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Therefore do we feel upon a useful and a hope, ful topic, while we endeavour to discover what it is which hinders the Scripture from its full efficacy in deriving to us who search them the regeneration of our souls, and their renewal in the whole image of God.
And without recurring to what hath been already said of the PREPARATION necessary for perusing aright the Word of God, we come at once to the perusal itself, and shall now, 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 believing that it
to me, the least proper for the perusal of the Word. If it cannot overmaster us when we are clothed in all ourstrength, 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 they 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 than from the lips of our favourite pastorthen 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 common consent.
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 judgment : 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 verdict 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