« PreviousContinue »
And on another occasion, (viii. 17.) "Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? Having ears, hear ye not?" He seeks to awaken them to the use and exertion of the faculties they already possessed; not to give them any new powers.
His apostles continually exhort christians carefully to consider the doctrines and weigh the evidence of their religion.
"Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is."
And again; "Be not children in understanding; howbeit, in malice be ye children: but in understanding be men.
The holy writers and prophets of the New Covenant thus, continually with great earnestness, exhort men to become intelligent christians, by gaining a satisfactory well-grounded knowledge of what they profess to believe and practice.
Prayer to God, indeed, is necessary for the right understanding of the scriptures, as well as the attainment of every thing else that is good and excellent. And we ought to take him always along with us in all our pur
And, accordingly, we are often exhorted to pray that our understandings may be enlightened; and the epistles of the apostles, especially of St. Paul, abound with the like prayers for others. "Consider what I say (says he to his beloved and faithful Timothy, 2, ii. 7.) and the Lord give thee understanding in all things!"
But as it has been above seen, that we are called upon to make use of our own understandings, and that it is God's appointed way of our gaining wisdom and true knowledge; it must be only in the diligent and faithful improvement of these means, that we can fitly pray to him ourselves, or expect any benefit from the prayers of others, that he would communicate the knowledge of his will to us. And it would be folly and presumption for us to ask of him divine wisdom, while we neglect the means of acquiring it ourselves; as it would be to request of him our daily bread, which we are commanded to do, to pray for food and raiment, and yet use no endeavours to clothe and nourish our bodies.
The holy scriptures contain an authentic
history of the extraordinary government and superintendence over his creatures of mankind, which the Lord hath exercised from the time that he first made them and placed them on this earth. And the divine excellency of these scriptures herein appears, that they teach and manifest, that, from the beginning, it has been the design of this benevolent parent of all to bring men to the knowledge of himself, the only true God, and to virtue and holiness to fit them for a perfect happiness in a future state for ever.
Men may find fault with particular parts of this sacred history ;-the account given of the fall of man, and the concern which a supposed evil spirit had in it; of the destruction of the idolatrous Canaanites by the Israelites by divine command; and other things which they deem reprehensible in the histories of Moses and the prophets.
They may inveigh against the history of Christ, as containing an unnatural state of things, representing evil spirits continually brought upon the stage and acting, which no where else appear.
And they may find fault with Paul in parti
cular, as making the Father of the universe á partial unjust being, arbitrarily destining some to happiness, and devoting others of his creatures, without any ill-desert of their own, to endless misery.
But the inquiries and explanations of the scriptures, given by serious learned christians in these latter times, have evinced, and will go on more and more to prove, that all these objections against the Bible are either no just objections at all, or are founded in ignorance and misconstruction of the real meaning of those sacred writings. That the account of our first parents' trial and transgression is to be taken in an allegorical sense, and no real evil spirit the enemy of God and goodness ever intended or spoken of there, or in any other part of the Old Testament.
That the severity exercised towards the idolatrous Canaanites, of which the Jews were made the instruments, was necessary to prevent the whole human race from being affected with idolatry and the most enormous wicked
That there were no real evil spirits ever spoken of by Christ or his apostles; but it
was only the vulgar language used concerning certain diseases, being supposed to be inflicted by evil spirits.
And the like satisfactory replies may be made to these and all other objections.
Lastly: Our Saviour, in one place, commands the Jews not barely to read but to search the scriptures, to explore and find out the wisdom contained in them.
And what we have now heard from his apostle Peter calls us to the same study. For, if there are obscurities and things hard to be understood, we should take the more pains to come at their true meaning.
But chiefly should we all turn ourselves to the study of these sacred pages, for the moral and spiritual advantages to be reaped from them.
For, in a world like this, where the best are in danger continually to be diverted from wisdom's paths, the reading of the scriptures must be of peculiar benefit to strengthen our faith in divine things, and the reality of the heavenly world to which we are going; and to bring its holy rules and precepts and its efficacious motives present to our minds. One of the most famous preachers amongst c 2 the