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partly to shew how copiously the scriptures prove such doctrines, when the evidence is collected into one point of view, and to leave them as much as possible beyond doubt.
I frequently read the text otherwise than it is in our English translation. The reader will observe the different reading is generally put in parenthesis, if not more fully pointed out. If he find upon examination, that the common translation is nearer the original than my alterations, he will do well to keep by it; but if otherwise, I hope the freedom I have used this way will be acceptable to him; and with other things that may appear new at first sight, be fairly examined, and candidly interpreted. “ Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.”
I hope the reader will take care not to lose sight of the leading sentiments intended to be conveyed, through the variety of incidental ideas, introduced either to illustrate the general subject, or elucidate particular texts; nor on account of the terms in which some things are expressed. With regard to the last of these, I have taken all the care I could, not to use ambiguous or mystical terms: and have explained such as might appear dark to some: yet in the third part especially, where the systematic doctrine of the Trinity comes to be examined, I was under the disagreeable necessity of using systematic terms, which, perhaps, may occasion the inattentive or prejudiced reader to suppose, that in some instances I am not consis. tent with myself. What appears to be of this kind, I hope the reader will interpret, if possible, agreeable to the leading sentiments of the book. But if any real inconsistency is found, let it be set to my account,—the fault is mine, I pretend not to be perfect; the truth I contend for, is, I am fully persuded, clear of all inconsistency or self-contradiction.
Notwithstanding the difficulties that attend the investigation of a subject, where the scriptures have been generally misapplied,—the learned much divided,-involved in intricacy and contradiction, by established systems,--and supposed by the bulk of mankind to be under the veil of ineffable mystery; yet, leaving human conjecture, we turn to the word of God, as the only guide, with humble confidence, being persuaded that he hath not left that truth in impenetrable darkness, which he hath made necessary for us to know and understand: more we do not expect to find: and if we are so happy as to point out to the candid reader, the clear and determined sense which the Spirit of God hath conveyed on this subject, (which by his assistance we hope to do) our labor will not be in vain. But let God have the praise, “who hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise,—the weak things of this world to confound the mighty,—that no flesh should glory in
his presence:-as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord,—who hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight,”
THERE are but two ways by which we can attain to any knowledge of God. In the great volume of creation, or the works (including the providence) of God, he hath manifested himself in such a manner, as to leave every rational spectator inexcusable who shall doubt of his existence, or set up any creature before, or besides the Creator, as the object of their reverence and esteem. This the apostle teaches the Romans, when he says, * The invisible things of him (God) are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead (Deity); so that they are (that they may be) without excuse."
But, though by reasoning from the works of creation, we come to the knowledge of the existence of a first cause; yet, by this way, we can never come to have any direct or simple idea of God. The greatest length we can go, is, to remove from our notions of the Creator, all the imperfections we find among creatures, and attribute to him all their perfections or good qualities; and that the Supreme Being we thus conceive of, may be as spiritual as may be, we particularly attribute to him the affections of our minds; and after all conclude that these are in him in the abstract, but not so in us. This is only saying, the perfections in the Supreme Being, are of a different species from our's, and so cannot admit of comparison in any degree. By all our reasoning, we cannot positively determine any thing concerning spirit: the notions we have thereof are all negative. We may call it an immaterial substance, something that is not matter; which is the same as to say, we know nothing about it. How adequate the conceptions of mankind might have been of God, from the contemplation of created objects if they had remained innocent, I shall not pretend to know: but it is evident beyond dispute, that the works of creation are utterly insufficient to direct mankind to that knowledge of God which is necessary for them in their fallen or sinful state. Therefore God of his unbounded goodness, hath mercifully supplied the great defect, by giving mankind a verbal revelation of his character, every way suited to the state and weak capacities of sinful men.
This revelation of God is contained in the old and new testaments, which, taken together, is the rule, the only rule, to us in all things concerning faith and salvation. When we approach these sacred oracles for instruction, we should be stript of all prejudice and prepossession to received opinions from men, and be ready to receive what the divine author doth teach, upon his own authority only, which is sufficient testimony to the truth of every thing contained therein. And with respect to the manner of some things which may be mysterious, we ought humbly to keep within the verge of divine revelation, and not venture to sound the depths of divine mysteries, (that is, things unrevealed) by the short line of our finite understandings, which is infinitely too short to measure the height and depth of the secret things of the Most High. Here it is more becoming the christian to adore and admire, than curiously to search and enquire. It is no ways necessary in religion to know what God hath not been pleased to reveal.