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Were these sentiments generally admitted, and practically carried to their full extent, there would indeed be no longer occasion for the study of controversial Divinity. St. Paul's admonition to “hold - fast the faithful word,” for the purpose of “exhorting and convincing gainsayers,” might be regarded as an obsolete precept, superseded by later discoveries. Error and Truth might go hand in hand. Credulity and Incredulity might concur in erecting a motley fabric, of divers proportions and of fantastic forms, on the ruins of the solid and venerable edifice of Christian unanimity.
Every argument, however, that can be urged, to shew the necessity of “ contend
ing for the faith,” and endeavouring to “ convince the gainsayers,” proceeds on the supposition that there is some acknowledged foundation on which the matter in discussion rests. It also presupposes some acknowledged rules or maxims, by which the discussion is to be regulated. Otherwise, instead of being able to adapt to our case the Apostle's expressions, “ So run I,
“ not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as - one that beateth the air?;" we may at last be found among the number of those whom the same Apostle describes as
learning, but never able to come to the “ knowledge of the truth 8.”
Controversy, therefore, as it respects professed Christian believers, is but another term for maintaining what, on either side, is supposed to be the true intent and meaning of the Sacred Word. The right Interpretation of Scripture is the direct object of its research. The authenticity, authority, and truth, of that Word, are assumed as axioms or postulates, on which the whole inquiry is founded. It is presumed also, that truth, and truth only, can issue from this Divine source of knowledge ; for, as contrary positions in human science cannot be received as true, so is it impossible that contrary doctrines in theology should have any real foundation in Holy Writ. With infidels, indeed, these postulates are not to be assumed, without
fi Cor. ix. 26.
6 2 Tim. iii. 7.
proof or evidence deduced from some other principles admitted both by the unbeliever and the Christian. But among professed believers a mutual agreement on these points is necessarily implied, and any departure from them in the course of argument may justly be deemed inadmissible:-a rule, however, not unfrequently violated in the wantonness of polemical disputation.
It is evident, then, that, for the preservation of Christian truth and Christian unity, there must be a general recognition of some fixed principles of Scripture-Interpretation ; without which, it is impossible that we should all speak the same "thing !,” that our Jerusalem should be " as a city that is at unity in itself'," or that, however widely the Scriptures be diffused, any security can be had against their perversion. Men may be conversant with the Word of life, but read it neither with the spirit nor with the understanding requisite to a right apprehension of its contents.
h 1.Cor. i. 10.
i Psal. cxxii. 3. '
Nor does this view of the subject derogate, in any respect, from the suffi. ciency of the Sacred Writings for the
purpose they were intended to effect. For though it be most true, that they « able to make us wise unto salvation yet that implies not that the effect will be produced without due care and diligence on the part of those who receive them. The Scriptures themselves intimate the contrary, in their admonitions that we beware of “ corrupting the word of God','' of being led away by
“ false teachers.” of “ handling the word of God deceitful
ly "," and of being “ wise in our own « conceits.” To prevent these evils, the providence of God hath ordained, that in this, as in other concerns, the strong should assist the weak, and they who have abundance should minister to such as are in need. Perhaps no man was ever entirely self-instructed in his knowledge of the Bible: nor do we read of any in
k 2 Tim. iii. 15.
1 2 Cor. ii. 17.
stances of conversion to Christianity (except in cases purely miraculous) without the instrumentality of human teaching. The Word has never been, either under the Jewish or the Christian dispensation, unaccompanied with the ordinance of a ministry to promulgate its truth. Nevertheless, the Word itself contains all that is necessary to salvation. Provision only is to be made, that neither the ignorant nor the unstable should « wrest it to their « destruction.” For we may affirm, on the authority of an Apostle, that to such a purpose, not only “ some things hard to « be understood p'' in St. Paul's writings, but also “ the other Scriptures” are liable to be perverted.
The proficient in ecclesiastical history will require no detail of evidence to convince him that the Scriptures have thus oftentimes been forced from their direct and proper channel, to yield supplies to error. To a perverse endeavour thus to obtain a colour of sacred authority for its
P 2 Pet. iii. 17.