« PreviousContinue »
Lord," is his valedictory to the ungrateful Jews by Malachi. And the next exhibition of himself is a glorious appeal, in which he commends his love to us by giving his Son to die for us, while we were yet sinners. And the same sentiment again breaks forth from the lips of the disciple, who leaned upon the bosom of Jesus, "GOD IS LOVE."
It is delightful also to contemplate its perfect adaptation to the wants of man. What necessity of his nature is there which it does not reach? what sorrow that it does not assuage? what bereavement for which it does not a thousand fold compensate? what trial for which it does not prepare? what doubt which it does not solve? It walks at ease in palaces and kingly courts; sanctifies the halls and saloons of the rich; adds heavenly luster to the polished and refined; gives full and divine employment to wealth and learning and talent; and yet in the unobserved and retired walks of life, comes home with peculiar excellence, It doubles every joy in prosperity, and takes the sting from adversity. It folds in its embrace the poor and friendless, and takes the beggar from his extremity of misery to the bosom of eternal love. It speaks in tones of thunder and a glare of lightning to the secure in sin, and puts a cup into the hand of Omnipotent wrath, the dregs of which are to be wrung out for all the wicked of the earth. When attention is arrested and agonizing fears excited, it opens another seal, and the debasing turpitude of sin is beheld in such monstrous shape, that even personal danger is forgotten in contemplating its odiousness and guilt. When overwhelmed with conviction, and ready to sink self-condemned into a hopeless abyss of well-earned misery, Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God appears, proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord, ready to bind up the broken hearted, and cover the defenceless with his robes of love. He smiles upon the first symptom of relenting, and fans the kindling flame of penitence, and presses the penitent in his embrace with assurance of forgiveness. Evermore it walks by his side is a glory before him and a cloud behind; and when flesh and heart fail him, it is the strength of his heart and his portion forever.
Here is the foundation of its living energy, when compared with systems of ethics. While they condemn the follies of men, they bring so imperfect a substitute, and enforce their principles with so feeble inducements, that it is not wonderful,
under their instructions, men should approve the better but pursue the worse. They graft the fig upon a thistle, and look for grapes upon the thorn. The gospel calls upon men to relinquish a minor for an infinitely superior good, and enforces the call by considerations the most solemn and impressive the universe can furnish.
These inducements, set home by the eternal Spirit, are to dissolve the flinty heart, having slain its enmity by the cross to mortify the pride of life - to crush the whole array of organized hostility to God, and overturn and overturn, till he whose right it is shall reign king of nations.
Spirit of all Grace! descend upon us-baptize the church with thy vivifying influences. Enter into this body, created by thine own inspiration, and give it resistless energy.
There is yet another aspect in which it is important not only to contemplate, but to study the Bible as a perfect revelation, namely, the RELATIVE FULNESS, with which it treats the various departments of religious instruction. It may undoubtedly be regarded as a perfect transcript of the mind of God, in regard to the proportions in which divine truth should be mingled in the public and private instructions of religion.
Laying aside those portions which relate to the civil policy of the theocracy, and that succession of historical records which are serviceable mainly in substantiating its divinity, and illustrating its changeless moral principles, it may safely be adopted as a measure of the importance which every Christian teacher should attach to its various parts, and the fulness and frequency with which they should be discussed. This will not be measured by the abstract or relative importance of the topics merely, but by the NATURE OF THE TOPIC. It may be as important to believe in the Divinity of Christ as to repent of sin. But while the former is simply declared and incidentally alluded to, the latter forms the burthen of their cry, and is urged in every variety of form and enforced by every variety of motive.
There is a natural reason for this. The declaration which requires belief is addressed to the understanding; and if the argument is conclusive, conviction is produced, which will be abiding; but the argument which calls for repentance is addressed to the heart, whose impressions are evanescent as the
morning dew. The belief, once established, remains, till counteracted by opposing testimony; but the conviction of duty vanishes, and must often be renewed and enforced by every variety of illustration. Such is the tenor of the Scriptures. Duty, instead of being crowded into an inference, is made a theme, frequently, cogently discussed and enforced; while abstract truths once inculcated are seldom reviewed, unless disturbed by false teachers. Who can estimate the amount of Moral power withdrawn from the Christian Sanctuary, by a perpetual repetition of truths, uniformly believed, almost to the exclusion of duties as uniformly neglected? Who can tell how much of modern speculation and polemics, and tenacious, rigid adherence to certain forms of discipline. would be avoided, if the sword of the spirit bore the same ethereal temper in our hands, as in the hands of Paul? What a paralysis would fall upon all the business of life, if every agent, to whom was committed the accomplishment of important works, should call his men together at every returning sun to hear a lecture demonstrating that it is the sun; that the sun is the fountain of light, and that light is the medium of vision; and THEREFORE We must work while the day lasts!
If controversy were limited to as few topics, and engrossed as small a portion of thought and feeling and effort as it did with James and John, when the Savior had instructed them to fellowship those who followed not with them what mighty energy would be imparted to the united ministry of Christ!
It is worthy of observation in this connexion, how completely the code of moral instruction in the New Testament is disencumbered of a ponderous ritual. Every external observance, connected with the New Dispensation, is so slightly developed, as to be in many respects debatable. We recognise the duty of Baptism distinctly enjoined, but the mode and circumstances are left quite out of sight. A public profession of faith in Christ is constantly insisted upon, but to what extent that profession shall reach-how minute shall be the detail of its articles, in what form the Christian community shall be organized, is left in so much uncertainty, that we can hardly gather from the word of God the outlines of a
church organization. Yet, strange as it may be regarded, the uncertainty which hangs over these points, arising from the indifference of inspired men, is allowed to be the occasion of perpetual internal dissensions and divisions in the church, to engross their time, their labor, and their feelings; and to circumscribe their sympathies. It should be written in tears and pondered in anguish, that multitudes of Christian teachers, otherwise qualified for eminent usefulness, are, mind and soul, absorbed in defending points, which the Savior, and the Holy Ghost, and inspired Apostles thought it unworthy of their attention, or subversive of their purpose, to define.
Nothing, but the emancipation of Christianity from the innumerable cords with which men have attempted to bind its Catholic Spirit. can secure its universal prevalence and triumph.
In the following pages, an attempt is made to present divine truth in its due proportions. Numerous difficulties embarrass the execution of such a plan, and the author is aware that it is imperfectly done. A sufficient approximation, however, is made to surprise the careful student at the comparative fulness of different topics, when exhibited in the symmetry which they bear as coming from the mind of the Spirit. And if his labors result in directing the minds of religious teachers to the symmetry of the temple which they are building for God, instead of throwing in their precious stones promiscuously, without regard to order or design, he will feel himself abundantly rewarded.
It will not be understood to be the object of this work to present a DIGEST of religious truth and duty. It is intended to bring into contiguity those passages which require examination and comparison, in order that one may form a welldigested opinion of the relation which they sustain to one another; and of their bearing upon a given topic. It is not to forestall, or preclude examination. Judgment is not pronounced; but the witnesses are gathered, and their affidavits filed. Some of them may say little or nothing directly to the purpose, and yet an indirect allusion may be as important, in many cases, as direct assertion. Of the relevancy, however, of every passage, the examiner must make himself the judge; and allow to each whatever weight he deems proper, and make up his verdict upon the united testimony of the whole.
Such a comparison is essential to the complete discharge of a minister's duty,- that these lively oracles may be fully developed in the sanctuary; and these fountains of living water may flow more abundantly to fertilize the field committed to his care,—that every important truth may be found, fortified by the concurrent testimony of many witnesses; every duty clearly exhibited and enforced by multiplied inducements; every sin surrounded with flaming swords pointing in every direction, and every act of obedience encouraged. by unbounded and gracious promises. That the minister may be admonished how to lay out his strength to promote those objects which God deems important, and warned from swelling beyond proper limits those which he has lightly esteemed, and that he may be preserved from a distorted vision of truth by contemplating its partial development in disconnected passages.
Such a comparison, however, no minister, amid the multiplied cares and labors of the pastoral office, can carefully make.
The utility of a work of this kind need not be limited to the ministry. It affords facilities for communicating a practical knowledge of the Scriptures in the Sabbath school and Biblical class, which can be obtained in no other way. To adapt it to this purpose, and also to family worship, or private meditation, when the Sections are too long for a lesson or family reading, they are divided into paragraphs, adapted to that object. By this arrangement the attention of the class, or of the family, will be directed to one single topic, and a deeper impression will be made upon the mind.
It also presents suitable instructions for every state of religious feeling, from the awakened sinner, to the Christian, sanctified and "ready to be offered."
This collection has been prepared without much aid from the concordance, or any similar work. It is made out by a consecutive reading of the Holy Scriptures, from beginning to end; a labor which has brought the compiler into intimate and long continued contact with the Bible, and convicted him of having formerly deprived himself of untold consolation, and spiritual advancement, by neglecting, or lightly studying, the word of God. And he would close his labors by an affectionate, but most earnest exhortation to all who have a soul to save, "SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES;" search dili