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we ascertain them, one after another, as they are revealed to us in the works of nature, or proclaimed to us in the operations of Providence. We see the power of God in his creating and forever upholding the world we inhabit, and the thousand other worlds, which he has scattered through the interminable void of space. We see the wisdom of God in that wonderful contrivance every where visible throughout the kingdom of nature; by which all the parts of this stupendous whole, are made to move on together in eternal harmony. We see the benevolence of God in the nice adaptation of all his dispensations to the condition and wants of his creatures; by which their happiness is promoted, and all things are made to work together for good. After this manner we become acquainted with all the divine attributes; and when we have so discovered, we combine them, and form what we call the character of God. This combination we also call a system of natural theology.
After the same manner we also learn the doctrines of revelation. The christian doctrines are not given to us in the New Testament arranged in a systematic form; but we are obliged to deduce them from various parts of scripture, scattered as they are throughout the sacred volume. It is in this way that we discover and collect the articles of our faith, one after another, as we can find them,-incorporating them together into one system, which we denominate a system of divinity; and according to which we regulate our religious belief. We have been thus particular in stating the process of the understanding in acquiring religious knowledge, and in forming a system of divinity, because we think the very mode of proceeding to be such, as to expose us to errours and mistakes. Some of the sources of these we shall now rapidly mention and illustrate; premising however, that our remarks will be applicable to those who adopt systems already framed, as well as to those, who frame them for themselves; for in both cases the process is similar, and the dangers are the same.
The first source of errour which we shall mention, consists in our disposition to make or adopt a system too soon ;-before we have acquired a sufficiently full and accurate knowledge of the single doctrines, out of which it is to be, or has been formed. When mankind possess any information upon a subject, no matter how imperfect and partial it may be, they are impatient and uneasy till they have reduced it to a theory. As soon therefore, as thay have caught a glimpse of a few of the doctrines of our religion, they proceed to frame or choose a system, and readily supply, as they go along, what they want in information, by imagining or inventing whatever they suppose necessary to the harmony of the whole. It is needless for us to
spend any time in showing how much this disposition must expose to errour. If we follow it, and adopt a system before we thoroughly understand it-we may be right; but if we are so, it is evident, it must be altogether by accident. The evils and errors, which have arisen in the other sciences from this passion for theorizing, have been sufficiently exposed and lamented. But those that have resulted to religion from the same source, do not seem to have been properly animadverted on ;-certainly little has been done to correct or prevent them. Ask many a zealous champion for the system he may deem orthodox, whether he clearly and fully understands all the doctrines embraced in it; and we believe, if he will allow himself time for reflection, and liberty to be honest, he will acknowledge bis ignorance on a point apparently so important. Nay, state to him those doctrines;-explain them in all their force and in all their bearings, and he will be astonished to find, how opposite those opinions are, which he has unconsciously supported in his system, from those which he has really entertained in his heart. Oftentimes, indeed, men have in this way been led to renounce systems, which they have hitherto upheld merely because they were ignorant of their import; to renounce them too with something of that horrour and loathing, with which they would cast off one, whom they had hitherto regarded and treated as a contidant, and bosom friend, but now find to be a deceiver, and a traitor.
A second source of error is, that in framing or choosing our system of divinity, we may do it under the influence of strong prejudice. An unequal and improper stress is often laid upon one or two doctrines, so as virtually to exclude other doctrines, alike true and important. From education, or from natural disposition, or from their own peculiar circumstances, or from some other ground of preference, men are apt to contract a prejudice in favour of one or two opinions considered apart and alone. In framing their systems they will therefore always give these opinions the advantage over the rest ;—making them every where appear prominent and conspicuous, and flinging all the others into the shade. One or two truths are singled out to extol and celebrate; and every other truth, though of undisputed authority, is virtually, if not expressly, sacrificed to them.
This is especially true of the attributes of God. Hence it is that one system is chiefly employed in telling of the tremendous power of the Deity;-as if its framers were not aware, that this power must always be considered as operating in conjunction with his justice, benevolence and mercy. It is true the disposal of all things is of the Lord; but we must always remember,
that it is utterly inconsistent with his justice, and therefore certainly contradictory to fact, to suppose that any of his arbitrary determinations are in any sense compulsory on us as voluntary and accountable agents. Another system is chiefly occupied in celebrating God's wisdom, his knowledge of the past, the present, and the future. But we should recollect, that there are other attributes of the Deity besides his wisdom, that ought to be considered. We should not, therefore, ascribe to him any thing, merely because it seems to be implied in his omniscience, if, at the same time it seems to be incompatible with any of his other attributes: for its seeming incompatibility with any one of his other attributes is an argument as strong against its being ascribed to him, as its seeming implication in his omniscience is in favour of its being ascribed to him. Again, another system is chiefly employed in vindicating divine justice; as if it were not equally important to have reference to his benevolence and mercy. The fact is, we must not, from our partiality to any one of the divine attributes, single that out, and accommodate every other to it. Power, wisdom, justice, benevolence and mercy, unite and harmonize in the divine character; they are not to be considered as if they were distinct and independent, but as united together in one, and modifying one another in their operations. We must pay equal respect to each and all of them. We must not ascribe any thing to God, because it appears to be required by one, if it be not also consistent with all his attributes: for the perfection of any one is not found singly in itself, but in its harmony with the whole.
A third danger to be apprehended is, that after having formed or adopted our system, we shall insensibly slide into the idea, that it is entirely and demonstratively true; whereas from its very nature it is and must be more or less hypothetical. Our systems are framed, as we have observed, by bringing together and combining the single and separate principles and doctrines, which we have previously learned. But how continually are we reminded, by the narrowness and obscurity of our views, that we know but in part, and prophesy but in part! After hav. ing arrived at as full and accurate a knowledge, as we possibly can, of the divine character and administration, we are often forced to exclaio-" Lo, these are a part of his ways, but how little a portion is seen of him!" This defectiveness in our knowledge is not, however, allowed to appear in our systems of theology. From their very nature and design, they must be made to seem complete in themselves. Whatever we want, therefore, in knowledge, we are obliged to supply by hypothesis.
Moreover, we do not form a system merely to embody and condense the knowledge we have already acquired, but also for the purpose of accounting for, and explaining away any difficul ties, and apparent contradictions, that may exist and embarrass the subject. Theology, or divinity, by which we mean that knowledge which relates to the character of God, and his moral government of the world, is a science involving many difficulties. Whether we consider the works of God, his providence or his word, we find many things, which scarcely appear consistent with his true character. We, therefore, seek for some principles to account for such apparent contradictions; and the principles, which any one adopts for this purpose, constitute his system. Now the very design, for which these principles are sought, shows that part of them at least must be hypothetical; for if we could explain every thing in providence without taking any thing on hypothesis, then these apparent contradictions would not exist, and we should have no occasion to form a system for the purpose of explaining them. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that every system of divinity is, in part at least, hypothetical; after the system is once formed, this circumstance is soon forgotten. That part which is so, is confounded with that which is certainly true. This is strikingly exemplified in the case of those systems, which have been long in existence, and to which antiquity has affixed the seal of authority. In them, those parts which were taken for granted, and inserted without any sufficient proofs of their being true, are now regarded with as much reverence and respect, as those for which undeniable evidence can be produced. The Calvinist, for example, feels as much respect for the doctrine of Christ's two natures, as be does for the doctrine of Christ's Messiahship;-though the former is only an hypothesis invented probably to reconcile the other doctrines of calvinism, while the latter is the fundamental doctrine of christianity, and is supported and corroborated by every part of revelation. The consequence is, that whereever he finds any thing in reason or revelation clearly contradictory to the supposition of two natures in one person--he does not, as he ought to do, make his hypothesis yield at once to the genuine doctrine, but he opposes the one to the other, and endeavours to modify, and limit the doctrine, so as to hold his hypothesis.-But we shall be told, that if we give up the hypothesis of the two natures, the whole system of calvinism must fall to the ground. So much the worse for that system. It is to be remembered, however, that we have nothing to do with the difficulties and embarrassments of Mr. Calvin, or any of his disciples. It is enough for us to reconcile those difficulties and apparent con
tradictions, that arise among the established and acknowledged truths of our religion. If an hypothesis is contradicted by any clear and plain doctrine, either of reason or revelation, we must discard it; and if, in consequence of that, the whole system falls, let it fall.
We have now mentioned three causes of error, to which those, who either frame or adopt a system in theology, are liable.
In forming or adopting a system, therefore, we should be on our guard. We should embrace no one, already formed, till we thoroughly understand it and have diligently and faithfully compared it with the word of God. Thousands of thousands have been imposed upon through their negligence of this precaution. We should adopt no system merely because it is an old one, or a new one, a long one, or a short one, nor yet because it numbers among its supporters great names. We should examine it for ourselves; we should find out what it really contains; its meaning, its spirit, its tendency; and having subjected it to this severe examination, if we are satisfied with every thing it includes and implies, then we may adopt it, but not before.
In adopting it, we should also as much as possible, free our selves from all our prejudices and prepossessions. We endeavour to do this in respect to every other subject; why should we not do it in respect to religion? Neither should we go about to patch up a system, which shall agree in part at least with that in which we have been educated. We should seek for truth, simple truth; and we should be happy to gain it, whereever it may be found; even though we may receive it from an enemy, and even though it may run directly counter to our previous sentiments, and our natural dispositions.
And after we have formed our system we should be careful lest we place too much reliance on it. It is still the work of man. Much of error may mingle in it, and it may be founded on false and deceptive principles. We should therefore always hold our minds open to conviction, that we may reject it altogether, or any part of it, as soon as we may have reason to believe it to be untenable. No temptation whatever should induce us to continue our support to what we think unworthy of it--wresting scripture, colouring facts, and sophisticating reason, to give credit to unauthorized speculations. If we have hitherto been in an error, we should have the magnanimity to own it. And if we have hitherto given our names and our hearts to a system, which we find not deserving of either, we should have the honesty to renounce it.