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SER M O N.
2 Tim. ii. 2. The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
PLEDGED as we are to the most awful of all duties, even “ watching for souls as they that must give account,” we cannot regard any thing as inconsiderable, by which we may ascertain the actual condition of the soul. And the casual language of men frequently affords important indications of their spiritual state. A word, a phrase, the turn or the tone of an expression, may speak volumes to him who will explore the recesses of the human heart, and patiently observe every symptom of moral disease.
But we are concerned to know the religious state not only of individuals, but of whole classes of our Christian brethren. The current popular expressions of the day, accordingly, will often
deserve our serious attention. They are important, whenever they are any thing more than terms of convenience, on two accounts at least. Since they not only indicate the state of knowledge or feeling of those who employ them, but tend also to produce or strengthen impressions of great moment to the cause of truth.
The term “ Protestant,” for example, when it denotes a member of one of the western Churches who is free from Romish error, is merely a term of convenience. It may be employed perhaps with little regard to history or etymology; but it answers its intended purpose, and it does no harm. Not so such a phrase as “ the Protestant religion.” The very expression, whenever it is not evidently synonimous with “ the religion of the Protestant Church of England,” implies inattention to the fact, that there is no one religion common to Protestants as contradistinguished from the Romanists; and it tends to throw a veil over another important fact, that the creeds of certain Protestant sects are far more remote than that of the Church of Rome from the truth of the Gospel
« THE RELIGION OF THE BIBLE” is another instance to the same purpose. And, as will appear in the sequel of this discourse, it is so intimately connected with some remarkable principles or practices of the present day, and indeed it involves at once so much of truth and of error, that it may be useful to dwell at some length upon several of the notions implied in this expression or suggested by it. We may thus be led into a train of reflections not unsuitable to the present occasion, nor, perhaps, unprofitable to ourselves, concerning the legitimate uses-of the Scriptures—and of the Church—and of its ministers.
We will not however put a captious question, and inquire what religion is intended by “the religion of the Bible.” ChristIANITY no doubt is intended. Yet even thus the expression is not merely incorrect in itself, but it tends to throw into shade two or three truths of considerable moment to the faithful student of the Scriptures.
For the Bible is not the depository of one religion alone, but of several. We must not confound the religions of man innocent and man fallen; nor again the different dispensations of religion vouchsafed to fallen man before and after his redemption. We should distinguish indeed between all the several dispensations to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, and to the Prophets. At all events we should not be unacquainted with the difference between the religious states of men under those covenants of faith and of works which the Almighty condescended to make with Abraham first, and afterwards with the people of Israel. And, above all, the Christian who is not taught to distinguish habitually the genius of the Law from that of the Gospel is in continual danger of serious practical error. And although it is true, that all the previous revelations made to fallen man have some great principles in common with Christianity, and all were gradually designed to merge in the Gospel, or lead the world towards it—and though it is perfectly true also that the Bible is one great and harmonious whole--still it is a mischievous system of interpretation which discovers the Gospel in the first few chapters of Genesis, or which treats the various portions of the Bible as if they were one and the same book.
Admitting, however, what is no doubt true, that by the religion of the Bible is simply intended the religion of Christ-and without adverting at present to what is unfortunately true also, that with some of those who adopt the phrase, there is not a little vagueness and laxity of thought concerning the question which of the many modes of Christian faith is indeed true Christianity-but admitting that by this expression is intended the true profession of Christianity whatever that may be—then we should inquire why Christianity is called the religionOF THE BIBLE.
Is the phrase employed, for example, to denote simply that the Gospel must be proved by the Scriptures exclusively, or that it is also taught exclusively by the Bible ?
1. For that the truths of Christianity are proved by the Scriptures and founded exclusively upon them, that the Bible is the only rule of faith, this is nothing more than the fundamental position of the Church of England, and of all the other Protestant Churches. So far unquestionably we are all agreed. But the expression in question though it means this, means also something more. It would insinuate that Christianity is not only proved exclusively by the Bible, but also taught by it. And here again there is a mixture of right and wrong in the import of the phrase, which it may not be inexpedient to analyze.
2. When it is said, for instance, that the New Testament was designed to teach Christianity, what is meant by“ teaching”-introducing men to the knowledge of the truth; or improving their