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STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES, WITH
MY DEAR —
It is now high time I should press on your attention, more particularly, some of the means of grace; to which indeed you are not wholly a stranger, but which need to be kept continually before our view.
1. The first I name is, the regular and serious reading of the Bible.“ Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” The answer is clear, and to the point: “ By taking heed thereto, according to thy word.” –Your best way will be, to read the Scriptures regularly ; that is, an entire Book or Epistle, through ; and as you have a good Commentary, the portions will easily divide themselves. Each time, begin where you left off last; not dipping into passages here and there, except when you are seeking for texts to prove any point.
Before you commence reading, lift up your heart in some such short prayer as—“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous
things out of thy law!” or with some thanksgiving, such as—“ Blessed be thou, O my Saviour! that from a child I have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make me wise unto salvation, through faith in thee!” When you read, endeavour first to make out the meaning by careful reflection : this will prepare you for what you may afterwards read in the Commentary; and will fix the sense deeper in your heart, from your having made it your own. When you have finished, remember the words of our Lord to his Disciples : “ If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Aim at reducing all to practice ; and implore the promised grace of the Holy Spirit, that you may daily repent, daily resolve, daily be strengthened by faith, warmed by love, and quickened by hope. · Especially, if the passage of Scripture explains any thing that has lately happened, either to yourself or others, note that down in your meditations. You will thus gain a habit of seeing the true state of things, both in the world and in your own heart: for the Bible is the mirror in which every object is reflected with correctness. The reason why many persons make such foolish and fatal mistakes in life, is, that their judgment has no certain standard to go by; indeed, few persons govern their judgments at all; and very many, who attempt to do so, yet look no further than a few common maxims of worldly prudence, But, on the contrary-as I have observed, during more than thirty years—when young persons begin to think seriously, taking the word of God for their standard, they do in a short time arrive at a remarkable degree of discernment, both as it regards the Divine Life, and common life. They put away childish things ; upon which worldly and unconverted persons doat, long after they are twenty years of age. And if those, who at fifteen or sixteen begin to be in earnest about Religion, escape the two awful snares—first, of falling back into indifference, and secondly, of rushing forward into spiritual pride--they will certainly grow wiser and wiser; the word of Christ will dwell in them richly in all wisdom. This wisdom will evince itself in their discerning how to apply what they read. They will
know where to go for good counsel : they will find the Bible to be an inexhaustible treasure. And this is a kind of wisdom that does not puff them up. It is controversy, and reading merely for criticism, that causes some to draw little profit from the repeated reading of the Bible. Such are those, whom St. Paul describes, as “ ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
2. Connected with the important and most necessary duty of studying the Holy Scriptures, is another very essential religious exercise ; namely, Self-examination. This serves as an index, to shew whereabout, and what, you are;
- like the fingers of a clock, which tell us the hour of the day, and without which the machinery inside would be going on in vain. The Bible gives us the knowledge of God our Saviour: Self-examination helps us to the knowledge of ourselves. St. James well describes those who neglect Self-application. Being hearers, but not doers, of the word; he says they are “ like a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” Now Self-examination is especially useful in detecting this unpractical spirit; it teaches a person to distinguish between knowing and doing : “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
Self-examination, therefore, is one chief element in the discipline of our Christian character. We shall find it, however, a most difficult thing, to deal honestly with ourselves. Sometimes we shall want to slur over our faults; at other times, to make excuses for them. Nothing but the aid of the Spirit of Truth can recover us from this double-dealing and self-partiality. You will find David's prayer necessary to the attainment of an ingenuous mind : “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm cxxxix. 23, 24.) I know a person who told me, that, when young, it was his custom to repeat that passage many times a day. In fact, the spirit of it ought to govern us through life: otherwise sins of negligence may creep in and gain ground upon us, to an extent we little expected.