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Popish tyranny, where it is a crime to have or read the Bible without a special licence. What a struggle had our reformers in this church, ere they could get allowance by the laws of the land to read the Bible in English ? And how is the Bible kept out of the people's hands to this day in Popish countries? Whereas now ye are pressed to read and study it. A New Testament was very precious in those days of Popish persecution, when one gave a cart-load of hay for a leaf of the Bible. But, alas! as one says of the French Protestants, When they burned us for reading of the scriptures, we burned in zeal to be reading them; now with our liberty is bred also negligence and disesteem of God's word.
6. Lastly, Consider the many helps there are to understand the scriptures beyond what there were formerly. Many have run to and fro, and knowledge that way has been increased, both by preaching and writing. And that useful exercise of lecturing, which our church has commanded to be of a large portion of scripture, is no small help. What will we be able to answer to the Lord, if this great privilege be slighted ?
Mot. 5. Consider it has been the way of the people of God, to be much addicted to and conversant in the scripture. So true is it that wisdom is justified of her children. O take heed ye go forth by the footsteps of the flock, and ye will not find them in the way of slighting, but prizing of the word of God. Consider,
1. Ye shall find the saints highly prizing the word, Psal. xix. & cxix. what large commendations of the word are there! How sweet was it to Jeremiah! chap. xv. 16. • Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart. Peter, who heard the voice on the mount, yet prefers the scriptures to voices from heaven, 2 Pet. i. 19. Paul speaks highly of it, 2 Tim. iii. 16. ` All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. The martyrs highly prized it, and ventured their lives for it. One cast away at sea, and swimming for his life on a mast, having five pounds, which was all his stock, in the one hand, and a Bible in the other, and being obliged to let go one of them, kept the Bible, and let the five pounds go.
2. Ye shall find them much addicted to the study of the word. It was David's companion and bosom oracle, Psal. cxix. 97. Daniel at Babylon searches the scriptures of the prophets, Dan. ix. 2. So did the noble Bereans, Apollos, and Timothy
3. Yea, the spirit of God makes it the character of a god. ly man, Psal. i. 2. His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.' O how rational is that! The man that is born of God has a natural desire after the word, as the child after the mother's breast, 1 Pet. ii. 2. The new nature tends to communion with God; it is by the word the soul has communion with him, for thereby God speaks to us. And therefore it is a sad sign, that there are few true Christians, while there are so few that diligently ply the word.
Mot. 6. Consider the excellency of the scriptures. There is a transcendent glory in them, which whoso discern cannot miss to hug and embrace them. To commend the Bible to you, I shall say these eight things of it.
1. It is the best of books. They may know much, ye think, that have many good books; but have ye the Bible, and ye have the best book in the world. It is the book of the Lord, dictated by unnerring infinite wisdom. There is no dross here with the gold, no chaff with the corn. Every word of God is pure. There is nothing for our salvation to be had in other books, but what is learned from this, They are but the rivulets that run from this fountain, and all shine with light borrowed from hence. And it has a blessing annexed to it, a glory and majesty in it, an efficacy with it, that no other book has the like. Therefore Luther professed he would burn his books he had writ, rather than they should divert people from reading the scriptures.
2. It is the greatest and most excellent of the works of God to be seen in the world, Psal. cxxxviii. 2. If the world beautified with sun, moon, and stars, be as a precious ring, the Bible is the diamond in the ring. The sparkling stars, and that glorious globe of light the sun, yet leave but a dark world, where there is no Bible. Were it put to the choice of the saints, either to quit the sun out of the firmament, or the Bible out of the world, they would chuse the former, but never the latter; for that they cannot want till they go there where they shall read all in the face of Jesus. For that must needs be most excellent that has most of God in it.
3. It is the oracles of God, Rom. iii. 2. This was the chief of the Jewish privileges, without which their temple, altar, &c. would have been but dumb signs. The Pagan world did highly reverence and prize the devil's oracles: but we have God's oracles, while we have the scriptures that manifest to us the secrets of heaven. And if we discern a. right who speaks in thein, we must say, The voice of God, and not of man. Here is wiat you may consult safely in all your doubts and darknesses; here is what will lead you into all truth.
4. It is the laws of heaven, Psal. xix. 7. The Lord and King of heaven is our great Lawgiver, and the laws are written in this book. It concerns us to study it. Hence we must prove our title to heaven, the blessed inheritance, or we will never obtain it. From hence the sentence of our justification must be drawn, else we are still in a state of wrath. Here is the rule we must follow, that we may please God here, and from this book shall the sentence of our absolution or condemnation be drawn at the great day.
5. It is Christ's testament and latter-will, i Cor. xi. 25. Our Lord has died, and he has left us this Bible as his testament; and that makes his children have such an affection to it. Herein he has left them his legacy, not only moveables, but the eternal inheritance; and his last will is now confirmed, that shall stand for ever without alteration. So all the believer's hopes are in this Bible, and this is the security he has for all the privileges he can lay claim to. This is his charter for heaven, the disposition by which he lays claim to the kingdom. And therefore, if ye have any interest in the testament, ye must needs not be slighters of it.
6. It is the sceptre of his kingdom, Psal. cx. 2. and it is a sceptre of righteousness. It is by this word he rules his church, and guides all his children in their way to the land that is far off. Wherever he hath a kingdom, he wields it; and the nations subjecting themselves to him, receive it. And where he rules in one's heart, it has place there too, Col. iii. 16. It is a golden sceptre of peace, stretched forth to rebels to win them by offering them peace; to fainting believers, to give them peace. And whosoever will not subject themselves to it, shall be broken with his rod of iron.
7. It is the channel of influences, by which the communications of grace are made, and the waters of the sanctuary Vol. I.
flow into the soul, Isa. lix. ult. The apostle appeals for this to the experience of the Galatians, chap. iii. 2. Received ye the Spirit by the law, or by the hearing of faith?' Is the elect soul regenerated ? the word is the incorruptible seed, whereof the new creature is formed, i Pet. i. 23. Is faith begotten in the heart? it is by the word, Rom. x. 17. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' Is the new creature to be nourished, strengthened, quickened, actuated, &c.?. Christ is the fountain, faith the mouth of the soul, the word the pipes of conveyance, whereat faith must suck, as the child at the nipples.
8. Lastly, It is the price of blood even the blood of Christ, 1 Cor. xi. 25. Had not the personal Word become flesh, and therein died to purchase redemption for us, we had never seen this written word among us. For it is the book of the covenant which is founded on the blood of the Mediator. It is the grant and conveyance of the right to the favour of God, and all saving benefits to believers; for which there could have been no place had not Christ died. And they that slight it, will be found to tread under foot the blood of the covenant.
Mot. 7. Consider the usefulness of the word. If we consider the Author, we may be sure of the usefulness of the work. The apostle tells us, that it alone is sufficient to make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works, 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17. There is no case a soul can be in, but it is suitable to their case, that desire to make use of it. To commend it to you from its usefulness, I will say these eight things.
1. It is a treasure to the poor, and such are we all by nature, Rev. iii. 17. 2 Cor. iv. 7. Therefore the Lord bids us search the scriptures, in allusion to those that search in mines for silver and gold. If the poor soul search here, receiving the word by faith, he is made up. He shall find there the discharge of his debt, a new right and title to the mortgaged inheritance. This word of the Lord is a treasure,
(1.) For worth. People make not treasures of any but valuable things. There is nothing in the scriptures but what is highly valuable. There are the eternal counsels of God touching our salvation ; life and immortality brought to light; there are the purest precepts, the most
awful threatenings, and the most precious promises, 2 Pet. i. 4, &c.
(2.) For variety. In the scriptures shines the manifold wisdom of God. They that nauseate this book of the Lord, because they find not new things in it after some time perusing it, discover their senses not to be exercised to discern. For should we come to it ever so often, bringing fresh affections with us, we would find fresh entertainment there; as is evident by the glorious refreshment sometimes found in a word, that has been often gone over before without any thing remarkable. And truly the saints shall never exhaust it while here; but as new discoveries are made in it in several ages, so it will be to the end.
(3.) For abundance. There is in it not only for the present, but for the time to come, Isa, xlii. 23. There is abundance of light, instruction, comfort, &c. and what is needful for the saints travelling heavenward, Psal. cxix. 162. And indeed it is the spoil to be gathered by us. Our Lord having fought the battle against death and devils, here the spoil lies to be gathered by us that remained at home when the fight
(4.) Lastly, For closeness. This word contains the wisdom of God in a mystery. It is a hid book to most of the world, and indeed a sealed book to those that remain in their natural blindness. Nor can we get into the treasure without the illumination of the same Spirit which dictated it, 1 Cor. ii. 10. There is a path here which the vulture's eye hath not seen, which the carnal eye cannot take up, ver. 14. Therefore have we need to seek diligently, and pray, as Psal. cxix. 18. Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of thy law.'
2. It is life to the dead : • The words that I speak unto you (says Christ), they are spirit, and they are life,' John vi. 63. We are naturally dead in sins; but the word is the means of spiritual life. It is the ordinary means of conversion, Psal. xix. 7. · The law of the Lord converteth the soul;' and of regeneration, 1 Pet. i. 23. “Being born again of incorruptible seed by the word of God.' By it the soul is persuaded into the covenant, and brought to embrace Jesus Christ. For thereby the Spirit is communicated to the elect of God. Thus it is of use to bring sinners home to God, from under the power of darkness to the kingdom of his dear Son. .