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STUDY OF THE BIBLE.
Way to study the Bible-The Young Man's Experiment-The Family Circle-Distribution of Books-Interest of the Children.- Particular Directions-Familiar Sounds-The Motto in the School-room-Description from the Bible-Vivid Conceptions-Picturing the Scene to the Mind-Clear Conceptions-West's Picture of Christ Rejected- Effect upon the Assembly.- Writing Questions-God's Command to Abraham: Questions upon the Passage-Questions written by a Boy : many faulty - Utility of writing Questions- Many Questions on one VerseExperiment tried by a Mother.-A Sabbath-School Teacher.-Re-writing Scripture-The Boy's Evening Work-Actual Case--Passage-Difficulty arisingExplanation of it-Story of Micah: a Specimen-Two Specimens on the same Subject-Questions-Collating the Scriptures-Plan tried by James and JohnEffect of this Method-Three Accounts of Paul's Conversion-Advantage of the Plan-List of Lessons-Difficulties to be anticipated.-Studying by Subjects: The Sabbath-Jerusalem-List of Topics.-Too little Intellectual Study of the Bible-Object of the Historic Form-Reading practically-Daily Reading of the Bible-Useless Reading-The Apprentice-Reading two Verses aright.
"Able to make us wise unto salvation."
Ir is not my intention, in this chapter, to give any description of the Bible itself, or of its history since it came into the world. Nor shall I endeavour to establish its divine authority, or present the evidences or the nature of its inspiration. My object is, to point out practical duty: and I shall confine myself to a description of the best methods of reading and studying the book.
I ought, however, to remark at the outset, that I intend the chapter to be of a highly practical character; and I shall go, accordingly, into minute detail. Besides, I am writing for the young; and shall, as I have generally done in this book, confine myself exclusively to them: for I have much more hope that they will be influenced to follow the course which I shall endeavour to describe, than that my efforts will produce any good effect upon those who have gone beyond the meridian of life.
There should be a distinction made, between the manner
of reading the Bible on the Sabbath, and during the bustle of the week. The two objects to be accomplished, and the method of accomplishing them, I shall describe.
On the Sabbath, the Bible should be studied.-Every person, old or young, ignorant or learned, should devote a portion of time, every Sabbath, to the devout study of the Scriptures—in the more strict and proper sense of that term. But, to shew precisely what I mean by this study of the Bible, I will describe a particular case.
A young man, with only such opportunities as are possessed by all, resolves to take this course. He selects the Epistle to the Ephesians for his first subject. He obtains such books and helps as he finds in his own family, or as he can obtain from a religious friend, or procure from a Sabbath-school Library. It is not too much to suppose, that he will have a Sacred Atlas; some Commentary; and, probably, a Bible Dictionary. He should also have pen, ink, and paper; and, thus provided, he sits down, Sabbath morning, to his work. He raises a short but heartfelt prayer to God, that He will assist and bless him; and then commences his inquiries.
The Epistle to the Ephesians I have supposed to be his subject. He sees that the first question evidently is, "Who were the Ephesians?" He finds the city of Ephesus upon the map; and, from the preface to the Epistle contained in the Commentary, or from any other source to which he can have access, he learns what sort of a city it was what was the character of the inhabitants— and, if possible, what condition the city was in, at the time this letter was written. He next inquires in regard to the writer of this letter, or Epistle, as it is called. It was Paul: and what did Paul know of the Ephesians? Had he ever been there? or was he writing to strangers? To settle these points, so evidently important to a correct understanding of the letter, he examines the Acts of the
Apostles, which contains Paul's life, to learn whether Paul went there; and, if so, what happened while he was there. He finds that many interesting incidents occurred during Paul's visits; and his curiosity is excited to know whether these things will be alluded to in the letter. He next endeavours to ascertain where Paul was, when he wrote the letter: and, after having thus ascertained every thing relating to the circumstances of the case, he is prepared to come to the Epistle itself, and enter with spirit and interest into an examination of its contents.
He first glances his eye cursorily through the chapters of the book, that he may take in, at once, a general view of its object and design. Perhaps he makes out a brief list of the topics discussed; and, thus, has a distinct general idea of the whole, before he enters into a minute examination of the parts. This minute examination he comes to at last; though, perhaps, the time devoted to the study, for two or three Sabbaths, is spent in the preparatory inquiries. If it is so, it is time well spent: for by it he is prepared to enter with interest into the very soul and spirit of the letter. While he was ignorant of those points, his knowledge of the Epistle itself must have been very vague and superficial. Suppose I were now to introduce into this book a letter; and should begin at once, without saying by whom the letter was written, or to whom it was addressed. It would be preposterous. If I wished to excite your interest, I should describe particularly the parties, and the circumstances which produced the letter originally. And yet, how many Christians there are, who could not tell whether Paul's letter to the Ephesians was written before or after he went there; or where Titus was when Paul wrote to him, and for what special purpose he wrote!
Take another case.-The father or mother whom Providence has placed at the head of a family contrive to
close their worldly business at an early hour on Saturday evening; and gather around the table, at their fireside, all those who are committed to their charge. They choose some subject for examination-real, thorough, examination. Perhaps it is the Rebuilding of Jerusalem, after the Captivity. The various books calculated to assist their inquiries are distributed among the members of the group. The Reference Bible is given to one; the Concordance to another; Scott, or Doddridge, or Henry, to the third; the Bible Dictionary to the fourth; and then, when all are seated, and the Divine Blessing has been asked upon their labours, the father asks them all to turn to any part of the Scriptures which gives information upon the subject. They examine, first, the account of the destruction of the city when the Jews were carried captive, that they may know in what condition it was probably found on their return. They search in several books for an account of the first movements in Babylon, of those who were desirous of return-examine the plans they formed-compare one account with another. Every question which occurs is asked; and the information, which it seeks for, obtained. The two expeditions of Ezra and Nehemiah are examined; the object of each; and the connexion between them. Under the controul of a judicious parent, even secular history might be occasionally referred to, to throw light upon the subject. We may properly avail ourselves of any helps of this kind, so far as their tendency is really to throw light upon the sacred volume. The children of the family soon take a strong interest in the study: their inquiries are encouraged their curiosity is awakened: they regard it a pleasure, not a task. Instead of the evening of Saturday, the afternoon or the evening of the Sabbath, if more convenient, may be used; and if the children are members of a Sabbath School, their next lesson may be the
subject. Those accustomed to the use of the pen will derive great advantage from writing, each evening, notes, or abstracts, expressing in a concise and simple style the new knowledge they have acquired: and every difficulty should be noted, that it may be presented, at some convenient opportunity, to some other Christian student, to the Superintendant of the Sabbath-school, or to a Minister of the Gospel.
This method of studying the Scriptures, which I have thus attempted to describe, and which I might illustrate by supposing many other cases, is not intended for one class alone-not for the ignorant peculiarly, nor for the wise- not for the rich, nor for the poor; but for all. The solitary widow, in her lonely cottage among the distant mountains, with nothing but her simple Bible in her hand, by the light of her evening fire, may pursue this course of comparing Scripture with Scripture, and enter into the spirit of sacred story; throwing herself back to ancient times; and thus preparing herself to grasp more completely, and feel more vividly, the moral lessons which the Bible is mainly intended to teach. And the most cultivated scholar may pursue this course, in his quiet study, surrounded by all the helps to a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures which learning can produce or wealth obtain.
I hope the specimens I have given are sufficient to convey to my readers the general idea I have in view, when I speak of studying the Bible, in contradistinction to the mere cursory reading of it, which is so common among Christians. But I must illustrate, in minute detail, the various methods of doing this. For there are many persons who really wish to study the Bible more intellectually, and to receive more vivid impressions from it, but who really do not know exactly what they are to do, to secure these objects. I shall therefore describe