HAVING completed ah exposition of the whole bible, the Books both of the Old and of the New Testament; I considered with myself what would be best next to engage in, for the further instruction of the people under my care ; and my thoughts' led me to enter upon a scheme of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, first the former and then the latter ; the one being the foundation of the other, and both having a close connexion with each other.
• Systematical Divinity, I am sensible, is now become very unpopular. Formulas and articles of faith, creeds, confessions, catechisms, and summaries of divine truths, are greatly decried in our age ; and yet, what art or science soever but has been reduced to a system ? physic, metaphysic, logic, rhetoric, &c. Philosophy, in general, has had its several systems; not to take notice of the various sects and systems of philosophy in ancient times ; in the last age, the Cartesian system of philosophy greatly obtained, as the Newtonian system now does. Medicine, jurisprudence, or law, and every art and science, are reduced to a system or body, which is no other than ah assemblage or composition of the several doctrines or parts of a science; and why should divinity, the most noble science, be without a system ? Kvangelical truths are spread and scattered about in the sacred Scriptures ; and to gather them together, and dispose of tbt•m in a regular, orderly method, surely cannot be disagreeable ; but must be useful, for .the more clear and perspicuous understanding them, for the better retaining them in memor\, and to shew the connection, harmony, and agreement of them. Accordingly we find that Christian writer.*, in ancient times, attempted something of this nature; as the several formulas of faith?
symbols or creeds, made in the first three or four centuries of Christianity. Since the reformation, we have had bodies or s)stt.ms of divinity, and confessions of faith, better digested, and drawn up with greater accuracy and consistence; and ■which have been very serviceable to lead men into the knowledge of evangelical doctrine, and confirm them in it; as well as to shew the agreement and harmony of sound divines and churches, in the more principal parts of it: and even those who now cry out against systems, confessions, and creeds, their predecessors had those of their own. Arius had his crc.ed; and the Socinians have their catechism. The Jews, in imitation of the Christians, have reduced their theology to certain heads or articles of faith.
The Scripture exhibits compendiums or .systems of doctrine and duty. What a compendium or body of laws is the decalogue or ten commands, drawn up and calculated more especially for the use of the Jews, and suited to their circumstances ! a body of laws not to be equalled by the wisest legislators of Greece and Rome, Minos, Lycurgus, Zalcucus, and Numa ; nor by the laws of the twelve Roman tables, for order and recularity, for clearness and perspicuity, for comprehensiveness and brevity. The Lord's prayer consists of petitions the most full, proper, and pertinent, and in the most regular order. And we have a creed made mention of in Heb. vi. 1, 2. consisting of six articles, repentance from dead works, faith towards God, the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Mention is made in the New Testament' of a form of doctrine delivered, and a form of sound words that had been heard and >ias to be held fast, and of a proportion or analogy of faith, according to which ministers were to prophesy or preach. Rom. vi. 17. 2 Tim. i. 13. Rom. xii. 6.
It is strongly pleadtd that articles and-confessions of faith, in which men are to agree, should be expressed in the bare words of the sacred Scriptures ; but without an explanation of their sense of them in other words, it might introduce into a christian community all sorts of errors that can be named, it would—1. destroy all exposition and interpretation of Scripture; for without words different from, though agreeable to the sacred Scriptures, we can never express our sense of them.—2. To be obliged to express ourselves about divine things in the bare words of Scripture, must tend to make the ministry and preaching of the word in a great measure useless. •—3. This must in a great measure cramp all religious conversation about divine things, if not destroy it. To what purpose is it for them that fear God to meet frequently and speak often one to another about the things of God and truths of the gospel, if they are not to make use of their own words, to express their sense of these things by them ?—t. Indeed, if this is the case as it would be unlawful to speak or write otherwise than in the words of Scripture, so it would be unlawful to think or conceive in the mind any other than what the Scripture expresses.—5. In this way, the sentiments of one man in any point of religion cannot be distinguished from those of another, though diametrically opposite; so an Ariart cannot be known from an Athanasian ; both will say, in the words of Scripture, that Christ is the great God, the true God, and over all God blessed for ever; but without expressing themselves in their own words, their different sentiments will not be discerned ; the one holding that Christ is a created God, of a like, but not of the same substance with his Father; the other that he is equal with him, of the same nature, substance, and glory.—■&• It does not appear that those men who are so strenuous for the use of Scripture-phrases only in articles of religion, have a greater value for the Scriptures than others; nay, not so much ; for if we arc to form a judgment of them by their sermons and writings, one would think they never read the Scriptures at all, or very little, since they make such an unfrequent use of them: you shall scarcely hear a passage of Scripture quoted by them in a sermon, or produced by them in their writings ;, more frequently Seneca, Cicero, and others; and it looks as if they thought it very unpolite, and what might serve to disgrace their more refined writings, to fill their performances with thera.
The subject of the following pages being theology, or whaft we call divinity, it may be proper.to consider the signification, and use of the word, and from whence it has its rise. I say, what we call divinity ; for it seems to be a word, as to the use of it in this subject, peculiar to us ; foreign writers never entitle their works of this kind, corpus vel systema vel medulla^ divinitatis, a bodv or system, or marrow of divinity, but corpus vel systema vel medulla theologi*, a body or system or marrow of theology. The word divinitas, from whence our word divinity comes, is only used by La.in writers for dr,ity or godhead; but since custom and use have long fixed the sense of the word among us, to signify, when used on this subject, a treatise or. the science of divine things, sacred truths, and Christian doctrines, taken out of the Scriptures; we need not scruple the use of it.
Theology is a Greek word, and signifies a discourse concerning God and things belonging to him ; it was first in use among the heathen poets and philosophers. Lactantius says,* the most ancient writers of Greece were, called Theologues ; these were their poets who wrote of their deities, and of the genealogies of them. Thepriests of Delphos, are called by Plutarch,f the Theologues of Delpljos. It is from hence now that these words Theology and Theologues have been borrowed, and made us"e of by Christian writers; and I see no impropriety in the use of them ; uor should they be thought the worse for their original, no more than other words which come from the same source ; for though these words are used of false deities, and of persons that treat of them ; it follows not but that they may be used, with great propriety, of dis. courses concerning the true God, and things belonging to him, and of those that discourse of them. The first among Christians that has the tide of Tbeologue, or Divine, is St. John, the writer of the book of the Revelation ; for so the inscrip- » tion of the book runs, " the Revelation of St. John the Di-' vine."
» De Ira c. 11. t De defect. Orac. p. 417. vid. ib'. 4J0,436.
Whether this word Theologue, or Divine, was originally in the inscription of this book, I will not say- These words Theologue and Theology are to be met with frequently in the ancienl fathers, in following ages, and in all ages, and in all Christian writers to the present times. Upon the whole, it appears.that Theology, or Di\inity, as we call ir, is no other than a science or doctrine concerning God, or a discoursing and treating of things relating to him ; and that a Theologue, or a Divine, is one that understands, discourses, and treats of divine things.
Natural tneology may be considered either as it was in Adam before the fall, or as in him and his posterity since the fall. Adam, before the fall, had great knowledge of ihings, divine as well as natural, moral and civil; he was created in the image of God, which image lay in knowledge, as well as in righteousness and holiness ; before he came short of thjs glory, and lost this image, or at least was greatly impaired and obliterated in him bv sin, he knew much of God, of his nature and attributes, of his mind and will, and the worship of him. But this kind of .theology appeared with a different aspect in Adam after his fall, and in his posterity ; by sin his mind was greatly beclouded,.and his understanding darkened.; he lost much of his knowledge of God, and of his perfections, or he could never have imagined that going among the trees of the garden would hide him from the presence of God, and secure him from his justice. What a notion .must he have of the omnipresence of God? and what also of his omniscience, when he attempted to palliate and cover his sin by the excuse he made ? Of the weakness and insufficiency of natural theology to instruct men in the knowledge of divine" things, destitute of a divine revelation, more may be said hereafter.
Supernatural theology, or what is by pure revelation, may be next considered, in its original rise and progress; and as ic has been improved and increased, or has met with checks and obstructions.
The state of this theology may be considered as it was from the first appearance of it, after the fall of Adam, to the flood in the times,of Noah, or throughout the old world. What gave rise unto and is the foundation of it, is what God pronouncedxo the serpent: it (the seed of the woman) shall bruise thi) head, and thou shall bruise his heel: these words contain the principle articles of Christian theology. This re'ceived some further improvement, from the coats of skin the Lord God mack and tloathed our first parents with, an emblem of the justifying righteousness of Christ, and of the garments of salvation wrought out by his obedience, sufferings, and death; signified by slain beasts; and which God puts upon his people, and clothes them with, through his gracious act of imputation. And what serves to throw more light on this evangelical theology, are the sacrifices ordered to be offered up ; and which were types of the sacrifice of Christ; and particularly that which was offered up by Abel, who, by faith in the saciifice of Christ, offered up a more excellent sacrifice than Cain; which also was a lamb, the firstling of his flock, and pointed at the lamb of God, who by his sacrifice takes away the sins of his people. Within this period of time men seem to have increased in light, as tothe worship of God, especially, public worship ; for in the times of Enos, the grandson of Adam, men btgan to call upon the name of the Lord.
The next period of time in which supernatural theology may be traced, is from the flood, in the times of Noah, to the giving of the laws to Israel, in the times of Moses. The true religion, as it was received from the first man, Adam ; was taught by Noah, and the knowledge of it conveyed to his posterity, partly in the ministry of the word by him, for he was a preacher of righteousness. The sacrifices he offered were of clean creaturfs, and were a sweet savour to God, and were typical of the purity of Christ's sacrifice for sin, and of the acceptance of it to God, which is to him a sweet smelling savour. Moreover, the waters of the flood, and the ark in which Noah and his family were preserved, were a type of an evangelical ordinance, the ordinance of baptism; which is an emblem of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; by which men are saved; lor Noah and his family going into the ark, where, when the fountains of the great deep were broken up below, and the windows of heaven opened above, they were like persons covered in water, and immersed in it, and as persons buried ; and when they came out of• it, the water being carried toff, it was like a resurrection, and as life from the dead; the Me figure, or antitype whereunto, the apostle says, even baptism, doth also now save us, by the resurrection of Christ Jesus signified thereby, 1 Pet. iii. 21. Likewise the rainbow, the token of the covenant; which, though not the covenant of grace, yet of kindness and preservation, was an emblem of peace and reconciliation by Christ, the mediator of the covenant of grace; and may assure of the everlasting love of God to his people, Tand of the immoveableness of the covenant of his peace with them. Moreover, as the gospel was preached unto Abraham, Gal. iii. 8. there is no doubt but that he preached it to others ; and as he had knowledge of the Messiah, who should spring from him, in whom all nations of the earth would be blessed, and who saw his day and was glad; so his grandson Jacob had a more clear and distinct view of him, as God's salvation, as the Shiloh, the peace-maker and prosperous one, who should come, before civil government was removed from the Jews, and when come, multitudes should be gathered to him, Gen. slix. 10—18. Idolatry within this period first bega among the builders of Babel. The worship of the sun and moon prevailed in the times of Job, in Arabia; who lived about the lime t)f the children of Israel being in Egypt.
The next period is from the giving of the law to Israel by the hand of Moses, to the times of David and the prophets; in which supernatural theology was taught by types; as the passover, the manna, the brazen serpent, and other things ; which were emblems of Christ and his grace: the whole ceremonial law, all that related to the priests, their garments, and their work and office, had an evangelical signification; it was the Jews gospel: Moses wrote of Christ. According to the Jews there was a divinity-school in the times of Samuel. There were within this time some checks to the true knowledge and worship of God, by the idolatry of the calf at Sinai; Baal-peor, on the borders of Moab; and of Baalim and Ashtaroth, and oibr.r deities, after the death of Joshua, and in the times of the Judges.
The period from the times of David, including them, to the Babylonish captivity, abodnds with evangelic truths, and doctrines of supernatural theology. The Psalms of David are full of spiritual and evangelic knowledge. And the pro. phets which followed him speak out still more clearly of the incarnation of Christ; point out the very place where he was to be born, and the country where he would preach the gospel, to the illumination of those that sat in darkness. They plainly describe him in his person, his offices, the sufferings he should undergo, and the circumstances of them, and benefits arising from them ; they bear witness to the doctrines of pardon of sin through him, and justification by him ; and of his bearing sin, and making satisfaction for it: in short, a scheme of evangelic truths may be deduced from the prophetic writings ; and, indeed, the great apostle Paul himself said no other things than what the prophets did. There were some sad revolts from the true God, and his worship, within this compass of time, in the reigns of some of the kings of Israel and Judah»
The period from the Babylonish captivity to the times of* Christ, finish the Old Testament.dispensation. At the return of the Jews from captivity, who brought no idolatrous worship with them, there was a reformation made by Ezra and Nehemiah, with the prophets of their time; or who quickly followed, as Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi; but after the death of these prophets, and the Holy Spirit departed, and there was no more prophecy, supernatural theology began greatlv to decline. The sect of the Sadducees, a sort of free-thinkers, rose up; who said there was no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit: and the sect of the Pharisees, a sort of free-willers, who set up traditions as the rule of men's worship, and which rose to an enormous bigness in the times of Christ, who severely inveighed against them ; and which in after-times were compiled and put together in a volume, called, the Misnah,
their traditional, or body of traditions: and this, in course of time, occasioned a large work finished in Babylon, and from thence called the Babylonian Talmud ; which is their doctri. nal, or body of doctrine ; full of fables, false glosses and interpretations of Scriptures ; and which is the foundation of the erroneous doctrines and practices of the Jews to this day.
The theology of the Pagans, according to themselves, as Scsevola* and Varrof testify, was of three sorts,—1. Mystical* or fabulous, which belonged to the poets, and was sung by them.—2. Physical, or natural; which belonged to the philo
sophers, and were studied by them 3. Political, or civil*
which belonged to princes, priests, and people ; being instituted by the one, exercised by the other, and enjoined on the latter.
But to return to supernatural theology, having traced it to the times of Christ: at whose coming, and through whose ministry, and that of his forerunner, and of his Aposdes, it revived and lift up its head, and appeared in all its purity, splendour, and glory. John was a man sent from God, to bear witness to the light that was just rising, even the sun o£ righteousness* the day-spring from on high; the great light that should lighten those that sat in darkness with a supernatural light; he declared the kingdom of Heaven, or gospel-dispensation was at hand, and just ushering in ; and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin, and administered that gospel-ordinance. *» God, who at sundry times* and in divers manners, had spoke to the fathers by the prophets, now spoke to men by his Son :'' Christ* his only begotten son* who lay in his bosom, came and declared him ; who and what he was, and what was his mind and will: he brought the doctrines of grace and truth with him ; and spoke such words of grace, truth and wisdom, as never man spoke ; his doctrine was not human, but divine ; it was not his own as man, he received it from his Father, and delivered to his apostles ; who having a commission from him to preach it, and being qualified for it, with the gifts and graces of his" Spirit in great abundance, went into all the world and preached the gospel to every creature ; and diffused the savour of his knowledge in every place.
• Apud. Augustin. de Civ. Dei, 1.4. c. 21. \ Apud. IU. 1. 6. o. 9.
After the holy company of the apostles had ended their lives, and that generation was gone, which was worthy to hear the divine wisdom, then a aystem of impious error took place, through the deceit of false teachers.
The school at Alexandria, from whence came several of the Christian doctors, as Pantanus, Clemens, Origin, &l» served very much to corfupt the simplicity of the gospel: for though it mended the Platonic philosophy, it marred the Christian doctrine ; and laid the foundation for Arianism and Pelagianism, which in after, times so greatly disturbed the church of God. The gospel in its simplicity, through the power of divine grace attending it, made its way into the gentile world, in these first centuries, with great success; and paganism decreased before it; and which in the times of Constantine received a fatal blow in the Roman empire ; and yet by degrees pagan rites and ceremonies were introduced into the Christian church ; and what with them, and errors in doctrine, and other things concurring, made way for the man of sin to appear ; and that mystery of iniquity, which had been secretly working from the times of the apostles, to shew its htad openly; and brought in the darkness of popery upon almost all that bore the Christian name.
In the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, flourished a set of men called Schoolmen ; these framed a new sort of divinity, called from them scholastic theology; the first founder of which some make to be Damascene, among the Greeks and others ; Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, among the Latins ; though generally Peter Lombard is reckoned the father of these men. Their theology lay in content]'ous and litigious disputations ; in thorny questions, and subtle distinctions; and their whole scheme was chiefly directed 18 support antichristianism, and the tenets of it; so that by their means popish darkness was the more increased, and Christian divinity was banished almost out of the world ; and was only to foe found among a few, among the Waldenses and Albigenses, and the inhabitants of the valleys of Piedmont, and some particular persons and their followers, as Wickliff, John Huss, and Jerom of Prague ; and so things continued till the reformation begun by Zuinglius and Luther, and carried on by others; by whose means evangelical light was spread through many nations in Europe.
By many the doctrines of pure revelation are almost exploded, and some are endeavouring to bring us, as fast as they can, into a state of paganism, only somewhat refined. Almost all the old heresies are revived, under a fond and foolish notion of new light; when they are no other than what have been confuted over and over. When men leave the sure word, the only rule of faith and practice, and follow their own fancies, and the dictates of their carnal minds, they must needs go wrong. Let us, therefore, search the Scriptures, to see whether doctrines advanced are according to them or not. I have but little reason to think the following Work will meet with a favourable reception in general; yet if it may be a means of preserving sacred truths, of enlightening the minds of any into them, or of establishing them in them, I shall not be concerned at what evil treatment I may meet with from the adversaries of them ; and be it as it may, I shall have the satisfaction of having done the best I can for the promoting rxuth; and of bearing a testimony to it.