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[The knowledge of the Holy Scriptures was passing away.]
MORNING SERMON, p. 23. Not only was Hebrew literature neglected at the Universities, but theological learning in general had de clined; and it was, for the most part, left to the student to chuse, whether he would qualify himself or not for the sacred function. And, as the candidates for holy orders were not required to study what was to be preached, so they were not instructed how they were to preach. There were no lectures in public speaking; no exercises in recitation or in sacred composition. Or, if some lectures and exercises still existed under that name, they had become of little practical use.
In the torpid state, in which all the other religious denominations then were, in common with the Established Church, she would not suffer much, in the way of secession, by this decay in theological learning. But the case is widely different, now that there has been a revival of religion in the nation; and we cannot wonder that, under circumstances so unfavourable to the acquirement of the faculty of preaching, there should have been so great a separation from the Church of late years.
Some, indeed, think it improper, that eloquence should be displayed in a Church, as at the Bar, or in the Senate, and would be disposed to call it “ Rhap“ sody,” or “ Rant;" for that is the name frequently given to “ eloquence on a sacred subject.” But, in the judgment of Fenelon and Quintillian, it would be called true and legitimate oratory, the power of persuading men by the fittest means." This was that kind of pulpit address which prevailed in our own Church in her better days, from the time of the Reformation to the reign of the First Charles; and which filled the churches at the Universities with willing auditörs. And, when a corrupt taste was at length introduced, and preachers began to read their sermons, the innovation was checked, for a time, by the following mandate of King Charles the Second.
* Vice CHANCELLOR AND GENTLEMEN,
“ Whereas his Majesty is informed, that the prac“ tice of reading sermons is generally taken up by the
preachers before the University, and, therefore, some" times continued even before himself: his Majesty “ hath commanded me to signify to you his pleasure, “ that the said practice, which took its beginning from “ the disorders of the late times, be wholly laid aside; " and that the said preachers deliver their sermons, both “ in Latin and English, by memory, without book : as “ being a way of preaching which his Majesty judgeth * most agreeable to the use of all foreign churches, to 5 the custom of the University heretofore, and to the na“ ture and intention of that holy exercise. And, that « his Majesty's commands, in these premises, may be “ duly regarded and observed, his further pleasure is, “ that the names of all such ecclesiastical persons as * shall continue the present supine and slothful way of
preaching, be, from time to time, signified to me, by “ the Vice-Chancellor, for the time being, on pain of « his Majesty's displeasure.
It is evident that no man can speak with propriety from the pulpit, any more than at the bar, without some education for that purpose. Would it be impracticable for our Church to retrace her steps, in regard to preparation for the Sacerdotal office, and see what can be done towards attaching the people to her communion, by restoring the primitive means? If she is to be saved from the evils that threaten her, she will be saved, under God, by PREACHING; not by acts of legislation, nor by volumes from the press in her defence, but by the means which God hath been pleased to honour in every age, and which are called in Scripture, “the foolishness of preaching." 1 Cor. i. 21.
By which expression is intended, that the means are so simple, that they appear as “foolishness" to some. one should doubt that this ordinance of God is so honoured in our time, he has only to look around, and behold its POWER.
Would it be impossible then to restore theological learning to more respect? I mean not what is called the learning of the schools, but legitimate theology, the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and of History and Chronology, as the handmaids of revelation.
It is generally taken for granted that the student is acquainted with the Holy Scriptures before he comes to College. But this is by no means generally the case; he may be acquainted with Horace and Virgil; but he often
And if any
* Extracted from the Statute-book of the University of Cambridge, Page 801, Car. II. Rex.
knows little of the Scriptures. That which would give immediate life and interest to the department of theology at the University, would be the institution of some plan, for the advancement of biblical learning. The Scriptures are the foundation of moral philosophy as well as of theology. To study any system of morals, or of divinity, or even the articles of our Church, without hav. ing previously deduced their principles from Revelation, is like studying the higher parts of mathematics without having learned the elements of Euclid.
It is chiefly in the power of masters of colleges to establish a scheme for clerical instruction, adapted to the circumstances of their respective societies. It would not be proper to abate the ardour of mathematical study at Cambridge; for it is better that an University should maintain her pre-eminence, (when she has attained it) in one particular science, than, by relaxing, to run the hazard of preserving but a mediocrity in all. But the pursuit of mathematical science is perfectly compatible with the study of the Scriptures, and with exercises in sacred composition, from the first to the last year of the student's residence at the University.
I have no pleasure in adverting to the necessity of some improvement in our system of preparatory study, for the sacred office. But the principles of truth on which this necessity is founded, are so undeniable; they are so generally acknowledged throughout the nation, and so perfectly evident both at home and abroad, particularly to those who have had an opportunity of viewing the church at a distance, as well as near at hand, that I feel it would betray a culpable indifference to the interests of religion, were I to be deterred by a false delicacy from noticing it. It must be evident to every man who is acquainted with the history of Christianity from the first ages, that in the present circumstance of our church, and in the warfare in which she is engaged, it is not eminent advances in science or classics, that are chiefly required, but advances in the knowledge of Christian doctrine, and in the ability of communicating it to the people. It must be equally: evident, that whatever plan of study will bring the Bible most into view, will be the most conducive for this purpose. The state may have the defence of the sword, and the shield of the law, against its assailants; but the Church has no defence, in this Era of Light, but the BIBLE.
The power of reviving Hebrew learning in the Church lies principally with the Bishops. It is presumed that the object might be effected by the following means, viz. by requiring that candidates for Deacon's orders should be able to construe the Hebrew Pentateuch; and that those who offer themselves for Priests orders, should be competent to read the whole of the Old Testament, ad aperturam libri; and by refusing ordination to candidates coming from the universities, who should continue, after due notice (for which three years would suffice) to neglect to acquire this qualification. By this simple regulation it is probable that Hebrew literature would be restored very generally to the Church, in a few years.
But other advantages would result from this measure. It is hardly possible to suppose that the student who has read the whole of the Old Testament in the original tongue, with the attention which such a course requires, should be a contemptible divine. For in the course of his study, he will be necessarily led into various useful and important investigations, which otherwise he would never have thought of. Another benefit would accrue. It will be a salutary exercise to his own heart. The assiduous study of the sacred volume for one year, will,