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living, held their memories, when dead, in eternal honour; doubly convinced of their mission from Heaven, by the accomplishment of their predictions, and the singular worthiness of their conduct. In reading them therefore we must diligently attend to these interesting points, each in its proper place : observing also, along with them, the gradual unfolding of the great scheme of our redemption ; to which we shall do well, even in these days of opener vision*, to take heed, as to a light shining in a dark place t; especially as it confirms to us, that known unto God are all his works from the beginning I. Such passages in their books, as relate to the affairs of distant heathen countries. in ages long ago past, though of admirable use then, and not a little still as parallels, we are neither likely nor concerned to understand fully. And such as belong to things yet future, especially to the times and circumstances of those things, are few, if any, of them fit for the unlearned to pry into particularly. Nay, the learned themselves, if they are prudent also, will observe, what answer the angel gave to the prophet Daniel. And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up, and sealed till the time of the end ş. When the proper season comes, possibly in some cases not be-fore the event hath interpreted them, the prophecies will prove their own reality by their clearness; and strengthen, perhaps in an hour of much need, the faith and patience of the Saints || : Thus it happened to the Apostles. They understood not beforehand our Saviour's prediction, destroy this temple, and in 1 Sam. iii. 1. + 2 Pet. i. 19. | Acts xv. 18. § Dan. xii. 8, 9.
| Rev. xiii. 10.
three days I will raise it up.
But when he was risen from the dead, they remembered, that he had said this unto them: and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said *.
But almost the whole of the Gospels is now so clear, and both the character and the precepts of our blessed Lord appear in them so truly divine; the zeal and charity of the first disciples in the Acts is so highly edifying, the spirit of the Epistles so genuinely Christian, and their practical rules are so completely instructive to all sorts of persons: that scarce any other direction can be wanted for the main of the New Testament, than to meditate on it continually. Some of the argumentative and occasional parts of St. Paul's writings indeed it is not easy to comprehend. A yet larger proportion of the Revelation of St. John is exceedingly mysterious. But nothing of this kind, in any part of Scripture, needs either to discourage, or mislead us. Not to discourage us; for whatever is requisite to be understood, if it be put in one place obscurely, is doubtless put in some other plainly: nor to mislead us, because we may prudently suspend our judgment, and modestly be content with our ignorance of what is intended, though fully satisfied of its being a valuable truth. Seek not out, saith the Son of Sirach, the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength: But what is commanded thee, think thereupon with reverence: for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret. Be not curious in unnecessary matters: for more things are shewed unto thee, than men understand t. Yet we are not to omit reading the abstruser texts, John ii. 19. 22.
+ Ecclus. iii. 21, 22, 23.
which have any appearance of relating to us: but follow the example of the blessed Virgin, who understood not several of our Saviour's sayings, yet kept them all in her heart *. Were we only to learn humility thus, it would be enough: but we shall come by degrees to apprehend far more than we expected, if we diligently compare spiritual things with spiritual t; darker expressions with clearer, that are like or opposite to them: for contraries illustrate one another. In this laudable work, the marginal references in the later editions of the Bible will afford you most useful assistance: for they are very judiciously chosen. Such information also as you can get, (and you may get much from several books,) of the nature of the language of each Testament, and the history and notions of the times, when each book of it was written, will be extremely profitable: and the several excellent commentaries and paraphrases on the whole, or particular parts of it, still more: which therefore it is wonderful that so few Christians in proportion, of those who are well able, will be at the expence of purchasing for themselves; especially considering how very much greater expences, that will turn either to no account or a bad one, they so little grudge, that they cannot be restrained from them.
But how successfully soever we may increase our knowledge of Scripture, that alone is nothing. We must not think we have done with a passage as soon as we have understood it. If we had understood it instantly, our principal work was to come yet: and they are strangely wrong, who apply so closely to study difficult places, that they forget to make due reflections on the plain. The word of God was Luke ii. 50, 51.
† 1 Cor. ii. 13.
written to give us, not merely a speculative apprehension, but an experimental sense and feeling of holy things, comfortable or terrifying, as our spiritual state requires. I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil, saith the Psalmist *: To this man will I look, saith the Lord, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my wordt. Too many, alas, have no conception of this efficacy in Scripture; and no wonder, for they have never seriously endeavoured to have any. But let them try in earnest, and they will infallibly succeed, if they use proper means. We read of some, what will be true of all in the same condition, that the word did not profit them, not being mixed with faith 1. God indeed can operate according to his own pleasure: but humanly speaking, persons will not be influenced by what they disbelieve; or much, by what they believe but faintly. Nay should they labour to make the strongest impressions on their own souls, without applying to him, whose gift saving faith is , their efforts would be in vain. But let any one jointly strive and pray for a deep conviction, that the Bible is the appointed instrument of his religious proficiency: then let him read it, not as performing a task, he knows not why, from which he had rather be excused; not to outshine others in readiness of quotation, or plausibility of interpreting, or oppositions of science falsely so called ||; not to furnish himself with weapons for debate and controversy, much less for uncharitableness and abuse; but to amend his inward state towards God: that as the excellent collect in our liturgy directs, by the patience in well doing and comfort in virtuous * Psalm cxix. 162. + Isaiah Jxvi. 2. Heb. iv. 2. Eph. ii. 8.
ll I Tim. vi. 20.
suffering, which we learn of his holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of ererlasting life *. Let him accordingly stop on fit occasions, and think: what consolations doth this passage administer to me? What acknowledgements to Heaven doth this declaration require from me? What fear for myself doth this threatening call for? What duty doth this precept or pattern point out to me? of what sin doth it convince me? against what dangers doth it warn me? Is my character and behaviour suitable to this command or exhortation, this description or good example ? or do I see myself here, under another name, reproved, condemned, stigmatized ? Have I acquired that sense of my own sinfulness and weakness, of God's holiness and justice, of my need of the merits of Christ and the grace of the Divine Spirit, which the whole tenor of Scripture inculcates: or am I still inclined to stand or fall by my own righteousness ? Faithful pains taken for some time in such home questions, without forcing unnatural uses out of any text, but only dwelling on those that fairly present themselves, will make us experience a divine virtue in the sacred writings, piercing first and healing afterwards : which, provided we are not satisfied with being piously moved at the time, and then relapsing into what we were before, but continue the inquiry steadily, and carry on every feeling into practice, will assuredly transform us into what we ought to be. Possibly indeed we may not all receive a very sensible benefit very soon. Alterative medicines often produce their effect but slowly: and the most perfect regimen of diet sweetens and nourishes by unperceived degrees. We have surely no title to be
Second Sunday in Advent.