Page images
PDF
EPUB

clouded day. In this view, these histories give us a noble and suba lime idea of the blessed God, as not being weakly partial to a single family and nation, as the narrow minded Jews thought ; but favouring them with particular blessings and discoveries for the sake of the whole world : making them the repository of true religion for the benefit of the neighbouring nations; and, for the same end, scattering them, and their sacred records, through the most considerable nations of the earth. But we shall have an imperfect notion of the Jewish religion if we consider it as complete in itself: it is plainly nothing more than an introduce tion to one more perfect. Christ was typified in their law, prefigured in their history, foretold by their prophets ; and all were intended to lead their faith to him, and to confirm ours in him.

The sacred histories point out to us the design of God's several dispensations ; show them in their connection and dependence; and lead our thoughts to the grand end and design of all, to establish truth and righteousness in the earth, and to promote the spiritual and everlasting happiness of mankind. These are the great uses of the Old Testament histories. They contain a faithful and entertaining record of ancient events ; they explain and illustrate many other parts of the holy scriptures; they convey to us many important and profitable instructions : more particularly, they give us clear and striking ideas of God's government of the world ; they furnish us with many examples of eminent piety and goodness"; they set before us the danger the best of men are in, of being overcome by temptation ; they represent to us the great evil of sin, and God's high displeasure against it; they show the insufficiency of any profession and privileges to obtain the favour of God, without a suitable life ; they manifest God's favourable regard to the upright, notwithstanding the imperfections of their character ; and, they show, that there is one uniform, consistent scheme of Provi. dence which runs through every dispensation. It is impossible for me, in this discourse, to do full justice to such an important and extensive subject. But the hints I have given will afford copious matter of enlargement, to those who will seriously apply their thoughts to them. I proceed, therefore, to make some Reflections on the subject.

APPLICATION.

1. How unjustly are these histories censured and abused.

This is, and has been the case. The grand events of them have been burlesqued, and the most shining characters reviled and ridiculed, by some men of learning ; and particularly by a celebrated writer, in a treatise on the Study and use of History. He has made many unjust and contemptuous reflections on Rev. elation in general ; particularly the histories of the Old Testa. ment : urged in such terms as, if regarded, would have a tendency to bring them into neglect and disuse. And as he is remarkable for wit, and the beauties of language, his censures may be of dangerous consequence to persons of weak understandings, or bad dispositions. He represents the chief use of history, to be for statesmen and governors. But, surely, it is useful to direct persons in private life ; to excite and regulate pious, generous, and kind affections. This he allows when he is speaking of other histories, and it is strange he should deny it to these. He objects, that the Jews were a superstitious, lying people. But if this were allowed, there are exceptions to national characters ; and to charge every writer with such a disposition, (for which I can see no foundation) is certainly unjust and wrong. Beside, if their historians were liars, they would certainly have been more favourable to their own nation, at least to their own family, and most of all to their own character, which yet they are not. I have largely shown what advantage these histories are of; there is therefore no room for that contempt which has been thrown upon them, though it should be allowed (which is urged as a considerable objection against them) that they do not contain a just and regular history of the Jewish state, or what may safely be depended upon in settling the history and chronology of the neighbouring nations, though some of the most learned men of this and the last age have thought otherwise. But should this be allowed, it is strange it should be made a reflection on any book, that it does not contain what it never pretended to contain ! It may be as just a reflection upon the bible, that it does not teach men mathematics, or trade. These histories were written, not to make men chronologers, but to make them wise and good. I think St. Paul knew what they were written for, better than Lord Bolingbroke, and he tells us it was for our learning and admonition, that we might hate sin, love holiness, and have hope. If these histories are so absurd and unprofitable as some would represent them, Providence has acted strangely in conveying them down to us so safely and so perfect as they are, when so many other ancient histories are lost, which they think would have been of much more use to the world. But I hope, and believe, you will ever entertain a different opinion of them : and look upon those as contemptible writers, as having very bad hearts, and very mischievous designs, who would weaken their authority, and expose to contempt, what holy men of old wrote by the inspiration of the blessed God.

2. Let us be thankful to God, who hath given us these useful histories.

Reason, as well as revelation, teach us that every good gift is from above. And it is evident that those are the best and choicest gifts which tend to make men holy and happy. God is the author of those improvements of understanding, and those good dispositions of heart, which incline men to speak and write for the advancement of knowledge and holiness. The arts of writing and printing are from him ; by which the knowledge of divine things is preserved and diffused. It is owing to his overruling providence, that these sacred books have been conveyed down to us so entire and perfect ; and the superstition of the Jews, in numbering even the verses and letters of the Old Testament, made serviceable to secure those valuable treasures ; and to his goodness we owe it, that they are not locked up in an unknown language, as among the papists. That they are so useful, that important instruction is conveyed in so pleasant a manner, is another call for thankfulness. When, therefore, your hearts are affected with what you read or hear; when you feel an inclination to imitate the most eminent saints, and to cherish the influences of those excellent principles by which they were animate ed; when your faith in God is confirmed, and your hope en• livened by the united testimony and experience of holy men; let your hearts ascend in praise to God, who hath given you his word, to be a light to your feet, and a lamp to your path, and put it into your hearts to make a proper use of it. There is none who teacheth like him.

3. These histories are worthy our daily perusal and diligent study.

The reading of them is with great propriety often made a part of our public services. It is doing a becoming honour to the word of God, necessary for the instruction of the ignorant, and useful to fix the chief events more strongly upon the memory of those who already know them. Explaining and illustrating them is particularly serviceable for such purposes. But I would recommend them to your daily and careful perusal, and to your attentive study. One would think that they should be frequently read, if it were only for entertainment ; for they are certainly the most entertaining histories in the world. And if a person who had read and studied the most noted common histories, and had never seen the bible, was accidentally to meet with it, I am persuaded the perusal of it would throw him into a transport of joy and surprise, and he would give it the preference to all that he had ever seen. It is our duty to search the scriptures, and to be desirous that the word of God may dwell in us richly, in all wis. dom ; that is, that we may understand its meaning, enter into its spirit, propriety and design ; and treasure up in our memory the most important facts, and the most extraordinary characters there recorded. It is surely a shame for a christian to be unacquainted with it ; that he should be able to give a circumstantial account of the reign of Charles, or William, and yet know nothing of the reigns of David and Solomon, though they were so eminent for princely qualities and distinguished piety! But especially what an infamy is it to one who calls himself a christian, that he should be well acquainted with idle, mischievous romances, and know little of his bible! Why must such trashy as the world is how pestered with, be thought no way improper to be the subject of conversation, and yet it shall be reckoned unpolite to discourse on the characters and achievements of holy men of old ? Or silence seal up every tongue in a company, after one of a superior taste has mentioned some scripture story, and attempted to introduce a conversation upon it ? Romances are only the apes and mimics of history ; and it is a pity they should be so eagerly perused, and so fondly talked of, while true history is neglected, and the oracles of God little regarded. May you, my friends, endeavour to furnish your minds with useful knowledge ; and especially with that, which is to be found with peculiar advantages in the word of God, and let that be your delight and your counsellor : for it is better than thousands of gold and silver ; sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.

4. It is an important part of good education, to teach children the scripture histories.

Wherewith, says David, (Psalm cxix. 9.) shall a young man cleanse his way? He answers, by taking heed thereto according to thy word. Now the histories, as well as the precepts of scripture, are useful to answer this end : not only for the reasons mentioned above, but particularly, because there are so many shining examples of early piety, wisdom, and usefulness; as Joseph, Samuel

, David, Solomon, Josiah, Obadiah, Daniel, and others. It is of im. portance that children be directed to read these histories; yea, that they be taught the most important and striking facts, and informed of the most amiable characters, even before they are capable of reading them. Children are naturally fond of history, espec. ially that which contains wonderful and uncommon scenes. They can understand these, before they can enter into reasonings and arguments. Histories and examples strongly impress their minds ; they easily remember them, talk of them with pleasure ; and examples may draw when precepts fail. Let me recommend to you who are parents, that you teach these things diligent. ly to your children ; that you talk of them in your houses, and by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up ; for such is the appointment of God. He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, that parents should make known to their children the wonderful works of God, that the generations to come might know them. Psalm lxxviii. 6. And do you, my young friends, read them yourselves, endeavour to remember them, and desire your parents to repeat them often to you, that you may remember them. I cannot but upon this occasion recommend, both to parents and children, Dr. Watts's Short View of Scrip. ture History, where the whole of it is set in an easy light, explain. ed in a short compass, and a particular account is given of the Jewish history, from their return from the captivity, to the time of Christ. A book, which should be in every family, and which the most intelligent may find great advantage in often reviewing. Let me recommend it particularly to the study of those who are VOL. II.

с

tical purposes.

young ; concerning whom I can scarce offer a better wish than that, like Timothy, they may from their childhood know the holy scriptures, which are able to make them wise to salvation.

5. Let it be the care of all to improve these histories to prac.

All scripture, says St. Paul, that is, the scriptures of the Old Testament, (for to them he chiefly refers) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, fogo reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. It is not enough to read it for entertainment, or merely to furnish the mind with matter of speculation and curious inquiry: A man may be a great critic, and yet a very bad character. He may be well versed in the history and chronology of the bible, and yet be a stranger to real religion. Be it your care, my friends, when you read, or hear any portion of these sacred writings, to consider what practical lessons they teach ; and to attend to your own concern in them. I have endeavoured to direct and assist yoụ in drawing practical reflections from them ; and I hope you have attended to them, for your own instruction and admonition. Think often of the bright examples of piety and goodness they contain, that you may go and do likewise. You will find in these histories very strong and commanding motives to the practice of your duty, and many solemn warnings and cautions against sin. They will, in the language of the text, promote your patience and comfort, under all the troubles and sorrows of life ; will furnish you with a lively hope of divine support and consolation, and of that eternal glory and happiness, which he hath prepared for them who love him ; of which the saints under the Old Testament are already partaking. May God assist you to make this use of the old Testament histories, and all the advantages you have for understanding and improving by them; that by these, and other helps, human and divine, you may go from knowledge to knowledge, and from strength, to strength, till you appear before God in Sion, and share in the work and happiness of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Samuel, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God. Amen.

« PreviousContinue »