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OBEDIENCE THE PATH TO RELIGIOUS
THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD,
AT SAINT MARY'S,
On Sunday, January 28, 1810.
Ὁ δὲ λόγος καὶ ἡ διδαχὴ μὴ ποτε οὐκ ἐν ἅπασιν ἰσχύῃ, ἀλλὰ δέῃ προδιειργάσθαι τοῖς ἔθεσι τὴν τοῦ ἀκροατοῦ ψυχὴν πρὸς τὸ καλῶς χαίρειν καὶ μισεῖν, ὥσπερ γῆν τὴν θρέψεσαν τὸ σπέρμα. Οὐ γὰρ ἂν ἀκώσειε λόγου ἀποτρέποντος, οὐδ ̓ ἂν συνείη ὁ κατὰ πάθος ζῶν.
Arist. Ethic. Nicom. lib.
JOHN, vii. 16, 17.
Jesus answered them and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
THAT the operations of the understanding are influenced by the affections, is a truth very generally acknowledged; but few perhaps are sufficiently aware of the real extent of this influence in theological studies.
To awaken our attention to this point, our Saviour teaches us in the text, that a right disposition of heart is essential to the attainment of every just sentiment in religion, that obedience is the path to knowledge, that a correct judgment must flow from the fear and reverence of God, that if any one would enter upon a
successful inquiry into the doctrines of Christianity, he must be prepared for such an inquiry by a spirit of humble piety.
It will accordingly be my purpose, after offering a few observations on this principle, to apply it to some of the most interesting doctrines of religion, those more especially on which the student at this day may be supposed most liable to mistake.
That a religious tendency of mind is necessary to a due reception of scriptural truth, will be manifest, if we recollect that a cordial assent even to a moral proposition, implies of necessity the combined operation of the understanding and the affections. Bare abstract truth, such as the axioms of geometry, where the moral duties have no place, and where in consequence there are no prejudices nor passions to interfere, may be received alike by a virtuous and a vicious mind. But every position which regulates our conduct in life can be really acquiesced in only by a man who is in some measure influenced by the dictates of virtue. And of course, if such a variety of moral propositions are in question as compose an entire system, the divisions of which are dependent on each other, and where the excellence of the whole is the result of the harmony of all the parts, a right state of the affec
tions will still more essentially conduce to a correct determination.
Aristotle accordingly insists in a particular manner on the character which the student must possess, who would receive his ethical instructions with advantage. He distinctly requires from him a virtuous disposition, experience, and even age'.
If this then be the case, from the nature of the thing, in all moral inquiries, it must be eminently so with regard to Christianity, where the morality of the philosopher is purified and enlarged', where motives are of as much importance as actions, where new and sublime doctrines are disclosed, and that, not as subjects for speculation, but so as to be intimately united with the practical tendency of the whole.
In fact, as no man can relish music without an ear disposed for harmony, or painting without an eye to catch grace and proportion; as no man can appreciate polite literature without taste, or poetry without some kindred irradiation of genius; so no one can value ethics aright without a moral feeling, or re
Arist. Ethic. Nicom. lib. i. c. 3, 4. lib. x. c. 9.
2 Sapientia Philosophorum, ut plurimum efficiat, non exscindit vitia, sed abscondit. Pauca vero Dei præcepta sic totum hominem immutant et exposito vetere novum reddunt, ut non cognoscas eundem esse. Lact. Inst. iii. 26.