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passions, and placed in similar situations with ourselves, the advantages which are the result of early piety, virtuous resolution, lowliness of mind, and religious integrity. We may thus see the “beauty of holiness” as it were embodied, and exhibiting its graces in a variety of forms and under numerous circumstances, which, in the bustle of public life, would pass by lost and unheeded. The religious haracter is contemplated to advantage in prosperity and adversity, bearing the one with a humble and thankful heart, and the other with calmness and resignation. But religion is seen, probably, in its greatest lustre during the dark and dismal hour of death. In that solemn season when the busy scenes of folly are shut out, when the noise and contentions of the world are no longer heard, when splendid rank and honours are disregarded, when pomp and riches, pleasures and honours, bear the mortifying inscription of VANITY and VEXATION—then does Religion look through the gloom, and while she smiles upon the dying Christian, kindles even in the bosom of the vain and irreligious beholder, a wish to “die the death of the righteous.”
in this grand point the excellency of Biography is strikingly displayed, by introducing us not only to the acquaintance of the wise and good in their meditations, and in their labours of piety, but also to their dying beds, where we behold the triumph of faith over the fears of death, and witness the serenity and transport with which they yield up their souls into the hands of their Heavenly Father.
It is in the consideration of such scenes, and no in beholding the great events of the world, that we learn the true estimate of human life, and the proper end of our being.
This naturally directs us to one of the most distinguished excellencies of the Holy Scriptures, as abounding with numerous examples of faith and holiness, delineated with the strictest impartiality, all
of them powerfully calculated to awaken in us a concern about the best things, and to lead us in the path of holiness and peace. In a moral sense alone, the Scripture Characters are the most proper that can be presented for our imitation, because they are represented as they truly were, without any design of extenuating their errors or exaggerating their virtues. No art is made use of to exhibit them to us to the best advantage; but they are shewn in their native simplicity, in a great variety of natural situations, and exactly “ as men of like passions with ourselves.”
But there is a higher point of view in which the biographical narrations of the Bible excel all others; and this indeed one of the utmost importance. I mean the instruction which we learn from them in the things which concern our everlasting salvation.
MORALITY may be serviceable to us in our connexions with one another as members of the same society; but it can neither open nor maintain a communication with Heaven. That REVELATION which God has given to us alone does this; and while we learn from it the faith which is necessary to salvation, we are presented with numerous instances of persons who have lived and died in the enjoyment of it. By considering their examples, then, we not only see the beauties of virtue, and are charmed with the excellencies of a humble, contented, temperate, and pious life, but we gather from them information concerning “the things of the kingdom of God.”
We see what animated them in their progress through a troublesome world, what enabled them to resist temptation, to overcome difficulties, to brave persecution, and to encounter the terrors of death without dismay: it was not the native energy of their own minds, nor a philosophical indifference to pain and pleasure; but a belief in the “ great mystery of godliness" which the Messiah undertook to accomplish for the salvation of a lost world. In the lives of these Worthies we see the great truths of grace.
our Religion elucidated, not merely in the morality of their actions, but in the purity of their principles. We see them witnessing a good confession in the darkest times, bearing their testimony to the work of redemption, living by faith upon the SON OF GOD, and dying in the triumphant assurance of acceptance by the virtue of his sacrifice.
HE is the centre of the system around which all the luminaries of the Church have moved both before his incarnation and since his ascension, deriving their light solely from him, and being kept in their course by the influence of his
This important doctrine runs through the following pages, and I trust that my readers will not be displeased with me for endeavouring throughout the work to keep their attention constantly alive to this grand object. But though an evangelical turn has been given to every incident where it could naturally be admitted, yet I am not so fond of allegory as to admire the fancy of spiritualizing all objects, institutions, and circumstances mentioned in the Bible. Where a type was obvious, and the relation between natural and spiritual objects was evident, I have readily given myself a scope in the elucidation, and have tried to make the reader feel the same degree of pleasure with myself
Yet I have studiously avoided all appearance of mysticism, and that obscure mode of expression which tends to excite curiosity without gratifying it, and which renders plain truths confused and perplexing, instead of being familiar and edifying.
In delineating the Scripture Characters, I had young persons particularly in my view; and have therefore endeavoured to render the whole pleasing and instructive to them. The seeds of piety cannot be sown too early, and nothing so much recommends religion, as an agreeable form. History and Biography are very attractive to all persons; and if we can hereby turn the young and active mind to a serious consideration of the essential principles of Religion, an important service will be rendered to the rising generation.
This method is also well calculated for family instruction on Sunday evenings, as nothing excites attention or produces reflection more than an entertaining and interesting nariative. Most of the articles in this volume are of such a length as to be easily read through at one time; a few only are considerable longer, and these may be divided into two or three portions, as shall appear most convenient.
May the Father of Lights, from “whom cometh every good and every perfect gift,” vouchsafe his blessing to this work, the design of which is to promote the knowledge of his Holy Word, in this age of infidelity and licentiousness !