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of all that we most need to know. The narrations of the Acts of the Apostles are in perfect harmony with numerous incidental references in the Epistles, affording to those who are acquainted with the laws of evidence, such proofs of verity as preclude all possible suspicion of imposture. The language in which the New Testament is written, is of that peculiar kind that is scarcely capable of imitation—that of men who, with Hebrew ideas, wrote in the Greek tongue, which exactly accords with what the Apostles say of themselves. Lardner has, with immense labour, given quotations from Jewish and heathen writers, which corroborate all the facts recorded in the New Testament, even to the most minute.
These are the mines of wealth to which we are referred for information and authority, on all points relating to our salvation. The whole Bible, or Book of Scripture, contains the only authentic record of the creation of our species, and of all things—a record confirmed by all veritable history, and by the state of mankind in all ages and nations. This volume accounts for the entrance of evil, both moral and physical, into the world, affording us, also, the only ray of hope for deliverance, by the interposition of a Saviour. The moral government of God is here, and here alone, unfolded to the satisfaction of the unbiassed judgment and the faithful conscience, while the moral code of the Scriptures gives due honour to God, and affords the only sure guide to men.
2. We should, therefore, search the Scriptures, as men digging in a mine of hidden treasure.
This intimates, I grant, that there is depth in the Scriptures, that their discoveries do not always lie on the surface, to be obtained by a mere casual glance. At this who will wonder? Books partake of the qualities of their author; for writing is a wondrous mode of giving materiality to mind, of adding visibility to thought, and, I had almost said, of rendering tangible the shadowy, evanescent shapes of intellect. If, then, the mind that dictates is profound, and its thoughts deep, will not a corresponding character be impressed on the writings ? What depth, then, may be expected in the Scriptures, which are not the private suggestions of the penmen ! " for the prophecies came not in old time by the will of men, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Yet, with all this depth, which will demand continual research, there is a simplicity, an adaptation to general use," that he who runs may read; and the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein." This forms one of the proofs of the divinity of the Scriptures; that they first instruct our childhood, and, to the last, engage the mature reflections of our old age ; that before we can understand any other book, we may read this to profit; and after we have exhausted all others, we still find here something to learn. He who despises this book, after a superficial reading, or a flippant glance, may be asked how much treasure he would find by turning up the surface of a mine?
But if searching implies difficulty (which attends every thing that is deep), we own that the most careful and frequent perusal is required; and that this should be accompanied with comparison of one part of Scripture with another, and with the use of every attainable help, while all our diligence should be crowned by fervent prayer to “ the Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift," and to whom we should say—“ Open mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” For the Scriptures were never intended to supersede all direct communication with the Parent of our being, but were intended, as all other means, to be employed in dependence on Divine benediction. If it be objected“ then we might as well go to God at once for information, without using this book at all ;" we reply, that God, who is the Sovereign Disposer of his own gifts, has decreed otherwise, resolving to give us instruction in the use, and not in the neglect of his word. In this he acts analogously with his conduct in all other cases, dictating the means, and holding us dependent on his blessing, to be sought by prayer. But a special promise of success attends the diligent use of the Scriptures, which are “ able to make wise to salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
The searching of the Scriptures for ourselves by no means precludes, but rather implies, application to those who may have had higher advantages than have fallen to our lot. Of this we have a beautiful example in the conduct of the Ethiopian who applied to Philip. The preaching of the word, the use of commentaries and expositors, with the reading of other religious books which throw light upon the Scriptures, are all included in the injunction of my text; provided always that we do not bow to mere human authority, but keep our minds open to the evident import of the Sacred Scriptures. To those who have had a liberal education, the reading of the Scriptures, in their original tongues, is the first of all means of searching and digging into this mine of wealth.
II. The Saviour here points to ourselves, and, in the tone of expostulation, reminds us of our own professed principles, “In these Scriptures you think you have eternal life."
Our translation is rather equivocal, and might be taken for a censure on the folly of those who could think so. But the intention
was to express the sense of the Greek, which might be better translated thus :—"For you yourselves think that you have eternal life in the Scriptures.” This is the argumentum ad hominem, which sometimes implies no approbation of those principles to which we appeal, but merely exposes the inconsistency of those who act contrary to their own avowed sentiments. This kind of argument, however, is more forcible when both parties admit the truth of the principle, as in the case before us. Here, then, Christ appeals to principles and to persons.
1. To the principle, that " in Scripture we have eternal life.”.
Eternal life! what a charm is there in the sound ! for how fondly we cling to life! all that a man has will he give for his life! Yet how soon must we part with this life ; how mere a vapour, shadow, dream, is the present state of being !
“ Consider how short my time is," says the Psalmist ; " wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?” For if we are destined to nothing more durable than the present mode of existence, we seem to have been endued with all our vast powers to little or no purpose. Just as our faculties are ripened, they are withered, and as soon as we begin to be fit to live, we die! We are so constituted as to pant after duration and improvement unbounded, and in the present world are pent up within a hand-breadth or a span.
We aspire, therefore, after a continuance of life beyond the present state, and nothing short of perpetuity can satisfy our cravings; since the farther we advance in the career of existence and improvement, the more we cling to being, and shrink with horror from annihilation. None but the man who has become a terror to himself, and whose corrupted and wretched existence is thought not worth preserving, can view the total extinction of his being with any thing but aversion; as none but the vicious or the wretched will fly to suicide.
But if we pant for a life beyond the present, and nothing but that which shall last to eternity can suffice us, where shall we find it? -what can discover it to us? If any affirm that reason can assure us of immortality, we fear that they mistake the province of reason, which is not to create but to employ. If the Author of our being, who alone can perpetuate it to eternity, has not given us any data by which we can be assured of immortality, reason cannot supply the place, any more than she can furnish us with a substitute for phenomena in natural philosophy. Shut your eyes, my dear hearers, and walk through the streets of London: will reason warn you of your dangers, and apprise you when you are exposed to the shock of the crowd? Can she supply the place of visible objects? Stop your ears, and will reason inform you of what I am now speaking? She can enable you to judge of my words, but not to supply the place of them. And who that turns away his eyes from the Scripture, and rejects all light derived from revelation, can pretend to say that we have much that can be called data, from which reason can adduce the proofs of eternal life? Attempt to divest yourselves of all that floating knowledge which we owe to the Scriptures; and though you will but imperfectly succeed, yet, after that attempt, ask yourselves, " What proofs have I that I shall live for ever?" You will be surprised, perhaps alarmed, confounded, horrified, to find how little remains to which the mind can cling. The argument derived from the activity of the soul in dreams, to show that it may act when the body sleeps in death, can never prove that it will. In fact, almost all that can be said in support of our favourite hypothesis, the immortality of our being, is of the shadowy character of dreams, which produces little else but such abortive attempts at action as we are conscious of in sleep. To the little that can be adduced on the affirmative side, so much may be replied, that we do not wonder at the hesitancy of the master-minds of antiquity, who enjoyed not the clear light of revelation. The imaginations of the poets, rather than the arguments of philosophers, fed their hopes of futurity.
Not that this uncertainty gives proof of any thing but our ignorance. It could not, of course, prove a negative, or render our immortality doubtful in itself, any more than our former ignorance of the continent of America could be an argument against its existence. There may be an eternal life awaiting us, and we not know it; for though this may be justly deemed improbable, how many things that were so have been afterwards proved to be true? Among the mysteries of Divine Government by which we are surrounded, this might be one, that God had determined to perpetuate our being in a future state, and yet to keep us in ignorance of it, through the whole of the present. Has he not, in fact, acted in this way to a certain degree? Are we not kept profoundly ignorant of the length of our continuance here — whether it shall be seven, or ten years; fifty, or four-score, or a hundred?
If it be granted that this is improbable, and that the higher probability attaches to the supposition, that if God will grant us an everlasting duration he will inform us of it, because this will most powerfully incite us to prepare for a destination so awfully grand, then, we contend, that this sets the stamp of probability on the Scriptures. For we have seen how little that can be called proof of immortality is to be found elsewhere. This is, indeed, the value and glory of the Scriptures — that “in them we have eternal life ;” not the mere promise of a bare existence, but of that bliss to which the
Scriptures give the name of life; according to the saying of the Latins, non vivere, sed valere, vita est, —not merely to live, but to enjoy, deserves the name of life. “ This is the promise that He has promised us, even eternal life.” “ In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.” hast the words of eternal life,” said Peter to our Saviour; and the whole testimony of the Scripture is, that " he that believeth in the Son of God hath everlasting life."
How lightly we pass by such words as these! setting little value on them, merely because they are familiar, and we have read them till we cease to be struck with them. But when we compare the clear, concise, authoritative character of these declarations with the faint, shadowy, conjectural conclusions of unassisted reason, we must pronounce the Scriptures worthy to be written in letters of gold, and to be inscribed on the tablet of the heart.
The promise of such a life, by a God who cannot lie, is as good as the performance. His words are solid as deeds, and we may be said now to have eternal life. Those who have the commencement, or, as the Apostle calls it, the "first-fruits,” in that change of nature and preparation for future blessedness, which is the peculiar glory of the Christian religion, and which no other religion has so much as thought of, may justly say, "we have eternal life." What a motive is this for searching the Scriptures, that we also may find the pearl of great price -- the jewel more precious than all that the mines of earth can yield !
2. To persons Christ appeals, for "you yourselves judge that you have eternal life in the Scriptures.”
It is no small advantage to have our opponent's principles in our favour, when urging him to conduct which those principles demand, and he is disinclined to pursue. For, amidst the melancholy consequences of the derangement of our nature at the fall, we must reckon, not only an open rejection of many important truths, but an inefficient adoption of many others. That which is allowed to be considerable is not considered; what is owned to be important is trified with; and we confess one principle with our lips, while we hold the opposite in our lives.
If I have glanced at the evidences of the Scriptures, and their revelation of immortality, it is not because I suppose myself addressing deists, but because I would refresh your memory by the mention of sentiments which you profess to hold, that you may feel the obligation they infer to correspondent conduct. While speculative deism is, alas! too common, practical infidelity is far more so.