Page images

have been well acquainted with the ways and maxims of the apostles on the subject of disseminating the word of God? “ I do not see" (says Archbishop Tillotson) 66 what considerable objections can be made against the people's reading of the Scriptures, which would not have held as well against the writing and publishing of them at first in a language understood by the people; as the Old Testament was by the Jews, and the Epistles of the Apostles by the churches to whom they were written, and the Gospels both by Jews and Greeks. Were there no difficulties and obscurities then in the Scriptures, capable of being wrested by the unstable and unlearned ? were not people then liable to error, and was there no danger of heresy in those times? And yet these are their great objections against putting the Scriptures into the hands of the people. Which is just like their arguing against give ing the cup to the laity from the inconveniency of their beards, lest some of the consecrated wine should be spilt upon them : as if errors and beards were inconveniences lately sprung up in the world, and which mankind were not liable to in the first'ages of Christianity. But if there were the same dangers and inconveniences in all ages, this reason makes against the publishing of the Scriptures to the people at first, as much as against permitting them the use of them now. And in truth all these objections are against the Scripture itself: and that which the Church of Rome would find fault with, if they durst, is, that there should be any such book in the world, and that it should be in any body's hands, learned or unlearned ; for if it be dangerous to any, none are so capable of doing mischief with it as men of wit and learning. So that at the bottom, if they would speak out, the quarrel is against the Scriptures themselves.” (Sermon on Matt. xxiii. 13.)

In the days of the Archbishop this controversy was maintained against the Church of Rome alone. Alas! that the existence of a Bible Society should be the occasion of disclosing principles so very nearly allied, within the bosom of a Protestant establishment! But we have, on the other hand, this great consolation, that the Society possesses zealous and active friends among the members of that communion *.

[ocr errors]

* E. G. The Rev. Leander Van Ess, Catholic Professor of Divinity at the University of Marburg, &c.


and yet

In the opening of the sixth section our author otserves, that “ Enthusiasm is a hardy plant, the growth of every age and climate. Every form of religion, Pagan, Mahometan, and Christian, has had its enthusiasts." This probably is true, at least to a very great extent. But it is one of those positions, in whieh he is not quite consistent with himself. For surely it ought to have taught him, that its origin is to be traced in causes very different from the circulation of the Bible. He goes on, however, to delineate the principles of certain enthusiasts, which (he alleges) have found “their way into the basom of the Established Church, and even into many of its pulpits. “ They rely" (he says) “on sapernatural agency alone, for understanding scriptural truths. In their judgment, reason is a blind guide, and learning instead of smoothing the way, perplexes and obstructs the progress of the serious christian." This is a representation so unfair and unfounded, that I think it sufficient to say, I know none of the members of the Establishment, who hold such sentiments;

I believe I know most of those to whom Mr. O'C, principally alludes. It is a matter of fact :- Iet every one decide it honestly according to his own experience.

But what is the opinion contrastedwith these im. puted tenets? “ That reason, improved reason-is the only interpreter of the sacred writings.” If by improved” be nreant inclusively of those improvements which are produced by the operations of the Holy Spirit, who renews the mind “in knowledge *,as well as “ in righteousness and true holiness," - then here we are agreed. But I fear that such is not his meaning ; for he would not have expressed it in equivocal terms. And I shrink not from declaring, on apostolic authority, that no improvements, which fall short of spiritual discernment, are adequate to the understanding of spiritual things. It is but justice, however, to observe, that "reliance on the divine aid” is mentioned in this section : —and I ask, is this blessing limited, by him who is “ respecter of persons ?" I know it will not be maintained

See Eph.iv. 24, and Col. üi: 10.


that it is :-and if not, then surely it must be admitted to be sufficiently efficacious, to enable a peasant to derive saving and practical wisdom from the holy Seriptures ; and to preserve him from all the apprehended dangers. But if reason, improved by merely human cultivation, be still insisted on as “the only interpreter of the sacred writings," it remains to be ascertained what degree of improvement is requisite. It cannot be the philosophy of a Newton, or the skill of a Sir William Jones in literature and languages. Then how far may we safely descend in the scale of learning ? -It is impossible to fix the ultimatum at any given quantity; or to define its limits by any distinctions of birth, opulence, or station. Can we require even a moderate acquaintance with the

original languages of the Bible, as indispensable? Then what a multitude of Gentlemen must be excluded! though Mr. O’C. himself says, the Bible is “ too much neglected by Protestant gentlemen.” (p. 30.) Besides, it is not in poetry alone, that the poetical adage will apply, “ A little learning is a dangerous thing." In my apprehension the dangers, to which (generally speaking) even the graduates of our universities are exposed, are greater than the dangers of a peasant; and the issue depends upon the di sitions, with which either approaches the holy Scrip-. tures, much more than the attaininents. How easily may self-conceit induce a fancied scholar to flatter himself that he is improving the translation, when perhaps he is wresting a passage to his own destruction? How readily may the mind of an unstable student be shaken by a superficial view of various readings ? This is a topic which Mr. O'C. has omitted in his enumeration of obscurities; yet it is one which is almost exclusively presented to the learned. I know that it does not produce any uncertainty in one essential article of faith or practice ; neither do all the difficulties which occur to the illiterate. But the question is, what will be its aspect to a sceptical mind?. Such a one may be ready to say, I must undergo the labours of a Kennicot, before I can arrive at an adequate knowledge of the Bible, if haply I may then be satisfied of its real meaning. I will, therefore, either neglect, or disbelieve it altogether; and I find in Mr. O'C's pamphlet a full apology for my indolence, if not for my infidelity. These are some of the innumerable and invincible difficulties in attempting to


draw a line of competence upon our author's principles; and we must eventually be driven back to an infallible judge; for there is no such middle way as he proposes to disclose.

In this section a sort of parallel is attempted, between the circulation of the holy Scriptures, and the object of dispersing, among the peasantry of Ireland, cheap editions of books of Law, Philosophy, and Political Economy,

“ without note or comment.” But does he seriously think, that there is any analogy between the capacity of a peasant to learn from the Bible the way to Heaven through Christ, in the paths of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, and his qualifications for the study of Coke, Littleton, Newton, Smith, &c. ? These are totally beyond their reach, unless from an early period of life they abandon their station and devote themselves to study. Not so the Bible:

-whether we reason from the nature of the thing, or from experience. Yet Mr. O'C. would persuade us that what he says of these books being neglected,

or read to some useless or pernicious purpose, lies with infinitely greater force to the Bible; for, as it is the best of all books, its perversion is proportionably dangerous.” And again, “ The Bible being the great receptacle of divine knowledge, is difficult in proportion to its importance.” Enough I trust has been already said about the dangers of perversion ; but, in the last sentence a new discovery is brought forward, which demands our attention. Since importance, then, is the measure of difficulty, it would follow that the most important parts of the Bible must be the most difficult. But the very reverse of this is true :--the most important parts are the plainest : As, “ God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John iii. 16.) 6 God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John iv. 24.) “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. xxii. 37-39.) 66 There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” (Rom. viii. 1.) man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of hiş.” (9.)

66 If any.

6. The grace

“ Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.) of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world ; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus ii. 11--14.) On the contrary, the most obscure parts, which are prophecies not yet fulfilled, are least of all necessary to be understood, before fulfilment. It is this that is a strictly. analogous to the general dispensations of Providence, and not Mr. O'C's. opposite statement.

The things which are necessary, for the health and sustenance of all men, are comparatively of easy attainment; but what are called luxuries and superfluities require distant voyages, perils, and expense. Iron, water, light, air-all testify against him; and the result of the fullest analogical induction would be, that the most important blessings are so constituted and dispensed, as to excite to action and industry, and yet to be accessible to all

. With respect to the views of the advocates for Bible Societies there is no point in the question, “Why should it be presumed that the knowledge of things divine must be of easy attainment ?” They are far from denying the necessity of means, of the application of time and mental exertion. But in asking this question our author strongly exposes his own inconsistency; for it is he that asserts, in the end of the 13th section, that the knowledge of divine things either is, or may be, of easy attainment." An educated man,” &c.

In the section before us, however, he shews that the obscurity of the Bible answers many good purposes.” But from these benefits he totally excludes, without reason, the lower orders of society:-whereas, besides participating in those which he has enumerated, they may also learn “ humility *” from their incapacity to understand those obscure passages, for the elucidation of which human learning is valuable and necessary, Nay, they may be taught to look up to their pastors for exposition ;

* See a Quotation in Dealtry's Review, &c. p. 128.

« PreviousContinue »