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THE DUTY AND ADVANTAGE OF SEARCHING THE
BY JAMES BENNETT, D. D.
John v. 39.- Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have
eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
By this single sentence, He who has supreme authority in religion, with whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, sweeps away at once all the dishonourable reflections of the infidel, all the servile restraints of the superstitious, and all the wild fancies of the enthusiast. For how can revealed religion be accused of a conspiracy to keep the world in ignorance, when its first injunction is to read and investigate certain writings—making it, of course, a sacred duty to learn to read, and to practise that art upon a book containing so much history, so much geography, such trains of reasoning, and such flights of eloquence and poetry, that he who has thoroughly searched this volume, can never be an ignorant man? And how can this religion be charged with enslaving the mind to human authority, by delivering it over to the dogmas of priests, when its Divine Author commanded a promiscuous audience, composed chiefly of the middling and lower classes, to search for themselves the revelation of the Divine mind, from which the teacher, as well as the learner, must draw all his sacred science, and to which the most profound divine must bow with the same deference as is demanded of the most illiterate? How, again we ask, can piety be charged with fanaticism, dreams, and whims, while the First Source and final Judge of our religion, charges us to bring all our sentiments and all our feelings to a standard given by inspiration, in order to regulate the operations of our judgment, and to try the emotions of our heart?
If you ask me, what is the most formidable foe to ignorance, the most active stimulant to knowledge? What is that which wakes the slumbering soul to action, and goads it on to perpetual inquiries ? What is that which cannot live with ignorance, because the two, like life and death, are the destruction of each other? I answer, the Bible. If you inquire, again, what is that which best secures to the awakened mind the full enjoyment of its rights, the freedom of its inquiries, forbidding all presumptuous interference, and pushing aside the petty dictator, who would obtrude himself between the soul and its Maker? I answer again, the Bible. And should you once more say, what is the best safeguard against the perversion of our reasonings; that which forbids liberty to degenerate into licentiousness, and mental revolution to become moral anarchy? What is that which makes it a real blessing to be allowed to think freely, by restraining us within the bounds of sobriety and utility? I once more reply, the Bible.
Nor would this be mere dogmatism or rage for a favourite theory; for I should but obey the law of genuine philosophy, by drawing from well authenticated facts their legitimate consequences. For what is the great stimulant to mental exertion ? Is it not writing and reading? What is the grand monument of the superiority of our nature over the unthinking brute? Is it not a book ? And what is the oldest volume in this world, the first memorial of the activity of mind ? Is it not the Bible? What other volume can compete with it for the honours of originality and antiquity ?
And what writings have so clearly enjoined, and so powerfully produced, a sense of individual accountability to our Maker, for the right use of our mental powers ? What volume has so imperatively enforced the duty of inquiry and research, the value and importance of truth, the danger of ignorance and error, and the impossibility of shielding ourselves under the authority of any mortal, even though he had our life itself at his command? Was not the era of the soul's enslavement to human dictation, that of the concealment of the Scriptures within the cloisters of a monastery ? Was not the printing of the Scriptures a grand encouragement to the invention of the press, so that the tyrants of the mind exclaimed, “We must destroy printing and the Scriptures, or they will destroy us?” Is there a country under heaven where men are free to think, each one for himself, on all that is most deeply interesting, except where the Scriptures are open to every man ? Are not the liberal and enlightened spots on the face of the globe, exactly those on which the sun of revelation shines ? And where is this liberty proved by experience to be the most solid blessing? Is it not where the Author of reason, who cannot err, shows, by his word, the true use
and necessary limits of reason ? Are there any who think freely and yet soberly-who feel intensely and yet devoutly--reducing every thing to moral utility, except those who obey the injunction in my text ? Do not other active minds exhibit the alarming spectacle of one mounted on a fiery steed without bit or rein? Need I say another word, to induce every friend to himself and his species, to listen to Him who here points us to our Bibles, to ourselves, and to our Saviour ? — To our Bibles, with the voice of authority, saying, “Search the Scriptures.”—To ourselves, with the voice of reason appealing to our own admissions, you yourselves judge that you have eternal life in them. - To our Saviour, assuring us, with the voice of mercy, " that the Scriptures testify of him."
1. To our Bibles Christ points, while his authoritative voice says,
“Search the Scriptures." To every scholar, it is well known, that the Greek word, épevváte, signifies such a search as is employed by miners who dig for the precious metals; and whether there was any specific reference to this or not, the idea is so exactly illustrative of the case before us, and so conducive to the profitable application of the Saviour's command, that I shall, without scruple, employ it by showing, that the sacred Scriptures are a mine of wealth, and that they should be studied as if we were searching for hidden treasures.
1. The Sacred Scriptures are a mine of wealth.
The term “ Scriptures,” or “ writings,” it is obvious, may mean any thing recorded in letters. But as language derives its significance, not merely from the words employed, but from their connexion, it is equally manifest, that, considering to whom our Saviour spake, the Scriptures here mean those writings which were received by his audience, the Jews, as divine. These were, at that time, what we call “ the Bible," or the Old Testament, in distinction from the New, which was not then given. This is the only book in pure Hebrew now extant, and was, probably, for ages the only book the Jews possessed. This gave it, with them, immense value, and concentrated their whole attention upon it to a degree of which we can now form no conception. The evidence they enjoyed of the truth and inspiration of these Scriptures was most satisfactory; for they were wrought into the elements of their history, and formed the records of their nation, and the documents by which they held their temporal possessions and enjoyed their civil rights, as well as celebrated their religious worship. Such writings are not liable to forgery, nor fairly open to the suspicions which many entertain, as may be seen, by comparing them with our national documents, such as Domesday-book, the Magna Charta, and the Acts of Parliament, which cannot be tampered with by individuals at their pleasure. For the very fact of these Scriptures being the code of a nation, proves that they could no more have been forged or falsified, than our Statutes at Large.
Our Redeemer, who here appeals to these writings as of Divine authority, distinctly referred, in the course of his ministry, to each of their component parts, which have been called the Law, and the Prophets, and the Hagiographa or Chetubim, or writings, as the Jews term all that is not included in the Pentateuch and the Prophets. “ Did not Moses give you the law ?” says Christ. “ That the dead rise, Moses showed at the bush. If you had believed Moses's writings you would have believed
words." It is written in the Prophets, “ And they shall be all taught of God. They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them." To the Psalms, which were the principal portion of the Hagiographa, our Saviour appealed thus —“ David himself says, in the book of Psalms, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand.” That these were inspired songs, clothed with the authority of law, Jesus teaches, by quoting the Psalms thus :-" Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods, and the Scriptures cannot be broken ?"* That the prediction of the Psalms might be fulfilled, the Saviour passed through many sufferings and indignities, inflicted on him by men who knew not the Scriptures; “ for heaven and earth must pass away ; but not one iota of the word of God shall pass till all be fulfilled.”
That we have the same books that our Redeemer appealed to we know, from the extreme jealousy of the Jews in preserving records which they considered as the peculiar treasure and glory of their nation, to whom were committed the oracles of God, of which they numbered not merely the books, but the words, and even the very letters. Our Saviour, amidst all the censures he pronounced upon the Jews, never accused them of falsifying or mutilating their copies of the Scriptures, to which, on the contrary, he always appealed, as of unquestionable purity and authority. If, therefore, we can ascertain what books they then held as Divine, we can tell to what our Saviour here appeals. This is decided by the copies which the Jews still preserve ; for there is not only no evidence that they have altered them, but every proof that they would have suffered every torment, rather than deal treacherously with this deposit. To this may be added the testimony of the Septuagint, or Greek translation
• John x. 34.
of the Old Testament, made before the coming of Christ, which being dispersed among the heathens, was placed beyond the reach of corruption by the Jews, and which still contains the same books as we hold sacred. Josephus has given us a list including these books; and the early fathers of the Christian Church have, by the same means, shown that they received the same volumes from the Jewish Church.
By parity of reasoning, we may apply the words of my text to the New Testament, whose books are now justly included in the phrase, “ The Scriptures.” For the Apostles, who were the writers of the Christian code, gave abundant proofs that they had a right to include themselves in the same predicament with the Prophets, or writers of the Old Testament. Thus Peter speaks :-" That you may be mindful of the commandments of the Prophets, and of us the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” “ You are built,” says Paul,“ upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.” For, as the voice from heaven exalted our Saviour above Moses and the Prophets, saying, “ This is my beloved Son, hear him!” so Christ said to his Apostles, “ He that heareth you heareth me; and he that heareth me heareth Him that sent me.” What Paul writes is referred to by Peter, as of equal authority with “ the other Scriptures."
We have also lists of the books of the New Testament, in the writings of the earliest fathers, which show that we have the same Christian canon as was delivered to the first churches; and the quotations from these books, by the earliest Christian writers, are so numerous, that if the New Testament were lost, it might, from those sources, be restored. One person engaged to produce the whole New Testament from quotations by the fathers of the first three or four centuries ; and in three months fulfilled his promise, with the exception of a few verses.
The Divine inspiration and authority of these books may be proved by most satisfactory evidence; for as there is a wide and striking difference between the books of the Old Testament, and every thing else which has proceeded from the pens of the Jews, so the earliest and most precious relics of uninspired Christian literature, stand at an immense distance from the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists.
The predictions of the sacred books have been so strikingly fulfilled, as can be accounted for by no other hypothesis than that of inspiration. These books, though written at distant periods and by various men, forming a large volume, of diversified contents, are perfectly harmonious, can be convicted of no false principle, and contain a perfect code of morals, as well as a most complete disclosure