rule of interpretation is capable of the most convincing moral deinonstration.
This point is bandled in a very able and judicious manner, by a writer in the Panoplist, to which I would refer the reader, as a piece, wbich ought al. ways to lie upon the same shelf with his Bible, and to be often reviewed. *
When we assert, that the Scriptures, interpreted agreeably to this grand rule, are the supreme standard to which reason itself is to bow, our meaning is this:-Not, that there is any thing in religion or in the doctrines and principles of the Holy Scriptures, that is in itself absurd, or contrary to the truth and fitness of things, or to the conclusions of the Infinito Reason.-Not, that we are prohibited employing the faculty of reason in studying them, and searching after the great doctrines, duties and discoveries, which they contain. We are certainly no farther religious, than our belief and practice are reasonable. The religion of revelation is, in all its parts, a reasonable belief, "a reasonable service.”
* Pan. Nos. 5 and 6, for 1816.
Our idea is this, that no researches or conclusions of reason, however they may be dignified by the name of philosophy, and struck out by men of the greatest celebrity, for genius and learning; and however seemingly compact and demonstrably just the various intermediate steps of the argument may be; and however clearly and irrefutably they seem to follow from their premises; are to be admitted as true, if they contradict the obvious meaning of Scripture. Though the fallacy of the reasoning cannot be discovered by the most acute buman investi. gation, yet it must be allowed, there is a fallacy somewhere in it, and it must be rejected as falsehood. If the rule be not thus extended, if one single deduction of reason be allowed to stand as true, in opposition to the Scriptures, then human reason is exalted, and the word of God is put down, as the supreme standard or test of truth.
To add weight to our views in regard to this point, permit us to avail ourselves of the statement of Mr. Faber, whose learning and ingenuity are well known, by his writings in the christian world.
“Admit no conclusion in any system,” says he, "to be valid, unless the conclusion itself, as well as the thesis from which it is deduced, be sufficiently set forth in Holy Scripture. We must prove all things by Scripture and hold fast that which is good; regardless, of the even opposite conclusions, which might seem by a train of abstract reasonings to be legitimately deduced from our several articles of belief. By adopting such a plan we may forfeit the honor and glory of a systematic concinnity; but if men continue to dispute and draw out fine trains of metaphysical reasonings, even to the very end of the world, it requires not the gift of prophecy, to foretel that they