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THE EXCELLENCY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
2 Tim. iii. 16, 17. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
LITTLE do men in general think how much they are indebted to God for the possession of the Holy Scriptures. This was the exclusive privilege of the Jewish nation for fifteen hundred years and it elevated them above all other people upon the face of the earth. Their chief advantage, as St. Paul tells us, was, that "unto them were committed the Oracles of God." In the knowledge of these Timothy was early instructed; and "by these he was made wise unto salvation." Doubtless the way of salvation was not so clearly marked in them, as in the Christian Scriptures: but still, to any one who reads the writings of Moses and the Prophets with humility and prayer, there was every needful instruction both in relation to faith and practice. The whole Mosaic dispensation taught him this great lesson, that he must be saved by a vicarious sacrifice; and all the prophets directed his views to that great sacrifice, which should, in due time, be offered by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is of these Scriptures that St. Paul speaks in my text; and in the commendation which he bestows upon them, we see,
I. Their true origin—
The Scriptures of the Old Testament were given by inspiration of God”—
[Of this there is abundant evidence, in the very nature of the things which they contain. What could Moses have known about the creation of the world, of the fall of man, and of the facts relating to the deluge, if they had not been revealed to him by God? What could he have known of the nature and perfections of God; or of the means by which fallen man was to be restored to his favour; or of the Prophet who should in due time be raised up from amongst his brethren, to be, like him. a Mediator, a Lawgiver, a Redeemer, a Governor? How
could he have ever given so perfect a code of laws as those contained in the Ten Commandments; and so complicated a system of ceremonial laws, that should shadow forth, in every particular, the work and offices of the Messiah, together with the privileges and enjoyments of his redeemed people? Or if we suppose a finite creature endued with wisdom sufficient for such a work (which yet cannot for a moment be imagined), it cannot be conceived that he should impose his own inventions on the world as a revelation from God: for if he was a good man, he would never have attempted so impiously to deceive the world; nor, if he was wicked enough to execute so criminal a project, would he ever have given so holy a law, which condemned even the smallest approach to such impiety, and gave the perpetrator of it no hope of ever escaping the wrathful indignation of Almighty God. The miracles wrought by him are a farther confirmation of his divine mission, and of his being inspired of God to declare all which has been transmitted to us in his writings.
Respecting the prophets also, we may say, that their inspiration of God can admit of no doubt; since it was not possible for them, if uninspired, so minutely and harmoniously to foretell so many events, which all came to pass agreeably to their predictions.]
The same may be said in reference to the writers of the New Testament
[Whilst the Apostles and Evangelists always refer to the Old Testament as inspired of God, and declare, with one consent, that the writers of it delivered not mere sentiments of their own, but "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," they profess to be themselves inspired by that same Spirit, in all that they declare; and they wrought miracles without number in confirmation of their word. In what they wrote indeed, they expressed themselves, each in his own peculiar style, as any other writers would have done: but in the matter of what they wrote, they were inspired of God; and in the manner of expressing it they were preserved by that same Spirit from any error or mistake. So that of the whole Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, we may affirm, that God is the Author of them, and that every part of them has been "given by inspiration from him."]
The Apostle proceeds to declare,
II. Their primary use
This is expressed in four different terms; which
a 2 Pet. i. 19-21.
yet may properly be comprehended in two. The Scriptures are profitable,
1. For the establishment of sound doctrine
[They declare all that is needful for us to know: and they lay down every "doctrine" of our holy religion with the utmost precision. At the same time, they enable us to "reprove," or, as the word imports, to refute, by the most convincing mode of argumentation, every error, which ignorant or conceited men may labour to maintain. There is such a perfect unity in the system of revelation, that you cannot overthrow one part, without overturning the whole. Let the divinity of our Lord and Saviour be denied, and you entirely destroy the doctrine of the atonement also. Let the influences of the Holy Spirit be denied, and the transformation of the soul into the Divine image must fall with it. Let the merit of good works be maintained, and the whole covenant of grace is annihilated. There are indeed matters of less moment, which are less clearly revealed, and respecting which persons of equal piety may differ: but in every thing which is of fundamental importance, we find in the Scriptures the most abundant means of discovering truth, and of refuting error. To them we must on all occasions make our appeal, and by their testimony we must abide.]
2. For the securing of a holy practice
[Innumerable evils obtain in the world: but every one of them is condemned in the inspired volume; whilst, at the same time, the ways of true piety are pointed out with clearness to all who desire to walk in them. There is not so much as a secret evil of the heart which does not find "correction" there, nor any attainment of true righteousness in relation to which we do not find the most explicit "instruction." The works of the flesh, and the fruits of the Spirit, are set in contrast with each other, and are portrayed with such exactness, that there is no room left for ignorance to any one who will search the Scriptures, nor for mistake to any one that is truly upright before God.]
From these immediate uses we may easily discern, III. Their ultimate design-
To render men "perfect," is the great object of God, in all that he has revealed: and this the Scriptures are admirably calculated to effect; since they leave nothing wanting, either to ministers or others,
1. For their instruction—
[We cannot conceive of any good work which a person instructed out of the Holy Scriptures is not fitted to perform. Take him as "a man of God," discharging the ministerial office: he may learn from the Scriptures how to demean himself in the Church of God so wisely and so profitably, that nothing shall be wanting to the edification of his flock. Or, take him as a private individual: take him in his secret walk with God: What needs he more than is there contained? What can any man add to the directions there given, or to the examples that are there set before us? or what further light can any creature in the universe desire? Take him in his conduct towards his fellow-creatures: What duty is there which is undefined? Let a person occupy any station, or sustain any relation of life, husband or wife, parent or child, master or servant, magistrate or subject, he will equally find such directions as shall leave him at no loss how to please God, or to approve himself to men.]
2. For their encouragement
[There is not a motive capable of influencing the human mind which is not there suggested and enforced. Not only are the tremendous sanctions of heaven and hell set forth in order to work upon our hopes and fears, but all the wonders of redeeming love are there displayed in such majesty and splendour, that no person irradiated with their light can want any thing to increase their constraining influence. Besides, the promises of God contained in this blessed book are so rich, so free, so full, that nothing can be added to them: nor can a man be in any circumstances whatever, wherein suitable provision is not made for his encouragement and support; so that he is not only "furnished for every good work," but assured of success in all that he attempts to execute: if he be called to act, he is "able to do all things through Christ who strengtheneth him;" or, if he be called to suffer, he is made "more than conqueror through Him who loved him."] Such then being the excellency of the Holy Scriptures, let every one of you set himself to discharge his DUTIES in relation to them
1. Refer every thing to them as your standard— [Rest not in the opinions of men, whoever those men may be: but bring every thing to the law and to the testimony: for, whoever they be, if they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them". You cannot but know, that, both
b Isai. viii. 20.
in relation to faith and practice, the most grievous errors abound. Bring therefore your sentiments and your conduct to this test. See whether your views of yourself, and of Christ, agree with those which the Scriptures exhibit; and see whether your life, spirit, and conduct, be such as those of the Apostles were. I charge you, before God, to try yourselves by this touchstone. It is not a superficial view of these matters that will suffice. You may easily deceive yourselves; but you can never deceive God: and it is not by any standard of yours that he will try you, but by the standard of his own word. Oh! search and try your ways: "examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves:" so shall you have the testimony of a good conscience now, and attain acceptance with God in the eternal world.]
2. Consult them in all things as your guide
[Difficulties will often arise: and if you go to man for counsel, you will most generally be led astray; since none but those who have imbibed the spirit of the Scriptures themselves, can declare the sublime principles which they inculcate. Study then the Holy Scriptures from day to day, and that too with a direct view to your conduct; so that on any emergency you may have readily occurring to your mind such passages as are fitted to regulate your judgment, and to direct your paths. "Instructed by them, you will be wiser than your teachers"," and will be enabled to "walk wisely before God in a perfect way."]
3. Beg of God, who has revealed them to the world, to reveal them also in your heart
[Plain as the Scriptures are, they are yet "a sealed book" to all whose eyes have not been enlightened by the Spirit of God. The natural man, how learned soever he may be, cannot enter into their spiritual import, because he has not a spiritual discernment. The Apostles themselves, after all the instruction which they had received, both in public and private, from their Divine Master for above three years, yet needed to have "their understandings opened by him, that they might understand the Scriptures." So do ye need the teachings of God's Spirit, without which you will be in darkness to the latest hour of your lives. Pray then to him, as David did; "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law!" Then shall you "be guided into all truth;" and find the Scriptures fully adequate to all the gracious ends for which they have been revealed.]
c Ps. cxix. 99, 130.
d Ps. ci. 2.
e 1 Cor. ii. 14.