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WHEN I published my former work on the Credibility of the Scriptures, some clergymen who disliked certain of the conclusions to which I had arrived, expressed the opinion that it was as presumptuous for any one who had not studied theology to undertake to interpret the Scriptures, as it would be for a clergyman to write a book on the science of medicine. As it is very possible that persons overlooking the paralogism of such a comparison, may repeat it on the present occasion, I beg leave to anticipate it by the remark, that if the study of theology be deemed essential for a right comprehension of the expositions made in the Scriptures, those who make such a requirement should also instruct us what system of theology ought to be studied. Is it the one advocated by the Roman Catholics or those otherwise severally maintained by the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Church of England, or who else?
Now it was in the very fact that our Christian clergies differed in the widest manner from each other in their respective theologies, that I was compelled to undertake the study of the Scriptures in order to ascertain what they really did teach, or require me to believe and do, and after the lapse of more than forty years diligent investigation of them, I remain fully convinced that I have taken the only rational mode for determining the above two most important particulars.
If the revelations contained in the Scriptures have been communicated by the Creator of the Universe, as instructing mankind how they may obtain immortality and everlasting happiness in a
future state of existence, not to say as being furthermore involved with a fearful condemnation should his injunctions be disregarded, so the true character of the Seripture writings, what is required in them from human faith and obedience, and what are the privileges offered in them to mankind, are all subjects that must be determined by the private judgment of every one who has the ability to read and examine the WORD OF GOD.
There can be no doubt I apprehend as to the correctness of this remark, for the Scriptures distinctly inform us that every man will be judged at the consummation of earthly things, according to his thoughts, words and conduct during his previous life, as tested by what God has required from him personally in the revelations made in the Scriptures. It therefore seems to me to be a matter of downright delusion for any one who can read the Bible, to base his faith or practice on the authority of any man or body of men as to what God requires from him. For by what rule or principle can he ascertain a priori among our discordant and conflicting systems of theology, which of them expounds the Scriptures correctly?
But to make a conscientious, intellectual determination concerning the divine truths contained in the Scripture writings and how they should be practically interpreted, in consequence of the controversies raised by sceptics and deists, together with the conflicting expositions of Christian theologians,-involves such an amount of laborious investigations at the present day that the great mass of men are incapable of undertaking it without some assistance. Even intellectual and educated persons shrink back from the magnitude of the task, and ordinarily satisfy themselves with adopting, after slight examination, what is taught by some one or other Christian sect, as being sufficiently near the truth for all practical purposes. A few individuals perhaps may undertake to verify the correctness of the quotations from the Scriptures given in a sectarian scheme or creed, but for the most part they at the same time entirely overlook the circumstance that all Christian sects, however much they differ from each other, alike furnish abundant texts of Scripture as being in their view clear evidence for the truth of contrary conclusions.
The object of the present work is to assist individuale in making the necessary investigations concerning the Scriptures, by extricating the true issues on various subjects from the perplexing controversies that have been accumulated on them for centuries, and we trust we shall be able to shew a plain and simple mode by which men of ordinary intelligence and education, can fully appreciate what is the true character of the Scripture writings, and what has been promulgated in them as the actual appointments of our Creator.
That the present conditions of Christianity require such a work as suggested above, though evident to most persons who have ever reflected on the subject, yet it may be exhibited in stronger light by a brief exposition of the imperfect or erroneous modes under which the Scriptures are usually vindicated and interpreted.
An investigation of the Scripture writings comprehends two objects; first, to ascertain whether or not these books were written by men who had an express commission from God, and secondly, to obtain a clear and distinct apprehension of what is contained in them as addressed to the understanding and consciences of mankind.
As far as I have examined the writings of those who have hitherto undertaken to vindicate the divine origin of the Scripture writings, they appear to me to have 'acted on the following defective plan. After having studied and classified the various objections made by deists and sceptics against the Scriptures, they have then arranged their arguments and evidences to meet and refute them. Such a mode, however, is virtually only a causidical discussion of various special points or particulars, and since each party decides on them from their own views of the subject, so the same objections continue to be made by every successive generation of deists and cavillers," and which Christian writers have as constantly opposed with the same replies during the lapse of the last two hundred years.
In the next place, these treaties are not regarded as being addressed essentially to persons sceptical or hostile to the claims of Scripture for a divine origin, but they are put into the hands
of young persons and students of theology as EVIDENCES of the truth of Christianity as being a divine revelation from God. The reader or student, however, is really only furnished, as stated above, with answers to some special objections against certain relations or expositions made in the Scriptures, but they are not instructed how the scheme or system of revelation recorded in the Scriptures, is to be satisfactorily proved to have emanated from the Creator of the universe. Now our convictions on that subject ought to rest upon evidence establishing such a conclusion independent of special perplexities or objections, that may be made against mere portions or particular statements of the Scripture writings, for the foundations of Christianity are not necessarily affected even if more or less of these objections could not be explained or confuted.
The great object which we propose to accomplish by the present work is to indicate the modes, by which an unshaken confidence in the truth of the religious system promulgated in the Scriptures 'can be obtained; and I apprehend the reader will ultimately find that the principle and course which we have followed in making our investigations, will not only give us a sure foundation for our belief in the Christian religion, but that it will also furnish us with the most satisfactory confutations of sceptical or deistical objections.
Under the belief that I had obtained an amount of knowledge pertaining to the Scripture that comprehended some important particulars not discerned by the great mass of professing Christians, I published a work on the subject in the year 1836, and in 1852 I republished it in a considerably enlarged edition. At various times, however, after this last publication, some of my friends who decidedly approved of its general conclusions, assured me that in their estimation my last work was too diffuse in its composition, as well as too bulky, from the introduction of certain disquisitions which were unnecessary to my object in making the publication. They then suggested to me whether I could not recast the work, by omitting all matters that were not essential