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STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
IT will be inquired by what means the influence of the world can be counteracted, or by what means a due attention to Christian principles can be well secured. I answer, the principal means to effect this great purpose, and one that will naturally lead to every other, is a familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures. The zealous Christian will make these books his constant companions. With the pious Psalmist, “his delight will be in the law of the Lord, and in his law will he meditate day and night.”
Be assured that in reading the Scriptures ever so often, you will always find something new and interesting. Many difficulties you will, no doubt, meet with, as may be expected in books of such great antiquity, written, many of them, in a language which is but imperfectly understood, and abounding with allusions to customs, with which we, in this part of the world, are unacquainted, and which, being in many respects the reverse of ours, will of course appear unnatural. But new light is thrown upon things of this nature every day. Many difficulties are already cleared up in the most satisfactory manner; and in the mean time every thing of this nature may be safely neglected, or referred to farther consideration, especially if you read for the purpose of moral improvement; the greatest part of the Bible being perfectly intelligible to every capacity, and in the highest degree useful and edifying.
A familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures will preserve upon the mind a lively sense of God and his moral government. It will continually bring into view, and give you a habit of contemplating the great plan of providence, respecting the designs of God in the creation of man, and his ultimate destination. You will by this means have a clearer view of the Divine wisdom and goodness in the government of the world, even in the most calamitous events, as in the corruption of true religion, as well as in the reformation of it. You will perceive signs of order in the present seemingly disordered state of things, and will rejoice in the prospect of the glorious completion of the scheme, in universal virtue and universal happiness. Such views of things as these, which will be perpetually suggested by the reading of the Scriptures, have the greatest tendency to ennoble and enlarge the mind, to raise our thoughts and affections above the low pursuits which wholly occupy and distract the minds of the bulk of mankind; they will inspire a most delightful serenity in the midst of the cares and troubles of life, and impart a joy which the world can neither give nor take away. If, however, notwithstanding these recommendations, the Scriptures, and other works illustrative of their contents, have not engaged the attention, it behoves every person who really wishes to imbibe the spirit of Christianity, to make himself well acquainted with them, and to persist in the reading and study of them, till he finds himself interested in their contents, and imbibe the pious and benevolent temper which is so conspicuous in the writers. And how irksome soever, through disuse and other causes, the reading of the Scriptures, and of other books which have the same tendency, may for some time be, perseverance will overcome it; and then, if I may speak from experience, no reading will be so interesting or pleasing, and the satisfaction will increase with every fresh perusal. This circumstance enables us to account for the peculiar pleasure that David and other pious Jews appear to have derived from reading the Scriptures. They had few other books; so that if they read at all, they must have read them perpetually in their own houses, as well as have heard them constantly read in the synagogues, from the time that they had such places of public worship, which they certainly had from the time of the Babylonish Captivity. At this day, there are so many other books to engage the attention, that, in too many cases, they totally exclude the reading of that which is of infinitely more value than all the rest. But whatever be the leisure that any person can command for reading, some portion of it should by all means be appropriated to that kind of reading, the object of which is to increase the knowledge which relates to our profession as Christians. And this will lead to a course of reading both curious and interesting, especially such as makes us acquainted with the progress of Christianity in the world. No kind of reading tends so much to counteract the influence of the world and its principles as the lives of eminent Christians; and most of all, the martyrs, whose piety, patience, and fortitude, in cheerfully abandoning life and every thing in it, for the sake of conscience, cannot fail to inspire something of the same excellent spirit; and this once fully imbibed, will enable a man to behave as becomes a Christian in every situation, of prosperity as well as of adversity, in life or in death. Compared to the strong feelings with which such works as these are read by persons who have acquired a true relish for them, all other reading is perfectly insipid; and a truly pious Christian, who has few books beside the Bible, has little cause to envy the man of letters, in whose ample library the Bible is not to be found. What is there of pathetic address in all the writings of the admired ancients, compared to the Book of Deuteronomy by Moses? And what is all their poetry, compared to the Psalms of David, and some parts of Isaiah? And yet, such is the power of association and habit, that, by persons of a different education and turn of mind, those parts of Scripture which are by some read with emotions of the most exalted and pleasurable kind, will be perused with perfect indifference, and even disgust: and if such persons be advanced in life, so that their habits are confirmed, the endeavour to communicate to them a relish for such writings, will be altogether in vain. Of such persons we may say with Bacon's brazen statue, Time is past. So strongly is my mind impressed with a sense of the importance of the habitual reading of the Scriptures, both from considering the nature of the thing, and from the best attention that I have been able to give to particular characters and facts; that I do not see how those persons who neglect it, and who have no satisfaction in habitually meditating on the infinitely important subjects to which they relate, can be said to have any thing of Christianity besides the name. They cannot feel the influence of its doctrines, its precepts, or its motives, when they give no attention to them ; and, therefore they cannot derive any advantage from Christianity, except such as accrues to all the nominally Christianized part of the world, in improving the general character, manners and customs of it; but which, as it has not arisen from any attention that they have given to it, cannot entitle them to the character or rewards of true Christians; such as those who have lived as pilgrims and strangers here below, and as citizens of heaven; who, though living in the world, have had their affections on things above; whose treasure, the object of their chief care and pursuit, has been not in the things of this world, but in heaven. They may not be rejected by Christ as workers of iniquity, but they have no title to the appellation of good and faithful servants to a Master whom they have never truly loved or respected, and hardly even thought of; and, therefore, cannot expect to partake in the joy of their Lord.
THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
HE only is justly entitled to the honorable appellation of a Christian who postpones every thing else to it, and who sets no value upon any thing else when set in competition with it.
Whether this be our case, will appear by the share that Christianity has in our thoughts. Whatever it be that a man chiefly values, he oftenest thinks of; and if his attention be called off to other things, it will be detained no longer than is necessary. His favorite object, whatever it be, will perpetually recur to his mind, and it will not be in the power of any thing to exclude it long.
We may judge of this by the attention which men of the world give to riches in general, or to any particular estate they may wish to purchase, or by the attention which a person of a scientific turn of mind gives to his favorite objects, whether it be collecting what he thinks curious, or investigating what he thinks important; it will chiefly occupy his thoughts. Now a Christian may attend to these things, and many others, (for the occasions and business of life are various, and no one object, though the greatest, can possess the mind always,) but with him every thing of this kind, and the world itself, which contains them all, will be of no more than secondary consideration. They occupy and amuse him for a time, but he abandons them without regret when his more favorite business and pleasure call him. So much was the mind of pious David occupied with a sense of God, his providence, and religion in general, that he says the law of God