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of all mankind, voluntarily submitted himself, in the garden of passion, to the will of God: from which man withdrew himself in a garden of pleasure.
(3.) The occasion upon which the words were spoken.
Thus, in Matt. xvi. 3. Christ rebukes the Pharisees, because they did not observe the signs of the times. On what occasion? When they required him to show them a sign from heaven. Inference. Such are the blindness and corruption of men, that disregarding the signs exhibited to them by God himself, they frequently require new signs that are more agreeable to their own desires.
(4) The manner in which a thing is done.
Acts ix. 9. During the blindness in which Saul continued for three days and three nights, God brought him to the knowledge of himself. Inference. Those, whom God vouchsafes to enlighten, he first convinces of their spiritual blindness.1
Other instances, illustrating the sources whence inferences are deducible, might be offered, were they necessary, or were the preceding capable of being very soon exhausted. From the sources already stated and explained, various kinds of inferences may be derived, relating both to faith and practice. Thus, some may be deduced for the confirmation of faith, for exciting sentiments of love and gratitude, and for the support of hope: while others contribute to promote piety, Christian wisdom and prudence, and sacred eloquence; lastly, others are serviceable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, and for comfort. He, who adds personal practice to the diligent reading of the Scriptures, and meditates on the inferences deduced from them by learned and pious men, will abundantly experience the truth of the royal psalmist's observations, - Thy commandment is exceeding broad; and, the entrance of thy words giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple. (Psal. cxix. 96. 130.) "The Scriptures," says the late eminent Bishop Horne, "are the appointed means of enlightening the mind with true and saving knowledge. They show us what we were, what we are, and what we shall be: they show us what God hath done for us, and what he expecteth us to do for him; they show us the adversaries we have to encounter, and how to encounter them with success; they show us the mercy and the justice of the Lord, the joys of heaven, and the pains of hell. Thus will they give to the simple, in a few days, an understanding of those matters, which philosophy, for whole centuries, sought in vain."
In conducting, however, the inferential reading above discussed, we must be careful not to trust to the mere effusions of a prurient or vivid fancy: inferences legitimately deduced, unquestionably do essentially promote the spiritual instruction and practical edification of the reader. "But when brought forward for the purpose of interpretation properly so called, they are to be viewed with caution and even with mistrust. For scarcely is there a favourite opinion, which a fertile imagination may not thus extract from some portion of Scripture and very different, nay contrary, interpretations of this kind have often been made of the very same texts, according to men's various fancies or inventions."2
1 Professor Franck, in his Manuductio ad Lectionem Scripturæ Sacræ, cap. 3. (pp. 101-123. of Mr. Jacques's translation), has some very useful observations on inferential reading, illustrated with numerous instances different from those above given. See also Schaeferi Institutiones Scripturistica, pars ii. pp. 166–178.
2 Bishop Vanmildert's Lectures, p. 247. VOL. II.
ON THE PRACTICAL READING OF SCRIPTURE.
HAVING hitherto endeavoured to show how we may ascertain and apply the true sense of the sacred writings, it remains only to consider in what manner we may best reduce our knowledge to practice: for, if serious contemplation of the Scriptures and practice be united together, our real knowledge of the Bible must necessarily be increased, and will be rendered progressively more delightful. If, says Jesus Christ, any man will do his (God's) will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God. (John vii. 17.) This is the chief end for which God has revealed his will to us (Deut. xxix. 29.); and all Scripture is profitable for this purpose, (2 Tim. iii. 16.) either directing us what we should do, or inciting and encouraging us to do it: it being written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom. xv. 4.); that is, that by the strenuous exercise of that patience, which the consolations administered in Scripture so powerfully support, we might have an assured and joyful hope in the midst of all our tribulation. Even those things, which seem most notional and speculative, are reducible to practice. (Rom. i. 20, 21.) Those speculations, which we are enabled to form concerning the nature and attributes of God, grounded upon his works, ought to induce us to glorify him as such a God as his works declare him to be: and it is a manifest indication that our knowledge is not right, if it hath not this influence upon our conduct and conversation. (1 John ii. 3.)
The practical reading here referred to, is of such nature, that the most illiterate person may prosecute it with advantage for the application of Scripture which it enjoins, is connected with salvation; and consequently, if the unlearned were incapable of making such application to themselves, it would be in vain to allow them to peruse the sacred writings. After what has been stated in the preceding part of this volume, the author trusts he shall stand acquitted of undervaluing the knowledge of the original languages of the Scriptures, an acquaintance with which will suggest many weighty practical hints, that would not present themselves in a version. It is however sufficient, that every thing necessary to direct our faith, and regulate our practice, may easily be ascertained by the aid of translations. Of all modern versions, the present authorised English translation, is, upon the whole, undoubtedly the most accurate and faithful; the translators having seized the very spirit of the sacred writers, and having almost every where expressed their meaning with a pathos and energy that have never been rivalled by any subsequent versions either of the Old or the New Testament, or of detached books, although, in
1 Franckii Manuductio, cap. iv. pp. 131. et seq.; or pp. 124. et seq. of the English
most of these, particular passages are rendered more happily, and with a closer regard to the genius and spirit of the divine originals.
The simplest practical application of the word of God will, unquestionably, prove the most beneficial: provided it be conducted with a due regard to those moral qualifications which have already been stated and enforced, as necessary to the right understanding of the Scriptures. Should, however, any hints be required, the following may, perhaps, be consulted with advantage.'
I. In reading the Scriptures, then, with a view to personal application, we should be careful that it be done with a pure intention.
The Scribes and Pharisees indeed searched the Scriptures, yet without deriving any real benefit from them: they thought that they had in them eternal life: yet they would not come to Christ that they might have life. (John v. 40.) He, however, who peruses the sacred volume, merely for the purpose of amusing himself with the histories it contains, or of beguiling time, or to tranquillise his conscience by the discharge of a mere external duty, is deficient in the motive with which he performs that duty, and cannot expect to derive from it either advantage or comfort amid the trials of life. Neither will it suffice to read the Scriptures with the mere design of becoming intimately acquainted with sacred truths, unless such reading be accompanied with a desire, that, through them, he may be convinced of his self-love, ambition, or other faults, to which he may be peculiarly exposed, and that by the assistance of divine grace, he may be enabled to root them out of his mind.
II. In reading the Scriptures for this purpose, it will be advisable · to select some appropriate lessons from its most useful parts; not being particularly solicitous concerning the exact connection or other critical niceties that may occur (though at other times, as ability and opportunity offer, these are highly proper objects of inquiry), but simply considering them in a devotional or practical view.2
After ascertaining, therefore, the plain and obvious meaning of the lesson under examination, we should first consider the present state of our minds, and carefully compare it with the passage in question next, we should inquire into the causes of those faults which such perusal may have disclosed to us; and should then look around for suitable remedies to correct the faults we have thus discovered.
III. We are not, however, to confine our attention solely to external precepts; we should first diligently search for the foundation of each precept in the Scriptures; and, after examining whether we can discover it in ourselves, we must lay the foundation in our own breasts, before we can think of erecting upon it any precepts for the regulation of life and manners.
The following example from that inimitable model of Christian
1 These observations are selected and abridged from Rambach's Institutiones Hermeneuticæ, and Professor Franck's Brevis Institutio, rationem tradens Sacram Scripturam in veram edificationem legendi, annexed to his Prælectiones Hermeneuticæ, 8vo. Hala Madgeburgica, 1717. Franck has treated the same topic nearly in a similar manner, in his Manuductio, already noticed, cap. iv.
2 Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion, ch. xix. § 9. (Works, vol. i. p. 359. Leeds edit. 8vo.)
prayer, emphatically termed the Lord's Prayer, will illustrate this remark. We are there taught to implore the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. vi. 12. Luke xi. 4.), and we are assured (Matt. vi. 15.) that if we do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will God forgive us. Previously, then, to our offering up this petition, we should examine ourselves, whether, agreeably to this precept, and also in conformity to the divine command of loving our enemies and blessing those who curse us (Matt. v. 44.), we do truly and sincerely forgive them that have trespassed against us: because, unless this is the case, we deceive ourselves, and consequently our own hypocrisy will prevent our petition for forgiveness from being answered.
IV. In every practical reading and application of the Scriptures to ourselves, our attention should be fixed on Jesus Christ, both as a gift to be received by faith for salvation, and also as an exemplar, to be copied and imitated in our lives.
We are not, however, to imitate him in all things. Some things he did by his divine power, and in those we cannot imitate him: other things he performed by his sovereign authority, in those we must not imitate him: other things also he performed by virtue of his office, as a Mediator, and in these we may not, we cannot follow him. But in his early piety, his obedience to his reputed earthly parents, his unwearied diligence in doing good, his humility, his unblameable conduct, his self-denial, his contentment under low circumstances, his frequency in private prayer, his affectionate thankfulness, his compassion to the wretched, his holy and edifying discourse, his free conversation, his patience, his readiness to forgive injuries, his sorrow for the sins of others, his zeal for the worship of God, his glorifying his heavenly father, his impartiality in administering reproof, his universal obedience, and his love and practice of holiness, in all these instances, Jesus Christ is the most perfect pattern for our imitation. And the observation of these things, in a practical point of view, will be of singular use to us on this account; namely, that whatever sympathy and benevolence Christ displayed on earth, he retains the same heaven, seeing that he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and that he ever liveth to make intercession for them that come unto God by him. For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but [one who was] in all points tempted like as we are; so that we may now come with humble confidence to the throne of grace; assuring ourselves, that we shall find, from the true mercy-seat of God, sufficient help in all our distresses. (Heb. xiii. 8. vii. 25. and iv. 15, 16.) Jesus Christ, then, being our most perfect exemplar, (1 Cor.
1 The various features in the character of our Redeemer as man, which are enumerated above, are illustrated in an admirable, but little known tract of the pious commentator Burkitt (edited by the late Rev. Dr. Glasse), entitled “Jesus Christ, as Man, an inimitable pattern of religious virtue.” 8vo. London, 1809. Having briefly, though perspicuously, illustrated the different subjects, the editor terminates his essay with the following caution, which is unhappily as applicable to the present time as when it was first written, "Take heed that ye do not so consider Christ for your pattern, as to disown him for your Saviour and Redeemer. God preserve us," he adds, "from this growing error, which stabs the heart of the Christian religion, in that it deprives us of the choicest benefits of Christ's death; namely, the expiation of sin by a proper satisfaction to the justice of God!"
xi. 1.) the particular actions and general conduct of other men, as related in the Scriptures, should be regarded by us as models of imitation, only so far as they are conformable to this standard.
V. "An example (that is, every good one) hath the force of a rule; all of them being "written for our admonition." (1 Cor. x. 11.) But then we must be careful to examine and discern whether the example be extraordinary or ordinary, according to which the application must be made."
In illustration of this remark, it may be observed, 1. That in matters which were extraordinary, such as the killing of Eglon by Ehud, (Judg. iii. 21.) Elijah's killing the prophets of Baal, (1 Kings xviii. 40.) and his invoking fire from heaven, (2 Kings i. 10.) a conduct which, though approved in him, was condemned by our Lord in the apostles (Luke ix. 54, 55.) ; — 2. In matters that were temporary; such were many of the ceremonies observed by the Jews, the washing of his disciples' feet by our Lord, (John xiii. 14.) the celebration of love-feasts by the primitive Christians, &c.; and 3. In matters that were sinful, as the drunkenness of Noah, (Gen. ix. 21.) the adultery of David, (2 Sam. xi.) the repining of Jonah, (Jonah v. 1–9.) Peter's denial of Christ, (Matt. xxvi. 69–75. Mark xiv. 66-72. Luke xxii. 55–62. John xviii. 25-27.) &c.; - in matters which were thus extraordinary, temporary, or sinful, the practice of holy men recorded in the Scriptures is NOT to be a pattern for us: but in all general holy duties, and in such particular duties as belong to our respective situations and callings, we are to set them before our eyes, and to follow their steps. When, therefore, we read of the upright ness of Noah, of Abraham's faith, the meekness of Moses, of David's devotions, the zeal of Josiah, the boldness of Peter and John in Christ's cause, of the labours of Saint Paul, and other virtues of the antient saints, it should be our study to adorn our profession with similar graces and ornaments.
"Instead," therefore, "of adopting the sayings and actions record ed in Scripture, implicitly and absolutely, we ought to reason in some such manner as this: ......... If such a person, so situated, best answered the ends of such an institution, by acting in such a manner, how shall we, in our situation, best answer the ends of the same? Sometimes merely proposing this form of inquiry will carry us right but, in more difficult cases, we shall have the general principles, the nature and end of the duty in question to investigate, and from these to determine the particular cases; that is, how, in such cases, the ends of the duty can be best attained. However, in most questions, a good heart will be more requisite than a good head.”2
VI. When we read of the failings, as well as the sinful actions of men, recorded in the Scriptures, we may see what is in our own nature: for there are in us the seeds of the same sin, and similar tendencies to its commission, which would bring forth similar fruits, were
1 Bishop Wilkins on the Gift of Preaching, p. 23. of Dr. E. Williams's Christian Preacher. See also some admirable observations on this subject in Bishop Taylor's Works, vol. xii. pp. 452. et seq.
2 Dr. Hey's Norrisian Lectures, vol. i. p. 77. The whole of his chapter on "applying sayings and actions recorded in the Scriptures to ourselves," abounds with profound views, happily illustrated, and is worthy of repeated perusals.