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rent. In the absence of Christ, who would not give Moses a hearing ? In the absence of Moses, who would not think himself honoured to sit at the feet of Abraham ? • The least apostle is greater than John the Baptist," but in the absence of the least of the apostles, who would not," for a season, rejoice” in that s burning and shining light,” John the Baptist? The Corinthians, and their extraordinary gifts have failed: but “charity never faileth; charity that covereth a multitude” of faults, * charity abideth ;" and as long as this excellent disposition, which suffereth long, and is kind," which“ vieth not, and vaunteth not itself,” which “ doth not be have itself unseemly,” and “ seeketh not its own," which “is not easily provoked,” and “ thinketh no evil,” which rejoiceth not in iniquity but in the truth," which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things :” as long as this gentle and generous love abideth, so long may we say, may all prophesy," that is, teach,“ one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted."
To assist you in this excellent work, I will endeavour to show you how to understand religion . and how to teach it to others ... and we will close by proving your right to do both. When God, in a vision, said in the hearing of Isaiah, and in the presence of a circle of glorious seraphims, “ Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" the Prophet, though he thought himself, as well he might in such company, a man of unclean lips,” could not suppress the feelings of his honest heart, but said, “ Here am I, send me.” Happy if Christians had such a modest zeal! Happy the heart that says, Let me have the honour of pulling at least one soul 66 out of the fire." Do you know what God saith to such a man? He ordered an apostle to “ let him know, that he, who converteth any sinner from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
Among a thousand reasons to enforce the doctrine of the text, there is one, which always strikes me very forcibly. We complain of the general ignorance of Christians; they do not understand their own religion,
Why? They do not think it a duty to understand any other parts than those which immediately concern themselves: the rest they leave to their teachers, and except it be here and there an elect soul, most Christians believe a whole, understand only a part, and satisfy themselves with a persuasion that their teachers understand the rest. Take a youth of this kind out of one of our families, inform him that he is to teach religion, and directly he applies himself to understand it wholly. The same effect would follow any man's persuasion, that it was his duty to teach ; for he would be instantly persuaded that it was his duty first to understand it himself. This therefore is 6 a doctrine according to godliness," and one chief recommendation of it is, that it strengthens every man's obligation to knowledge and virtue. God forbid we should sacrifice the virtue of all the brethren to the consequence of one !
I said, any person, who understands religion, may teach it: the first duty therefore is to understand it, and in order to this I shall give you four exhortations founded on four first principles of religion.
I exhort you first to search the Scriptures; on this ground, the Scriptures contain the whole of revealed religion. The Old Testament contains the religion of the Jews, a great part of which is incorporated into the New Testament, which contains the whole religion of Christians. Strictly speaking, the four Gospels contain the pure religion of Christians, and the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles are comments, or annotations on the Gospels: the Revelation is a prophecy, in which many moral sentences are mixed. Our Lord considers the Old Testament as introductory to the New in these words, “ The Law and the Prophets were until Johp : since that time the kingdom of God is preached.” Thať the Acts and the Epistles are comments on the Gospels, you may easily convince yourselves. To give you only one example. In the twenty-third of Matthew, the latter end of the twelfth of Mark, and the eleventh of Luke, our Lord exhorts his disciples to beware of Scribes, Pharisees, and the 6 grievous burdens” of Jewish ceremonies, with which they loaded down religion ;
6 One is my
and he charged them neither to become masters over the consciences of men, nor to suffer other men to rule theirs, for, saith he, you have wone Father in heaven, and one Master, even Christ." The fifteenth of Acts is a history of an attempt made to put the Jewish “yoke upon the neck of the disciples ;” and the Epistle to the Galatians is a comment on the doctrine, and finisheth with these remarkable words ; 6 From henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” It was a custom, both with Jews and Gentiles, to mark their servants : “his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him forever." I am a servent of Christ, as if the Apostle had said, and enter thoroughly into his doctrine, as I advise you to do, and neither to be slaves to your forefathers, nor tyrants to your successors. Master, even Christ.” Lay it down therefore as a solid ground of action, that the Scriptures contain the whole of religion, and every thing necessary to the faith and practice of a good man, and though each of you would be justified in receiving the Scriptures so, if you were singular, and no other person in the world received them so, yet you may be emboldened by recollecting, that the whole Protestant world join with you in maintaining this truth. There was a man “greatly beloved,” who was 6 shewn things noted in the Scripture of truth,” when there was “none that held with” the teacher of these things, but Michael their prince.” The example of “ an archangel” was more than that of the whole empire of Babylon, and the prophet Daniel was justified in following such a guide. You are not in this condition ; and should you say, I, even I only am left,” the answer of God would be, I have reserved to myself “seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Our second word of advice is, read the Scriptures as they were written, for they were not written as they are now printed. The writers wrote “by inspiration of God," as it was more necessary that they should be inspired to write the Gospel than to preach it; because after preaching they were alive to explain themselves,
but there lies no appeal from their writings. The proper way of reading the Gospels is to take what all the four Evangelists say on any one subject, and to put the whole together. The four Evangelists stand before us exactly in the light of four witnesses in a court. The first comes in, and relates what he knows of the fact; the second does the same, and so do the other two. Now on summing up the evidence, two things will give weight to the witnesses, and both will establish the truth of the facts. The witnesses all agree in attesting the same facts, and so confirm the truth of the facts. The witnesses all differ in some circumstances of these facts, in the times, places, and order of relating them; and this difference which hath not the shadow of a contradiction, clearly proves that the witnesses had not consulted together to make up a false tale to impose on mankind.
I said, the Scriptures are not printed as they were written. In the times of the Apostles, what we call stops were in use in the schools, and were made use of by masters to teach young gentlemen, not the sense so much as the sound of words; and the Scriptures, which were not intended for school books, were not marked in this manner, but were written right on, and the best and only rule of determining the proper place of a stop, a pause, or a division of any part of the Scriptures, is to follow the direction of common sense, as you do in reading a letter, which you sit do.vn to make out, and get into the meaning of Schoolmasters have carried this art of easing hard things to their scholars so far, that some parents complain that they have made learning too easy, and the young gentlemen have acquired the sound of every thing, and the sense of nothing. In like manner, gentlemen by dividing the Scriptures into chapters and verses, and by stopping words in order to make the book easy, have rendered attention seemingly so unnecessary, that the book is the most read, and the least understood of any book. We love ease; but we should remember the ease of ignorance is only an easy death. When
you read the Scriptures then, read right on, never look at stops ; your sense will stop where the story
ends, and I hope you will not leave off in the middle of what you desire thoroughly to understand. It is a high honour that God doth us; he placeth each of us in the condition of a “judge betwixt him and his vineyard.” We pretend to hold court. In the presence of men and angels he sends his “ witnesses, a spectacle unto the world, to angels, and to men.” And what do we? do we sit and hear the whole patiently, suspend our judgments, and at length make up our minds ? Alas! as they - reason of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,
we adjourn the court, “Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” So we “shew the Jews a pleasure ;" but " leave Paul bound.” After a life spent in such trifling, we go into our places of worship, and say to every teacher of Christianity, “ How long dost thou make us to doubt?" If Jesus 6 be the Christ, tell us plainiy."
Turn down, now you are here, and examine when you go home, these two or three passages. The last verse of the nineteenth of Matthew belongs to the twentieth chapter. The last verse of the twenty-first of Acts belongs to the twenty-second chapter. The first of the seventh chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians belongs to the chapter before. The same may be said of a great number of chapters and verses.
In regard to stops, take two examples: the apostle Paul says, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God.” Some put the stop at the word faith, and say, men are forgiven their sins on believing the Gospel, for the Scripture saith, we are “justified by faith.” Others put the stop at the word justified, and say, we are forgiven our sins on account of the righteousness of Christ, and thus being justified, “ by faith we have peace with God.” So again in this passage of Jesus Christ to the thief on the cross. “I say unto thee to day shalt thou be with me in paradise." One puts the stop at thee, and says, the thief went with Christ that day to heaven, for it is written, “ To day shalt thou be in paradise.” Another says, the thief did not go to heaven that day, and Jesus Christ only told him, “ I say unto thee to-day, thou shalt be with me,” that is,