« ZurückWeiter »
insolence of power, to universal corruption. And then let him reflect a little, by what instruments it made this prodigious progress, and wrought these glorious effects. Were its preachers all profound philosophers ? No, there were few among them who knew more than barely how to read and write. Were they all eloquent orators ? No; except St. Paul, there were none of them, for a long time, who understood more of elocution than the plainest tradesman who heard them. Were they all profound politicians ? No; of all men they were the simplest, the most artless, the most destitute of address and skill in managing worldly affairs. What then? Did they proselyte the world, like Mahomet, by the sword, by power, and by the expectation of spoil and plunder ? No; they were among
'the very lowest and weakest of the people. The sword was so far from being with them, that, for three hundred years, it was almost continually employed against them; while they opposed it with 'nothing but patience and resignation. The empire found itself Christian, almost as soon as it ceased to persecute Christianity. And as to the hope of wealth, it was so far from being a temptation to any man to turn Christian, that every one who received baptism, foresaw he must surrender the little wealth he had, either to an imperial, or a voluntary confiscation. How then? Did the ignorant convince and teach the learned ? Did the uneloquent persuade the orator? Did the simple circumvent the artful ? Did the weak subdue the strong ? No; to suppose this, is to suppose a thing in itself absurd and impossible. It was God, who, by the wisdom of his word, convinced and persuaded. It was God, who by the power of his miracles, caught and conquered. That all the world might know it was he alone, he chose men for preachers who had nothing to contribute to the work but a tongue; and, lest they should have any farther share in it, forbad them to study or prepare what they had to say: he chose them, in short, that he might, ' by the foolish things of the world, confound the wise ; that he might, by the weak things of the world, confound the things which are mighty; and by the base things of the world, and things that are despised, yea, and by things that are not, bring to nought things that are. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings he ordained strength,' suffi
cient'to still the enemy and the avenger,' and 'perfected his own praise.'
While the true religion was as yet contending for superiority, and the prophetic promise made to it in that behalf was unaccomplished, some apology might be made for him who suspended his assent till he saw the issue, because the opposition was powerful, the end great, and the means apparently insufficient. But now that prophecies, so unlikely to be true, have been fulfilled; now that instruments, so utterly inefficacious in themselves, have prevailed; all that which at first might have occasioned, or in any degree justified, suspense, serves only to enforce conviction and assent, This great event was not stolen upon the world. A full and timely warning was given of it by the promises and prophecies published in Scripture. The world, alarmed at these, and confiding in its own power, exerted its utmost efforts to prevent their taking place, and thereby to prove the book wherein they were contained was not the word of God. Little did it think it was doing all it could to prove the contrary, which undoubtedly it was ; for by what other means could the divinity of the prophecies, and the interposition of Almighty God in favour of his word and religion, have been so amply, so universally, demonstrated, as by an opposition, which must have proved successful, had it not been baffled by a power superior to that of all mankind?
To conclude ; if we have reason for believing any thing, it is this; that Christianity is the true religion, and the Bible the word of God. Fully convinced of these great truths, let us now earnestly beseech the gracious Author to give us a right understanding of its necessary doctrines, a steady adherence to all its blessed truths, and a heart and will ever ready to regulate both our faith and practice by the same, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
HOW THE SCRIPTURES ARE TO BE READ.
JOHN v. 39.
Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they
are they which testify of me.
HAVING, in the former Discourse, proved that the true religion is revealed to us in the books of the Old and New Testament, I intend, in this, to shew, how we ought to read these books, in order to answer the important ends for which they were written. If we consider either those ends, or the foreign and really sinister views, with which the sacred writings are perused by too many, we shall look on this as a subject of infinite consequence to us. May the Holy Spirit enable me to speak with that power, and you to listen with that attention, which the unspeakable dignity of the point demands !
When the words of my text were uttered by our blessed Saviour, the books of the Old Testament were the only Scriptures in being. In those the Jews thought they had eternal life;' and Christ neither commends nor censures their judgment. He does not commend it; because those books, considered in themselves, and without an eye to any farther dispensation, did not afford the means of eternal life: nor does he censure it; because those writings, rightly understood, did testify of him, who is the way, and the truth, and the life;' John xiv. 6. Now, if what is promised, concerning Christ, in the Old Testament, is, with equal authority, recorded in the New, as fully accomplished, we must look for the means of eternal life in the New, rather than in the Old. The search, however, recommended by Christ, must be made into both, that the whole scheme of our redemption, whether as prophetically promised, or as actually completed, may be understood and taken together.
And here it is necessary we should consider, what sort
of a search this ought to be. The word in the original, whereby it is prescribed, implies a close examination, a thorough scrutiny into the Scriptures. The nature of the thing also points out the same; for it is the word of God we are to search, and eternal life we are to search for. In respect, therefore, both to the majesty of the author, and the dignity of the end, no one thing in the world can be of so much consequence to us, as a right application of our minds to the Book of God.
Taking this for granted, let us inquire, first, With what views; secondly, On what principles; thirdly, With what dispositions; and lastly, By what rules, we ought to read the holy Scriptures.
And first, as to the views; they ought, undoubtedly, to be no other than those which God proposed to himself, in the revelation made by the sacred books.
Should an author write with one intention, and his reader peruse him with another, the absurdity of such a conduct in the reader must be too evident to need any other proofs, than what it gives of itself. Yet that which is but an absurdity in him, who reads a system of morality, in order to learn arithmetic, becomes a flagrant impiety in one who reads the word of God with any other view, than that wherewith it was written. All other authors sometimes trifle in their works, and therefore may be trifled with by their readers; but there is no trifling with the works of God.
With what view then did God become the author of a book? It was not surely to confirm the opinions, nor to countenance the vices, nor to gratify the curiosity, nor to pamper the learned pride, of men : No; it was to teach the world something it did not, or could not, otherwise know; to disabuse it of its religious errors; to correct its vices; to call home its inquiries to necessary instructions; and to teach it the vanity of science, falsely so called. It was infinite mercy that gave birth to this book, and infinite wisdom that furnished the matter. The end therefore proposed by it, must be proportionably great and good. To prevent mistakes, hear what it says itself, concerning this end : ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, tho
roughly furnished unto all good works;' 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17. • The Scriptures,' says the Spirit of God, ver. 15. ‘ are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. They teach us 'to know the only true God, and Christ Jesus, whom he hath sent, which is eternal life;' John xvii. 3. If therefore, we would avoid the impious ab surdity of reading the word of God with other views 'than those for which it was written, we must search it only for the knowledge of God, and our duty, that we may understand what we are to believe and do, in order to be saved. All things necessary to the service of God, and our salvation, are there so clearly revealed, that common sense cannot fail to find them, provided it wisely and honestly searches for nothing else. Other things there are, which are more difficult; but they are less useful, the smaller kernels being inclosed in proportionably thicker shells; which if the weak are not able to open, some one stronger may do it for them; or, in case no one does, they ought not too deeply to regret their loss, since they have a sufficient plenty before them of food more substantial, and much easier digested.
Notwithstanding all the stir that hath been made about the fundamentals of Christianity, what they are, and how to be understood, he who reads the Scriptures with that intention only which God had in publishing them, must infallibly find what he looks for, provided he reads on right principles, and with proper dispositions; which, what they are, we shall presently explain. It was precisely for such men as this, that God committed his revelation to writing; wherein, nevertheless, he must have been wholly disappointed, if minds, so well accommodated to his intentions, cannot arrive at even the foundation of true religion, nor understand its very rudiments. Our endless disputes concerning the essentials of Christianity do not, in the smallest measure, proceed from the obscurity of those essentials, as they are set forth in holy Scripture, but from the obliquity of our own minds, who prompted by our vile affections and prejudices, are ever looking for such informations or proofs as God never intended to give us, frequently indeed for the confirmation of such opinions as it was his main intention to refute. Now, it is no wonder that inquirers of this sort, if wedded to their prejudices, should either endeavour to