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that he fix to himself the right sense of the leading terms; more especially of the names of God; of the appellations, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the Messiah, and the like; and of the words, inspiration, miracles, faith, worship, covenant, atonement, sacrifice, &c. Now, as these are common words, he cannot do better than to understand them, for the most part, in the common acceptation; because it is not to be supposed, the Holy Spirit should apply these terms, so generally used, to any other than the accustomary ideas, without giving notice of an application so unexpected. If this is done with due care and skill, and without any view to the proof of this or that particular tenet, it will infinitely facilitate and enhance the use of the next rule :
Which consists in a clear and determinate conception of the main or essential doctrines, which are always more strongly insisted on, more copiously and variously expressed, and consequently in a more precise and ample manner revealed, than other matters of less moment. If these fundamental articles are once well cleared up and known, they will serve, as first principles or axioms, to ascertain a world of other points, more briefly intimated, or couched in darker terms. There are but few passages in Scripture, especially of the doctrinal kind, that have not more or less connexion with some one or other of the fundamentals ; and in proportion as they have, the light, that issues from the fundamental, may be trained along that connexion, till it is brought near enough to dissipate the difficulty.
The third rule is, that of explaining the figurative by the literal, and the darker by the plainer passages, when the same thing happens to be expressed both ways in different parts of the Scripture. By this expedient innumerable difficulties may be removed, and the New Testament may be used as an authentic commentary on the Old.
The fourth rule is, carefully to consider the context of a doubtful expression, that, the design of the writer being known, such a sense of the words may be found as they will bear apart, and as that design evidently requires. Of all methods, this is the most at hand, in every difficulty, and, if closely pursued, will generally save the trouble of going to a greater distance in the Scripture for clearer passages to the same purpose; which, however, is often necessary,
and ought to satisfy the inquirer ; because the whole Scriptures, being dictated by the same infallible Spirit, are to be considered as one connected context.
The fifth rule is, that one plain assertion, especially if it be negative, as · Beside me there is no God,' is to determine the point it makes for, against any number of darker passages, that may seem to intimate the contrary; and against all deductions of our own drawing from plainer passages, howsoever necessary these deductions may appear. The meaning we pick out of an obscure passage may happen not to be that of the author, but our own; and therefore is never to be set in competition with a plain express assertion of God. Much less is a consequence, of our own forming, to be opposed to such expressions ; because it is sufficient evidence of its fallacy, that it contradicts the direct assertion of the Holy Spirit. The usefulness, or rather necessity, of this rule, will appear best by an instance. Christ, or the Word, says, “My Father is greater than I.' From hence it seems necessarily to follow, that if the Father is God, the Son, or Word, cannot be God, in direct contradiction to the Holy Ghost, who says, 'There is but one God,' and, The Word was God.' Here, it is plain, the conclusion ought to be given up, though we could not discover its fallacy, merely because drawn by a fallible man, directly against the express assertion of the unerring God; or at least that the authority of the Scriptures ought to be denied, on the supposition of a contradiction found in them. But why should not the conclusion be given up, since, it is possible Christ may have had two natures, in him, so as to have been less than the Father in respect to the one, and equal to him in respect to the other ? This instance sufficiently shews, how apt our own deductions are to deceive us. Yet such is the pride and self-sufficiency of some men, that they must needs have a hand in making Scripture for themselves; and what is the most preposterous effect of their pride, they are generally more tenacious of the precarious conclusions drawn by themselves, than of the great truths of Scripture, which expressly condemn those conclusions.
If any passage happens not to be cleared up to the satisfaction of the inquirer, by these methods of searching the Scriptures themselves, he ought then, in the last place, to
hear what others have to say on the subject, in their commentaries or conversation; because it is possible, that the unwilling truth, which he was not able to bolt, may be discovered by another more sagacious. But, in this case, as be ought only to wish for a satisfactory solution, not for any particular solution, and to consider those whom he consults with, howsoever famous for their judgment and learning, as no more than fallible men; it is his business to beware, that neither his own propensities, nor the authority of a great name, put too precipitate an end to his inquiry.
It now only remains, that we say a word or two to those who search the Scriptures purely with an eye to their own reformation or virtue. These, though the plainer, are undoubtedly the wiser sort of Christians. The grand end of revelation was, to teach us what we should believe and do, in order to be saved. The design therefore of God in giving, and of these readers in receiving, the Scriptures, is one and the same.
But it must be observed, that the practical searcher of God's word stands in as great need of candour and diligence as the controversial. If the latter hath his prejudices, to surmount, the former hath his vicious inclinations to subdue. As the one may be tempted to warp and bend the Scriptures to his private opinions, so the other may be too apt to soften them into an indulgence for those vices which they were given to correct. Humility therefore, and candour, and resignation, to the dictates of God, are equally necessary
in both cases. Diligence also is equally requisite; because although the fundamentals of our faith, the practical principles, and the sanctions of the Christian covenant, are most clearly revealed; yet, whereas, through the miserable depravity of human nature, the exercise of vigilance, devotion, and mortification, are generally distasteful to us, a continual and close attention to the means of reformation becomes so necessary, that it cannot be remitted, without an immediate relapse into sin and wickedness. Now, as the means of reformation are set before us in the Scriptures, those sacred volumes are therefore incessantly to be perused and studied, that deep and lasting impressions of our duty, and the motives to our duty, may be not only taken off, but perpetually refreshed and renewed. The libertine transgressor, however, will not read them; because he contemns them. The believing, but hardened sinner, dares not read them; because they threaten him, in every page, with the judgments of God, temporal and eternal.
But the sincere and thinking Christian, who in vain exerts his natural strength against his corruptions, flies to them as his only resource ; because in them he clearly sees what he is to do, and what to avoid; how closely all his thoughts, words, and actions, are inspected by infinite wisdom, how awfully and severely he is to be judged by Almighty God, in all his majesty, before angels and
and how gloriously he is to be rewarded, or how dreadfully punished, for the life he is now leading. He there also sees the infinite benefit that may be drawn from the contemplation of his covenant with God, and a strict adherence to the ordinances of pure religion. He can no where see virtue and vice painted in such heightening colours, nor exemplified in such striking characters. He is, therefore, to read and meditate on the word of God with all possible diligence, veneration, and affection; because he reads for his life and his soul.
But he is to remember, that he also is, in some measure, a controversial reader. He is engaged in controversy, of infinite importance, with his baptismal enemies; and these are subtle disputants indeed, who, by a species of sophistry not easily parried, endeavour to prove, that good is evil, and evil good; and that it is better to be vicious than virtuous. In order to this, they draw their arguments not only from passion, affection, and the allurements of temptation, but even from an appearance of reason, nay, and sometimes from the very Scriptures themselves.
As the tempter hath not yet ceased to quote Scripture, they who search it against him, ought to do it by the rules laid down for the controversial perusal of it, that, as our Saviour did, they may baffle his misapplied quotations by others that cannot be wrested. This cunning adversary knows full well how to argue with them, from that part of their nature which they are most inclinable to follow, and to help out his too pleasing plea, by alleging such passages of Scripture as magnify the mercy of God towards the infirmities of men, and by relaxing such as most severely threaten vice with the effects of divine justice. If we may judge by the warm apologies frequently made for actions apparently wicked, we must conclude, a right rule of action is not naturally so clear a point in practice, with some, as it is in speculation, with others. And, considering with what delight at first, and triumph afterward, men frequently do such things, as their consciences strongly protest against, it is evident they stand in need of something farther, than they are yet aware of, to restrain the enormity, and correct the depravity, of their affections. Revelation affords us this. To revelation therefore we ought to have recourse; but ought to search it with candour, lest we be deceived; and with diligence, lest we should, at any time, lose sight of those powerful aids it affords us towards a thorough reformation of our manners.
To conclude ; if any man, on a thorough examination, hath found the Scriptures to be the word of God, what hath he farther to do, than to read them with the diligence and humility of a learner? How should we listen, were God to speak to us face to face ? Just so should we listen, when he speaks to us out of his Scriptures, attentive only to hear and understand what he says; more fully persuaded of its truth, than of any other truths; and as ready to obey whatsoever he enjoins, as if the happiness of heaven was to be the immediate reward. If God speaks to us, does he not so speak, especially in matters of the last consequence, as to be understood? And if we understand him, surely we must believe and obey him. But, if in any thing he hath been silent, in that we should be silent too, taking it for granted, that it is a thing we ought not to know : or, if in some things he speaks mysteriously, we are only concerned to believe as far as we understand; and to conclude, either that the divine author, for wise and good reasons known to himself, thought fit to leave the matter in some obscurity; or that the nature of the thing itself made greater plainness impossible to our clouded apprehension, and narrow capacities. When we have enriched our understandings with a clear conception, and lively impression, of all the fundamentals, we are not to think the Bible may be laid aside: no; these impressions are to be made still stronger, and