The Elements of Moral Science (1835, 1856 ed.)

Francis Wayland


A View of the Holy Scriptures

The Holy Scriptures are contained in two separate volumes, entitled the Old and the New Testament. These volumes have each a distinct object, and yet their objects are in perfect harmony; and, together, they contain all that could be desired in a revelation to the human race.

The design of the Old Testament mainly is, to reveal a system of simple law; to exhibit the results of such a system upon the human race, and to direct the minds of men to the remedial dispensation which was to follow. In accomplishing this design, it contains several distinct parts.

1. An account of the creation of the world, of the creation and fall of man, and a brief history of the race of man until the deluge. The cause of this deluge is stated to be, the universal and intense wickedness of man.

2. The account of the separation of a particular family, the germ of a nation, designed to be the depositories of the revealed will of God; and the history of this nation, from the call of Abraham until the return from the captivity in Babylon, a period of about fifteen hundred years.

3. The system of laws which God gave to this nation. These laws may be comprehended under three classes:

Moral laws, or those which arise from the immutable relations existing between God and man.

Civil laws, or those enacted for the government of civil society; adapted specially to the Jewish Theocracy, or that form of government in which God was specially recognized as King.

Ceremonial laws. These were of two kinds: First, those which were intended to keep this nation separate from other nations; and, second, those intended to prefigure events which were to occur under the second or new dispensation.

4. Various events in their history, discourses of prophets and inspired teachers, prayers, odes of pious men; all tending to illustrate what are the effects of a system of moral law upon human nature, even when placed under the most favorable circumstances; and also, to exhibit the effects of the religious principle upon the soul of man under every variety of time and condition.

The result of all this series of moral means seems to be this. God, in various modes, suited to their condition, made known his will to the whole human race. They all, with the exception of a single family, became so corrupt, that he destroyed them by a general deluge. He then selected a single family, and gave them his written law, and, by peculiar enactments, secluded them from all other nations, that the experiment might be made under the most favorable circumstances. At the same time, the effects of natural religion were tried among the heathen nations that surrounded them. The result was, a clear demonstration that, under the conditions of being in which man was created, any reformation was hopeless, and that, unless some other conditions were revealed, the race would perish by its own vicious and anti-social tendencies, and enter the other world to reap the reward of its guilt for ever. While this is said to be the main design of the Old Testament, it is not to be understood that this is its whole design. It was intended to be introductory to the new dispensation, and, also, to teach those, to whom it was addressed, the way of salvation. Hence, allusions to the principal events in the new dispensation, are every where to be met with. Hence, also, assurances of pardon are made to the penitent, and God is represented as ready to forgive; though the procuring cause of our pardon is not explicitly stated; but only alluded to in terms which could not be fully understood, until the remedial dispensation was accomplished.

The design of the New Testament is, to reveal to the race of man the new conditions of being, under which it is placed, by virtue of a remedial dispensation contains,

1. A narrative of the life and death, resurrection and ascension, the acts and conversations, of Jesus of Nazareth; a Being in whom the divine and human natures were mysteriously united; who appeared on earth to teach us what ever was necessary to be known of our relations to God and, by his obedience to the law, and voluntary sufferings and death, to remove the obstacles to our pardon, which, under the former dispensation, existed in consequence of the holiness of God.

2. A brief narrative of the facts relating to the progress of the Christian religion, for several years after the ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.

3. The instructions which his immediate followers, or apostles, by divine inspiration, gave to the men of their own time, and which were rendered necessary in consequence of their ignorance of the principles of religion, or the weakness of their virtue, and the imperfection of their faith.

The whole of this volume, taken together, teaches us the precepts, the sanctions, and the rewards of the law of God, with as great distinctness as we could desire; and also a way of salvation, on different grounds from that revealed both by natural religion and by the Old Testament; a way depending for merit, upon the doings and sufferings of another, but yet available to us on no other conditions than those of supreme, strenuous, and universal moral effort after perfect purity of thought, and word and action.

This, being a remedial dispensation, is, in its nature, fixed. We have no reason to expect any other; nay, the idea of another would be at variance with the belief of the truth of this. And, hence, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all that God has revealed to us by language respecting his will. What is contained here alone, is binding upon the conscience. Or, in the words of Chillingworth, “THE BIBLE, THE BIBLE, THE RELIGION OF PROTESTANTS.”