AFTER the delivery of the following Sermon, the Students of St. Augustine's College joined in a written request to me to allow it to be printed at the College Press, for their own use, through life, and that of those who should follow them. Though very sensible of the inadequate treatment which the subject has here received, and aware of the caution necessary to be used against misinterpretation in the perusal, I have gladly complied with their request; both from a desire to promote in any way I can the true welfare of our Students, and from a deep conviction of the immense importance of the subject in general. I have long felt, and have observed it at the University and elsewhere, that the manifold distractions of reading, and conversation, and controversies, of all kinds, have operated seriously against the calm and steady 'searching of the Scriptures' by those who were preparing to be 'Ministers of the Word.' I have been confirmed in my fear by an observation of Dean Alford: "It is very common indeed to meet with a person among the higher classes, knowing much of civil matters, much, [3/4] very likely, of the religious acts of life, who has hardly any acquaintance with the matter of the Bible. Even [in Christian families] we very often find phenomena of ignorance of the Bible which are positively astounding." (Homilies on the Acts, p. 1.) I have been still more confirmed in my fear by the conversation of an eminent prelate since I preached this Sermon, on his own experience, for a large number of years, in examining Candidates for Ordination. "Their ignorance (he said) of the common facts of Scripture, with the exception of those who have been at Theological Colleges, and some others, is very surprising. And many seem to have no notion of the Church's arrangement of Scripture readings for the Christian seasons." I have since received the testimony of a well-known Examining Chaplain, who says that of all the Candidates he examined for Holy Orders, he could get very few to draw out from Scripture a clear statement of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let self-culture, then, of all kinds be aimed at by every Candidate for the Ministry; but surely, for those who are to be Divines by profession, the first place should be given to the study, in its comprehensive sense, of the blessed Word of God. May every one who enters and who leaves the walls of St. Augustine's be distinguished by this spirit, and carry it with him through life!
St. Augustine's College,
Jan. 31, 1859.
ST. JOHN v. 39. Ereunate taV GrafaV.--Search the Scriptures.
THESE well-known words of our blessed Saviour were spoken by Him in a discourse with the Jews upon His character, claims, and mission. He appealed to the testimony of John the Baptist, and to that of His Divine Father. He appealed also to the testimony of Moses, and of the Old Testament in general. 'Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.' The Jews admitted the legality of the court of appeal: they were therefore bound by its decisions, and must receive Jesus as the promised Messiah. The general tenor of our Lord's argument is clear, while on the exact interpretation of its form some difference has arisen. For many suppose that in the words of the text He was not giving an injunction to the Jews to search the Scriptures, but was quoting their practice, with a view of bringing them to a confession of His rightful claims. 'Ye search the Scriptures, and rightly think that in them ye have eternal life; now they are they which testify of Me. You ought, then, to receive the plain testimony which they give of Me.' The Greek will admit of both interpretations; but it is more consonant with the context, with the words themselves, and general usage, to understand it as in our version; 'Search the Scriptures.'
 In this sense, at least, I propose to take the words this morning, my object being simply a practical one, to draw out the text into various applications, and manifold uses, by the addition of qualifying words of time, place, manner, and design. 'Search the Scriptures' is a short text, but it admits of large comment; and in making this I would, as far as may be, keep to the hortatory form, which I have supposed our blessed Lord to have used here. The hortatory form, I say, because of its being more direct and comprehensive; although in many of the exhortations I am sure I shall be only 'stirring up your pure minds by way of remembrance.'
Search, then, the Scriptures entire, throughout, from Genesis to Revelation. This is the first extension and application I would make of our Saviour's words. He referred, of course, to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which then contained all the oracles of God; and this reference we must be particular in mentioning, while we may enlarge it now to the New Testament also. Search, brethren, the whole of those canonical books which form the volume of inspiration; the earliest and the latest, the longest and the shortest., the easiest and the hardest, the most doctrinal and the most practical, the most frequently quoted and best known, and the most rarely quoted and least known. Search the notices and records of all men and all things contained; the geography, the chronology, the biography, the history, the miracles, the truths, the mysteries, the precepts, the promises, the warnings. Pass not over a single page. You know not what it may contain; to what end, present or future, it may minister. Remember that the chronology of the fifth chapter of Genesis once converted an infidel. Remember that 'all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.' One part contributes to one purpose, another to another. Read all; for whatever be the direct end intended by God or answered in the perusal, an indirect end of the most important kind will be gained in increased patience, reverence, and submission of your own fallible wisdom to the divine.
And while you read the whole of Scripture, read Scripture as a whole; remembering that it was informed and inspired by One Spirit, and by Him upon one plan, with one grand [6/7] developing principle throughout. Genesis prepares the way for Revelation, and Revelation is the completion of Genesis. Trace throughout the steps and progress of the Divine Providence, and the opening out of the Divine purpose. Search by that 'light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day,' and thus you will discover the links of that economy which is the wonderful manifestation of Him who is from everlasting to everlasting. The parts of this system are mutually interpenetrating. The Law is the Gospel foreshadowed; the Gospel is the Law fulfilled. 'Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning.' And yet 'God hath provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.' Do not imagine, then, that any portion of this great system is independent of the rest; or that any of the sacred writers may be set up as the type of peculiar principles of teaching, agreeable to his own natural character, for all were, as wise master builders, employed upon the same grand edifice, the organic whole of the Revelation of God, the mystery of the Divine purpose hidden from ages and generations, but now made manifest by the Scriptures of the everlasting God. When therefore you have read through Genesis, do not suppose that you have done with Genesis: when you have read the Pentateuch, do not suppose you have done with the Pentateuch:--how wonderfully do the names and events of the earliest books 'crop out,' so to speak, in the latest! Sodom and Gomorrha, Balaam the son of Bosor, Moses, Kore, and Jezebel, in the Epistles of Peter and Jude, and in the Book of Revelation! We cannot sound the depths of all this; but we must at least recognize it, and search into it. 'Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate.'
Search the Scriptures daily. The Beroeans are said to have been more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether the things preached to them by the Apostle were as he had told them. The daily services of the Church secure large portions of the Bible to be read by us or in our ears; but the absence of all intervals of silence for meditation during the time of our publicly assembling ourselves together, and the entire disuse of all antiphons, [7/8] bring about the necessity of giving additional time, either before or after, for fulfilling the duty of 'searching the Scriptures daily.' It is one not to be taken up now and then, as we would deal with any other subject. Have portions, then, of every day strictly set apart for learning and inwardly digesting the contents of God's holy Word; seasons of greater or less length, when you are dressing or undressing, in the quiet half-hours which are given into your own hands, in the intervals of lectures, or of manual work, in your walk, in the quarter of an hour before our evening chapel, where you may either here or in your own rooms study quietly some part of Scripture. Do not let a single day pass without this exercise; and make the subject of it either a book, or a chapter, or a verse, or a word; either in English or in Greek, or Hebrew; either what has been, or is to be read, in public, or in your own private course; either critically, or historically, or devotionally. On the manner or method you choose, I do not insist under this head: all that I now say is, that it be pursued daily. The poorest must do this: how much more should we?
I now proceed to the manner: and first of all would say, (having regard to the highest part of man's nature, his spirit; and the highest exercise of his spirit, communion with God,) search the Scriptures devotionally. This in fact requires that you should search them with a deep sense of your need of cleansing and guidance, and grace; that you search them as inspired; that you seek in the perusal of them the aid of the Holy Spirit; that you search them with meditation and prayer; and that you aim constantly at the elevation and sanctification of your spirits. Take for an instance that familiar verse, the last of the Introductory Sentences in our Morning and Evening Prayer. 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: but, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' How shall you search this devotionally? First think and remember that this is inspired, that it is the word of God; and therefore that what is said, both in the earlier and latter clauses, is all true. Let this lead you to meditate on sin,--on the sin that is in you. Let the self-deception spoken of teach you the need you have of illumination; let the condemning and polluting [8/9] nature of sin, implied in the last clause, teach you the need of cleansing; let the promise of God lead you to the need of grace to confess your sins and turn to God. Let all this prepare you for devout prayer, and let the end of your prayer be a humbling sense of your sinfulness, and forgiveness and purification at the hands of God. This method of searching the Scriptures is independent of time, place, and circumstances; it may be compressed, or extended. How needful it is for all Christians, I need not declare; and yet I question whether it is adopted to anything like the extent it ought to be. A short text, taken out of any portion of the daily service, may be made the basis of it: or a whole chapter may serve the same purpose, being taken in its main features and characteristic portions.
I must place by itself one essential mark of devotional reading or meditation, both because of its extreme importance, and because it was that to which the text, that is, the blessed Saviour, pointed. 'Search the Scriptures for Christ; they are they which testify of Him.' If the Old Testament was to be searched with this view, as testifying of Christ, how much more does the New Testament (the Gospels and Epistles) testify of Him? The whole of the Scriptures is but the revelation of the wonderful restoration of a fallen world by the Messiah. Even the first two chapters of Genesis, speak of Him as the Image of the invisible God, in which man was created; and the third chapter, in which the fall is recorded, contains the promise that 'the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head,' a promise of which the development first, and then the fulfilment, is the grand subject of all subsequent Scripture. Search, then, in the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, for--not the doctrine of Christ, but--Christ Himself, the personal Christ, the actual Redeemer of the world, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, for you as well as for all the sons of fallen man. It was because of their having missed this grand object, that the reading of the Old Testament by the Pharisees and Scribes, most minute though it was, proved of no avail. What do we find at all, brethren, in the Scriptures, if it be not Jesus the Christ? For 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' It is from the same cause that so many in these days have misread the Scriptures; going off [9/10] into disputations of words, or building on them their own traditions, or turning away in discontent, and because they do not find there what they had promised themselves. The Scriptures touch upon science, or geography, or natural history, only as they have to do with the history of man; upon the history of man, whether in his personal, or social, or political existence, only as it is connected with the history of the Church; upon the history of the Church, only as it arises out of the character and offices of the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus. Observe in the Epistle for this day (second in Advent) how the Apostle St. Paul searches the Scriptures for Christ, and finds Him in Deuteronomy, in the Psalms, in Isaiah. Read Ephesians i., or Colossians i., or Revelation v. or xix., and you will see how all that is in heaven and in earth culminate in the Adoration of the Lamb. 'Search the Scriptures' for Christ, and you have a key in your hand wherewith to unlock the whole of the Revelation of God. You have worthy examples in the prophets themselves, who 'enquired and searched diligently, when they prophesied of the grace that should come unto succeeding generations; searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.' And their searchings were not in vain; 'for to them it was revealed that not unto themselves, but unto us, they did minister the things which are now reported by them that have preached the Gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.' This was the sum and the centre of the Apostolic teaching. 'They ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.' 'The riches of the glory of this mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory; warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.' This is the true evangelical, in opposition to the rationalizing, principle of interpretation of the Scriptures, and must be carried into every portion of it, in general or more particular application.
This spirit of pursuing researches into Scripture, which is of the highest order, is perfectly compatible with subordinate methods and objects. And for any one who aspires to understand the Scriptures thoroughly, or to instruct others in their true meaning, according to the true analogy of the faith, it is [10/11] necessary that he search the Scriptures systematically; that is, upon a system. A man may read the Scriptures regularly, even daily, and yet in a desultory manner. The Scriptures themselves are unsystematic, being so constructed in order to exercise the reason and diligence of men in apprehending and arranging the truths which they contain. Accordingly the Books have been divided into chapters and verses, and the Church has devised an extensive and careful system for the public reading of the same, in her assemblies, throughout the year. This is absolutely binding upon all her ministers; but it has a moral claim also upon all her members, beyond the public adoption of it. Search the Scriptures, then, upon the system which the Church has provided. Either before or after service, or in your own seasons of private reading, review the portions of holy Scripture which belong to the day, follow up one or more of them with some particularity, digesting the whole with meditation and prayer, and by the end of a year you will have enriched your mind with a large store of true knowledge, and built up your spiritual man with wholesome doctrine. You will have the further comfort of knowing that it is a path marked out for you by the wisest hands, and that the best of your generation are walking in it together with you.
But you may find it food to have another system of reading, within this tarter one. You may take a particular book of Scripture for close examination, making it for the time the centre of your researches, from whence you can go out to the other books both before and after it, in order to bring in illustrations and comparisons of facts and terms and doctrines, referring frequently to the original for the sake of greater exactness. Nothing could be more profitable than to study the Book of Isaiah upon this plan at this season of the year. Or, again, you may wish to study the history and, development of a doctrine, or the nature and effects of a sin, or the history of a character, or the different offices of Christ. In persevering with any of these methods, you will not only gain instruction on most essential points of Scripture truth, but form the habits of concentrated attention, and exercise your mind in the processes of thought, arrangement, and reasoning. One while you will adopt the analytical method, one while the synthetical; either separating into [11/12] their elements the great facts and principles of revelation, or gathering up into one lesson the scattered teachings of the various writers of Scripture. Set yourselves as Students to something of this kind, that you may be saved from that listless and ineffectual glancing over the pages of your Bible which fastens nothing upon the mind, and to the heart is positively injurious. Every one in any rank of life ought to be a Student in this sense. Any one may mark and put together the elements of a Scripture character, so that the exercise is within reach of the humblest reader; while those blest with more time and ability should aim at truths of a deeper character.
Nor need any one give in to despair, nor ought any one to be puffed up with self-sufficiency, as though he were herein set to explore large regions of historical and doctrinal truth without a compass, or without a guide. All has been long since mapped out, and the limits and principles fixed, in the Creeds and uniform teaching of the Primitive Church of Christ. In conformity with this teaching must all study of Scripture be pursued. Holy men have always laid this down as a principle for others, and adhered to it themselves. Thus Bishop Wilson observes: 'To understand the Holy Scriptures aright, is to understand them as the primitive Church did.' And the same holy man prays, 'Grant, O Lord, that in reading Thy holy Word, I may never prefer my private sentiments before those of the Church in the purely ancient times of Christianity.'
The necessity, however, of adherence to the principles of Catholic interpretation of the Scriptures, no more releases you from the duty of exercising the best powers of your mind, or applying the results of your personally-acquired knowledge, than the possession of a chart by a mariner across the ocean excuses him for using personal observation and skill in the direction of his course. We come, then, to another principle.
Search the Scriptures critically. The human media through which revelation is made, and the constitution of the human mind by which it is received, make this an absolute duty. Apply the rules of grammar, the peculiarities of each writer, the idioms of the sacred languages, the seasonings of analogy, the general argument of the context, to determine [12/13] the sense of the Divine writings. Employ history, geography, or any of the natural sciences, to illustrate them. This is one of their great uses; in fact, their sacred use. And perhaps it may give a stimulus to your study of them, when you are disposed to grow languid in it, to think that they are all capable of this application, and that you may through them enter into the precincts of the highest and holiest truths. Thus, for instance, the study of the topography of Holy Scripture becomes one of the most interesting and absorbing in which you can be engaged; and the characters and actions which were manifested and done in the several places become more real, and can be touched and seen, and traced throughout, in all their parts.
Thus far all readers of the Scripture may go, according to their several abilities and circumstances; for there is every reason why one who is living the life of a layman should apply himself to the study of Scripture, not only devotionally, but systematically also, and even critically if he has the means. But for Students of Theology, who must yet do all this, something more is requisite; and that is to search the Scriptures professionally. With this aim, which is twofold, must they search, first, that they may know what they ought to be themselves as ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God; and secondly, what and how they ought to teach others in every class of life and change of condition. They may search with this object in view, devotionally, systematically, and critically; but search they must. The Bible is the Book of rules for a Minister's own faith and practice, and of rules for his treatment of the souls committed to his care. We discern in the Pastoral Epistles this twofold view and purpose; for instance, in the following passage: 'Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.' So also on the most solemn day of a man's life, his admission to the priesthood, he is addressed thus by the Bishop. 'Seeing that you cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the holy Scriptures, and with a life [13/14] agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside (as much as you may) all worldly cares and studies.' Again: 'continually pray . . for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry.' More might be quoted to the same effect; upon all which we have this to observe, that though the rapid spread in later years of general knowledge of all kinds has made it very desirable that the ministers of religion also should give diligence to make themselves acquainted with all branches of secular learning, with the view of enlarging their own minds, of correcting their judgments, of refreshing their spirits, of gaining influence, of surveying the manifold manifestations of truth; yet, after all, these are but lay-studies, which have their own proper votaries and teachers, especially in our busy and advancing colonies; while your prime business, that which man, that which God, expects of you, is, a professional searching of the Scriptures for yourselves and for others, that you may be like the 'good householder instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.' Search, then, for this purpose the records of the life and teaching of our adorable Lord and Master in the four Gospels; study Him as your Pattern in His prophetical office, how He delivered His message, how He varied it, and how He applied it to the hearts and consciences of men. Study, again, the preaching and writings of the blessed Apostles, and learn from them how to address the Jew and the Gentile, the learned and the unlearned, the carnal and the spiritual, the corrupt in doctrine, the corrupt in practice, the babe in Christ, and the advanced disciple. It is well that you should have a distinct reading of scripture for this purpose, that the lessons of this kind may be distinctly impressed upon your minds.
And think not that the searching of the Scriptures in the senses I have suggested will have any tendency towards making you narrow-minded and unpractical. It is by this searching of the Scriptures that the minds of the deepest divines have [14/15] been formed. Their writings are but the outpouring of the wealth which they have themselves dug out of that exhaustless mine; the developments of what they have discovered there in germ; the systematic arrangement of the dispersed truth of Holy Writ. Such are the wonderful dogmatic treatises of Augustine; such, with the necessary qualifications, the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas; such the 'Exposition of the Creed' by Bishop Pearson. The minds of such divines as these were thoroughly saturated with Scripture truth. And we can propose to ourselves no nobler aim; for the knowledge of the Scriptures is the sum of all knowledge.
The subject before us is of very wide extent, and I have only touched upon it in those aspects which the qualifying adverbs I have appended to the text enabled me to do. On the motives which should induce us to comply with the precept in the text I have said nothing; on the encouragements which support us in it, almost nothing. These, however, I trust I may leave to your own reflections, and to your own experience. They will surely grow stronger by perseverance in the duty. 'The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, and rejoice the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, and endureth for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb. Moreover, by them is Thy servant taught and in keeping of them there is great reward.'
_______________________________________________ Printed at St. Augustine's College Press, Canterbury.