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We must pardon much to the unfortunate influences of education, much to want of knowledge. And this leads us to repeat, and we shall yet again reiterate, the call for
popular exposition. If any one would write a book, - we do not now speak of a regular commentary, - but a book of disquisitions or lectures on the Old Testament, which should not be too learned, and yet the fruit of much learning, which should relieve the popular difficulties about such subjects as the creation, and the flood, and the building of Bahel, and the age of the antediluvians, and the destruction of the Canaanites, and many things in the conduct of the patriarchs, he would do a most important service to the cause of religion. How often is an objection made with a very grave and ominous air of superior wisdom, to the inebriety of Noah, the treachery of Jacob, the anger of Moses, the wickedness of David, and even to the incorrigible obstinacy and folly of the whole nation of the Israelites, as if it concerned any body on earth, to defend them in those respects ! How many things, too numerous here to mention, referred to, as bearing an aspect of inconsistency, extravagance, or absolute incredibility, which are capable of easy explanation, from the customs of those ancient ages, or the natural history of those remote countries, or the peculiarities of their language! And how common is it, instead of looking upon these writings as an historical account of God's moral interpositions in behalf of men, to regard them, in substance and detail, as the express dictates and suggestions of divine wisdom, and therefore to regard that wisdom as responsible for every sentence and word, that is written in the Bible! Truly, armed with such a theory as this, the letter killeth.' It would kill all faith.
But we must not dwell longer on this depreciating estimate of the Bible, but proceed to take up a subject which is one, we think, of great practical importance, the reading of the Scriptures. In doing this, we propose to speak freely of the difficulties that attend it, and of their character, causes, and remedy.
There is scarcely any subject, we are inclined to believe, which the state of the general mind, at present, more earnestly calls into discussion than this of reading the Scriptures. When the Bible was denied to the laity, or when, in that revulsion of feeling which the Reformation produced,
the reading of it came to be regarded as one of the greatest privileges and duties, and men dared not to acknowledge to themselves, much less to others, that there were any difficulties in the way of the required interest in the Scriptures, the case was different. But in the freedom of thought and of speech which now exists, and which distinguishes our own times from the days of elder Puritanism quite as much as they were distinguished from the reign of the Romish hierarchy, there are not a few who admit to themselves, and some who acknowledge to others, that there are obstacles in their minds, if not distinct feelings of reluctance, to the reading of the Scriptures; - at least, to that extent and with that frequency which are commonly urged by their religious advisers. This feeling is commonly entertained, we believe, with pain, at least, by all serious minds; and we have known it to be entertained by very serious minds. To such it is a subject of regret and apprehension, that they are wanting in that love of the Scriptures, which is commonly stated as one of the most indispensable marks of piety.
There are others by whom a much stronger feeling, a feeling of absolute aversion is felt, and even carelessly felt, who regard their dislike of the Scriptures as one of the many indications of a character, which they have made up their minds to take and acknowledge as their own. Their aversion is founded on very different reasons, from the difficulties of the former class. The difficulties of the former may arise partly from familiarity with the Scriptures; the aversion of the latter arises from worldly neglect, from pride, and from the dislike of all reproof and religious impression.
Again, there are others who look upon both of these states of mind, with equal and unqualified reprobation, who have never been at liberty to reflect freely on this subject, and who therefore brand all deficiency in the enjoyment of the Scriptures, as a sign of spiritual deadness. They have never had the freedom of mind to suspect that such reluctance may have arisen from natural and reasonable
Prone to think every thing wrong, they have regarded all obstacles to reading the Bible as only added proofs of the common depravity. It
may therefore be for the benefit of all to enter into
some account of the causes which may have contributed to make the Scriptures less interesting than it is desirable they should be.
Something may undoubtedly be attributed, as cause, to the circumstance that in childhood the Scriptures are often read as a task. To a child, the reading of the Scriptures as a whole can scarcely be otherwise than a task. It is impossible that the Bible as a whole should be understood by a child; and therefore the reading of it must always be mechanical and ultimately irksome. The Romish doctrine of the uselessness and injurious tendency of reading the Scriptures, might, with some limitations at least, apply to children. Of what use can it be to them to read such books as Deuteronomy, or Leviticus, the obscure parts of the prophets, or the speculative parts of the Epistles ? And how can the perusal of such portions of our sacred books fail to be uninteresting; and if uninteresting, then, a task; and if a task, then, an injury, not only for the time being, but, through the laws of association, an injury for years to come. The Bible, though it has interested the learned, the critical, the intelligently pious, beyond all other writings, comes to be permanently regarded as a dull book. The tasks of childhood become the drudgeries of maturer years, or, more likely, task and drudgery are laid aside, and profit and pleasure are foreclosed and lost, in the habitual neglect of the Scrip
But the influence of early association yields, as a cause of indifference to the sacred oracles, to another which we are now to mention; and this is, that men commonly read the Scriptures, without gaining any new, or any clearer ideas from them. Take for an illustration of this difficulty any given chapter of the Bible, - say a chapter of one of the Evangelists.
Now here are some passages that are sealed up from the reader in an ancient idiom, in a strange phraseology; they are not understood, and of course are not interesting ; nay, they create a distinct feeling of dissatisfaction, as all ignorance must. Again, there are other passages relating to ordinances and usages that have long since passed away, and these passages, therefore, are a dead letter. There is still, however, a part, and probably the greater part, that is intelligible ; but this, again, is per
It is a It is to
fectly familiar. The chapter has been read a hundred times. The reader is acquainted beforehand with every word and with every obvious idea ; with every idea, that is, which a cursory and careless reading is likely to give him. Now the Bible is not a magician's wand. rational appeal to man's rational understanding. affect his understanding as any other pious address would, and no otherwise. There is no charm in its words and phrases because they are the words and phrases of Scripture, that will necessarily rescue them from the ordinary effects of familiarity. There is no charm that will necessarily do this, but there is a habit of mind, as we shall soon undertake to point out, by which it may be voluntarily done. There are objects we know, which familiarity does not render indifferent, and the Bible may be such an object of regard as shall rescue it from all the ordinary effects of familiarity.
A still further cause of difficulty lies in a certain literal, slavish, and superstitious habit of reading the Scriptures; we know not how otherwise to express it. It is literal. It is a reading of so much ; of so many verses or chapters, as if the merit or advantage of reading consisted in the amount read. It is a reading of so much, statedly, with very little regard to the sense, with more regard to the sum than to the sense ; with no design, ever entertained, of pursuing out any one subject in the Bible. It is a slavish habit. It is reading the Scriptures for the sake of
. reading them, and not distinctly and intelligently for the sake of the advantage to be gained. The feeling of duty in this case is slavish. It is blindly submissive to a rule. The rule is, – the rule set up by all religious bodies, is,
, that every Christian, every good man must read the Scriptures. He who would be a good man, then, feels that he must read them. It is a part, as he considers it, of his very profession and business, and a condition of his very hope, to read them. Now, the difficulty is, that he is too apt to rest in this simple feeling and the correspondent practice, without looking sufficiently to the ultimate objects and advantages, and without sufficiently considering how he is to secure those objects and advantages. And there are two feelings, let it be remembered, which can never enter into collision without difficulty ; the feel
ing that a duty is binding on the conscience, and the feeling that there is no good reason for it, no sufficient object to be answered by it. We confess that we had rather
. remove the feeling of duty from the question of reading the Bible, than have it stand as a taskmaster to enforce a reluctant service.
Such a service, in fine, must become superstitious; and it will bear that fatal mark of superstition, the substitution of the means for the end. The reading of the Bible will become, not a great means of piety, but itself a great work of piety; and thus perverted from its true and proper character, it must be, at length, despite of the zeal of superstition, a dull and irksome employment.
We have before referred to the case of moral aversion, - the hostility of a bad heart to the truths, the reproofs, and the warnings of the Bible ; but it is unnecessary more particularly to dwell on this obvious state of feeling, since it is our purpose rather to address good and serious minds on this subject, – to address those whom we do not desire to reproach with any heinous wickedness, but to whom the duty we have to propose is that of surmounting a difficulty and of correcting an error.
The first remedy to be proposed is knowledge; knowledge, we mean, as including an understanding not only of the value and dignity of the sacred writings, of which we have already spoken, but of their general character, a distinct perception also of the ends for which they should be read, and an intelligent use of the necessary helps to a right comprehension of their meaning.
He who would read the Scriptures profitably would do well to reflect, in the first place, upon the kind of writings that claim his attention. The book before him is not, as the division into verses might lead him to suppose it is,
it is not a body of aphorisms, or of sententious paragraphs, where every verse or chapter by itself contains a complete sense, and where a single glance suffices to detect the meaning, or a few moments' reading, to master the subject. Neither does it consist, on the other hand, of a series of logical inductions, like the sections or chapters of a book of moral philosophy. There is philosophy in the Bible; the philosophy of human nature and of the nature that is divine ; at once the most profound in its principles,
N. S. VOL. VII. NO. II.