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THE IMPORTANCE OF DOCTRINAL KNOWLEDGE.
It is a wise maxim in morals that “truth may glide easily into the mind through the channel of the affections, which were it to approach in the naked majesty of evidence, would meet with a certain repulse.” This seems not to have been fully understood at one period in the history of the church, which may be called the doctrinal era. The essential principles of the gospel were exhibited so exclusively, and perpetually, that the system of Christianity resembled a tree divested of its foliage and fruit. The doctrines of grace, as they are termed, were too much blended with human philosophy-were represented in a formal, metaphysical, and repulsive manner-arrayed in technical and scholastic phraseology, and detached from their practical application. A doctrine became associated as a natural consequence with the idea of something dry, unintelligible, unedifying, and an unhappy prejudice was excited, and perpetuated against the most important truths of the gospel.
In the present age of practical instruction, and Christian enterprise, the danger lies in the opposite extreme. There is a prevailing passion for light and desultory reading to the exclusion of works which require patient thought and closeness of application. Books on Christian morals even, are not acceptable with a numerous class of readers, unless they are composed in the style of the novelist. There is also an increasing demand for popular preaching, that is, in the general acceptation of the term, discourses on virtues and vices, in elegant and spirit-stirring language. This evinces full proof that we are treading on perilous ground. Should the demand for this. kind of preaching and writing continue, there is reason to apprehend that the doctrines of salvation by grace will be neglected.
The carnal man may be gratified, but can never be saved by this deference to his feelings. If it be true that the most important doctrines may be stated with logical precision, and demonstrated with great force of argument without exciting any salutary influence, it is no less true that discourses on practical subjects can exert no salutary influence except as resulting from Christian doctrines. A doctrinal treatise disjoined from its practical application, and a practical subject separated from its doctrinal foundation, lead to a similar result. The frame of a building will shelter us neither from the sun, nor the rain, but a building constructed without a frame will be thrown
down by the wind, and endanger the life of the occupant. The doctrines of the gospel are the frame work of Christianity-practical piety is its covering. Both are necessary to the stability and beauty of the edifice.
The subject is partially illustrated by Bishop Horne, in another apposite comparison. “To preach practical sermons as they are called, that is, sermons upon virtues and vices, without in- y culcating those great scripture truths of redemption and grace which alone can incite and enable us to forsake sin, and follow after righteousness -what is it but to put together the wheels and set the hands of a watch, forgetting the spring which is to make them go.” They who feel no interest in doctrinal subjects would do well to inquire how far the cause may be ascribed to the natural dislike of those abasing truths which Paul calls the offence of the cross. There must be something wrong on the part of the preacher, or the hearer, if the doctrines of the gospel are uninteresting. They furnish the sublimest themes for argument, and instruction, and imagination, and ought to be the most interesting of all possible subjects. Which things the angels desire to look into. (1 Pet. 1. 12.) The reader is therefore requested before he calls this a book of doctrines, and lays it aside as an unprofitable thing, to consider attentively the importance of doctrinal knowledge.
A DOCTRINE, in the general sense of the word, is something taught. It is used to denote the leading principles of any science or system of morals. In the Scriptures, doctrines are the prominent truths which God has revealed. It is easy, therefore, in reference to the present subject, to demonstrate the immeasurable importance of doctrinal knowledge. There is no possible way of obtaining salvation, except by purifying the soul in obeying the truth through the Spirit. (1 Pet. 1. 22.) This is evident from the Saviour's prayer (John 17. 17.)—the declaration of James (1.18.) and the gospel message. (Mark 16. 16.) Sanctify them through thy truth : thy word is truth. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth. He that believeth, (i. e. the truths which I commission you to preach, Mark 1. 15.) and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Now it is evident that no truth can be believed, or obeyed before it is known. There must be a perception of the thing proposed for belief, before the understanding can assent to it as true. He, therefore, who is ignorant of the principal doctrines of the gospel, can neither believe nor obey them, and consequently they cannot exert upon him any saving influence. It is no less evident that ignorance of these doctrines, must necessarily be accompanied by equal ignorance of the duties founded upon them. And hence
it follows that no man can perform the duties enjoined by the gospel, who is unacquainted with its doctrines, for the duties are the practical results of the doctrines.* The duty of repentance, for instance, has its foundation in the doctrine of human depravity. If the doctrine is false, the duty resulting from it ceases to exist. Plainly, then, since the duty is ascertained, and limited by the doctrine on which it is founded, we cannot understand the one without a knowledge of the other. It is evident also that the atonement of Christ is the sole ground of saving faith. If he has not redeemed us to God by his blood, it is perfectly visionary to believe in him as the Saviour of lost men. But how can we know that faith is a duty, if we do not understand the doctrine of atonement? The same connexion exists between other important scripture doctrines and duties.
The importance of our subject may be exhibited in another view. Doctrinal knowledge is necessary to qualify us for a defence of the faith once delivered to the saints. The enemies of the gospel make its doctrines the chief point of attack, well knowing that if the foundation be destroyed the whole building must fall. fact is proof enough of the value of Christian doc
* See the excellent Tract on Doctrinal Knowledge, the foundation of true Religion.