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matter of regret to the pious Mr. Hervey, when he was apparently on the borders of eternity. In one of his letters to a friend, he remarks, “Were I to enjoy Hezekiah's grant, and have fifteen years added to my life, I would be much more frequent in my applications to a throne of grace: we sustain a mighty loss by reading so much, and praying so little. Were I to renew my studies, I would take my leave of those accomplished trifles, the historians, the orators, the poets of antiquity; and devote my attention to the scriptures of truth. I would sit with much greater assiduity at my divine Master's feet, and desire to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. This wisdom, whose fruits are peace in life, consolation in death, and everlasting salvation after death; this I would trace, this I would seek, this I would explore, through the spacious and delightful fields of the Old and New Testament."
We ought now to search the scriptures, because we must be finally judged by them. They declare the present state, and the eternal portion of all the several characters of men; and according to their decision, we stand or fall. An examination of ourselves by them might, by the blessing of God be the happy means of seasonably warning, or of divinely comforting us.
It is not only necessary to search the scriptures, but likewise to attend to this duty in a proper manner. Some search them merely as their trade; others, as matter of custom; some, only that they may be qualified to dispute about them; and others, to find fault with them. These are dangerous abuses of the duty. Our grand design should be, that we may grow thereby in every Chris* John xii. 48. † 1 Pet. ii.
We should search the scriptures with prayer for Divine illumination, as David did, saying, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Ignorance, prejudices, &c. often obscure the truths of God, and lead us astray, even with the Bible in our hands. A meek and teachable disposition, is as requisite as prayer.* These two, indeed, are inseparablyconnected,and always in equal proportion. We cannot read the scriptures with prayer, or to advantage except we are inade willing to receive the most humiliating and mysterious doctrines they teach; and to sacrifice the most favorite opinions to the authority of God's word. The scriptures should be searched with earnest diligence, exploring them as a valuable mine, and embracing every opportunity for this purpose. We should pay a due attention to all their several parts. For this purpose,we should not merely dip into them in an irregular manner or as occasions may dictate; but we should read them frequently and regularly through, in order that we may form a comprehensive and uniform view of the whole. We search them in vain, except they are mixed with faith. It is this, which renders their doctrines, &c. influential and profitable. May we follow the example of the noble Bereans, searching the scriptures daily; and, through the influences of the Holy Spirit, may we derive from them, in an abundant measure, all those advantages which they were divinely intended to communicate to men.
Prov. ii. 1, &c. † Jam. i. 21.
+ Heb. iv. 2
THOUGHTS ON THE UTILITY OF AN ACCURATE
KNOWLEDGE is of real value only in proportion as it renders us more wise, and, in becoming so, more happy, or more useful, than we could otherwise be. That this will be the effect of a humble and serious search into the real and peculiar meaning of the vari ous books of scripture, seems hardly to admit of a reasonable doubt. Yet, as religious prejudices are more common, as well as more detrimental, than all others, an appeal to obvious facts may be requisite to impress the desirableness of the object.
A person who has merely adopted the sentiments of that party of Christians among whom he happens to be situated, is naturally led to a persuasion that all of these, and these only, are consistent with salvation. He shudders at every difficulty that occurs in his own reflections, or that arises from occasional reading and conversation; nay, some have been known to dread opening the Bible, lest they should encounter some expression that could not be reconciled to their creed. A fabric so slightly constructed is liable to be ruined by the first blast that assails it. He carefully cherishes, therefore, what may (for aught he knows) be superstition or error, as if he knew it to be sacred fire; avoids the contagion of conviction as country people do that of the small pox; and after a life of bondage through this fear, dies (with the genuine spirit of a devout Papist, or an honest Mussulman) happy, that, if his mind was ignorant, it has escaped the danger of ever being enlightened. Another person, with a similar disposition, but more unhappy fate, is
forced, however reluctantly, to launch into the boundless ocean of controversy, meets with a gust of argument that makes him give up all for lost, forsakes the rudder, drives before the wind uncertain whither, and reaches, with dangerous rapidity, the quarter most remote from his first course; whilst the man who had been directed by a due and single attention to the Gospel would have enlarged his experience, and confirmed his confidence by every trial.
In proportion to the extent of observation, it will perhaps be discovered that genuine faith, as proved by its fruits, exists under very different forms and professions of sentiment. Yet it is not possible for all these to be equally agreeable to the Word of Truth. Is it not more reasonable to apprehend, that they owe their being to the ignorance and inattention of Christians? A proper investigation of scripture might detect the fallacy by which contending parties have set their favorite texts at imaginary variance; would bring the jarring systems much nearer to each other, and would leave a charitable and humble freedom in such points as could not be absolutely decided.
There are doctrines which, from their ample evidence in revelation, and from their necessary connexion with the foundation of our hope, appear to be of the first importance. A superficial and mistaken application of texts to the support of these grand truths, is often injurious to their influence by the advantage it affords to the learned acuteness of a skeptical, or worldly-minded person, over the weakness of a sincere but too inattentive believer, Nay, the very authenticity of the scriptures has been rendered doubtful to the minds of such
persons, by the disappointment of finding in them things which they plainly never were designed to communicate, Of this detrimental tendency are the arguments that have sometimes been drawn from the Bible, for the preference of one political or philosophical theory to another. It cannot be thought strange that a Saracen ordered all books to be burned, except the Koran of Mahomet, upon the idea that if they opposed that, they were blasphemous; and if they agreed with it they were unnecessary, when we understand that an astronomer was once persecuted by Christians, for asserting the probability that the planets were habitable. A due attention to the revealed Word,will furnish us with all necessary spiritual knowledge; but will convince us, that this alone is the end for which it was given.
Ministers who converse with their pious hearers, frequently find them in a distress, occasioned by their having appropriated to themselves such threatenings as in the Scriptures are denounced against characters opposite to theirs. Nor is it less common for others of a lively imagination, to derive a transporting degree of comfort from passages that appear, in their genuine meaning, to be quite unconnected with their own situations. Benevolence would shrink from the interruption of their enjoyments, were there no danger to be apprehended from the state of security on the one hand, or of despondency on the other, that is too likely to succeed a satisfaction apparently delusive. What then can be more effectually opposed to the needless dejection or hazardous elevation of spirits, so often remarkable among serious people, than a solid judgment respecting the sense of scripture? This, it may be hoped, will al