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35. THE story of Job is probably very ancient, though that is a point upon which learned men have differed. It is dated, however, 1320 years before Christ: I believe it' is uncertain by whom it was written: many parts of it are obscure, but it is well worth studying, for the extreme beauty of the poetry, and for the noble and sublime devotion it contains.
36. The subject of the dispute between Job and his pretended friends, seem to be, whether the providence of God distributes the rewards and punishments of this life, in exact proportion to the merit or demerit of each individual. His antagonists suppose that it does; and therefore infer from Job's uncommon calamities, that, notwithstanding his apparent righteousness, he was in reality a grievous sinner. They aggravate his supposed guilt by the imputation of hypocrisy, and call upon him to confess it, and to acknowledge the justice of his punishment.
37. Job asserts his own innocence and virtue in the most pa. thetic manner, yet does not presume to accuse the Supreme Be*ing of injustice. Elihu attempts to arbitrate the matter, by alledging the impossibility that so frail and ignorant a creature as man should comprehend the ways of the Almighty, and there. fore condemns the unjust and cruel inference the three friends had drawn from the sufferings of Job. He also blames Job for the presumption of acquitting himself of all iniquity, since the best of men are not pure in the sight of God--but all have something to repent of; and he advises him to make this use of his afflictions.
38. At last by a bold figure of poetry, the Supreme Being trimself is introduced, speaking from the whirlwind, and silenceing them all by the most sublime display of his own power, magnificence, and wisdom, and of the comparative littleness and ignorance of men,this indeed is the only conclusion of the argument, which could be drawn at a time when life and immortality were not yet brought to light, a future retribution is the only satisfactory solutation of the difficulty arising from the sufferings of good people in this life.
Of the Psalms. 39. NEXT follows the Psalms, with which you cannot be too conversant. If you have any taste, either for poetry or devotion, they will be your delight, and will afford you a continual feast. The bible translations is far better than that used in the common prayer-book, and will often give you the sense, when the other is obscure. In this as in all other parts of the scripture, you must be careful always to consult the margin, which gives you the corrections made since the last translation, and it is generally preferable to the words of the text.
40. I would wish you to select some of the Psalms that please you best, and get them by heart; or, at least, make yourself master of the sentiments contained in them: Dr. Delany's life of David, will shew you the occasions on which several of them were composed, which add much to their beauty and propriety; and by comparing them with the events of David's life, you will greatly enhance your pleasure in them.
41. Never did the spirit of true piety breathe more strongly than in these divine songs; which being added to a rich vein of poetry, makes them more captivating to my heart and imagination than any thing I ever read. You will consider how great disadvantages any poem must sustain from being rendered literally into prose, and then imagine how beautiful these must be in the original. May you be enabled by reading them frequently, to transfuse into your own breast that holy flame which inspired the writer !- To delight in the Lord, and his laws, like the Psalmist, to rejoice in him always, and to think one day in his courts better than a thousand !"-But may you escape the heart piercing sorrow of such repentance as that of David-by avoiding sin, which humbled this unhappy king to the dust-and which cost him such bitter anguish, as it is impossible to read of without being moved.
42. Not all the pleasures of the most prosperous sinners could counterbalance the hundreth part of those sensations described in his penitential Psalms and which must be the portion of every man, who has fallen from a religious state inlo such crimes, when once he recovers a sense of religion and virtue, and is brought to a real hatred of sin: however available such repentance may be to the safety and happiness of the soul after death, it is a state of such exquisite suffering here that one cannot be enough surprised at the folly of those who indulge in sin, with the hope of living to make their peace with God by repentance.
43. Happy are they who preserve their innocence unsullied by any great or wilful crimes, and who have only the common failings of humanity to repent of; these are sufficiently mortifying to a heart deeply smitten with the love of virtue, and with the de sire of perfection.
44. There are many very striking prophesies of the Messiah in these divine songs, particularly in Psalms xxii.--Such may be found scattered up and down almost throughout the Old Testament. To bear testimony to Him, is the great and ultimate end for which the spirit of prophesy was bestowed on the sacred writers; but, this will appear more plainly to you when you enter on the study of prophesy, which you are now much too young to undertake.
of the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Solomon's Song, the prophe
ecies, and Apochrypha. 45. THE Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are rich stores of wisdom; from which I wish you to adopt such maxim as may be of infinite use, both to your temporal and eternal interest. But, detached sentences, are a kind of reading not proper to be continued long at a time; a few of them well chosen and digested,
vill do you much more service, than read half a dozen chapters together; in this respect, they are directly opposite to the historical books, which, if not read in continuation, can hardly be understood, or retained to any purpose.
46. The song of Solomon is a fine poem, but its mystical reference to religion lies too deep for a common understanding : if you read it therefore, it will be rather as matter of curiosity than of edification.
47. Next follow the prophecies; which, though highly deserving the greatest attention and study, I think
had better omit for some years, and then read them with a good exposition, as they are much too difficult for you to understand without assistance. Dr. Newton on the prophecies, will help you much, whenever you undertake this study, which you should by all ineans do when your understanding is ripe enough; because one of the main proofs of our religion rests on the testimony of the prophecies; and they are very frequently quoted, and referred to, in the New Testament: besides, the sublimity of the language and sentiments, through all the disadvantages of antiquity and translation, must, in very many passages, strike every person of taste; and the excellent moral and religious precepts found in them must be useful to all.
48. Though I have spoken of these books in the order in which they stand, I reptat, that they are not to be read in that orderbut that the thread of the history is to be pursued, from Nehemiah to the first book of the Maccabees, in the Apocrypha, taking care to observe the chronology regularly, by referring to the index, which supplies the deficiencies of this history from Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews. The first of Maccabees carries on the story till within 195 years of our Lord's circumcision: The second book is the same narrative, written by a different hand, and does not bring the history so forward as the first; so that may be entirely omitted, unless you have the curiosity to read some particulars of the heroic constancy of the Jews, under the tortures inflicted by their heathen conquerors, with a few other things not mentioned in the first book.
49. You must then connect the history by the help of the index, which will give you brief heads of the changes that happened in the state of the Jews, from this time till the birth of the Messiah,
50. The other books of the Apocrypha, though not admitted as of sacred authority, have many things well worth your attention; particularly the admirable book called Ecclesiasticus, and the book of Wisdom. But in the course of reading which I advise, these must be omitted till after you have gone through the Gospels and Acts, that you may not lose the historical thread. Of the New Testament, which is constantly to be referred as
the Rule and Direction of our Moral Conduct. 51. WE come now to that part of scripture, which is the most important of all, and which you must make your constant study not only till you are thoroughly acquainted with it, but all your life long; because, how often soever repeated, it is impossible to read the life and death of our blessed Saviour, without renewing and increasing in our hearts that love, and reverence, and gratitude towards him, which is so justly due for all he did and suffered for us! Every word that fell from his lips is more precious than all the treasures of the earth; for his “are the words of eternal life?" They must therefore be laid up in our hearts, and constantly referred to on all occasions, as the rule and direction of all our actions : particularly those very comprehensive moral precepts he has graciously left with us, which can never fail to direct us aright, if fairly and honestly applied : such as,
whatsoever ye would that man should do unto you, even so do unto them." There is no occasion, great or small, on which you may not safely apply this rule for the direction of your conduct: and, whilst your heart honestly adheres to it, you can never be guilty of any sort of injustice or unkindness.
52. The two great commandments, which contain the summary of our duty to God and man, are no less easily retained, and made a standard by which to judge our own hearts" To love the Lord our God, with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our strength; and our neighbour (or fellow creature) as ourselves”_"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” Therefore, if you have true benevolence, you will never do any thing injurious to individuals, or to society.
53. Now, all crimes whatever, are (in their remoter consequences at least, if not immediately and apparently) injurious to the society in which we live. It is impossible to love God without desiring to please him, and as far as we are able, to resemble him; therefore the love of God must lead to every virtue in the highest degree; and, we may be sure we do not truly love him, if we content ourselves with avoiding flagrant sins, and do not strive in good earnest, to reach the greatest degrees of perfection we are capable of.
Thus do those few words direct us to the highest Christian virtue. Indeed, the whole tenor of the Gospel is to offer us every help, direction, and motive, that can enable us to attain that degree of perfection on which depends our eternal good.
Of the E.rample set by our Saviour, and his Character. 54. WHAT an example is set before us in our blessed Master! How his whole life, from earliest youth, dedicated to the pursuits of true wisdom, and to the practice of the most exalted virtue! When you see him, at twelve years of age, in the temple among the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions on the subject of religion, and astonishing them all with his understanding and answers you will say, perhaps—" Well might the son of God, even at those years, be far wiser than the aged; but, can a mortal child emulate such heavenly wisdom? Can such a pattern be proposed to my imitation ?"_Yes, certainly; -remember that he has bequeathed to you his heavenly wisdom as far as concerns your own good. He has left you such declarations of his will, and of the consequences of your actions, as you are even now, fully able to understand, if you will but attend to them. If then you will imitate his zeal for knowledge, if you will delight in gaining information and improvement, you may even now become “ wise unto salvation."
55. Unmoved by the praise he acquired amongst these learned men, you see him meekly return to the subjection of a child, under those who appeared to be his parents, though he was in reality their Lord: you see him return to live with them, to work for them, and to be the joy and solace of their lives; till the time came when he was to enter on that scene of public action, for which his heavenly Father had sent him from his own right hand to take upon him the form of a poor carpenter's son.
56. What a lessen of humility is this, and of obedience to parents !--When having received the glorious testimony from heaven of his being the beloved Son of the Most High, he enters on his public ministry. What an example does he give us, of the most extensive and constant benevolence !-how are all his hours spent in doing good to the souls and bodies of men !_not the meanest sinner is below his notice: to reclaim and save them, he condescends to converse familiarly with the most corrupt as well as the most abject. All his miracles are wrought to benefit mankind; not one to punish and afflict them. Instead of using that Almighty power which accompanied him, to the purpose of exalting himself, and treading down his enemies, he made no other use of it than to heal and to save.
57. When you come to read of his sufferings and death, the ignominy and reproach, the sorrow of mind, and torment of body, which he submitted to-when you consider that it was all for