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the law shall not depart out of thy mouth ; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein : for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.'
By the “book” which is here mentioned is meant the writings of Moses, which contain the law of God : the moral law, which is binding upon every human being, and that through all time; and the Levitical and civil law of the Jews, which concerned them exclusively, and was intended to be merely temporary in its continuance. These holy writings, however, contain something more than mere law. They comprehend the original promise of a Saviour, and the gracious covenant into which God entered with Abraham and his seed. The system of Divine worship which they enjoin shadowed forth the true nature of Christ's redeeming work, with the benefits resulting from it; and the two great blessings which constitute the salvation of God, His pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace, are here made the subjects of express promise. This is “the book of the law” which the devout Psalmist so highly extols, and in which he exercised himself “ day and night.” Nor is this surprising; for it contains rules of conduct which were every way adapted to his sanctified nature; and, at the same time, it made him acquainted with the elements of evangelical truth. Of this book he
“ 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 : the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever : the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold : sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned : and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
It is our high privilege, my brethren, to possess in a written form a more complete revelation of the mind of God than this ancient “ book” presented. We have an extended history of God's dealings with His chosen people, and a record of patriarchal theology in the disputations of Job with his friends. We have the devotional and prophetic psalms of David, and of other holy and spiritual men ; the moral and allegorical writings of Solomon; the books of the Prophets ; the narratives of the Evangelists, describing the birth, the life, the ministry, the miracles, the sacrificial death, the resurrection, and the ascension of our blessed Saviour; we have a record of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and of the first planting of Christianity; we have the Apostolical Epistles ; and the Revelation of Jesus Christ, “which He sent and signified by His angel unto His servant John.” All these books possess a Divine authority, as well as “the book of the law,” which was supplied by the pen of Moses ; and they ought to form the constant study of every man who is called to the office of a Minister and Pastor in the church of God.
Other books you may read with advantage, as your inclination may prompt, and as opportunity will serve. General history will exhibit
to you human nature in all the diversified circumstances of life, with the principles upon which God is pleased to govern mankind. It shows that by an immutable arrangement of Divine Providence, which no human policy or power can reverse, immoral actions lead directly to the misery and ruin of individuals, families, and nations ; that the practice of a pure morality tends to human welfare in every possible way; and that a pure morality can never be maintained but upon the basis of true religion.
The history of the Christian church will place before you the rise and progress of that great apostasy which was foretold by Daniel, by St. Paul, and in the Apocalypse ; the various forms of error, with its withering effects upon true godliness ; many fine examples of devotedness to God, especially in the confessors and martyrs; the fidelity of Christ to His people, and the power of the Holy Ghost to sustain and comfort and sanctify; the alternate prosperity and declension of Christian piety, with the causes which contribute to both.
Books of science will serve to acquaint you with the works of God, in their endless variety, and in their wonderful adaptation, and will elevate your conceptions of His wisdom, power, and goodness. “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein."
Theological writings, the fruits of the sanctified genius and scholarship of wise and holy men, belonging to different communities, ages, and countries, will also occupy a considerable portion of your attention and time; because of their tendency to give you comprehensive and correct views of revealed truth, to fan the flame of your piety, and to direct your practice.
But, above all, the Bible will claim your special regard. Study, with the utmost care and assiduity, its doctrines ; especially those which relate to the Divine perfections, the person and mediatorial work of Christ, and the agency of the Holy Ghost. Study the promises and threatenings of Scripture ; its invitations, warnings, and precepts; its history, biography, types, symbols, and prophecies. Study its peculiar phraseology; for its very language was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and is full of important instruction. Inattention to the peculiar phraseology of Scripture you will find to be one of the principal sources of theological error. Avail yourselves of all the helps which the learned labours of critics and commentators supply; but neglect not to study the Bible for yourselves, so as to ascertain its true meaning, and to acquire an ability to give a just exposition of its several parts in the course of your ministrations. In order to this, compare one text with another, ascertain the scope and object of the sacred writers, cultivate the spirit of living piety, and daily seek by earnest humble prayer “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” in Divine things; for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” From this morning, till your souls shall be required of you, never suffer a day to pass without reading with pious care some portion of “the lively oracles.” In the busiest periods of life most men find certain intervals of time in which a profitable reference may be made
to the sacred volume ; but yours is to be a life of sanctified study, of which the Bible is to be the grand subject. This unremitting attention to the entire “ book of the law is due,
1. Because it is God's own word. Next to the gift of His Son and of His Holy Spirit, it is one of the richest donations of His eternal love to men; and therefore to “make light of it” is a fearful crime. Here are embodied those purposes grace and mercy which, in the prospect of man's fall and ruin, were formed in the Divine mind before the foundations of the world were laid, and before time began its course. Here the scheme of redemption is unfolded, with its endless benefits, and the solemn responsibilities which result from it; here is unveiled the eternal world, with all its momentous realities; and here is laid down, with the utmost distinctness, the way that leads to everlasting life. Here we are supplied, not with the uncertain speculations of erring men, but the very truth of God, which will stand when heaven and earth are fled away. The Bible, taken as a whole, is emphatically “the book of the law;" “the book of the law” of God. It bears the stamp of His authority, and is binding upon every man within whose reach it is placed. The dominion of God over His creatures is absolute; it extends to the intellect, as well as to the other faculties of our nature; so that it is as much our duty to believe all that He has revealed, as it is our duty to practise all that He has commanded. As “the book of the law," then, I beseech you always to regard it. Never treat with irreverence even its forms of expression ; and let its holy truths ever be in your estimation more precious than “thousands of gold and silver.” It not only possesses a Divine authority, but,
2. It is the rule and standard of all true religion. A capacity for religion is the highest privilege of our nature; for it is religion that binds us to God, and makes us one with Him for ever. But of this our highest prerogative we know next to nothing, except what we learn from the holy Scriptures. By them we are taught the nature of the relations in which we stand to God; the provision which He in His Sovereign mercy has made for our salvation from sin, and the manner in which that provision is to be made available in our case as individual transgressors ; the kind of worship and of moral obedience which He requires, and will deign to accept. Here is exhibited the true standard of spiritual attainment; the tempers which we are to cultivate are distinctly specified ; and the manner in which God would have us to conduct ourselves, in all circumstances, and in all the relations of life, is fully described. In all these things, my brethren, you are individually and personally concerned. I would therefore press upon you the duty of constantly studying the Bible, as a means of perpetuating and of improving your own piety; and not merely for the purpose of finding matter for the pulpit. Learn from the promises of Scripture what God your Saviour would have you to enjoy; and learn from His commands and example how you ought to live; so that you “may find mercy of the Lord in that day." "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,” the man that is devoted to the ministration of God's word, eminently and especially, as the passage evidently means, may be perfect, throughly furnished,” or “perfectly furnished," unto all good works.”
3. The Bible contains the sum of all that you are appointed to teach : and this is another reason why you should devote your lives to the study of it. A diligent and prayerful study of this blessed book, with reference to your public ministry will render your preaching comprehensive, full, diversified, and authoritative. There are men who possess a dangerous fluency of speech; dangerous, in that it sometimes leads them to the neglect of study and of prayer: for with little or no previous preparation they can conduct the services of the pulpit. Yet it often happens that when those services are ended, it is found, on examination, that only a very small amount of instruction has been imparted, and that the impression which has been produced is very superficial. No man, whatever may be his talents and genius, can preserve his pulpit ministrations in their spiritual interest, freshness, and bloom, in the neglect of close Scripture study, and in the absence of that unction of the Holy One, which is never vouchsafed but in answer to prayer.
Many persons there are, in the present day, who express a high admiration of what they call “intellectual preaching ;” and there are Ministers who labour to gratify the taste of these hearers. They are accustomed to take a passage of Holy Scripture, merely as a motto, and as a means of introducing an elaborate disquisition upon some point of doctrine, or some principle of morals, which they attempt to establish upon philosophic grounds, and to embellish by a profusion of rhetorical ornament. None of you, I trust, will ever affect such a style of address. It was not in this manner that the Apostles fulfilled their high commission; it was not in this manner that the Wesleys and the Whitefields of our own country succeeded in awakening a slumbering nation ; nor is this the kind of preaching which it pleases God the Holy Ghost to sanction as a means of bringing careless sinners to repentance, of conveying the comfort of forgiveness to such as mourn under a conviction of sin, or of building up believers in faith and holy love. “ What is the chaff to the wheat?” The ministry which it pleases God eminently to sanction is that which unfolds the true meaning of His own Scriptures, and faithfully applies it to the understandings and consciences of the people. There is a living energy in Scripture truth, in comparison with which the most perfect forms of philosophy and rhetoric are utterly powerless. “Is not my word like as a fire ? saith the Lord ; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces ?”
4. A great blessing attends this use of Scripture. “ For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” In this manner your own spiritual prosperity will be secured. Your faith will not only be sustained, but strengthened ; and hence your union with Christ will be intimate, joyous, and sanctifying. Your evidence of the Divine favour will remain unimpaired
amidst all the vicissitudes of life. Your love to God and man will be a constant and an ardent flame. Your hope of eternal life will never languish, but be bright as a cloudless sky. In this state of mind and heart your consciences will be at rest ; your peace will therefore flow like a river, and your joy will often rise to rapture; for the Holy Spirit will dwell in you in all His fulness of power. O blessed state of entire sanctification to God, in which the prevailing feeling of the heart towards God is that which our own poet has thus beautifully expressed :
“In blessing Thee with grateful songs,
My happy life shall glide away;
Hourly with lifted hands I 'll pay ! ”
At the same time, success shall attend your public and official labours. Your scriptural ministry will be “confirmed by signs following;” signs which cannot be mistaken. You shall see the careless alarmed, penitents brought to the Saviour, believers going on unto perfection, backsliders from God brought home again to the church, and the lost joys of salvation restored to them. Churches under your pastoral care and oversight shall walk in love, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, shedding a healthful influence upon the world around them.
To secure these objects is indeed to "act wisely.” It is to "act” under the guidance of infinite wisdom ; it is to secure the best ends, by the most appropriate means ; it is to use God's own word as the instrument of salvation, both to ourselves and others. While you thus “act,” the men of the world, intent only upon earthly objects, may deem you fools ; but the wisdom of your conduct will be acknowledged by angels, and by your righteous Judge ; and it will be demonstrated through eternity.
II. The text enjoins, in connexion with a diligent and practical study of the Bible, the assumption of a pious courage.
“ Be strong and of a good courage ; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee wbithersoever thou goest."
This language was exceedingly appropriate to the man who was to lead an inexperienced army against the tall sons of Anak, and to the siege of cities whose fortifications reached to the very clouds.
It often happens that a Minister of Christ is scarcely less tried than was the Israelitish Commander. Sometimes he is tried by the carelessness, the levity, the errors, the prejudices, and the worldliness of his hearers, whom he is sent to convert and save. After all his studies and efforts he fails to fix their attention, and many of them remain ignorant of Divine things. Notwithstanding all his warnings and admonitions, he cannot impress their hearts; and hence they continue impenitent and unbelieving. In such a state of things he is ready to give up all hope of ultimate success.