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God, being ever willing and ever ready to second and succeed his Word, and having a most longing anxiety for the recovery of all men ; when his Word fails of converting the soul (as it doth too often), that failure cannot be due to any omission upon his part, but to some omission or transgression upon ours. If any one, however, incline to refer the failure to a want of willingness, or a withholding of power, upon of God, whereof it is not given unto man to discover or remove the cause then in this his opinion, such a one must needs remain beyond the reach of help. If he think that, notwithstanding of revelation, we are yet in the dark as to the putting forth of divine power-that in a sinner's conversion there is an element still undisclosed that the information delivered in the Scriptures is not enough, and the means there prescribed not adequate, and the divine blessing there promised not to be surely calculated on : but that over and beyond all, there is something to be tarried for-then, for one so opinioned, there is nothing but to tarry. For, except by what is revealed how are the councils of the Eternal known? and if revelation do not discover the way in which God may assuredly be found, what mortal or immortal can?-and if there be a gap between our present habitations and the Holiest of all, who can fill it up? and if one possessed of all God's revelations do still hold himself unaccomplished for the finding of God, who in heaven or earth can help him ?—and, in short, if employing God's revelation as God himself directs it to be employed, and in the spirit proper to each taking every measure therein appointed, we may nevertheless be remote from success, and nothing sure of our aim, then, what less shall we say, but that this book, the light and hope of a fallen world, is an idle meteor which mocks pursuit, and may be left to seek its way back into the hiding place of the Almighty's council, from which it hath come forth to man in vain!
But if, upon the other hand, any one believe that God's favour cometh not at random, nor by a way unknown, but may be calculated on in the way that God himself hath revealed it to proceed, and doth distil like the dew falling unseen, and rest upon every one who longeth after it, any who believes that our backward staté cometh not of any
darkness in the Word, or abstinence in the Spirit of God, but of our own withdrawing from the light and fighting against the truth-who giveth to God thankfulness and praise, taking to himself all the blame then, with such a one, we are happy we can freely discourse, and, by God's blessing, we hope to help him onward in the way everlasting.
Yet, for the sake of disabusing the others who stand looking for a dawning they know not whence nor when, let me interrogate any Christian, how he won his way from former darkness to present light ? Not by knowledge alone of what the Word contains. True. By what then? by earnest prayer. But what taught him, what encouraged him to pray? Was it not certain revelations in the Word ? Not by confidence in his knowledge or his strength, but by distrust of both. True. But what taught him to distrust himself? Was it not certain revelations in the Word ? Not by bold and urgent endeavours of his own, but by humble endeavours rested upon hope of heavenly aid. True. But what taught him to bridle his impetuosity and expect superior aid ? Was it not certain revelations in the Word ? And, to sum up all, how doth that Christian know, save by the image of righteousness revealed in the Word, that he is not yet in the bondage of his sins, but standeth sure in the liberty of Christ? Why then, in the name of plain and honest dealing, will you hesitate to acknowledge and asseverate for the behoof of lingering and mistrustful men, that in God's revelations, rightly used, there is a reservoir of knowledge and direction, ample enough to feed the famished spirit of the world, whence every sinner may derive to himself a satisfying stream to refresh his present faintness, and to follow his footsteps through the tedious wilderness of life.
Therefore do we feel upon a useful and a hopeful topic, while we endeavour to discover what it is which hinders the Scripture from its full efficacy in deriving to us who search them the regeneration of our souls, and their renewal in the whole image of God.
And without recurring to what hath been already said of the PREPARATION necessary for perusing aright the Word of God, we come at once to the perusal itself, and shall now,
not without much distrust of our own, and intercession for heavenly power, endeavour to take account of the spirit and style in which it is wont to be perused amongst us, and of the spirit and style in which it ought to be perused. And being conscious that we have many convictions, to express which chime not in with the temper of the times, and some sayings hard to be received by Christians discipled in modern schools, we ask your patience and Christian courtesy, and pray God for your consent and approbation.
The more ignorant sort of men, who entertain religion by a kind of hereditary reverence, as they do any other custom, take up the Word of God at stated seasons, and afflict their spirits with the task of perusing it, and, to judge from a vacant face and an unawakened tone, and a facility of enduring interruption, it is often as truly inflicted upon the soul as ever penance was upon the flesh of a miserable monk. Or, upon another occasion, when one beholds mirth and jocularity at once go dumb for an act of worship, and revive again with fresh glee when the act is over, one cannot help believing that it hath been task-work with many, if not with all. Holding of the same superstition is the practice of drawing to the Word in sickness, affliction, and approaching dissolution, as if a charm against the present evil, or an invocation of the future good. Against these and all other mortifications it were enough to quote that weighty sentence of Job, “ Can a man be profitable to God, as one that is wise is proftable unto himself; or is it any profit to the Almighty that thou makest thy ways perfect ?” It is well pleasing to him that his word is honoured, and that his name is magnified by the intelligent creatures which his hand hath formed; but he cannot endure to be approached with mere form, or served out of constraint. It is to be preferred above the creatures which he hath made that delights him; and to reign supremely in the soul; at all times to be held in reverence, and over all our actions to preside. The want of will to his service, or impatience in its performance, or joy when it is over, converts it into contempt, the more hateful because it is covered. The weakness and imperfections of our nature he will overlook, and, if besought, will by his Spirit remove; but guile and disguise and all hypocrisies his soul hateth, and cannot away with. And for studying his will, it is of no importance save to perform it in the face of all opposition from within and from without; therefore, of all seasons, sickness and affliction-when we are disabled from action, and in part also from thought-is, it seems to me, the sea
son least proper for the perusal of the Word. If it cannot overmaster us when we are clothed in all our strength, then it is a poor victory to overcome us when disease hath alrea. dy prostrated our better faculties. Then chiefly to take concern about the name and the word of God, is a symptom of our weakness, not of our devotion. Take heed then ye present to the Lord no lame nor maimed offerings, or put off your allegiance with well-timed and well-mannered acts of occasional attendance ; or think to satisfy Him with painful instances of self-denial, who is only gratified when the service of his creatures goes with all their heart and soul, and yields to them the height of self-enjoyment.
From this extreme of narrow and enforced attendance upon the Word of God, there are many who run into the other extreme of constant consultation, and cannot pass an evening together in conversation or enjoyment of any kind, but call for the Bible and the exposition of its truths by an able hand. That it becomes a family night and morning to peruse the word and that it becomes men to assemble themselves together to hear it expounded—is a truth; while at the same time it is no less a truth, that it is a monkish custom, and a most ignorant slavery, to undervalue all intellectual, moral, or refreshing converse, for the purpose of hearing some favourite of the priesthood set forth his knowledge or his experience, though it be upon a holy subject. It is not that he may talk, but that we all may talk as becometh saints ; it is not that we may hear the naked truth, but that we may exhibit our sentiments and views of all subjects, our tempers in all encounters, to be consistent with the truth. It is not merely to try our patience in hearing, but to exercise all our graces, that we come together. Let the Word be appealed to, in order to justify our opinions and resolve our doubts. Let there be an occasion worthy of it: then let it be called in. But it is to muzzle free discourse, and banish useful topics, and interrupt the mind's refreshment, and bring in upon our manly and freeborn way of life, the slavishness of a devotee, the coldness of a hermitage, and the formality of cloistered canons, thus to abolish the healthful pulses of unconstrained companionship, and the free disclosures of friendship, and the closer communion and fellowship of saints. Yet though thus we protest against the formality and deadness of such a custom, we are not prepared to condemn it, if it proceed from a pure thirst after divine teaching. If in private we have a still stronger relish for it than in the company of our friends-if in silent study we love its lessons no less thar
from the lips of our favourite pastor-then let the custom have free course, and let the Word be studied whenever we have opportunity, and whenever we can go to it with a common consent.
Against these two methods of communing with the word of God, whereof the one springs from the religious timidity of the world, the other from the religious timidity of Christians; the one a penance, the other a weakness; we have little fear of carrying your judgments : but you will be alarmed when we carry our censure against the common spirit, of dealing with it as a duty. Not but that it is a dutyto peruse the word of God, but that it is something infinitely higher. Duty means a verdict of conscience in its behalf. Now conscience is not an independent power, at the bidding of which the Word abides to be opened, and at its forbidding to continue sealed--but the Word, let conscience bid or forbid, stands forth dressed in its own awful sanctions. lieve and live”-“ Believe not and die.” If conscience have added her voice also, that is another sanction, but a sanction which was not needful to be superadded. When my Maker speaks, I am called to listen by a higher authority than the authority of my own self. I should make sure that it is my Maker who speaks—and for this let every faculty of reason and feeling do its part; but being assured that it is no other than his voice omnipotent, my whole soul must burst forth to give him attendance. There must be no demur for any verdict of any inward principle. Out of duty, out of love, out of adoration, out of joy, out of fear, out of my whole consenting soul, I must obey my Maker's call
. Duty, whose cold and artificial verdict, the God of infinite love is served withal, is a sentiment which the lowest relationships of life are not content with. Servant with master-child with teacher-friend with friend—when it comes to the sentiment of duty, it is near its dissolution; and it never thrives or comes to good but when it rests upon well-tried trust and hearty regard ; upon a love to our persons, and a confidence in our worth. And in the ties of nature, to parents, to children, to brethren, to husband and wife, there to be listened to out of cold constraint of duty argues nature gone well nigh dead. There is a prompter consent, a deep sympathy of love, an over-stepping of all the limits of duty, a going even unto the death, which hardly satisfies the soul of such affection. What then shall we say of that closest of all relations—creature to Creator-which hath in it the germ of every other : the parental, for he formed us ; the patronal,