Front Page Titles (by Subject) ADDRESSES TO THE AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY, BY JOHN JAY. - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 4 (1794-1826)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
ADDRESSES TO THE AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY, BY JOHN JAY. - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 4 (1794-1826) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 4 (1794-1826).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ADDRESSES TO THE AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY, BY JOHN JAY.
At the Annual Meeting, May 9, 1822.
Our late worthy and munificent president having, since the last anniversary of the society, been removed to a better state, the board of managers were pleased to elect me to succeed him: and that the state of my health might cease to be an objection, they have also dispensed with my personal attendance. For the honour they have done me by both these marks of attention, it gives me pleasure to express my sincere and grateful acknowledgments. With equal sincerity I assure the society that, although restrained from active services by long-continued maladies and the increasing infirmities of age, my attachment to this institution, and my desire to promote the attainment of its great and important objects, remain undiminished.
Those great and important objects have, on former anniversaries of this and similar societies, been so comprehensively and eloquently elucidated by gentlemen of signal worth and talents, as that it would neither be a necessary nor an easy task to give them additional illustration. So interesting, however, are the various topics which bear a relation to the purposes for which we have associated, that it cannot be useless, nor, on these occasions, unseasonable, to reiterate our attention to some of them.
There is reason to believe that the original, and the subsequent fallen, state of man, his promised redemption from the latter, and the institution of sacrifices having reference to it, were well known to many of every antediluvian generation. That these great truths were known to Noah, appears from the Divine favour he experienced; from his being a preacher of righteousness; and from the time and the description of the sacrifices which he offered. That he carefully and correctly communicated this knowledge to his children, is to be presumed from his character and longevity.
After the astonishing catastrophe at Babel, men naturally divided into different associations, according to their languages; and migrating into various regions, multiplied into distinct nations. Tradition, doubtless, still continued to transmit these great truths from generation to generation; but the diminution of longevity, together with the defects and casualties incident to tradition, gradually rendered it less and less accurate. These important truths thus became, in process of time, disfigured, obscure, and disregarded. Custom and usage continued the practice of sacrifices, but the design of their institution ceased to be remembered. Men “sought out many inventions,” and true religion was supplanted by fables and idolatrous rites. Their mythology manifests the inability of mere human reason, even when combined with the learning of Egypt, and the philosophy of Greece and Rome, to acquire the knowledge of our actual state and future destiny, and of the conduct proper to be observed in relation to both.
By the merciful interposition of Providence, early provision was made for preserving these great truths from universal oblivion; and for their being ultimately diffused throughout the world. They were communicated to Abraham. He was also favoured with additional information relative to the expected redemption, and with a promise that the Redeemer should be of his family. That family was thenceforth separated and distinguished from others, and on becoming a nation, was placed under theocratic government. To that family and nation, the Divine oracles and revelations were committed; and such of them as Infinite Wisdom deemed proper for the future instruction of every nation, were recorded and carefully preserved. By those revelations, the promise and expectation of redemption were from time to time renewed, and sundry distinctive marks and characteristic circumstances of the Redeemer predicted. The same merciful Providence has also been pleased to cause every material event and occurrence respecting our Redeemer, together with the gospel he proclaimed, and the miracles and predictions to which it gave occasion, to be faithfully recorded and preserved for the information and benefit of all mankind.
All these records are set forth in the Bible which we are distributing; and from them it derives an incalculable degree of importance; for as every man must soon pass through his short term of existence here, into a state of life of endless duration, the knowledge necessary to enable him to prepare for such a change cannot be too highly estimated.
The Gospel was no sooner published than it proceeded to triumph over obstacles which its enemies thought insurmountable, and numerous heathen nations rendered joyful “obedience to the faith.” Well-known events afterward occurred, which impeded its progress, and even contracted the limits of its sway. Why those events were permitted, and why the conversion of the great residue of the Gentiles was postponed, has not been revealed to us. The Scriptures inform us, that the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles will not be accomplished while Jerusalem shall continue to be trodden down by them. As a distant future period appears to have been allotted for its accomplishment, so a distant future season was doubtless assigned for its effectual commencement. Although the time appointed for the arrival of that season cannot be foreseen, yet we have reason to presume that its approach, like the approach of most other seasons, will be preceded and denoted by appropriate and significant indications. As the conversion of the Gentiles is doubtless to be effected by the instrumentality of Christian nations, so these will doubtless be previously prepared and qualified for that great work; and their labour in it be facilitated by the removal or mitigation of obstructions and difficulties. The tendency, which certain recent events have to promote both these purposes, gives them the aspect of such indications.
Great and multifarious were the calamities inflicted on the nations of Europe by their late extensive war; a war of longer duration, and in the course of which more blood and tears were shed, more rapacity and desolation committed, more cruelty and perfidy exercised, and more national and individual distress experienced, than in any of those which are recorded in modern history. During the continuance, and on the conclusion of such a war, it was natural to expect, that the pressure of public and personal dangers and necessities would have directed and limited the thoughts, cares, and efforts of rulers and people to their existing exigences; and to the means necessary to acquire security, to repair waste, and terminate privations.
Yet, strange as it may appear, desires, designs, and exertions of a very different kind, mingled with these urgent temporal cares. The people of Great Britain formed, and have nobly supported their memorable Bible Society. Their example has been followed, not only by the people of this country, but also by nations who had not yet obliterated the vestiges of war and conflagration. At no former period have the people of Europe and America instituted so many associations for diffusing and impressing the knowledge and influence of the Gospel, and for various other charitable and generous purposes, as since the beginning of the present century. These associations comprehend persons of every class; and their exemplary zeal and philanthropy continue to incite feelings and meditations well calculated to prepare us all for the great work before mentioned. We have also lived to see some of the obstructions to it removed, and some of its difficulties mitigated.
Throughout many generations there have been professing Christians, who, under the countenance and authority of their respective governments, treated the heathen inhabitants of certain countries in Africa as articles of commerce; taking and transporting multitudes of them, like beasts of burden, to distant regions; to be sold, and to toil and die in slavery. During the continuance of such a traffic, with what consistence, grace, or prospect of success, could such Christians send missionaries to present the Bible, or preach the Christian doctrines of brotherly kindness and charity to the people of those countries?
So far as respects Great Britain and the United States, that obstacle has been removed; and other Christian nations have partially followed their example. Although similar circumstances expose some of them to an opposition like that which Great Britain experienced, it is to be hoped that an overruling Providence will render it equally unsuccessful. I allude to the territorial and personal concerns which prompted the opposition with which the advocates for the act of abolition had to contend. It will be recollected that many influential individuals deeply interested in the slave-trade, together with others who believed its continuance to be indispensable to the prosperity of the British West India Islands, made strenuous opposition to its abolition, even in the British parliament. Delays were caused by it, but considerations of a higher class than those which excited the opposition finally prevailed, and the parliament abolished that detestable trade. Well-merited honour was thereby reflected on the Legislature; and particularly on that excellent and celebrated member of it, whose pious zeal and unwearied perseverance were greatly and conspicuously instrumental to the removal of that obstacle. Their example, doubtless, has weight with those other nations who are in a similar predicament, and must tend to encourage them to proceed and act in like manner.
Although an immense heathen population in India was under the dominion, controul, and influence of a Christian nation, yet it was deemed better policy to leave them in blindness than to risk incurring the inconveniences which might result from authorizing or encouraging attempts to relieve them from it. This policy has at length met with the neglect it deserved. The Gospel has been introduced into India, under the auspices of the British government; and various means are co-operating to advance its progress, and hasten the time when the King of saints will emancipate that people from the domination of the prince of darkness.
The languages of the heathen nations in general being different from those of Christian nations, neither their Bibles could be read, nor their missionaries be understood by the former. To obviate and lessen these difficulties, numerous individuals have been induced to learn those languages; and the Bible has already been translated into many of them. Provision has been made for educating heathen youth, and qualifying them for becoming missionaries. Schools have also been established in heathen countries, and are preparing the rising generation to receive and to diffuse the light of the Gospel.
The mere tendency of these events to promote the coming in of the Gentiles, affords presumptive evidence of their being genuine indications of the approach of the season assigned for it—or, in other words, that they are providential. This evidence becomes more than presumptive, when combined with that which the few following inquiries and remarks bring into view.
Whence has it come to pass that Christian nations, who for ages had regarded the welfare of heathens with indifference, and whose intercourse with them had uniformly been regulated by the results of political, military, and commercial calculations, have recently felt such new and unprecedented concern for the salvation of their souls, and have simultaneously concurred in means and measures for that purpose? Whence has it come to pass that so many individuals, of every profession and occupation, who in the ordinary course of human affairs confine their speculations, resources, and energies to the acquisition of temporal prosperity for themselves and families, have become so ready and solicitous to supply idolatrous strangers in remote regions with the means of obtaining eternal felicity? Who has “opened their hearts to attend” to such things?
It will be acknowledged that worldly wisdom is little conversant with the transcendent affairs of that kingdom which is not of this world; and has neither ability to comprehend, nor inclination to further them. To what adequate cause, therefore, can these extraordinary events be attributed, but to the wisdom that cometh from above? If so, these events authorize us to conclude, that the Redeemer is preparing to take possession of the great remainder of his heritage, and is inciting and instructing his servants to act accordingly. The duties which this conclusion proclaims and inculcates, are too evident and well known to require particular enumeration.
Not only Bible societies, but also the various other societies who in different ways are forwarding the great work in question, have abundant reason to rejoice and be thankful for the blessings which have prospered their endeavours. We of this society in particular cannot fail to participate largely in this gratitude and joy; especially when we reflect on the beneficent and successful exertions of our late meritorious president to establish and support it, on the number of our auxiliaries and members, on the continuance and amount of their contributions, and on the fidelity and prudence with which our affairs have been managed.
Let us therefore persevere steadfastly in distributing the Scriptures far and near, and without note or comment. We are assured that they “are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” They comprise the inestimable writings by which the inspired apostles, who were commanded to preach the Gospel to all people, have transmitted it, through many ages, down to our days. The apostles were opposed in preaching the Gospel, but they nevertheless persisted. We are opposed in dispensing the Scriptures which convey the knowledge of it; and let us follow their example. An eminent ancient counsellor gave excellent advice to their adversaries; and his reasoning affords salutary admonition to our opponents. That advice merits attention, and was concluded in the following memorable words:
“Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
At the Annual Meeting, May 8, 1823.
It gives me pleasure to observe that this anniversary, like the preceding, brings with it tidings which give us occasion for mutual gratulations, and for united thanksgivings to Him whose blessings continue to prosper our proceedings.
These annual meetings naturally remind us of the purposes for which we have associated; and lead us to reflections highly interesting to those who consider what and where we are, and what and where we are to be.
That all men, throughout all ages, have violated their allegiance to their great Sovereign, is a fact to which experience and revelation bear ample and concurrent testimony. The Divine attributes forbid us to suppose that the Almighty Sovereign of the universe will permit any province of His empire to remain forever in a state of revolt. On the contrary, the sacred Scriptures assure us, that it shall not only be reduced to obedience, but also be so purified and improved as that righteousness and felicity shall dwell and abide in it.
Had it not been the purpose of God, that His will should be done on earth as it is done in Heaven, He would not have commanded us to pray for it. That command implies a prediction and a promise that in due season it shall be accomplished. If therefore the will of God is to be done on earth as it is done in Heaven, it must undoubtedly be known throughout the earth, before it can be done throughout the earth; and, consequently, He who has decreed that it shall be so done, will provide that it shall be so known.
Our Redeemer having directed that the Gospel should be preached throughout the world, it was preached accordingly; and being witnessed from on high, “with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost,” it became preponderant, and triumphant, and effulgent. But this state of exaltation, for reasons unknown to us, was suffered to undergo a temporary depression. A subsequent period arrived, when the pure doctrines of the Gospel were so alloyed by admixtures, and obscured by appendages, that its lustre gradually diminished, and like the fine gold mentioned by the prophet, it became dim.
Since the Reformation, artifice and error have been losing their influence on ignorance and credulity, and the Gospel has been resuming its purity. We now see Christians, in different countries, and of different denominations, spontaneously and cordially engaged in conveying the Scriptures, and the knowledge of salvation, to the heathen inhabitants of distant regions. So singular, impressive, and efficient is the impulse which actuates them, that without the least prospect of earthly retribution, they cheerfully submit to such pecuniary contributions, such appropriations of time and industry, and, in many instances, to such hazards and privations, and such derelictions of personal comfort and convenience, as are in direct opposition to the propensities of human nature.
Can such extraordinary and unexampled undertakings possibly belong to that class of enterprises, which we are at liberty to adopt or decline as we please; enterprises which no duty either commands or forbids? This is more than a mere speculative question; and therefore the evidence respecting the character and origin of these undertakings cannot be too carefully examined, and maturely weighed; especially as this evidence is accumulating, and thereby acquiring additional claims to serious attention.
We observe a strange and general alteration in the feelings of Christians towards the heathen; and one still more strange and unprecedented has taken place in their feelings towards the Jews; feelings very different from those which so many centuries have universally prevailed. Although, as it were, sifted over all nations, yet, unlike the drops of rain which blend with the waters on which they fall, these scattered exiles have constantly remained in a state of separation from the people among whom they were dispersed; obstinately adhering to their peculiarities, and refusing to coalesce with them. By thus fulfilling the prophecies, every Jew is a living witness to their truth.
The same prophecies declare, that a time will come when all the twelve tribes shall be restored to their country, and be a praise in the earth: but the precise time is not specified. By declaring that “blindness in part hath happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and that Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled,” they lead us to conclude, that their blindness will not be sooner removed, and therefore that their conversion is not to be sooner expected. Individual Jews have, from time to time, been relieved from their blindness, and become Christians; and there are expressions in the Scriptures, which favour the prevailing opinion, that the conversion of a large portion, and perhaps of the whole tribe of Judah, may precede that of the other tribes. They are now experiencing less oppression, less contempt, and more compassion than formerly. Their obduracy is softening, and their prejudices abating. These changes have the appearance of incipient preparatives for their conversion.
Besides these recent changes in favour of the heathen and the Jews, another has taken place in the disposition and feelings of our people towards the many savage nations who still remain within our limits. The policy formerly observed towards them, together with our rapid population, increased their necessities, but not our endeavours to alleviate them. This indifference has latterly been yielding to a general sympathy for their wretchedness, and to a desire to ameliorate their condition. For this laudable purpose, our government has wisely and virtuously adopted measures for their welfare; and benevolent societies and pious individuals are using means to introduce among them the benefits of civilization and Christianity.
Nor are these the only events and changes which are facilitating the distribution, and extending the knowledge of the Scriptures. For a long course of years, many European nations were induced to regard toleration as pernicious, and to believe that the people had no right to think and judge for themselves respecting religious tenets and modes of worship. Hence it was deemed advisable to prohibit their reading the Bible, and to grant that privilege only to persons of a certain description. Intolerance is passing away, and in France, where it formerly prevailed, Bible Societies have been established by permission of the government, and are proceeding prosperously, under the auspices of men high in rank, in character, and in station.
From the nature, the tendency, and the results of these recent and singular changes, events, and institutions; from their coincidence, and admirable adjustment, as means for making known the Holy Scriptures, and inculcating the will of their Divine and merciful Author, throughout the world; and from the devotedness with which they are carrying into operation, there is reason to conclude that they have been produced by Him in whose hands are the hearts of all men.
If so, we are engaged in His service; and that consideration forbids us to permit our ardour or exertions to be relaxed or discouraged by attempts to depreciate our motives, to impede or discredit our proceedings, or to diminish our temporal resources. The Scriptures represent Christians as being engaged in a spiritual warfare, and, therefore, both in their associated and individual capacities, they are to expect and prepare for opposition. On the various inducements which prompt this opposition, much might be said; though very little, if any thing, that would be new. The present occasion admits only of general and brief remarks, and not of particular and protracted disquisitions.
Whatever may be the characters, the prejudices, the views, or the arts of our opponents, we have only to be faithful to our Great Leader. They who march under the banners of Emmanuel have God with them; and consequently have nothing to fear.
At the Annual Meeting, May 13, 1824.
We have the satisfaction of again observing, that by the blessing of Providence on the zeal of our fellow-citizens, and on the fidelity, diligence, and prudence with which our affairs are conducted, they continue in a state of progressive improvement. The pleasure we derive from it is not a little increased by the consideration that we are transmitting essential benefits to multitudes in various regions, and that the value and important consequences of these benefits extend and will endure beyond the limits of time. By so doing, we render obedience to the commandment by which He who “made of one blood all nations of men,” and established a fraternal relation between the individuals of the human race, hath made it their duty to love and be kind to one another.
We know that a great proportion of mankind are ignorant of the revealed will of God, and that they have strong claims to the sympathy and compassion which we, who are favoured with it, feel and are manifesting for them. To the most sagacious among the heathen it must appear wonderful and inexplicable that such a vicious, suffering being as man should have proceeded in such a condition from the hands of his Creator. Having obscure and confused ideas of a future state, and unable to ascertain how far justice may yield to mercy or mercy to justice, they live and die (as our heathen ancestors did) involved in darkness and perplexities.
By conveying the Bible to people thus circumstanced we certainly do them a most interesting act of kindness. We thereby enable them to learn, that man was originally created and placed in a state of happiness, but, becoming disobedient, was subjected to the degradation and evils which he and his posterity have since experienced. The Bible will also inform them, that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed—that this Redeemer has made atonement “for the sins of the whole world,” and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy, has opened a way for our redemption and salvation; and that these inestimable benefits are of the free gift and grace of God, not of our deserving, nor in our power to deserve. The Bible will also animate them with many explicit and consoling assurances of the Divine mercy to our fallen race, and with repeated invitations to accept the offers of pardon and reconciliation. The truth of these facts and the sincerity of these assurances being unquestionable, they cannot fail to promote the happiness of those by whom they are gratefully received, and of those by whom they are benevolently communicated.
We have also the satisfaction of observing that the condition of the Church continues to improve. When at certain periods subsequent to the Reformation, discordant opinions on ecclesiastical subjects began to prevail, they produced disputes and asperities which prompted those who embraced the same peculiar opinions to form themselves into distinct associations or sects. Those sects not only permitted Christian fraternity with each other to be impaired by coldness, reserve, and distrust, but also, on the occurrence of certain occasions, proceeded to alternate and culpable acts of oppression. Even their endeavours to increase the number of Christians were often too intimately connected with a desire to increase the number of their adherents; and hence they became more solicitous to repress competition than to encourage reciprocal respect and good-will.
These prejudices, however, have gradually been giving way to more laudable feelings. By the progress of civilization and useful knowledge many individuals became better qualified to distinguish truth from error, and the diffusion of their reasonings among the people enabled them to judge and to act with less risk of committing mistakes. Since the rights of man and the just limits of authority in Church and State have been more generally and clearly understood, the Church has been less disturbed by that zeal which “is not according to knowledge”; and liberal sentiments and tolerant principles are constantly enlarging the sphere of their influence.
To the advantages which the Church has derived from the improved state of society, may be added those which are resulting from the institution of Bible societies. With whatever degree of tenacity any of the sects may adhere to their respective peculiarities, they all concur in opinion respecting the Bible, and the propriety of extensively distributing it without note or comment. They therefore readily become members of Bible societies, and in that capacity freely co-operate. Their frequent meetings and consultations produce an intercourse which affords them numerous opportunities of forming just estimates of one another, and of perceiving that prepossessions are not always well founded. This intercourse is rendered the more efficient by the great and increasing number of clerical members from dissimilar denominations. Convinced by observation and experience that persons of great worth and piety are attached to sects different from their own, the duties of their vocation, and their respectable characters, naturally incline them to recommend and encourage Christian friendliness.
It is well known, that both cathedrals and meeting-houses have heretofore exhibited individuals who have been universally and justly celebrated as real and useful Christians; and it is also well known, that at present not a few, under similar circumstances and of similar characters, deserve the like esteem and commendation. As real Christians are made so by Him without whom we “can do nothing,” it is equally certain that He receives them into His family, and that in His family mutual love and uninterrupted concord never cease to prevail. There is no reason to believe or suppose that this family will be divided into separate classes, and that separate apartments in the mansions of bliss will be allotted to them according to the different sects from which they had proceeded.
These truths and considerations direct our attention to the new commandment of our Saviour, that his disciples “do love one another”: although an anterior commandment required, that, “as we had opportunity” we should “do good unto all men”; yet this new one makes it our duty to do so “especially to the household of faith.” In the early ages of the Church, Christians were highly distinguished by their obedience to it; and it is to be regretted that the conduct of too many of their successors has in this respect been less worthy of imitation.
Our days are becoming more and more favoured and distinguished by new and unexpected accessions of strength to the cause of Christianity. A zeal unknown to many preceding ages has recently pervaded almost every Christian country, and occasioned the establishment of institutions well calculated to diffuse the knowledge and impress the precepts of the Gospel both at home and abroad. The number and diversity of these institutions, their concurrent tendency to promote these purposes, and the multitudes who are cordially giving them aid and support, are so extraordinary, and so little analogous to the dictates of human propensities and passions, that no adequate cause can be assigned for them but the goodness, wisdom, and will of Him who made and governs the world.
We have reason to rejoice that such institutions have been so greatly multiplied and cherished in the United States; especially as a kind Providence has blessed us, not only with peace and plenty, but also with the full and secure enjoyment of our civil and religious rights and privileges. Let us, therefore, persevere in our endeavours to promote the operation of these institutions, and to accelerate the attainment of their objects. Their unexampled rise, progress, and success in giving light to the heathen, and in rendering Christians more and more “obedient to the faith,” apprise us that the great Captain of our salvation is going forth, “conquering and to conquer,” and is directing and employing these means and measures for that important purpose. They, therefore, who enlist in His service, have the highest encouragement to fulfil the duties assigned to their respective stations; for most certain it is, that those of His followers who steadfastly and vigorously contribute to the furtherance and completion of His conquests, will also participate in the transcendent glories and blessings of His triumph.
At the Annual Meeting, May 12, 1825.
You have the satisfaction of perceiving, from the report of the board of managers, that the prosperous and promising state of our affairs continues to evince the laudable and beneficial manner in which they have been constantly conducted.
We have to regret that the pleasing reflections and anticipations suggested by these auspicious circumstances are mingled with the sorrow which the recent death of our late worthy and beloved Vice-president has caused, and widely diffused. Our feelings are the more affected by it, as the benefits we have derived from his meritorious and incessant attention to all our concerns have constantly excited both our admiration and our gratitude.
As the course of his life was uniformly under the direction of true religion and genuine philanthropy, it forbids us to doubt of his being in a state of bliss, and associated with “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Notwithstanding this consoling consideration, his departure will not cease to be lamented by this society, nor by those of his other fellow-citizens on whom his patriotic services, his exemplary conduct, and his disinterested benevolence have made correspondent impressions.
But the loss we have sustained by this afflicting event should not divert our thoughts from subjects which bear a relation to the design of our institution, and consequently to the purpose for which we annually assemble.
It may not therefore be unseasonable to remark, that the great objects of the Bible, and the distribution of it, without note or comment, suggest sundry considerations which have claims to attention.
Christians know that man was destined for two worlds—the one of transient, and the other of perpetual duration; and that his welfare in both depends on his acceptance and use of the means for obtaining it, which his merciful Creator has for that purpose appointed and ordained. Of these inestimable and unmerited blessings the greater proportion of the human race are yet to be informed; and, to that end, we are communicating the same to them exactly in that state in which, by the direction and inspiration of their Divine Author, they were specified and recorded in the Bible, which we are distributing without note or comment.
As these gracious dispensations provide for our consolation under the troubles incident to a state of probation in this life, and for our perfect and endless felicity in the next, no communications can be of higher or more general interest. Wherever these dispensations become known and observed, they not only prepare men for a better world, but also diminish the number and pressure of those sufferings which the corrupt propensities and vicious passions of men prompt them to inflict on each other; and which sufferings are of greater frequency and amount than those which result from other causes.
Time and experience will decide whether the distribution of the Bible, without note or comment, will have any, and what effect, on the progress of the Gospel. Hitherto nothing unfavourable to this course of proceeding has occurred; and the expedience of it continues to derive a strong argument from its tendency to decrease the inconveniences which usually attend the circulation of discordant comments. Whenever any questionable opinions relative to any Scripture doctrine meet with zealous advocates, and with zealous opponents, they seldom fail to excite the passions as well as the mental exertions of the disputants. Controversies like these are not always conducted with moderation and delicacy, nor have they been uniformly consistent with candour and charity. On the contrary, the ardour with which the parties contend for victory frequently generates prejudices; and insensibly renders them more anxious to reconcile the Scriptures to their reasonings, than their reasonings to the Scriptures. The doubts and perplexities thereby disseminated are not favourable to those whose faith is not yet steadfast, nor to those who from temperament or imbecility are liable to such impressions.
These remarks, however, are far from being applicable to those excellent and instructive comments which have been written by authors of eminent talent, piety, and prudence; and which have been received with general and well-merited approbation.
It is to be regretted that comments of a very different character and description have caused errors to germinate and take root in Christian countries. Some of these were fabricated by individuals, who, finding that they could not carry their favourite propensities and habits with them through the “narrow way” prescribed by the Gospel, endeavoured to discredit Christianity by objections which exhibit stronger marks of disingenuous, than of correct and candid reasoning. By artfully and diligently encouraging defection from Scripture, and from Scripture doctrines, they gradually introduced and spread that contempt for both, which in the last century was publicly displayed in impious acts of profaneness, and in dreadful deeds of ferocity. These atrocities repressed the career of infidelity, and infidels thereupon became less assuming, but not less adverse.
Even among professing Christians, and of distinct denominations, there are not a few of distinguished attainments and stations who have sedulously endeavoured so to interpret and paraphrase certain passages in the Bible, as to render them congruous with peculiar opinions, and auxiliary to particular purposes.
Certain other commentators, doubtless from a sincere desire to increase Christian knowledge by luminous expositions of abstruse subjects, have attempted to penetrate into the recesses of profound mysteries, and to dispel their obscurity by the light of reason. It seems they did not recollect that no man can explain what no man can understand. Those mysteries were revealed to our faith, to be believed on the credit of Divine testimony; and were not addressed to our mental abilities for explication. Numerous objects which include mysteries daily occur to our senses. We are convinced of their existence and reality, but of the means and processes by which they become what they are, and operate as they do, we all continue ignorant. Hence it may rationally be concluded, that the mysteries of the spiritual world are still farther remote from the limited sphere of human perspicacity.
Among the biblical critics, there are some who have incautiously intermingled their learned and judicious investigations with enigmatical subtleties and hypothetical speculations, which tend more to engender doubts and disputes than to produce real edification.
Additional animadversions on this subject would be superfluous; nor can it be necessary to examine, whether an indiscriminate circulation of comments would merit or meet with general approbation. They who think it advisible that comments should accompany the Bible, doubtless prefer and intend what in their opinion would be a judicious, limited, and exclusive selection of them. It is well known that, composed as this and other Bible societies are, such a selection could not be formed by them with requisite unanimity. They therefore wisely declined disturbing their union by attempting it, and very prudently concluded to distribute the Bible without any other comments than those which result from the illustrations which different parts of it afford to each other. Of this no individuals have reason to complain, especially as they are perfectly at liberty to circulate their favourite authors as copiously and extensively as they desire or think proper.
Our Redeemer commanded his apostles to preach the Gospel to every creature: to that end it was necessary that they should be enabled to understand and to preach it correctly, and to demonstrate its Divine origin and institution by incontestible proofs. The Old Testament, which contained the promises and prophecies respecting the Messiah, was finished at a period antecedent to the coming of our Saviour, and therefore afforded no information nor proof of his advent and subsequent proceedings. To qualify the apostles for their important task, they were blessed with the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by him were enabled to preach the Gospel with concordant accuracy, and in divers languages: they were also endued with power to prove the truth of their doctrine, and of their authority to preach it, by wonderful and supernatural signs and miracles.
A merciful Providence also provided that some of these inspired men should commit to writing such accounts of the Gospel, and of their acts and proceedings in preaching it, as would constitute and establish a standard whereby future preachers and generations might ascertain what they ought to believe and to do; and be thereby secured against the danger of being misled by the mistakes and corruptions incident to tradition. The Bible contains these writings, and exhibits such a connected series of the Divine revelations and dispensations respecting the present and future state of mankind, and so amply attested by internal and external evidence, that we have no reason to desire or expect that further miracles will be wrought to confirm the belief and confidence which they invite and require.
On viewing the Bible in this light, it appears that an extensive and increasing distribution of it has a direct tendency to facilitate the progress of the Gospel throughout the world. That it will proceed, and in due time be accomplished, there can be no doubt; let us therefore continue to promote it with unabated zeal, and in full assurance that the omnipotent Author and Protector of the Gospel will not suffer his gracious purposes to be frustrated by the arts and devices, either of malignant “principalities and powers,” or of “spiritual wickedness in high places.”