« AnteriorContinua »
cline to the belief that we could find many of this description, even now. In some private seminaries in this vicinity, but a few years since, (for aught I know, the practice may be still continued) the pupils were taught, when reading the Scriptures, to pronounce certain words ending in ed, as if those two letters formed a distinct syllable; though they were directed to pronounce the same words differently, when reading from any other book! For examples, such words as blessed, concealed, filled, called, saved, &c. It is not a great while since, that some writer upon the subject of Common Schools, expressed his fears that the daily and promiscuous reading of the Bible in those institutions might prove deleterious, inasmuch as familiarity sometimes has a tendency to diminish reverence.
There are those who verily deem it necessary that we should pass from the condition of nature into what is termed a state of grace,--that our minds should be specially regenerated by the supernatural operation of the Divine spirit, before we can be enabled to read this book so as really to understand it.. No doubt this idea has actuated those who have frequently decried the exercise of "carnal reason," as they have been pleased to term it, in regard to the sacred writings. Some ten or twelve years ago, during a period of religious excitement, an elderly school-teacher, in this neighborhood, underwent what is by some called "conversion," subsequent to which he was heard to declare, that although he had been in the practice, for about twenty years, of reading daily,
in his school, some portions of the Bible, he had never truly read any of it before; scales seemed to fall from his eyes at once, and it all appeared new to him. Now I cannot doubt that not only this, but every book that treats of profoundly intellectual and moral subjects will be more thoroughly comprehended and appreciated, when read with the understanding enlightened, and with suitable preparation as respects one's mood of mind, than it could possibly be, otherwise. The requisite illumination and aptitude of mind would, however, be all purely natural. But in the case to which I have alluded, the influence which wrought the wonderful change was regarded as undoubtedly super-natural in its origin. In conformity with a notion like this, it has by some been honestly thought that no one was capacitated to study and interpret this volume aright, save him who had been spiritually renewed by the Almighty, in a manner special, direct and superhuman,—thus making the bare perusal which might lead to a proper construction, as well as the original composition, of the book, a matter beyond the province of our natural powers of mind. And by the class of persons entertaining this opinion, one who should discover a real or seeming contradiction would be told that the alleged conflict was apparent to him only, or such as he, and on account of carnal mindedness, and a deplorable lack of spiritual discernment! This is, without doubt, a very convenient mode of escaping from a dilemma, or of obviating the necessity of forsaking an untenable ground. But whether it will prove satisfac
tory to those who have in full and unbiassed exercise the faculty of reason, is a point not so readily granted.
You will not, I trust, consider me rash in saying, that it is time for us to have done with this childish logic. If the Bible be addressed to our understanding,—if it be adapted to the capacities of the human mind, and designed to administer to their development, then ought we to read it in the same manner in which we should read any other book, and judge of, and interpret its pages upon the same general principles which we should adopt in respect to all other writings. Obedience to any rule different from this, will lead us into error. I rely upon your candor, and love of truth for its own sake, to allow nothing which I say here to be misrepresented. We are, of course, to vary our rules of interpretation according to the character and style of the book we may read. A book written in a very plain style, with most of its sentences nakedly literal, is to be adjudged somewhat differently, in seeking for its import, from one highly figurative in its composition, abounding in metaphors, hyperboles, and lofty flights of imagination. A volume that is serious in its tone, is to be read with a different aim and in a different frame of mind from one that is mirthful in its character. These, and other distinctions to be observed, which will naturally suggest themselves to your minds, are the obvious dictates of common sense. And besides, other circumstances are to be taken into the account in determining the nature and intent of any written production which may pass
under our notice. The laws, customs, and institutions of the people among whom the author lived; their de gree of civilization; their language, (as written scientifi cally in elementary books, or as vulgarized by the great mass, in common conversation, with the changes it has since undergone); the scenery by which they were surrounded, which naturally suggests imagery, and has an effect upon the growth of the imaginative faculty itself; all these, and perhaps still further considerations, are to be allowed their due weight in all our endeavors to ascertain the true purport of any documents that are to us partially obscure. And inquiries upon each of these, and other essential points, should be propounded in relation to the Bible, if we would do justice to its claims, and make any advancement in the way of rightly ap prehending its spirit. Facts and circumstances, in vast variety, are to be selected with patience and care, and calmly weighed in the balance of impartial justice. In this labor we shall be essentially aided by such items as we may be enabled to glean, of the history of letters, from their first invention in a rude state, and also the history of the Art of Printing. And now, dispensing with further preamble, your attention is solicited to such details and statistics as I shall present, with accompanying remarks, during the remainder of the time which I shall occupy, this evening.
THE definition of the term canonical is, regular-that which is considered authentic, or is according to the
canon, which is a rule or decision, of an Ecclesiastical Council. The word "Canon" is also applied as a specially distinctive title to such writings as are pronounced divinely inspired-as, The Canon of the Old Testament, and the Canon of the New Testament, implying all the books comprised within those collections and considered genuine. It is likewise employed as an appellative for the rules and enactments of Popes, Cardinals, and cleri. cal assemblies, who claim the prerogative of establishing what are called canon-laws. Councils for the adjudication of Theological matters, are of quite ancient date. The first and most notable of all which have ev been convened since the time of the Apostles, was the Council of Nice, held A. D. 325, and called by the Emperor Constantine, principally for the purpose of settling the Arian controversy, as it was termed,-a dispute concerning the nature of Christ; Arius and his party contending that Jesus was a created being, subordinate to the Father, the position of modern Unitarians; and his opponents, of whom Athanasius appears to have been chief, arguing in favor of the Supreme Godhood of Christ, their views being in the main synonymous with those entertained by believers in the Trinity, at the present time. From the united testimony of Church historians of every sect, it appears that this council was composed of quarrelsome dogmatists, who exhibited towards each other the most bitter and unrelenting spirit of persecution, accusing each other of heresy, and each striving for the mastery,-until, at length, the Athanasian or