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Truth is a jewel for which we must dig with incessant la bour, seeking for it as for hid treasure. We must cry after knowledge, and lift up our voice for understanding a.
We must take pains to get a clear idea of the strength or weakness of our mental powers, that so we may not on the one hand unduly distrust our own judgment, nor on the other lay too great a stress upon it. And no less diligent should we be in the examination of our hearts, that we may not be led astray by that fatal influence which passion and prejudice too often have; though unobserved, on men's enquiries after truth.
We must consider with attention and impartiality the arguments on both sides of the question in debate, stating them fairly, and giving them their full force. We must be particularly careful, that we do not too hastily leap from the premises to the conclusion; and be willing to be held a while in suspense, rather than shut out further light by prematurely pronouncing on the matter before us, and so subjecting ourselves to the mortification of retracting what we have affirmed. We must diligently read our Bible, marking well the scope of the writer, and comparing one part of Scripture with another. We must daily draw water out of these wells of salvation b;' calling in every help which Providence affords, to facilitate this laborious but pleasant employment.
In a word, let us watch at Wisdom's gates, and wait at the porch of her doors c;' make the wise and pious our companions; reduce speculation to practice; and compare the information we get from the Bible with the character and condition of mankind, and the numerous events which daily rise to our view.-Once more,
4. To our endeavours we must add fervent and incessant prayer.
If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, the Father of lights, who giveth liberally, and upbraideth not d. He who hath endowed us with intellectual powers, knows how to assist us in the use of those powers. And he from whom all grace comes, will make the sincere and humble enquirer superior to the obstructions thrown in the way of his pursuits, by the corrupt maxims of the world, and the passions and prejudices of his own heart. Let us then with the pious psalmist pray, Lead me in thy truth, and teach me : for thou art the God of my salvation, on thee do I wait all the day a. Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law b. And we may hope that that promise, which was made to the immediate followers of Christ, shall be fulfilled to us; so far as to secure us from every dangerous error, and to introduce us to the knowledge of every necessary truth; The Spirit of truth shall guide you into all truth c.
a Prov. ii. 3.
b Isa. xii. 3.
Thus prepared for reading our Bible we shall be secured, with the assistance of a few plain observations, from mistaking its meaning in any instance of importance; and be enabled to form a right judgment of the gospel, or the word of Christ, as it is expressed in our text.
A book I will suppose put into my hands of which I had no idea before. I ask, Who is the author? For whose use he writes? And what is the subject he treats of? I am assured that he is an honest and sensible man; that he writes for the information of the simple as well as the learned; and that the subject is important, and what the world has hitherto been wholly uninformed about.
Persuaded of this, I sit down to read the book. The language is plain, the phraseology familiar, and the reasoning conclusive. But I meet with facts, the ground of all the reasonings of the book, which greatly surprise me. Remembering however that the information I was here to receive would be new, and extraordinary, I am not disgusted. And finding upon the closest examination that the phænomena reported, however strange, are not impossible; and reflecting that the difficulty of accounting for them may be owing to my weakness, inexperience, or some unhappy prejudice; I admit their truth upon the testimony of my author, not venturing, in order to get rid of my difficulties, to impose a sense on his words they will not bear. And this I am the rather disposed to do, as the use to which these phænomena are applied is highly ina Psal. xxv. 5. b Psal. cxix. 18,
c John xvi. 13.
teresting and important, and his reasoning in the application of them, which takes up the greater part of the book, is plain and forcible. So, instructed, entertained, and profited, I give my author thanks; and put his book into the hands of my neighbour, who is as simple as myself, not doubting but he will understand it in the same sense I have done, and be as much profited by it as I have been. To apply this reasoning to the subject before us
It should then, first, be diligently remembered, that the Bible was written by holy men who could not mean to mislead and confound their readers, or to conceal from them what was fit and necessary to be known; or if this had been possible, that such a controlling influence was exerted over their minds as would have infallibly prevented these evils. Indeed the book was written by God, and therefore we may depend upon the truth of its histories, doctrines, and precepts. God cannot deceive, the Scriptures cannot be broken. This sentiment should be deeply impressed upon our hearts: as also this further idea, that the thoughts and ways of God are often very different from ours, and that therefore we should not think it strange if he calls our attention to matters, which at first view may seem to us absolutely unaccountable.
It is also, secondly, to be remembered, that this book is written for the use of the illiterate as well as the learned, and for purposes of the greatest importance to their present and eternal welfare. It might therefore be presumed that the language would be plain and intelligible. Words would be used in their common and generally acknowledged sense.
No other figurative modes of expression would be adopted than are natural and easy to be comprehended. If allegories or parables were introduced, care would be taken to announce them as such, or to prevent the reader's understanding them in the literal sense.
If terms familiar to Jews and Pagans were interwoven with the Christian doctrine, the intent would be to convey thereby precisely the same ideas which both the one and the other were used to affix to them. The insidious arts of sophists, declaimers, and temporisers, being utterly rejected, there would be no occasion for having recourse to far-fetched
allusions, curious logical distinctions, or other subtilties to develope the meaning of Scripture. All this might naturally be presumed, and of consequence the first sense which a plain reader would put on what he reads, would in most instances be the true one.
It should be further observed, thirdly, that as the Bible is a revelation from God, it is natural to expect that it should convey information to our minds bitherto unknown, and which could not be acquired by the mere exertion of our natural pow
If therefore it asserts what is new, marvellous, and at first view almost incredible, concerning the divine essence; concerning Christ, his person, incarnation, miracles, death, and resurrection; concerning the intent of these extraordinary facts; concerning the Holy Spirit, and his operations on the hearts of men; and concerning the resurrection of the body and a future state; however this light may dazzle our mental sight, it should not offend. No such disgust should it create, as to put us upon unnatural measures to extinguish it, such as imposing a forced sense on the words, phrases, and sentences of Scripture-a sense which would have never entered the mind of a plain reader, and which with the utmost force of criticism can scarce be made consistent and intelligible.
If indeed what is asserted can be proved to be absurd and impossible, it should be rejected, and with it the book itself which contains and authorises such assertion. But the difficulty of clearly comprehending the modus of facts plainly asserted, and of doctrines as plainly stated, is no reason why such facts and doctrines should be rejected.
This will clearly appear if we consider, that the principle on which this mistaken reasoning is grounded would justify the rejection of a thousand phænomena attested by our own senses, ør reported to us by credible witnesses. It would preclude God himself from demanding our assent to any truth we cannot fully comprehend, and so interdict the very idea of an extraordinary revelation. And indeed, if upon the mere pretence that what is asserted in a passage of Scripture is too strange to be true, the plain natural sense of such passage is to be set aside, and a violent one obtruded upon us in its room, all interpretation of Scripture will become precarious and uncertain.
On the contrary, we are to remember, as was before observed, that the idea of a revelation from God naturally leads us to expect discoveries that are marvellous and extraordinary. So that if the Bible were no other than a second edition of the law of nature, it would want one internal evidence of its divine authority, an evidence which right reason authorises us to expect in a book of this description. It is also to be recollected, that the difficulty of fully comprehending the grounds and reasons of many propositions objected to, is not owing to any defect in the Scripture mode of treating them, but to the nature of the subject itself discoursed of, and the weakness of the human intellect.
Moreover, the utility, dignity, and grandeur of these discoveries afford a noble collateral reason why, instead of rejecting them with contempt, we should receive them with infinite gratitude, wonder, and delight. The great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh a, to purchase the church with his own blood b, and to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself c, may at first glance excite doubt as well as astonishment. So that in the language of pious incredulity we may be apt to exclaim, What is man, O Lord, that thou art thus mindful of him, and the Son of man that thou visitest him.d! But upon examination there appears such an august display of wisdom, rectitude, and benignity in the plan of redemption, as furnishes a strong presumptive evidence of its truth. The sublimity of the Christian doctrine, instead of shaking, establishes its divine authority. Since, however, the mystery God has thus revealed so infinitely surpasses what we could have expected or imagined, he has taken care to assist our faith, trembling amidst this effulgence of divine glories, with a kind of miraculous evidence suited to the magnitude of the truths it was intended to prove.
To all which it must be added, that the faith thus demanded of us, purely on the ground of the divine testimony, is a
al Tim. iii. 16.
b Acts xx. 28.