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From the book of Ecclesiastes I would hope that a poor man might be taught contentment, and to see the folly of envying those acquisitions, which the wealthiest, the greatest, and the wisest, have experienced to be all «vanity and vexation of spirit ;"-- to estimate the sweetness of ihe sleep of industry ;-to reverence the house of God;--and, to “ be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools ;"to exhort his children to “ remember their Creator in the days of their youth ; "-to look forward to the time, when“ God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil ;" -and, under the influence of these principles, to regard it as their main concern, to « fear God and keep his commandments.” I have heard a Gentleman quote this book to prove the danger of being “ righteous overmuch *,” and another of that class pervert the Canticles ; † but never have I witnessed an abuse of either among the peasantry, To those who think meanly of their capacities I would recommend the consideration of a short history or parable from Ecclesiastes, and a verse of Proverbs :-66 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.” (Eccles, ix,
14, 15.) “ The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.” (Prov. xxviii. 11.) And to those who are easily alarmed and shaken by such publications as that of our author, I would recommend 'the following passage:-" He that. observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” (Eccles. xi. 4.) An ingeni ous man might write a book to destroy not only the . reading, but the tillage of the poor :- But the timidity which listens to reasonings against common sense, and yields to a morbid apprehension of danger, will never promote the welfare of the body or the soul. Let us not then be affrighted from necessary and important works,
*“ Be not righteous overmuch," &c. appears to me to be spoken in the person of an objector, not as a precept of the Preacher.
t I admit the obscurity of this short book ; but even the summaries of the chapters in the authorized version point out its spiritual application.
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by any exhibition of vain terrors and imaginations: Do what is manifestly right, and leave events to God.
In the imperfect review which I have taken, I find I have passed by the book of Job ;' but I had no intention of omitting it. Does our author think the mịnd of a peasant inadequate to the sublime descriptions, which it contains ? He may be unable to identify the Behemoth and Leviathan ; but this hinders not that his ideas should be raised from the wonders of creation, to the might and majesty and wisdom of the great Creator. It may surpass his abilities to ascertain the most correct translation of many passages ; and yet he may be blessed with spiritual discernment, to appreciate the faith and piety, the integrity and patience, of the sufferer :-nay, he may even see the necessity of what, it is to be feared, too many readers entirely overlook, that even a man so upright as Job, was, should be brought to such a knowledge of his own heart, and of the holiness of God, as to " abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
$ 6. In advancing to the books of the Prophets, I must remind the reader of the approbation of St. Peter, already noticed, (c. i. $ 4.) to all believers, who “ take heed” to that light, though confessedly “ shining in a dark place.” By this authority, which so freely unfolds the roll of prophecy, an a fortiori argument is applicable to the other scriptures. And if, under the guidance of this light, we fairly consider the case of St. Peter himself, and of the other apostles, contrasted with that of the unbelieving scribes and rulers of the Jews, we shall be convinced, that to be illiterate is not the chief obstacle to the understanding of the prophets. For what saith the Spirit unto that people, who confidently asserted the high character of being “ a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes?” 66 The vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee : and he saith, I cannot ; for it is sealed ; and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Therefore, behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”
Such is the condition of the learned and the unlearned, when the Lord gives them up to the imaginations of their own hearts. But while he denounces judgment, he promises a happy change. “ And in that day" (says he) & shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
This prospect of mercy however, is accompanied with a view of the discomfiture of the enemy.-" For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is con- . sumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off: that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a spare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.”
Surely we have here an admonition, not to trust in any attainments of Philosophy or Literature, as the grand and indispensable requisite for understanding the wisdom of the holy Scriptures; and to beware how we take away ," the key of knowledge” from any nation, or any class of mankind; lest what was said by Christ to the doctors of the law should be applicable to us:-* Ye entered not in yourselves, and them which were entering in ye hindered.” (Luke xi. 52.) In my apprehension it is a most awful thing to be engaged in such a resistance, and I am very far from wishing to attach the charge to any individual. But I should rejoice to witness such an impression from the terrors of the Lord, as might warn every opposer to escape impending condemnation, so that "they also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.”
$ 7. In the chapter of Isaiah here quoted (29th) may be found the solution of that national unbelief, which our author has so strongly summoned to the support of his argument *. It makes, however, directly against him ; for it proves, and exemplifies, the total insufficiency of erudition and eminence of station per se for attaining to.
* See s Thoughts," &c. Section 3.
the true exposition of the Scriptures, and removing the clouds of prejudice, and worldliness, and pride--while it pleased God, by the selection and enlightening of a few illiterate men, to “ destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Such were the despised apostles of a crucified Redeemer ! -It is true that the great apostle of the Gentiles in- : curred reproach upon another ground-6Paul, - thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad." But though he could most justly reply, “ I am not mad, most noble Festus ; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness"-what is the account which we find him giving of the nature of his ministry ? (1 Cor. ii.) “ And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God:”.... “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit, we speak wisdom among them that are perfect : yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world that come to nought: But we
speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden , wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our
glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” How different this language from the manner, in which our author insists upon the almost exclusive instrumentality of learning, in acquiring and communicating the knowledge of religion ! And let us remember that this is the man, who was “ brought up at the feet of Gamaliel,” and possessed of many other distinguished advantages : yet none of them were able to prevent him from being a persecutor and a blasphemer, until the veil was removed from his heart, by the same power which enlightened the fishermen of Galilee. Nor let it be here thought that I am contending for the general necessity of miraculous and apostolic inspiration. The opening of the understanding to understand the Scriptures, is among the ordinary operations of the Spirit, which belong to all ages of the church, and to all conditions of men; for « no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Cor. xii. 3.)
• It was not only in the miraculous effusion of the Holy Ghost upon the day of Pentecost, that the Lord opened the understanding of the apostles ;-he did so even before his ascension into heaven, by the secret blessing which attended his application of the Old Testament prophecies. These (it is evident) they were all “ slow of heart to believe," as well as the two disciples who were going to Emmaus. Yet their acquaintance with the letter of them, even in the time of their ignorance, was a providential preparation, for discerning their meaning and accomplishment, when the fulness of the time was come,
Ñ 8. What though the gracious Saviour, who thus vouchsafed to teach his lowly followers, be now ascended up far above all heavens—the mind of man is still accessible to the Almighty power of him who formed it; and his wisdom is sufficient to exert that power, without disturbing the natural faculties of his own creation, or producing that derangement and enthusiasm, which some appear to consider as almost necessarily implied in the doctrine of supernatural influences. And, why should we not expect and believe, that the same divine goodness, which opened the heart of Lydia, " a seller of purple,” to attend to the things which were spoken by Paul, will now, and in every period, be ready to bestow his holy Spirit upon them that ask it. (see Luke xi. 13.) It is vain to attempt a distinction between the spoken and the written word; they are substantially the same :-it is the sense that instructs, and not the manner of conveying it. The word of truth is efficacious, when accompanied with the blessing of its author,--and only then,-by whatsoever external means it be presented to the understanding.
Behold the Ethiopian Eunuch, sitting in his chariot, and reading Isaiah the Prophet ! The passage which he is engaged upon is to him obscure and difficult, notwithstanding that he is the Treasurer of a Queen. All the advantages which he enjoyed are not sufficient to interpret it :-but is he not, at the same time, rightly and profitably employed ? Is not his mind undergoing a salutary moral discipline? And, is he not in a state of preparation for the discourse of the evangelist, who is approaching to begin at the same scripture and preach unto him Jesus ? It is not extravagant to hope that, in like manner, even now, all requisite assistance will be providentially furnished, to every humble inquirer in every rank of life: