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The most inexcusable species of deists is the most numerous, and the most injurious to Christianity. Were all that profess to believe revealed religion to act according to their own avowed sentiments, and to search the Scriptures accordingly, the number of speculative infidels would be greatly reduced, and the few that remained would be shorn of their strength.
In the houses of some who would feel themselves insulted if we did not concede to them the name of Christian, there is no Bible to be found. Previously to the energetic operations of the Bible Society, this was far more common; but it is now more frequent than we should like to suspect.
What an insult to reason and consistency! To profess to think that in a certain book I have eternal life, and yet not have that book in my possession, when it is placed within my reach, and I have many others that cost m
more, and are worth nothing compared to this! Can any other character than that of hypocrisy or madness be given to such conduct? We either do not believe that we have eternal life in this book, or we are mad if we do not search it.
But merely to have the book is manifestly not enough; for this is but the means to a further end; since the book is to be purchased and retained, only because it deserves to be read and studied. What shall we say, then, to those who keep their Bibles as a mere cabinet curiosity, in splendid bindings, on an upper shelf in their library, as a kind of gilded toy? But the inconsistency and the guilt are aggravated, where persons profess some regard for religion, and actually read books of theological controversy or devotion, while they neglect the Bible. If you acted in this way in subjects connected with law, reading the arguments of counsel without referring to their authorities, it would be only when your own interests were not concerned ; for if your fortune were at stake, you would be anxious to know the act of parliament; and if you possessed the Statutes at Large, you would endeavour to find and to understand that on which your property depended.
Nor is the case much mended by those who read the Scriptures in the way that is too common. With some, it is a point of conscience to read a chapter in the Bible, on a Sunday; but to do so, any other day, would be thought a work of supererogation. Can this be called searching the Scriptures ? Are we likely to know the contents of such a book, by this formal reading, at distant intervals ? Should we understand even a smaller volume, on more familiar subjects, if we read it as a task, at remote intervals, a page or two, once in a week? Can any thing less than the daily reading of the
Scriptures satisfy their demands, or our necessities? If David said, he rose at midnight to meditate on God's word, what proofs do we give of being animated with the spirit of ancient believers in the Scriptures, if we do not devote our nights and mornings to this study?
But I have still further demands ; for is it not manifest that our Lord made the Scriptures the ultimate authority — that we should not try these books by others, but others by these ? And yet, we may almost ask, who does this? The church of Rome in effect says, “Do not search the Scriptures to know what they say, but ask the church what they say !" But is she the only guilty party here? Is there not much protestant popery among us? Do not many appeal to their creed, their catechism, their prayer-book, their favourite author, and by these try the Scriptures? Such conduct would lead you back to Rome again.
There is still another class, who act inconsistently with their avowed belief in the Scriptures. It is composed of those who recede far enough from Rome in one direction, but show that the farthest from error is not always the nearest to truth. all mystery in religion, and claim the right of judging by their own reason what the Scriptures ought to teach : they reject the Divinity of Christ, and his atonement, as unreasonable dogmas, saying, “We would take a certain text in this sense, or we would take it in that, or we would take it in any sense, rather than believe that it taught such a doctrine.” But texts of Scripture are, to a true theologian, what natural phenomena are to the philosopher, the data with which he constructs his whole system.
III. To our Saviour we are now pointing, for the voice of Christ says, “these Scriptures testify of me."
In a book which contains eternal life, we must expect much that is interesting; but those who know what reasons we have for fearing lest perpetual existence should be to us eternal death, must expect to find here a new and delightful revelation of God. This we have in the person of Christ, which leads us to notice the fact and the ARGUMENT.
1. The fact that we have here the testimony of Jesus.
This is declared to be “ the spirit of prophecy,” or the soul of divine revlation. There are two opposite schools of interpretation, that of Grotius, who is said to find Christ no where, and that of Cocceius, who found him everywhere. This proves little concerning the Scriptures themselves, but much concerning their interpreters. For as the ingenious instructor of our youth has shown, in a piece entitled “ Eyes and no Eyes,” some persons walk through nature and see nothing, while others find sermons in stones, books in the running brooks, and good in every thing. If we hearken to the testimony of Christ, we shall believe that the Scriptures are full of him.
We should not, however, employ a favourite position as a rack, to compel Scripture to say what we please, or what we think it ought to say, but should impartially inquire what it does say; for that alone is its true testimony, and whatever else we pretend to draw hence, is but the produce of our own imagination. In Locke's most beautiful and touching narrative of Christ's walk with his disciples to Emmaus, we find him first reproving them for not believing what the prophets had written concerning him, and then “ opening their understandings to know the Scriptures."
We must, however, own, that in many instances the proofs which our Lord brings from Scripture require research ; for, to a superficial reader, they would not present the information which Christ draws from them. In like manner, many texts speak of Christ, though, at first sight, we cannot discover their testimony, which afterwards commends itself to our judgment and conscience. The Apostles also frequently adduce passages from the Old Testament, as predictions of the Saviour, which we should not have understood in this sense, but which we now see to be conclusive and important.
This shows the imperative duty of searching, and of improving the high advantage we possess, in the comments of the New Testament on the Old. For the best mode of scriptural research is that which makes the wisest use of “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” As diamond cuts diamond, so nothing interprets Scripture like Scripture; and he who possesses no book but his Bible, may, by diligent comparison, attended by earnest prayer, come to a high degree of acquaintance with the testimony of Christ.
For what a flood of light is poured upon the testimony of Christ in the ancient Scriptures — from the Gospels and the Epistles of Christ's ambassadors! Applying the words of our Saviour in the text to the whole Scriptures, who can deny that these testify of Jesus? And who, that thus employs the additional discoveries which we enjoy, can be insensible to the importance of this testimony? For as the single principle of gravitation throws light upon the system of the universe, and we see the universal law operating from the extremities to the centre ; so the discovery of Christ and his salvation explains the whole record of Scripture, and the history of providence, from the creation to the conflagration of the world,
2. The ARGUMENT which thence arises is two-fold.
(1.) That the Scriptures, by testifying of Christ, afford us eternal life. This scarcely needs more than bare mention; for who that receives the record of Christ contained in the Scripture, doubts that in this we have eternal life? And who that truly receives the testimony, can doubt that this life is his own? Yet, as my argument upon this text should be like that of Him who first uttered it, and be directed to those who profess the truth, but do not employ it efficiently, I would say, “Is not that person, of whom the whole Bible testifies, a visitor from another world, where life reigns, without death, and where all things are eternal ?” Is not such a visit exactly what we need ? For how superior in effect is this to all mere reasonings! How imperfectly they arrest attention! How feebly they bind our hearts! How little they influence our practice! How justly did Socrates conclude, that we can know little about a future world without some visitor from thence!
But, now that we have received such an one, and heard him say, "I came down from heaven; I came forth from the Father, and am coming to the world ;"—again, “I leave the world, and go to the Father,"-how palpable a thing is eternity! We feel with regard to heaven as we do with respect to China, when we have been conversing with one who came from that distant land, and made us familiar with all its peculiarities. What an air of importance is now thrown over our future destination! With what certainty we speak of it! In the prospect of death, we are conscious that we shall feel far differently from those sceptics who talk of taking a leap in the dark, or of going to know the grand secret. We shall be sure of going to that world from which Jesus came; and this one fact, that the Scriptures have made known Christ to us, will do more to make us feel that we have laid hold of eternal life, than all the imaginations of the most poetic, or all the reasonings of the most metaphysical.
But the testimony of Jesus does more than merely convince us of the fact, and of the overwhelming grandeur of immortality; it opens to us the way to the possession of that blissful state called eternal life. “I came," says Jesus, " that you might have life, and have it more abundantly. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me; I go to prepare a place for you, and will come again to receive you to myself.” For he laid down his life as a ransom for us, that the sin which gives a sting to death may be expiated by his atoning sacrifice, and the dread of divine retribution, which makes us shrink from the prospect of futurity, and almost court annihilation, may be removed by the application of his meritorious blood. For they who receive this truth, which forms the very essence of the testimony of Christ, may ask, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" But He who died for our offences, rose again for our justification, and by showing the way back from the grave, assured us of a return from that dreary state, by a glorious resurrection.
(2.) The Scriptures, therefore, deserve to be diligently searched.-For what confusion covers that man, who, with a rational mind, and with a heart that beats for immortality, throws aside this volume, and refuses to make it his study and his treasure, because he is too busy with the affairs of this life! And what is your life? It is even a vapour, a fleeting shadow, or, as the Greek writer says, “the shadow of smoke ;” and when the substance is but smoke, what must the shadow be? What a beggarly thing, compared with eternal life! Secret infidelity must certainly be lurking in that breast, that, for the sake of the present vanishing scene, neglects the Bible! And yet the evidences that attend the book are, to say the least, completely astounding, enough to rouse any rational man to say, Well, I will sit down and investigate the subject; and if I find these Scriptures true and divine, I will give my days and nights to their study; for if I miss eternal life, what will pay me for the loss ? And what aggravating horrors will attend the reflection, I have thrown away my immortality by hunting after a shadow; I have found an eternity, made tenfold more bitter by the thought, that there was once thrown in my way a book that would have led me to immortal bliss, but I was too much occupied with grasping a cloud to lay hold on eternal life!
Christians, ye that fear God, remember that to you especially is the word of this salvation sent. Make the Bible your book of devotion, reading it in your closet every morning and evening, that you may have an experimental acquaintance with that prayer offered up for you, “Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.” Commit these words to the charge of memory, that by learning a text every morning, you may be able to say, “ Thy word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against thee." Let the reading of the Scriptures form a part of your family worship. Thus it will be said of you, as of Israel amidst the darkness of Egypt, “they had light in all their dwellings." To your children you should, with diligence, explain the word of God, that it may be said to them, in future days, “From a child thou hast learned the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ