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call in question the utility of instituting a rigid examination of the props and defences of existing prejudice and error, regarding much of it as comparatively harmless. Were such objections to the labor on which I have entered really advanced, my first reply would be that I have the fullest confidence in the maxim, that "no error can be useful, and no truth can be injurious;" and I should be inclined to say, in the second place, that so far from a majority of the prevailing errors (especially those concerning Religion and the Bible) being harmless in any degree, they are highly pernicious-positively detrimental to the best interests of mankind; and will always serve, so long as they remain, to deter the human race from reaching that eminence of mental strength and freedom, of moral purity and happiness, which we are capable of attaining; and of which, I cannot but believe, the great Father is speaking a hopeful and cheering promise in the movements of this extraordinary age in which it is our privilege to live.
The Bible is frequently appealed to for arguments to sustain oppression and continue in force disgraceful, bloody statutes, and barbarous customs, as well as to find support for superstitions and revolting absurdities. This consideration, if no other, should induce every one who loves the human family, and whose opportunities will enable him to do so, to inquire diligently into the nature, intent and authority of the rituals and codes of by-gone time.
It was my design that this lecture should be, strictly
speaking, introductory; and such has been its character. It will be my aim, in the lectures which follow, to exhibit, somewhat in detail, such historical facts as will be of interest and profit in their bearing upon the general subject, and such comments and reflections as shall seem to me in accordance with truth and right.
The region of thought and investigation, in the direction of which I have set my face, is immense: it stretches away below the horizon that bounds my view from the point of inquiry and observation where I now stand. And it may be that, after all, I shall neither gather enough of the fruits, nor sufficiently spy out the land in other respects, as to give you a very comprehensive idea of its soil and climate, or an adequate representation of its inhabitants. But it occurred to me that I might do some service for my brethren whose daily avocations make such demands upon their time that they are prevented, even if they have ready access to the requisite means, from bestowing upon the subject that attention, which is needful for any thing like a tolerable canvassing of its merits. And pursuant to this suggestion, the effort has been undertaken.
It is the sincere desire of him who addresses you, that his humble labors may, in some degree, assist you to experience a realizing fulfilment of the blessed promise of Jesus, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE CANONICAL BOOKS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS; WITH PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
IT may be in some measure subservient to the more full accomplishment of the chief purpose which I have in view in this lecture, to offer, before proceeding to the consideration of the subject which will form the main portion of it, some observations upon the manner in which we should read the books denominated The Bible; with a few strictures upon certain modes of interpretation, which are regarded, by the humble individual who is speaking, as erroneous, and in some cases whimsical.
Various and singular, and exceedingly grotesque in some instances, have been the superstitions cherished, in time past, in reference to the Old and New Testament Scriptures; by the prevalence of which the progress of the mind towards a correct understanding of their contents, has been seriously hindered.. History makes mention of the time when the leaves of the Bible-simply the material on which the words of the Scriptures were written or printed-were thought to possess some cabalistic charm; some secret and intrinsic power to ward off the encroachments of fatal maladies, and in some myste rious way to shield a person from unseen dangers.
From this fanciful idea originated the practice, observed by some fanatical monks and enthusiasts, of tearing out the leaves of some portions of the Bible and placing them within their shoes and in the folds of their garments, upon the commencement of a journey. The reigning powers, civil and ecclesiastical, at those stages of the world's history when the common people were by law prohibited from reading the Scriptures, are justly chargeable with being the occasion, in a great degree, of the absurdities I have named: for the Bible, regarded merely as a book, entirely irrespective of its meaning when understandingly read, was invested with a peculiar sanctity in the minds of the illiterate majority of the people, who were denied access to its pages, and threatened with a severe penalty should they venture to read it, upon the occurrence of an opportunity, or dare to assist others to a knowledge of its contents. These gross forms of unintelligent, blind veneration, are—with us, at least-generally unknown; and are fast being banished from within the pale of nominal Christendom, with the exception, perhaps, of most countries where the Roman Catholic Religion is the prevailing belief. But have we not still in our midst, not altogether narrow in its compass, an influence akin (though the relationship may be somewhat remote) to that which, in ages gone, has held the mind' in degrading servility? Are there not still, among us, those who, from the force of education, or other circumstances, cherish the impression that the Bible ought to be read somehow differently from other books? I in