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STUDY OF THE BIBLE.
At the Literary Convention held in New York in October, 1830, the question was proposed as a subject of discussion for the next year, whether the Bible should be studied as a classic in the institutions of a Christian community. It was understood to refer to the claims of the Scripture to a place in our course of education as a part of our literature, and to exclude all reference to theological instruction or to the methods in which it should be studied. — A committee was appointed to examine and report upon it, at the next convention, consisting of W. C. Woodbridge, Rev. T. H. Gallaudet and Professor Robinson of Andover. -The state of Professor Robinson's health preventing his attention to the subject, the following report was presented by the remaining members of the Committee, to the Convention of 1831, and unanimously approved; and a second Committee appointed to report to the next Convention, on the best method of pursuing this study.
STATEMENT OF THE QUESTION. The study of the Greek and Roman classics is pronounced by the prescription of centuries to be the only road to sound learning, and thorough intellectual cultivation. That the investigation of foreign languages is admirably adapted to form a course of practical logic, to train the mind to philological and moral reasoning, and to furnish it with a rich store of thought and expression, your Committee are fully satisfied. They know not that any languages better deserve to be studied for these purposes, than the Greek and Latin ; whose perfect and philosophical construction, antiquity has made unchangeable. They are also indispensable to every man who designs to attain eminence in any of the learned professions ; and are the only medium of access to the treasures of sacred literature. They conceive, however, whatever may be the decision on the comparative value of these studies, the question before the Convention does not involve, in the remotest degree, the abandonment of the classics of Greece and Rome. The only inquiry is, whether more is not necessary whether the sacred classics ought not to be added to the profane, ir order to complete the circle of knowledge which is designed to mak
men who shall be the pillars of the state, the ornaments of society and the benefactors of mankind.
They see that Homer, and Virgil, Cicero, and Demosthenes, and Sallust, and Xenophon, are placed in the rank of classical authors ; that similar authority and honor are conceded in our public institutions to Locke, and Paley, and Priestly, and Stewart, and Brown, and Tytler, so far as even to make them subjects of study; and that Pope and Milton, Johnson and Addison, Hume and Gibbon, are spoken of under the same title.
The topic before us involves the question, whether the works of Moses and Daniel, of David and Isaiah and Solomon, of Matthew, and Luke, and Paul, shall rank with those which bear the celebrated names we have mentioned – whether the Bible, which includes these, and a variety of works of similar character, whose authority is more generally revered and appealed to, among enlightened nations, than that of any other book in existence, and which is regarded as the standard of truth and duty, by the majority in every Christian country, has equal claims to the time and efforts of those who wish to acquire a truly liberal, and universal education. It was designed by those who moved the consideration of this subject to refer to such a course of study, as shall make our youth thoroughly acquainted with the contents of the Bible; and also to present the inquiry, how far the original languages and literature of this sacred volume should form a subject of instruction in our higher institutions.
Nor does the topic before the Convention, in the view of those who proposed it, or of the Committee, relate to religious instruction or to the inculcation and application of any system of religion. — Many of our schools and literary institutions already have a course of religious instruction; others have none; and only one is known to the Committee, in which a complete course of biblical instruction is pursued, comprising the study of the contents and the literature of the Bible. The question is, whether, aside from the doctrines it teaches, the Bible has any claims to be received as a subject of study in institutions of both characters, as a part of the literature of the ancient and the modern world, as an appropriate branch of instruction for youth, on account of its intellectual and moral influence.
The ground on which any work is received as a classic, worthy of having its contents examined and its literature investigated, may be comprised in the following:
I. The importance of the subject.
III. Its permanent and universal character in distinction from what is of a temporary, local, or party character.
IV. The reputation of its author, and the extent to which it is received and referred to.
V. Its usefulness in the development of the intellectual powers.
VI. Its elevated rhetorical character, and its favorable influence on the taste and style.
VII Its happy moral and social influence.
VIII. Its application to the peculiar circumstances of our age and country.
IX. Its practical value in after life.
Some works are adopted as classics, which have only one or two of these characteristics. An ordinary work, possessed of all of them, would be considered indispensable to a liberal education. Such a work the Bible has been pronounced to be, by some of the wisest and most learned men, of the most enlightened countries and periods; and such we believe it must be regarded by every one who will examine it by these tests.
GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE BIBLE. I. The subjects of the Bible are highly important. It contains the only history of the formation of the earth, and of the origin of man, which bears even a resemblance to truth, in the opinion of enlightened nations; or which corresponds in any degree, with those permanent records of the creation which geology has discovered. It is the only original record of the early history of mankind, of the history of the Jewish nation, and of the foundation of Christianity ; and in this character, its authority is at least as fully and as generally admitted as that of Tacitus, and Xenophon, and Hume. It contains the only system of religion, the only code of morals which most of the enlightened men of civilized countries have regarded as pure and perfect; the system which prevails in our own country, and in all civilized nations. Were the Koran, or the Shaster, the only book professing to treat on these subjects, which thus received the general sanction of enlightened men, would it not deserve as much attention as a received work on science, or a generally acknowledged standard of eloquence ?*
II. În regard to the genuineness and authenticity of the work, as a production of former ages, and a record or an exhibition of their character, the Bible is sustained by evidence superior to that of any other work of antiquity, aside from any question of its inspiration. Its reception by a whole nation — the care with which its purity has been preserved, and the multiplication of its copies — its correspondence with other authentic works and general history, and the records of Creation which the earth itself contains -- all furnish better evidence of its authenticity, than belongs to any other classic of ancient or modern times.
III. The Bible is not less remarkable for its permanent and universal character, in distinction from what is of a temporary, local, or party character.
It is the book of all ages and of all nations, adapted to every state of society, to every form of government, to every period of the
* On this subject Professor Stuart remarks with great force, in a document to which he refers the Committee. “If antiquity be an object of research for a man of liberal education, where is the book as ancient or as authentic as the Bible? If the history of countries which were the incunabula gentis humana, (the cradles of the human race) is a proper and important subject of inquiry, where is this to be found, except in the Bible? The incongruous,- not to say contemptible, fables of heathen authors, in regard to this deeply interesting subject, are not even to be named when compared with the Hebrew Scriptures.'
world, and we may add to every period of life, from infancy to old age. It affords ample and intelligible instruction to the most ignorant, and a boundless field of research to the most learned.
IV. But what are the claims of the Bible in reference to the character of its authors, and the extent to which it is received ? Its writers were men of distinguished talents and excellence, often the only writers of the day whose works have come down to us. The authority of no other is more extensively acknowledged or more highly revered. In regard to the extent to which it is received, the Bible is unrivalled, so far as the literature of civilized nations is concerned ; and is rapidly extending itself over all nations. It is the avowed standard of truth and duty in all Christian countries.
With the great mass of the Christian world its authority is placed beyond dispute by the belief that they were under the influence of Divine Inspiration. It is perpetually appealed to, by the Poet, and the Orator and the Statesman, as well as the Divine, as a rich treasure of truth and of wisdom, of thought and of imagery.
If it be disreputable for a well educated Englishmen to be ignoránt of the life and works of Shakspeare, and Milton, and Johnson, how much more to the well educated member of a Christian community, not to be familiar with the writings of Moses, and Isaiah, and Paul, and the life of Jesus Christ and his apostles ?
V. In regard to intellectual development, if to call forth every faculty of the mind upon the most elevated and important subjects, and in the most sublime and beautiful language, be the qualities which render a work suitable for this object, the Bible has no rival.
A mere comparison of the intellectual elevation of those nations to whom the Bible is known, with the ignorance and superstition, and narrowness of mind which characterize all to whom it is unknown, will show that this inference is not founded in theory only. If this difference be ascribed to the influence of science, and if we overlook the fact that the progress of science has been connected with that of the Bible, we shall avoid all possibility of error on this subject, by observing the intellectual influence of the Scriptures on the frozen Esquimaux and the degraded Hottentot, on the natives of our own forests, and the laborers of our own land; whose elevation of thought and language under the instruction of this single book, would often do honor to the well educated scholar. If we place the Bible on the ground of a classic, and attend to its literature and antiquities, and the great principles of interpretation appropriate to it, as we do to those of the classics, we are presented with a boundless field of investigation which from the nature of its subjects, must be far more ennobling and expanding in its influence on the mind, than any other branch of literature.*
* On this point Professor Stuart observes, “An acquaintance with the helps necessary to a proper study of the original Scriptures, must greatly enlarge the circle of any man's acquaintance with literature, especially with ancient history, geography, chronology, and antiquities at large. The history, manners, customs, laws, climate, soil, productions, &c, &c, of all hither Asia, of southern Europe, and northern Africa, (by way of eminence the ancient world) are all involved in the exegetical study of the original Scriptures. It is impossible for any man to engage in such a round of study, without enlarging his mind and expanding his views, as well as greatly increasing his knowledge.'
VI. With regard to its rhetorical character, and its influence on the imagination and taste, the opinions of Rousseau, Fenelon, Jones, Lowth, and a multitude of other distinguished men, assign it the highest rank. On this subject we have the strongest testimony in the language of Sir William Jones, one of the most enlightened civilians and masterly scholars of any age or country, whose profession was that of civil law, who had all the treasures of the East and West at his command, and who opened and examined them all.'
After a familiar acquaintance with the literature of twentyeight languages, this great man observes zit !
. I have carefully and regularly perused the Scriptures, and am of opinion, that this volume independently of its divine origin contains more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains, both of poetry, and of eloquence, than could be collected within the same compass, from all other books which were ever composed, in any age or in any idiom.'
Rousseau could not but say: The majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with astonishment. Never was the most profound wisdom, expressed with so much energy or simplicity.'
Fenelon observes, in comparing it with those standards of excellence, the classic authors; ' T'he Scripture surpasses the most ancient Greek authors vastly, in naked simplicity, loveliness, and grandeur. Homer himself never reached the sublimity of Moses' songs, or equalled Isaiah in describing the majesty of God. Never did any ode, either Greek or Latin, come up to the loftiness of the psalms. In all its diversified compositions, every part bears the peculiar character that becomes it.' 'The history, the particular detail of laws, the descriptions, the vehement and pathetic passages, the miracles and prophecies, the moral discourses — in all these appears a natural and beautiful variety. In short, there is as great a difference between the heathen poets and the prophets, as there is between a false enthusiasm and the true.
VII. In regard to the influence it is fitted to exert on the moral character and social state of man, the testimony of history, and of modern experience, unite in proving the Bible, preëminent. We need only compare the nations who receive and read the Bible, with those who reject it, or are shut out from its use, and we shall find in this, the scale of moral development, of social improvement and refinement.
It is acknowledged to contain the purest, and most rational system of religion and code of morals, presented in the most sublime and impressive manner; and the brightest examples and highest motives to stimulate to moral excellence. Its influence has been such as we should expect from its character. To enumerate its actual effects, would be