THEOLOGY FOR THE
Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated
By William S. Plumer, 1875
HOW TO USE THE BIBLE
The Bible is the profoundest book in the world.
Other books contain the thoughts of men; this is full of the thoughts of
God. It informs us of the nature, will, and government of God; it treats of
the nature, offices, and destiny of angels; it tells us when, where, how,
and for what man was made; it informs us of the original and of the end of
all things. Events that have occurred in the remotest antiquity, and events
that shall occur in the latest futurity, are alike familiar to inspired men.
Time, in its relations to an eternity past and to an eternity to come, all
the loftiest themes of human thought, all the deepest mysteries of human
guilt and divine mercy, things at once the most glorious and the most
terrible, are discoursed of with reverent familiarity in the sacred volume.
Nor is the Bible less practical than it is
profound. There is not a duty that it does not enjoin; not a sin that it
does not forbid. It always favors truth and virtue. It makes perpetual war
on sin and error. To obey it perfectly is to attain all the highest ends of
existence. To disobey it in the least is to court shame and misery. It is
thus above all other books useful. It is the revelation of the mind of God
to man for his own eternal salvation, and for the everlasting glory of the
Creator of heaven and earth.
"What says the Scripture?" "How do you read it?" are
therefore most pertinent and pregnant questions, whenever religious doctrine
or duty is concerned. All contempt of the word of God is therefore foolish,
dangerous, and monstrous. "If they escaped not, who refused him that spoke
on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that
speaks from heaven." "He who rejects me, and receives not my words, has one
that judges him: the word that I have spoken, it shall judge him in the last
day." "He therefore that despises, despises not man, but God." "Wisdom is
too high for a fool." "Fools die for want of wisdom." To abuse or even to
neglect the Bible is to covet death. To slight it is to despise our own
The lawfulness of translating the Scriptures into the
languages spoken by the common people is generally conceded. The church of
Rome, indeed, in all her missions to the heathen for two centuries past, is
said not to have produced a single translation of God's word for the use of
the people, who are perishing for lack of vision; yet even she admits the
lawfulness of translations. The Vulgate in Latin, the Douay in English, and
Martini's Bible in Italian, are all uninspired versions of holy writ. We
have also the example of Christ and his apostles, who freely quoted the
Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Scriptures in common use
in their day. This example settles the question. Though in case of doubt the
originals must be regarded as the very words of the Holy Spirit, yet the
reason for making translations is as strong as for preaching in the language
understood by the audience. Paul says; "I had rather speak five words with
my understanding, that I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in
an unknown tongue." When the Bible was given, it was given in languages
well understood by those to whom it was addressed. When those languages are
not generally understood, translations are necessary.
THE BIBLE CALLS FOR EXAMINATION.
For various reasons we are bound to examine the
Scriptures. It is peculiarly pleasant to find the word of God itself so
clear on this very point. The Bible is not an amulet. It works not as a
charm. Nor was it intended merely to garnish a chamber or a parlor. By Moses
God said: "These words, which I command you this day shall be in your heart;
and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of
them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you
lie down, and when you risest up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon
your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall
write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates." It is
impossible to give any fair interpretation of this passage, which does not
imply the duty of becoming well acquainted with the word of God. The
ordinary method of doing this is by reading it, by hearing it, by thinking
and speaking of it. David tells us what was his practice on this subject:
"Your word have I hid in my heart;" "I will delight myself in your
statutes;" "I will not forget your word." Jeremiah says; "Your words were
found and I did eat them; and your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of
my heart." When Jesus Christ came, he gave a clear and plain command on the
subject; "Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal
life; and they are they which testify of me." To the Colossians Paul says;
"let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom."
Shall God speak, and man not hear? Shall he reveal his
will, and we not study to know it? "All Scripture is given by inspiration of
God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly
furnished unto all good works." "The prophecy came not in old time by the
will of man; but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy
Spirit." "We thank God without ceasing, because, when you received the word
of God, which you heard of us, you received it not as the word of men, but
(as it is in truth) the word of God." The Bible is God's word to man. He has
commanded us to search it. We are guilty if we obey not. Our right to do so
who shall challenge? "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but
those things which are revealed, belong unto us, and to our children."
Nor did pious men within the first five centuries of the
apostles vary in their testimony on this subject. They all held and taught
that it was the right and the duty of the people to read and judge for
themselves. It is refreshing to one's spirit to find how eagerly they
studied God's word, and by all proper means encouraged others to do the
same. Chrysostom says: "Is it not absurd, that, in money matters, men will
not trust to others, but the counters are produced, and the sum cast up;
yet, in their soul's affairs, men are led and drawn away by the opinions of
others, and this when they have an exact scale and an exact rule, namely,
the declaration of the divine laws? Therefore, I entreat and beseech you
all, that, not minding what this or that man may say about these things, you
would consult the holy Scriptures concerning them."
The emperor Constantine, before the Council of Nice, knew
that he was appealing to the common mind of the fathers assembled, when he
said: "The books of the evangelists and apostles, and the prophetic oracles,
plainly inform us what opinions and sentiments to entertain concerning God;
therefore, laying aside all unfriendly contention, let us proceed to debate
and prove the things in question from the sacred writings."
Jerome said; "Love the Scriptures, and wisdom will love
you." Both of himself and another of the fathers it is related, that when
they sat at their tables, and when they lay down to sleep, they had God's
word read to them. Tertullian says; "I adore the fullness of Scripture; I do
not admit what you bring in of your own without Scripture." Theodoret says:
"Do not offer reasons and arguments that are human, and drawn from the
authority of men. I believe and obey only the holy Scripture."
Basil says: "Let the divinely inspired Scripture
determine the whole controversy among us." Justin Martyr says: "We must
know, by all means, that it is not lawful or possible to learn anything of
God, or of right piety, save out of the prophets, who teach us by divine
inspiration." Augustine says; "Take and read the Scriptures, for whatever is
in them is high and divine; there is verily truth, and a doctrine most fit
for the refreshment and renewing of men's minds, and truly so tempered that
everyone may draw with a devout and pious mind, as true religion requires."
So full and uniform is the testimony of the fathers on
the general obligation to study God's written word, that Fenelon, in his
celebrated letter to the Bishop of Arras, "On the Reading of the Holy
Scriptures in the vernacular," speaks as follows: "I think that in our days
persons have taken useless trouble to prove what is incontestable, to wit,
that during the primitive ages of the church,
GREAT STUDENTS OF THE BIBLE.
That we may see what can be done in becoming acquainted
with the Bible, and that we may be awakened to imitate so good examples, let
us look at a few facts. Eusebius tells us of one who had his eyes burnt out
in the Dioclesian persecution, and who repeated, in a public assembly, the
very words of Scripture, with as much accuracy as if he had been reading
them. Jerome says of Nepotian, that by reading and meditation he had made
his soul a library of Christ. Theodosius, the younger, was so familiar with
the word of God, that he made it a subject of conversation with the old
bishops, as if he had been one of them. Augustine says, that after his
conversion, he ceased to relish even Cicero, his former favorite author, and
that the Scriptures were his pure delight. Tertullian spent a great part of
his time in reading the Scripture, and committed large portions of them to
memory. In his youth, Beza learned all Paul's epistles in Greek so
thoroughly, that when he was eighty years old he could repeat them in that
language. Cranmer is said to have been able to repeat the whole of the New
Testament from memory. Luther was one of the most indefatigable students of
the Bible that the world has ever seen. Ridley said; "The wall and trees of
my orchard, could they speak, would bear witness that there I learned by
heart almost all the epistles; of which study, although in time a greater
part was lost, yet the sweet savor thereof I trust I shall carry with me to
heaven." Sir John Hartop, a man of many cares, made the book of God so much
his study, that it lay before him night and day. A French nobleman used to
read three chapters of the Bible every day, on his bended knees, with his
head uncovered. Joshua Barnes is said to have read a small pocket Bible
a hundred and twenty times over. Mr. Roger Cotton read the whole Bible
through twelve times a year. The Rev. William Romaine studied nothing but
the Bible for the last thirty or forty hears of his life. John Boyse, one of
the translators of our Bible, had read all the Scriptures before he was five
years old. His mother read them through twelve times. Some have read the
Bible through many times in a year. I have read of more than one, of whom it
was said, that if the Bible had been lost, the whole might have been
recovered from their memories. In short, was there ever an eminent Christian
who was not remarkable for his study of Scripture, as he had opportunity?
STRIKING TESTIMONIES TO THE BIBLE.
The Bible does indeed contain aliment for feeble minds.
Even little children may be made wise and good by its heavenly truths. But
there is nothing more idle than the flippancy of some, who speak of the
Scriptures as unsuited to strong mind. The mightiest intellects of modern
times have paid profound homage to the sacred writings. Lord Bacon, the
father of the only sound method of philosophizing, says; "There never was
found, in any age of the world, either religion, or law, or discipline, that
did so highly exalt the public good, as the Christian faith." Sir Robert
Boyle says: "The Bible is a matchless volume. It is impossible we can study
it too much, or esteem it too highly." Sir Isaac Newton says: "we account
the Scriptures of God the sublimest philosophy." John Milton says; "there
are no songs comparable to the songs of Zion." Locke says: "The gospel has
God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of
error, for its matter." Selden says: "There is no book in the universe upon
which we can rest our souls, in a dying moment, but the Bible." Similar
testimonies might be almost indefinitely increased. Take this one
additional. Byron spent his days in guilt and folly, but his conscience and
his genius paid homage to Scripture. Not long before his death he wrote
these lines on the blank leaf of a Bible:
"Within this awful volume lies
The mystery of mysteries.
Happiest they of human race,
To whom their God has given grace
To read, to hear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch—to force the way;
And better they had ne'er been born,
Than read to doubt, or read to scorn."
At another time he said: "Indisputably the firm believers
in the gospel have a great advantage over all others, for this simple
reason, that, if it be true, they will have their reward hereafter; and if
there be no hereafter, they can be but with the infidel, in his eternal
sleep, having had the assistance of an exalted hope through life."
THE RIGHT SPIRIT.
In all matters the spirit that actuates men has been felt
and acknowledged to be important. It is so in learning any art or science.
In studying God's word, the importance of a right spirit cannot be
overestimated. The want of it produces more miscarriages than all other
causes united. Some minds are so full of prejudices that their progress in
divine knowledge is painfully slow. Nothing is more opposed to docility, or
to our advancement in learning, than a state of mind forearmed against the
truth. Impartiality is difficult of attainment, but is essential to success.
Prejudices sometimes lie against particular doctrines of
the Bible, and men come to God's word, not to find out what it teaches,
but to discover some means of getting rid of unwelcome truths. Anything
favoring their errors is seized with avidity, but anything warring on their
preconceived opinions is carefully avoided. The truth is, that "the carnal
mind is enmity against God," against all his nature, all his will, all his
word, so that "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God,
for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they
are spiritually discerned." How many who give some signs of seriousness, yet
reject or slight parts of Scripture, as Solomon's song, Hosea, or the
Epistles of Paul! The very books they fail to study contain, perhaps, the
best correctives of their faults of character. Some profess little regard
for the Old Testament, calling it the "old law," and at the same time would
persuade us that they had a wonderful regard for the New Testament. But "the
two Testaments, like the two cherubim, look stedfastly towards each other,
and towards the mercy-seat, which they encompass." Whoever neglects the Old
Testament must have very disjointed views of truth; must be in darkness on
some very important subjects; must be ready to follow many wild opinions on
vital points of doctrine, and embrace a system destitute of all good
proportions. If the Old Testament is not true, neither is the New. If the
types of the former were not given by God, the antitypes of the latter are
fallacious. He who rejects the Old Testament is already more than half an
infidel, and will soon be wholly so, unless capable of some happy
inconsistency of character. "The Scripture is so penned that they who have a
mind to know, may know; they who have a mind to wrangle, may take occasion
enough of offence, and justly perish by the rebellion of their own minds;
for God never intended to satisfy men of stubborn and perverse spirits."
Read the whole Scripture; read it with candor.
MAKE DILIGENT SEARCH.
"The book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth;
but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do
according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way
prosperous, and then you shall have good success." The Bereans are commended
for searching the Scriptures DAILY. The great law of acquisition in
knowledge, as indeed, to a great extent, of wealth also, is "a little at a
time, and often repeated." "The hand of the diligent makes rich." He, whose
mind dwells on divine truth, shall abound in the knowledge of God.
There is no more important qualification of a student of
God's word than profound reverence for sacred things. To everyone who opens
the lids of this matchless, awful volume, God says: "Put off your shoes from
off your feet; for the place whereon you stand is holy ground;" "Sanctify
the Lord Almighty himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your
dread;" "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite
spirit, and trembleth at my word." Lightness of mind in any man shows a
heart wholly unprepared to profit by the sacred volume. Irreverence in such
study is profanity. The only way in which God's truth profits triflers is by
first curing their levity, and then making them wise. Of all dispositions
unfriendly to the successful study of divine truth, none is more prominent
than a fondness for jesting with sacred things. Luther said: "Whom God would
destroy, he first permits to sport with Scripture."
"Read and revere the sacred page—a page,
Which not the whole creation could produce,
Which not the conflagration shall destroy."
As man's intellectual dependence on God is absolute,
nothing is more proper in every student of the Bible than hearty prayer. A
prayerless student of God's word never attained the wisdom of the just,
never became wise unto salvation, never became mighty in the Scriptures. On
the other hand, he who never opened the sacred volume but with earnest
crying to God for divine illumination, never died a fool. No act that man
can perform is more reasonable than offering such petitions as these: "Teach
me your statutes;" "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of
your law;" "Give me understanding;" "Incline my heart unto your
testimonies." If man ever needs help from on high, it is when endeavoring to
learn the will of God for his own salvation. One of the most successful
students of the Bible during the last century tells us how he perused the
blessed volume: "I spread the Hebrew Bible before God, and cried to the
Father, that, for the sake of his Son, he would by the Spirit shine on it,
unto me, give light into, and discover his mind in the word; that he would
give me life, health, strength, time and inclination to the study, and a
blessing thereon; that he would teach me how to manage that work, and would
pity me as to sleep, having been somewhat bereaved of sleep since I was
determined to that work." "If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who
gives liberally, and upbraids not."
Such are the weakness and limits of the human mind, and
such is the sublimity of the matters brought to our notice in the
Scriptures, that nothing is more reasonable than unaffected modesty in every
student of the Bible. The profoundest scholars in every branch of knowledge
have been the brightest patterns of ingenuous self-distrust. "I see," said
Sir Isaac Newton, after his great discoveries had been made, "I seem to be
walking on the shore of a boundless ocean, and only to have picked up a few
pebbles." The words of Milton, at the opening of his great poem, have often
been quoted as evincing the same unfeigned sense of weakness:
"And chiefly you, O Spirit, that do prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for you know'st....
.......what in me is dark
Illumine; what is low, raise and support."
Nor are the Scriptures silent on so necessary a matter.
"See you a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of
him." Our Lord chiefly refers to this low estimate of ourselves, when he
says: "Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall
in no wise enter therein." Such subjects as God's nature, counsels and
government; as man's dependence and freedom, his obligations and destiny;
such themes as time and eternity, life and death, sin and holiness, heaven
and hell, are not to be justly understood by the proud and self-sufficient.
One of the most essential qualifications of a Bible
student is true faith, an unfaltering reliance on the testimony of God, as
true and sure to be accomplished. "We walk by faith." In proportion as any
human character has shone illustriously, it has been remarkable for freedom
from blind credulity and from carping skepticism. There never was a truly
great mind that believed without evidence, or refused to believe upon
sufficient evidence. In the Bible the God who cannot lie testifies, and
every wise man believes what he says, even if he cannot see the reason of
all things, yes, if some things seem contrary to his past judgments of them.
When Luther was at Coburg, he wrote to a friend: "I was lately looking out
of my window at night, and I saw the stars in the heavens, and God's great,
beautiful arch over my head, but I could not see any pillars on which the
great Builder had fixed this arch; and yet the heavens fell not, and the
great arch stood firmly. There are some who are always feeling for the
pillars, and longing to touch them; and because they cannot touch them, they
stand trembling and fearing lest the heavens would fall. If they could only
grasp the pillars, then the heavens would stand fast. Just so, many seem
full of doubt, forgetting that the Scripture must be all fulfilled." If you
come to search the Scriptures, "have faith in God."
THE LOVE OF TRUTH.
Of all the dispositions requisite to the profitable study
of Scripture, none is more important than a sincere, constant, and ardent
love of the truth. Indeed it is the foremost of all qualifications. He who
loves his own opinions, or those of his sect or party, more than the truth
of God, is a candidate for shame. Without this love of truth no man has ever
made any considerable progress in knowledge. It is indispensable. Nothing
can compensate for the want of it. It has been a prominent trait of every
good man's character. Job says: "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more
than my necessary food." David says: "My soul breaks for the longing it has
unto your commandments at all times;" "How sweet are your words unto my
taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth;" "I love your commandment above
gold, yes, above fine gold." Solomon says: "If you cry after knowledge, and
lift up your voice for understanding: if you Seek her as silver, and search
for her as for hid treasures: then shall you understand the fear of the
Lord, and find the knowledge of God." Peter says: "As new-born babes, desire
the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." This love of truth
is God's sure pledge of guidance and enlargement in the knowledge of his
will. He who has it, will "receive the engrafted word with meekness."
It is very important that we reflect much on God's word.
Reading and hearing are sowing the seed; meditation is harrowing it in. The
psalmist says: "I will meditate in your precepts;" "O how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day;" "My eyes prevent the night-watches, that I
might meditate in your word." Such a student of the Bible will not fail to
make progress. "Meditation, to the book of revelation, is like the
microscope to the book of nature; it is sure to discover new beauties." It
is much to be regretted that some readers of Scripture so seldom give
themselves time to reflect on what they have read. They derive not half the
profit from Scripture that they would by a different course.
THINK FOR YOURSELF.
Nothing that has been said was intended to impair
independence of thought and freedom of inquiry. Let every man do his own
thinking. Let him settle first principles cautiously, and hold them firmly.
David says: "I have stuck unto your testimonies." He could not in stronger
terms have expressed his firm adherence to known truths. An inspired apostle
says: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." The Bible inculcates
humility, but not servility of mind. Lord Bacon well says: "Disciples do owe
unto masters only a temporary belief, and suspension of their own judgments
until they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation, or
perpetual captivity." Let every thought and imagination be brought into
captivity to Christ; but call no man master. Think for yourself.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU KNOW.
The Scriptures are designed, not to fill the mind with
notions, but for practical purposes. The word of God should regulate our
thoughts and affections, our speech and behavior. Thus David says: "Then
shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto all your commandments;" "I
will keep your statues;" "A young man shall cleanse his way by taking heed
thereto according to your word;" "I will keep the commandments of my God."
Christ said: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine
whether it be of God." James says: "Be you doers of the word and not hearers
only, deceiving your own selves. For if any man be a hearer of the word, and
not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for
he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of
man he was. But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues
therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man
shall be blessed in his deed." Practice makes sure our knowledge in a way
that nothing else does. It is so in the exact sciences, in the useful and
ornamental arts; above all it is so in religious truth. Practice is the very
life of piety, the very end of divine teachings.
HELPS IN UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE.
In learning the will of God, it is proper to avail
ourselves of all the aid we can get. Indeed we are bound to do so. Let,
then, diligent use be made of the common English Bible. One of the great
wants of our time is that of a thorough acquaintance, in teachers and in the
taught, with the general statements of Scripture. By its light thousands
have been led to reflection, to repentance, to wisdom, to Christ, to God, to
heaven. Read, read, read your English bible. Its epic and lyric poetry, its
narratives and parables, it precepts and appeals, are incomparable, and its
doctrines are heavenly truth. Dr. Chalmers says: "Many a cottage patriarch,
with no other medium than his mother tongue, becomes a greater proficient in
the wisdom and doctrines of the Bible, than the most accomplished linguist
A FRIEND MAY AID US.
We may often obtain much assistance, in understanding the
Scriptures, from a friend, although he may not be superior to ourselves in
many other things. Naaman, the Syrian, gained very important information
from a little captive maid, even when the king of her own country could not
have given it. The Ethiopian eunuch was greatly assisted in understanding
the prophet Isaiah by Philip, the evangelist. From Aquila and Priscilla,
Apollos learned the way of God "more perfectly" than he had learned it
before. Be not ashamed to learn from any man. Compare his views with
Scripture, and if sound, thankfully embrace them.
One of the most important helps to the knowledge of God's
word is a good reference Bible. We are thus able without difficulty to
compare Scripture with Scripture. The man who of all others in the last
generation, probably made the greatest proficiency in a knowledge of the
Scriptures, has said: "Along with other means, consulting well selected
marginal references, forms one of the best helps for fixing the word of God
in the memory; leading the mind to a just interpretation of it, and, in many
cases, rendering it most affecting to the heart. It tends powerfully to
counteract all skeptical doubts, when every part of Scripture is thus found
(like the stones in an arch) to support and receive support from the rest.
It serves also to satisfy the mind as to the meaning of disputed passages,
when one sense is found manifestly to accord with the rest of the sacred
word, and other interpretations evidently run counter to them." In these
thoughts many will recognize the serious and judicious style of Dr. Thomas
Scott. Bishop Horsley also says: "Particular diligence should be used in
comparing the parallel texts of the Old and New Testaments. It is incredible
to any one who has not made the experiment, what a proficiency may be made
in that knowledge which makes wise unto salvation, by studying the
Scriptures in this manner, without any other commentary or exposition than
what the different parts of the sacred volume furnish for each other. Let
the most illiterate Christian study them in this manner, and let him never
cease to pray for the illumination of that Spirit by which these books were
dictated, and the whole compass of abstruse philosophy and recondite
history, shall furnish no argument with which the perverse will of man shall
be able to shake this learned Christian's faith."
"A concordance is an index to the Bible, wherein all the
words used through the inspired writings are arranged alphabetically, and
the various places where they occur are referred to, to assist us in finding
out passages, and comparing the several significations of the same word. A
work of this kind, which tends so much to render the study of the holy
Scriptures more easy to all Christians, must be acknowledged to be very
useful; for if a good index to any other book is to be valued, much more
ought one to the Bible, which is a revelation from God, given as the only
rule of our faith and practice, to discover to us the way to eternal life
through Jesus Christ." Besides the use commonly made of the concordance, it
often furnishes admirable facilities for finding out all the Bible says on a
given subject, or at least so much of it as may be necessary for a
comprehensive view. Let any man read all the texts given in the best
concordances, under these words and their cognates, namely,: prayer, praise,
humility, fear, hope, faith, love, patience, and many others, and he will
have a fund of knowledge on these subjects which he will find of great use.
Many of the best sermons may be composed in this way. In English, Brown's
concordance is too brief to be of much service; Butterworth's has been
mutilated and greatly injured; Cruden's is by far the best.
Commentaries are also very useful helps, some of them
very much so. Among commentaries on the whole Bible, you will find none
better than those of Scott and Henry. Though the latter did not live to
complete his work, yet he left some notes on the last part of Scripture,
which several friends filled up. Henry is remarkable for sprightliness,
ingenuity, and the practical application of divine truth. His commentary
contains by far the best collection of striking sayings in our language. On
the historical parts of the Scripture, and on the parables, he is admirable.
His early acquaintance with law enabled him to draw many useful
illustrations from that noble science. Dr. Scott is remarkable for gravity,
clearness and judiciousness. Like Henry, he is thoroughly evangelical. Into
the hands of one asking what commentary I would recommend, I have often put
a volume of each of these authors, and told him to judge for himself. The
result has been that about as many have chosen one as the other. The
commentary of Dr. Gill, though voluminous, and to some extent a translation
of Poole, is not esteemed as much as it deserves to be. The commentary of
Dr. Clarke is learned, but is often fanciful, and sometimes very unsound in
doctrine. On the New Testament it is pleasing to see that the public still
highly values Doddridge's Exposition. The expositions of particular books of
Scripture are too numerous to mention. Many of them are worthless, and some
of them are of the highest value. Of all these, my favorite is Leighton's
Practical Commentary on the first Epistle of Peter. It is sufficiently
learned, and has the sweetest savor of piety throughout. No good man can
read it without finding his resolutions to lead a holy life greatly
strengthened; and no bad man will be apt to read it through, for its appeals
to the conscience are so pungent, that any one not utterly stupid will
either cease to read it attentively, or fall under deep conviction of sin.
It is a great help to the right understanding of God's
word to have an acquaintance with the geography, manners, customs, laws and
history, of the countries and people mentioned in the Bible. The facilities
for obtaining this kind of knowledge are so numerous, that it is not
necessary to name particular works. The truth is, all sound knowledge
expands the mind, and is useful. Any science, truly so called, may furnish
illustrations of Scripture that will give them vividness in our minds, and
fix them in our memory.
A good definition is a rare thing, and yet it should be
sought, in every science, at as early a stage as possible. Such definitions
are often found in catechisms. They abound in the Larger and Shorter
Catechism of the Westminster Assembly. Any solid objection to catechetical
instruction must lie against the particular book used. Any objection urged
against this mode of instruction, lies with equal force against all our
schools of every grade, for all of them that are valuable do much practice
catechizing as a mode of instruction. Of the utility of catechisms in
teaching divine truth, the world has had ample proof. Archbishop Tillotson
says he thinks it a true observation, "That catechizing, and the history of
the martyrs, have been the two main pillars of the Protestant religion."
Milk for babes, and strong meat for men, is the Bible rule. He who has in
his mind no definition of God, of his attributes, or great works of creation
and providence, of sin, of justification, of sanctification, &c., will be
comparatively ill prepared to make solid or systematic attainments in divine
ADVANTAGES OF STUDYING THE BIBLE.
The Scriptures not only enjoin the study of the sacred
volume, but they give us weighty reasons for doing so. The highest reason
for any act is that it is agreeable to the will of God. In this matter his
command is clear and decisive. This binds the conscience of the regenerate.
But there are good reasons for all God's commands, and sometimes, as in this
case, he makes them known to us. To search the Scriptures is in many ways
The study of God's word greatly enlarges our minds, and
gives them extended views on the most sublime and important subjects.
However much one's mind is inclined to driveling, the evil disposition must
to a great extent be counteracted by the serious study of God's word. Thus
that gross ignorance, which is the shame of many, would be to a pleasing
extent removed, and, in lieu of it, the light of divine truth would shine
abroad. The mind of man, under divine guidance, is capable of indefinite
improvement. Who can set bounds to knowledge, when the immortal mind of man
is the learner, God's word the text-book, and God's Spirit the teacher? "The
entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple."
One who had bent his mind in this direction, has left us this delightful
testimony: "You, through your commandments, have made me wiser than mine
enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my
teachers: for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the
ancients, because I keep your precepts." The whole creation has no such
storehouses of wisdom as the sacred volume. "Your testimonies are
wonderful." "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of
God." The Bible is the only sure safeguard against heresy, fanaticism, and
all the wild disorders of mind and of society. "You do err, not knowing the
Scriptures," is the brief history of religious errorists of every age.
Without this anchor, men will be driven about with every wind of doctrine.
A taste for the word of God expels a taste for vain pursuits.
GOD'S WORD ABIDES FOREVER.
"Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven." Men
and mountains, seas and systems may change, but the word of the Lord endures
forever. "The Scripture cannot be broken." Its teachings are not yes and
nay, but yes and amen. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise." His
counsels are of old, faithfulness and truth. Even "the word spoken by angels
was steadfast." The covenant of his peace shall stand. "There has not failed
one word of all his good promise." No change of place, no lapse of time, no
march of science, no reverse of fortune, no progress of revolution, can
change one whit of all that God has spoken.
THE SCRIPTURES ARE MIGHTY.
The sayings of great and wise men have been useful, but
what thoughts of mere men ever had such power as the word of God? "The law
of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is
sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing
the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." "Is
not my word like a fire? Says the Lord; and like a hammer that breaks 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."
THE BIBLE FOR THE AFFLICTED.
"Unless your law had been my delights, I should then have
perished in mine affliction," said one, and thousands have felt as much.
"Remember your word unto your servant, upon which you have caused me to
hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has quickened me."
"Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me; yet your commandments are my
delights." Millions have had the same experience. One of the most mournful
sights on earth is a human being overwhelmed in sorrow, yet leaning on no
divine promise. To such all seasonable truth is strange. On the other hand
earth presents no spectacle more full of the moral sublime, than that of a
child of God in deep distress, yet embracing the promises, and staying
himself on God.
IT HELPS THE TEMPTED.
One of the sorest kinds of affliction to a virtuous mind
is temptation; nor is there any successful mode of repelling the assaults of
the great adversary, but by replying, as did our Lord, "It is written, it is
written, it is written." Accordingly Paul taught the Ephesians to "take the
sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Such is the heavenly temper
of this blade, that even devils cannot resist it. Therefore constancy in the
Christian profession is not to be expected in those who are ignorant of
God's word; for "knowledge shall be the stability of your times." The great
nourisher of good hopes and just principles in man is God's word; for
"whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that
we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." When all
men shall know what this means, "man shall not live by bread alone; but by
every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God," then the tabernacle of
God shall be with men, and his glory shall lighten the earth.
THE BIBLE SHOWS THE WAY OF SALVATION.
The crowning excellence of Scripture is that is teaches
us the way of salvation. The gospel is called "the word of this salvation,"
and "the word of reconciliation." "Search the Scriptures," said Christ, "for
in them you think you have eternal life, and they are they which testify of
me." Faith comes by hearing the word of God. The very highest end of
existence is to glorify God in the salvation of the soul. He who is
infallibly taught the true and only method of deliverance from sin, from
guilt, and from misery, and the true method of obtaining pardon, acceptance,
and purity, has learned at once the hardest and the sublimest lesson that
God ever teaches to man. Salvation secured, a blissful eternity follows; the
soul lost, all is lost. By holding up Jesus Christ as the way, the truth,
and the life; by pointing us to the lamb of God that takes away the sin of
the world; by denying access to God in any other way than through atoning
blood, and by assuring us of all blessings in the name of Jesus, the word of
God removes an amount of uncertainty and perplexity, which otherwise must be
our ruin. Nor is the Scripture a dead letter. It is life, and it is spirit.
In the hands of the Holy Spirit its energy is resistless. "Of his own will
begat he us with the word of truth;" "The commandment is a lamp, and the law
is light;" "Every word of God is pure;" "Sanctify them through your truth,
your word is truth;" "Concerning the works of men, by the word of your lips
have I kept myself from the paths of the destroyer;" "Moreover by them [your
commandments] is your servant warned; and in keeping of them is great
reward." Christ himself said: "My mother and my brethren are these, which
hear the word of God and do it." Paul parting with the elders of Ephesus,
could say no kinder thing than this: "And now, brethren, I commend you to
God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to
give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
We live in a remarkable age. Having so great a treasure
as God's word, we are bound both to study it and to scatter it abroad. If
the Bible Society does not deserve our support, nothing does. Dr. Johnson
has well said: "If obedience to the will of God be necessary to happiness,
and knowledge of his will be necessary to obedience, I know not how he who
withholds this knowledge, or delays it, can be said to love his neighbor as
himself. He who voluntarily perpetuates ignorance, is guilty of all that
ignorance produces; as to him that should extinguish the tapers of a
light-house, might justly be imputed the calamities of shipwreck." "Hold
forth the word of life." "Let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is
athirst come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely."