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Maker hath appointed to be written for their use, and required them to use continually, but by thinking as little and as lowly of him as they can ? Therefore they will be strongly tempted to every thing, that may assist them in such impiety: and will soon, alas, find themselves able to make large advances in that high road to ruin here and hereafter. Again, Scripture places before men, in every page, the most affecting proofs and descriptions of the holiness and justice, the wisdom and power, the goodness and mercy, the continual presence and never ceasing agency of him, who is the Creator, the Benefactor, the King and Judge of all. It makes known to us the inexpressible condescension and love of our Redeemer, the perfect reasonableness and purity of his law, the need and means of obtaining the sanctifying influences of the blessed Spirit, the infinite importance of preparing for our unchangeable state. If then, for want of attending to Scripture, the impressions of these objects wear out of our minds, as they must; all the seriousness which they are fitted to produce, will wear out of them at the same time; spiritual and eternal things will be less and less in our thoughts, (consult your own hearts, I entreat you, whether you do not find it so) till at last we shall come to live and act as without God in the world *. Particularly, what we are bound to do and abstain from is laid down in the Bible much too clearly to be misunderstood or evaded. But if once we leave off looking for our duty there, we shall soon mould it within our own minds into what shape and size we please, till we bring it in effect to nothing. For even supposing, that we begin our neglect with no such intention at all, yet bad inclinations will creep in upon :us, one after another; and not meeting with the proper check, will increase and multiply, we cannot easily suspect beforehand to what degree.
* Eph. ii. 12.
It will be said perhaps, that reading other good books, which are shorter and clearer, may supply the omission of reading Scripture, possibly on the whole to advantage. But they, who once grow weary of the latter, seldom, I believe, continue long to make any considerable use of the former : and therefore this plea, for the most part, is only a pretence. Or were it sincere, as unquestionably it sometimes is, other books have not, and cannot have, the authority in what they affirm, in what they require, in what they promise and threaten, that the word of God hath: the word which our Saviour hath declared shall judge us in the last day * Joined with this, and confirmed by it, the compositions of men are of great efficacy: but when they are separated from it, the case is unspeakably altered. We shall be apt to pay as little regard, as we think fit, to mere human writers : and overlook, or call in question, whatever we do not like. Yet sometimes again we shall be in danger of paying them too much regard, and so being led by them into false notions, which may give us uneasiness without need, or comfort without ground, or into superstitious practices, which may discredit our holy profession. What followed in the middle age of Christianity when men left off and were discouraged from reading the word of truth, but that they were turned unto fables † ? Lying legends were believed : pictures and images were first gazed at for instruction, then worshipped. They forsook the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out broken cisterns, that held no water f, but draughts of poison : whereas what we # John xii. 48. + 2 Tim. iv. 4. 1 Jer. ii. 13.
learn in Scripture, we learn from the spring-head: and not only every thing it teaches is right, but its very silence is instructive. For if any thing is not made there a necessary part of our faith or practice, no power on earth hath a right to make it so: and had but believers invariably kept to this book, as their rule: all the corruptions of Christianity, and all the wickedness of every kind produced by those corruptions, had been happily prevented. Besides, were we to embrace every thing right, and nothing wrong, that we find in other pious treatises ; yet there is a peculiar energy in holy writ, which is not in them. Its denunciations are more awful, its convictions stronger, its consolations more authentic, its warnings more alarming, its expostulations more penetrating. The bare reflection, who it is that speaks, cannot fail to make them so in a very considerable degree : and he hath added a supernatural force to them over and above. Is not my word like as a fire, saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces *. The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart t. Whence accordingly the efficacious and converting preacher, is he, not who comes with inticing words of man's wisdom I, but who, like Apollos, is mighty in the Scriptures . He that hath my word let kim speak my word faithfully: what is the chaff to the wheat ? saith the Lord ||.
But farther : by omitting to read and consider the original charter of our religion, from which our whole knowledge of it is derived, persons will be unac* Jer. xxii. 29.
| 1 Cor. i 4. Acts xviii. 24. ll Jer. xxiii, 28.
+ Heb. iv. 12.
quainted with the language of religion. And hence they will first blindly stumble and cavil at the phrases: of Scripture, not knowing them to be such : and afterwards learn to despise them, though they do know it. The offices of the liturgy, especially the occasional ones, that recur seldomer, will seem strange and unaccountable to them. They will repeat the Psalms in the congregation absolutely without meaning ; neither seeing in their own persons, or applying to their own use, the things that suit them; nor thinking at all, to what sort of persons, or good purposes, the rest relates. They will hardly ever pay attention to the lessons, epistles, and gospels, but look upon them as pauses and breaks in the service, to be filled up as they please; or if they do hearken to them, yet not understanding many parts of them, will receive little benefit from them; and possibly misunderstanding some, will receive harm : entertaining injurious opinions of the sacred oracles from what they hear out of them, in this imperfect manner, instead of the honourable and useful sentiments, which would have been revived in their breasts, had they applied themselves beforehand to an orderly perusal of them with proper care.
Then as to sermons, on which commonly the chief reliance for instruction is, they, who are not sufficiently versed in the Bible at home, will be unable to judge of the proofs we bring from it here, or the general conformity of our preaching to it. And elsewhere they will be misled by the sound of scriptural words, used in a sense which the writers never intended ; and so be like children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive*
* Eph. iv. 14.
Now it is not our desire to impose on your ignorance, but to appeal to your knowledge. We wish, we beseech you, to imitate the Bereans, commended so justly in the Acts of the Apostles, as more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. It follows, therefore many of them believed * : effectually no doubt.
Another very important use of searching the Scripture is, that in the midst of that deluge of evil communication, which overflows this wicked land, to a degree that no country, calling itself Christian, ever experienced before, few persons can avoid hearing, more or less, unfair and even ludicrous representations made of one part or other of God's word; which may be too likely to pass upon them for just ones, unless they are previously so well skilled in it, as either to know in particular the true vindication of the passages abused, or at least to know in general, that it cannot be liable to the imputations, which profane people would cast upon it, because the spirit of the whole is inconsistent with their suggestions. If indeed they themselves would but take the trouble of understanding what they take the liberty of burlesquing, it would save them the guilt of many a blasphemous reflection, and the shame of many a silly jest. But at least persons of better dispositions will surely be persuaded to so rational a method of guarding against the infection of their pernicious irreve
Possibly some will reply, that irreligious thoughts and temptations to unbelief may arise from what occurs to us in reading the Bible ourselves, as well as from what others occasionally say of it. But
Acts xvii, 11, 12.