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THE OBJECT OF THEOLOGY.
This Oration, and the two others next in order and connected with it in subject,
were delivered by Arminius as introductory discourses to his Divinity Lectures, when he first occupied the Professor's Chair in the University of Leyden, at the close of the year 1603. They were then received with tokens of the highest approbation ; and, from the first day of their publication, they have been greatly admired by the learned for the taste and elegance displayed in their composition, and by divines for the spirit of evangelical piety which is apparent in every sentence. In the construction of all the three orations the author has aimed at one object-to prove to his students, that the noble science of Theology is superior to all other objects of human research, and in every respect worthy of their deepest attention.
To Almighty God alone belong the inherent and absolute right, will, and power of determining concerning us : Since therefore it has pleased him to call me, his unworthy servant, from the ecclesiastical functions which I have for some years discharged in the Church of his Son in the populous city of Amsterdam, and to give me the appointment of the Theological Professorship in this most celebrated University,—I accounted it my duty, not to manifest too much reluctance to this vocation, although I was well acquainted with my incapacity for such an office, which with the greatest willingness and sincerity I then confessed and must still acknowledge. Indeed the consciousness of my own insufficiency operated as a persuasive to me not to listen to this vocation ;-of which fact I can cite as a witness that God who is both the Inspector and the Judge of my conscience. Of this consciousness of my own insufficiency, several persons of great probity and learning are also witnesses ; for they were the cause of my engaging in this office, provided it were offered to me in a legitimate order and manner. But as they suggested, and as experience itself had frequently taught me, that it is a dangerous thing to adhere to one's own judgment with pertinacity, and to pay too much regard to the opinion which we entertain of ourselves, because almost all of us have little discernment in Vol. I.
those matters which concern ourselves,-) suffered myself to be induced by the authority of their judgment to enter upon this difficult and burdensome province, which may God enable me to commence with tokens of his Divine approbation and under his propitious auspices ! .
Although I am beyond measure cast down and almost shudder with fear, solely at the anticipation of this office and its duties, yet I can scarcely indulge in a doubt of Divine approval and support when my mind attentively considers, what are the causes on account of which this vocation was appointed, the manner in which it is committed to execution, and the means and plans by which it is brought to a conclusion. From all these considerations, I feel a persuasion that it has been Divinely instituted and brought to perfection.
For this cause I entertain an assured hope of the perpetual presence of Divine assistance; and, with due humility of mind, I venture in God's holy name to take this charge upon me and to enter upon its duties. I most earnestly beseech all and each of you,—and if the benevolence which to the present time you have expressed towards me by many and most signal tokens will allow such a liberty, I implore,—nay, (so pressing is my present necessity !) I solemnly conjure you, to unite with me in ardent wishes and fervent intercessions before God, the Father of lights, that, ready as I am out of pure affection to contribute to your profit, he may be pleased graciously to supply his servant with the gifts which are necessary to the proper discharge of these functions, and to bestow upon me his benevolent favour, guidance and protection through the whole course of this vocation.
But it appears to me, that I shall be acting to some good purpose, if, at the commencement of my office, I offer some general remarks on SACRED THEology by way of preface, and enter into an explanation of its extent, dignity, and excellence.
This discourse will serve yet more zealously to incite the minds of students, who profess themselves dedicated to the service of this Divine wisdom, fearlessly to proceed in the career upon which they have entered, diligently to urge on their progress, and to keep up an unceasing contest till they arrive at its termination. Thus may they hereafter become the instruments of God's salvation in the Church of his Saints, qualified and fitted for the sanctification of his divine name, and formed for the edifying of the body of Christ' in the Spirit. When I have effected this design, I shall think, with
Socrates, that in such an entrance on my duties I have discharged no inconsiderable part of them to some good effect. For that wisest of the Gentiles was accustomed to say, that he had properly accomplished his duty of teaching, when he had once communicated an impulse to the minds of his hearers and had inspired them with an ardent desire of learning. Nor did he make this remark without reason: For, to a willing mani nothing is difficult, especially when God has promised the clearest revelation of his secrets to those who shall meditate in his law day and night.' (Psalm i, 2.) In such a manner does this promise of God act, that, on those matters which far surpass the capacity of the human mind, we may adopt the expression of Isocrates, “ If thou be desirous of receiving instruction, thou shalt learn many things.”
This explanation will be of no small service to myself. For in the very earnest recommendation of this study which I give to others, I prescribe to myself a law and rule by which I ought to walk in its profession; and an additional necessity is thus imposed on me of conducting myself in my new office with holiness and modesty, and in all good conscience; that, in case I should afterwards turn aside from the right path, (which may our gracious God prevent !) such a solemn recommendation of this study may be cast in my face as a reproach and an eternal disgrace.
In the discussion of this subject I do not think it necessary to utter any protestation before the learned professors of jurisprudence, the most experienced and skilful doctors of medicine, the very acute professors of philosophy, and those high literary characters who have an intimate acquaintance with languages : Before such learned persons I have no need to enter into any protestation, for the purpose of removing from myself a suspicion of wishing to bring into neglect or contempt that particular study which each of them cultivates. For to every kind of study in the most noble theatre of the sciences, I assign, as it becomes me, its due place, and that an honourable one; and each being content with its subordinate station, all of them with the greatest willingness concede the president's throne to THAT SCIENCE OF WHICH I AM NOW TREATING.
I shall adopt that plain and simple species of oratory which, according to Euripides, belongs peculiarly to truth. I am not ignorant that some resemblance and relation ought to exist between an action, and the subjects that are discussed in it; and therefore that a certain divine method of speech is required when
we attempt to speak on Divine things according to their dignity. But I choose plainness and simplicity, because Theology needs no ornament, but is content to be taught, and because it is out of my power to make an effort towards acquiring a style that may be in any degree worthy of such a subject.
In beginning to shew the dignity and excellence of sacred Theology, I shall briefly confine it within four titles. In imitation of the method which obtains in human sciences, that are estimated according to the excellence of their OBJECT, their AUTHOR, and their END, and of the IMPORTANCE of the reasons by which each of them is supported,-I shall follow the same plan, speaking, First, of THE OBJECT of Theology, then of its AUTHOR, afterwards of ITS END, and lastly, of ITS CERTAINTY.
I pray God, that the grace of his Holy Spirit may be present with me while I am speaking; and that he would be pleased to direct my mind, mouth and tongue, in such a manner as to enable me to advance those truths which are holy, worthy of our God, and salutary to you his creatures, to the glory of his name and for the edification of his Church.
I intreat you also, my most illustrious and polite hearers, kindly to grant me your attention for a short time, while I endeavour to explain matters of the greatest importance ; and while your observation is directed to the subject in which I shall exercise myself, you will have the goodness to regard it, rather than any presumed skill in my manner of treating it.
The nature of this great subject requires us, at this hour especially, to direct our attention, in the first instance, to the OBJECT of Theology. For it is so deeply fixed in the sciences, and so accommodated to their nature, that they acquire from it their application. · But God is himself the OBJECT of Theology. The very term indicates as much: for THEOLOGY signifies a Discourse or reasoning concerning God. This is likewise indicated by the definition which the Apostle gives of this science, when he describes it as the truth which is after godliness.' (Titus i, 1.) The Greek word here used for godliness, is sugebaue signifying a worship due to God alone, which the Apostle shews in a manner of greater clearness, when he calls this piety by the more exact term Geogeße.. * All other sciences have their objects, noble indeed, and worthy to engage the notice of the human mind, and in the contemplation of which much time, leisure and diligence may be profitably occupied. In gencral Metaphysics, the object of study is, “ being in
* 1 Tim. ii. 10, 'professing to render religious adora tion to God.'
uman body, in gence has a reference, Economics, to pairs."
reference to its being;" Particular Metaphysics have for : their objects “ intelligences and minds separated and removed from mortal contagion.”—Physics are applied to “ bodies, as having the principle of motion in themselves.”—The Mathematics have “relation to quantities.”—Medicine exercises itself with the human body, in relation to its capacity of health and soundness.”—Jurisprudence has a reference to “ justice and human society.”—Ethics, to “ the virtues ;"_Economics, to “ the government of a family ;"_and Politics, to “ state-affairs.” But all these sciences are appointed in subordination to God; from him also they derive their origin. They are dependent on him alone; and, in return, they move back again, and unto him is their natural re-action. This science is the only one which occupies itself about the Being of beings and the Cause of causes, the principle of nature, and that of grace existing in nature, and by which nature is assisted and surrounded. This object therefore is the most worthy and dignified of all, and full of adorable majesty. It far excels all the rest; because it is not lawful for any one, however well and accurately he may be instructed in the knowledge of all the sciences, to glory in the least on this account; and because every one that has obtained a knowledge of this science only, may on solid grounds and in reality glory in it. For God himself has forbidden the former species of boasting, while he commands the latter. His words by the Prophet Jeremiah, are, · Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me.' (ix, 23, 24.) .
But let us consider the conditions that are generally employed to commend the object of any science. That OBJECT is most excellent (1) which is in itself the best and the greatest, and immutable ; (2) which in relation to the mind is most lucid and clear, and most easily proposed and unfolded to the view of the mental powers ; and (3) which is likewise able, by its action on the mind, completely to fill it and to satisfy its infinite desires. These three conditions are in the highest degree discovered in God, and in him alone, who is the subject of Theological study.
1. He is the Best Being; he is the first and chief good, and goodness itself; he alone is good, as good as goodness itself; as ready to communicate, as it is possible for him to be communicated; his liberality is only equalled by the boundless treasures which he possesses, both of which are infinite