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benign effects, which the spread of truth in its original purity and simplicity would produce, can want any motive to urge him to give his aid to its progress, and join in the noble task of pouring light into the darkened mind of ignorance, chasing away the phantoms of error, and imparting the blessings of christian truth! Who that would not rejoice to contribute in any degree to so glorious, so divine a work!
There is no inconsistency, then, between an enlightened and ardent zeal for truth, and all the charitable judgments on the religious state of others to which the doctrine of our text would lead us. Neither is there any want of the most powerful motives in our own case to be diligent in proving all things, and holding fast only what is true. Let us. therefore use all diligence to add to our faith knowledge, as well as virtue. Its price is above rubies,
Let us concede the privilege we take; and while with all fair and honourable weapons we contend earnestly for what we believe to be truth, let us not forget that our Christian feelings are more important than our speculative opinions, and that the worst of all heresies is a bad heart, and an uncharitable tongue.
Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to
the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things ; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
EVERY attentive and intelligent reader of the scriptures, must have felt the truth implied in this passage, that all the parts of the sacred volume are not equally easy of comprehension. That the fact should be thus, may at first view appear a thing strange and not to have been expected. It may seem strange that a professed revelation, or discovery of truths which were before obscure or unknown, should itself contain any thing difficult or dark, and of course liable to be misunderstood and perverted. And indeed with regard to
the great, elemental, practical truths of religion, those which most affect the heart and influence the life, we find, what we should previously have expected, that they all appear in characters of light; they are all perfectly plain and obvious to the humblest understanding. As it respects, however, the minor and subsidiary doctrines of the gospel, many of them, it must be confessed, do require study and attention fully to be comprehended.
In accounting for this partial obscurity we may say, that from the nature of written language, which is necessarily ambiguous and exposed to change, it was impossible to be avoided without a perpetual miracle. But though this answer is alone sufficient, we need not scruple to go farther, and to ask why, since no other advantage of body or mind is to be obtained in the ordinary course of Providence without labour, why should we expect that religion alone should descend supernaturally from the skies into minds, sluggish, incautious, uninterested, and unprepared for its reception? The wants of the mind, we may be assured, will no more be supplied without industry and activity on our part, than the wants of the body; and as the body we know will die, if we use no effort to sustain it by necessary food, so also the soul, if its powers are not brought into vigorous and steady exercise, will perish for lack of knowledge.
That the scriptures should have difficulties, then, which it requires study to remove, is no more than what we might previously expect to find; and with. "out question, what we do actually find. It appears also that the reason, why these difficulties are permitted to exist, is to prompt us to industry in our endeavours to understand them. But as every mode of studying them may not be equally judicious and profitable, and as we are bound to inquire for the best, it will be the object of this discourse to suggest some principles on the subject, which may serve to aid a plain reader of the Bible in understanding its contents, and applying them to practice.
I. In the first place, we are to consider, in reading the Scriptures, that every part of the Bible is not of equal importance to every christian; or in other words, that though it is profitable, yet that some parts are to be studied more than others. This proposition requires little proof, and will be assented to by every one, who thinks on the subject for a moment. The bible contains the records of several different dispensations of God to mankind, to the Patriarchs, to the Jews by Moses and the prophets, and lastly to all men by his Son the Saviour of the world. These all differ from each other, according as they were adapted to men in different ages, and under different circumstances. . Each therefore has some things peculiar to itself, and some things which are not of universal application. For example, the whole ritual law of Moses, we all confess, lost its original obligation on the introduction of christianity. It was only “ a schoolmaster” says the Apostle, “ to bring us to Christ.” All the institutions of Moses, indeed, were adapted to a nation under the immediate government of God, and ordained by him to a peculiar destiny; and many of the principles which were to direct their conduct cannot be applied to men in our times, under so great a change of circumstances. But in the gospel we are to find that dispensation of God's will, which was peculiarly intended for us. There is to be found the religion of christians. There are the principles by which we all are at last to be judged. It is there we are to look for the great rule of our faith and practice. While, therefore, we read the Old Testament to learn the history of the doings of God to the nations of old; while we always find it fertile in instruction and interest, an invaluable and abundant source of pious thoughts, and consoling and elevating contemplation, we are to remember that all the maxims of conduct which we collect from it, are to be understood and applied with reference to that last and perfect revelation, which the Son of God has unfolded.