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But an elder's reading should be considerably influenced by his official station. The best commentaries on the scriptures, the best systems of theology, the best histories of the church, have all special claims on his careful perusal. Those books which the church has adopted as standards of its faith, or seasonable exhibitions of doctrine and duty, or compends of the laws and forms which regulate its government, ought to be ever within his reach for consultation and reference.
But, above all, let elders study the bible. The whole scriptures,' says Dr Dick, are delivered to us as the rule of our faith and obedience, and are the instrument which God employs for the conversion of sinners, and the advancement of the divine life in their souls. They are the light which conducts them to the Saviour, and guides them in the way of salvation. There are, indeed, other religious institutions; but as they are founded on the word, so, as far as they contribute to accomplish this end, their efficacy is derived from it. Prayer is an eminent means of obtaining spiritual blessings; but the directory of prayer is the word, from which alone we learn what blessings we should ask, and what are the grounds on which we may hope for success. The sacraments, also, are means of salvation; but they would be unintelligible, unless their design, and the import of the symbols and actions, had been explained; and we should have no encouragement to use them, if we had not been assured that they are seals of the new covenant, and the Holy Spirit had been promised to ren
der them effectual." I do not say that elders alone should read the bible, for all are bound to do so, whatever be their history, circumstances, or position; but I do say that they should read it more because they are elders. From all official doubts, and fears, and difficulties, let them take refuge in revelation. Its aid is boundless and ceaseless. Would you pray with copiousness and fluency?-then search the scriptures. Would you address a word in season to him that is weary?—then search the scriptures. Would you instruct effectively your own families, or schools, and classes?-then search the scriptures. Would you repel triumphantly the artillery of error by weapons not carnal?-then search the scriptures. These scriptures are the 'good seed;'-these scriptures are the 'wells of salvation;'-these scriptures are God's 'lively cracles;'-these scriptures are the sword of the Spirit;' and all this multiplicity of figures shows that none of them is equal to its subject; that they are all needed, and all inadequate to denote the vast and diversified value of the word of God. Wherever, then, you may be wanting, and wherever you may be weak, seek, above all things, to be 'mighty in the scriptures.'
SOUNDNESS IN THE FAITH.
Of course every one thinks his own belief orthodox. But Presbyterian churches have symbolic books; and * Lectures, vol. iv. pp. 77, 78.
elders, when ordained to office, solemnly avow ac quiescence in the doctrinal principles which these books contain. They would be guilty, then, of heinous dishonesty, if they accepted office in a church and did not hold the doctrines of scripture, set forth in its subordinate standards. It is not enough, however, that an elder coldly assent to a Calvinistic creed. He should be a devoted friend of evangelical religion, and against all contrary errors 'should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.' These words, however, would be misconstrued if they were explained as sanctioning a virulent advocacy of gospel truth. 'Be ready always,' says an apostle, 'to give an answer to every man that asketh you, a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.' Thus speaks the apostle of the circumcision; and the same principle is enunciated by the apostle of the Gentiles when he exhorts, that 'speaking the truth in love, we may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.'‡ Let us show that we have the truth of Christ by displaying the spirit of Christ, and ever act as remembering that, although we should have a speculative acquaintance with his truth, yet, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.' And are we, then, to be men-pleasers, and avoid offence by compromising faithfulness? Assuredly not. We are - to maintain the truth at all hazards; and always defend it in its own spirit, just that our defence of it may be more forcible and more effectual. When so + Eph. iv. 15.
* Jude 3.
† 1 Pet. iii. 15.
many crude theories are afloat, and old heresies in a new guise are carrying away such multitudes of the simple, it is especially important that office-bearers in the church hear and ponder these words of Paul to the elders of Ephesus: Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that, by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.' * The importance of this topic would dispose me to discuss it more fully. But I withhold any additional remarks of my own to make room for the following important and seasonable observations. Dr Heugh, in pointing out the particular errors against which the melancholy circumstances of the Genevan church are well fitted to guard the British churches, says:—"The first I notice is the danger of allowing unsound doctrines to enter into a church. The truth as it is in Jesus, the word of the truth of the gospel, is a sacred trust, committed by God to his people, than which, one more momentous and holy cannot be confided to man; and the fidelity of the *Acts xx. 26-31.
church is to be proved by the vigilance with which she guards this grand deposit. "That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us," said Paul to one of the primitive teachers. "Thou hast kept the word of my patience," was the approbation of our Lord, bestowed on one of the primitive churches. "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," is a divine command to the whole body of the faithful in Christ Jesus. The Genevan church, and too many of the continental churches as well as she, are, indeed, sad and solemn warnings to us, warnings, reiterating those long ago supplied by the degeneracy of many churches which were planted and watered by the apostles of Christ-warnings to ministers of the gospel, to "hold fast the faith," to "take heed to themselves and to the doctrine," and to "continue" to do so, if they would save themselves and them that hear them; and I will add, warnings to the whole christian body, to "prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good." It appears that to scarcely any one subject do the inspired apostles more abundantly direct the primitive churches than to this, nearly all their epistles containing solemn admonitions against corrupting, or departing from, the faith; which, I am sure, were never more needed by the British, as well as the continental churches, than at this day. For, to take but one example, it is not too much to say, that the vast Hierarchial Establishment of England, is at this moment nearer to the deadly errors, the debasing superstitions, and the befooling mummeries