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ON THE ERRORS AND FAULTS, WITH RESPECT TO THE PRESENT
CONTROVERSY, WHICH ARE ESPECIALLY CHARGEABLE ON THE ORTHODOX, BUT IN PART ALSO ON THEIR OPPONENTS.
Arguing from translations. Inattention to criticism on the original text.
Inaccurate expressions. Erroneous notions and incorrect language on the use of reason in relation to divine subjects.
To understand the scriptures aright, is to understand them in the sense in which they were originally intended. This, all will admit: but, if all were equally happy in the practice of this admission, controversies in religion would be few and trivial. Observation shews that good men, with upright intentions, commit oversights in laying the foundation of their arguments; and impartiality requires that we should point out these faults, and guard ourselves against their influence.
It would seem truly superfluous to express a caution against arguing from any translation of the scriptures as if it were the original. But, it must be confessed that not only unlearned Christians, but some men of respectable education, have fallen into this egregious error. Nor is this fault chargeable on the orthodox alone : their opponents are not perfectly clear from it.* TO mention it, however, must, to every rational man,
, be sufficient. Respectable and excellent as our common version is, considering the time and circumstances under which it was made, no person will contend that it is incapable of important amendment. A temperate, impartial, and careful revision would be an invaluable benefit to the cause of Christianity; and the very laudable exertions which are now made to circulate the bible, render such a revision, at the present time, a matter of still more pressing necessity.
It is a failing of the same kind, when the text of the common Hebrew and Greek editions is adduced as indubitably and in every case the divine original, without any previous consideration or inquiry. Negligence in this respect on the part of the orthodox writer or preacher, has too often afforded a vantage ground to the Unitarian party, of which they have well known how to avail themselves. Happily, however, this evil is on its decline. The extended attention to classical and biblical learning in our age, and the lustre which has, by universal consent, been conferred upon the labours and the names of not a few distinguished masters in the critical art, have brought the study of verbal criticism, not only to be confessed as important, but to be cultivated
* Şee Note [A] at the end of this chapter.
as a favourite and elegant occupation. Indeed, we are the rather in danger of falling into the opposite extreme of a fondness for alteration. But guarding against this predilection, as not less uncritical than it is pernicious, every Christian who is moderately informed on these subjects, knows it as an incontrovertible fact, that the early editions of the original scriptures could not possess a text so well ascertained as those which the superior means and the diligent industry of modern editors have been enabled to attain; that from these early editions all the established Protestant versions were made; and that an accurate and impartial criticism of the published text, as well as of any translation, must lie at the foundation of all satisfactory deduction of theological doctrines from the words of scripture. If we leave it in the power of a disputant to object to the validity of our witnesses, the controversy must become frivolous and endless. Let the unlearned Christian dismiss every apprehension that the word of God is rendered uncertain, or is treated with irreverence, when a strict and judicious criticism is employed upon its verbal medium of conveyance: such criticism will only display that eternal word in a clearer form, and upon a more solid basis of moral demonstration.
If it be a fault not to have been sufficiently severe in the scrutiny of our evidence and the rejection of that which is untenable, it is even a greater injury to any sentiment to convey it in
terms inappropriate, ill-chosen, liable to misconception, or actually inviting and sanctioning misconception. Of this very serious offence many orthodox writers have been guilty, when they have used language which applies to the divine nature of the Redeemer, the circumstances and properties which could attach only to his humanity.* By this practice they have degraded the truth, violated the authority of scripture,† and afforded a most unhappy occasion to the objections and derisions of their opponents. The imagination of a poet, or the ardour of a popular preacher, can form no apology, can claim no indulgence, for transgressing the limits of “ truth and soberness;" even were it not the fact that they, at the same time, were committing the grossest offence against true taste.
But there is a greater fault which deserves no leniency of treatment. In whomsoever it is found,
* It cannot be too much lamented that the excellent Dr. Watts has repeatedly fallen into this fault in his Hymns, some of which wound a thinking and pious mind by language which one could not copy without pain.
+ Some have vindicated this practice by the example of Acts xx. 28, “ the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Perhaps they are not aware that the reading supported by the most decisive evidence is “ church of the Lord.” Such expressions as in 1 Cor. ii. 8, fall under another consideration, namely, that terms descriptive of the Saviour's complex person and mediatorial character may be joined with predicates which express any of his mediatorial aets, whether emanating immediately from the divine, or from the human nature. See Dr. Owen on the Person of Christ, close of chap. xviii.
let us hold it in severe abhorrence. It is the want of just respect to the persons of opponents, and of fair and honest representation of their sentiments and arguments. This delinquency is of no light guilt before man and in the sight of the righteous God. It is at least the offspring of ignorànce and prejudice; and it never fails to inflict deep injury on the cause which has the misfortune to be so defended. “A servant of the Lord ought not to strive" in angry contention, “but to be gentle to
” all, apt to teach, patient of wrong, in meekness instructing the opposers.” * Nothing can justify the misrepresentation of a doctrine, or an argument, or an inference, charged upon those whose opinions we controvert: nor ought we to allow a moment's countenance to calumnies against character. In acknowledging what is excellent and praiseworthy in an adversary, an honourable and Christian mind will feel a pleasure the greater because he is an adversary. The love of truth as to Christian doctrine cannot be genuine and consistent, if it be not conjoined with the practice of truth in our sentiments and feelings towards our fellow-creatures. If, with regard to any religious errors, it be our serious persuasion that they subvert the very foundations of holiness and hope, and that the unhappy persons who embrace them are in a state of reigning sin, and of unpardoned guilt before God; the proper concomitant of this distressing conviction will be a tender care that