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cient' to still the enemy and the avenger,' and 'perfected his own praise.'
While the true religion was as yet contending for superiority, and the prophetic promise made to it in that behalf was unaccomplished, some apology might be made for him who suspended his assent till he saw the issue, because the opposition was powerful, the end great, and the means apparently insufficient. But now that prophecies, so unlikely to be true, have been fulfilled; now that instruments, so utterly inefficacious in themselves, have prevailed; all that which at first might have occasioned, or in any degree justified, suspense, serves only to enforce conviction and assent. This great event was not stolen upon the world. A full and timely warning was given of it by the promises and prophecies published in Scripture. The world, alarmed at these, and confiding in its own power, exerted its utmost efforts to prevent their taking place, and thereby to prove the book wherein they were contained was not the word of God. Little did it think it was doing all it could to prove the contrary, which undoubtedly it was; for by what other means could the divinity of the prophecies, and the interposition of Almighty God in favour of his word and religion, have been so amply, so universally, demonstrated, as by an opposition, which must have proved successful, had it not been baffled by a power superior to that of all mankind?
To conclude; if we have reason for believing any thing, it is this; that Christianity is the true religion, and the Bible the word of God. Fully convinced of these great truths, let us now earnestly beseech the gracious Author to give us a right understanding of its necessary doctrines, a steady adherence to all its blessed truths, and a heart and will ever ready to regulate both our faith and practice by the same, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
HOW THE SCRIPTURES ARE TO BE READ.
JOHN V. 39.
Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.
HAVING, in the former Discourse, proved that the true religion is revealed to us in the books of the Old and New Testament, I intend, in this, to shew, how we ought to read these books, in order to answer the important ends for which they were written. If we consider either those ends, or the foreign and really sinister views, with which the sacred writings are perused by too many, we shall look on this as a subject of infinite consequence to us. May the Holy Spirit enable me to speak with that power, and you to listen with that attention, which the unspeakable dignity of the point demands!
When the words of my text were uttered by our blessed Saviour, the books of the Old Testament were the only Scriptures in being. In those the Jews thought they had eternal life;' and Christ neither commends nor censures their judgment. He does not commend it; because those books, considered in themselves, and without an eye to any farther dispensation, did not afford the means of eternal life: nor does he censure it; because those writings, rightly understood, did testify of him, who is the way, and the truth, and the life;' John xiv. 6. Now, if what is promised, concerning Christ, in the Old Testament, is, with equal authority, recorded in the New, as fully accomplished, we must look for the means of eternal life in the New, rather than in the Old. The search, however, recommended by Christ, must be made into both, that the whole scheme of our redemption, whether as prophetically promised, or as actually completed, may be understood and taken together.
And here it is necessary we should consider, what sort
of a search this ought to be. The word in the original, whereby it is prescribed, implies a close examination, a thorough scrutiny into the Scriptures. The nature of the thing also points out the same; for it is the word of God we are to search, and eternal life we are to search for. In respect, therefore, both to the majesty of the author, and the dignity of the end, no one thing in the world can be of so much consequence to us, as a right application of our minds to the Book of God.
Taking this for granted, let us inquire, first, With what views; secondly, On what principles; thirdly, With what dispositions; and lastly, By what rules, we ought to read the holy Scriptures.
And first, as to the views; they ought, undoubtedly, to be no other than those which God proposed to himself, in the revelation made by the sacred books.
Should an author write with one intention, and his reader peruse him with another, the absurdity of such a conduct in the reader must be too evident to need any other proofs, than what it gives of itself. Yet that which is but an absurdity in him, who reads a system of morality, in order to learn arithmetic, becomes a flagrant impiety in one who reads the word of God with any other view, than that wherewith it was written. All other authors sometimes trifle in their works, and therefore may be trifled with by their readers; but there is no trifling with the works of God.
With what view then did God become the author of a book? It was not surely to confirm the opinions, nor to countenance the vices, nor to gratify the curiosity, nor to pamper the learned pride, of men: No; it was to teach the world something it did not, or could not, otherwise know; to disabuse it of its religious errors; to correct its vices; to call home its inquiries to necessary instructions; and to teach it the vanity of science, falsely so called. It was infinite mercy that gave birth to this book, and infinite wisdom that furnished the matter. The end therefore proposed by it, must be proportionably great and good. To prevent mistakes, hear what it says itself, concerning this end: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, tho
roughly furnished unto all good works;' 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17. 'The Scriptures,' says the Spirit of God, ver. 15. are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.' They teach us to know the only true God, and Christ Jesus, whom he hath sent, which is eternal life;' John xvii. 3. If therefore, we would avoid the impious ab surdity of reading the word of God with other views than those for which it was written, we must search it only for the knowledge of God, and our duty, that we may understand what we are to believe and do, in order to be saved. things necessary to the service of God, and our salvation, are there so clearly revealed, that common sense cannot fail to find them, provided it wisely and honestly searches for nothing else. Other things there are, which are more difficult; but they are less useful, the smaller kernels being inclosed in proportionably thicker shells; which if the weak are not able to open, some one stronger may do it for them; or, in case no one does, they ought not too deeply to regret their loss, since they have a sufficient plenty before them of food more substantial, and much easier digested.
Notwithstanding all the stir that hath been made about the fundamentals of Christianity, what they are, and how to be understood, he who reads the Scriptures with that intention only which God had in publishing them, must infallibly find what he looks for, provided he reads on right principles, and with proper dispositions; which, what they are, we shall presently explain. It was precisely for such men as this, that God committed his revelation to writing; wherein, nevertheless, he must have been wholly disappointed, if minds, so well accommodated to his intentions, cannot arrive at even the foundation of true religion, nor understand its very rudiments. Our endless disputes concerning the essentials of Christianity do not, in the smallest measure, proceed from the obscurity of those essentials, as they are set forth in holy Scripture, but from the obliquity of our own minds, who prompted by our vile affections and prejudices, are ever looking for such informations or proofs as God never intended to give us, frequently indeed for the confirmation of such opinions as it was his main intention to refute. Now, it is no wonder that inquirers of this sort, if wedded to their prejudices, should either endeavour to
pervert the Scripture, by sophistical constructions, or, what is more consistent with reason (since it is more likely God should never speak to us, than that he should speak falsely, or absurdly), reject it in the lump; because it does not speak as they would have it.
What then, in the second place, are the principles on which the word of God is to be read? I will mention only four, without taking up your time in proving them; because they are such as no rational Christian can dispute.
He who reads the Scriptures, in order to the ends for which they were written, must, first, firmly believe, that they are the word of God.
Secondly, He must be fully persuaded, that he himself is neither able to find out, nor perform his duty, so as to arrive at eternal happiness, without the assistance of divine revelation.
Thirdly, He must take it for granted, that God can deliver or aver nothing but the truth.
And, lastly, He must believe, that God knows how so to speak, as to be understood by those he speaks to; and, in necessary matters, could not have chosen to be obscure in what he reveals.
It is, in a great measure, for want of a due attention to these principles, that such infinite disputes and bickerings have arisen, in all ages, among Christians, concerning the very primary articles of faith, and the plainest duties or motives of Christian morality. Did every Christian reader of the Scriptures consider, that he comes ignorant, weak, and under the unhappy weight of a nature corrupt, and prone to sin, when he applies to those books for instruction and assistance; that he is therefore not to bring his preconceptions with him, like one who knows already what he is to think and do; and that he comes to a teacher, who is willing to direct him; who hath made provision for all his wants, and is able to help his infirmities; did he, I say, rightly consider these things, and suitably accommodate his mind to these considerations, he could have no doubts about his success; nor could there be any room for such doubts, if the Scriptures are indeed the word of God. In that case, necessary knowledge only being sought for, the instructions and the disciple are so well fitted to each other, that he