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In religious subjects, vastly important is the question of Pilate to Christ, What is truth? Agreeably to the Divine economy in human salvation, men are renewed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of the Word of truth. All the Christian graces are exercised in view of gospel truth. The Scriptures give no account that any, who had arrived to years of discretion, were converted, sanctified, or saved, till they had been favored with religious instruction. How important, then, that mankind should be indoctrinated in the Word of God,-should have some definite views of the doctrines, duties, and graces of Christianity !-Half a century ago, the question in the religious community of New England very generally was, What is truth? In the present day, the question seems to be, What will promote revivals of religion and Christian enterprises ? While the latter cannot be too highly valued, the former should receive all due attention, as Divine truth is the basis upon which the others rest; and no further are they to be approved, than they accord with the unerring standard of truth.
A discussion of the great and momentous truths of religion, in a clear and concise manner, and with such a classification and arrangement, as that their mutual connection and dependence may appear, is deemed very desirable, especially when all classes in society, and, most emphatically, the young, are exposed to the 'seductions of vice and the scoffs of infidelity. Such a discussion, it is hoped, will be found in the following pages. The Author has adopted the catechetical form of writing, as admitting the greatest quantity of matter within the same compass, and as best adapted to the end he had in view. He has long been of the opinion, that instruction, systematically given, in way of question and answer, is well calculated to impress the mind. It is the first mode of acquiring knowledge, and the most natural and happy mode. This method of instruction is profitable, as it gives just and precise definitions of sacred truth, which the memory can easily retain, and which may serve as a basis on which to raise the superstructure of divine knowledge. Deeply impressed with this consideration, the Author published a Catechism for children and youth, on the doctrines and duties of the Christian religion, in the year 1817, and, from that time to the present, has been much attached to this manner of imparting divine truth. Such, too, was the mode of instructing, adopted by the Reformers in the sixteenth century, as the most happy, concise, and easy way of communicating religious knowledge. The work is designed as a text book in the instruction of theological classes and the higher classes in Sabbath schools as an assistant to the instructer and the instructed.
The Author is aware that there are many books published in the present day for the instruction and benefit of the rising generation, and many of them, he believes, will have a very happy effect. It should,
THEOLOGICAL CLASS BOOK:
SYSTEM OF DIVINITY. .
Existence and Character of God, and the moral Con
dition and Duties of Man, as manifested by the Light of Nature.*
Question 1. How does it appear, that there is a God?
Answer. From our own existence, and from what is seen existing around us. (a)
(a) Heb. ïïi. 4. For every house is builded by some man; bet he that built all things is God.-Ps. xix. 1-3. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.-Rom. i. 19, 20. Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.
* By the light of nature is meant the instruction respecting doctrine and duty, which we may obtain by the right use of our intellectual and moral faculties in considering the being and perfections of God, and the relation we sustain to Him, and to one another, as manifest ed by the works of creation and providence ;-or the knowledge of doctrine and duty, which we may acquire in all ways except by special revelation.
Q. 2. How do these things prove the being of
A. By their very existence, and by the design discoverable in them. 1. By their very existence. The visible universe is ever changing, and is, therefore, not eternal ; for that which is eternal, is self-existent, and that which is self-existent admits of no change in kind or degree. All things, then, which are seen, began to exist. Consequently, they either created themselves, came into existence by chance, or were created by some other being. But self-creation is a contradiction ; for it supposes, that a being can act before it exists, or that an effect is the cause of itself. Creation by chance is absurd; for to say, that a thing is produced, and yet that there is no cause of its production, is to say, that something is effected, when it is effected by nothing, that is, not effected at all. All things, then, which do appear, must have been created by some other being. And the being who created all these things is God. 2. The design, discoverable in the constitution, regularity, harmony, and government of the visible universe, proves the being of God. Design implies a designer, and this designer must exist before the things designed. Consequently, the design, manifest in all things existing around us, proves a designer; and this designer is God.
Q. 3. What does the light of nature teach concerning the perfections of God ?
A. It teaches His self-existence, eternity, immutability, omnipotence, independence, omnipresence, omniscience, unity, goodness, and wisdom.*
Q. 4. What relation of God to man is discoverable by the light of nature ?
A. The relation of Creator, Preserver, Proprietor, Benefactor, Lawgiver, Governor, and Disposer.
* It is not certain, that the unity or the perfect goodness and wisdom of God would ever have been discovered by the human mind in Its present depraved state without the light of revelation. For a full consideration of the perfections of God, the reader is referred to Chapter III.