Finney's Lectures On Theology
Volume 1, Unpublished, c. 1860
LECTURE I, II.
I. I will define the study upon which we are about to enter.
II. Notice some requisite personal qualifications for this study.
III. Some advantages to be derived from the study of Systematic Theology.
IV. Some things to be avoided.
I. DEFINE THE STUDY UPON WHICH WE ARE ABOUT TO ENTER.
1. Theology is the science of God and of divine things. It teaches the existence, natural and moral attributes, laws, government, and whatever may be known of God, and of our relations, duties, and responsibilities to him and to the universe. In its most comprehensive sense it embraces all knowledge.
2. It may be, and generally is, divided into natural and revealed theology. This distinction does not imply that natural theology is not revealed, but that it is not revealed by inspiration. Natural theology is that which derives its evidence from the works of God, or from nature, as it is often but erroneously expressed. Revealed theology is that which derives its doctrines and evidence from the Bible.
3. Theology is again subdivided into didactic, polemic, and pastoral. Didactic is the systematic statement of theological doctrines with their evidences, both of natural and revealed religion. Polemic is controversial, and consists in the defence of the disputed doctrines of theology. Pastoral relates to the relations, duties, and responsibilities of pastors. It teaches the just application of the principles of the government of God, to the pastoral relation and office, and covers the whole ground of the relation of a pastor to his people and of the people to their pastor; of his responsibility to them and to God in the instruction he gives them, and their duties to him and to God in respect to the manner in which they receive his instruction as an ambassador of God.
II. SOME OF THE REQUISITE PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR THIS STUDY.
1. We do not naturally understand the language of one with whose state of mind we have no sympathy. A selfish being will hardly understand the language of a benevolent one, but would naturally interpret his language as intended to express what he himself would mean by such language.
There is scarcely any of the language of true benevolence which is not very naturally misunderstood by a selfish mind. Therefore it is indispensable to a just interpretation of the works and words of God that we should be in sympathy with his state of mind. And it is quite natural for persons in the same state of mind, devoted to the same end and inclining to purpose[pursue] that end by the same means, to understand each other's language. They naturally express themselves alike and use very much the same forms of expression, whether literal, metaphysical, or figurative, to express their ideas. Hence the first and indispensable qualification for the study of theology is sympathy with God, devoted to the same end to which he is devoted, and a heart set upon promoting it by means of holiness.
2. True candor and uprightness of mind, a likeness to God in this respect, is an indispensable qualification for the successful pursuit of this study. An unfair mind can never understand theology. In this state of mind one cannot know God. It is so utterly out of adjustment with God's state of mind as naturally and inevitably to misapprehend him. But a mind that is upright and candid, willing to do and consequently to know the truth of God as it is, will come to this study prepared to enter into it, to obey the truth, to be taught of God, and will therefore easily apprehend all that is intelligible to minds of our finite capacity.
3. An earnest desire to know God that we may honor and obey him, that we may commune with him and be like him, that we may rightly represent him to others and win them to sympathy with him, is essential to a successful study of theology. If this desire be strong it will make us diligent students, it will naturally lead to the use of all the appropriate means of obtaining this knowledge, it will beget an earnest struggle after all that may be known of God, and a mind in this state will naturally acquire theological truth with great facility.
4. A right state of mind in regard to those around us is indispensable to the study of theology. A state of mind that is grieved and offended with their sins, yet having at the same time such intense love and compassion for them as to beget the most earnest desire to rescue them from their sins, to save their souls and adjust them in the will of God.
This state of mind in regard to them will lead us to study about God that we may instruct and enlighten them, that we may reprove their sins and win them to Christ. Without this abhorrence of their sins and love for their souls, we cannot understand God's abhorrence of, and love and compassion for them. To understand what God proposes respecting them and their sins, we must be of his mind.
5. A willingness to make any personal sacrifice to glorify God and save the souls of men is an important qualification for the study of theology. If we make our own ease and comfort practically superior to the cause of God and the worth of souls, our faith must be very weak, and our hearts cannot be in such a state as to appreciate the great things of theology. We need to be in a state in which we count not our lives to be dear unto us if called to lay them down for God, and to sympathize with the apostle when he said, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." I would not advise any young man to study theology with the design of preaching the gospel, or with the expectation of really understanding it, unless he is prepared in heart to make any personal sacrifice in favor of the cause of God.
6. Another qualification of great importance is a sense of our ignorance, the natural darkness of our minds, and dependence upon divine teaching. We need to understand in the outset that spiritual things need to be spiritually revealed to us. Sin has greatly darkened our minds, and although without special divine illumination we know enough through reason and conscience to bring us under condemnation for disobedience, yet without the supernatural illumination of the Holy Spirit we shall never so understand or know God as to win our hearts to him, or to enable us to win the hearts of others.
It is not enough that we should read the Bible and understand it historically as we would other matters of history. It is not enough that we should be able to state catechetically or didactically its doctrines. We need a spiritual apprehension of them; we need to be taught inwardly as really as the inspired writers; and as a condition of understanding theology in any influential sense, we need divine inspiration. I do not mean that we need to be taught truths that are not declared in the Word or published in the works of God, but that we need that these things should be shown to us inwardly and spiritually -- that the works of God may be spiritually apprehended and the Word of God spiritually interpreted and applied. Or, as I said before, we need to be inspired by the same Spirit with which the writers themselves were inspired, to have them shown inwardly to us as they were to them.
7. Another condition of successful study of theology is a willingness to practice as fast as we learn. If we do not yield our minds up to practice the truth we shall soon fail to understand it. The Spirit will be grieved, we shall fall into confusion and darkness, and nothing can give us a clear apprehension of the truth if we persist in refusing to obey it.
8. A fixed purpose to know and to do the whole truth is another condition of the successful pursuit of this study. If there are some points on which we are committed and opinionated, if we have some theory to maintain, some preconceived opinion or prejudice to indulge, we shall almost certainly be deceived. I have sometimes met with young men who came to the study of theology, assuming that on certain points they were settled. It would be seen that a want of candor pervaded their whole mind and course of study. But I have yet to see the first instance in which such a mind has made thorough progress in theological study. There is that want of candor that fills the mind with darkness, rendering it impossible to obtain the true knowledge of God and of divine things.
9. A state of mind that so deeply appreciates the value and infinite importance of divine truth, that it will not be diverted and practically lay an undue stress upon other things and upon the knowledge of other truths. A young man who comes to the study of theology needs to have a mind absorbed with the surpassing greatness and value of his theme. If he can willing turn aside and be diverted by pleasure or business, by gossip or light reading, if he is disposed to attend to a multitude of other things at the same time, he can never thoroughly comprehend the great questions of theology. He must truly and practically value them above all price. A young man who is in a state of mind to spend much time in light reading, in keeping himself informed of all the newspaper gossip of the day, who can lightly make journies[sic.] of pleasure and turn aside from the great inquiry after God, who fills his mind and hands with trifling subjects, is in no state of mind to be taught of God.
10. Another important qualification for this study is such humility as shall make you willing to expose your ignorance. In commencing this study it is to be assumed by you and by others that you are not informed, that you are not a theologian, but that you need teaching. You take the attitude of students. Of course, your need of teaching is presupposed. Be not then afraid of exposing your ignorance; do not assume to know what you do not know; do not suppose that you may be expected to know beforehand the subjects that are given you for study; come out freely, ask questions, and give yourselves up to study, assuming that you have everything to learn upon the subject.
11. The love of study, and the love of this study in particular, is an indispensable condition to your understanding theology. If this study is a task to you, you had better let it alone. If you do not love God well enough to have an intense desire to know all that can be known about him, you are in no state of mind to study theology. You need to be so interested in him as to hunger and thirst intensely for more and more knowledge of him. If this be not your state of mind, if you are disposed to go no farther than the rules of the seminary require, if there is not that within you that prompts you to study from love to God, and of the knowledge of God, you will never make theologians. If you can lightly come in without having studied your lesson, can suffer some trifling thing to divert your mind and cause you to fail in recitation, you are in no state of mind to pursue a study like this. On the contrary you need to be in the state of mind expressed in the second chapter of Proverbs, "My son if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear to wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous; he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path" (Prov. 2:1-9).
12. A sound education is another important condition of understanding theology. By sound education I do not mean that it is indispensable that you understand the original languages in which the Scriptures are written, though this is important and of great value when those languages can be thoroughly known as to enable the student to criticise and thoroughly comprehend the original. Yet without this critical knowledge you may obtain a good theological education. There are now so many helps to an understanding of the original Scriptures, so many criticising and marginal readings, so many commentaries and helps to interpretation so far as the theology and literature of the Bible is concerned, that great classical learning is not indispensable. If you have time and opportunity you will surely avail yourselves of a knowledge of the original languages if you truly [value?] the Bible. But if you have no such time or opportunity, you may still so well understand your Bible as to be able to give sound instruction to the multitudes that may wait upon your ministry.
But by sound education is intended so much knowledge of mental, natural, and moral philosophy as will place you in a position to understand the laws and government of God, to appreciate in some measure his works; so much knowledge of history, of geography, and of learning in general that your hearers shall perceive that you are an intelligent man; so that when you speak of government, they shall see that you understand something of the science of its different departments and functions, that you do not confound in your illustrations the judgment of the court with the verdict of the jury, the summings up of evidence with the pleadings that make up the issues. You need to understand something of the laws of evidence to be able to define what evidence is, what kinds of evidence are essential to prove certain truths, and what degree of evidence constitutes proof. You need to understand so much of psychology as to distinguish between the rational and understanding conceptions, to know what truths are first truths, what truths are merely self-evident, what truths need proof, and when they are proven. In short, to come to the study of theology you need so much previous education that you may understand the grammatical construction of language, the force and meaning of words, how to state a proposition, how to state a syllogism, how to frame and how to appreciate an argument. In a word, you need to be generally intelligent and instructed in the learning to be obtained in schools, or from books. It is of great importance that what learning you have should be sound; that your views in mental philosophy should be really true; that you should not come to this study committed to the doctrine of the necessity of the will's actions, ignoring the great truths, the admission and knowledge of which are essential to an understanding of the principal terms to be used in the pursuit of this study.
13. Industrious habits are of the last importance. Mental indolence will be a thorough preventative of your ever being theologians. Your state of mind must lead you to be industrious, and render it natural for you to fill up your time and to lay yourself out in securing information upon this subject. An indolent ministry can never be an instructive ministry; an indolent student will not be taught of the Spirit of God; an indolent spirit may expect to remain in darkness.
14. Patience and perseverance in investigation are essential. Many of the questions to be examined require to be persistently investigated. We do not arrive at the mastery of them at once. They involve difficulties; they are questions deep and high, and of difficult comprehension to minds in our circumstances. They were designed of God to create a necessity of earnest effort, for patient and industrious investigation. We need it for our own development and discipline; and the development we obtain from patient and persevering investigation is often as valuable to us as the truth which at last we obtain. We gain intellectual vigor, and moral vigor, by exercise. God does not condescend to give us the truth without our study; but he aids and stimulates our efforts, meaning to give us truth only as we reach for it as for hid treasures. By this means we grow intellectually and spiritually.
In teaching theology, it is no part of my design merely to lecture to you, and help you to truth without your own efforts. This would do you little good, nay, it might greatly injure you. I would merely help you to study, help you when you endeavor to help yourselves; suggest to stimulate and guide your efforts rather than dispense with them. I have no sympathy with, or confidence in, that mode of theological instruction that merely reads lectures to young men. They may as well find their theology in books --and better -- and remain at home and study. When you come here to study, we design to give you the question to be investigated, and as far as possible to throw you upon your own resources, upon your reading and reflection and study to find out the truth; to make you lead off and give us your views, and then to make such suggestions as to stimulate and guide your investigations to a right result, not lecturing you at all, until you have surveyed the subject and as far as possible settled your own convictions. Then after suggesting and helping you to study for yourselves, we sum up and try to state the whole question, and if possible throw additional light upon it. Thus we endeavor to make you theologians by aiding your efforts, instead of dispensing with them. We do not mean that you should merely hear and remember, but that you should investigate and make up your minds whether right or wrong; that you should have the full value of all that we can say to guide you, said in the proper place and suggested in a manner that shall give the fullest scope to your own investigations and lay as much of the burden of finding out these truths upon you as is consistent with your coming to a thorough knowledge of them. It is for your sakes that we do this. To have you come here and listen to our lectures, take notes, and go away and live upon our thoughts instead of thinking for yourselves -- why this will be your ruin!
You need to make yourselves acquainted with the laws of evidence so as to understand upon whom the burden of proof lies in the settlement of all these questions, that you may not assume that which needs to be proved, nor take the burden of proof when the onus (or burden of proof) truly lies upon your antagonist. You need also to be able to give correct definitions, and to define your terms with perspicuity, and have so much knowledge and good sense as to state your propositions clearly, and then proceed to prove what you have stated, and not to state one proposition and then prove another, nor rest your cause till you have made out your case.
15. You need a correct knowledge of the laws of Biblical interpretation. Without this knowledge you will misunderstand your Bible, and mislead your hearers, unless in fact they are more able to teach you than you are to teach them. Many of the multitude of opinions which claim to be supported by the Bible would vanish from the world if men agreed in respect to the correct rules of Biblical interpretation.
16. Lastly, it is of great importance that you understand the limits of human research and investigation. If you forget that you are finite, if you suppose yourselves able to grapple with and comprehend all truth, you will probably fall into the disbelief of all truth. If you insist that you will not believe what you cannot comprehend, if you stand upon the proposition that your line can be stretched out and measure infinity and eternity, that you can sit in judgment upon God and the high policy of his government, and bring all these great questions within the mold of your own understanding and your own logic, you will find yourself baffled, confounded, and unable to proceed with any comfort in your investigations. Know therefore in the outset that there are limits to all human investigation and comprehension; that we can affirm that many things are without being able to state how and why they are, or even to conceive how they can be possible. (Numbers added to above -- Gordon Olson).
LECTURE II -- INTRODUCTORY
III. SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES TO BE DERIVED FROM THE STUDY OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY.
1. A constantly increasing sense of our own ignorance. Before we commence this study we are not aware of the vast field before us, and how little we know of what is to be known. The more we survey the field the more it amplifies and extends on every side. The more we attempt to solve its problems the more we are astonished at the extent of our natural ignorance and darkness. As we pursue the subject we perceive that there is ample room for an eternity of study, and that our utmost attainment here can only be as the A B C of what may be known and is finally to be known of God. Nevertheless, we may satisfy ourselves on many fundamental questions, and obtain all the knowledge that is essential to our highest usefulness and happiness in this world. It is no matter of discouragement to us as we pursue this study that it is so vast and indeed illimitable, but rather a matter of encouragement that so delightful a theme is expanded to infinity, and that we shall have enough to learn to occupy our attention and powers as long as we exist. But an increasing sense of the fact that we are in the A B C of our theological knowledge, while it does not tend to discourage, does greatly tend to humble us and make us modest.
2. Another advantage to be desired from the study of systematic theology is growth in personal holiness. The study of theology is most highly calculated to produce this result.
3. It also tends to beget the habit of rapid, correct, and consecutive thinking. To systematize our thoughts on this subject is of the greatest importance to us. God has created us in a position and places us in relations that make it indispensable for us to think closely, correctly, consecutively, and often to review our positions, and thus in the highest degree to cultivate our intellectual powers. A thorough course of theological study will render subsequent preparations for the pulpit naturally and relatively easy and safe.
4. It tends to beget system in thinking and in communicating thought. Ministers who have not made theology a study, find it difficult to communicate thought in that systematic and logical order that is easily intelligible to any congregation. Their propositions are disconnected, often inconsistent with each other, and hence embarrassing to a congregation. But a thorough study of theology tends to rid one of unintelligible manner of stating truth.
5. The study of theology leads us to perceive the necessity of exactness in the statement of our positions, and the doctrines of Christianity. To a theologian the manner in which a preacher defines his positions and states the doctrine which he proposes to inculcate, will reveal at once his attainments as a theologian. It will be seen whether he has thought accurately, extensively, and is really acquainted with the system of doctrines peculiarly Christian.
6. The study of theology is essential to facility on the part of the preacher in proving the doctrines of Christianity.
7. This study tends to prevent those inconsistencies of statement that so often embarrass a congregation. It is not uncommon to hear preachers make statements that are seen by thinkers in the congregation to be totally inconsistent with each other. The students in his congregation can easily perceive that he is himself no student; and in the very outset they come to have little confidence in what he has to say. He does not understand himself. He has not thought enough to perceive that his various positions and statements are inconsistent with each other. A thorough study of theology is therefore of the greatest importance to the one who would attempt to state and establish and proclaim the doctrines of Christianity.
8. This study tends to a settled state of mind in regard to religious truth. When these questions are not settled by discussion and thought, and scientifically digested in the mind, we are constantly liable to be unsettled, to be thrown into perplexity and doubt in regard to them. Satan is ever busy to unsettle us, and will be sure to make those suggestions that will embarrass us, unless we so familiarize ourselves with the subject as to know what answers to make to any suggestions with which he may assail us.
9. The study of theology gives us that ability to teach without which the minister in the active duties of his calling will either neglect study, or will be obliged to study so hard as soon to break himself down. If he is prepared to enter the ministry by having digested and systematized the truths of Christianity, he can in sermonizing apply these doctrines consistently and with an ease that will not require of him that amount of mental labor that is unendurable.
IV. SOME THINGS TO BE AVOIDED.
1. We should by all means avoid tempting God by demanding an impossible or unreasonable kind of evidence. Some students have approached this subject and determined in the beginning to take absolutely nothing for granted. They have not considered what kind of evidence is within our reach, what kind or degree of evidence is reasonable to expect; they have therefore demanded that every truth shall be demonstrated, or seen with intuitive certainty. In settling some questions, we first enquire what proof of its truth, considering the nature of the question and our circumstances, we may expect to find, what kind and degree of evidence ought to be satisfactory; and if such kind and degree of evidence is found to be within our reach, we should rest satisfied, and not tempt God by refusing to receive a truth upon a reasonable kind and degree of testimony.
2. A caviling state of mind should by all means be avoided. It is this state of mind that leads to the rejection of reasonable evidence, and in a state of probation it is not reasonable to expect that every truth which we need to receive will be established by irresistible evidence. If it be established by evidence that will convince a fair mind and produce conviction where there is candor, it is all that we have a right to expect.
To force conviction upon a moral agent in a state of probation may not be wise or even consistent with such a state. The truths of theology may plainly be expected to be revealed with such a degree of evidence that a mind in search after truth can find out all that it needs to know; but still many things will be left in such a position that a perverse mind will find itself able to resist and avoid conviction.
Many of the truths of theology, as we shall see, are first truths, truths which everybody assumes and knows to be true. Others are merely self-evident in such a sense as that their truth is readily seen when they are once stated in intelligible language. Others are truths of demonstration; others still are truths of experience; others still are truths of history. We shall find that the system is based on a solid foundation, and that at every step there is a kind and degree of evidence that ought to satisfy a rational mind, and that will satisfy an honest inquirer. Nevertheless, a cavilling, perverse state of mind can resist it all; and even the first truths of reason may be and often have been denied; and the foundation thus falling away, through this denial a universal skepticism has been the result.
3. Another thing to be avoided is, in the course of our discussions the defending of erroneous positions merely for the sake of argument. It is sometimes seen that this results in the ultimate belief of all that which was at first asserted and defended with a knowledge that it was false; and merely for the sake of argument. The feelings became enlisted, pride stimulated, and in the heat of debate the judgment became warped, and ultimately the defender of error comes to believe his own lie.
4. Beware of committing yourself to an opinion. We are very liable to do this without being aware of it. There is a natural pride of consistency in many minds, that exposes them much in this direction. With some, once a thing is asserted it must be maintained; once having advanced an opinion they seem to be blind to every argument and fact that would disprove it. It is amazing to see how difficult it is to convince some minds on any subject upon which they have committed themselves to an opinion. Some young men have been here who seemed to be unable to yield an opinion. No argument or even demonstration could shake them. They seemed not to know what it meant to yield a point to which they were committed. The will has much more influence in forming our opinions than we are aware of -- and in sustaining them when they are formed. The will commands the attention; it allows the attention to perceive and weigh arguments; it in a great measure controls the judgment; it selects and arranges those considerations that can support an opinion, and refuses the consideration of those that would overthrow it. Hence it is of the last importance that we should be on our guard against committing ourselves to an opinion until we have given it a thorough consideration. Especially is this true in respect to questions upon which it is plain that good and great men have differed. Some truths are too plain to admit of doubt. To them we may commit ourselves -- and indeed we cannot avoid committing ourselves to them so far as opinion is concerned. But where there are two sides to a question, when there is room for doubt and debate and argument, then this should be our motto, "Hear both sides and then judge."
5. Avoid calling in question first truths. These truths can in no way be proven, as we shall see, except by the perfection of their chronological antecedenty. If we attempt to prove them by logic we shall often find it impossible. Who by logic can prove that time or space exists? Who by logic can prove that every event must have a cause? These truths cannot be proved for the reason that they are too evident to need any proof. There is nothing more simple and evident that can be laid down as premises from which they are to be deduced. They lie at the foundation of all reasoning, and are in themselves the major premises upon which we construct our syllogisms.
If these truths are called in question, if proof is demanded of them, if you attempt to prove them and fail, as you most certainly will, it may lead you into universal doubt. Suppose you call in question your own existence and demand proof of it -- you cannot prove it; and if as a condition of your believing it you must be able to prove it by any logical process, you must disbelieve it and settle down into universal skepticism.
6. Avoid impatience at the ignorance or stupidity of your classmates. Regard yourselves as a band of brothers and as soldiers of Jesus Christ; consider yourselves as all interested to make the most of each other that can be made for the cause of God; be interested to develop and instruct each other that everyone may be the best soldier possible. Be not selfish, and willing to rush on and leave any one behind. Remember, if you go to the charge you need the whole strength of the army; and if you refuse to bear with patience the drill necessary to instruct and fit for service those that apprehend truth more slowly than you do, you will weaken the course which you are committed to support. Bear one another's burdens, therefore, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Endeavor with calmness and patience and perseverance to secure in every member of the class a thorough understanding of every position that is taken.
7. Avoid an ambition to excel them in study and argument. An ambitious student is detestable. I mean one who manifests a selfish ambition; manifests a disposition to be a leader, to overshadow his class, and a pride when he thinks he rises above them and excels them as a student. Some students will even pride themselves in getting into a controversy with their teacher, and manifest a most unchristian deportment not to be instructed, but to overcome their teacher in argument. With some this seems to be a point, to get the reputation of teaching their teacher. If your teacher is in error, there is an unambitious method of leading him to see it, and striving, not for mastery, but with a manifest searching for the truth.
You are not requested to rest satisfied without thorough investigation, and where you have not reason to be satisfied. And it is generally easy to see whether dissatisfaction is owing to the absence of sufficient evidence or to an ambition to excel in controversy.
8. Avoid therefore a disputatious spirit. This will ruin your piety, darken you mind, and make you a fool while you esteem yourself to be wise. Discussion is indispensable; and after many years experience I am fully satisfied that theological teachers and students need thorough discussion in settling the great questions of theology. Discussion should be thorough, and not cut short till reasonable time has been given for a thorough examination of all the questions to be settled. The utmost liberty should be given for the expression of opinion, the asking of questions, the statement of objections, and the array of arguments pro and con, till the positions are probed and searched to their foundations. This is our habit. This we regard as indispensable. This after many years of experience I am satisfied is the only method of settling theological truth. But it exposes to temptation in this direction, there is danger of getting into a disputatious spirit and of becoming proud of our powers of argument and discrimination, and of getting into a state in which we cannot hear an opinion expressed, even in common conversation, without immediately calling it in question, and manifesting a disposition to battle every one with whom we come in contact. This is an unhappy and a most disgusting state of mind.
Study therefore to be modest in questioning the opinions of others. Do not consider yourselves as under an obligation to oppose every opinion with which you do not accord. Be not disputatious in spirit or manner, but always take the attitude of candor as a sincere inquirer after truth. The Socratic method of inquiring, rather than affirming, is the safest and the most influential way of debating any question.
9. Avoid the use of weak and inconclusive arguments. A strong point is often rendered weak in the estimation of the hearers by attempting to support it by weak and inconclusive arguments. Let your strong points be strongly stated, established by the best arguments which the nature of the case admits; and when you have produced your strong and conclusive arguments, introduce no weak and inconclusive ones, lest you betray the very truths you intend to establish.
10. Avoid an involved method of stating your propositions. Try to state them with the utmost perspicuity, and as laconically (concisely) as possible; and leave no room for query in regard to what you mean by your main propositions.
11. Avoid stating more than you can prove. State what you mean and what you intend to prove and then stop. If you gratuitously state, or even attempt more than you are called upon to prove, it will only embarrass you and your congregation. Consider your positions, what is essential to your purpose; state that, prove that, and there rest your cause. As preachers you will need to avoid an error not unfrequently fallen into by young advocates at the bar. They will sometimes call their witnesses, produce their evidence, but fall short of really proving that which in their pleadings they have affirmed. They do not legally make out their case. This they do not perceive, and therefore inform the court that they rest their case, supposing that they have now thrown the burden of reply upon their opponent. But the court and their antagonist will perceive that they have not made out their case. The opposing counsel will move the court to dismiss the case on this account -- that the party has not produced legal evidence of the truth of his position. Hereupon the court will dismiss the case. Who has not often listened to sermons that amounted to precisely the same thing? When the preacher rested his cause, it was open to a motion to dismiss the case for want of sufficient proof. The congregation might adjourn with the understanding that the question remained unsettled. Now avoid leaving your propositions until they are fully supported by evidence and argument. See that you carry the convictions of the people. Place the subject in such a light that you know that they must see that the evidence and argument are conclusive; then rest your position and make such use of them in the application as are required by the end you have in view.
1. The study of theology demands much prayer. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord save by the Holy Ghost," and the teaching of the Holy Spirit is promised in answer to prayer. The soul needs to be kept in an anointed state, to walk in the light of God's countenance. The study of theology demands that we should become pupils of the Holy Ghost.
2. Remember the condition on which Christ has promised to be our teacher: "Except a man forsake all that he hath," says Christ, "he cannot be my disciple." To be a disciple of Christ is to be his pupil; to be his pupil is of course to have him as our teacher; and we can have him, as he informs us, only on the condition that we renounce our selfishness. Self must be abandoned, and our whole being devoted to his service and glory; then we are in a state to be instructed by him, and then he has wise reasons for instructing us.
3. Take care that you keep your hearts with all diligence, and that your hearts keep pace with your intellectual improvement. If you do not make a self-application of the truth as fast as you learn it, if you do not obey it, it will ultimately blind instead of enlighten you. You must live up to your convictions, or the study of theology will greatly and fatally harden you. Therefore be careful that you grieve not, resist not, quench not the Holy Spirit. Study on your knees. Go to God with every position that is established, and pray him to write the truth in your heart; and rest not till it be adopted by you as your own, as a truth to influence you, to have dominion over you; and as these truths are developed in your intellect one after the other, and established, let it be settled that in the midst of them, and in conformity with them, you are to live and move and have your being.
If you do this the study of theology will make you a mellow, anointed, devoted, useful man of God; if you do it not, you will become hardened and reprobate. And of all the reprobate minds in existence, they seem to be the most hardened who have studied theology and gone through the course of theology without receiving the truth into their hearts. Every truth that lodges in the head and does not take possession of the heart, is to the student "the savor of death unto death." As you value your own souls, therefore, as you value your influence, as you value the cause of God, let it be settled that with much prayer and the utmost honesty and effort you will make every truth of theology your own, not only in the sense of mastering it with your intellect, but of embracing and obeying it in your heart.
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