Imágenes de páginas

(Deut. vi. 6-9; 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. 1517). 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 are 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 would 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 know➡ ledge 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,

can help us to understand them and if we search them in dependence on, and prayer for, his teaching, he will lead us into all truth, as far as our safety, peace, and duty require it. It may be proper here to caution the reader against fanciful interpretations, which surprise and amuse, but mislead men from the practical meaning of Scripture: and against those, who pretend to modernize divine truth; not choosing to “ speak according to the oracles of God;" but as they suppose the apostles would have done, if they had possessed the advantage of modern improvements: a supposition just as wise, as to attempt improving the light of the sun by astronomy! In short, every text has its proper meaning, as it stands related to the context; and its proper application to us: these we should seriously investigate, with fervent prayer for divine teaching; without presuming to add to, alter, or deduct from, the revealed will of God (Deut. xxix, 29).

Lastly, We shall search the Scriptures, as the navigator consults his chart, and makes his observations; that he may discover where he is, and what course he must steer or as any one looks into a glass, that he may both know what manner of man he is, and learn to adjust what is unbecoming : or as an heir reads his father's will, and the inventory of his effects and estates; that he may know what the inheritance is, and the nature of the tenure by which he must possess it. We should accompany our reading with impartial self-examination; both in respect of our knowledge, judgement, dispositions, affections, motives, words, and actions, in every particular, at present and in times past; that we may learn the state and wants of our souls; and with self-application, as the persons spoken to, in every instruction, precept, sanction, counsel, warning, invitation, promise, &c.; according to our state, character, conduct, and circumstances: pausing to inquire, whether we have understood what we have read, and what we learned from it; that, beseeching the Lord to pardon what is past, and to help us for the future, we may, without delay or reserve, begin to practise what we know, waiting for further light in such matters as still continue doubtful or obscure to us. It would be easy to multiply directions; but the Scriptures thus studied are "able to make us wise unto salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ."


On the Scripture Character of God.

EVERY attentive and intelligent student of the Bible will perceive, that revelation was vouchsafed to man, in order to deliver or preserve him from idolatry, by instructing him in the character and perfections of the one living and true God, and the way in which he would be worshipped; as well as to teach other duties, and to influence him to perform them. The jealous care of Jehovah to distinguish betwixt himself and every idol, to secure the glory to himself, without allowing any of it to be given to another, and the terrible denunciations pronounced against, and severe judgments executed upon, idolators, must attract the notice of all who are conversant with the sacred oracles, and convince every impartial person, that idolatry is the greatest of all sins, atheism alone excepted.

Yet in this, as in other things, the “wisdom of man (which is foolishness with God)," has led numbers to adopt a contrary opinion: so that, whilst an elegant and admired poet hath employed his fascinating ingenuity to persuade mankind, that God is worshipped with equal acceptance "by saint, by savage, and by sage," or whether he be called "Jehovah, Jove, or Lord *,'

*Pope's Universal Prayer.

(which in this connection may signify Baal); it is also become a fashionable principle of modern rational divinity, that all such distinctions are immaterial, and all religions very much alike, if men be sincere in their way. So that numbers, seem to think what they call bigotry (though wholly free from intolerance or persecution) to be worse than any mental errors; even in respect of the object of religious worship: and that candour and liberality of sentiment are more important virtues than the supreme love and spiritual adoration of Johovah, as distinguished from all false gods!

But who does not perceive, that this principle, if carried to its obvious consequences, amounts to a rejection of the Bible, or at least puts it on the same footing with Hesiod's Theogonia, or the Koran? Who can avoid seeing, that it imputes bigotry and a contradicted mind to the prophets and apostles, and to every approved character of holy writ, without excepting that of our Lord himself? Nay, will it not follow from it, that Jehovah wrought many stupendous miracles to no manner of purpose? For we must not only inquire, why Moses was so careful to distinguish the God of Israel from the idols of Egypt and of the nations? or what induced David to expect assistance in meeting Goliath, who despised the armies of Jehovah, "that all the earth might know that there was a God in Israel?" (1 Sam. xvii. 45-47,) or on what account Elijah was so earnest to determine whether the Lord or Baal were the true God? (1 Kings xviii.) but we must also demand, why he answered their expectations and prayers by miraculous interpositions, if the point to be decided were of little or no importance?

When the God of Hezekiah delivered him from the power of the Assyrians, by the slaughter of one hundred and eighty-five thousand men, whilst Sennacherib was slain by his own sons in the house and worship of Nisroch his god; the distinction between Jehovah and every idol was strongly marked. These are a few, out of very numerous instances and evidences, which might be brought from the Old Testament, to confirm the point in question. When our Lord told the woman of Samaria, that "her nation knew not what they worshipped, for salvation was of the Jews" (John iv. 22-24); when Paul proposed to declare unto the polite and philosophical Athenians, that "unknown God, whom they ignorantly worshipped," and to distinguish the Creator and Judge of the world from all their idols (Acts xvii. 23—31); and when he informed the Corinthians that their idol sacrifices were offered unto devils, and not to God (1 Cor. x. 20); they plainly showed, that such candour, as is now contended for, was no part of their plan, but absolutely incompatible with it.

Indeed, the apostle has informed us, that idolatry originated from men's aversion to God; "they liked not to retain him in their knowledge" (Rom. i. 18-23. 28). His holy character and spiritual service suited not with their carnal minds; and therefore deities were invented of another sort, and a worship coincident with their corrupt inclinations. When we consider how Christian festivals are generally celebrated, we shall cease to wonder, that Israel preferred the golden calf to Jehovah, and joyfully "sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play," instead of attending the sacred ordinances of the living God: and a competent knowledge of humam nature will enable us easily to account for the predilection, which that people ever manifested for the gods of the nations, and their jovial and licentious rites. For the religion of the Gentiles, instead of producing any salutary effect on their conduct, led them to practise the grossest enormities, not only without remorse, but in order to appease or find acceptance with their deities; and thus it tended to corrupt both their principles and morals. No doubt, the great enemy of God and man, both from ambition of engrossing the worship of idolators, and from the malignity of his nature, aided their invention, in forming the characters and imagining the exploits of their deities, partly in resemblance to his own abominable propensities, and partly according to the worst vices of mankind: that so the most destructive crimes might be sanctioned, and the vilest affections, as it were, consecrated, by conformity to

the objects of their worship. No wonder that they were ferocious in war, and debauched in their general conduct, when their religious observances comprised the most savage cruelties, the most shameless licentiousness, and the greatest excesses of intemperance; and when at last they could not equal in these respects, the gods whom they had invented for themselves!

Indeed, if religion be supposed to produce any effect on the conduct of mankind, every person of common sense must allow, that the character and actions ascribed to the object of worship, must be of the greatest possible importance for as these are, so will the sincere worshipper be. To please, to resemble, to imitate the object of adoration, must be the supreme aim and ambition of every devotee; whether of Jupiter, Mars, Bacchus, Venus, Moloch, or Mammon; as well as of every spiritual worshipper of Jehovah: and we may, therefore, know what to expect from every man, if we are acquainted with his sentiments concerning the God that he adores: provided we can ascertain the degree in which he is sincere and earnest in his religion. It would be absurd to expect much honesty from him, who devotedly worshipped Mercury as the god of thieving; much mercy from a devotee of Moloch; love of peace from the worshipper of Mars; or chastity from the priestess of Venus: and, whatever philosophical speculators may imagine, both the Scriptures and profane history (ancient and modern) show, that the bulk of mankind, in heathen nations, were far more sincere in, and influenced by their absurd idolatries, than professed Christians are by the Bible; because they are more congenial to corrupt nature. Nay, it is a fact, that immense multitudes of human sacrifices are, at this day, annually offered according to the rules of a dark superstition; and various other flagrant immoralities sanctioned by religion amongst these idolaters, who have been erroneously considered as the most inoffensive of the human race. But these proportional effects on the moral character of mankind are not peculiar to gross idolatry : if men fancy that they worship the true God alone, and yet form a wrong notion of his character and perfections, they only substitute a more refined idolatry in the place of Paganism, and worship the creature of their own imagination, though not the work of their own hands: and in what doth such an ideal being, though called Jehovah, differ from that called Jupiter, or Baal? The character ascribed to him may indeed come nearer the truth than the other, and the delusion may be more refined: but if it essentially differ from the Scripture character of God, the effect must be the same, in a measure, as to those who earnestly desire to imitate, resemble, and 'please the object of their adoration.

[ocr errors]

Indeed, when sinful men presume to delineate the character of God for themselves, however learned or sagacious they may be, their reasonings will inevitably be warped by the general depravity of fallen nature, and by their own peculiar prejudices and vices. Partial to themselves, and indulgent to their master passion (which perhaps they mistake for an excellency), they will naturally ascribe to the Deity what they value in themselves, and suppose him lenient to such things as they indulge and excuse: they will be sure to arrange their plan in such a manner, as to conclude themselves the objects of his complacency, and entitled to his favour; or at least not deserving his abhorrence, and exposed to his avenging justice: they will consider their own judgment of what is fit and right, as the measure and rule of his government: their religious worship will accord to such mistaken conclusions; and the effect of their faith upon their conduct will be inconsiderable, or prejudicial. Thus men "think that God is altogether such a one as themselves," (Psalm 1. 21), and a self-flattering, carnalized religion is substituted for the humbling, holy, and spiritual gospel of Christ.

The different ideas which men form of God, (whilst the Scripture character of him is overlooked), result from the various dispositions and propensities which they derive from constitution, education, and habit: the voluptuary will imagine (with a certain dissolute monarch *), that God will not

Charles II.

« AnteriorContinuar »