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OFFICE OF REASON IN SEARCHING THE SCRIPTURES.
The inspiration of the Almighty hath given man understanding.
GOD looked upon the works of his hands, and pronounced them GOOD. The mind of man is a reflection of his own image. By it we also are able to look upon the works of God, and pronounce them good. Our minds are deemed by all men, the proper instruments for examining the works of God, and why not as proper instruments for examining his word? Revelation is an extended reason, since it takes up the process just where nature leaves it. Why is it, then, that so many traduce reason, which is the lamp of the Lord within us, and prefer indolently to take their religion upon trust ? This class of persons is large. They are not, perhaps, totally ignorant of the facts recorded in sacred history, nor do they discontinue the reading of the scriptures; but they do not search them with that seriousness and attention, which ought ever to characterize the exertions of an upright mind in the pursuit of truth. It is the part of a true christian, in godly simplicity, to pursue the truth for its own sake, and thus, by the blessing of the Almighty, receiving it into a good and honest heart, it may produce all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the praise and glory of God.
The subjects of revelation are indeed too spiritual and sublime, to be studied with a light, trifling, or careless mind. To approach them in such a spirit would assuredly be to insult the God of Truth, to degrade our own rational powers, and to plunge ourselves deeper in ignorance and criminality. But in order to avoid this extreme, is it necessary we should fall into the opposite one,-to under-value the noble gift of reason, to silence its suggestions—to be inattentive to its faithful remonstances, or to oppose its sacred dictates, because of its weakness and imperfections, or on account of any supposed difficulties, or impenetrable mysteries of revelation? Certainly not. It is admitted that it is the sole prerogative of the eternal Jehovah to give laws to man-it is granted that it is his prerogative also to communicate those laws in any manner he pleases; and whenever it seems right to his infinite wisdom to enlarge old laws, or to reveal new ones, it is our indispensable duty to obey them. But then we are not to receive as divine laws, all doctrines that are recommended to us by men, for this conduct would expose us to the most palpable contradictions, and to thousands of impositions. On the contrary, because we are required to submit to the divine authority, we should be assured, before we receive any doctrine, that it is divine, and this it is evident we can only learn by bringing the doctrine before the high tribunal of reason. Reason is unquestionably a divine law, written with indelible characters upon every human heart; and as the peerless perfections of the Deity will not admit even the thought that he can contradict himself, or can give contradictory laws to his creatures, we may therefore conclude, that no laws can be divine which are a contradiction to our reason, or which are plainly repugnant to that sense of right and wrong, which is implanted in the mind. But, if any doctrines which are recommended to us as divine, be found to correspond with the congenial sentiments of our minds; with the demonstrable perfections of the Deity in the universe, and are confirmed by incontestible evidences of the divine power, then we may be assured that these doctrines descended from above, that they came down from the Father of light, and that the teacher of these doctrines is the messenger of God.
RULES FOR THE STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
In which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Ir all the parts of the sacred volume are not equally easy of comprehension, there is more need that clear and practical rules be fixed in our minds, by which we can solve what may otherwise appear ambiguous.
I. One rule is, to consider that every part of the Bible is not of equal importance to every christian; and that some parts are to be studied more than others. The Jewish ritual and all that was connected with the ceremonial law, is abolished by Christianity. Its moral precepts are excellent, yet christianity to us is the guide in faith and practice.
II. We must explain what is obscure by what is plain. What is hard to be understood in the epistles, ought to be interpreted by what is clear in the gospels. We ought to begin our inquiries with the teachings of Jesus himself, sitting like Mary at his feet and hearing his words. What is not found in our Saviour's teachings or the records of his life, is not essential to salvation.
III. We must attend to the subject on which the writer is treating, and the connexion in which it stands. Take detached portions of your conversation, or passages from your letters, where you was writing on different subjects, and what strange and inconsistent conclusions may men draw from them! a whole book of the Bible should be read at once, to be well understood; and in controversy, one author should not be quoted for or against another, unless it is clear that both are writing about the same thing, and under the same circum
IV. The last rule which need be mentioned is,-you must bring to your study of the Bible, a serious, impartial, honest mind. This will give you the best commentary on every doubtful passage, and without it you may wrest the plainest parts of the scriptures, as well as the most difficult, to your own destruction. We must bring to this study a deep conviction of its importance; a recollection that it is for the truth which God himself has revealed, that we are inquiring; and that each of us has a personal and eternal interest in this truth. Let us not examine religion as a curious theory which has no bearing on our own conduct; but as a system of truth by which our lives here are to be governed, and our conduct is to be judged hereafter at the bar of Christ. Let us not, as we read, inquire how this or that passage applies to our neighbour, but ask what it teaches to ourselves; what duty does it point out to us, of what sin does it convince us, against what danger does it warn us, what change in our lives does it require of us? Let us bring to our inquiries a disposition to submit to the teaching and will of God. Let us lay aside all previous biasses, all preconceived opinions, all favourite prejudices, and inquire not what is orthodox, or what is liberal, but what is true. Let us come with humble, candid, docile minds and with the prayer of David on our lips; "Teach me, O Lord the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea I shall keep it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments, for therein is my desire."
THE ADVANTAGES OF SICKNESS.
It is good for me, that I have been afflicted.
CALAMITIES, though they may wear the guise of punishments, are never administered solely for the sake of punishment but of correction. It is trial which purifies as well as strengthens. Sickness is the most common form of affliction.
I. Its first advantage is, it calls the attention directly and forcibly to God. We are apt to repose in second causes: but when the physician cannot assure us of the origin of our disorder, when experience is baffled and philosophy confounded, then we learn that there is a God in the earth. From this slumber of our pious reflections, it is the office of violent and sudden disease to awaken us.
II. A second benefit is, we learn the uncertainty of temporal enjoyments. This teaches the folly of cherishing extravagant desires. But this uncertainty, you will say, no man is so absurd as to deny : there needs no messenger of wrath to tell us this. But there is a wide difference between believing, or even assenting to a truth in philosophy or morals, and being the subject of the experiment which proves it. When God blasts at once the confidence of our expectations, when a sickly wind is permitted to pass over our luxuriant hopes, and they are gone-then the sinews of our presumptuousness are cut in a moment; and what volumes failed to teach, is enstamped forever on the mind, by one short, probing lesson of personal suffering.
III. A third advantage is, it teaches the utter imbecility of fame, wealth, beauty and power. Bind a wreath of laurel round the sick man's brow, will it assuage his aching temples? Place in his motionless hand the sceptre of an empire, and will he grasp it? NoLet us learn then to discipline our desires, to correct our judgment, and rely only on God and virtue.
IV. Sickness shews our dependance on one another. Take that muscular and gigantic frame, which now disdains to be obliged, and stretch it on a bed of sickness! Where is that proud and fiery spirit? A child may contend with that palsied arm! How entirely dependant does sickness make us all; and what gratitude should we cherish to the gentle hand that relieves us; and how devoutly thank God, that he has given friendship to cheer and bless our earthly condition.
V. Sickness softens the heart. It is impossible properly to commiserate afflictions, which we have never experienced, and cannot therefore estimate. See with what facility and advantage, one, who has endured pain, will anticipate the wants of a sick companion, and administer relief or whisper cheering consolations, while another stands by totally insensible.
VI. Sickness teaches the value of health. We neglect to prize many blessings until they are taking their flight. Weakness puts new value upon strength.
VII. Sickness teaches, that, preparation for death must be made during health. Instead of acquiring religion on a sick bed, that is the place where we need all its supporting and consolatory power. If sickness does not lead us to piety, to sympathy, to charity and moral watchfulness, it is a lesson which has failed in its great purpose.
A sickness awaits us from which we shall not recover. When it places us in an extended and narrow vista, with eternity as the vast object at its termination, may we be found prepared to meet our God.
Who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.
THE blessings and privileges of redemption are the hope here mentioned. All the nations of Christendom have this attainable hope set before them. Christ may be called our refuge from sin and wretchedness; since laying hold on him, we are safe from all alarms or dangers. He opens to us God's grace, the conditions of final acceptance and the blessed rewards of holiness. We become, by our union with him, heirs of great and precious promises; jointheirs, with him, of the heavenly heritage. When the kingdom of God is within us, then Christ is in us the hope of glory. From this hope must flow assurance, and joy, piety and peace. The treasure of our affections being laid up in heaven, our christian hope is an anchor indeed to our souls, both sure and steadfast. What a support this, amidst the disappointments and trials of life! What the anchor is to a ship in a dark night, on an unknown coast, and amidst a boisterous ocean, christian hope is to the soul, when distracted by the confusion of the world. In danger, it gives security: amid general fluctuation it affords one fixed point of rest. It is among the most eminent of all the advantages which religion now confers. Was this hope entertained with that full persuasion, which christian faith demands, it would, in truth, not merely alleviate, but totally annihilate all human miseries. It would banish discontent, extinguish grief, and suspend the very feeling of pain.-But, allowing for the mixture of human frailty; admitting those abatements which our imperfection makes upon the effect of every religious principle; still, we shall find that in proportion to the degree in which the hope of heaven operates upon good men, they will be tranquil under sufferings; nay, they will be happy, in comparison with those who enjoy no such relief. What, indeed, in the course of human affairs, is sufficient to disturb, far less to overwhelm the mind of that man, who can look down on all human things from an elevation so much above them? He feels himself only a passenger through this world. He is travelling to a happier country. How disagreeable soever the occurrences of his journey may be, yet at every stage he receives the assurance that he is drawing nearer and nearer to the point of rest and felicity.-Devout follower of Christ! endure and thou shalt overcome; persevere and thou shalt be successful. The time of earthly trial and anxiety hastens to its close: thy mansion is prepared above: thy rest remaineth with the people of God. The disorders which vice has introduced into the world, are about to terminate with you, and all tears shall be wiped away from your eyes.
The firm assurance of this happy conclusion to the vexations and vanities of life, works a greater effect on the sincere and humble christian, than all the refinements of philosophy can ever produce on the most learned sceptic. Learning may charm and sooth during health and prosperity, but christian hope it is, which must console, restore and support us in the hour of adversity and death. Let the world's glories fade, christian hope opens another region, where durable splendour is secured. Earthly fountains may fail, but the waters which gush from the throne of God, are eternal. Earthly riches may take wings, but the treasure which is laid up in heaven, no craft or violence can take from us.
JESUS CHRIST OUR SHEPHERD.
He will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.
CHRIST having indentified himself with his religion and its effects, the sacred historians have given us many representations of him under the most endearing similitudes. His relation, as shepherd to his flock, is most impressive. The superintendance, watchfulness, and affection of Christ, for his church, is thus beautifully portrayed.
He will gather the lambs with his arm. Lambs sometimes miss the footsteps of the flock, wander from the fold and are in danger of being lost in the wilderness, or surprised by the wolf. To similar deviations from the way of life, christians are liable. Many are the errours both in doctrine and practice with which they are, at times, chargeable. Overlooking their weakness and folly, the heavenly shepherd abandons them not. Amidst all their wanderings he never loses sight of them. Should they be unable to return, assistance will be afforded, and divine strength be perfected in their weakness.
He shall carry them in his bosom. These words seem to allude to what probably often happened in the country of Judea, where the feeble young lamb, exposed to the damp and cold of the morning or evening air, was taken up by the shepherd, and carried in his bosom to the shelter in which the flock was folded. The imagery conveys a lively idea of the safety and happiness of those anxious and distressed souls, who, by faith, may be said to be lodged in the bosom of the chief shepherd above. Gathered in the arms and lying in the bosom of its shepherd, how safe from every disaster must the feeble lamb be! Thus secure are all they, who, by faith and love, are united to Christ. In the world they may have tribulation, but in him they shall find peace. Under all their trials and fears, their souls shall rest on his powerful arm, and rejoice in his redeeming love. What nearness of relationship, what refreshing comforts are suggested by the representation of being carried in the bosom of the shepherd! What tender and winning care does Christ, also, show towards his disciples; and by his doctrine, life, sufferings and death, he would conduct us from one stage to another in our moral progress, until we shall safely reach our destined abode with him in heaven. Touched with the feeling of our infirmities he will be the strength of the weak. His disciples may be burdened, but they shall not be overburdened. When extra trials are allotted, extra supports shall be afforded; and in the midst of darkness, light shall beam forth. Believers, young in years, or young in grace, shall be gently led on, as their knowledge, experience and strength may increase, gradually advancing till, under such guidance, they shall be led to the heavenly Zion.
How should this view of our Saviour's character and offices lead us to admire his condescension and grace. How beautifully is his religion represented as binding up the broken heart, feeding the hungry, supplying the destitute, and giving liberty to the captive. Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. To men debased by ignorance and perverted by sin, Christ came an instructer and a refuge. To the prisoners in guilt, to the wretched captives of temptation, who had been left stripped and wounded, whose understandings had been blinded, and whose moral powers had been enfeebled, Christ came, to heal their wounds, and to gather them under one shepherd into one heavenly fold.