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pression which the Scriptures are likely to make on the minds of those who may chance to have no access to any other means of religious instruction; and consequently, will be liable to commit errors and to incur disappointments, in the most benevolent and laudable of all pursuits, the endeavour to diffuse Christianity.
Mr. Hawkins proceeds to notice several circumstances which either have been brought forward, or may suggest themselves as solutions of the difficulty:
• To attempt to meet the difficulty by detailing the circumstances under which the several books of the New Testament were composed is by no means satisfactory; for however natural and just the method of them may thus be made to appear with respect to the then Christian churches or converts, the question still remains—how is such a style or method suited to our wants, which must be supposed to have been equally in the contemplation of the Divine Author of the Scriptures ? how can these writings be the best adapted to convey satisfactory information upon doctrinal points to Christians now, or in succeeding ages ?
Nor will it suffice to answer, that we are frequently obliged to gather the sentiments of other writers, (the heathen philosophers for example) from a careful examination and comparison of their works; that we thus become satisfied what their sentiments were ; and why not then submit to the same mode in ascertaining the opinions of the sacred writers?'-p.6.
There is indeed this essential distinction between the inspired writers and all others whatever; that the former cannot be supposed to have been on any occasion either unable, or (as is said of some of the ancient philosophers) unwilling, to make known with perfect clearness to ordinary capacities, those truths at least which they considered as fundamentally important. And yet, with respect to many of these, the alleged indirectness and want of arrangement is sufficiently manifest upon a candid investigation. Men are apt, however, (as the author has well remarked,) very greatly to underrate the difficulty of arriving at any truth, when once it has been clearly ascertained; as he instances in the existing systems of astronomy and of political economy. And in the present case, it is only by calm reflection and careful examination, that one who is well instructed in the Christian doctrines can be enabled adequately to judge of the difficulty which an ordinary reader would find in eliciting for himself, from the bare perusal of the sacred volume, without any previous instruction, the same clear and connected view of the subject.
This difficulty, however, it would be an affront to reason and to revelation to disguise or to shrink from, (even if no complete solition of it could be offered,) as if it afforded any valid objection against Christianity.
“There is surely little cause to refrain from any argument calculated to benefit the believer, when the cavils to which it may give occasion cannot possibly amount to an objection to Revelation itself without the grossest presumption, or most culpable ignorance on the part of the objecter. For the difficulty in question is no objection ; it has long since been unanswerably shewn, that no objection can lie against Revelation on account of any alleged obscurity, or partial discovery of its truths, which does not equally lie against the tenets of pure deism.'—p. 12.
“But with respect to the believer it might be wrong indeed to hazard presenting a new difficulty to his mind, were there not some reason from experience to believe that those, who have not felt the difficulty before, are not likely to feel it long: whilst of course the inquiry would not have been proposed; did it not seem calculated to lead to results satisfactory perhaps at once to some who have laboured under the difficulty assumed, and in their consequences also, not uninteresting to all believers in Christianity.'-p. 13.
We most cordially agree with Mr. Hawkins in regarding tradition as furnishing a satisfactory solution of the difficulty in question, by supplying precisely that kind and degree of aid that is needed, in the acquisition of religious knowledge. The persons to whom the Apostolic Epistles (the grand repository of Christian doctrines) were addressed, were Christians—had already been catechetically instructed with great care, in the outlines and rudiments at least of the Christian faith, and had among them ministers formally appointed for the express purpose (among others) of keeping up, and diffusing, and transmitting, by oral instruction, the faith once delivered to the saints.' This circumstance not only accounts most fully for the incidental and unsystematic mention, in these Epistles, of the elementary doctrines of Christianity, but also points out to all succeeding Christians what course they ought to adopt, whenever it is practicable, for maintaining and propagating those doctrives : the Christians of the Apostolic age transmitted to their posterity, together with the inspired writings which alone possess authority, that systematic traditional instruction which the Scriptures do not afford : ample provision has been made for the continuance of the same system in all succeeding ages ; and there seems to be no just reason why it should not be thus continued. Men of the present day are not fairly put on a level with those to whom the Apostolic Epistles were addressed, if the same sacred volume is placed in the hands of both parties, but the advantage of regular instruction, which was enjoyed by one, is denied to the other.
The Romish doctrine concerning tradition is perfectly distinct from that here inculcated. Mr. Hawkins, indeed, has used every possible precaution to keep this distinction clearly in view, by the expression of unauthoritative tradition, and by a plain exposition of the erroneous and of the true doctrines.
We perceive that traditions may be contradictory to the Scriptures, and thus we absolutely reject them; or they may be unsupported by the Scriptures, and then we allow them no further, than as they coincide with the dictates of reason; or they may be supported by the sacred writings, and then we respect them as the original sentiments of the first believers--as derived indeed from the true and only authority.'-p.20.
Nevertheless, we have no doubt that some will be inclined to feel a prejudice against tradition, from the unwarrantable application of it by the Romish Church : never, while the world lasts, will the inconsiderate and the violent be prevented from confounding together things which differ only in the point which is of most essential importance, or from indiscriminately censuring whatever has been much abused. Nor is this objection confined to the mere name of tradition; (in which case the author would have been to blame for giving needless offence by adopting it;) but to the very plan itself of elementary religious instruction. We have already adverted to the vehement reaction produced by the tyranny of the Church of Rome, through the well-known propensity of mankind to rush from one extreme into the other. The natural transition of error was from a blind obedience to the authority of tradition, and acquiescence in all that load of additions to Christianity which were thus introduced, to a total rejection of the legitimate use of tradition, and an indiscriminate contempt and aversion towards all formularies, catechisms, creeds, articles, and religious establishments.
We need hardly remind our readers of the declamations which are current in the present day against the iniquity of giving a bias to the minds of young persons, by teaching them our own interpretation of the sacred volume, instead of leaving them to investigate for themselves; that is, against endeavouring to place them in the same situation with those to whom those very Scriptures were written, instead of leaving them to struggle with difficulties which the Scriptures no where contemplate nor provide against. The maintainers of such a principle would do well to consider whether it would not, if consistently pursued, prove too much. Do you not, it might be asked, bias the minds of children by putting into their hands the Scriptures themselves, as the infallible word of God? If you are convinced that they are so, you must be sure that they will stand the test of unprejudiced inquiry: are you not at least bound in fairness to teach them at the same time the systems of ancient mythology, the doctrines of the Koran, and those of modern philosophers, that they may freely chuse amongst all? Let any one who is disposed to deride the absurdity of such a proposal,
consider whether there is any objection to it which would not equally lie against the exclusion of systematic religious instruction.
We have been induced to notice these opinions the more fully, because those who do not keep in mind the general prevalence of them, will be apt to underrate very much the importance of the argument before us. The author seems indeed himself to be aware that while his doctrine is strongly controverted by some, it is likely to be regarded by others as self-evident, and scarcely needing even to be stated. The extreme simplicity, indeed, and perspicuity of his arguments, may contribute not a little to produce this impression. What is very clearly demonstrated will often appear to a superficial reader so evident as to need no demonstration; and the ability which has been employed to make it thus plain and evident, is disparaged in consequence of its own success.
There is in fact a very original train of thought in the little work before us. If it contain nothing that can strictly be called
(as indeed the subject is not one in which new truths, properly speaking, are to be expected,) at least it sets many points in a new and interesting light: many of its readers, we are persuaded, will find on examination that some of the author's remarks and reasonings which appear to them the most familiar had, in fact, Dever occurred to them before. Indeed the number and prevalence of opinions and practices which are inconsistent with the principles maintained by Mr. Hawkins plainly shew that though they may be sufficiently obvious, they are not sufficiently attended to. He makes some valuable practical applications (or rather hints for the application) of his doctrine; it is capable of many, and those most important which an attentive reader may easily develope for himself. In the first place, some who perceive the indirectness and want of system in Scripture may object (however unreasonably) to the divine authority of a book, which in their judgment is so ill adapted to its purpose; and though this has been shewn to be no valid or sufficient objection, yet as it may nevertheless have weight with many minds, it is at least desirable that it should be answered. But secondly, it is probable that the objection of
many persons to some of the great and characteristic doctrives of Christianity, may have been, if not produced, at least strengthened and supported, by the oblique and irregular mode in which those doctrines are delivered; though they may perceive (as every candid reader must) the obvious force of the expressions, they may still be unable to satisfy themselves that what is so taught, could be intended to be generally believed, as an essential part of the Christian revelation. To such persons, if they are but candidly disposed to receive the truth, this dissertation cannot but prove highly serviceable. Thirdly, it may prove a safeguard against the
errors of those, who, while they distribute the Scriptures, neglect or reprobate the use of all other helps for those whom they would instruct. The author has very properly put in a caveat against the opposite error of undervaluing the Scriptures, and of deriving our notions of religion from human comments, to the neglect of the only authority on which they rest.' p. 68. And he has wisely abstained from entering into the controversies which have been so long and so unhappily agitated, between the different societies engaged in spreading religious knowledge; confining himself to the combating of the one error, (surely a great and dangerous one,) of those who fancy they are sufficiently propagating Christianity, when they are merely distributing the Bible.
Lastly, the application is most obvious and most important, to the duty of catechising, and to the responsibility of all who are made the depositaries of Christian tradition, (that is, of all who have themselves received it,) in communicating instruction as far as their abilities and opportunities extend, and in recommending their lessons by their lives.
Upon the whole, we strongly recommend this Dissertation to the perusal of our readers, as a specimen of clear, candid, and acute reasoning, upon a subject of great interest and importance. The arrangement is luminous, and the language in most parts neat and perspicuous, in some, not destitute of eloquence. But it possesses one merit not less valuable, and, it is to be feared, less common than any we have mentioned ;-the mildness and truly Christian temper which pervades the whole. Since to maintain our own opinion, is virtually to impugn that of our opponents, it is a matter of some difficulty, in treating of any disputable point, to avoid a controversial air: but this difficulty is much greater when the subject is one which has been made the field of so much bitter controversy as the present. And as it is no where more difficult, so it is no where more important, to unite firmness with conciliation, ' in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves;' conceding no truth, yet giving no unnecessary offence,--and arguing forcibly, without destroying the practical effect by a harsh and hostile demeanour, which irritates those whom it is our business to persuade.
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