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not without much distrust of our own, and intercession for heavenly power, endeavour to take account of the spirit and style in which it is wont to be perused amongst us, and of the spirit and style in which it ought to be perused. And being conscious that we have many convictions, to express which chime not in with the temper of the times, and some sayings hard to be received by Christians discipled in modern schools, we ask your patience and Christian courtesy, and pray God for your consent and approbation.
The more ignorant sort of men, who entertain religion by a kind of hereditary reverence, as they do any other custom, take up the Word of God at stated seasons, and afflict their spirits with the task of perusing it, and, to judge from a vacant face and an unawakened tone, and a facility of enduring interruption, it is often as truly inflicted upon the soul as ever penance was upon the flesh of a miserable monk. Or, upon another occasion, when one beholds mirth and jocularity at once go dumb for an act of worship, and revive again with fresh glee when the act is over, one cannot help believe ing that it hath been task-work with many, if not with all. Holding of the same superstition is the practice of drawing to the Word in sickness, affliction, and approaching dissolution, as if a charm against the present evil, or an invocation of the future good. Against these and all other mortifications it were enough to quote that weighty sentence of Job, “Can a man be profitable to God, as one that is wise is profitable unto himself; or is it any profit to the Almighty that thou makest thy ways perfect ?” It is well pleasing to him that his word is honoured, and that his name is magnified by the intelligent creatures which his hand hath formed; but he cannot endure to be approached with mere form, or served out of constraint. It is to be preferred above the creatures which he hath made that delights him; and to reign supremely in the soul; at all times to be held in reverence, and over all our actions to preside. The want of will to his service, or impatience in its performance, or joy when it is over, converts it into contempt, the more hateful because it is covered. The weakness and imperfections of our nature he will overlook, and, if besought, will by his Spirit remove; but guile and disguise and all hypocrisies his soul hateth, and cannot away with. And for studying his will, it is of no importance save to perform it in the face of all opposition from within and from without; therefore, of all seasons, sickness and affliction-when we are disabled from action, and in part also from thought is, it seems to me, the sea.
son least proper for the perusal of the Word. If it cannot overmaster us when we are clothed in all our strength, then it is a poor victory to overcome us when disease hath already prostrated our better faculties. Then chiefly to take concern about the name and the word of God, is a symptom of our weakness, not of our devotion. Take heed then ye present to the Lord no lame nor maimed offerings, or put off your allegiance with well-timed and well-mannered acts of occasional attendance; or think to satisfy Him with painful instances of self-denial, who is only gratified when the service of his creatures goes with all their heart and soul, and yields to them the height of self-enjoyment.
From this extreme of narrow and enforced attendance upon the Word of God, there are many who run into the other extreme of constant consultation, and cannot pass an evening together in conversation or enjoyment of any kind, but call for the Bible and the exposition of its truths by an able hand. That it becomes a family night and morning to peruse the word--and that it becomes men to assemble themselves together to hear it expounded is a truth; while at the same time it is no less a truth, that it is a monkish custom, and a most ignorant slavery, to undervalue all intellectual, moral, or refreshing converse, for the purpose of hearing some favourite of the priesthood set forth his knowledge or his experience, though it be upon a holy subject. It is not that he may talk, but that we all may talk as becometh saints; it is not that we may hear the naked truth, but that we may exhibit our sentiments and views of all subjects, our tempers in all encounters, to be consistent with the truth. It is not merely to try our patience in hearing, but to exercise all our graces, that we come together. Let the Word be appealed to, in order to justify our opinions and resolve our doubts. Let there be an occasion worthy of it: then let it be called in. But it is to muzzle free discourse, and banish useful topics, and interrupt the mind's refreshment, and bring in upon our manly and freeborn way of life, the slavishness of a devotee, the coldness of a hermitage, and the formality of cloistered canons, thus to abolish the healthful pulses of unconstrained companionship, and the free disclosures of friendship, and the closer communion and fellowship of saints. Yet though thus we protest against the formality and deadness of such a custom, we are not prepared to condemn it, if it proceed from a pure thirst after divine teaching. If in private we have a still stronger relish for it than in the company of our friends--if in silent study we love its lessons no less thar.
from the lips of our favourite pastor-then let the custom have free course, and let the Word be studied whenever we have opportunity, and whenever we can go to it with a com
Against these two methods of communing with the word of God, whereof the one springs from the religious timidity of the world, the other from the religious timidity of Christians; the one a penance, the other a weakness ; we have little fear of carrying your judgments : but you will be alarmed when we carry our censure against the common spirit, of dealing with it as a duty. Not but that it is a duty to peruse the word of God, but that it is something infinitely higher. Duty means a verdict of conscience in its behalf. Now conscience is not an independent power, at the bidding of which the Word abides to be opened, and at its forbidding to continue sealed-but the Word, let conscience bid or forbid, stands forth dressed in its own awful sanctions. “Believe and live”_" Believe not and die.” If conscience have added her voice also, that is another sanction, but a sanction which was not needful to be superadded. When my Maker speaks, I am called to listen by a higher authority than the authority of my own self. I should make sure that it is my Maker who speaks—and for this let every faculty of reason and feeling do its part; but being assured that it is no other than his voice omnipotent, my whole soul must burst forth to give him attendance. There must be no demur for any ver. dict of any inward principle. Out of duty, out of love, out of adoration, out of joy, out of fear, out of my whole consenting soul, I must obey my Maker's call. Duty, whose cold and artificial verdict, the God of infinite love is served withal, is a sentiment which the lowest relationships of life are not content with. Servant with master-child with teacher-friend with friend-when it comes to the senti. ment of duty, it is near its dissolution; and it never thrives or comes to good but when it rests upon well-tried trust and hearty regard ; upon a love to our persons, and a confidence in our worth. And in the ties of nature, to parents, to chil. dren, to brethren, to husband and wife, there to be listened to out of cold constraint of duty argues nature gone well nigh dead. There is a prompter consent, a deep sympathy of love, an over-stepping of all the limits of duty, a going even unto the death, which hardly satisfies the soul of such affection. What then shall we say of that closest of all relations-creature to Creator—which hath in it the germ of every other: the parental, for he formed us ; the patronal, for he hath upheld us ; the friendly, for in all our straits he hath befriended us; the loyal, for our safety is in his royal hand; and, which addeth the attachment to very self, “ for we are ourselves his workmanship!" To bind this tie, nothing will suffice but strong and stubborn necessity. Duty, in truth, is the very lowest conception of it-privilege is a higher-honour a higher, happiness and delight a higher still. But duty may be suspended by more pressing dutyprivilege may be foregone and honour forgot, and the sense of happiness grow dull; but this of listening to His voice who plants the sense of duty, bestows privilege, honour and happiness, and our every other faculty, is before all these, and is equalled by nothing but the stubbornest necessity. We should hear His voice as the sun and stars do in their courses, as the restful element of earth doth in its settled habitation. His voice is our law, which it is sacrilege, worse than rebellion, worse than parental rebellion, to disobey. He keeps the bands of our being together. His voice is the charter of our existence, which being disobeyed, we should run to annihilation, as our great father would have done, had not God in mercy given us a second chance, by erecting the platform of our being upon the new condition of probation, different from that of all known existences. Was it ever heard that the sun stopped in his path, but it was God that commanded ? Was it ever heard that the sea forgot her instability, and stood apart in walled steadfastness, but it was God that commanded? Or that fire forgot to consume, but at the voice of God ? Even so man should seek his Maker's word, as he loveth his well-being, or, like the unfallen creatures of God, as he loveth his very being—and labour in his obedience, without knowing or wishing to know aught beyond.
Necessity, therefore, I say, strong and eternal necessity is that, which joins the link between the creature and the Creator, and makes man incumbent to the voice of God. To read the Word is no ordinary duty, but the mother of all duty, enlightening the eyes and converting the soul, and creating that very conscience to which we would subject it. We take our meat not by duty-the body must go down to dust without it—therefore we persevere because we love to exist. So also the word of God is the bread of life, the root of all spiritual action, without which the soul will go down, if not to instant annihilation, to the wretched abyss of spiritual and eternal death. But while we insist that the Scriptures should be perused out of the sense, not of an incumbency, but of a strong necessity, as being the issued orders of Him who up
holdeth all things—we except against any idea of painfulness or force. We say necessity, to indicate the strength of the obligation, not its disagreeableness. But, in truth, there is no such feeling, but the very opposite, attached to every neDessity of the Lord's appointing. Light is pleasant to the eyes, though the necessary element of vision. 'Food is pleasant to the body, though the staple necessary of life. Air is refreshing to the frame, though the necessary element of the breathing spirit. What so refreshing as the necessary of water to all animated existence? Sleep is the very balm of life to all creatures under the sun. Motion is from infancy to feeblest age the most recreating of things, save rest after -motion. Every necessary instinct for preserving or continuing our existence, hath in it a pleasure, when indulged in moderation; and the pain which attends excess is the sentinel in the way of danger, and, like the sentinel's voice, upon the brink of ruin should be considered as the pleasantest of all, though withdrawing us from the fondest pursuit. In like manner attendance on God's law, though necessary to the soul as wine and milk to the body, will be found equally refreshing : though necessary as light to the eyes, will be found equally cheerful : though necessary as rest to the weary limbs, will be found equally refreshing to our spiritual strength.
A duty, which is at all times a duty, is a necessity; and this listening to the voice of God can at no time be dispensed with, and therefore is a stark necessity. The life of the soul can at no time proceed, without the present sense and obedience of its Maker's government. His law must be present and keep concert with our most inward thoughts; from which, as we can never dissolve connection, so ought we never to dissolve connection with the regulating voice of God. In all our rising emotions; in all our purposes conceiving ; in all our thoughtful debates, holden upon the propriety of things ; in all the secret councils of the bosom--the law of God should be consentaneous with the law of Nature, or rather should be umpire of the council, seeing Nature and Nature's laws have receded from the will of God, and become blinded to the best interests of our spiritual state. The world is apt to look only to the executive part of conductto the outward actions, which come forth from behind the curtains of deliberative thought, and as these have stated seasons, and are not constantly recurring, it hath come to pass, that the Word of God is read and entertained, chiefly for the visible parts of life ; being used as a sort of elbow