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7. But controversies thus frivolous and reprehensible are not always confined to subjects merely doctrinal; they frequently extend to matters of practical concern, greatly to the peril and embarrassment of those who delight in them. The science of casuistry, a dangerous weapon in the hands of any but the most skilful combatants, too often, even in such hands, puts the cause of truth to hazard. To the perversion of talent of this kind may be ascribed many maxims of conduct, and many impracticable schemes of duty, unsanctioned, if not contradicted, by Scripture authority. The morals of the Jesuits have, through such misapplied ingenuity, become proverbial as to their laxity and evasive character. Their origin, however, may be traced to the scholastic theology of still earlier times. With little practical knowledge of mankind, and oftentimes but little reverence for the pure word of God, many of the older schooldivines were occupied in the discussion of abstract moral propositions or hypotheses, full as injurious to practice as their metaphysical re- · veries were to the faith. Hence the admission of mental reservations, of distinctions between philosophical and theological sins, of subtleties respecting attrition and contrition, and of various other devices, substituted for the simple
word of God. Among these might also, perhaps, be classed some of the numerous tribe of pietists, so called, with devotees of still more fantastic character and denomination, whose errors, originating at first, perhaps, in no evil intention, consisted chiefly in laying undue stress upon matters unessential to the Christian character; but which thence degenerated into eccentricities the most extravagant and reprehensible. These again paved the way for Anabaptists, Quakers, and many other sects, which aimed at a new sort of reformation, not only subversive of all external order and discipline in the church, but nullifying some of the most sacred ordinances of the Gospel itself.
8. Mystical theology furnishes us with yet another class, productive of the same pernicious consequences.
Wild and visionary attempts to explore the world of spirits, or to hold personal converse with the Deity, gave rise, first to the Valentinian heresies; then, to the cabbalistical theology; afterwards, to what was called, by way of eminence, theosophy, or divine wisdom ; to astrology also ; to sorcery and magic; and to every species of fanaticism which the perturbed imaginations of men could invent. Nor let it be supposed that these were the offspring merely of vulgar credulity, or of mental imbecility ; they were in many instances evidently the result of spiritual or of intellectual pride; the wanderings of minds above the ordinary cast, not satisfied with the acquisition of simple truth, but ever intent upon the recondite and the marvellous, upon subjects conducive neither to faith nor practice; such as can never promote the real interests of man, temporal or eternal.
9. Not very remote from these are the indiscriminate and incautious cultivators of what has been called emblematical theology. The foundation of this species of mysticism is the supposed perfect harmony and conformity that subsists between the works of the natural and of the spiritual world. By expositors of this class, the whole visible creation is regarded as figurative of the invisible; and the Old Testament as containing throughout, under the veil of imagery, the entire substance of the New. To enucleate these supposed hidden verities is the aim of this race of interpreters. Every event antecedent to the coming of our Lord is supposed to correspond, as type and antitype, to some event subsequent to his coming; and on this presumed analogy the whole work of scripture-interpretation is carried on. Disputes, not inconsiderable, prevailed respecting this subject in Holland, during the early part of the seventeenth century, between Cocceius, the abettor of the system on the one side, and Voetius his opponent on the other; each supported by advocates of high reputation. In our own country, and by some distinguished members of our Church, the same system has been much discussed, under the well-known title of Hutchinsonianism. Of its merits or demerits I forbear to say more, than that, however blameless, or even edifying it may be, when kept within certain bounds, it is nevertheless exceedingly liable to mislead. In its very principle also, it savours somewhat of a prurient kind of inquisitiveness, unbefitting the reverence due to the sacred oracles. Neither ought it, under any circumstances, to be laid down as a systematic rule of interpretation, or regarded as essential to a right understanding of the holy scriptures. The same may perhaps be said of a somewhat different study, to which theologians of considerable reputation have sometimes been inclined to attach undue importance; that of the Rabbinical interpreters of holy writ. Considered merely as evidence of the early opinions prevalent among the Jews, some of these expositors, however fanciful or extravagant, may be entitled to regard.
But further than this, it does not appear
that they can materially assist in the elucidation of Scripture: and when they betray their admirers into any thing like deference to their authority, it is seldom that they are found to be safe or satisfactory guides.
The time would fail me, were 1 to pursue these subjects further, or to detail other controversies, equally undeserving of the labours bestowed upon them. Such were the reveries of some earlier as well as later sects, respecting the Millennium ; of others, who maintained the final restoration of the wicked as well as the good to a state of eternal felicity, and thence called Universalists. Numberless unprofitable questions have also been agitated relating to the Mosaic accounts of the creation of the world, the Divine image in man, the situation of
paradise, the fall, the deluge, the re-peopling of the world, the origin of nations, and their dispersion throughout the earth ;-questions, upon which rash conjectures, or hasty inferences, have too often been drawn, giving occasion to infidel writers to disparage even the entire authority of the holy scriptures. The same might be observed of some rash attempts to expound prophecies not yet fulfilled; or to deduce from Scripture systems