Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

in Scripture, he at once understands them in that sense, in passages where perhaps an unbiassed examination of the context would plainly show that such was not the author's meaning. And such a student one may often find expressing the most unfeigned wonder at the blindness of those who can not find in Scripture such and such doctrines, which appear to him to be as clearly set forth there as words can express; which perhaps they are, on the (often gratuitous) supposition that those words are everywhere to be understood exactly in the sense which he has previously derived from some human system,-a system through which, as through a discolored medium, he views Scripture. But this is not to take Scripture for one's guide, but rather to make one's self a guide to Scripture.

“Others, again, there are, who are habitual readers of the Bible, and perhaps of little else, but who yet can not properly be said to study anything at all on the subject of religion, because, as was observed just above, they do not even attempt to exercise their mind on the subject, but trust to be sufficiently enlightened and guided by the mere act of perusal, while their minds remain in a passive state. And some, I believe, proceed thus on principle, considering that they are the better recipients of revealed truth the less they exercise their own reason.

“But this is to proceed on a totally mistaken view of the real province of reason. It would, indeed, be a great error to attempt substituting for revelation conjectures framed in our own mind, or to speculate on matters concerning which we have an imperfect knowledge imparted to us by revelation, and could have had, without it, none at all. But this would be, not to use, but to abuse, our rational faculties. By the use of our senses, which are as much the gift of the Creator as anything else we enjoy,--and by employing our reason on the objects around us, we can obtain a certain amount of valuable knowledge. And beyond this, there are certain other points of knowledge unattainable by these faculties, and which God has thought fit to impart to us by his inspired messengers. But both the volumes—that of Nature and that of Revelation-which He has thought good to lay before us, are to be carefully studied. On both of them we must diligently employ the faculties with which He, the Author of both, has endued us, if we would derive full benefit from his gifts.

“The telescope, we know, brings within the sphere of our own vision much that would be undiscernible by the naked eye; but we must not the less enploy our eyes in making use of it; and we must watch and calculate the motions, and reason on the appearances, of the heavenly bodies, which are visible only through the telescope, with the same care we employ in respect of those seen by the naked eye.

"And an analogous procedure is requisite if we would derive the intended benefit from the pages of inspiration, which were designed not to save us the trouble of inquiring and reflecting, but to enable us, on some points, to inquire and reflect to better purpose,-not to supersede the use of our reason, but to supply its deficiencies.”

Although, however, it is quite right, and most important, that the thoughts should be exercised on the subject of what you are reading, there is one mode of exercising the thoughts that is very hurtful ; which is, that of substituting conjectures for attention to what the author says. Preliminary reflection on the subject is, as has been above said, very useful in many cases ; though, by the way, it is unsafe as a preparation for the study of Scripture ; and, in all studies, care should be taken to guard against allowing the judgment to be biased by

notions hastily and prematurely adopted. And again, after you have studied an author, it will be very advisable (supposing it is an uninspired and consequently fallible one) to reflect on what he says, and consider whether he is right, and how

far.

But while actually engaged in perusal, attend to what the writer actually says, and endeavour fairly to arrive at his meaning, before you proceed to speculate upon it for yourself.

The study of a book, in short, should be conducted nearly according to the same rule that Bacon lays down for the study of nature. He warns philosophers, earnestly and often, against substituting for what he calls the "interrogatio naturæ," the "anticipatio naturæ ;" that is, instead of attentive observation and experiment, forming conjectures as to what seems to us likely, or fitting, according to some hypothesis devised by ourselves. In like manner, in studying an author, you should keep apart interpretation and conjecture.

A good teacher warns a student of some book in a foreign language that he is learning, not to guess what the author is likely to have meant, and then twist the words into that sense, against the idiom of the language; but to be led by the words in the first instance; and then, if a difficulty as to the sense remains, to guess which of the possible meanings of the words is the most likely to be the right.

E. g. The words in the original of John xviii. 15, & illos yaonths, plainly sig. nify " the other disciple;" and one of the commentators, perceiving that this is inconsistent with the opinion he had taken up, that this disciple was John himself, (since John had not been mentioned before, and the article, therefore, would make it refer to Judas, who alone had been just above named,) boldly suggests that the reading must be wrong, (though all the MSS. agree in it,) and that the article ought to be omitted, because it spoils the sense ; that is, the sense which agrees with a conjecture adopted in defiance of the words of the passage.

This one instance may serve as a specimen of the way in which some, instead of interpreting an author, undertake to re-write what he has said.

The like rule holds good in other studies, quite as much as in that of a language. • We should be ever on our guard against the tendency to read through colored spectacles.

Educational habits of thought, analogies, antecedent reasonings, feelings, and wishes, &c., will be always leading us to form some conjectural hypothesis, which is not necessarily hurtful, and may sometimes furnish a useful bint, but which must be most carefully watched, lest it produce an unfair bias, and lead you to strain into a conformity with it the words or the phenomena before you.

A man sets out with a conjecture as to what the Apostles are likely to have said, or ought to have said, in conformity with the the theological system he has learnt; or what the Most High may have done or designed; or what is or is not agreeable to the "analogy of faith,” (see Campbell on the Gospels ;) i. e., of a piece with the christian system-namely, that which he has been taught, by fallible men, to regard as the christian system; and then he proceeds to examine Scripture, as he would examine with leading questions a witness whom he had summoned in his cause.

. As the fool thinketh,

So the bell chinketh." Perhaps he " prays through” all the Bible ; not with a candid and teachable

mind, seeking instruction, but unconsciously praying that he may find himself in the right. And he will seldom fail.

“ Hic liber est in quo quærit sua dogmata quisque ;

Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua."
" In this book many students seek each one to find

The doctrine or precept that's most to his mind:
And each of them finds what they earnestly seek;

For as the fool thinks, even so the bells speak." It is the same with philosophy. If you have a strong wish to find phenomena such as to confirm the conjectures you have formed, and allow that wish to bias your examination, you are ill-fitted for interrogating nature. Both that, and the other volume of the records of what God does,-Revelation,-are to be interrogated, not as witnesses, but as instructors. You must let all your conjectures hang loose upon you; and be prepared to learn from what is written in each of those volumes, with the aid of the conjectures of reason; not from reason, (nor, by the by, from feelings and fancies, and wishes, and human authority,) with Soripture for your aid.

This latter procedure, which is a very common one with theological students, may be called making an anagram of Scripture,-taking it to pieces and reconstructing it in the model of some human system of " Institutes :" building a temple of one's own, consisting of the stones of the true one pulled down and put together in a new fashion.

Yet divines of this description are often considered by others as well as by therselves, pre-eminently scriptural, from their continual employment of the very words of Scripture, and their readiness in citing a profusion of texts. But, in reality, instead of using a human commentary on Scripture, they use Scripture itself as a kind of commentary on some human system. They make the warp human, and interweave an abundance of Scripture as a woof; which is just the reverse of the right procedure. But this may be called, truly, in a certain sense, " taking a text from Scripture," "preaching such and such a doctrine out of Scripture," and " improving Scripture."

Thus it is that men, when comparing their opinions with the standard of God's Word, suffer these opinions to bend the rule by which they are to be measured. But he who studies the Scriptures should remember that he is consulting the Spirit of Truth, and if he would hope for his aid, through whose enlightening and supporting grace alone those Scriptures can be read with advantage, he must search honestly and earnestly for the truth. "Read not to contradict and confute ; nor to believe and take for granted.

With respect to the deference due to the opinions (written or spoken) of intelligent and well-informed men, it may be remarked, that before a question has been fully argued, there is a presumption that they are in the right; but afterwards, if objections have been brought which they have failed to answer, the presumption is the other way. The wiser, and the more learned, and the more numerous, are those opposed to you, and the more strenuous and persevering their opposition, the greater is the probability that if there were any flaw in your argument they would have refuted you. And therefore your adhering to an opposite opinion from theirs, so far from being a mark of arrogant contempt, is, in reality, the strongest proof of a high respect for them. For example-The

strongest confirmation of the fidelity of the translations of Scripture published by the Irish School Commissioners, is to be found in the many futile attempts, made by many able and learned men, to detect errors in them.

This important distinction is often overlooked. Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact

man." Writing an Analysis, table of Contents, Index, or Notes to any book, is very important for the study, properly so called, of any subject. And so, also, is the practice of previously conversing or writing on the subject you are about to study.

I have elsewhere alluded to this kind of practice, and suggested to the teacher " to put before his pupils, previously to their reading each lesson, some questions pertaining to the matter of it, requiring of them answers, oral or written, the best they can think of without consulting the book. Next, let them read the lesson, having other questions, such as may lead to any needful explanations, put before them as they proceed. And afterwards let them be examined (introducing numerous examples framed by themselves and by the teacher) as to the portion they have learned, in order to judge how far they remember it.

“Of the three kinds of questions,—which may be called, 1, preliminary questions ; 2, questions of instruction ; and 3, questions of examination,-the last alone are, by a considerable portion of instructors, commonly employed. And the elementary books commonly known as .catechims,' or 'books in question and answer,' consist, in reality, of questions of this description.

“But the second kind—what is properly to be called instructive questioning, is employed by all who deserve to be reckoned good teachers.

" The first kind--the preliminary questioning is employed (systematically and constantly) but by few. And, at first sight, it might be supposed by those who have not had experience of it, that it would be likely to increase the learner's difficulties. But if any well-qualified instructor will but carefully and judiciously try the experiment (in teaching any kind of science,) he will be surprised to find to how great a degree this exercise of the student's mind on the subject will contribute to his advancement. He will find that what has been taught in the mode above suggested, will have been learnt in a shorter time, will have been far the more thoroughly understood, and will be fixed incomparably the better in the memory."

Curiosity is as much the parent of attention, as attention is of memory; therefore the first business of a teacher—first, not only in point of time, but of importance-should be to excite, not merely a general curiosity on the subject of the study, but a particular curiosity on particular points in that subject. To teach one who has no curiosity to learn, is to sow a field without ploughing it.

And this process saves a student from being (as many are) intellectually damaged by having a very good memory. For an unskillful teacher is content to put before his pupils what they have to learn, and ascertaining that they remember it. And thus those of them whose memory is ready and attentive, bave their mind left in a merely passive state, and are like a person always carried about in a sedan chair, till he has almost lost the use of his limbs. And then it is made a wonder that a person who has been so well taught, and who was so quick in

1 See Preface to Easy Lessons on Reasoning. Page v.

learning and remembering, should not prove an able man; which is about as reasonable as to expect that a capacious cistern, if filled, should be converted into a perennial fountain. Many are saved, by the deficiency of their memory, from being spoiled by their education ; for those who have no extraordinary memory, are driven to supply its defects by thinking. If they do not remember a mathe matical demonstration, they are driven to devise one. If they do not exactly retain what Aristotle or Smith have said, they are driven to consider what they were likely to have said, or ought to have said. And thus their faculties are invigorated by exercise.

Now, this kind of exercises a skillful teacher will afford to all; so that no one shall be spoiled by the goodness of his memory.

A very common practice may be here noticed, which should be avoided, if we would create a habit of studying with profit—that of making children learn by rote what they do not understand. “It is done on this plea--that they will hereafter learn the meaning of what they have been thus taught, and will be able to make a practical use of it." But no attempt at economy of time can be more injudicious. Let any child whose capacity is so far matured as to enable him to comprehend an explanation,-e. 8., of the Lord's Prayer,-have it then put before him for the first time, and when he is made acquainted with the meaning of it, set to learn it by heart; and can any one doubt that, in less than a half a day's application, he would be able to repeat it fluently? And the same would be the case with other forms. All that is learned by rote by a child before he is competent to attach a meaning to the words he utters, would not, if all put together, amount to so much as would cost him, when able to understand it, a week's labor to learn perfectly. Whereas, it may cost the toil, often the vain toil, of many years, to unlearn the habit of formalism-of repeating words by rote without attending to their meaning; a habit which every one conversant with education knows to be in all subjects most readily acquired by children, and with difficulty avoided even with the utmost care of the teacher ; but which such a plan must inevitably tend to generate. It is often said, and very truly, that it is important to form early habits of piety ; but to train a child in one kind of habit, is not the most likely way of forming the opposite one; and nothing can be more contrary to true piety, than the Romish superstition (for such in fact it is) of attaching efficacy to the repetition of a certain form of words as a charm, independent of the understanding and of the heart.

" It is also said, with equal truth, that we ought to take advantage of the facility which children possess of learning; but to infer from thence, that Providence designs us to make such a use (or rather abuse) of this gift as we have been censuring, is as if we were to take advantage of the readiness with which a new-burn babe swallows whatever is put into its mouth, to dose it with ardent spirits, instead of wholesome food and necessary medicine. The readiness with which children learn and remember words, is in truth a most important advantage if rightly employed ; viz., if applied to the acquiring that mass of what may be called arbitrary knowledge of insulated facts, which can only be learned by rote, and which is necessary in after life ; when the acquisition of it would both be more troublesome, and would encroach on time that might otherwise be better employed. Chronology, names of countries, weights and measures, and indeed all the words of any language, are of this description. If a child had even ten times the ordi

i London Review. No. xi, pages 412, 413.

« AnteriorContinua »