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Witsius was able to recite almost any passage of Scripture in its proper language, together with its context, and the criticisms of the best commentators.
Gouge tied himself to read fifteen chapters in the Bible daily.
Lady Frances Hobart read the Psalms over twelve times every year, the New Testament thrice, and the other parts of the Old Testament once.
Susannah, Countess of Suffolk, for the last seven years of her life, read the whole Bible over twice annually.(6)—And that the knowledge of the holy Scripture was never intended to be confined to clergy, or to kings, learned men, and persons of rank, is evident from the words of Erasmus, who contributed more perhaps than any other man, towards promoting the knowledge of the scriptural learning.--I would desire that all women should read the gospel, and the
(6) There have been many female characters highly eminent for their piety and knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures. Queen Ca. tharine Parr-Queen Mary-Lady C. Courten-Lady M. Houghton-Lady Cutts-Lady E. Hastings Lady M. Armyne-Lady A. Halket-Lady Langham-Lady E. Brooke-Lady M. Vere, Mrs. C. Phillips-Mrs. J. Ratcliffe-Mrs. C. Bretterg-Mrs. A. Baynard-Mrs. A. M. Schurman-Mrs. E. Bury-Mrs. E. Burnet, Mrs. E. Rowe, and others.
In the reign of Henry V. a law was passed against the perusal of the Scriptures in English. It enacted," that whatsoever they were that should read the Scriptures in the mother tongue, they should forfeit land, catel, lif, and godes from theyr heyres for ever, and so be condempned for heretykes to God, enemies to the crowne, and most errant traitors to the lande.”
The above is an honourable list of female characters. We may therefore place them in the higher class of Aylmer's account of the fair sex; for this good bishop, when preaching at court before Elizabeth, tells his audience, that “ women are of two sorts, some of them are wiser, better learned, discreeter, and more cone stant, than a number of men: but another and worse sort of theni, and the most part, are fond, foolish, wanton flibbergibs, tatlers, triflers, wavering, witless, without counsel, feeble, careless, rash, proud, dainty, nice, tale-bearers, eves-droppers, rumour-raisers, evil-tongued, worse minded, and in every wise doltified with the dregs of the devil's dunghil."
epistles of Paul. I would to God, the plowman should sing a text of Scripture at his plough; and that the weaver at his loom would thus drive away the tediousness of time. I would the way-faring man, with this pastime, would expel the weariness of his journey. And in short, I would that all the communication of the Christian should be of the Scripture."
If we come to our own time, it might be made to appear, that abundance of the most serious and valuable people, among the different denominations of men, spend a good portion of their time in this sacred exercise. I observe only, that Romaine studied nothing but the Bible for the last thirty or forty years of his life.
All these examples from ancients and moderns, are produced in this place, to encourage the believer to abound in this divine employ, for the comfort and edification of his own mind. The more intimately we are acquainted with these writings, the more fully shall we be persuaded of their incomparable excellency. Le Clerc tells us,
" that while he was compiling his harmony, he was so struck with admiration of the excellent discourses of Jesus, so inflamed with the love of his most holy doctrine, that he thought he but just then began to be acquainted with what he scarce ever laid out of his hands from his infancy.” Indeed, the scheme of redemption therein exhibited is most worthy of acceptation, admirably calculated to make all mankind virtuous and happy, could all mankind see its excellence, feel its necessity, and submit to its righteous requirements. Far are we from wishing you to pay a blind submission to every thing that goes under the name of religion. Very far are we from desiring you to believe as we believe, or to act in
every respect as we think right to act. Prize the liberty wherewith God hath providentially made you free.
Use your own reason, but use it soberly. Beware of vain and spurious pretensions. Be upon
your guard against a sophistical philosophy, the fashionable folly of the present day. To sound philosophy we have no objection ; but when a spurious kind of wisdom, falsely called philosophy, would rob us of our Bible, to which we are all more indebted than we are willing to confess(7), we must say of it as Cicero said of the twelve tables :-“ Though all should be offended I will speak what I think. Truly the little book of the twelve Tables alone, whether we consider the several chapters, or regard it as the foundation of all our laws, exceeds the libraries of all
(7) Steel says, “ the greatest pleasures with which the imagi. nation can be entertained are to be found in Sacred Writ, and even the style of Scripture is more than human."
We have an account of Henry Willis, farmer, aged 81, deceased, who had devoted almost every hour that could be spared from his labour, during the course of so long a life, to the devout and serious perusal of the holy Scriptures. He had read, with the most minute attention, all the books of the Old and New Testament eight times over; and had proceeded as far as the book of Job in the ninth reading, when his meditations were terminated by death.
A still more excellent account we have in the Shepherd of Salisbury-Plain. In a conversation with Mr. Johnson, he gives the following pleasing account of himself: “ Blessed be God, through his mercy, I learnt to read when I was a boy. I believe there is no day for the last thirty years, that I have not peeped at my Bible. If we can't find time to read a chapter, I defy any man to say he can't find time to read a verse; and a single text, well followed and put in practice every day, would make no bad figure at the year's end; 365 texts, without the loss of a moment's time, would make a pretty stock, a little golden treasury, as one may say, from new year's day to new year's day; and if children were brought up to it, they would come to look for their text, as naturally as they do for their breakfast. I can say the greatest part of the Bible by heart. I have led but a lonely life, and have often had but little to eat; but my Bible has been meat, drink and company to me—and when want and trouble have come upon me, I don't know what I should have done indeed, if I had not had the promises of this book for my stay and support."
Let no man hereafter pretend he cannot find time to read the Sacred Writings. Every person has abundant leisure for the pur. pose. Find but inclination, and you will soon find time.
the philosophers, as well in the weight of its authority, as in the extent of its utility.”
The principles of natural religion are all solid, and founded in the reason and relation of things. The gospel of Christ is equally solid and rational. It takes in, unites, and confirms every principle of nature, and adds a number of circumstances suited to the fallen condition of man. And it calls upon, it invites, it challenges, it commands us to examine its pretensions with all possible care accuracy, and severity.
“ Wrong not the Christian; think not reason yours;
On argument alone our faith is built." If the gospel had not been agreeable to the most refined principles of human reason, we should never have found the soundest and most perfect reasoners, that ever appeared upon earth, enlist under its banner (8). That it is not universally received, is by no
(8) We may add, that the most active, useful and benevolent characters in our own enlightened day, have been the firmest believers in the writings of the Old and New Testaments. John Wesley spent his whole life, 'time, strength, and fortune, in spread. ing the knowledge of Christ and his word. John Howard was equally active in advancing the same cause, in a way as unprece. dented as it was useful. He was a firm believer in the Scriptures, and a very serious and conscientious Christian.
Bolingbroke tells the world, that the “ resurrection of letters was a fatal period: the Christian system has been attacked, and wounded too, very severely since that time. Christianity has been in decay ever since the resurrection of letters." The late king of Prussia has the same sentiment: “Hobbes, Collins, Shaftsbury, and Bolingbroke in England, and their disciples, have given religion a mortal blow."
These two men are mistaken. They confound pure evangelical religion with superstition. The latter we grant, and we glory in the truth, has received a mortal blow ; but the former is as unshakeable as the throne of the Eternal. One of the most extraor. dinary philosophers of the present age, was the late David Rit: tenhouse, of America. Dr. Rush, who is an able philosopher and
means to be ascribed, either to its want of due evidence or to its being an irrational scheme; but to causes of a very different nature. “ If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them.” This view ought to alarm the fears, and rouse the attention of every man living; but especially of our unbelieving and sceptical countrymen. Rejection of the truths of religion is always in the Sacred Writings ascribed to a fault in the heart and will, rather than to any defect in the head. will not come unto me, that ye may have life.-If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
- The wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.—The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but the transgressors shall fall therein.” Say not then, that you would believe if you could. Deceive not yourselves by all.dging want of evidence. Tell us no longer of the absurdities and contradictions of Scripture. The evilence is ampl:. (9) The absurdities will vanish, the contradictions
a determined Christian, observes, when speaking of his decease, that "it is no small triumph to the friends of revelation to observe, in this age of infidelity, that our religion has been admitted, and even defended by men of the most exalted understanding, and of the strongest reasoning powers. The single testimony of David Rittenhouse in its favour, outweighs the declamations of whole nations against it.”
(9) “ Reasonable deists cannot but become Christians, where 'the gospel shines." These several passages of the Sacred Wri. tings account sufficiently for the infidelity of our several deistical writers. Bolingbroke, Voltaire, Gibbon, Paine, and most others, of whom I have had knowledge, seem to have been desticute of the proper state of mind for the investigation of religious truth. “ From several conversations, which it has been my chance to have with unbelievers, I have learned, that ignorance of the nature of our religion, and a disinclination to study both it and