Page images
PDF
EPUB

we accordingly do select for their earliest perusal the simplest and most engaging narratives, especially those of a biographical kind, which the Scriptures contain, and the simplest and most attractive of their moral precepts and devotional poems.

This is, by common consent among judicious parents and teachers, the mode adopted for first initiating young people into scriptural knowledge. With this view, Abstracts of the Bible, Catechisms, books of Questions, Bible Stories, and Selections from the Bible, have been produced in great variety, all designed to nourish the religious feelings and to teach the leading facts of Bible history, while reserving for more mature years the systematic study of the books of Scripture at large. But a time is sure to come, sooner or later, in every

intelligent and right-minded young person's life, when the necessity for more systematic scriptural knowledge will be felt, and a somewhat painful anxiety may even possess the mind, till distinct personal convictions be gained on the leading questions, at least, of religious belief. The right use to make of this anxious, but natural and commendable, feeling is, to let it be the stimulus to diligent reading, careful thought and cautious conscientious deliberation, and to watch and aid the process.

To young persons in this interesting state of mind, I would earnestly offer these two counsels :

First. Do not make yourselves too anxious. Do not think it necessary to become quite clear and certain on all points in a hurry. Opinions, if they are to last, should not be settled in a day or two. To be worth keeping, they are worth careful and long seeking and waiting for. Probably it will be years before

you have quite satisfied your minds about all the leading religious questions connected with the Scriptures. It ought to be, if you are really resolved to study em well. And there is no hurry, provided you are not idle or indifferent, but really are earnest in your search. So do not be too anxious to finish the business in less time than will be required to do it well. It has occupied the best thoughts of many mature years with some of us.

The second thing I have to urge is this: Be industrious, and be resolved to know and understand for yourselves whatever is within your power to attain. Do not be frightened at doubts

and difficulties. Look them full in the face. They always come (on other subjects as well as religion) when we really inquire and think; and they are sure to go when we have inquired and thought enough. Read and think thoroughly, then ;—that is one thing. And, while doing so, be (as I have already recommended) under no anxiety about the result;that is the other thing. A spirit of truthfulness will guide any one who follows it, into all the truth that his mind can reach or grasp

The New Testament should be read through by a young Christian before the Old. And, so far as these volumes are concerned, a young reader is recommended to turn at once (on concluding these preliminary chapters) to that part of the second volume which describes the books of the New Testament; and afterwards, when he has diligently read through the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, at any rate, and knows from them the history of the foundation of Christianity, he may with propriety turn to the Old Testament, and study the Jewish and the Christian religions in their historical order and relation to each other, learning what can be known of the date, origin and character of the various books of Scripture, both Jewish and Christian, from the beginning to the end of the Bible.

A few hints to young persons may be useful here, as to the order and method of reading the New Testament. It may

be read straight through; but the Gospels are the most important

you to dwell upon, and, next to these, the Acts of the Apostles.

The four Gospels each give you an account of the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Any one of them would therefore, no doubt, be enough by itself to teach you Christianity. Before the days of printing, many a Christian thought himself richly provided if he possessed a copy of any one of the four Gospels.

Suppose you read Mark's Gospel first, as it is the shortest and perhaps the simplest, not improbably the oldest, of the four. You might read it through carefully in half a day. You will then have read all that Mark thought necessary to tell in order fully to instruct a Christian disciple. Suppose you next read Matthew's. You will find many parts very like Mark's, even in words, as if they had both used some older writings relating

parts for

to the life of Jesus (which, it is thought by many, they did); but Matthew has many things in his Gospel besides those contained in Mark's; and his, as you see at once, is much the lunger of the two accounts. Then you could read Luke's; it is very like both the others in the principal things, but contains some things which they have not, and omits some things that they have. Then John's Gospel will be read last of the four. It was written last; and perhaps John, “the beloved disciple,” had seen the other three histories before he wrote his own. So he does not write over again the principal things contained in their books, but tells many things which they have omitted. Particularly he gives an account of all that our Lord did in his visits to Jerusalem at the great annual feasts of the Jews. The others speak chiefly of what he did in Galilee at other times. Perhaps the beloved disciple always went up to the feasts with his Lord, and the others not always. Having carefully read St. John's Gospel, you will have read all that we know about the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. This must be quite enough to teach any one a knowledge of the Christian religion.

Read next the Acts of the Apostles. That book was written by Luke, and takes us, as it were, in company with some of the apostles to hear them preaching the gospel (after their Lord's resurrection and ascension), first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. The conversion of Paul is related; and then his preaching to the Gentiles occupies the rest of the book. Luke was his companion in some of his journeys. Comparing what the apostles preach in the Acts with what you have before found Jesus preaching in the Gospels, you will see that the two records agree in their great doctrines and in their divine spirit: Love to God and Man, repentance from wicked works, the spiritual worship of God as our Heavenly Father, His providence over us now, His just but merciful retribution in a life to come, as revealed by the word and character and life of Jesus Christ.

I would not recommend any young person to read the Epistles very early. When you do read them, you must expect to find difficulties such as you have not met with in the Gospels and the Acts; and for this very reason—that they are epistles, or letters. Letters generally refer to matters that are well understood by those to whom they are written, and therefore

are not fully explained, but implied or taken for granted, by the writer; so that his allusions are likely to be often obscure and perplexing to any other readers besides those whom he first addressed. It is not surprising, therefore, if, nearly 1800 years after Paul wrote to the Roman or the Corinthian Christians, or to his friend Timothy or Philemon, we find there are some things not very clear to us, which, however, Timothy or Philemon, or the Roman or Corinthian church, might understand at once. Many parts of the Epistles are difficult to explain. And this is still more the case with that very obscure book, the Revelation of St. John. But the easiest books, the Gospels and the Acts, are evidently the books best calculated to teach us what Christianity is. The Epistles afterwards imply its facts and doctrines; but in the Gospels and the Acts, Christianity is preached and lived by its founder and its first missionaries. We must therefore learn genuine Christianity from these books, if we would learn it at all.

CHAPTER II.

OF THE BIBLE IN GENERAL, AND ITS TWO GREAT DIVISIONS, THE

OLD AND THE NEW TESTAMENTS.

THE word BIBLE means book, from the Greek. The Bible is “ The Book,” that is, the book above all other books, the best book, as being the book in which the best religious wisdom is contained. Hence it is called also the Holy Bible, or Sacred Book; in other words, the Book of Religion.

But, though now forming one volume, the contents of the Bible are in reality (as will be shewn more fully hereafter) many distinct writings, of very different kinds, possessing various degrees of religious value and interest, and have been written at very different times. The older name for them (which we still frequently use) is significant of this variety. They were called separately the Scriptures, long before they were called the Bible collectively. This word Scriptures means Writings. The Scriptures are the Writings, the best and most important writings. They are more fully described as the Holy Scriptures, or the Sacred Writings; the Writings, that is, which have especially to do with Religion. These holy writings, then, are, properly speaking, not one book but many, having been written by various authors, in many different times and places, during the course of many centuries. Collected, they form one Bible; but they are in their own nature distinct and separate Scriptures still. This is a very important observation to bear continually in mind.

These Scriptures are divided into two principal parts—the Scriptures of the Old Testament and the Scriptures of the New Testament.

The Old Testament Scriptures are, in brief, the writings which relate to the Jewish religion; the New Testament Scriptures are those which relate to the Christian religion.

This word Testament needs explaining, and the explanation needs to be remembered. The common meaning of the word is evidently quite unsuitable here. When a man makes his will, that is called “making his testament.” So we speak of a man's “last will and testament,” using two words instead of one (as our legal phraseology delights to do); and it is customary to begin such a document with the phrase, “ This is the last will and testament of So-and-so.” Now it is plain that this cannot be the meaning of “Old Testament” and “New Testament” as names for the Scriptures of the Jewish and the Christian religions. They have nothing at all to do with a Testament, in the proper English meaning of that word. The simple fact is, that Testament is an improper translation of a Greek word which has two meanings, and the wrong meaning has been perversely and unfortunately used by the English translators of the Bible. One Greek word stands for two English ones-for Testament and also for Covenant. These two things are to a certain degree similar, yet in other respects very different; so some languages have only one word for them both, and others have two. A covenant includes every ment or bargain. A testament is an agreement of one particular kind, namely, as to what is to be done with the testator's

property when he is dead. The Greeks expressed both the general and the particular idea by the same word, and understood that

kind of agree

« PreviousContinue »