Imágenes de páginas

as form one most conclusive argument for the truth, authenticity, and genuineness of both*.

The sacred volume concludes with the Revelation of St. John, which, under the form of visions, and various symbolical representations, presents to us a prophetic history of the Christian religion in future times, and the various changes, vicissitudes, and revolutions it was to undergo in different ages and countries, to the end of the world t.

Is it possible now to conceive a nobler, a more comprehensive, a more useful scheme of instruction than this; in which the uniformity and variety, so happily blended together, give it an inexpressible beauty, and the whole composition plainly proves its author to be divine?

"The Bible is not indeed (as a great writer observes+) a plan of religion delineated with minute accuracy, to instruct men as in something altogether new, or to excite a vain admiration and applause; but it is somewhat unspeakably more great and noble, comprehending (as we have seen) in the grandest and most magnificent order, along with every essential of that plan, the various dispensations of God to mankind, from the formation of this Earth to the consummation of all things. Other books may afford us much entertainment and much instruction; may gratify our curiosity, may delight our imagination, may improve our understandings, may calm our passions, may exalt our sentiments, may even improve our hearts: but they have not, they cannot have, that authority in what they affirm, in what they require, in what they promise and threaten, that the Scriptures have. There is a peculiar weight and energy in them, which is not to be found in any other writings. Their denunciations are more awful, their convictions stronger, their consolations more powerful, their counsels more authentic, their warnings more alarming, their

* See the Horæ Paulinæ of Dr. Paley.

† A fuller and more detailed account of the contents of the several books of Scripture may be found in Mr. Gray's Key to the Old Testament, Bishop Percy's to the New, and the Bishop of Lincoln's late excellent work on the Elements of Christian Theology. That part of it which relates to the Scriptures has been lately reprinted, for the accommodation of the public at large, in a duodecimo volume, which I particularly recommend to the attention of my readers. + Archbishop Secker, vol. vi.

expostulations more penetrating. There are passages in them throughout so sublime, so pathetic, full of such energy and force upon the heart and conscience, yet without the least appearance of labour and study for that purpose; indeed the design of the whole is so noble, so well suited to the sad condition of human kind; the morals have in them such purity and dignity; the doctrines, so many of them above reason, yet so perfectly reconcileable with it; the expression is so majestic, yet familiarized with such easy simplicity, that the more we read and study these writings, with pious dispositions and judicious attention, the more we shall see and feel of the hand of God in them*." But that which stamps upon them the highest value, that which renders them, strictly speaking, inestimable, and distinguishes them from all other books in the world, is this, that they and they only "contain the words of eternal lifet." In this respect, every other book, even the noblest compositions of man, must fail us; they cannot give us that which we most want, and what is of infinitely more importance to us than all other things put together, ETERNAL LIFE.

This we must look for nowhere but in Scripture. It is there, and there only, that we are informed, from authority, of the immortality of the soul, of a general resur

That accomplished scholar and distinguished writer, the late Sir William Jones, chief justice of Bengal, at the end of his Bible wrote the following note: which, coming from a man of his profound erudition, and perfect knowledge of the oriental languages, customs, and manners, must be considered as a most powerful testimony, not only to the sublimity, but to the divine inspiration of the sacred writings:

"I have," says he, "regularly and attentively read these Holy Scriptures, and am of opinion, that this volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains both of poetry and eloquence, than can be collected from all other books, in whatever age or language they may have been composed.

"The two parts, of which the Scriptures consist, are connected by a chain of compositions, which bear no resemblance, in form or style, to any that can be produced from the stores of Grecian, Persian, or even Arabian learning: the antiquity of those compositions no man doubts; and the unstrained application of them to events long subsequent to their publication is a solid ground of belief, that they are genuine predictions, and consequently inspired."

† John vi, 68.

rection from the dead, of a future judgment, of a state of eternal happiness to the good, and of eternal misery to the bad. It is there we are made acquainted with the fall of our first parents from a state of innocence and happiness; with the guilt, corruption, and misery, which this sad event brought on all their posterity; which, together with their own personal and voluntary transgressions, rendered them obnoxious to God's severest punishments. But, to our inexpressible comfort, we are farther. told in this divine book, that God is full of mercy, compassion, and goodness; that he is not extreme to mark what is done amiss; that he willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness, and save his soul alive. In pity, therefore, to mankind, he was pleased to provide a remedy for their dreadful state. He was pleased to adopt a measure, which should at once satisfy his justice, show his extreme abhorrence of sin, make a sufficient atonement for the sins of the whole world, and release all, who accepted the terms proposed to them, from the punishment they had deserved. This was nothing less than the death of his Son Jesus Christ, whom he sent into the world to take our nature upon him, to teach us a most holy, pure, and benevolent religion, to reform us both by his precepts and example; and, lastly, to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification. By him, and his evangelists and apostles, we are assured, that if we sincerely repent of our sins, and firmly believe in him and his Gospel, we shall, for the sake of his sufferings and his righteousness, have all our transgressions forgiven and blotted out; shall be justified, that is, considered as innocent in the sight of God; shall have the assistance of his Holy Spirit for our future conduct; and, if we persevere to the end in an uniform (though, from the infirmity of our nature, imperfect) obedience to all the laws of Christ, shall, through his merits, be rewarded with everlasting glory in the life to come.

Since then the utility, the absolute necessity of reading the Scriptures is so great; since they are not only the best guide you can consult, but the only one that can possibly lead you to heaven; it becomes the indispensable duty of every one of you most carefully and constantly to peruse these sacred oracles, that you may thereby "become perfect, thoroughly furnished to every

good work." They, who have much leisure, should employ a considerable share of it in this holy exercise; and even they, who are most immersed in business, have, or ought to have, the Lord's day entirely to spare, and should always employ some part of it (more particularly at this holy season) in reading and meditating on the word of God. By persevering steadily in this practice, any one may, in no great length of time, read the Scriptures through, from one end to the other. But in doing this, it will be advisable to begin with the New Testament first, and to read it over most frequently, because it concerns us Christians the most nearly, and explains to us more fully and more clearly the words of eternal life. But after you have once gone regularly through both the Old Testament and the New, it may then be most useful, perhaps, to select out of each such passages as lay before you the great fundamental doctrines, and most essential duties, of your Christian profession; and even amongst these, to dwell the longest on such as express these things in the most awful and striking manner, such as affect and touch you most powerfully, such as make your heart burn within you, and stir up all the pious affections in your soul. But it will be of little use to read, unless at the same time also you reflect; unless you apply what you read to those great purposes, which the Scriptures were meant to promote, the amendment of your faults, the improvement of your hearts, and the salvation of your souls.

To assist you in this most important and necessary work is the design of these Lectures; and, in the execution of this design, I shall have these four objects principally in view :

First. To explain and illustrate those passages of holy writ, which are in any degree difficult and obscure.

Secondly. To point out, as they occur in the sacred writings, the chief leading fundamental principles and doctrines of the Christian religion.

Thirdly. To confirm and strengthen your faith, by calling your attention to those strong internal marks of the truth and divine authority of the Christian religion, which present themselves to us in almost every page of the Gospel.

Fourthly. To lay before you the great moral precepts

* 2 Tim. iii, 17.

of the Gospel, to press them home upon your consciences and your hearts, and render them effectual to the important ends they were intended to serve; namely, the due government of your passions, the regulation of your conduct, and the attainment of everlasting life.

These are all of them objects of the very last importance; they are worthy the attention of every human being; and they will, I think, be better attained by a familiar and practical explanation of the sacred writings, than by any other species of composition whatever.

The plan of instruction adopted by our blessed Lord was unquestionably the very best that could be devised. It was not a regular system of ethics, delivered in a connected series of dry essays and dissertations, like those of the ancient heathen philosophers: but it consisted of familiar discourses, interesting parables, short sententious maxims, and occasional reflections, arising from the common occurrences of life, and the most obvious appearances of nature. All these various modes of instruction are so judiciously blended and mixed together in the history of our Lord's life and conversation, delivered to us in the Gospel (as all the various sorts of pleasing objects are in the unornamented scenes of nature), that they make a much deeper impression, both on the understanding and on the heart, than they could possibly do in any other more artificial form.

An exposition of Scripture, then, must at all times be highly useful and interesting to every sincere disciple of Christ; but must be peculiarly so at the present moment, when so much pains have been taken to ridicule and revile the sacred writings, to subvert the very foundations of our faith, and to poison the minds of all ranks of people, but especially the middling and the lower classes, by the most impious and blasphemous publications, that ever disgraced any Christian country*. To resist these wicked attempts is the duty of every minister of the Gospel; and as I have strongly exhorted all those, who are under my superintendence, to exert themselves with zeal and with vigour in defence of their insulted religion, I think it incumbent on me to take my share in this important contest, and to show, that I wish

* About this time, and for some years before, the Age of Reason, and other pestilent writings of the same nature, were disseminated through almost every district of this country with incredible industry.

« AnteriorContinuar »