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THE STUDY OF THE BIBLE RECOMMENDED; AND
A METHOD OF STUDYING IT DESCRIBED.
Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of Eternal Life.
IT was probably in that synagogue which the faithful Centurion built at Capernaum243243 τὴν συναγωγήν,—from which it would appear that there was but one. See Bishop Middleton on St. Luke vii. 5. that our Saviour had been discoursing. At the end of his discourse, it is related that “many of His Disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” Thereupon, He asked the Twelve, “Will ye also go away?” the very form of His inquiry (Μὴ καὶ ὑμεῖς) implying the answer which the Divine Speaker expected and desired. And to this challenge of Love to Faith, St. Peter replied, not only on behalf of his fellow-Apostles, but on behalf of all faithful men to the end of time:—“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of Eternal Life!”
You perceive that St. Peter’s confession takes a peculiar form,—resting the impossibility of unfaithfulness in the Apostles on the gracious discourse of Him to whom they had been listening. “A hard saying,” and unpalatable, it had proved to many; but to his own taste it had seemed “sweeter than honey and the 2honeycomb.” So that while, to those others, it had been an occasion of going back, and walking with Christ no more,—to himself it had been a reason why he could never, as he felt, be persuaded to forsake Christ. Nay, it was to himself, (and, as he boldly assumed, to his fellow-Apostles,) a sufficient evidence that the Speaker was none other than the Son of God. “And we believe, and are sure, that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Here then, surely, a very solemn picture is set before us. The same message proves, in the case of some, the savour of death unto death: in the case of others, of life unto life. It is an image of what is still taking place in the world. The Gospel, whether veiled in the Old Testament, or unveiled in the New, is confessedly “a hard saying:”—to some, their very crown and joy; to others, only an occasion of distress and downfall. It was so, when proclaimed not by the tongue of men and of angels, but by the lips “full of grace and truth” of the Incarnate Word Himself: and it is so still. The temper of mankind is still the same as it was of old, and the instrument of man’s trial is still the same.
Of the written Gospel, many of the self-same things are said in Scripture which are said of him by whom that Gospel was preached. Thus, it is proclaimed to be “the power of God to salvation244244 Rom. i. 16..” It is described as “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart245245 Heb. iv. 12..” It is declared to be eternal,—a thing which “shall never pass away246246 St. Matth. xxiv. 35, &c..” “In the last day,” it is prophesied that the words which Christ has spoken “shall judge” men247247 St. John xii. 43.. The very Name by 3which St. John designates the Eternal Son, in the forefront of his Gospel248248 St. John i. 1, &c., is the appellation by which the Gospel is emphatically known.—But even more remarkable are the analogies which subsist between the written record of our Lord’s Life and Teaching, and the actual person of our Lord. And proposing, as I now do, to say a few earnest words to the younger men in recommendation of a more punctual, methodical, as well as attentive study of the Bible, than, I am persuaded, is practised by one young man in a thousand,—it may not prove unavailing in awakening attention, if I advert, in passing, to some of the circumstances whereby an even balance, (so to speak,) is established between the opportunities of the men of this generation, and of those who were blessed with the oral teaching of the Son of Man.
1. Thus, if the record has its difficulties, and its seeming contradictions, so had He. It did not appear that “Jesus of Nazareth” was born, (according to the prophet Micah’s prediction,) at Bethlehem249249 Ibid. vii. 40-43.. His title perplexed even Nathanael250250 Ibid. i. 45, 46..—He was called the son of Joseph, even by the Blessed Virgin251251 St. Luke ii. 48.. How then could He be the Son of God? And how was the famous prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled in Him252252 Is. vii. 14.?—He grew up in a lowly estate. Once He is called “the carpenter253253 St. Mark vi. 3..” How then could He be of the Royal House of David? And so, in many other respects, did He, in His own person, present the self-same class of difficulties to the world’s eye which His Gospel presents to ours:—“the sixteenth of Tiberius,”—the two genealogies,—“Cyrenius,”—“the days of Abiathar,”—“Jeremy the prophet,”—and so on.4
2. Somewhat less obvious, but not less true, is the unattractive aspect, at first sight, of the Gospel. Verily there is, until we become intimately acquainted with it, “no beauty that we should desire” it.—The style, (full of interest, to those who have tried to understand it a little,) is not, I suppose, what critics would call altogether a good style.—The Greek is not what learned men call pure.—Many a word, (brimfull of meaning to those who will give to the words of the Gospel their best care,) reminds one, that neither did He speak what, in the capital of Jewry, was accounted a classical idiom. He employed the accent of the despised Galilee.—The very reasoning, (until you give it your heart’s homage and best attention,) often seems to be either inconsequential, or to contain a fallacy. Certain words of our Lord have been even cited as fallacious by a celebrated Divine whose writings we are all familiar with254254 Our Lord’s words in St. John viii. 47 are so cited by Archbishop Whately in the Appendix of his Logic.—(App. II. No. 12, p. 418.). Now, His words were disregarded, cavilled at, made light of, in just the same manner.
3. Most surprising of all is the analogy observable between the union of the Divine and the human element in the Gospels,—and the strictly parallel union, as it seems, of the two natures, the Divine and the human, in the person of our Lord.—As He was perfect and faultless, so do we deem it infallible also, without spot or blemish of any kind. We reject as monstrous any ‘theory of Inspiration,’ (as it is called,) which imputes blunders to the work of the Holy Ghost—As, further, we claim for our Lord’s recorded human actions mysterious significancy, so do we seem warranted in looking for a mysterious purpose, 5a divine meaning, in every expression of the written Word.—Lastly, although we may, nay we must, admit such a Divine and such a human element, we must altogether deny the possibility of separating the one from the other. We cannot separate Scripture into human and Divine. Like the Incarnate Word, the Gospel is at once both human and Divine, yet one and indivisible. And the method of its inspiration is as great a difficulty in its way, and as much beyond our ken, as the nature of the union of the Godhead and the Manhood in the one person of Christ.
For whatever reason, and whether you please to accept the foregoing remarks or not, it is a plain fact that the Gospel is now in the world, fulfilling the same office towards mankind, which our Saviour Christ Himself fulfilled, and experiencing the same treatment at the hands of men in return. It is leavening society indeed, and remodelling the world, even while it is practically overlooked by politicians or experiencing evil treatment from them. It wins its way silently anti secretly, yet surely; and it works miracles here and there. Moreover, it divides opinion; separating, as it will for ever separate, the light from the darkness255255 Consider all such places as St. John xi. 45, 40.. It is slighted, and overlooked, and neglected by some; even while, by others, it is embraced with joy unspeakable. “The humble and meek” adore it; even while, by the proud and rebellious, it is after a most strange fashion cavilled at, called in question, and denied. We specify the Gospel, instinctively, as that part of the Inspired Word which chiefly concerns ourselves, as Christian men; but the entire deposit shares the same fate. I do not think I am delivering a paradox when I say 6that the Bible is generally very little read. That the amount of study commonly bestowed upon it bears no proportion whatever to its transcendent importance and paramount value, shall not be any paradox at all; but a mere truism.
For I entreat you to consider, (trite and obvious as it may sound,) What have we, in the whole wide world, which may be put in competition with that Book which contains God’s revelation of Himself to man? In its early portions, how does it go back to the very birthday of Time, and discourse of things which were done in the grey of that early morning! How mysterious is the record,—so methodical, so particular, so unique; preserving the very words which were syllabled in Paradise, and describing transactions which no one but the Holy Ghost is competent to declare! Come lower down, and where will you find more beautiful narratives,—still fresh at the end of three and four thousand years,—than those stories of Patriarchs, Judges, Kings, which wrap up divinest teaching in till their ordinary details: where every word is weighed in a heavenly balance, fraught with a divine purpose, and intended for some glorious issue: where the very characters are adumbrations of personages far greater than themselves; and where the course of events is made to preach to us, at this distant day, of the things which concern our peace! Is it a light thing again to know in what terms Isaiah, and the rest of “the goodly fellowship,” when they opened their lips to speak in that remote age, foretold of the coming of the Son of Man? . . . But all seems to grow pale before the Everlasting Gospel, and the other writings of the New Testament. Surely we have become too familiar with the providence which 7has preserved to us the very words of the four Evangelists, if we can bend our thoughts in the direction of the Gospel without a throb of joy and wonder not to be described, at having so great a treasure placed within our easy reach. Can it indeed be, that I may listen while the disciple whom Jesus loved is discoursing of the miracles, and recalling the sayings of his Lord? May I hear St. Peter himself address the early Church,—or know the precise words of the message which St. Jude sent to the first believers,—or be shown the Epistle which the Lord's cousin addressed “to he Twelve Tribes scattered abroad”? How does it happen that the Book is not for ever in our hands which comes to us with such claims to our undivided homage?
But, on the contrary, it has become the fashion in certain quarters, on every imaginable pretext, to call in question the credibility of the Bible. It seems to be the taste of the age to invent hazy difficulties and dim objections to its statements. Inspiration, under a miserable attempt to explain it, is openly explained away. And the theory, however crude and preposterous, is tolerated: at least it escapes castigation. It cannot fail but that the unlearned and thoughtless ones of this generation will be growing up in a notion that these are open questions after all, and that “Truth” is but a name,—not a thing worth contending, aye dying for, if need be. The reason is but too obvious. It must be, party, because we do not in reality prize the deposit nearly so much as we suppose. Partly, because of the indifferentism which is everywhere so prevalent. Partly too because, notwithstanding our intellectual activity, we are not a really learned body. And partly, it must be confessed, 8fessed, the reason is, because Theology has become so nearly a prostrate study with us, and because men really able to do battle for the Truth are somewhat hard to find. Nor is there any reasonable prospect of improvement either; for those who go forth from this place into the Ministry, go with such slender preparation, that it would be truer to say that they go with none at all.
Now, it would be a mere waste of time, to inveigh for half an hour against the indifferentism, or the spurious liberality, of the age: and it would be a most unbecoming proceeding, (not to say a highly distasteful one,) from this place to be suggesting remedies for an evil which already lies very near the heart of every serious man among us; and which, if discussed at all, must be discussed elsewhere. To say the truth, while the neglect of Theology, and the low ebb of Theological attainments in our Clergy, is generally recognized, the remedy for the evil is by no means so clear. From this subject, then, I pass at once: and I shall content myself with the far humbler task, of urging upon the younger men present,—those especially who are destined for the Ministry,——one act of preparation, one duty, about which, at all events, there cannot be any difference of opinion: I mean the duty of applying themselves, now, to the patient study of the Bible.
The thing is soon said; but the hint requires expanding a little, in order that it may become of any practical use.—By the “study of the Bible,” I do not mean a chapter occasionally read with care: nor even a chapter regularly conned over at night; when a convivial meeting has blunted the edge of observation, or severe study has exhausted the powers of the brain. 9The devotional use of a portion of Holy Scripture is quite a distinct affair. Still less would the practice satisfy me of following the lessons in the College Chapel: and this for reasons so obvious that I will not stop to point them out. Nor even is the reading of the Bible in College Lecture, the thing I mean; for reasons also which any acute person will readily, ascertain for himself. None of these methods of acquainting yourselves with the contents of the. Bible come up to the thing I contemplate, although each is good in its way; and of course I am not speaking in disparagement of any.
No. The thing I would so strenuously urge upon you, is,—that, during your undergraduate period, you should read the whole Bible consecutively through, from one end to the other, by yourself and for yourself, with consummate method, care, and attention. The fundamental conditions of such a study of the Bible, in order to make it of any real use, are these:—
1. First, that you should deliberately apportion to this solemn duty the best and freshest and quietest half-hour in the whole day; and then, that you should determine, let what will go undone, never to abridge that half-hour. You may sometimes be enabled to afford a little more time to the chapter: but you will find it quite fatal ever to devote a shorter period to it. And half an hour, if you employ it in right good earnest, at present, must be thought enough.
2. Next, (except on Sundays and in Vacation, when you may safely double your daily task and your daily time,) be persuaded to read each day exactly one chapter. On no account attempt to go reading on; but rather spend the moments which remain over, 10(they cannot be many!) in reviewing that day’s portion; or referring to some of the places indicated in the margin; or glancing over yesterday’s chapter.
The effect of building up your Bible knowledge in this manner, bit by bit, is what you would not anticipate. The whole acquires a solidity and compactness not to be attained by any other method. You will find at the end of many days, not only that the structure has attained to symmetry and beauty,—but that the disposition of its several parts, in some respects, has become intelligible also: while, (what is not of least importance,) the foundation on which all the superstructure rests, proves wondrous secure and strong.
3. Then, while you read,—safe from the risk of interruption, (as I began by supposing,) and with every faculty intent on your task,—try, as much as possible, to go over the words as if they were new to you; and watch them, one by one, so that nothing may by any possibility escape your notice. Do not slumber over a single word. Nothing can be unimportant when it is the Holy Ghost who speaketh. It is an excellent practice to mark the expressions which strike you; for it is a method of preserving the memory of what is sure else soon to pass away.
4. And next, be persuaded to read without extraneous helps of any kind; except, of course, such help as a map, or the margin of your Bible, supplies. Pray avoid Commentaries and notes. First, you cannot afford time for them: and secondly, if you could, they would be as likely to mislead you as not. But the real reason why you are so strenuously advised to avoid them, is, because they will do more to nullify your reading, than anything which could be imagined. 11Your object is to obtain an insight into Holy Scripture, by acquiring the habit of reading it with intelligence and care: not to be saved trouble, and to be shewn what other persons have thought about it.
5. But then, though you are entreated not to have recourse to the notes of others, you are as strongly advised to make brief memoranda of your own: and the briefer the better. Construct your own table of the Patriarchs,—your own analysis of the Law,—your own descent of the Kings,—your own enumeration of the Miracles. A pedigree full of faults, made by yourself; will do you more good than the most accurate table drawn up by another: but if you are at all attentive and clever, it will not be full of faults.—You will perhaps make the parables 56 instead of 30: you will have gained 26 by your honest industry. Nay, keep a record of your difficulties, if you please; or of anything which strikes you, and which you would be sorry to forget. But, as a rule, it is well to write little, and to give your time and thought to the record before you.
6. Above all, is it indispensable that your reading of the Bible should be strictly consecutive; and on no account may any one pretend to begin such a study of that book as I am here recommending, except at the first Chapter of Genesis. It is a great mistake, (though one of the commonest of all,) for a man to imagine that he knows the beginning of the Bible pretty well. I say it advisedly, that it would be easy to write down twelve interesting questions on that first chapter, of which none of the younger men present would be able to answer three,—and yet, they should all be questions of such a sort that a labouring man’s child with an 12open Bible would be able infallibly to answer them every one.
7. It will follow from what has been offered, that you are invited to read every book in the Bible in the order in which it actually stands,—never, of course, skipping a chapter; much less a Book. In every mere catalogue of names, be resolved to find edification. Feel persuaded that details, seemingly the driest, are full of God. Remember that the difference between every syllable of Scripture and all other books in the world is, not a difference of degree, but of kind. All books but one, arc human: that one book is Divine!
Now, you will perceive that the kind of study of the Bible here recommended, is somewhat different from what is commonly pursued. I contemplate the continued exercise of a most curious and prying, as well as a most vigilant and observing eye. No difficulty is to be neglected; no peculiarity of expression is to be disregarded; no minute detail is to be overlooked. The hint let fall in an earlier chapter is to be compared with a hint let fall in the later place. Do they tally or not? and what follows? The chronological details spontaneously evolved by the narrative, are to be unerringly discovered by the student for himself. The course of every journey is to be attentively noted. Things omitted are to be spied out as carefully as things set down; and whatever can possibly be gathered in the way of necessary inference, is to be industriously ascertained. The imagination is not to slumber either, because no pains are taken by the sacred writer to move the feelings or melt the heart.
How soon will any one who takes the trouble to 13 read the Bible after this fashion, be struck with a hundred things which he never knew before,—indeed, which are not commonly known! How will he be for ever eliciting unsuspected facts,—detecting undreamed of coincidences, but which are as important as they are true,—accumulating materials of value quite inestimable for future study in Divine things! However unpromising a certain collection of references may be, he is careful to extend it,—convinced, like a wise householder, that there will come an use for it after many days. His whole aim is to master thoroughly the record which he has undertaken to study.
Let me not be misunderstood if it is added that the Bible should be read,—I do not say in the same manner,—that is, in the same temper and spirit,—but at least with the same attention, as is bestowed upon a merely human work. In truth, it should be read with much more attention. But that diligence which a student commonly bestows on a difficult moral treatise, or an obscure drama, or a perplexed history,—analyzing it, comparing passage with passage, and learning a great deal of it by heart,—I am quite at a loss to understand why a student of the Bible should be a stranger to.—“I do much condemn,” (says Lord Bacon), “I do much condemn that Interpretation of the Scripture which is only after the manner as men use to interpret a profane book.” So do I. Scripture is to be approached and handled in quite a different spirit from a common history. The mind, the heart rather, must bow down before its revelations, in the most suppliant fashion imaginable. The book should ever be approached with prayer:—“Lord, open Thou mine eyes that I may see the wondrous things of Thy Law!” The very printed pages should be handled 14with reverence, in consideration of the message they contain. But what I am saying is, that none of the methods which diligence and zeal have ever invented to secure a complete mastery of the contents of any merely human performance, may be overlooked by a student of the Bible.
To what has gone before I will add one caution, and will trouble you with one only. It would be easy to multiply cautions: but I am talking to highly intelligent men and there is only one rock which I am really fearful of your running against.
It was the advice of a great and good man, (to his clergy, I suspect,) that they should read the Bible with a special object: and an excellent recent writer has repeated the same advice; namely that men should “read with a view to some particular inquiry, with purpose to clear up some peculiar question of interest, which,” (says he,) you may create for yourselves256256 Blunt’s Duties of a Parish Priest,—p. 81..” I entreat you to do nothing of the kind. Whatever advantages may result to an advanced student from adopting this practice, to you it must be fraught with unmingled evil. You will be tempted to overrate the importance of everything you discover which suits your present purpose: you will disregard all that looks in a different direction: you will be disappointed if you meet with nothing ad rem: you will get a habit of slurring over many chapters, many whole books of the Bible. A very little reflection will convince you that it must be as I say. Who, for example, could be expected to find delight and edification in the calendar of the Deluge, who had determined to read Genesis with a view to discovering what knowledge existed in the patriarchal age of a future life? No. Your wisdom 15will be to divest your minds, as much as possible, of any preconceived notion as to what the Bible contains, or was intended to teach you. You should wish to find there nothing so much as the authentic evidence of what Divine Wisdom hath seen fit to communicate to man. Read it therefore, if you are wise, with unaffected curiosity: settling down upon every flower, in order to find out, if you can, where the honey is: clinging to it rather, until you have found the honey. Say to yourself,—“It cannot be that all these details of months and days should be given in vain257257 Gen. vii. 4 to viii. 14.. I must find out the reason of it.” And, at last, you will find,—what you will find.—“Very strange,” (you will learn to say to yourself,) “that the history of nearly 1600 years should be curdled into one short chapter258258 Ibid. v.; and yet that three verses of the Bible should be devoted to the history of a man’s losing his way in a field, and then finding it again259259 lbid. xxxvii. 15, 16, 17.!” The subject may be worth thinking about. You are perhaps naturally disposed to take what you are pleased to call “a common sense view” of the meaning of Holy Scripture; and to interpret it after a very dry unlovely fashion of your own: to evacuate its deeper sayings, and to doubt the mysterious significancy of its historical details. You will speedily perceive, however, that the Apostles and Evangelists of Christ,—as many as were moved by the Holy Spirit of God, and spoke not their own. words but His,—that all these are against you: and the effect of this discovery on an honest and good heart, reading not in order to be confirmed in some preconceived opinion, but with a sincere desire of enlightenment in Divine things,—may be anticipated. 16Bishop Horsley relates that by a yet simpler process he became disabused of a favourite fancy with which he set out,—namely, that prophecy must of necessity carry a single meaning260260 See Appendix A..—The attitude of mind which I so strongly recommend you to assume, (and it depends on an act of the Will, whether you assume it or not,) is very exactly represented by the cry of the child Samuel,—“Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth!”
It seems right, in the fewest words, to state what we do,—and what we do not,—expect to result from such a study of the Bible as this; in other words, to assign the office of unassisted Biblical study. I would not willingly have my meaning mistaken here.
It is not implied then, for a moment, that a .man is either at liberty, or able, to gather his own Religion for himself out of the Bible. The very thought were monstrous. But it is a widely different thing for one of yourselves to read his Bible patiently, and humbly, mid laboriously, through,—without prejudice or theory,—unmolested by critical notes, undistracted by human comments, uninfluenced by party views: all this, I say, is a widely different thing from a man’s inventing his own system of Divinity. Members of the Catholic Church,—born in a Christian country,—educated amid the choicest influences for good,—you are by no means so left to yourselves. The Book of Common Prayer is your sufficient safeguard. The framework of the Faith,—the conditions under which you may lawfully speculate about Divine mysteries,—are all prescribed for you: and within those limits you cannot well go wrong.
On the other hand, the outlines of Moral Theology, 17(as it may be called), you are fully competent to detect for yourselves. God’s strictness in punishing sin, as in the case of Moses261261 Deut. iii. 25, 26.;—the efficacy of repentance, as in the case of Ahab262262 1 Kings xxi. 27-29.;—the sure answer to prayer, (to forgotten prayer, it may be!) as in the case of Zacharias263263 St. Luke i. 13.;—the seemingly roundabout methods of God’s providence, (as in the case of Abraham,) yet conducting inevitably to a blessed issue at the last;—the rewards of obedience264264 Jerem. xxxv. 18, 19.;—the faithfulness of the Divine promises;—the boundless wealth of the Divine contrivance, which, on man’s repentance, is able to convert even a curse into a blessing, as in the case of Levi265265 Comp. Gen. xlix. 5-7, with Exod. xxxii. 26-28, (alluded to in Deut. xxxiii. 9,) and finally Numb. iii. 9 and 45, and Josh. xxi. 3-8.;—the peace and joy surely in reserve for those who fear (ion, as in the case of Joseph;—the extent to which things seemingly trivial are noticed by the Ancient of Days, as every page of the Bible shows;—these, and a hundred points like these, not only a man can gather for himself out of the Book of God’s Law, but no one else can do the work for him. He must discover all such matters for himself.
And need I point out, for a minute, the immense advantage with which a mind so stored with Divine knowledge will approach the Ministry; and finally take in hand the actual oversight of the flock? It is really not to be expressed. The Bishop’s examination for Orders will become nothing but an agreeable exercise, instead of an object of dread. You are quite sure of a few approving words in that quarter. But, (what is a thousand times more important,) you yourself 18feel safe and strong. You begin to read some treatise on Divinity; and you find yourself in some degree competent to test the writer’s statements, to endorse or to suspect his conclusions, because you are familiar with the Rule of Faith which he himself employed. It becomes your turn at last to instruct others,—from the pulpit for example; and instead of timid truisms, and vague generalities, you are able to draw a bold clear outline round almost any department of Christian doctrine. You can explain with authority.—You are not afraid to catechize before the congregation: for although your Theological attainments are but slender after all, yet, you know your Bible well; and even if an absurdly wrong answer is given you, you know how to single out from the hank the golden thread of Truth, and to display it before the eyes of men and Angels. And let me tell you, by way of ending the subject, we should hear less about dull sermons, and inattentive congregations, and badly filled churches,—as well as about the astounding ignorance of many among the upper classes, in Divine things,—if our younger Clergy knew the Bible a great deal better than they do.—Aye, and we should not have so many unsound remarks about Holy Scripture either,—so many mistaken views of doctrine,—so many crude remarks about Inspiration,—made by persons who ought to know better.
You will perceive that I am saying all this, (except the last few words,) at you, (the younger men present;) because in you I see many of the future Clergy of England. And I say it, because, (for the last time,) I do entreat you, one and all, to follow the advice I have been giving you; and to set about such 19a careful study of the Bible, at once. Do not put it off for a single day. Begin it tomorrow morning. You will then have mastered Genesis this term, finishing the last chapter on Sunday the 10th of December; and on Monday, the 11th, you will have to read the first chapter of Exodus. I am confident that you will remember this day and hour with gratitude to the end of your lives, if you will but make the experiment and persevere.
And just one word to those who aspire, (and all should aspire,) to University honours. You will not find what I have been recommending any hindrance to you at all. But even supposing you do, now and then, find the inexorable daily half-hour stand in the way of something else,—shall not the very thought of Him whose Voice you have deliberately resolved to hear daily at that fixed time, make you full amends? Shall you resolve to pluck so freely of the Tree of Knowledge) and yet begrudge the approach once a day to the Tree of Life, which grows in the midst of the Paradise of God? Shall ample time be found for works of fiction,—for the Review, and the Magazine, and the newspaper,—yet half an hour a day be deemed too much to be given to the Word of God? What? room for everything and everybody; yet still “no room in the Inn” for Christ!. . . . . I have, (I speak honestly,) I have far too high an opinion of your instincts for good, to think it possible. You have plenty of faults,—(God knoweth!),—but I am very much deceived indeed if there be not a spirit stirring among the young men of this place, overflowing with promise; a real inclination, (obscured at times, but still very energetic,) for whatever things are pure, and lovely, and of good report.20
Of course, it is implied by what goes before, that you will read no work of Divinity just at present. Be counselled, on no account, to read any. Above all, shun the partial, ill-digested pamphlet,—and the one-sided review,—and the controversial letter,—and the Essay which seems to have been written in order to prove nothing. Be content, for the next three years, to study no book of Divinity but the Bible.
And the study of that Book, I repeat, you will find no hindrance, no impediment, no burthen to you at all. On the contrary. It will render you a very singular service,—let your classical and logical studies be as severe as they will; (and they cannot well be too severe, too engrossing,—for this is your golden opportunity which never will, never can, come back again!) The undersong of “Siloa’s brook that flows, fast by the oracle of God,” will many a time soothe and refresh your else dry and weary spirit. What was begun as a task will soon come to be regarded as a privilege. That jealously-guarded half-hour will be found to be the one green spot in the whole day,—like Gideon’s fleece, fresh with the dew of the early morning, when it is “dry upon all the earth beside.” Your secret study of that Book of Books, I say, will render you a very singular service. The contrast between the Divine and Human method will strike you with ever-recurring power. Unlike every other History, the Bible removes the veil, and discovers the causes of things,—including the First Great Cause of all, who dwelleth in Light unapproachable, but who yet humbleth Himself to behold, and to controul, and to overrule for good, the things which are done in Heaven and on Earth. And thus, it is not too much to say that the Bible, to one who reads its pages aright, is 21a certain clue to every other History,—as well as a perpetual commentary on every other Book. It informs the judgment, and cleanses the eye, throughout the whole department of Morals: and as for History, what is it all, but the evidence of God in the world,—“traces of His iron rod, or of His Shepherd’s staff266266 The Rev. C. Marriott’s Sermons,—vol. I. p. 441.?”
Profoundly sensible am I, that these have been very unintellectual, and somewhat common-place remarks: but I would rather, a hundred times, be of use to the younger men present; I would rather, a hundred times, succeed in persuading one of them, to adopt that method of reading the Bible which I have been recommending;—than try to say something which might be thought fine and clever. . . . . Let me only, in conclusion, faithfully remind them, that the true office of the study of Divine things is not, by any means, that which, for obvious reasons, I have been rather dwelling and enlarging upon. It is not merely to inform the understanding, that Holy Scripture is to be read with such consummate attention, and studied with such exceeding care. It is not for the illustration of History, or in order that it may be made a test of the value of other systems of Morals. Not, by any means, in order to facilitate admission into Holy Orders, (for which only some of you are destined;)—or to render a man’s pulpit-addresses attractive and agreeable;—or even to enable a parish priest to teach with confidence and authority;—is he entreated now to “prevent the night watches,” if need be, that he may be occupied (like one of old time267267 Ps. cxix. 148.,) with God’s Word. O no! It is,—in order 22that his inner life may be made conformable to that outer Law268268 Not so Essays and Reviews, pp. 36 and 45.: that his aims may be ennobled, and his motives purified, and his earthly hopes made consistent with the winning of an imperishable crown! It is in order that when he wavers between Right and Wrong, the unutterable Canon of God’s Law may suggest itself to him as a constraining motive. Its aim, and purpose, and real function, is, that the fiery hour of temptation may find the Christian soldier armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God269269 Eph. vi. 17.:”—that the Clark season of Adversity may find his soul anchored on the Rock of Ages,—which alone can prove his soul’s sufficient strength and stay. . . . Of a truth, as Life goes on, Men will find the blessedness of their Hope; if they have not found it out already. Under every form of trial,—and under every strange vicissitude;—in sickness,—and in perplexity, and in bereavement,—and in the hour of death;—“Lord,—to whom shall we go? Thou,—Thou halt the words of Eternal Life!”23
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