Page images

whole. Revelation is a work of a different kind. All its precepts arise naturally out of the occasions on which they were delivered. And these were extremely various, apparently accidental, and unconnected. Its doctrines lie scattered about in a rich profusion, like the productions of nature. The most unskilful hand can take from this store to supply his wants, and learn to bless the goodness of that common parent who hath made this ample provision for all. And thus the lowest and the busiest part of mankind, they who have neither leisure nor ability to digest a whole system, may reap the greatest benefit from the scriptures, whilst they cannot look into a single page without returning the wiser from it, and without meeting with many lessons of instruction whose force they may fully comprehend. Thus much was necessary to render the scriptures fit for common use.

However, it is one argument, amongst many, of the divinity of the holy scriptures, that these seemingly unconnected parts do all yet unite in one great plan. Scattered like the stars in the firmanent of heaven, like them toọ they are the parts of an harmonious system. The designs of the Almighty are distinguished from those of man, by being of an extent far beyond all the powers of human execution. The work of Revelation taking its rise in the beginning of things, advanced slowly through many ages towards its accomplishment. Many were the agents commissioned by heaven to

labor in the progress of this great work. And while each seemed to study only his own times, and to be intent only on the execution of his own particular part, he was working on the vast design of heaven, in concert with those who had lived many ages before him, and with those who were to arise in ages yet to come. Nothing therefore could give consistency to the labors of men thus situated in times and countries the most remote from each other, and amongst whom no human means of communication could possibly lie open, but the guiding hand of Him who "knows the end from the beginning,” and before whom the secrets of all future ages are unfolded, conducting the whole, and leading each, unknown to himself, to fill up his part of the immense plan. Whilst therefore the common eye sees nothing in the volume of Revelation, but separate predictions, unconnected miracles, distinct histories, undigested laws, and detached events; the just and attentive observer beholds an amazing chain of connection running throughout the whole, beholds the strongest union under an apparent disorder, and discerns what at first sight seemed perplexed and void of design, to be as was beautifully said of the ways of providence, “a regular confusion.”

It must necessarily happen, that many parts of Revelation, at the same time that they served a more limited purpose, must have been planned in subservience to this great design. And therefore if we overlook this reference,

[ocr errors]

we can never be master of their true force, nor understand their full effect. It is the business of the faithful teacher of God's word, to study these relations, and to compare the Revelation of one age with that of another. By this means, many of those passages which are otherwise "hard to be understood," will be cleared up, many new lights will be obtained, many truths better supported, and, every part mutually sustaining each other, Revelation will stand. firm and unshaken, and will appear, in the beautiful image of the royal Psalmist, like “a city that is at unity in itself." And thus will the faithful minister of God's word be enabled, by the divine blessing, to lead others more steadily in their duty, and to protect from error those who do not enjoy his abilities or opportunities. He will go before them like a skilful guide, who is not barely acquainted with one single beaten path, and therefore may easily be thrown beyond his knowledge, but is master of the whole country through which he is appointed to lead them.

Thus it is, that Revelation hath, by the wise author of it, been at once adapted to the capacities of the vulgar, and to the most improved understandings; affording, at the same time, exercise for the brightest talents, and instructions suited to the vulgar mind. Nor is it necessary that the unlearned Christian should be in possession of all those hidden stores in the system of Revelation which learning gives access to; no more than that the

peasant should understand all those wonders of nature, hidden from the vulgar eye, with which every part of the world around him is enriched. Both enjoy the fruits of these wonders, without understanding the sources from whence they flow.

But whilst this admirable disposition of the whole work of Revelation gives many advantages to the sincere and able interpreter of God's word, it must necessarily lay it open to numberless misrepresentations when it comes into the hands of the ignorant or ill disposed. When the blind will undertake to lead the way, and ignorance, with that confidence which is peculiar to itself, boldly steps into the seat of instruction, what wonder that we find errors multiplied; passages explained, not only without any regard to the general design of Revelation, but even without attending to the purpose of the writer, or the tenor of the discourse to which they belong; and doctrines drawn from them, which are absolutely irreconcileable to the attributes of God, and repugnant to every other plain and undoubted doctrine of scripture? Hence the unity of the church is violated, and all order subverted; every contriver of new opinions, or reviver of those which have been long exploded, becomes the leader of a sect; and he who can build the most mysterious doctrine on some obscure text, no matter how little understood the doctrine may be, or, as far as it can be understood,


how little consistent with every clearer part of scripture; he who can, by these arts, involve the whole body of Revelation in those clouds which dwell on some mysterious part, is regarded as one favored with new lights, and whilst he labors to render every thing obscure, is held in admiration, as the only clear interpreter of the oracles of God.

Amidst all these jarring opinions, one point only seems to remain uncontroverted, that faith is necessary in order to salvation; faith in name at least, since there hath been much difference of opinion about the true import and extent of this term.

Taking therefore our beginning from that wherein all seem to agree, let us inquire into the nature, the origin, foundation, and evidence, the tendency and operations of faith.


Of the Nature of Faith.

LEAVING all human opinions behind us,

let us have recourse to the sacred records of truth for information, and learn from the gracious mouth of our Saviour himself, what we are to think of the true NATURE of faith.

To any one who is contented to understand the gospels in their plain and natural meaning, this inquiry cannot be long nor difficult. The

« PreviousContinue »