« הקודםהמשך »
forced by revelation, and its awful sanctions. And the wildest enthusiast never dreamed of a grosser absurdity, than they maintain who suppose that the only wise God hath given a revelation to man, confirmed by miracles and prophecies, and established in the world by the labours and sufferings of his servants, and the crucifixion of his well-beloved Son; and that this revelation at last is found to contain nothing, but what we might have known as well without it! Nay, that it is expressed in such language, as hath given occasion to those who have most implicitly believed and reverentially obeyed it, to maintain sentiments and adopt practices erroneous and evil in themselves, and of fatal consequence to mankind!
We might therefore, a priori, have expected, that a revelation from God should illustrate, confirm, and enforce such things as seem more level to our natural powers; and that it should make known to us many important matters, which we could not have otherwise discovered, and which would be found exceedingly different from our previous notions and imaginations : seeing that our contracted views and limited capacities are infinitely distant from the omniscience of God. So that it is most reasonable to conclude, that the doctrinal truths which more immediately relate to the Divine nature, perfections, providence, and government; the invisible and eternal world; and the mysteries of redemption, &c., constitute by far the most important part of revelation; as discovering to us such things as no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, neither have they ever entered into the heart of man to conceive;" and yet they are essentially connected with our present hope, wor. ship, and duty, and with our future happiness or misery.
He therefore cannot, according to the common use of language, be called a believer, who only holds those doctrines which he deems the dictates of reason, as well as of revelation ; whilst he rejects the testimony of God, whenever he deems it unreasonable : and we may hence learn what judgment to form of those who affirm, without hesitation, that the moral precepts and sanctions, with the more evident truths of the Bible, are the only important part of it; that it is of little consequence what men believe, especially concerning those things which are in any degree mysterious; and that none but narrow bigots and weak and ignorant people lay any stress upon speculative opinions. “ He that believeth not, maketh God a liar," especially he that believeth not the testimony which God hath given of his Son, and of eternal life bestowed on sinners through him, (John iii. 12—21 ; 31–36; 1 John v. 9-12). This is the uniform doctrine of Scripture; and to contradict it is equivalent to a total rejection of divine revelation. Can it be supposed, that the prophets and apostles were commissioned ; and that the Son of God was manifested in the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, merely to inform mankind, that the Lord approved honesty, temperance, truth, and kindness, and disapproved the contrary vices ? Or that the unnumbered testimonies which the Scriptures contain, to the mysteries of the Divine Nature, the Person of the Redeemer, and the work of redemption, &c., may, without any criminality, be disbelieved, derided, or reviled; provided men are moral in their conduct towards one another? Or that God is equally pleased with those that thus affront his veracity, as with them who implicitly submit to his teaching, and credit his testimony ? If this be the case, in what does the difference between the infidel and the believer consist? All, except avowed atheists, will allow the propriety of many precepts, and the truth of some doctrines, coinciding with those contained in Scripture: but the infidel admits them as the dictates of reason, not as the testimony of God; and the pretended believer rejects all, without hesitation, that appears not to accord with the same standard. So that both of them believe their own reasonings, “ lean to their own understandings,” and “make God a liar," when his testimony contradicts their self-confident decisions? It appears, therefore, that the prevailing notion of the little importance of dcotrinal truth is subversive of revelation ; and in fact is only a more plausible and more dangerous species of infidelity.
If we believe the Scriptures to have been written by inspiration from God, and have any suitable apprehensions of his omniscience, veracity, and other perfections; we must be convinced that it is the height of arrogance for us, short-sighted erring creatures of yesterday, to speak of any doctrine contained in them, as false or doubtful, because it is not coincident with our reasonings or conceptions. Surely a small portion of modesty and humility might suffice to induce our confession, that we are more likely to be mistaken than the only wise God! And yet we must, in rejecting his authenticated testimony, either advance our knowledge above his omniscience, or impeach his veracity, or deny the Scriptures altogether or in part, to be his word; reserving to ourselves the infallible determination, what part is of divine authority, and what is not! And if we deem any part of the Scriptures, though true, to be of little or no importance, or of bad tendency; what do we but affront the infinite wisdom or goodness of God, as if he did not know what truths were proper to be revealed to man; or as if he purposely discovered those matters which it would have been better for mankind never to have known? And seeing it is evident that the Lord hath in the Scriptures required the belief of certain doctrines, as absolutely necessary to salvation ; to insinuate that these doctrines are either false, doubtful, or of no value, must involve in it the grossest and most affronting blasphemy imaginable.
We do not indeed maintain, that all the truths of revelation are of equal importance; because they are not stated in Scripture to be so: but none can be wholly unimportant: and we are not always competent to decide upon their comparative value. Some things are more obvious than others; and such as are more hard to be understood are not so well adapted to those persons, “ who are unstable and unlearned” in the school of Christ : yet we are not authorised to reject, or even to doubt any of them. We may indeed demur as to the true interpretation of them: whilst in humble, reverent teachableness, we wait for clearer light upon the subject; and we must remain for some time in partial ignorance or error; because we cannot at once become acquainted with all the truths, which are revealed to faith, even when we have got a disposition implicitly to believe them. There are some things which relate to the very life and essence of true religion; others are rather necessary to our stability, comfort, and holy conduct : these we must by no means reject or treat with indifference; but it is possible, that, to the last, we may be mistaken in, or ignorant of some of them; and yet be found among the heirs of salvation.
The importance of revealed truth may be shown in another way; for it is the seed of principle in the soul, whence all inward and real holiness pro-, ceeds.
Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.” (John xvii. 17– 19) “Beholding as in a glass,” (namely in the doctrine of Christ,) “ the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image,” (2 Cor. iii. 18; iv. 346), “ Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh,” &c. This doctrine was, in the judgment of the apostle, " the great mystery of godliness ;" and indeed all holy dispositions , and affections towards God, all the genuine spiritual worship, all the willing obedience of filial love, and all the cheerful acquiescence in the Divine will, and affiance on the Divine truth and mercy, which have been found in the world since the fall of man, have arisen from a proper perception of this great truth, and the doctrines connected with it. Spirituality (or a delight in and supreme valuation of the holy excellency of spiritual things, and a disposition to seek pleasure and satisfaction in religion), is intimately connected with a believing dependence on the promised influences of the Holy Spirit; and that view of the worth of the soul, the evil of sin, the justice and mercy of God, the vanity of the world, and the believer's obligations to a Saviour, who loved him, “and redeemed him to God with his blood,” which the doctrine of the cross communicates, is fundamental to deep repentance, genuine humility, gratitude, patience, meekness, forgiveness of injuries, love of enemies, and other parts of the Christian temper and character. With
out this, a proud morality, and a pharisaical task and form of godliness, will comprise the sum total of man's religion; except as he is brought under those impressions and leadings, which will in time influence him to embrace “ the truth as it is in Jesus.” This will appear more fully, and be proved more at large in the subsequent Essays. The importance of revealed truth, therefore, may be evidently perceived, both from the authority of Him who speaks to us in the Scripture; the various methods he has taken to confirm the words of his servants; and the tendency and efficacy of sound doctrine, to produce spiritual affections and holy obedience.
İndeed the doctrines of Scripture may be received by a dead faith into the understanding as true, whilst the heart does not embrace them as good ; and then “ they will be held in unrighteousness.” But a real and living belief of the great doctrines contained in the Bible is the proper root of true holiness. “ A whited sepulchre” is the emblem of all that can be attained to, where they are proudly rejected, or treated with indifference; and every man's spirituality, piety, humility, and enlarged, disinterested, unostentatious philanthropy, will bear proportion to the degree in which he knows and cordially embraces the great truths of the holy Scriptures.
It must, therefore, be evident, that every person to whom the Scriptures are sent, ought to study them, and get acquainted with their contents. For if God, in compassion to our ignorance and love to our souls, as well as in regard to the honour of his own name and government, hath given us a book penned under the inspiration of his Holy Spirit ; and if the truths revealed in it be of the greatest importance; it must be most reasonable that we should bestow pains to acquire the knowledge of them. Whether we consider the Scriptures as a revelation which the Lord hath made to us of himself, that we may know, worship, and glorify him ; or of his law and government, that we may submit to and obey him, or learn from them our true condition as sinners; or of his mercy and salvation, that we may find acceptance with him; or of the privileges of his children, in this life and that which is to come: in every view of the subject, the duty of searching them must be manifest. Nor can we neglect it, without avowing, that we despise the knowledge of God and heavenly things; that we do not desire to serve our Creator; that we neither value his favour nor fear his frown; or that we can discover the way of peace and happiness without his instruction. Nothing, therefore, can be more expressive of our ingratitude, rebellion, and alienation from God, than the general neglect of the Bible, which prevails among those that profess to believe it to be his word.
Doth he then speak from heaven to us sinners about the way of eternal salvation? and shall we refuse to hear his gracious words ? Does he give us a book to teach us to be happy in this world and for ever? and shall we not study it? Does he make known to us mortals, those glories which angels adore with unceasing rapture ? and shall we turn away with contemptuous aversion ? Hath he provided for us sinners such a redemption, as sinless “ angels desire to look into ?” and shall we think the subject unworthy of our notice? Who can pretend to justify this conduct? Yet how much more pains do lawyers, physicans, and other students, who desire to excel in their. professions, bestow in poring over voluminous authors, than men, called Christians, do in searching the Scriptures? Yea, how many give a decided preference to amusing and ingenious trifles, or political discussions (not to say publications suited to corrupt their principles and morals), above the sacred word of God. They would be ashamed not to have read some admired or popular author, though the work perhaps be wholly useless (if not worse); yet they remain, year after year, unacquainted with the holy Scriptures! · Surely in vain is the word of the Lord given to them ; the pen of the scribes is in vain” (Jer. viii. 8, 9).
It cannot be necessary, in such a compendious essay, to show particularly how the study of the Scriptures is inculcated in every part of the sacred voJume. Let the more attentive reader turn to what Moses spake to Israel
(Deut. vi. 16–9; xi. 18, 19), what the Psalmist teaches (Psalm i, xix, cxix), and Solomon (Prov. ii. 1–6), and what is contained in the following passages of the New Testament (John v. 39, 40; Acts xvii. 11; 2 Tim. ii. 15– 17). Indeed the apostles and evangelists always reasoned from and appealed to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and suppose the Jews to be acquainted with them; and the penmen of the New assure us“ those things were written, that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have life through his name,” (John xx. 31).
The case then is plain, that our obligation to search the Scriptures is indispensable; and that it is a duty of the greatest importance. Every person, therefore, who allows them to be the infallible word of God, must be convicted in his own conscience of acting in an unreasonable and criminal manner, if he do not diligently study them : and the general neglect of men in this great concern, manifestly proves them not to be fully satisfied, that the Bible was given by inspiration from God, and that it reveals the only way of peace and salvation. We do not urge men to believe without evidence ; but we call upon them humbly and seriously to examine the proofs afforded them, that the Scriptures are the word of God; and then to bestow pains to learn the religion contained in them, and to compare the doctrine we propose with that unerring standard, from which we profess to have learned it. "Nor can we doubt, but they will be left speechless at the day of judgement, who will not comply with such requisitions, whatever excuses or pretences they may make at present. This being determined, it may be useful to give a few directions to those who are convinced of their duty in this particular ; and desire to attend to it with profit to themselves, or those placed under their
I. Examine the whole of the sacred Scriptures. I do not mean, that the same degree of attention and time should be employed about every part of the Bible: some things are but more remotely useful to us; some are easily understood and applied; others require more close and frequent investigation; whilst the obscurity of some passages (especially to unlearned readers) renders them less adapted to their edification. Yet every part of the sacred oracles has its use, and throws light upon the rest : and as preachers very properly make their appeal to the Scriptures, in support of their doctrines; so the hearers cannot so well judge how far their arguments are conclusive, unless they have a competent acquaintance with the whole of them. Nor is the Bible so large a book, but that even they, who have not much leisure, may, in process of time, get a general knowledge of it in every part ; if they bestow a measure of diligence, proportioned to the value of the acquisition: and as “ all Scripture is given by inspiration from God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works ;" so every word demands a measure of our attention. It is, therefore, a very great hindrance to edification, when serious persons rest satisfied with text books, and abstracts from Scripture, or with a few favourite passages, that are continually resorted to, whilst the rest of God's word is little regarded ; and above all, those parts are neglected which teach men the particulars of the Christian temper, and of those duties in which they are most deficient.
It hath been found very useful by many to divide the Bible into two or three parts, and to read a portion from each of them in order, in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, as people have leisure and opportunity; allowing a larger measure of time to the New Testament, or devotional parts of the Old; and reading these wholly, or principally, on the Lord's day, or other seasons set apart for religion. This, in a course of years, will bring a man familiarly acquainted with the whole Scriptures. And though singing the praises of God very properly forms a part of family worship, where both can be attended to; yet reading the Scriptures in course (with a few exceptions, at the discretion of him who officiates) seems a most valuable method of preparing the minds of children and servants for profiting by public in
struction, as well as for giving them a comprehensive view of our holy religion.
It is also very advantageous to ministers, and others who have much leisure, to vary their method of reading : at some times going through a larger portion, with a more general regard to the scope of the sacred writer: at others, minutely examining every word and sentence in a smaller portion; its connection with the context, and coincidence with other Scriptures : and to mark well the harmony and mutual subserviency of every part of divine truth; the proportion of one part to another; the distinct parts of which the whole consists, and the way in which the several subjects arè stated handled, arranged, and expressed.
II. Search the Scriptures daily. Divine truth is the food of the soul, which wants its nourishment as often as the body does. That day must have been misspent, in which no part of the Scriptures has been read, or meditated on; we should therefore redeem time from indolence, recreation, useless visits, trifling conversation, &c., for this employment: and then no lawful business Fould prevent any one from finding a little leisure, morning and evening at least, for reading some portion of the scripture ; which would furnish the mind with subjects for meditation, when not necessarily engrossed about other matters, to the exclusion of vain thoughts and polluting imaginations. The more habitual this practice becomes, the greater pleasure will it afford : and even the old Christian will not think that his knowledge renders it superfluous, or seek an excuse for omitting it; but will apply to it as a healthful person craves and relishes his food. I would especially enforce it upon the consciences of the young, not to let any day begin or end, without reading carefully a portion of Scripture: this will become in a short time a most useful habit; and if they are abridged of a little sleep by this means, their bodies will not be injured, and their minds will be improved by it. It may also be observed, that hearing sermons, reading religious books, or joining in pious discourse, will often mislead, and seldom profit those, who do not compare the whole with the sacred Scriptures, by “ daily searching them, to know whether things are so or no.
III. Read the Bible with the express purpose of appropriating the information communicated by it, from God to man. When we have humbly and attentively considered and ascertained the meaning of any proposition, we should implicitly believe it, how contrary soever it may be to our former opinion, or that of others in reputation for wisdom. We ought to reverence the authority, omniscience, veracity, and faithfulness of the Lord, who speaks to us in his word; not doubting the truth or importance of any of his instructions, but studying the meaning of them in docility and patience. Thus imbibing wisdom and knowledge from their source, through the appointed medium, we shall grow more learned in divine things than any teachers or aged students, who lean to their own understandings, (Psalm cxix. 98—100); even as the bosom friend of the prince, who learns his secrets from his own lips, will know more of his designs than any conjectural politicians can do, though their sagacity and abilities be far superior to his.
IV. Use helps, in searching the Scriptures, but do not depend on them. The labours of those pious men, who have spent their lives in studying and elucidating the sacred oracles, may be very profitable to those who either have less leisure or ability, or who are newly engaged in such researches : and it savours of self-sufficiency to undervalue either commentators or other writers on divine things. Yet all men are fallible, and we should call no man teacher upon earth: it must, therefore, be proper to compare all their elucidations or inferences with the Scriptures themselves. Above all, it behoves us “ to ask wisdom of God ;” and to beg of him to give us the Holy Spirit, to remove from our minds every prejudice and carnal affection, and whatever may close them against any part of revealed truth, or indispose them to receive the illumination of heaven (as the vitiated eye cannot make proper use of the light of the sun). He alone, who inspired the Scriptures,