« ElőzőTovább »
ful works out of the established course of nature. Yea, he raised up a succession of prophets, which was upheld for severalages.
It was very much for this end that God separated the people of Israel, in so wonderful a manner, from all other people, and kept them separate ; that to them he might commit the oracles of God, and that from them they might be communicated to the world. He hath also often sent angels to bring divine in-structions to men ; and hath often himself appeared in miraculous symbols or representations of his presence; and now in these last days hath sent his own Son into the world, to be his great prophet, to teach us divine truth, Heb. i. 1, &c. God hath given us a book of divine instructions, which contains the sum of divinity. Now, these things hath God done, not only for the instruction of ministers and men of learning; but for the instruction of all men, of all sorts, learned and unlearned men, women, and children. And certainly if God doth such great things to teach us, we ought to do something to learn.
God giving instructions to men in these things, is not a business by the bye; but what he hath undertaken and prosecuted in a course of great and wonderful dispensations, as an affair in which his heart hath been greatly engaged : which is sometimes in Scripture signified by the expression of God's rising early to teach us, and to send us prophets and teachers. Jer. vii. 25. “Since that day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt, unto this day, I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early, and sending them.” And ver. 13. “I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking.* This is a figurative speech, signifying that God hath done this as a business of great importance, in which he took great care, and bad his heart much engaged, because persons are wont to rise early to prosecute such business as they are earnestly engaged in. -1f God hath been so engaged in teaching, certainly we should not be negligent in learning; but should make growing in knowledge a great part of the business of our lives.
5. It may be argued from the abundance of the instructions which God hath given us, from the largeness of that book which God hath given to teach us divinity, and from the great variety that is therein contained. Much was taught by Moses of old, which we have transmitted down to us; after that, other books were from time to time added ; much is taught us by David and Solomon; and many and excellent are the instructions communicated by the prophets; yet God did not think all this enough, but after this sent Christ and his apostles, by whom there is added a great and excellent treasure to that holy book, which is to be our rule in the study of this important subject. This book was written for the use of all, all are directed to
; search the scriptures, John v. 39. "Search the scriptures, for
in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they that testify of me;" and Isa. xxxiv. 16. “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read.” They that read and understand are pronounced blessed, Rev. i. 3. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that understand the words of this prophecy." If this be true of that particular book of the Revelation, much more is it true of the Bible in general. Nor is it to be believed that God weuld have given instructions in such abundance, if he had intended that receiving instruction should be only a bye concern with us.
It is to be considered, that all those abundant instructions which are contained in the scriptures were written that they might be understood; otherwise they are not instructions. That
1 which is not given that the learner may understand it, is not given for the learner's instruction; and unless we endeavour to grow in the knowledge of divinity, a very great part of those instructions will to us be in vain ; for we can receive benefit by no niore of the scriptures than we understand. We have reason to bless God that he hath given us such various and plentiful instruction in his word ; but we shall be hypocritical in so doing, if we, after all, content ourselves with but little of this instruction.
When God hath opened a very large treasure before us, for the supply of our wants, and we thank him that he bath given us so much ; if at the same time we be willing to remain destitute of the greatest part of it, because we are too lazy to gather it, this will not show the sincerity of our thankfulness. We are now under much greater advantages to acquire knowledge in divinity, than the people of God were of old ; because since that time, the canon of scripture is much increased. But if we be negligent of our advantages, we may be never the better for them, and may remain with as little knowledge as they.
6. However diligently we apply ourselves, there is room enough to increase our knowledge in divine truth. None have this excuse to make for not diligently applying themselves to gain knowledge in divinity, that they already know all; nor can they make this excuse, that they have no need diligently to apply themselves, in order to know all that is to be known. None can excuse themselves for want of business in which to employ themselves. There is room enough to employ ourselves for ever in this divine science, with the utmost application. Those who have applied themselves most closely, have studied the longest, and have made the greatest attainments in this knowledge, know but little of what is to be known. The subject is inexhaustible. That Divine Being, who is the main subject of this science, is infinite, and there is no end to the glory of his perfections. His works at the same time are wonderful, and cannot be found out to perfection; especially the work of re
demption, about which the science of divinity is chiefly conversant, is full of unsearchable wonders.
The word of God, which is given for our instruction in divinity, contains enough in it to employ us to the end of our lives, and then we shall leave enough uninvestigated to employ the heads of the ablest divines to the end of the world. The Psalmist found an end to the things that are human; but he could never find an end to what is contained in the word of God: Psal. cxix. 96. 6s I have seen an end to all perfection; but thy command is exceeding broad.” There is enough in this divine science to employ the understandings of saints and angels to all eternity.
7. It doubtless concerns every one to endeavour to excel in the knowledge of things which pertain to his profession, or principal calling If it concerns men to excel in any thing, or in any wisdom or knowledge at all, it certainly concerns them to excel in the affairs of their main profession and work. But the calling and work of every Christian is to live to God. This is said to be his high calling, Phil. iii. 14. This is the business, and, if I may so speak, the trade of a Christian, his main work, and, indeed, should be his only work. No business should be done by a Christian, but as it is some way or other a part of this. Therefore, certainly, the Christian should endea. vour to be well acquainted with those things which belong to this work, that he may fulfil it, and be thoroughly furnished to it.
It becomes one, who is called to be a soldier, to excel in the art of war. It becomes a mariner to excel in the art of navigation. It becomes a physician to excel in the knowledge of those things which pertain to the art of physic. So it becomes all such as profess to be Christians, and to devote themselves to the practice of Christianity, to endeavour to excel in the knowledge of divinity.
8. It may be argued hence, that God hath appointed an order of men for this end, to assist persons in gaining knowledge in these things. He hath appointed them to be teachers, 1 Cor. xii. 28; and God hath set some in the church; first, apostles; secondarily, prophets ; thirdly, teachers: Eph. iv. 11, 12. "He gave some, apostles; some, prophets ; some, evangelists; some, pastors and teachers ; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” If God hath set them to be teachers, making that their business, then he hath made it their business to impart knowledge. But what kind of knowledge ? not the knowledge of philosophy, or of human laws, or of mechanical arts, but of divinity.
If God have made it the business of some to be teachers, it will follow, that he hath made it the business of others to be learners ; for teachers and learners are correlates, one of which was never intended to be without the other.
God hath never made it the duty of some to take pains to teach those who are not obliged to take pains to learn. He hath not commanded ministers to spend themselves, in order to impart knowledge to those who are not obliged to apply themselves to receive it.
The name by which Christians are commonly called in the New Testament, is disciples; the signification of which word, is scholars or learners. All Christians are put into the school of Christ, where their business is to learn, or receive knowledge from Christ, their common master and teacher, and from those inferior teachers appointed by him to instruct in his name.
9. God hath in the scriptures plainly revealed it to be his will, that all Christians should diligently endeavour to excel in the knowledge of divine things. It is the revealed will of God, that Christians should not only have some knowledge of things of this nature, but that they should be enriched with all knowledge : 1 Cor. i. 4, 5. " I thank my God always on your be
I half, for the grace of God that is given you by Jesus Christ, that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.' So the apostle earnestly prayed, that the Christian Philippians might abound more and more, not only in love, but in Christian knowledge ; Phil. i. 9. “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment." So the apostle Peter advises to "give all diligence to add to faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge," 2 Pet. i. 5; and the apostle Paul, in the next chapter to that wherein is the text, counsels the Christian Hebrews leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, to go on to perfection. He would by no means have them always to rest only in those fundamental doctrines of repentance, and faith, and the resurrection from the dead, and the eternal judgment, in which they were instructed when baptized, at their first initiation in Christianity. (See Heb. vi. &c.)
An Exhortation that all may diligently endeavour to gain Chris
Consider yourselves as scholars or disciples, put into the school of Christ'; and, therefore, be diligent to make proficiency in Christian knowledge. Content not yourselves with this, that you bave been taught your catechism in your childhood, and that you know as much of the principles of religion as is necessary to salvation; else you will be guilty of what the apostle warns against, viz. going no further than laying the foundation of repentance from dead works, &c.
You are all called to be Christians, and this is your profession. Endeavour, therefore, to acquire knowledge in things which pertain to your profession. Let not your teachers have cause to complain, that while they spend and are spent, to impart knowledge to you, you take little pains to learn. It is a great encouragement to an instructer, to have such to teach as make a business of learning, bending their minds to it. This makes teaching a pleasure, when, otherwise, it will be a very heavy and burdensome task.
You all have by you a large treasure of divine knowledge, in that you have the Bible in your hands; therefore, be not contented in possessing but little of this treasure. God hath spoken much to you in the Scriptures; labour to understand as much of what he saith as you can. God hath made you all reasonable creatures; therefore, let not the noble faculty of reason or understanding lie neglected. Content not yourselves with having so much knowledge as is thrown in your way, and received in some sense unavoidably by the frequent inculcation of divine truth in the preaching of the word, of which you are obliged to be hearers, or accidentally gain in conversation ; but let it be very much your business to search for it, and that with the same diligence and labour with which men are wont to dig in mines of silver and gold.
Especially I would advise those who are young to employ themselves in this way. Men are never too old to learn ; but the time of youth is especially the time for learning; it is peculiarly proper for gaining and storing up knowledge. Further, to stir up all, both old and young, to this duty, let me entreat you to consider,
1. If you apply yourselves diligently to this work, you will not want employment, when you are at leisure from your common secular business. In this way, you may find something in which you may profitably employ yourselves. You will find something else to do, besides going about from house to house, spending one hour after another in unprofitable conversation, or, at best, to no other purpose but to amuse yourselves, to fill up and wear away your time. And it is to be feared, that very much of the time spent in evening visits, is spent to a much worse purpose than that which I have now mentioned. Solomon tells us, Prov. x. 19, “That in the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin.” And is not this verified in those who find little else to do but to go to one another's houses, and spend the time in such talk as comes next, or such as any one's present disposition happens to suggest ?
Some diversion is, doubtless, lawful ; but for Christians to spend so much of their time, so many long evenings, in no other conversation than that which tends to divert and amuse, if no