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thing worse, is a sinful way of spending time, and tends to poverty of soul at least, if not to outward poverty: Prov. xiv. 23. “In all labour, there is profit; but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury." Besides, when persons for so much of their time have nothing else to do, but to sit, and talk, and chat, there is great danger of falling into foolish and sinful conversation, venting their corrupt dispositions, in talking against others, espressing their jealousies, and evil surmises concerning their neighbours ; not considering what Christ hath said, Matt. xii. 36. “Of every idle word that men shall speak, shall they give account in the day of judgment."
If you would comply with what you have heard from this doctrine, you would find something else to employ your time besides contention, or talking about those public affairs which tend to contention. Young people might find something else to do, besides spending their time in vain company; something that would be much more profitable to themselves, as it would really turn to some good account; something, in doing which, they would both be more out of the way of temptation, and be more in the way of duty, and of a divine blessing. And even aged people would have something to employ themselves in, after they are become incapable of bodily labour. Their time,
. as is now often the case, would not lie heavy upon their hands, as they would with both profit ad pleasure be engaged in searching the scriptures, and in comparing and meditating upon the various truths which they should find there.
2. This would be a noble way of spending your time.The Holy Spirit gives the Bereans this epithet, because they diligently employed themselves in this business: Acts xvii. 11. “ These were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Similar to this, is very much the employment of beaven. The inhabitants of that world spend much of their time in searching into the great things of divinity, and endeavouring to acquire knowledge in them, as we are told of the angels, 1 Pet. i. 12. " Which things the angels desire to look into." This will be very agreeable to what you hope will be your business to all eternity, as you doubtless hope to join in the same employment with the angels of light. Solomon says, Prov. xxv. 2, "it is the honour of kings to search out a matter;" and certainly, above all others, to search out divine matters. Now, if this be the honour even of kings, is it not equally, if not much more your honour?
3. This is a pleasant way of improving time. Knowledge is pleasant and delightful to intelligent creatures, and above all the knowledge of divine things; for in them are the most excellent truths, and the most beautiful and amiable objects held forth to view. However tedious the labour necessarily attending this business may be, yet the knowledge once obtained will richly requite the pains taken to obtain it. " When wisdom entereth the heart, knowledge is pleasant to the soul;" Prov. ii. 10.
4. This knowledge is exceeding useful in Christian practice. Such as have much knowledge in divinity have great means and advantages for spiritual and saving knowledge ; for no means of grace have a saving effect, otherwise than by the knowledge they impart. The more you have of a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the sweetness of them. The Heathens, who have no rational knowledge of the things of the gospel, have no opportunity to see the excellency of them; and therefore the more rational knowledge of these things you have, the more opportunity and advantage you have to see the divine excellency and glory of them.
Again, The more knowledge you have of divine things, the better will you know your duty; your knowledge will be of great use to direct you as to your duty in particular cases. You will also be the better furnished against the temptations of the devil. For the devil also takes advantage of persons' ignorance to ply them with temptations, which otherwise would have no hold of them. By having much knowledge, you will be under greater advantages to conduct yourselves with prudence and discretion in your Christian course, and so to live much more to the honour of God and religion. Many who mean well, and are full of a good spirit, yet for want of prudence, conduct themselves so as to wound religion. Many have a zeal of God,
a which does more hurt than good, because it is not according to knowledge, Rom. X. 2. The reason why many good men behave no better in many instances, is not so much that they want grace, as that they want knowledge. Beside, an increase of knowledge would be a great help to profitable conversation. It would supply you with matter for conversation when you come together, or when you visit your neighbours; and so you would
; have less temptation to spend the time in such conversation as tends to your own and others' hurt.
5. Consider the advantages you are under to grow in the knowledge of divinity. We are under far greater advantages to gain much of this knowledge now, than God's people under the Old Testament, both because the canon of scripture is so much enlarged since that time, and also, because evangelical truths are now so much more plainly revealed. So that common men are now in some respects under advantages to know more, than the greatest prophets were then. Thus that saying VOL. VI.
of Christ is in a sense applicable to us, Luke x. 23, 24. ed are the eyes which see the things which ye see. For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those
; things which ye hear, and have not heard them."
We are in some respects under far greater advantages for gaining knowledge, now in these latter ages of the church, than Christians were formerly; especially by reason of the art of printing; of which God hath given us the benefit, whereby Bibles and other books of divinity are exceedingly multiplied, and persons may now be furnished with helps for the obtaining of Christian knowledge, at a much easier and cheaper rate than they formerly could.
6. We know not what opposition we may meet with in the religious principles which we hold. We know that there are many adversaries to the gospel and its truths. If therefore we embrace those truths, we must expect to be attacked by the said adversaries; and unless we be well informed concerning divine things, how shall we able to defend ourselves ? Beside, the apostle Peter enjoins it upon us, always to be ready to give an answer to every man who asketh us a reason of the hope that is
But this we cannot expect to do without considerable knowledge in divine things.
Directions for the Acquisition of Christian Knowledge.
1. Be assiduous in reading the holy scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived. Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected. Every man of common understanding who can read, may, if he please, become well acquainted with the scriptures. And what an excellent attainment would this be!
2. Content not yourselves with only a cursory reading, without regarding the sense. This is an ill way of reading, to which, however, many accustom themselves all their days. When you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in.
Take notice of the drift of the discourse, and compare one scripture with another.
For the scripture, by the barmony of its different parts, casts great light upon itself. We are expressly directed by Christ, to search the scriptures, which evidently intends something more than a mere cursory reading. And use means to find out the meaning of the scripture. When you bave it explained in the preaching of the word, take notice of it; and if at any time a scripture that you did not understand be cleared up to your satisfaction, mark it, lay it up, and if possible remember it.
3. Procure, and diligently use other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge. There are many excellent books extant, which might greatly forward you in this knowledge, and afford you a very profitable and pleasant entertainment in your leisure hours.
There is doubtless a great defect in many, that through a lothness to be at a little expense, they furnish themselves with no more helps of this nature. They have a few books indeed, which now and then on Sabbath days they read; but they have had them so long, and read them so often, that they are weary of them, and it is now become a dull story, a mere task to read them.
4. Improve conversation with others to this end. How much might persons promote each other's knowledge in divine things, if they would improve conversation as they might; if men that are ignorant were no. ashamed to show their ignorance, and were willing to learn of others; if those that have knowledge would communicate it, without pride and ostentation; and if all were more disposed to enter on such conversation as would be for their mutual edification and instruction.
5. Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice. If applause be your end, you will not be so likely to be led to the knowledge of the truth, but may justly, as often is the case of those who are proud of their knowledge, be led into error to your own perdition. This being your end, if you should obtain much rational knowledge, it would not be likely to be of any benefit to you, but would puff you up with pride : 1 Cor. viii. i. “ Knowledge puffeth up."
6. Seek to God, that he would direct you, and bless you, in this pursuit after knowledge. This is the apostle's direction, James i. 5. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not." God is the fountain of all divine knowledge : Prov. ii. 6. • The Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." Labour to be sensible of your own blindness and ignorance, and your need of the help of God, lest you be led into error, instead of true knowledge : 1 Cor. iii. 18. “ If any man would be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise."
7. Practise according to what knowledge you have. This will be the way to know more.
The Psalmist warmly recommends this way of seeking knowledge in divine truth, from his own experience: Psal. cxix. 100. “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts." Christ also recommends the same : John vii. 17. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or wbether I speak of myself.
GOD THE BEST PORTION OF THE CHRISTIAN
Psalm LxxuI. 25.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth
that I desire besides thee.
In this psalm, the psalmist (Asaph,) relates the great difficulty which existed in his own mind, from the consideration of the wicked. He observes, (ver. 2, 3.) “As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps bad well nigh slipt. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” In the 4th and following verses, he inforins us, what in the wicked was his temptation. In the first place, he observed, that they were pros. perous, and all things went well with them. He then observed their behaviour in their prosperity, and the use which they made of it; and that God, notwithstanding such abuse, continued their prosperity. Then he tells us by what means he was helped out of this difficulty, viz. by going into the sanctuary, verses 16, 17; and proceeds to inform us what considerations they were which helped him, viz. (1.) The consideration of the miserable end of wicked men. However they prosper for the present, yet they come to a woful end at last, verses 18—20. (2.) The consideration of the blessed end of the saints. Altbough the saints, while they live, may be afflicted, yet they come to a happy end at last, verses 21—24. (3.) The consideration, that the godly have a much better portion than the wicked, even though they have no other portion but God; as in the text and following verse. Though the wicked are in prosperity, and are not in trouble as other men ; yet the godly, though in affliction, are in a
* Dated April, 1736.