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cal knowledge from his affairs? He is constantly employed in buying and selling; but he must have no general system whereby to conduct either the one or the other ; none for the regulation of his books; none for the assortment of his articles : all must be free, lest he sink into formality, and, by being in a habit of doing things in order, should contract a narrowness of mind !
But is the Bible written upon systematical principles ; does it contain a system, or does it encourage us to form one ? By the Bible being written on systematical principles, I suppose is meant a systematical arrangement of its contents: and there is no doubt but the contrary of this is true. But, then, the same might be said of the book of nature. Though the different species of animals, vegetables, minerals, &c. are capable of being arranged under their respective genera, and so reduced to a system; yet, in their actual position in creation, they assume no such appearance. It is wisely contrived, both in nature and scripture, that the objects of each should be scattered in lovely variety : but, amidst all this variety; an observant eye will perceive unity, order, arrangement, and fulless of design.
God, in all his works, has proceeded on system; there is a beautiful connexion and harmony in every thing which he has wrought. We sometimes speak of a system of nature, a system of providence, and a system of redemption ; and, as smaller systems are often included in greater, the language is not improper : in reality, however, they are all but one system; one grand piece of machinery, each part of which has a dependence on the other, and all together form one glorious whole. Now, if God proceed on system, it may be expected that the scriptures, being a transcript of his mind, should contain a system ; and, if we would study them to purpose, it must be so as to discover what that system is.
I never recollect to have heard any objection to systematical divinity with regard to practice. Let a Christian, utterly unacquainted with human writings, take his Bible, with a view to learn the mind of God upon any given subject, suppose it be the duty of parents : he will naturally collect all the passages in the sacred writings which relate to that subject, arrange them in order, and, from the whole thus taken together, regulate his conduct. For
this, no one will think of blaming him : yet this would be acting systematically.
Let him do the same with respect to every other duty, and he will be in possession of a body, or system, of practical divinity. And why should he stop here ; why not collect the mind of God, from the whole of scripture taken together, upon things to be believed, as well as things to be performed ?
If the apostles had not considered divine truth in a systematical form, how came the writer of this Epistle to speak of the first principles of the oracles of God? This language supposes, as before observed, a scheme, or system of faith. And, if such a form of considering truth were disadvantageous to Christians, bow came he to censure the Hebrews for their want of progress in it ? In his Epistle to the Romans, also, we read of the proportion, or analogy, of faith ; which certainly supposes that the gospel is one proportionate or consistent whole.
Could a system of divinity be written, in which every sacred truth or duty should have a place assigned it, and such a place, both as to order and importance, as properly belonged to it, not invading the province of other truths or duties, but, on the contrary, subserving them, and itself appearing to the greatest advantage among them; such a performance would answer to what the Apostle means by the proportion of faith. But can we expect a work answering to this description from an uninspired pen ? Perhaps not. The materials for such a model exist, however, in the holy scriptures ; and, though we cannot collect and arrange them to perfection, let us, as in all other things, press towards the mark.
Let that system of religion which we embrace be but, in the main, the right one, and, so far from contracting the mind, it is easy to perceive that it will abundantly enlarge it.
For example: let the fact of Joseph's being sold in Egypt be viewed without its connexion with God's designs, and it will appear a melancholy instance of human depravity : we shall see nothing very remarkable in it; and it will seem calculated only to afford a disgusting picture of family jealousies and intrigues, enough to break the heart of an aged parent. But let the same fact be viewed systematically, as a link in a chain, or as a part of a whole,
and it will assume a very different appearance. Thus viewed, it is an event pregnant with glory. He must needs go down into Egypt, that much people might be preserved alive ; that Jacob's family might follow him; that they might there be reserved for a season, till, in due time, having become a great nation, they should be led forth with a high hand, that they might be placed in Canaan, and might set up the worship of the true God; that the Messiah might be born among them; and that his kingdom might be extended over the whole earth. Without a system, the Patriarch reflected, All these things are against me : but with a system, or rather with only the discovery of a very small part of it, he exclaimed, It is enough: Joseph my son is yet alive : I will go down, and see him before I die.
In addition to this event in providence, let us offer a few examples in matters of doctrine.
Would you contemplate the great evil of sin, you must view it in its connexions, tendencies, and consequences. For a poor finite creature, whose life is but a vapour, to gratify a vicious inclination, may appear a trifle: but, when its tendencies and mischievous consequences are taken into the account, it a different aspect. Jeroboam said in his heart, if this people go up to sacrifice at Jerusalem, then shall the kingdom return unto David. Hence he set up idolatry ; and hence the nation was corrupted more and more, till, at length, it was given up to utter destruction. Considering ourselves as links in the great chain of moral government, every transgression is of vast importance, because it affects the whole system. If the government of God be once violated, an example is set, which if followed, would ruin the universe.
Farther : If we contemplate the death of Christ without any relation to system, we shall only see a suffering person at Jerusalem, and feel that pity and disgust which is ordinarily excited by injustice and cruelty. But let us view it as connected with the moral government of God; as a glorious expedient to secure its honours ; a propitiation wherein God declared his righteousness for the remission of sins, and we shall have a new set of feelings. While the apostles continued to view this event unconnectedly,
their minds were contracted, and sorrow filled their hearts ; but when their eyes were opened to see it in its connexions and consequences, their sorrow was turned into joy. Those very persons who, but a few weeks before, could not bear to think of their Lord's departure ; after they had witnessed his ascension to glory, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and continued daily in the temple, praising and blessing God. Once more :
If we view the doctrine of election as unconnected with other things, it may appear to us to be a kind of fondness, without reason or wisdom. A charge of caprice would, hereby, be brought against the Almighty ; and professors, like the carnal Jews, on account of the distinguishing favours conferred on their nation, would be fostered in self-conceit. But, if it be considered in connexion with the great system of religious truth, it will appear in a very different light. It will represent the Divine Being in his true character ; not as acting without design, and subjecting himself to endless disappointments ; but as ccomplishing all his works in pursuance of an eternal purpose. And, as salvation, from first to last, is of mere grace, and every son and daughter of Adam is absolutely at the divine discretion, it tends powerfully to impress this idea both upon saints and sinners While it leads the former to acknowledge, that by the grace of God they are what they are, it teaches the latter to relinguish their vain hopes, and to fall into the arms of sovereign mercy.
As the righteousness of God's elect is not the ground of their election, so neither is their felicity its ultimate end. God righteously hides the things of the gospel from the wise and prudent, , and reveals them unto babes, because so it seemeth good in his sight: it tends most to display the glory of his character, and to promote the general good of creation. These things, if properly considered, are of a humbling tendency.
If the Jews had considered that they were not chosen, or put in possession of the good land, for the righteousness, or for the uprightness of their hearts: and that, though it was an instance of great love to them, yet it was not ultimately for their sake, or to accomplish their happiness, but that God might fulfil his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in whom and in whose seed all Vol. VII.
the nations of the earth were to be blessed ; and, if they had considered the salvation of the world as the end of their national existence, and themselves as God's witnesses till the times of reformation ; instead of valuing themselves, and despising others, they would have reckoned themselves their servants for Jehovah's sake.
Jo short, by considering principles in their various conuexions, far greater advances will be made in divine knowledge than by any other means.
The discovery of one important truth will lead on to a hundred more. Let a Christian but realize, for example, the glory of the Divine Cbaracter as the moral governor of tbe world ; and be will at once perceive the equity and goodness of the moral law, which requires us to love him with all the heart. In this glass, he will see his own depravity; and, possessed of these views, the grace of the gospel will appear to bim to be grace indeed. Every blessing it contains will be endearing, and the medium through which all is conveyed, superlatively precious. A train of thought tike this has frequently proved more interesting than the labours of those, who, having discovered a vein of silver or gold, dig deeply into the bowels of the enriching mine.
Having considered a few of the means necessary for the attain. ment of a deep and intimate knowledge of truth, I shall,
II. Attempt to establish THE IMPORTANCE OF SUCH A KNOWL
As the powers of created beings are limited, and no one can expect to understand every thing, it is the province of wisdom to se. lect those kinds of knowledge, as the objects of our pursuit, wbich are most valuable, and of the greatest utility. There are some depths, of which it is our honour and felicity to be ignorant ; and, even in things which are lawful, we may, in numberless instances, very well be excused, if not in wholly neglecting, yet in possessing only a general acquaintance with them. But divive truth requires not only to be known, but well known : it is not only necessary that we have sentiments, and right sentiments but that we enter deeply into them. Every thing pertaining to God is great, and requires all our powers. In whatever we indulge indifference, there is no room for it here ; God requires not only all our heart, but all our mind and strength.