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OF DOCTRINAL READING.
DoctrinaL READING is that by which we so apprehend the truths contained in Scripture, as to derive thence a just and saving acquaintance with the nature and will of God.
It supposes in the person who institutes it, the suba sequent requisites.
1. A Knowledge of Exposition; for without Exposition, Divinity rests on an uncertain foundation, since no proposition can otherwise be resolved into its first principles.
2. The Faculty of judging of the Scope, and of theological doctrines spiritually (1 Cor. ii. 15;) and not naturally, as the dogmas of Aristotle would be considered. Hence, this Reading, to be instituted in a consistent and profitable manner, requires that the reader be spiritual. Augustine remarks with the greatest truth, that, “in the Scriptures, our eyes see with more or less clearness, according as we die more or less to this present world; and, on the contrary, in proportion as we live to this world,
we do not discern spiritual things.” See Book II. C. 7. “ de Doctrinâ Christianâ.”(a)
3. A Disposition to reduce the Doctrines of Scripture to practice: for the Saviour says" If any man will do the will of him (that sent me,) he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God: or whether I speak of myself.” John vii. 17.
4. A high Esteem for divine Truth, as that which is to be defended against assaults by the (to yeypantai) “ thus it is written;"—to be sought in its proper Seat, if not with anxious care, yet certainly with the greatest assiduity;-and to be confirmed by sound argument, and canvassed with deep attention, in order that its purity may be protected against every innovation. Unless, therefore, we reduce the precepts of Scripture to practice, mere intellect will, in these respects, avail nothing.
These things being premised, we observe, that in order to a right institution of Doctrinal Reading, the particulars following must be attended to:
1. The Argument of the whole Book and its General Scope (on which every thing else depends) should be duly weighed.
2. The Principal Doctrine of the whole Argument, is to be accurately formed in the words of the Sacred Writers.
3. The Special Doctrines must be pointed out, and the mode in which they arise out of the Principal Doctrine.
4. The doctrines expressed must be distinguished from those which are implied: the former are to be particularly noted; and the latter are to be confirmed from passages where they are expressed.
5. The Law and the Gospel should be rightly distinguished, and the things appertaining to each, accurately separated; because they constitute the principal classes of theological doctrines.
In order to illustrate these points by example, let us advert to St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Here we have
1. The General Scope of the apostle; namely, to conciliate the minds of Jewish and Gentile converts, and to confirm both in the purity of the faith in Christ Jesus, as well as in holiness of life.
2. The Principal Doctrines: see Chap. ii. 11, 12, 13; and also 19, 20; and Chap. ii. 6.
3. The Special Doctrines; which are the six following. 1. God constituted the Jews his own people, promised them Christ, and eternal life in Him. 2. The Jews possess this prerogative, that they first hoped in Christ. 3. The salvation of the Gentiles Hows from mercy, through the grace of Jesus Christ,
4. Our salvation depends not on the righteousness of works; but, on mere grace. 5. The way of salvation, as it respects both Jews and Gentiles, is the same. 6. None, but those who are justified, can perform good works.
4. The Doctrine Implied; thus (Chap. ii. 12,) the state of the Gentiles, antecedent to their conversion to Christ, was a state of condemnation. This is Expressed, Rom. Chap. i.
. 5. The Law contains things to be done; the Gospel, things to be believed: the entire foundation of this epistle is therefore evangelical. However throughout the whole of it, the general Application relates to the Law, so far as it is observed by believers. See also the Analysis of the Epistle to the Ephesians appended to this work.
The Doctrinal Books, such as the Epistles of the New Testament, should especially be perused, because they peculiarly abound in Expressed Doctrines; and because the Doctrines are ascertained with ease in these parts of Holy Writ.
The consideration of the abstruser Doctrines may be deferred, until the student have made greater advances in the knowledge of fundamental truth. Those which are most essential to salvation and to a full assurance (Tampo dopoce) of faith, should be first learned by a living and practical acquaintance with them; and, then, the transition to Doctrines more 'profound, but less essential, will become pleasant and easy.
When Doctrines are well known, they may be digested into a certain order, which must nevertheless comport with the subject, and the intention of the Holy Spirit. All of them may be referred to God, to man, or to Christ the Mediator between both.
Since Jesus is the very Soul of Scripture, and the Way by which we have access to the Father, he who, in Doctrinal Reading, does not fix his eyes on Him, must read in vain. Truth and Life are attainable only through this Way. To know Christ and the Doctrines concerning Christ, only in theory, is not the Soul of Scripture; it is faith in him, and that imitation of him which flows from faith. It is, however, to be remarked, that some texts treat expressly of Christ, and inculcate either faith in him, or the imitation of him; some contain prophecies' concerning the Saviour, fulfilled, or remaining to be fulfilled; others exhibit a type and figure of Christ; while others are to be referred to him by the Analogy of Faith, which, as to all the articles of faith, is entirely founded on him.