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THE USEFULNESS OF THEOLOGICAL STUDY TO
The Christian is placed by his heavenly Father in this world as in a school to prepare him for his future and everlasting life. Every thing which he sees around him, and which he passes through, all the works of creation, and all the wonders of providence, daily bring before him lessons in that pure and heavenly wisdom which he has to acquire to make him meet for that inheritance, which fadeth not away.
The Christian student is one who is constantly receiving instruction, and gaining knowledge to fit him for serving God on earth, and for the higher and more blessed service in which he hopes to spend a happy eternity
The design of this work chiefly is to set before him the best method of pursuing theological studies: that is, the study of human writings, in connexion with a supreme regard to the word of God, in order that he may become instructed unto the kingdom of heaven. The wish of the author is so to assist him that he may, if a private Christian, be enabled always to give an answer to every man that asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear; and, if purposing to fulfil the more arduous office of a Christian minister, he may be directed to those studies which may better fit him for being a workman that
needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
A Christian divine, in the true sense of the words, is the highest and most blessed character on earth. Witsius happily describes it : • By a Divine I understand one who, imbued with the solid knowledge of God and divine things, God Himself being the Teacher, not by words only but by the whole course of his life, sets forth and celebrates the admirable virtues of God, and so is wholly devoted to His glory. Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we call Fathers, widely shining lights of the primitive Church.'1
To attain this character, study is, among other things, indispensably requisite. When divine revelation was first committed to writing, it became a duty, a privilege, and a blessing, to read that writing. Respecting this duty there will, among Christians, be little difference of opinion.
The advantages of a written statement of opinions being perceived, books multiplied, even before the coming of Christ, to a vast extent. Hence in the days of Solomon, it was asserted, of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The Alexandrine library, burnt about fifty years before Christ, is said to have contained 400,000 manuscript volumes.
The invention of printing immensely increased the number of copies of books, and the facilities of access to them. There are doubtless evils inseparable from these advantages. Where books have an improper or evil tendency, the harm done becomes far more extensive; and the very multitude of books adds to the difficulty of choice and selection, and disposes the supine and indolent to sit down in contented ignorance. Pride and vanity are also fostered by mere literary acquisitions ; and the possession of religious knowledge may be fatally but easily mistaken for the possession of real religion.
1 See his Oration on the True Theologian, in the 2d vol, of his Miscellanea Sacra, 553,
It is perfectly true, that not merely human learning, but scriptural knowledge in its highest degree (prophecy and understanding all mysteries and all knowledge), may be vain and unprofitable. A church may be enriched with all knowledge, and come behind in no gift, and yet be carnal and walk according to man.
There are also sorrows in knowledge from which the ignorant are free: we discover many evils which we could not before discern; we perceive an unexpected darkness where we thought all was light, we sometimes ourselves mistake error for truth; and doubts are excited where none existed before; but still, whatever sorrows attend wisdom, it excelleth folly as far as light excelleth darkness ; much of this sorrow is real gain in the result; to be exempt from it through ignorance is no real advantage. It is better to know that evil which we may correct, than to slumber on in ignorance till all be lost.
After making then every abatement which such considerations suggest or require, real religion has all along been vastly advanced by means of learning.
It is of written books that David gives those high commendations. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is
pure, enlightening the eyes ; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. It is of written books that our Saviour says, Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have everlasting life, and they are they which testify of me. And the Apostle declares that they are able to make wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
These things are spoken of inspired books. But we have no reason to think that the Apostle, when he told Timothy to give attendance to reading, wished him to confine his attention to the records of inspiration only ; especially since he himself quoted heathen writers (as Aratus, a Greek poet, Acts xvii. 28; and Epimenides, a Cretan, Titus i. 12.), in order to illustrate the truths which he wished to impress.
The scriptures speak much in favour of knowledge in general. Thus it is said, That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good, Prov. xix. 2. The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge, Prov. xviii. 15. Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge, Prov. xxii. 17. The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge, Prov. xv. 14. The excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it, Eccles. vii. 12. These passages apply, in the highest sense, to scriptural and divine knowledge, but comprehend knowledge in general, and especially whatever facilitates the acquisition of that which is divine and scriptural.
The Holy Scriptures state in strong terms the danger of wanting knowledge, both as it respects ministers and people. My people are destroyed for
lack of knowledge : because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me. Hosea iv. 6. Isaiah speaks in a similar way of the evils of having no knowledge, Isaiah v. 13.
The apostle Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians, has placed this subject in a clear light. He commences the twelfth chapter with stating that he would not have them ignorant, concerning spiritual gifts. He then shows the nature of those gifts, some of which were miraculous and peculiar to that age, and others needful in all ages.
He tells them to covet earnestly the best gifts; and in the thirteenth chapter, shows the superior excellence of charity, but not to the disparagement of other gifts; for in the fourteenth, he charges them to desire spiritual gifts, and in verse 12 bids them seek to excel to the edifying of the church. Great then as is the value, and supreme as is the importance of the graces of the Christian, they must not exclude a holy diligence to acquire those gifts of the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, divers kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, which are profitable to our own edification, and to the edification of the church.1
It is fully admitted that there are many devout, holy, heavenly-minded. Christians, who are thoroughly versed in the Scriptures, but have little or none of what is reckoned human learning: real piety may consist with considerable deficiencies in learning. And again, a man may have an extensive knowledge of languages, he may know the whole theory of religion
See an excellent sermon entitled "Academical Studies subservient to the edification of the Church,' by the Rev. H. Venn.