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All, therefore, which I read in the Scriptures, when taken in the designed application of each particular part, I understand to be as much binding upon my conscience, as much calling for my obedience and subjection, as if God spoke to me by a voice from Heaven. The effect upon the feelings would be greatly different, as we learn from the terror of Israel at Mount Sinai, but the authority is entirely the same. And then as to the practical effect of a recog. nition of the true authority of the Sacred Volume, I am as much bound to seek to understand what is the mind of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, by deep meditation and prayer, as I should feel bound to give heedful attention to the communication of some living messenger from heaven, by entreating him to repeat again the words of his message, or to explain more fully those points on which I might feel doubtful as to their perfect import. A very simple and a very delightful practical illustration of this heaven-taught means of attaining to the knowledge of the mind of God, from the direct study of the word, is presented in a letter addressed by Luther to Spalatin, secretary to the Elector of Saxony :- Hitherto (writes Luther), worthy Spalatin, you have asked only things I was able to answer. But to guide you in the study of the Holy Scriptures is beyond my strength. However, if you insist on knowing my method, I will not conceal it from you. It is most plain we cannot attain to the understanding of Scripture either by study or by strength of intellect; therefore your first duty must be to begin with prayer. Entreat the Lord to deign to grant you, in his rich mercy, rightly to understand his word. There is no other interpreter of the word of God but the author of that word himself; even as He has said, “They shall all be taught of God.' Hope nothing from your study, or the strength of your intellect; but simply put your trust in God, and in the influence of his Spirit. Believe one who has made trial of this method.'
“ Here we see how Luther attained to the possession of the truth, which he preached to others. It was not, as some have said, by following the guidance of his own presumptuous reason : nor was it, as others assert,
by surrendering himself to the contentious passions. He drew from the purest and holiest spring, by humble, trustful, and prayerful enquiry of God himself. But then there are few men of this age who follow his example; and hence it is that there are few who understand him."'*
Thas simple, and thus direct, and never failing, are the means of God's appointment for the attainment of a blessed and abiding knowledge of his will! But most humbling is it to discover how entirely Christians have, for the most part, neglected these means, and have been drawn aside by Satan, from the pure source of truth to the writings of men ! The Lord, in infinite grace, bring back the minds of his children to a practical recognition of the sufficiency of his holy word!” For, although this grand principle of the Reformation has been maintained, in theory, by the sects that have separated from the Church of Rome, it is by all of them practically denied; and it may be said of them, by the Lord, “ their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. Orthodox sentiments, at best, are the standard of appeal, rather than the full and authoritative teaching of the written word. But God's way—and it can never be too deeply imprinted on the soul — is just for us to receive the Bible as our Father's gift, and to recognise in all its contents the voice of our God; and then, as we trace the pages of the holy book, simply, and believingly, to as! the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who has been given to every child of God, not only as the comforter,” but as our guide into all the truth.
And how sweet is that repose of soul, and establishing that conviction
* D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation in Germany.
of truth, which the Lord bestows upon his children, when by his love they are drawn from man's weary and doubtful paths to wisdom, to receive as truth what God himself has, in infinite compassion, declared to be truth-truth in all its certainty, and height, and fulness : truth, without a shade or particle of error! For “ God is light, and in him is no darkness at all ;” and “ the entrance of HIS WORD giveth light !”.
Most assuredly it may be affirmed, that there is not an error or an inconsistency in the whole of the professing church-and they are many and grievous; nor a practical difficulty as to the right course of action in the pathway of the true child of God, that might not be met by our Lord's rebuke of the Sadducean folly, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures ; nor the power of God."
The word of God has not failed, and "s the Scripture cannot be broken." to what source then can we trace the sad state of the professing Church en masse, and the want of light, and comfort, and establishment in the truth, which is so markedly the condition of the majority of believers in the present day, but either to ignorance of Scripture itself, or to doubtfulness about its authority and sufficiency to meet every case, or to a disbelief of the guidance of the Holy Spirit ?
Long and varied have been “the devices of Satan," (and he is working with fearful energy in the present day) to undermine the truth and to destroy the authority of God's most blessed word. And of these “ devices,” it becomes the Christian not to be ignorant. Sad and weary would be the task, and requiring a fuller standing in the light than we, alas ! have attained, to present all the dark and subtle efforts of our adversary against the word of truth, the only depository of God's communicated will to man. A few may be named, as not unnecessary to the man of God, who through the word alone can “be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
The first word of caution we would direct against the labours of learned men employed upon the word of God. These, professedly, and often sincerely, employed for the purpose of elucidating the Scriptures, have been fearfully used by the adversary, to subvert their authority, and to pervert and obscure their meaning. Human learning, especially the learning of unrenewed men, can never be employed on the Bible except for evil, beyond the task of giving accurate translations from the original languages, and ascertaining the meaning of the words which the Spirit has seen fit to employ in communicating to us “ the oracles of God." And even in this, a moderate skill in languages under the guidance of a spiritual judgment, and especially chastened submission to the mind of the Most High, is much rather to be trusted, than the profoundest erudition associated either with an unconverted heart, or an overweening estimate of the value of learning in the prosecution of the things of God.
Surely it is worse than time misspent, for the believer to be exercising his mind upon volumes of recondite learning or the subtleties of verbal criticism; or to be detained by disquisitions on the style of the sacred book, or by learued researchesinto ancient customs and manners, and the history, geography,or poetry of the Bible in such a manner as to be diverted from reverently attending to the messages it contains, and perusing its declarations, under an overwhelming sense of responsibility to Him, whose word has been given to us as our only guide through life, “to glory, honour, and immortality,” and which will “judge us at the last day.” But such, with few exceptions, is the most harmless character of the efforts of learning in connexion with the word of truth. Nor is there less absurdity stamped upon them, in the mind, of one
who is taught of God, than would attach to men receiving a herald from their Prince, and yet so entirely taken up with the dress in which he was arrayed, or in admiration of the beauty of the charger on which he rode, or the cadences of his voice in delivering the proclamation, that the message he came to deliver was entirely unheeded by their minds.
The Scriptures were not given to teach us poetry or eloquence, or philosophy, or metaphysics, or divinity (as men speak), but God. Alas! how little coincidence, in this design, do we find in the chosen guides of preachers, and students and divines in the present day! The whole system of hermeneutics, that has now the ascendancy in this country and America, and which emanated from the German schools, can do nothing else but help the mind into all sorts of errors in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and into wretched scepticism as to all truth; “making the word of God of none effect, through man's tradition."
Commentaries, also, with scarcely a limitation, whatever may have been the piety of their writers, have worked greatly in the minds of the Christians, to impair the authority of the divine word. Ordinarily, where commentaries on Scripture are valued, it is not the authority of the word of God that sways the mind, but the opinions of the expositor ; for the child of God thus trammelled, scarcely ventures to attach any meaning at all to the “words which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” until they have been submitted to the judgment of the commentator. Thus involving the double evil of grieving the Holy Spirit, by preferring the teaching of man to his leading into all truth, and robbing the soul both of the obedience and the blessing connected with the child-like dependance upon our heavenly Father's command and His promise, “ If any of you lack wisdom ; let him ask of God"**** and it shall be given him.” And surely the soul that has ever trod on the mere borders of the wide fields of truth that are opened to the mind, when led simply by the Spirit to feed a little in the green pastures of the word, will shrink with dread from the thought of being again cooped up within the narrow, sour, and trodden paddocks of human exposition. The depth, and amplitude, and freedom of the truth as it is in Jesus, as presented by the Spirit in the word, are utterly destroyed, where pressed into the narrow iron fittings of systematic divinity; and the withered soul is made to feed on husks,” instead of eating the bread of heaven, the plenteous provision of his Father's house. “Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Passing by, as too wide a subject to be handled here, the principle of what is called " spiritualising" the plain and literal text of God's word, by which the deepest injury is inflicted upon its authority, and its statements utterly perverted, we would plant a beacon light over against the rock which exists in the division of the truth of God into that which is essential to salvation, and that which is non-essential. Nothing here is objected to the fact, that there are truths in the word of God which must be received in order to eternal life and that there are other truths which are not presented under this character ; but it is the fearful assumption, that all which God has communicated of his mind to man may be treated with indifference, if it cannot be shown to be essential to man's salvation. It is assuming what is never presented in the Holy Scriptures, that the salvation of man is the ultimate end of God's display of the riches of grace in Christ Jesus. But the glory of God is exhibited in the Scriptures as paramount to man's salvation; and that salvation only a subordinate means to this glorious end:—" That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us, by Christ Jesus.” So that there may be many things revealed intimately connected with his glory, and therefore no matters of indifference to the spirit-taught soul, though not to be viewed as immediately bearing upon individual salvation. This has been almost entirely lost sight of by the professing church, and hence the selfish character of the religion of the present day; arising from the concentration of thought upon personal salvation, to the neglect of the honour of God, in the witness of the church to Jesus, who has been rejected by the world. To say nothing of the spirit of obedience, obedience to the written word, which is pre-eminently the spirit of the child of God (“ Then are ye my disciples if ye do whatsover I command you ;"' and “if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself") there cannot be a stronger proof that the whole word of God is to be esteemed as His living witness of truth to our souls, than is to be found in the declaration-" The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy,” confirmed by our Lord's conversation with the two disciples going to Emmaus; “ beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, he expounded unto them, in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself.”
Another prevalent opinion, or dogma, held by the professing church, which most ruinously invalidates the authority of the word of God, is, that “the altered circumstances of Christians have rendered the original conditions of discipleship to Jesus obsolete.” That is, the assumption, that many things which the Lord Jesus, and his apostles writing by his Spirit, declared to be binding upon Christians then, are not binding upon them now. But how can this be shewn, except by some subsequent revelation from the Lord, acquainting us with the fact ? And this, we are told, can never be. “ Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
If, for instance, we find it said by Jesus, “I say unto you that ye resist not evil,” and it is declared of the first Christians, « they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for his name;" and that they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing in themselves that they had in heaven a better and more enduring substance," what is it but conformity to the world, and a shrinking from the cross, through the love of worldly comfort and worldly ease, that renders the case of professing christians so different now? If the Spirit of God has said, “Whosoever will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” and “ that we must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God,” who shall say that in the continued, unchanging exemption from persecution, there is still the “ godly living in Christ Jesus ?" or that without the tribulation there will still be the entrance into the kingdom of God ? May not the very position assumed, that the altered circumstances of the church have altered the conditions of discipleship, be the indubitable proof of the church having apostatised from her original principles ? And then, since God changes not, and “ the Scripture cannot be broken,” may not the only safe position of the escaping remnant be, the steady holding to the original principles of the dispensation? It is a most fearful thing, whatever be the gain of an earthly character, to have any one of the words of Christ against us ! The sword of the Spirit is the word of God, and most perilous it is for a professed disciple of Jesus to let Satan wrest it from his hand, and to turn its edge against himself. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.” “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”. “ The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away : but the word of our God abideth for ever."
NATIONAL CHRISTIANITY AND DISSENT.
THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER AND DR. PYE SMITH.
We find in the February and March Numbers of the Christian Observer, a letter by Dr. nith, “On the Doctrine and Duty of the Lord's Day," with some able and voluminous remarks appended by the editor. The discussion appears to us of a very important character, since the topics which it embraces involve the whole question of National Christianity and dissent: and much as we respect the candour and amiable spirit of the learned and estimable champion of nonconformity, we confess that his views do not afford us a consistent resting-place. We know not the truth of the statement of the editor of the Christian Observer, that many intelligent young men among the Dissenters are coming over to the Church of England ; nor if the fact be so, should we deem it proof positive that principle occasioned this change of profession ;-but we confess, that we do see force in some of the observations which he imagines may be made by such (page 179). “I lived in Dr. Pye Smith's half-way house, till it became too strait for me. The foundation is a quicksand; the walls are without cement; the thatch is decayed; and the wind and rain penetrate on every side ; to keep out which it is necessary to exclude the light. The National Education Question exemplifies this. I was told by evangelical teachers, that though we may not have a national church, or a national body of religious instructors, or creeds, or catechisms, or prayer, we might, without any infringement of civil or religious liberty and equality, make all men pay for Bible Schools. This seemed plausible ; but almost the whole body of the clergy and members of the Church of England would consider their liberty of conscience infringed by being obliged to contribute to schools which they disapprove; not because they are scriptural, but for other reasons ; while the Roman Catholics still more strongly object to them, because they are scriptural.* * The Sabbath Question led to the same result. I was told by Mr. Conder and Dr. Smith, that we might do something, without compromising our abstract principles; but I found it impossible. If my neighbours choose to buy or sell, or to run stage coaches or steam-boats, or to open amusements or theatres, or to go to them on Sunday, why am I, because I believe the Bible, to prevent them ; unless I am prepared to follow out the doctrine to the conclusion, that a nation is bound to honour God in its corporate capacity, and a legislature to make public provision for his worship, and the religious instruction of the people ? Every argument for national Bible Schools for children leads to the duty of constituting national pastoral ministrations for adults. I must therefore go further, or go back : I must either drop the dissenting principle, as some of my friends have done, and go over to the Established Church; or I must allow it to advance to its fair issue: for what is right as respects Orthodox Dissenters, is right as respects Unitarians, Jews, Churchmen or Romanists.”
Dr. Smith, in answer to the question, “ Why are we nationally to recognise the Christian's Sunday, any more than the Jew's Saturday,” admits (page 173), “in every country which possesses the light of Christianity, it is the first, the absolute, the indispensible DUTY of the Sovereign, to be himself, or herself, a real Christian. No excuse from high station or low, will stand now at the bar of public reason, or hereafter at the bar of God the Righteous Judge, for disbelief of the Gospel, or disobedience to it, or, in other words, for con