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served, were strongly tinctured, not only with some absurd superstitions respecting witchcraft, necromancy, and evil spirits; but also with the rigid notions, and severe manners of puritanism. When a word, or form of expression, therefore, in the original, admitted of two meanings, or at least, two different shades and degrees of meaning, it was the character of their piety to prefer the harsher and severer term. Thus, according to my apprehension, " Hell-fire" has been used in the text instead of "the fire of Gehenna," or "the fire in the vale of Hinnom." Sometimes, also, what they render "hell" means only "the grave;" "damnation" might have been translated "condemnation," or "judicial censure ;" and the word "reprobate," a metaphorical term derived from the art of trying the precious metals, is used for " one, whose conduct is not approved;" or "who falls short of that measure of perfection, which will be required of us." It would be easy to produce other instances; but such a disquisition would more properly form the substance of a critical essay; and these are quite sufficient for the present purpose.
Many pious and good men incline to this severe mode of interpretation, because they
dread to lower the tone and authority of the Holy Scriptures. Admitting that their conceptions were to be regarded as infallibly true, this dread would be well-founded: but there is as much error, and, perhaps, as much evil, arising from leaning to one excess, as to the other; and that man's mind must be strangely constituted, who, sinners as we all are, feels inclined to add rigor to the justice of God, rather than view it softened by the divine attribute of Mercy, and accepting the imperfect obedience of frail mortals, through the merits and mediation of Christ. Our duty is to seek "the truth," and nothing but the truth, "as it is in Jesus;" whether it whispers peace, or condemnation ;→→→→ whether it be for us, or against us ;—whether it promises the blessings of righteousness, or denounces the curse of disobedience.
In order to do this, we ought to mark the natural tendency and complexion of our own minds, lest we transfuse into the word of God a large portion of our own disposition, and incur the guilt of presumptuous sin, in relaxing the justice, or increasing the severity, of those laws, which we are required to obey, and by which we shall be tried at the awful day of judgment. Because one man may be melancholy, rigid, and morose,
he must not dare to increase the severity of God's judgments; nor must another, from a contrary temper, presume to form wild and romantic notions of the Divine Grace and Mercy.
One essential point of duty is, to avoid the error of extremes; and, for this purpose, we may remember, with advantage, the solemn and authoritative charge given by Moses to the people of Israel. "Hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes, and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Here, then, the sin of adding, we find, stands on the same ground as the sin of diminishing; and that with great justice: for, in proportion as we augment the severity of God's decrees, we take from the riches and abundance of his mercy.
But, lastly, in order to fulfil the measure of duty that will be required of us on this, and many other occasions, let us diligently study to acquire just and well-regulated notions of the province and powers of human Reason. Errors of the most pernicious consequence may arise from the folly of over-rating, or undervaluing it.
In the one case, man may lose himself in the labyrinths of scepticism and infidelity, till he becomes the daring and presumptuous sinner, who questions, or defies the laws of God; in the other, he may submit to every fraud, and yield to every absurdity, till he becomes the pitiable, but abject slave of fear, of ignorance, and superstition. Let us always remember, that Reason must be appealed to, in the first instance, to appreciate the value both of external, and internal evidence; and to judge of the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures themselves. But, in the exercise of this divine prerogative of our nature, let us guard against the impositions of vanity; and carefully distinguish, in all cases of difficulty, between what things are above our reason, and what are contrary to it..
In order to furnish instances in abundance of the former, we need not ascend to sublime contemplations on the mysteries of the Divine Nature, or on the glories of the starry firmament; for the principles of our own existence, the organisation of plants and animals, and, indeed, the inherent properties of every object that surrounds us, will arrest the progress of science, and mark the limits of the human understanding, as effectually as any other subjects. With
this imperfection of our faculties, therefore, we are quite familiar; but with respect to things that are contrary to reason, we may confidently affirm, that they will no where be found in those Holy Scriptures, which were inspired by divine wisdom, and which prescribe what we must believe and do, in order to obtain eternal salvation.
Could we, indeed, for a moment suppose, that when the Almighty had bestowed on us our mental faculties, and given us the capacity of recognising his own perfections ;-could we imagine, that, after He had made us feel and understand some motives and sanctions, He should require us to act from others, which are not only incomprehensible, but which appear opposite and contradictory to all our powers and opportunities of judgment, we might then be led to say, that Reason was made a snare to us; or only the source of cruel illusions; and that infinite justice and mercy, directed by Almighty power, had not, in this instance, adapted its means to the end proposed: but this would be a perfect anomaly in the works of creation, and involves a greater absurdity, than denying the first axioms of the geometrician and philo sopher..