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BY REV. G. B. CHEEVER, D.D.
THE eminent author of the following discourses was at the time of his death, and had been for near thirty years, pastor over the High Church of Edinburgh. For nearly twenty-five years he was colleague with the celebrated Dr. Blair. He died on the 4th of April, 1783, immediately after preaching in the morning, in apparently his usual health. On the occasion of his death, Dr. Blair preached a sermon, in which he described the features of his character such as he had known him almost from childhood, as the friend and companion of his youth, and in the long period of a co-partnership of almost a quarter of a century. Dr. Walker's own father had been a minister of the Canongate, and he himself received his education at the University in Edinburgh, but was first ordained in 1738, at Straiton, in the presbytery of Ayr. In 1746, he was called from that place to South Leith ; and from thence, in 1754, to the church in Edinburgh, where he preached the gospel faithfully, even till the day of his translation to the inheritance of the saints in light. Dr. Blair appealed to the hearts and consciences of the congregation as witnesses of his ability, assiduity and fidelity in the ministry of the gospel. “There, indeed, he appeared in his highest character as an eminent and successful laborer in the Lord's vineyard. To this important work his greatest application was bent. With this he allowed nothing else to interfere. His whole ambition centred in acting his part with the dignity and propriety that became the sacred character which he bore. By the elegance, neatness, and chaste simplicity of composition in his sermons, and by the uncommon grace and energy of his delivery, he rose to a high and justly acquired reputation. But mere reputation was not his object. He aimed at testifying the whole counsel of the grace of God ; at rightly dividing to every man the word of truth ; instructing the ignorant, awakening the careless, reproving the sinner, and comforting the saint."
Dr. Blair here refers his great reputation to the "elegance, neatness, and chaste simplicity of composition in his sermons, and the uncommon grace and energy” with which he delivered them. But if mere elegance, neatness, and chaste simplicity had constituted the grand qualities of his eloquence, and the groundwork for his energy in the pulpit, he could never thus have gained the hold which he possessed upon the minds and hearts of the people, or the permanent reputation that followed him. The richness, completeness and fervor with which the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel are presented in his sermons, accounts both for his popularity and his power. He preached what he had received by the Holy Spirit from the Lord Jesus. His sermons are remarkable for a natural and simple arrangement of the truths contained in the text, developed and illustrated from the Scriptures themselves, and presented and applied with solemn thought and earnest and affectionate feeling. Dr. Blair said truly, that he aimed at testifying the whole counsel of the grace of God, and this sincere and single-hearted purpose rendered him, by the grace of God, successful. .
He aimed to preach the Word. He aimed at the heart with the Word. He did this by the Spirit of God, and not by philosophy. His method is that of the letter by the Spirit; not of the letter merely, which killeth, but of the Spirit, which giveth life. Now, to gain this method of the Spirit, and to preach by the Spirit, required a discipline and learning in the deep things of God, which all the schools could not give ; and bestowed also a power, which all the elegance, taste, refinement and philosophy of all ages could not supply. Philosophy may spoil the gospel, but cannot preach the gospel. Our own age, in some directions, is witnessing the process of the gospel being divided, subtilized, and emasculated by philosophy. The Scotch divines have afforded some admirable examples of excellence in the very contrary direction ; examples of just and powerful analysis, yet of simple acceptance of the Word of God from God, and of humble and entire reliance upon it as his Word ; and a consequent proclamation of its doctrines, not because human philosophy, or the best philosophy, having put them into its crucible, sanctions them, and re-coins them, and so sends them forth under patronage, but because they are from God, and the preaching of them commends itself to every man's conscience, and not to his philosophic understanding, or his Kantian Analysis, first or merely, in the sight of God.
We are also witnessing a period of subtle historical research and analysis, by which courts of judgment are instituted, to try not merely the claims of particular churches, but the Holy Scriptures themselves and their doctrines, as suspected rogues and criminals, who must be brought to the bar, and if not cleared by historical philosophy, are to be imprisoned or outlawed. The spirit of unbelief applies to these tribunals for an injunction on the work of the Scriptures, which are fast running their highway triumphantly through every man's private grounds, and across every man's authority. The injunction is readily issued, and in every age under new pretences. Wait, it says, till by the demonstration of an organic historic life your scriptural lights can be proved to possess authority. And so from time to time Christianity must suspend its progress, and go back to settle the authenticity of its claims according to the rudiments of the world, after the traditions of men, and not after Christ.
The life of God's Word must be felt, otherwise it cannot be proved, and we know nothing of it. The grand high-priests of truth in all ages have been those who have received the truth from God, and according to his own direction for the prophet Ezekiel, (Ezek. ii. 8,) have eaten it. They have fed upon it, as the Bread of Life, and have grown thereby. They have gathered it for themselves, as the Israelites of old had to gather their manna, daily, every morning, for themselves, in their own vessels. Give us this day our daily bread ; that is the rule of life and knowledge in God's Word. God himself gives it, as directly, as renewedly, as he gave the manna to his people in the wilderness ; so must men receive it immediately from God, not man. Every morning the divine miraculous gift of bread lay fresh around the camp, covering the ground like hoar-frost ; like masses of pearls, glittering in the sand, new and beautiful. Every morning they gathered it afresh, every day were nourished by it. It was a lively, illustrative, impressive image of the nature of the Word of God as the bread of the soul, and the part each man must play in availing himself of it.
" Thy words were found,” says Jeremiah," and I did eat them ; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” When it is thus received into the life, it becomes a constraining, overcoming, aggressire life and impulse ; it can neither be concealed nor restrained, but must have vent. When Jeremiah found that it exposed him, as the bearer of it, the preacher of it, to mockery and derision, while hardened hearts seemed only to grow harder and more rebellious under it, he thought he would try the experiment of silence. He said within himself, “I will not make mention of the Lord, nor speak any more in his name, because the word of the Lord is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.” But this would not do; the burden of revelation, the sense of God's truth, was too mighty for Jeremiah's silence ; the rapids of Niagara might as well say, “We will not go over the falls.” And Jeremiah describes the result of his experiment: “ The Lord's word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay. And the Lord was with me, as a mighty terrible one.” And God himself says "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord ? Is not my word like as a fire, saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces ?”
Baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire, the early preachers of Christ and him crucified understood the secret of their power, and acted accordingly. “We,” said the apostles, “will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word.” Let a set of ministers be found now to do the same thing, in the same way ; let them be wholly given to the Word of God and to prayer, and there cannot be a doubt that the same results would widely follow their ministrations as of old. This eating of the Word by prayer, by the Divine Spirit in the heart, is the source of true power. There was never a truer maxim than that of Luther, Bene orasse est bene studuisse. He that has prayed well, has studied well; this habit, in and with the Word, is the very spirit of love and of power, and of a sound mind.
Perhaps, therefore, amidst the vast and ever increasing array of the apparatus and external paraphernalia of theological study, this sole source of life and power is more and more in danger of being neglected. The temptation of Satan is upon us, under the guise of philosophy and vain deceit; and many other things entering in, choke the Word. They may be good things in their place, but if they take the place of the Word, they become bad things. Saul's armor was a good thing for him ; but David's shepherd's sling and five smooth pebbles from the brook were better for him. There be many who work
upon the Word of God very much as Saul's armorers or smiths hammered upon his helmet of brass, and his coat of mail ; and perhaps not a whit more spiritual in the first work than the last; the Christian armor cannot be so wrought, nor the life, nor the power of the Word so possessed or understood. The Word of God must be eaten, must be an inward nourishment and life, must be received from God in prayer. All that have ever done much with the Word, ever proved its overcoming power, have thus learned it. The giants of theology, the princes of epochs, forming, ruling, life-renewing epochs, have been these eaters of the Word. Such men, taught of God, stand high above the herd of students of the mere letter, philologers and philosophers, German or English, and the rabble of undistinguished critics, writers, ministers, who have got their knowledge of religion at second-hand. It is nothing but prayer, and deep spiritual life, that makes men truly original and mighty in the Scriptures. Men may speculate with the understanding merely, but they cannot know. Yet only thus are they fit to be teachers and laborers for the advancement of the kingdom of the Redeemer. Knowledge puffeth up, but love buildeth up, says the apostle ; a most pithy and striking contrast of the two systems of speculative knowledge by the understanding merely, or human tradition, --and knowledge as life, knowledge original, by the Spirit. An incredible