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heresies, which have troubled the church, divided her councils, and destroyed her peace,
from those false interpretations of the bible, with which it has been loaded, by ignorant men and enemies of the truth, almost from the very days of the apostles. In every age, the interpretation of the bible has been influenced, more or less, by the prevailing systems of philosophy
The new platonic philosophy, which arose at Alexandria in the second century, and suddenly spread throughout the Roman empire, was highly detrimental to christianity; and especially, to the cause of sacred interpretation. It carried with it an air of dignity and candor, whieh attracted the attention of many good men ; by professing to select from all the different sects in philosophy, such opinions as were conformable to reason and truth. This new philosophy taught its followers to explain alike the oracles of the heathen priests, and the sacred books of the christians, by the use of allegories and mystical interpretations. It was embraced by many of the Alexandrian christians, found its way into their schools, and at length, Origen and his followers applied it to the interpretation of the sacred books, and thus explained away many of the plain facts and doctrines of the bible, as allegories and mysticism. This kind of interpretation, so pleasing to the human heart, and so congenial to the mental and moral darkness, which was settling down upon the nations, soon gained an ascendancy in the church, which it continued to hold till the reformation. At this period, Luther laid the science of biblical interpretation on a true and lasting foundation. But the evil of thus perverting the
word of God, flowed beyond the reformation, and has reached our own day. The leading principle of this corrupt interpretation, which was to make no scruple of explaining away from the word of God, whatever was inconsistent with preconceived opinions, has been, of late, substantially revived by the infidel critics of Germany, and has been brought from thence into the land of the Pilgrims. From these various causes, it has come to pass, that false interpretations of the bible have become, to a great extent, the current coin of christendom, and many wrest the scriptures to their own destruction. If the cause of truth and piety, at the present day, requires of the ministers of Christ, any one qualification more than another, it is an ability ably and faithfully to interpret the sacred oracles. Like Apollos, they should be mighty in the scriptures, and able to teach others also.
An acquaintance with the true evidences of piety is also an indispensable qualification for, a christian minister. His situation in this respect, is attended with the highest responsibility. The office, which he bears, requires him to teach, in a public and solemn manner, the true evidences of love to God. His people are to try their hearts in the momentous concerns of eternity by his instructions. The church are to be guided by him, in deciding who are qualified to be admitted to its sacred privileges. In private conversation also, he is to instruct and guide souls ; to comfort the desponding disciple of Jesus ; to detect and expose the heart of the hypocrite ; and to check the self-righteous and heaven-daring who are ready to rush, uncalled, into the sacred portals of the church. To do this faithfully, so that the blood of souls will
not hereafter be found in his skirts, requires a thorough knowledge of his own heart; an intimate acquaintance with christian experience; and with the scriptural standard of piety. If I mistake not, a greater prominence ought to be given to this point in our schools of theology. Some of the old divines, Baxter, and Doddridge, and Flavel, and especially Edwards on the affections ought to be carefully studied and made familiar. To distinguish the true from the false evidences of gracious affections, is one of the most difficult and responsible duties of a minister. At the same time, it is attended with vital interest to the church, and with everlasting importance to the salvation of souls.
Besides, it is a day of peculiar trial to the church in this respect. The prince of darkness, who has from age to age marshalled and directed the authority and influence of this world against the church, has more than once changed his mode of warfare. In the first ages of christianity, he gave to every enemy of Christ a sword and a faggot, with the command to slay and burn, till they had worn out the saints of the most high God by persecution, and crushed the church by the sword. But after rivers of blood had flowed for centuries, and the church had endured every kind of suffering, it was found, that this mode of warfare against her was all in vain. That the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church, and where one fell for the cause of Christ, two rose up to support it. Another mode of opposition was then invented. The influence of false philosophy and corrupt morality, the power of the Papal throne, and the armies of Northern Barbarians, were all put in motion, to envelope
the world in mental and moral darkness, and thereby extinguish forever the light of christianity. This warfare was carried on against the church, by the combined powers of earth and hell, for more than a thousand years. It failed, however, when the light of the reformation broke forth upon the moral darkness of the nations, for the gates of hell cannot prevail against that rock on which the church is founded. The god of this world has now commenced a different warfare against the church, the object of which is, to confound it with the world. It is now affirmed, that there is nothing peculiar in the doctrines and duties of true christianity; that what has been deemed her peculiar faith, is found to be nothing more than superstition ; which is fast vanishing away before the lights of science, the march of reason, and the wonderful improvements of the age. That the time has come, when the doors of the church should be widely opened, that all may freely enter. These things call loudly to the watchmen, to set a double guard at the gates of Zion, and let no one enter, unless he can clearly speak the language of Canaan without “ the shibboleths of earth.”
Another important qualification of a minister is a knowledge of systematic theology. By this, I would not be understood to mean an intimate acquaintance with any uninspired author, either of ancient or modern times; nor a general acquaintance with theological works. Systems of theology have been highly useful in the world ; but they have also been one of the fruitful sources of error in the church. They have often exalted some doctrines to an undue place in the christian system; and sunk others below their
proper level, by which the beautiful symmetry of the gospel has been impaired. By a knowledge of systematic theology, I would be understood to mean a clear understanding, and comprehensive view, of that circle of doctrines and duties, which make up the essential parts of the christian system. This a minister of Christ should endeavor to obtain, by a careful perusal of the bible, and especially, the new testament, together with the best human helps. He should know the relation which these doctrines and duties bear to each other; the rank, both as to place and importance, which each holds on the scale of divine truth; together with the arguments, both from scripture and reason by which they are supported. He is then prepared, as far as in him lies, to declare to his people the whole council of God.
There is also another reason for this. It is a day of controversy in the church; and the controversy is not so much about the forms, as about the substance of religion. The enemies of the gospel have grown wise by the experience of ages. They have become convinced, that no human efforts, and no earthly power can stop the progress of Christ's kingdom through the earth, so long as those heart-searching doctrines and duties, which constitute the substance of our religion, remain unshaken. After an unsuccessful warfare of ages, they have at length openly defied the God of heaven ; and over against all the peculiar doctrines of his religion, they have solemnly inscribed “ Carthago delenda est.” To this unholy work, they have girded themselves with unwonted zeal and boldness. I need not add, that in such a day, it well becomes the captains of the Lord's host, carefully to