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To defeat the salutary purpose of this revelation, was the grand object of the great enemy of mankind. But this object could not be attained without concealing the Bible from the view of the people. The expedient therefore of concealment was adopted-an expedient which not a little gratified the base and avaricious views of the emissaries employed to carry it into effect. The church of Rome, upon whom the business devolved, took care with great address, to instil into the minds of men this humiliating maxim, "That ignorance is the mother of devotion." And thus preparing the way for the fraudulent trespass to be made on the rights of the people, she pretended that the Bible was committed as a sacred deposit to her care, with full powers to impose such interpretation on the contents of it as she should judge right. To persuade men to a calm submission to her will she insisted, that without the authority of such an infallible judge as herself there could be no uniformity in religion; which uniformity too was to be taken for granted as a certain note, or infallible mark of the true catholic church. And yet further to awe them into a compliance they were told, with a severe and menacing air, that it was at the peril of damnation that they meddled with this book. And thus violently wresting the key of knowledge from the people, she had a fair opportunity of palming upon them the grossest absurdities; and so of acquiring by degrees an immense fund of wealth and power, by which she was enabled to tyrannize over the western part of the world for near a thousand years.
If in this description of the Romish church we do not clearly discern the horrid features of the Man of Sin, as drawn in the Bible, we must surely be blind indeed. Antichrist could scarce himself avoid seeing his own countenance in this mirror, and had therefore an additional reason to slip it thus dexterously away from those, who might have therein exposed his deformed and hateful visage to public view.
God of his infinite wisdom permitted this delusion to prevail for the long period before mentioned, as a just punishment of their ingratitude and wickedness who believed not the truth, but 4ad pleasure in unrighteousness a. The pure gospel was de
a 2 Thess. ii. 12.
spised and trampled under foot. These Christians, as they called themselves, paid their court to false philosophy, and allured by her wanton charms played the truth into her hands. And having thus disfigured the beautiful simplicity of the Christian institution, blended promiscuously the civil and religious power, converted pagan temples into stately cathedrals, put the sceptre as well as the mitre into the hands of the church, and obliged sovereign princes to bow ignominiously to spiritual dominion; they laid the foundation of all that ignorance, barbarism, and horrid tyranny and persecution which obtained through the dark age.
At length, however, this winter night of darkness and delusion drew to a close, the bright sun of the Reformation arose, and the Bible, the great charter of all our rights, was restored to the hands from which it had been wrested, and with it knowledge, liberty, happiness, and every thing dear to us as men and Christians. What halcyon days these! Would to God we were sensible of the distinguished privileges we enjoy! Would to God this venerable book, to which we owe our civil as well as religious rights, were treated with that reverence and gratitude it so justly merits! But ah! how is it insulted by the scoffs of infidels on the one hand; and abused, on the other, by the forced interpretations of those, who will receive nothing from God himself as truth, which they cannot fully comprehend and clearly explain !
I have only to add here, that if the Bible has been shamefully affronted by those who have done their utmost to conceal it from public view, and by those who have used the arts of sophistry and false reasoning to lessen its authority, and explain away its natural meaning; it should be our solicitous concern to do honour to this sacred book, and to ourselves, by steadily maintaining that every man has a right to it, and a right to judge for himself what is the meaning of its contents. And we have little room to doubt, that as it was intended for the use of the meanest peasant as well as the most sagacious philosopher, so that interpretation which is most plain and natural, though attended with its difficulties, will in the end be found to be the true one. We proceed now to shew you,
SIXTHLY, "That the Bible demands the most serious and attentive regards from all who possess it."
To impress this sentiment on your minds, I would fain exert the utmost energy of language, and all the pathos of divine passion, at the same time looking devoutly to him who indited the Scriptures, to give force and success to what I say. If the doctrine you have heard, my brethren, be true, your having this Bible in your hands will prove an occasion to you of the greatest happiness, or the greatest misery. There is no medium here. Should it be found another day, that you have rightly improved this boon bestowed on you by indulgent Heaven, your joy will be unspeakably great; if otherwise, it had been better for you that you had never been born. Pagans will rise up in judgment against you. A Socrates, who felt the galling yoke of a depraved nature, and sighed for deliverance; who wished and hoped for the time when a divine teacher, then shrouded from his view by a dark and impenetrable cloud, would burst forth in his glory and shed light over a miserable world a; a Socrates, I say, will stand forth and applaud the sentence that sinks you into everlasting perdition. It cannot be that God should give men a written revelation of his will, and not call them to an account for their improvement or abuse of it. I have proved the Bible to be a revelation from God, deny the consequence if you can. Tell me then,
(1.) Will ye not read this book?
Were a friend to send you a letter from a remote part of the globe, duly directed and sealed, would you not open it and read it? Were the messenger that brought it to assure you, that it contained news of the last importance to your welfare; that the writer of it had procured treasures for you of immense value, and at an expence not to be computed; that he wished to make you happy; that whereas there had been a difference between him and you, he was disposed to make it up; and that he desired no other return for his generosity than that your future temper and conduct might be governed by the salutary advice here given you; were he to tell you all this, when he put
a See what Socrates says in the close of his discourse with Alcibiades concerning prayer.
the letter into your hand, would you, I ask, carelessly throw it aside without once looking into it? It is scarce imaginable.Or if you were capable of acting such a part, would he not charge you with treating him as an impostor?-Or if that were denied, and his integrity admitted, would he not go away sighing, and pronounce you insane? He would.
And is not your conduct who thus treat the word of God exactly similar to that I have been representing? Is not, I may add, the ingratitude, and danger of it, immensely greater? The Bible is put into your hands. You are told in general the contents of it, and are earnestly solicited to read it. Yet you carelessly throw it aside, thrust it from you even while you admit its truth, or, if you have any doubts, yet possess the means of removing them. To what is such conduct to be imputed but insanity, idiotism, or the most criminal depravity? Is any thing to be said in your excuse? Can you offer any thing in your own excuse? A day of reckoning will come. you a God of justice, whose mercy has been thus abused, will not publicly resent such base' ingratitude? He will whet his glittering sword, and his hand will lay hold on vengeance. Bring hither, he will say, these mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me a.
But it is not merely from a contemptuous treatment of the Bible that I would dissuade you.-Beware, I entreat you, of the least approach to that cold indifference with which this book is received by too many who call themselves Christians. Something more is required of you than a general regard to it. It will be to little purpose that you cast your eye now and then upon it, to silence the remonstrances of conscience, or to gratify vain curiosity. It is your duty, your indispensable duty, (2.) To read it with the utmost care and attention.
If it has the divine signature upon it, as we have clearly proved it has, you cannot pay a too serious and solemn attention to it. Read, under the idea of its coming from God, you will be anxious to enter into the true meaning and spirit of it, You will not treat it as a school boy does his task. You will not run over it with the indifference a Jew does his prayers, op
a Luke xix. 27.
a Mohammedan his Koran. You will read it regularly, at stated seasons, in such portions and in such order as will best enable you to come at its genuine purport and intention. You will study it, consider it in its connection, apply it to yourself, compare it with the feelings of your own heart, with the observations you daily make upon mankind, and events which are continually rising to your view. You will read it not merely for your amusement, but for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. You will read it with the solemnities of death, judgment, and eternity before your eyes. You will read it upon your knees,. fervently beseeching God to take away the veil of prejudice from your eyes, to hold up divine truth to your mental sight in its native simplicity and glory, and to bless you with all the meekness and teachableness of a child at the knee of its instructor. You will read it, in fine, with a firm resolution, in a dependance on divine grace, to form your temper and practice by it.
And now, is not this advice such as naturally and necessarily arises out of the idea of Scripture as a book divinely inspired? I appeal to your judgment and conscience. Can you be excused from paying this so serious and solemn an attention to it, by any one consideration of prudence, decency, or common sense? On the contrary, justice, truth, gratitude, interest, must, if you are not fast bound in the chains of prejudice and infatuation, urge you to your duty. Why, O why, shall Wisdom cry, and Uunderstanding put forth her voice, and you reJuse while she thus calls, and not regard while she thus stretches forth her hand a? What will be the sad result should you go on obstinately to resist her intreaties? She will in the day of your extremity laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh b. But I hope better things of you, things that accompany salvation, though I thus speak.
Let us all be thankful to God for this inestimable gift of his holy word. Let us make it the man of our counsel; read it by day, and meditate upon it by night; hide it in our hearts, that we may not sin against God c resort with pleasure to the place where its doctrines, precepts, and promises are by di
a Frov. viii. 1. i. 24.
b Ver. 26.
c Psal. cxix. 11.