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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From A Guide for Young Disciples, 1823
1. A most important help in the way to eternal life, is the regular and devout perusal of the sacred Scriptures. They are an inestimable treasure, and of all books should he your chief and most beloved companion. They are to the disciples of Jesus a light for their feet, a lamp for their paths. To search them is an express Christian duty: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom."
"Search the Scriptures." You are commanded not merely to read the Scriptures, but to read them with such attention that your mind may be amply stored with their divine instructions. The precept, "Search the Scriptures," is peculiarly emphatic; it signifies, to search them as a miner searches a mine for jewels or for gold; thus dig into the sacred mine, and search for the precious treasures it contains.
With respect to the doctrines and duties of religion, make the word of God your sole guide, and reject all human traditions. The Lord Jesus taught his disciples how to treat human traditions on religious subjects, when he condemned a regard to those of the elders: "To the law, and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
The doctrines of the Bible are the doctrines you are to believe. The duties enjoined in the Bible are the duties you are to practice; and all the additions which the traditions of men or human authority make, are not worth a rush; and often become the occasions of sin, when men reject the commandment of God to keep their own tradition.
As the word of God is thus in religion to be your sole guide, so you are required to add nothing to it, and from it to take nothing : "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish, aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."
2. To read the Scriptures profitably, read them with a docile and humble mind, and with a desire to receive spiritual instruction from them: "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble."
To read the Scriptures profitably, guard against their sin and folly who wrest the word of God, who reject its distinguishing doctrines because they are mysterious, and whose self-conceit and wicked pride, while they prevent them from learning of the Saviour, are leading; them to perdition: "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain." "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
To read the Scriptures profitably, always read them with prayer for diving instruction: "They shall all be taught of God." "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him."
3. Many are the inducements presented in the Scriptures for such devout attention to their sacred contents. They are in truth "the word of God," the word of Jehovah; "the oracles of God;" " the Word of Christ." The truths revealed are spoken by God, "who hath spoken to us by his Son." "For 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 holy Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith, which is in Christ Jesus."
They are "the word of God’s grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified." "Heaven and earth shall pass away," but Christ's "word shall not pass away." "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name."
Error springs from a neglect of the Scriptures: "Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures?" They promote holiness and peace here, as well as lead to heaven hereafter: " Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. Through thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way."
"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. More to he desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; but to this man will I look, to him that is of a poor and contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word."
4. As you desire happiness, let the word of God be your ever dear delight. You cannot prize the blessed book sufficiently. Had it been brought you from heaven, in an angel's hand, it could not have been a more precious prize, or a surer guide to immortality. Suppose that but one in the world had been blessed with this treasure, that salvation had been offered to but one, and that this divine book had been sent to that one to guide him in his way to heaven, how would the rest of mankind have envied; that one.
Happy person to possess the promise of eternal life beyond the dark shades of death; and to see heavenly day dawning beyond the gloom of the grave. O had but one possessed this treasure, how would all besides have desired his lot—how would they have wished that the path to heaven were open to them also. How would multitudes have longed to enjoy, with the possessor of this single Bible, the sweet hope of immortality; and could that one have sold his treasure, how eagerly might all the monarchs of the earth have contended who should purchase the invaluable good. O consider, the Bible is as precious a treasure now, as it would be if there were but one Bible in the world. As surely will it guide that happy possessor to heaven, who with childlike docility makes it his perpetual guide.*
5. The Bible has been the instrument of producing all the true piety that has for many ages existed upon earth. Were the world deprived of the sun, light and heat and life would expire for want of its vivifying beams, and all would become one mass of barrenness and death. "\Were the world deprived of the Bible, it would soon present one deplorable scene of unmingled wickedness. Nothing would meet the eye but pollution and crime. Hell might exult in a complete conquest, and claim this world as a province of its own. Among the myriads of mankind, not one heir of heaven would be found; but all, thronging to destruction together, would rush from the darkness of spiritual night to the darkness of eternal perdition.
It may confidently be asserted, that no one who slights the Bible is virtuous; and that no one who loves it, feels its power on the heart, and conforms to its precepts, is vicious. Infidels may rave at such assertions: let them rave. They are monuments of the truth which excites their indignation. They show what man is when he slights the Bible.
Let it never be forgotten by you, that those Christians whose piety has shone with the brightest lustre, whose hopes have been fullest of immortality, are those who have loved and valued most the word of God. It is related of De Renty, a French nobleman of most eminent piety, that he used every day on his knees to read three chapters in the word of God. On the other hand, how many Christians of even eminent piety, when leaving the world, have lamented their folly in not having studied the Scriptures more, and human writings less.
"When Salmasius, who was one of the most consummate scholars of his time, came to the close of life, he saw cause to exclaim bitterly against himself. 'O,' said he, 'I have lost a world of time—time, the most precious thing in the world; whereof had I but one year more, it should be spent in David's Psalms and Paul's epistles. O sirs,' said he again to those about him, 'mind the world less, and God more.'"
"When that eminent Christian, James Hervey, who died in triumph, "apprehended himself to be near the close of life, with eternity full in view, he wrote to a friend at a distance to tell him what were his sentiments in that awful situation. 'I have been too fond,' said he, 'of reading every thing valuable and elegant that has been penned in our language and been peculiarly charmed with the historians orators, and poets of antiquity; but were I to renew my studies, I would take my leave of those accomplished trifles: I would resign the delights of modern wits, amusement, and eloquence, and devote my attention to the Scriptures of truth. I would sit with much greater assiduity at my divine Master's feet, and desire to know nothing in comparison of Jesus Christ and him crucified.'"
6. Consider the Scriptures as a message from God to you on the most momentous subjects. A new world is here presented to you. An amazing eternity appears to overwhelm the poor moments of time. Life is a span, and death is the way to an immense, unmeasured life.
Read the message of your God: the discoveries that it makes, it makes to you. To you it points out a second life; to you it unveils an eternal world. Your thoughts it leads beyond the grave. The judgment it discloses, is that at which you must appear. To you God in it reveals a Saviour and a heaven, the gift of redeeming love; or a hell, the dire desert of sin. To your view he presents the spirits of the just, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and triumphing in the fullness of joy; and bids you be not slothful, but a follower of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
7. What is there in human science, compared with discoveries so important? What is there in the letters of friends, the dearest and the best beloved, compared with that book, which is an epistle from your God? What are those studies on which youth is so often employed, and much of manhood spent, compared with the knowledge of that book—that one book which God has given; that one book which guides the soul to lasting peace; that one which disperses the shadows, clouds, and darkness that hang over the grave; that one book which directs those who love its truth, to glory and honor that will endure when "stars and sun have lost their light?"
There is one view in which the Scriptures are important beyond all expression. They are the only guide to eternal life. When we contemplate an eternal state, the most momentous concerns of a few vain years dwindle into insignificance. Health or sickness, pain or ease, liberty or slavery, life or death, appear the merest trifles, compared with those awful and amazing scenes which await man beyond the grave. Then what is learning, what is human science, when in a few short years all must be forgotten in the dust?
How different that knowledge which the word of God imparts. That extends its blessings onward, and will diffuse unfading good in, ages so remote in the depths of eternity, that no human thought ever reached, no human calculation ever approached them. Or think of appearing in the presence of God—a deathless spirit, appearing to receive a doom that never can be changed.
All the boasted wisdom of human science can afford you no aid in the awful prospect; but there is one book, one precious, though oft-neglected look, that discovers all we need to know. Should not that book be prized? That book is the Bible. Other books are for time, but this for eternity; other knowledge amuses a few short moments here, this directs to never-ending good hereafter. Other wisdom pleases or profits for the transient day of life; this is the source of unfailing blessings for infinite periods beyond the hour when stars and sun shall cease to shine, and "rolling years shall cease, to move."
Other learning may gain the applause which must soon be hushed for ever by the hand of death; but divine knowledge will direct the soul to the raptures of eternal day, and insure the approbation of the King of kings, and the welcome congratulations of angelic myriads, in the presence of Him who is, and who was, and who is to come: the Eternal, the Almighty. Thus, as much as eternity excels time in importance, as much as an infinite life of bliss outweighs the advantages of a fleeting hour; so much the precious Bible excels in value all that orators, philosophers, historians, and poets ever wrote, all that human wisdom ever inspired, all that a vain world ever extolled.
The justly celebrated Sir "William Jones, one of the brightest geniuses and most distinguished scholars of the eighteenth century, observes, "I have carefully and regularly perused these holy Scriptures, and am of opinion that the volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more sublimity, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains of eloquence, than can be collected from ALL other books, in whatever language they may have been written."
It is related that the eminent English poet Collins, in the latter part of his mortal career, "withdrew from study, and travelled with no other book than an English Testament, such as children carry to school. When a friend took it into his hand, out of curiosity to see what companion a man of letters had chosen, ‘I have only one book,' said he, 'but that is the best.'" Johnson's Lives of the Poets, vol. 4.
John Locke, so distinguished as a philosopher, in the latter part of his life studied scarcely any thing but the word of God; and when asked which was the surest way for a young man to attain a knowledge of the Christian religion, he replied, "Let him study the holy Scriptures, especially the New Testament. Therein are contained the words of eternal life. It has GOD for its author, SALVATION for its end, and TRUTH, without any mixture of error, for its matter."