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for a Memorial between thine Eyes, that the Lord's Law may be in thy Mouth, &c. Exod. xiii. 14.
Of the LORD'S The most folemn Seafon for Religious Worship is Sunday, or the Lord's Day; in the Neglect of which there is a double Mifchief. For Men lofe the Opportunity not only of worthipping God, but also of hearing and being inftructed by the Adminiftration of his Word; which feems, from the Days of the Apostles, to have been an Appendage to the Chriftian Worship, as we may not obfcurely gather from As xx. 7. where we read, that upon the fuft Day of the Week, when the Disciples came together to break Bread, Paul PREACHED them. So early was this Day (which is our Lord's Day) fet apart to the Ufes of Religion: So early was the Practice of joining with the Worship of God the preaching of his Word, as Means co-ordinate to the fame general End, the Edification of thofe who were: already Chriftians. It was for this Purpose, among others, that a ftanding Ministry was appointed, as St. Paul teftifies, Eph. iv. 11, 12. He gave fome Apoftles, and fome Prophets, and fome PASTORS and TEACHERS, for the perfecting of the Saints, for the Work of the Miniflry, for the EDIFYING OF THE BODY OF CHRIST. Some, I know, have a low Opinion of the Work of the Miniftry in this refpect. The Scriptures (they will tell us) are in every one's Hands, containing an authentick Account of the Christian Doctrine, and the beft Precepts for a good Life. But this is a very unreasonable Objection. It was not long that the Chriftian Church was without the Scriptures; and when they were publifhed, did the Labours of the Clergy thereupon ceafe? No fuch Matter. The Scriptures were received as a standing Evidence of the Faith to all Ages; but Oral Inftruction fill went on, and was, as it always muft be, the principal Inftrument of propagating Chriftian Knowledge. The great Inftrument by which Religion is propagated, is Education: And what is Education but Oral Inftruction? When a Child is put to learn his Catechifm, does he
take his Religion from the Scriptures, or from his Parents and Governors? As Children take their Religion from their Parents, fo the Parents themselves, ordinarily, take theirs from the Chriftian Miniftry, to whom they are incomparably more indebted for their Knowledge in Spiritual Things, than to their private Ufe of the Scriptures.
To make you fenfible of this, let us remove ourfelves back as far as the Reformation, and fee how Matters were then carried on. The Nation had long been in Bondage to the Church of Rome; which had fealed up the Scriptures from vulgar Ufe, and obtruded upon the People her own Inventions, as the Doctrines of Chrift. Our Reformers, who meant to shake off this Yoke, began with opening the Scriptures; that al Men having the Evidence of the Faith before them, might fee and judge fo themfelves. Suppofe now, that instead of ordering a Bible to be fet up in every Parish Church, they had ordered one to be fent to every Family in the Kingdom, and there had ftopp'd; what would they have gained? Why just as much as if they should have fent them the Statute Book to inftruct them in the Laws of the Land: Little, very little, as to the common Information; for I fuppofe I fhall fpeak within Compass, when I fay, that not one in a Hundred, at that Time of Day, were able to read the Scriptures. But the main and immediate Advantage from opening the Scriptures was this, that it turn'd the Stream of the publick Inftruction into its proper Channel. They who had opened the Scriptures to publick Ule, on purpofe to reform the Corruptions of the Church of Rome, took Care, of Courfe, to frame the publick Faith according to the Scripture Model; and the Scriptures ftood as a Check upon all who were disposed to adhere to the old Superftition, who could not, without expofing themselves to Scorn, any longer attempt to fupport a Syftem in fo many Points contradictory to the Evidences of the Faith, which every private Chriftian might fo eafily come at. What advanced the Reformation at first,
was its principal Support afterwards, when the Scriptures came to be more generally read, the right Ap. plication, I mean, of the publick Inftruction; without which the private Ufe of the Scriptures would probably have given Rife to more and greater Mifchiefs than it cured. It is an Obfervation as old as the Scriptures themselves, that they who are unlearned and unflable, wreft them to their own Defiruliion, 2 Pet. iii. 16. There were Corrupters of the Oral Inftructions of the Apofties; and there are Corrupters too of the written Word. This is no Objection againstthe Scriptures; fince, confidering the great Variety that there is in the Tempers and Capacities of Men, it was fcarce poffible to give fuch a Syftem of written Laws, as should be liable to no Misconstruction. But it faliy fhews the Ufe and Neceffity of publick Teaching, under all the Adwintages which the Scriptures yield. For where will be the End of Error and Diffenfion, if when Multitudes are left under the Hazard of fetting out wrong, it fhall be made no one's Bufinefs to direct them right? The Scriptures are, like most other Writings, to capable of different Interpretations, as to leave Room for Judgment and Choice in the Ufe of them, and amidst that Diverfity of Opinions for which (according to the different Apprehen. fions of Men) the Authority of the Scriptures may be alike pretended, it will ever be a Mark of no common Skill to know how to chufe wifely.
In View of this it was that our Reformers, when they open'd the Scriptures, did not leave every Man to his own private Interpretations, without a Guide; but, together with the Scriptures, divers Forms of Initruction were fet forth by publick Authority, ferving as Helps to the understanding of the Scriptures in the molt neceffary Points of Chriftian Doctrine. This was a wife and a neceffary Provifion; for though pub. lick Authority is not a Law to private Judgment, it will always be of great Ufe to private Judgment, to bave the main Traces of Religion, as they lie in the Bible, pointed out by learned and skilful Hands;
which will prevent many Mistakes that would una. voidably arife, if every one, who is just able to read the Scriptures in his Mother Tongue, fhould be left to the Workings of his own Imagination, to frame a Religion to himself, as he fhould find himself able.
In this refpect then the Clergy were ufeful Inftru. ments in restoring and fetting forwards the Knowledge of true Religion; nor were they lefs fo by their Preaching, in which they were more conftantly and diligently exercifed than had been cuftomary in Popish Times; and by which a Foundation was laid for the mutual Improvement both of Paftors and People. For as the People by Degrees grew acquainted with the Scriptures, the Clergy were brought under a Neceflity of ftudying them more diligently themfelves; and as the Age became more knowing, the Neceffity was fill more urgent; and what the Confequence of this has been, we fee very plainly in that great Increase of Christian Knowledge, even among the lower Sort of People, beyond what it was in the Times of Popery, or what is obfervable any where in Popish Countries to this Day. But it would not have been reasonable to have expected the fame good Effects, if the Ufe of the Scriptures only had been restored, and no Care taken for the Adminiftration of publick Intruction. The People would have been left open to their own Miftakes; and the Clergy having no Call to give publick Evidence of their Skill in the Scriptures, would few of them have taken that Pains which was neceffary to qualify them to inftruct them better.
Of all Arguments, Facts are the most convincing and I chose to call in this great Example, as giving us a very fenfible Proof, that the private Ufe of the Scriptures, and publick Inftruction, are mutually helpful to each other, and beft ferve the Interests of Religion by a joint Application. There have been, and will be at all Times, many who cannot read the Scriptures; and more who, if they can read, know not how to use them with Judgment. But fuppofing that all could both read and understand, who hall fe
cure the Scriptures from being neglected? All are in Duty bound, no doubt, to the Study of the Scriptures, in a Measure fuitable to their Abilities, and the Condition in which God has placed them; and much might all improve by this Exercife, if all would do their Duties faithfully. But in Points which concern the Government of Men, we must always take our Meafures from obferving, what in Fact they generally are, not from what in Reason they ought to be; and in this View of the Cafe, pray tell me, what are thofe great and vifible Effects from the private Ufe of the Scriptures, that fuperfede the Neceffity of publick Inftruction? Go to the Men of Pleasure, or the Men of Bufinefs; fearch from the Palaces of the Great to the Cottages of the Poor, and what will you find? Why a Bible, it may be, fet up in their Houfes as a Piece of common Furniture, but little Ufe made of it, more than now and then on a Sunday Evening, if even this by many is not thought a great deal too much. Time was when the Scriptures were held in greater Efteem, and the reading of them was much practised in private Families; but this was whilft the Novelty of the Thing lafted. As Letters grew to be more common, and the Ufe of the Scriptures more general and fami liar, it happened (as is usual in other Cafes) that lefs Account was made of them. By this Time, I think, they are well nigh thruft out of Doors by a Variety of other Books, which (for the greater Part perhaps) ferve more for Entertainment than Inftruction. This has introduced fuch an Itch after Wit and Humour, and other Ornaments in Writing, that there is fcarce a Prentice Boy who can relish fuch plain artlefs Leffons as he finds in his Bible. Under fuch a State of the World as this, it may then reafonably be asked, How much are Mankind in general the better for the private Liberty of the Scriptures? The Bible will make us wifer, if we will read it carefully, and with Reverence, as becomes the Word of God; but if we throw it afide as Lumber, or call it in only to the. Relief of a few heavy Hours, what can it profit us?