« PreviousContinue »
TO THE PRESENT EDITION.
THE study of theology is recommended to thoughtful minds by the highest considerations of duty and interest. But in proportion to its value and importance are the powers of application required for its profitable cultivation. The lowest view that can be taken of the subject, with any regard to its real nature, is sufficient to show, that there is no species of ability which, taxed to the uttermost, would still not find itself inferior to the task of exhausting the inquiries proposed in the study of divinity.
But sublime and, in many respects, difficult as is this branch of learning, it must often be undertaken by those who have little idea of its comprehensiveness. The statement and arrangement of its elements, therefore, claim careful attention, both on the part of those who are responsible for the education of the clergy, and on that of the clergy themselves.
The student of theology, let it be observed, does not take up the Scriptures with the same indepen
dence as a private Christian. Whatever his piety, or the simplicity of his character, he cannot altogether overcome the influence of feelings proper to an inquirer, to an antagonist, or a champion. This is a consideration of importance in respect to the mode of commencing the study of theology, properly so called. To him who only desires to cherish his soul with the word of life, the Bible speaks clearly and explicitly; it declares all that he desires to know; reveals all that it delights him to contemplate. But in proportion to our pretensions are the difficulties attending the study of Scripture. Let it be for the comfort or support of the humble believer, and the "seek and ye shall find" is fully realised; let it be for any other purpose, and the Spirit of truth, as well as the adorable Father, is as a God that hideth himself.
Hence, so far as the scientific cultivation of theology is concerned, it is not with Scripture itself that the inquirer will begin. He must prepare himself for its study by the acquisition of many helps and guides. Nor shall we be guilty of mysticism, or a pretension to refinement, if we observe, that there is no better starting point for a really earnest mind, than that which is furnished by its own state and condition. The inquiry: :-What is my creed? through what channels did I receive it? may be entered into with a far greater and more certain hope of success than many of those to which the student of theology usually devotes himself at the beginning of his career. Any proper answer to the questions
thence excited will lead him to the study of religious history; nor will he cease from the cultivation of this branch of knowledge till he has made himself acquainted with whatever mainly concerns the original struggles and later triumphs of Christianity.
During his examination of the chief divisions of ecclesiastical history, he will have become familiar with the facts and fundamental doctrines respecting which his future inquiries are to be instituted. The necessity of a more than ordinary acquaintance with the original languages of Scripture, with the customs and prevalent opinions of ancient times, will hence be forced upon his attention; and by his even general acquaintance with the anxieties and struggles which have attended the course of the most eminent of Christian scholars, by his observation of the corruption and fall of some churches, and of the peril of others, he will learn to cherish with affectionate and intense reverence whatever may approve itself to his convictions as a part of the ground, or as one of the pillars, of the truth.
But it is an error to suppose that any study can be actually commenced with entire attention to its principles as independent of any preconceived notions, least of all is this possible in respect to theology. The student begins with believing every thing which it is the object of all his future studies to learn to prove. To bestow somewhat of order, therefore, on his general impressions; to learn the more common arguments which have given such
currency to the creed which he has repeated from childhood, will be his first endeavour; and he will gladly avail himself of helps on which he may depend, as furnished by men whose names and stations are a sufficient guarantee of their fidelity and correctness.
No work, answering to this elementary character, has been produced, in modern times, more carefully or judiciously composed than that of Bishop Tomline. Without any pretension whatever to depth or originality, it carries the student through those branches of the subject with which it is necessary that he should become correctly, though only generally, acquainted. Nothing can be more admirable, than the sedate and unaffected manner in which many points are treated of which offer the strongest temptation to a different style of exposition. Every part, indeed, of the book affords indication that the author confined himself to the simplest style, and drew copiously from the stores of preceding writers, with the feeling of a man who had no ambition to obtain praise for himself, except as he might be found a sincere and useful instructor.
But the whole class of works to which that of Bishop Tomline belongs can only be considered as of the most elementary character. In a healthy state of the educated orders of society, whatever it contains would be familiar to the minds of men in general; and it ought not to be concealed that the supposed sufficiency of such a book, as ad