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tells us, it is in truth the word of God."* 1 Thess. ii. 13. If it be in truth the word of God, it must be infallible ; for God can neither mistake nor deceive. One inspired writer declares that “
“ every word of God is pure ;” and another, that “the words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” What, short of the perfect purity of the scriptures, is asserted in this declaration of Wisdom : “ All the words of my mouth are in righteousness ; there is nothing froward or perverse in them?” Prov. XXX. 5. Ps, xii. 6. Prov. viii. 8.
It is not strange that a book, asserting such perfect purity, should claim to be the standard, by which every thing relating to the subject of religion is to be tried and determined. If it is thus perfect, it may be well said, “ To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isa. viii. 20. All that which is contrary to the word of God, whatever may be its pretensions to light, is nothing but darkness.
The scripture claims to be a complete, as well as a correct exhibition of the divine will. It is designed to make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Tim. iii. 17. It professes to reveal all the truth which in our probationary state we need to be made acquainted with, in relation to God; his works of creation and providence ; his justice and his grace; man's original and present state ; his obligations to his Creator and fellow creatures ; the way of escape
from sin and ruin ; and indeed in relation to every thing which concerns us as accountable creatures, both in our present and future state.
To determine what is truth concerning these matters we must repair to the oracles of God. They are of higher authority than the writings of the fathers, the decrees of councils, or the creeds of the purest churches ; they are the witness of God himself; and surely the witness of God is greater than that of man. 1 John v. 9.
II. The scriptures, being the testimony of the God of truth, can not speak both for and against any particular doctrine. Things which are merely circumstantial, may be different, yet not contradictory; for example, the posture of the body when we pray. This is not essential to prayer ; the scriptures may therefore consistently speak of standing, kneeling, and falling on the face, to pray. There may be other modes of religion, for aught I know, which are similar to this. But where two things are of such a nature, that the truth of both is impossible, the scriptures, being pure truth, can not bear witness on both sides. They can say nothing against the truth. See 2 Cor. xiii. 8. Should the question, to be decided, relate to prayer itself, instead of the posture of the body, they could not take both sides. They could, with no consistency, affirm that prayer is, and is not, a duty. Should the question be this, Will all men be saved ? the scriptures can not both affirm and deny. The same may be said of such questions as these : Is the Redeemer possessed of infinite attributes ? "Is the unrenewed heart entirely sinful? Is a radical change necessary,
Because Christ is called "the Word of God," there are some who refuse to give this name to the scriptures ; whereas, it is much more frequently applied to them than to Christ. The phrase, word of God, in its original and natural meaning, refers to what he speaks, rather than to the person by whom he speaks.
to prepare men for heaven? Is there an infallible connection between such a change and eternal life? On these, and similar questions, the scripture must deliver its whole testimony for one side ; else it will be as inconsistent and devoid of truth, as a witness who shall alternately testify in favor of two litigants, in relation to the same identical transaction.
On such controverted points as those which have now been suggested, the friends of truth can by no means grant, (what is often affirmed,) that “ both sides have a good deal of scripture for them.” The side which has, in reality, any scripture in its favor, has it all, and the other side has none. No one, who has a cordial affection for the truth, is willing to make a compromise, and have the Bible divided between contrary systems of faith, giving half to the one and half to the other. It is certain that the testimony of God's word, like the living child in the case submitted to the decision of Solomon, belongs wholly to the one claimant or ihe other. Nor is it less certain in this case than in the one alluded to, that it does not belong to that claimant who manifests a willingness to have it divided. What ought we to think of the man who should say, he believed the Bible said a good deal in favor of the God of Israel, and a good deal in favor of the gods of the heathen ; that it said much in favor of the deity of Christ, and much against it; much in favor of future and endless punishment, and much against it? In fine, that it said much in favor of truth, and much, (or even any thing,) in favor of error ? Would you think that such a man believed the Bible to be an inspired book ?
III. The word of God is harmonious in all its parts. It contains a system of truth. To denote this, the various parts are often condensed into the singular number, and are denominated “the truth,” “the gospel,” “the doctrine of Christ,” and the like. Man's depravity constitutes one doctrine, regeneration another, justification another. In this sense the Bible contains many doctrines and many truths. Yet, as in Ezekiel's vision, the many wheels which he saw were addressed as one wheel, to express a unity of design in all the events of providence, so here, to denote a system of truth, all the doctrines and truths of God's word are spoken of as making one doctrine, one truth, one gospel. System is essential to divine truth. Indeed it belongs to all the works of God. We can not lift our eyes to the heavens, nor look down upon the earth, without making this discovery. And can we believe God's word to be chaos ? Matter might exist in a chaotic state, as it did when it was first originated ; but truth must always have harmony, else it is not truth. To matter, God can communicate what philosophers call the attraction of repulsion, as well as that of cohesion ; but not to the word of truth. If, between different passages or doctrines, there should seem to be a conflict, a patient and careful investigation will enable us to see that the conflict is but a seeming one. The tendency of all the true doctrines of God's word must be to support, not to destroy each other. Whatever creed we may have adopted, if we place full confidence in the scriptures, we shall come to this conclusion : That they contain a system of religion ; that this system is true in every distinct part; and that, as a whole, it is perfectly harmonious. We shall also conclude that the whole weight
of scripture testimony must be in favor of this system, (whatever it is,) and in favor of every one of its parts. Though every passage of scripture can not be adduced in proof of each doctrine, because it says nothing about it, we may rest assured that there is not a single passage, when rightly understood, which stands opposed to the true system, or to any of its doctrines.
IV. Since the scriptures express the will of God, their decisions must not be reversed either by the reason or feelings of men. we are never to act otherwise than as rational beings. Nicodemus exercised his reason in arriving at the conclusion, that Jesus of Nazareth was a teacher who came from God. It was altogether reasonable that the miracles he saw should convince him of the fact. When he had become convinced of the fact, that he was a divinely commissioned teacher, he still had employment for his reason to enable him to understand the doctrines which he taught. But it was now too late for him to reject his doctrines on account of their apparent incongruity with his reason; for this would have been to exalt human above divine knowledge. Had he made his own reason the criterion, he would at once have discarded the doctrine of regeneration, (a doctrine as fundamental to the gospel as any other,) for on its first announcement it appeared to him very strange and absurd. The sequel of the history of this Jewish ruler leads us to conclude, that by taking further opportunities to be instructed, he at length discovered a consistency and glory in that very truth at which his unsanctified reason seemed at first to revolt.
The case which has now been referred to, will serve to illustrate the province of reason in our researches after divine truth. Reason must first be convinced that it is God who speaks, and then it must be diligently employed in ascertaining what he says. Among all the books claiming to be inspired, reason is to decide which, if any, supports the claim. They who have become satisfied that the Bible fully supports its claims to inspiration, need now to employ their rational powers to understand its true meaning ; not what it ought to have said, but what it has said. And to understand what it has said, we must examine the natural signification of the words, phrases, and sentences, in connection with the context, and such circumstances as are calculated to make us acquainted with the truth which the Spirit of inspiration intended to communicate. Much light is obtained by reading the whole of the sacred volume, and comparing the different parts, especially such as by their relation to the same subject serve to explain each other.
Our feelings are a still more unsafe criterion of truth ; for they may be nothing but the feelings of depraved nature, which must necessarily be opposed to every thing that is holy. To a heart in love with sin, nothing can be more unpleasant than divine truth. Christ said to the Jews, “ Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” That which should have induced them to receive him, was the very thing which led them to reject him. The truth which he told them must surely have been more worthy of their belief than error, but to them it was not as palatable. It is a very common fault that a doctrine is rejected, merely because it does not suit our depraved taste. In this way a
false character of God is often substituted for the true. Let such men as those spoken of by the prophet, who say to their teachers, “ Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us," only make their feelings the standard by which to form their creed, and it is evident that the character of their God will differ most essentially from that of the God of Israel.
In our entrance on this work, I repeat it, that I must strongly protest against that practice, which has landed so many in fatal errors, and even in infidelity itself, namely, the suffering of our feelings to set aside the plain testimony of the God of truth. His word is to decide on the character of our feelings; therefore these have no right to exercise such a censorship over those things which the word teaches, as to admit or reject them at pleasure. Who can say that the feelings, which we are disposed to make the criterion of truth, do not proceed from that carnal mind which is enmity against God? Should this prove to be the fact, will it not manifest our extreme folly that we ever placed such dependence on them?
“ It is not our feelings,” some will say, “on which we rely for guidance; but the Spirit of God dwelling in us. If it be indeed the Spirit of God, his testimony in your hearts, will agree with his testimony in the scripture ; for he is “the Spirit of truth,” and the scripture, being dictated by him, is the word of truth.” The Spirit of God would have all his motions in our hearts tried by what he has himself communicated in the written word; and they who do not make this the standard by which to try their feelings, expose themselves to be deceived by their vain imaginations, and by that lying spirit which worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience.
Some may say, “We are the church, the pillar and ground of the truth, and therefore are not exposed to err.” But the purest church is not as perfectly free from alloy as the inspired word. This is the standard by which every denomination of Christians is to be tried, to determine how far it ought to be considered a part of that church, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” The scribes and pharisees had a place in the Old Testament church ; yet they were bitter enemies to the truth : Hymeneus and Philetus had a place in the New; and yet their doctrine did eat like a canker. 2 Tim. ii. 17. If any particular branch of this sacred commonwealth pretend to possess such superiority over the rest, as to consider itself to be exclusively the church, its claims must nevertheless be decided by the inspired word; and in case of a refusal to submit to this decision, its claims are proved to be utterly groundless. A true church can not be known by the most scrupulous adherence to its own creed and rules ; but by its conscientious conformity to the word of God.
The reader is advertised, in the outset, not to expect every topic will be handled in this work, which is usually found in systems of divinity. It comes not within its plan to treat of the modes of performing divine worship, nor of administering the sacraments of the New Testament ; nor to advocate any particular form of church government. This omission is not intended to imply that such subjects are of no importance ; nor is it designed to criminate those authors who have given them a place in their systems; but as these things seem not to
be of the most vital importance to holiness of heart or life, they will be wholly passed over in the present work, which it has been the author's design, if possible, to render useful to Christians of every name. On the subjects that will be discussed, which, according to the writer's own views of gospel religion, are its weightier matters, it is his earnest prayer that he may be kept from turning aside to the right hand or to the left, for the sake of accommodating himself to the opinions of any “ master of Israel,” or to the creed of any particular denomination of Christians.* At the same time, he is not without hope that the friends of truth of various denominations, who shall read this volume, will find these weightier matters exerting a greater influence to draw them together, than their differences in minor matters, to drive them apart.
That divine truth, which it most immediately concerns all men of every nation, and of every religious sect, to know, may all be comprised in three grand divisions, namely, doctrinal, experimental, and practical. “ For true religion,” says a late commentator, “consists of doctrine, experience, and practice ; and he who separates these destroys the whole.”+ By doctrine is meant the creed of the scriptures, or the truths to be believed ; experience is the religion of the heart, by which an experiment is made of the excellence of these truths ; practice relates to external conduct. It is the religion of the heart manifesting itself in suitable actions.
To each of these departments of religion, and in the same order in which they have now been mentioned, it is proposed to pay attention in the following work. Fundamentals pertaining to each will be introduced, and their agreement one with the other pointed out. Since a very special reason for undertaking this work, was a desire to render more conspicuous that agreement which subsists between the various parts of the Christian system, I have entitled it “ The HARMONY of Divine Truth.” This term belongs to music; but is very properly extended to theology; for, as in well performed music, so in divine
• This remark is by no means designed to condemn the use of creeds. While so many different and contrary interpretations are given of the inspired word, they berome a necessary means of ascertaining whether we are actually agreed in our belief of its fundamental truths. But our subscription to a formula of doctrines, does not give it the authority of an infallible standard. li does not make it proper, that we should consider ourselves henceforth under obligation to make the formula, instead of the Bible, the rule by which to regulate our faith or practice. No, the Bible is still, as much as ever, to be the supreme arbiter to decide every controverted point. If it is not so, why do we undertake to convert papists, and others whom we consider as involved in dangerous errors, by showing them that though their sentiments agree with their own standards, they disagree with the word of God? If we avow the right to make our own standards our supreme rule in matters of faith, they will wonder why we deny them the same right. Whai, then, it will be asked, is the benefit of creeds ? They are a bond of union, as they serve to show, when we subscribe them, that we are so far agreed in our views of the word of God. It also implies a mutual covenanting to watch over, and submit to be watched over, in matters of faith, for the sake of guarding each other against a departure from that, which we are now agreed in believing to be the faith once delivered to the saints." But in preaching the word, writing a book, or in any other way communicating religious instruction, the constant inquiry should be, What hath the Lord spoken ? what saith the scripture? If, however, the preacher or author, in giving his views of the scripture, should so far deviate from ihe formula he has subscribed, as, in the apprehension of his brethren, to constituie dangerous heresy, he ought not to characterize them as severe and injurious, if i hey should proceed to exclude him from their communion. † Scott's Pract. Observ. on 1 Pet. ii. 1-8.