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opinions, religious error may indeed be chiefly ascribed. For, does not every sect or denomination of Christians maintain, that it has the sanction of Scripture for its own Creed? And how could this be, if, among so many contending parties, some, at least, did not ground their interpretation of it upon erroneous principles? The fact speaks for itself, and shews that whatever some may dream of the facility of extracting from the Scriptures a correct and coherent system of Divine truth, this is hardly to be effected without such qualifications and attainments as we shall in vain look for among a very considerable portion of mankind.
It is a duty, then, which we owe to that God who caused these Scriptures to be “ written for our learning ?," that we use our best faculties, and resort to the best helps that can be obtained, for security against their misinterpretation. More especially is this incumbent upon them who are called to the Ministerial Office.
9 Rom. xv, 4.
An awful responsibility lies upon them, to “ hold fast the faithful word as they have “ been taught, that they may be able, by “ sound doctrine, both to exhort and to “ convince the gainsayers.” And since the effectual discharge of this duty demands a competent acquaintance, not only with the ordinary rules of criticism, the original languages of the Sacred Writings, and the proofs of their Divine authority, but also with the leading errors which have from time to time prevailed, and the sources from which they have sprung; it will immediately be perceived how wide a field of inquiry presents itself to the sincere and diligent investigator of Scripture Truth.
It may, therefore, be neither unseasonable with respect to the present state of religious opinions, nor unsuitable to the design of the institution which calls forth these annual labours in the cause of truth, if an attempt be made to establish some general rules and principles of ScriptureInterpretation, and to shew the necessity of adhering to them for the preservation of truth, and the refutation of error.
“ confirm and establish the Christian faith, " and to confute heretics and schismatics,” are among the declared
which the pious Founder of this Lecture had in view; purposes, to which the proposed investigation cannot be deemed irrelevant. And if any one period more than another may
render a discussion of this kind necessary, does it not seem to be when there prevails, as in the present moment, an extraordinary zeal for the dissemination of the Scriptures; a zeal, which, however pure and laudable in itself, seems to call for a correspondent care to guard against' the perversion to which even that best gift of God is liable ?
There would, however, be much difficulty to encounter in the course of such an inquiry, were it necessary to exhibit in detail the vast mass of matter which the subject offers to our contemplation. The field of controversy is of wide extent, and is so crowded with an intermixture of objects not readily distinguishable from each other, that a full developement of what it comprises would hardly be attainable,
within the compass prescribed to the present undertaking. But to attempt this, is neither necessary, nor expedient. For, though Error is multiform, Truth is, for the most part, simple and undivided : and the straight line being once ascertained, every deviation from it will be readily discerned. Clear and distinct conceptions of the main points which constitute the system of our Faith, are, however, indispensable; because, these being accurately formed, every subordinate or collateral topic will the more easily be arranged in its proper place; and the difficulty will be much diminished, of shewing its agreement or disagreement with those essential parts of the system to which it appears to belong.
That truths thus essential to the system are to be collected from the Sacred Writings; and that, when established, they form the proper test of all religious opinions of minor consideration; are positions virtually recognized in every Creed or Confession of Faith introduced into the Christian Church, To regard such formularies as unwarrantable impositions on Christian li
berty, is to overlook their obvious utility, if not necessity, towards the preservation of sound doctrine, or of any real unanimity in articles of Faith. And though a liberty must be allowed of examining whether any such Creed, compiled by human authority, declares the genuine truths of Holy Writ; yet if, upon a fair examination, it be found to preserve the essentials of the Faith entire and uncorrupted, no difference of opinion on lesser matters will warrant the violation of Christian unity. Were this duly regarded, it might tend to diminish considerably the number of controversial points : many of which would probably be dismissed as unworthy of serious contention ; while others, of greater magnitude and importance, would become more prominent to observation, and, being disencumbered of extraneous matter, would be more easily defended against their assailants.
It is important then to ascertain in what these essentials consist. But this cannot be done, without deciding upon certain preliminary questions which affect the whole