What, then, is the advantage of being a Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
Romans 2:14, 26). The Jew's circumcision will profit him if it be a religion that affects the heart and the spirit (Romans 2:29). St. Paul, so quick to see the bearings of every statement, notices at once that a difficulty naturally arises here, and he is prompt to meet it. "What advantage, then, hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?"
I. THE DIVINE REVELATION A GREAT PRIVILEGE. Notwithstanding all that had been said about the sins and shortcomings of the Jews, the Jews were still a privileged people. Nothing could ever destroy the fact that they were the chosen people of God, the people chosen to be the channel of God's revelation to the world by the patriarchs and lawgivers and prophets, chosen also to be the channel through which the Divine Word become flesh and tabernacled among men - "of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came." The chief privilege which Paul mentions here was that "unto them were committed the oracles of God" (ver. 2). It is an advantage to have a Divine revelation entrusted to us. The possession and knowledge of God's Word is a privilege not to be despised or lightly esteemed. There are degrees of nearness to the kingdom of God. While the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," while there are such events as sudden conversions, yet there are some who are in a more favourable condition for receiving the gospel than others. St. Paul, though he was suddenly converted, bad a long and thorough training previously in the Word of God. The scribe who came to Christ, and whom the Saviour pronounced to be "not far from the kingdom of God," was one who had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and who had been living a life of obedience to the Law of God. Such men were certainly more likely to be influenced by the personal power of Christ than those who had no previous knowledge of Divine truth. God works by miracles; but his ordinary method is to work by means. In these days of sensational evangelism it is well that we should not undervalue the importance of a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. Paul wrote to Timothy, "From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." They who are well instructed in the Holy Scriptures are, as a rule, more likely to become true and permanent Christians than those who, under the influence of sudden excitement or emotion, without any previous religious knowledge, profess their readiness to follow the banner of Jesus. There are exceptions, but this would seem to be the rule. And those who are so highly privileged incur a serious and solemn responsibility. If unto us are committed the oracles of God, if we have the Bible in our hands and its truths treasured up in our minds, terrible indeed will be our guilt if we disobey its precepts, reject its invitations, and neglect its warnings. "To whom much is given, of them shall much be required."
II. DIVINE FAITHFULNESS NOT AFFECTED BY HUMAN UNBELIEF. "For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God of none effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged" (vers. 3, 4). The promises of God will be fulfilled, even though there are some who do not believe on them. The Law of God will assert its claims, even though there are some who repudiate them. It will not save men from the punishment of their sin that they did not believe God's Word when it says, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." God's faithfulness is not affected by the unbelief of his own people. Some persons argue against the Bible because of the unbelief of those who profess to regard it as their guide. They argue against Christianity because of the inconsistencies of its professors. The argument is false. Christianity is to be judged by its own teachings and spirit, and not by the imperfect way in which even its professors have received and practised them. Christianity is the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, combined with the influence of his death upon the cross. No inconsistency of professing followers can ever mar the beauty and sinlessness of that perfect Example. No unbelief can ever do away with the inherent power that is in the cross of Jesus to save sinners. The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to them that are saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
III. DIVINE JUSTICE IS NOT AFFECTED BY THE CONSEQUENCES OF HUMAN SIN. "But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man.) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?" (vers. 5, 6).
1. God judges not consequences, but character. He looks at the heart and at the motives. The Jews' unbelief was overruled by God for his own wise and gracious purposes. He brought good out of evil. But that did not make their unbelief the less guilty. In the eyes of the law, the guilt of a fraudulent person is not always estimated by the consequences of his acts. A man may forge his employer's signature to cheques; but the employer may receive such information as will enable him to stop the cheques in time, and prevent the loss which would otherwise have resulted. But the forger's guilt is not diminished because the consequences of his acts have been overruled. The law is not considered unfair or unrighteous if it punishes him, though his employer may not have suffered one penny of pecuniary loss. And even though the criminal's conduct served in some way to bring out more clearly the integrity or kindness of his employer, yet even this would not be regarded as any mitigating circumstance in his guilt. So it is right that I should still be judged as a sinner, even though the truth of God hath abounded through my lie unto his glory (ver. 7).
2. Man is not justified in using sinful means to gain a good end. From the fact that God overrules sinful actions for his own glory and the good of humanity, it might appear to be a natural inference that it matters not what the morality of the action itself is so long as its object or result is good. "Let us do evil, that good may come" (ver. 8). Stated in this broad way, the immorality of the principle is apparent. And yet it is a principle which is too commonly acted upon. If you oppose some method of raising money for religious or charitable purposes, you will be constantly told, "Oh! it is for a good purpose." That is, simply, it does not matter how you get the money so as you get it. It does not matter what the means are so long as the end is good. Now, it is time that the Christian Church and Christian teachers should set themselves resolutely against such demoralizing ideas. How can the Christian Church rebuke the dishonest practices too common in the commercial world, money-making by unfair or questionable methods, so long as its own hands are not clean, so long as almost any method of making money is considered justifiable if it is in connection with a Church bazaar? The end does not justify the means. Let us not do evil, that good may come. - C.H.I.
1. Man has unspeakable advantage in the possession of the oracles of God.
What advantage then hath the Jew?...chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.I. THERE IS MUCH ADVANTAGE TO THOSE FAVOURED WITH CLEARER LIGHT AND HIGHER PRIVILEGE, IN EVERY RESPECT. They have the advantage —
1. Of feeling that God cares for them. The heathen had, some of them, lost the knowledge of God altogether, and others were only dimly conscious of His goodness.
2. Of a superior temporal condition. They are delivered from the miseries inflicted by cruel superstitions, are able to cheek the progress of debasing immoralities, and to promote freedom, comfort, peace, and brotherhood.
3. Of better opportunity of performing what their better position demands. The man who possessed five talents had the advantage over his fellow. He had a better command of the market, and could stand a greater shock of adverse circumstances. They would help each other to grow; for five united are more than five times as strong as one, and more than two-and-a-half times as strong as two. An Israelite or a Christian may walk uprightly in his noonday light more easily than a heathen may walk at all in his dim twilight.
4. Of attaining, if faithful, an absolutely higher reward. As two statesmen of equal desert, and equally in favour, take higher and lower positions on account of their different capacities, so those who receive equally the King's commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant," shall yet differ, as one star differeth from another, in glory.
II. THE GREATEST ADVANTAGE IS TO HAVE THE ORACLES OF GOD.
1. The knowledge they impart is a blessing. As day is more blessed than night; as freedom for thought is better than the fetters of ignorance, so the possession of these oracles is unspeakably better than deprivation of them.
2. It is a blessing to have assured Divine communication. As the spirit of a plebeian is lifted by a word or a look from his king; as the heart of an absent child is gladdened by the outside of his father's letter, so is man blessed by the fact that God has spoken to him.
3. It is an advantage to be thus taken into peculiar covenant relationship to God. Every precept of these oracles is a condition of some blessedness which God pledges Himself to bestow; and every promise contains God's oath of faithfulness to all to whom these oracles come. It is a high advantage to know that we are God's and God is ours, as we grasp in faith and obedience His sacred Word. Over our higher privileges it becomes us to "rejoice with trembling." With all thy responsibilities, thy greater required service, and thy heavier doom if faithless, still "Happy art thou, O Israel," "satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord."
2. May lose it through unbelief.
3. Cannot thereby invalidate God's faithfulness.
4. Must ultimately confess and justify it.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
(C. Nell, M. A.)I. WHAT THEY ARE.
1. A guide for faith.
2. A warrant for hope.
3. A rule for conduct.
II. THE IMPROVEMENT WE SHOULD MAKE OF THEM.
(C. Simeon, M. A.)I. THE APPELLATION HERE GIVEN TO THE HOLY SCRIPTURES — the oracles of God.
1. There seems to be an allusion to the heathen oracles. These were, indeed, merely pretended communications from gods that had no existence; or, perhaps, in some instances real communications from demons, and the answers which were given were generally expressed in such unintelligible, or equivocal phrases as might easily be wrested to prove the truth of the oracles whatever the truth might be (Acts 16:16).
2. But the apostles, when they term the Scriptures "oracles" (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11), signify that they are real revelations from the true God. These were communicated — viva voce, as when God spake to Moses face to face — in visions, as when a prophet in an ecstacy had supernatural revelations (Genesis 15:1; Genesis 46:2; Ezekiel 11:24; Daniel 8:2) — in dreams, as those of Jacob (Genesis 28:12) and Joseph (Genesis 37:5, 6) — by Urim and Thummim, which was a way of knowing the will of God by the ephod or breastplate of the high priest. After the building of the temple, God's will was generally made known by prophets Divinely inspired, and who were made acquainted with it in different ways (1 Chronicles 9:20, 21).
3. The apostles, giving the Scriptures this appellation, show that they considered them as containing God's mind and will (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:10-13, 23, 25; 2 Peter 1:19-21). And these apostles, being themselves inspired (John 14:17, 26; John 15:26; John 16:13) could not be mistaken. Christ Himself has borne a clear testimony to the truth and importance of the Scriptures of the Old Testament (John 5:39; John 10:35; Luke 16:29, 31).
4. Other proofs of their inspiration are — the majesty of their style; the evident truth and authority of their doctrines; the harmony of all their parts; their power on the minds of myriads; the accomplishment of their prophecies; the miracles performed by their authors. If these things can be affirmed of the writing of the Old Testament, how much more of the New, which consist of the discourses of God's Incarnate Truth (Hebrews 1:1), and of His Divinely commissioned servants (Ephesians 4:7-13).
II. THE ADVANTAGES THOSE HAVE ABOVE OTHERS, WHO ARE FAVOURED WITH THEM.
1. There are many truths of vast importance which may be known from God's works (Romans 1:19, 20); nevertheless, matter of fact has proved that even as to the most obvious and primary truths, all flesh have corrupted their way. If the existence of a Deity has been generally acknowledged, yet His unity and spirituality has not, but the most civilised nations have multiplied their gods without end (Romans 1:21-24; hence Isaiah 40:19, 20; Isaiah 41:6, 7; Isaiah 44:12-20). As to the accountableness of man, fatalism on the one hand. and self-sufficiency on the other, prevailed even among the Greeks and Romans; as to the distinction between vice and virtue, we refer to the apostle (Romans 1:26-32). And as to a future state of happiness or misery, they were in general "without hope."
2. But if these and such like truths could have been discovered by the light of nature, they are taught in Scripture much more clearly and fully; with more authority and certainty; and in a way more adapted to the condition of mankind, who in general have neither capacity nor time for deep and difficult research. Many other truths of equal importance, which are not known at all by the light of nature, are clearly revealed in the Scriptures.
3. The oracles of God may well be called by St. Stephen "lively." God's word is a "hammer and fire," "quick and powerful" (Hebrews 4:12), "spirit and life" (John 6:63). They partake of the spiritual, living, and powerful nature of Him, from whom they proceed. The God who gave them is still at hand to give the right understanding and feeling of them (Luke 24:45; 2 Peter 1:20), and still works by and with them. Hence men, from age to age, have been "pricked," "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37; Acts 5:33), "begotten" (James 1:18), "born again" (1 Peter 1:23), "set free" (John 8:32), "made clean" (John 15:3), "sanctified" (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26), built up and made perfect by them (Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:15).
4. But here arises a grand objection; the Jews, though favoured with the oracles of God, were as wicked as the Gentiles (chap. Romans 2); professing Christians are as wicked as the heathen. This is by no means the case. A very favourable change in the manners of men in general has been wrought where the Scriptures have been received; and myriads, both Jews and Christians, have thereby been made truly pious persons in all ages; and with respect to the rest, "if some did not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?" (ver. 3).
III. OUR OBLIGATION TO IMPROVE THIS ADVANTAGE FOR OURSELVES AND TO COMMUNICATE IT TO OTHERS.
1. The oracles of God can only profit those who believe them (Hebrews 3:11; Hebrews 4:2). They must also be considered and laid to heart, otherwise they cannot profit an intelligent and free being, for they do not work upon our minds mechanically. We must bring to their consideration a teachable and serious mind; must receive them with reverence, gratitude, and affection; practise the religion they describe; and, in order to all this, pray to Him that gave them, that He may impart to us the Spirit by whose influences alone we can either understand or comply with them.
2. With respect to others — the oracles of God are equally necessary and designed for all men (Psalm 22:27; Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 60:8, 9; Luke 24:47; Mark 16:15; Romans 1:5; Revelation 14:6, 7). All professing Christians are under an obligation to aid their circulation, that their endeavours may be consistent with their prayers, for they pray that His "kingdom may come."
(Joseph Benson.)I. TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN MUCH WILL BE REQUIRED; THE QUESTION, THEN, IS WHETHER IT IS BETTER, THAT IT SHALL BE GIVEN OR WITHHELD.
1. The Jew, who sinned against the light of his revelation, will have a severer retribution than the Gentile who only sinned against the light of his own conscience; and the nations of Christendom who have rejected the gospel will incur a darker doom than the native of China, whose remoteness, while it shelters him from the light of the New Testament in this world, shelters him from the pain of its fulfilled denunciations in another. And with these considerations a shade of uncertainty appears to pass over the question — whether the Christianisation of a people ought at all to be meddled with.
2. But without an authoritative solution of this question from God, we are really not in circumstances to determine it. We have not all the materials of the question before us. We know not how to state what the addition is which knowledge confers upon the sufferings of disobedience; or how far an accepted gospel exalts the condition of him who was before a stranger to it. It is all a matter of revelation on which side the difference lies; and he who is satisfied to be wise up to that which is written will quietly repose upon the deliverance of Scripture on this subject. "Go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven," and "go unto all the world, and teach all nations." These parting words of our Saviour may not be enough to quell the anxieties of the speculative Christian, but they are quite enough to decide the conduct of the practical Christian.
3. But the verses before us advance one step farther, and enter on the question of profit and loss attendant on the possession of the oracles of God; and to decide, on the part of the former, that the advantage was much every way. And it is not for those individuals alone who reaped the benefit that the apostle makes the calculation. He makes an abatement for the unbelief of all the others; and, balancing the difference, he lands us in a computation of clear gain to the whole people. And it bears importantly on this question; for surely we may well venture to circulate these oracles when told of the most stiff-necked and rebellious people on earth, that, with all their abuse of them, they conferred a positive advantage on their nation. And yet what a fearful deduction from this advantage must have been made by their wickedness. It were hard to tell the amount of aggravation upon all their sin, in that it was sin against the light of the oracles of God; but the apostle tells us that, let the amount be what it may, it was more than countervailed by the positive good done through these oracles.
II. A FEW REMARKS BOTH ON THE SPECULATIVE AND ON THE PRACTICAL PART OF THIS QUESTION.
1. The Bible, when brought into a new country, may be instrumental in saving those who submit to its doctrine; and, in so doing, it saves them from an absolute condition of misery in which they were previously involved. If along with this advantage to those who receive it, it aggravates the condition of those who reject it, it does not change into wretchedness that which before was enjoyment; and the whole amount of the evil that has been rendered is only to be computed by the difference in degree between the suffering that is laid upon sin with, and sin without the knowledge of the Saviour. We do not know how great the difference is, but we gather that it was better for the Jews, in spite of all the deeper responsibility and guilt which their possession of the Old Testament laid upon the disobedient, yet that a net accession of gain was thus rendered to the whole — then may we infer that any enterprise by which the Bible is more extensively circulated, or taught, is of positive benefit to every neighbourhood.
2. Though in Jewish history they were the few to whom the oracles of God were a blessing, and the many to whom they were an additional condemnation — yet, on the whole, the good so predominated over the evil, that it on the whole was for the better and not for the worse that they possessed these oracles. But the argument gathers in strength as we look onward to futurity, as we dwell upon the fact of the universal prevalence of the gospel of Christ. Even in this day of small things, the direct blessing which follows in the train of a circulated Bible and a proclaimed gospel overbalances the incidental evil; and when we think of the latter-day glory which it ushers in, who should shrink from the work of hastening it forward, because of a spectre conjured up from the abyss of human ignorance? Even did the evil now predominate over the good, still is a missionary enterprise like a magnanimous daring for a great moral and spiritual achievement, which will at length reward the perseverance of its devoted labourers. There are collateral evils attendant on the progress of Christianity. At one time it brings a sword instead of peace, and at another it stirs up a variance in families, and at all times does it deepen the guilt of those who resist the overtures which it makes to them. But these are only the perils of a voyage that is richly laden with the moral wealth of many future generations. These are but the hazards of a battle which terminates in the proudest and most productive of all victories — and, if the liberty of a great empire be an adequate return for the loss of the lives of its defenders, then is the glorious liberty of the children of God, which will at length be extended over the face of a still enslaved and alienated world, more than an adequate return for the spiritual loss that is sustained by those who, instead of fighting for the cause, have resisted and reviled it.
III. CONCLUDE WITH A FEW PRACTICAL REMARKS.
1. It is with argument such as this that we would meet the anti-missionary spirit, Not long ago Christianising enterprise was traduced as a kind of invasion on the safety and innocence of paganism, and it was affirmed that, though idolatry is blind, yet it were better not to awaken its worshippers, than to drag them forth by instruction to the hazards and the exposures of a more fearful responsibility. But why should we be restrained now from the work by a calculation, which did not restrain the missionaries of two thousand years ago?
2. If man is to be kept in ignorance because every addition of light brings along with it an addition of responsibility — then ought the species to be arrested at home as well as abroad in its progress towards a more exalted state of humanity; and such evils as may attend the transition to moral and religious knowledge, should deter us from every attempt to rescue our own countrymen from any given amount of darkness by which they may now be encompassed.
3. However safe it is to commit the oracles of God into the hands of others, yet, considering ourselves in the light of those to whom these oracles are committed, it is a matter of urgent concern whether, to us personally, the gain or the loss will predominate. It resolves itself, with every separate individual, into the question of his secured heaven, or his more aggravated hell — whether he be of the some who turn the message of God into an instrument of conversion; or of the many who, by neglect and unconcern, render it the instrument of their sorer condemnation.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)I. THEIR LEADING CHARACTERS.
1. Absolute truth and wisdom. The word "oracles" signifies a "Divine speech or answer." Words professing to be from God ought to have strong evidence; and how mighty and commanding is the evidence — attested by miracle, ratified by the fulfilment of prophecy, continuing when they have for ages reproved the world, giving life and salvation to this hour. If, then, they are from God, the question of their wisdom and truth is settled. And here is the advantage of possessing these oracles. There is not a question relating either to duty or salvation to which there is not here an answer. Are you an inquirer? There is the oracle. Consult it; for "it shall speak, and shall not lie."
2. Infinite importance. On those questions which are merely curious the oracle is silent, but on no subject which it behoves us to know, e.g., the character of God; the laws by which we are governed; the true state of man; rescue and redemption; the practical application and attainment of this mercy.
3. Life. Hence they are called "lively" or living oracles, or as our Lord says, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." No other book has this peculiarity. Show me one which all the wicked fear; which cuts deep into the conscience, and rouses salutary fears; which comforts and supports; and whilst its blessed truths quiver on the lips of the dying, disarms death of its sting. Show me a man who, when he discourses, awakens souls from deadly sleep; who to a trembling spirit says, "Believe, and live," and he actually believes and lives; whose counsel effectually guides, quickens, and comforts; and you show me one who speaks only as the oracles of God. Among all who have been celebrated for oratory, who ever professed to produce effects like these? Nothing explains this but the life which the Spirit imparts. With the oracles of God the Author is present. You cannot avoid this power. It will make the Word either "a savour of life unto life, or a savour of death unto death."
4. They make all other oracles vocal.(1) Nature has its solemn voice, but it is not heard where the gospel is not. In heathendom the very heavens are turned into idols, and God is excluded from the thoughts of men. But whenever the living oracles come, then every star, and mountain, and river, proclaims its glorious Maker: "day unto day uttereth speech."(2) The general providence of God in the government of nations is intended to display the wisdom, power, goodness, justice, and truth of God; and terminate in the conversion of all nations to the faith of Christ. Yet all this is unknown to those who are destitute of the Divine oracles. To them it appears that one event happens to all. Every occurrence is either attributed to chance, to blind fate, or to the caprice of deities without Wisdom, and without mercy. The living oracle gives a voice to all this. Instructed by it we mark the design of God, "who worketh all in all." We see all things tending to one end, "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together."(3) There is also a particular providence which appoints us our station in life, our blessings and our sorrows. Many lessons this providence is intended to teach us. "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." But till the living oracle speaks, all is silence; and we derive no lessons of true wisdom from the events of life. When we acquaint ourselves with God in His Word, then everything ministers to our "instruction in righteousness."
5. Variety. Here we have history, proverbs, poetry, examples, doctrine, prophecy, parable, allegory, and metaphor.
6. Fulness of truth. Great as are the revelations, nothing is exhausted. As in Christ the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, to be eternally manifested; so in His Word there is a fulness of truth. And hence the Bible is always new.(1) In regard to morals, we have principles, as well as acts, applicable forever.(2) Who can exhaust the doctrine of Holy Scripture? Doctrines especially relating to God, and Christ, and the depth of all-redeeming love.(3) The effects of the whole scheme will be developing forever. In a very important sense the Bible will be the oracles of God to the Church above.
II. THESE ORACLES ARE "COMMITTED" or entrusted To You.
1. To be read and understood, consequently there is great guilt in treating them with indifference and neglect.
2. To interpret honestly. They are "the oracles of God"; and it is a sin of no ordinary magnitude to pervert their meaning.
3. To make them known to others. It is a great sin to restrain the Scriptures.
III. THEIR ADVANTAGE.
(Richard Watson.)I. THE ORACLES OF GOD.
1. The meaning of the term.(1) Among heathen the word was first used to denote the answers supposed to be given by their gods, and was afterwards applied to the shrines where such answers were given. Whether these answers were forged by the priests, or were the results of diabolical agency, it is not necessary to inquire. Suffice it that though proverbially obscure, they are regarded with veneration and confidence. No enterprise of importance was undertaken without consulting them; splendid embassies, with magnificent presents, were sent from far distant states, with a view to obtain a propitious answer; and contending nations often submitted to them the decision of their respective claims. With these facts the Gentile converts were acquainted; in these opinions they had participated. The word, therefore, could scarcely fail to excite in them some of the ideas and emotions with which it had been so long and intimately associated. No title, then, could be better adapted to inspire them with veneration for the Scriptures.(2) Nor would it appear less sacred, or important to the Jew, associated as it was with the Urim and Thummim, and with those responses which Jehovah gave from the inner sanctuary. In our version this place is frequently styled The Oracle; and the answers which God there gave to the inquiries of His worshippers were full, explicit, and definite; forming a perfect contrast to the oracles of paganism. By employing this language, he did in effect say to the Gentile converts, All that you once supposed the oracles of your countrymen to be, the Scriptures really are. With at least equal force did his language say to the Jews, The Scriptures are no less the Word of God than were the answers which He formerly gave to your fathers from the mercy seat.
2. This title is given to the Scriptures with perfect truth and propriety. They do not, indeed, resemble in all respects the heathen oracles. They were never designed to gratify a vain curiosity; much less to subserve the purposes of ambition or avarice, and this is, probably, one reason why many persons never consult them. But whatever a man's situation may be, this oracle, if consulted in the manner in which God has prescribed, will satisfactorily answer every question which it is proper for him to ask; for it contains all the information which our Creator sees it best that His human creatures should, at present, possess.
II. THEIR SURPASSING VALUE.
1. In possessing the Scriptures we possess every real advantage that would result from the establishment of an oracle among us; and more. For wherever the oracle might be placed, it would unavoidably be at a distance from a large proportion of those who wished for its advice. But in the Scriptures we possess an oracle, which may be brought home to every family and every individual at all times.
2. But in consequence of having been familiar with them from our childhood, we are far from being sensible how deeply we are indebted to them. We must place ourselves in the situation of a serious inquirer after truth, who has pursued his inquiries as far as unassisted intellect can go; and that he now finds himself bewildered in a maze of conflicting theories into which the researches of men unenlightened by revelation inevitably plunge them. To such a man what would the Scripture be worth? He asks, "Who made the universe?" A mild, but majestic voice replies from the oracle, "In the beginning, God created the heavens, and the earth." Startled, the inquirer eagerly exclaims, "Who is God — what is His nature?" "God," replies the voice, "is a spirit, wise, almighty, holy, just, merciful and gracious, long suffering," etc. The inquirer's mind labours, faints, while vainly attempting to grasp the Being, now, for the first time disclosed. But a new and more powerful motive now stimulates his inquiries, and he asks, "Does any relation subsist between this God and myself?" "He is thy Maker, Father, Preserver, Sovereign, Judge; in Him thou dost live, and move, and exist; and at death thy spirit will return to God who gave it." "How," resumes the inquirer, "will He then receive me?" "He will reward thee according to thy works." "What works?" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart," etc. "Every transgression of this law is a sin; and the soul that sinneth shall die." "Have I sinned?" the inquirer tremblingly asks. "All," replies the oracle, "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." A new sensation of conscious guilt now oppresses the inquirer, and with increased anxiety he asks, "Is there any way in which the pardon of sin may be obtained?" "The blood of Jesus Christ," replies the oracle, "cleanseth from all sin. He that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy." "But to whom shall I confess them? where find the God whom I have offended?" "He is a God at hand," returns the voice; "I, who speak to thee, am He." "God be merciful to me a sinner," exclaims the inquirer, not daring to lift his eyes towards the oracle: "What, Lord, wilt Thou have me to do?" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," answers the voice, "and thou shalt be saved." "Lord, who is Jesus Christ? that I may believe on Him? He is My Beloved Son, whom I have set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood; hear thou Him, for there is salvation in no other." Such are, probably, some of the questions which would be asked by the supposed inquirer; and such are, in substance, the answers which he would receive from the oracles of God. Who can compute the value of these answers.
III. THEIR INEXHAUSTIBLENESS. But why should those consult them who are already acquainted with the answers which they will return?
1. Has the man who asks this drawn from the Scriptures all the information which they contain? It may reasonably be doubted whether anyone would have discovered that the declaration of Jehovah, "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob," furnishes a conclusive proof of the after existence of the human soul. And how many times might we have read the declaration, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec," before we should have suspected that it involves all those important consequences deduced from it in the Epistle to the Hebrews? And many other passages remain to reward the researches of future inquirers.
2. Many of the oracles contain an infinity of meaning which no mind can ever exhaust. What finite mind will fully comprehend all that is contained in the titles given to Jehovah and Christ, or in the words, "eternity," "heaven;" "hell"? Now he who most frequently consults the oracles will penetrate most deeply into their unfathomable abyss of meaning. He may, indeed, receive the same answers to his inquiries; but these answers will convey to his mind clearer and more enlarged conceptions of the truths which they reveal. His views will resemble those of an astronomer, who is, from time to time, furnished with telescopes of greater power; or what at first seemed only an indistinct shadow, will become a vivid picture, and the picture will, at length, stand out in bold relief. The lisping child and the astronomer use the word "sun" to denote the same object. The child, however, means by this word, nothing more than a round, luminous body, of a few inches in diameter. But it would require a volume to contain all the conceptions of which this word stands for the sign in the mind of the astronomer.
IV. THEIR VITALISING POWER. It may, perhaps, be objected that, as the Scriptures do not speak in an audible voice, their answers can never possess that life which attends the responses of a living oracle, such as was formerly established among the Jews. On the contrary, they are well termed lively or "living oracles" — "alive and powerful." "The words," says Christ, "that I speak unto you, are spirit, and they are life." The living God lives in them, and employs their instrumentality in imparting life. Take away His accompanying influences, and the living oracles become "a dead letter." But he who consults them aright does not find them a dead letter; he finds that the living, life-giving Spirit, by whom they were and are inspired, carries home their words to him with an energy which no tongue can express.
V. THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY ARE TO BE CONSULTED. Thousands, of course, derive no benefit, and receive no satisfactory answers, for they do not consult them, as an oracle of God ever ought to be consulted.
1. They do not consult them with becoming reverence. They peruse them with little more reverence than the works of a human author, as they would consult a dictionary or an almanac.
2. Nor is sincerity less necessary than reverence — a real desire to know our duty, with a full determination to believe and obey the answers we shall receive. If we consult the oracles of God with a view to gratify our sinful inclinations, or to justify our questionable pursuits, practices, or favourite prejudices, the oracle will be dumb. The same remark is applicable to everyone who consults the Scriptures, while he neglects known duties, or disobeys known commands. We may see these remarks exemplified in Saul. He had been guilty of known disobedience; and therefore, when he inquired of the Lord, the Lord answer him not.
3. There are others whose want of success is owing to their unbelief. As no food can nourish those who do not partake of it; as no medicines can prove salutary to those who refuse to make use of them; so no oracles can be serviceable to those by whom they are not believed with a cordial, practical, operative faith. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation only through faith in Christ Jesus.
4. Many persons derive no benefit from the oracles of God, because they attempt to consult them without prayer. Consulting an oracle is an act which, in its very nature, implies an acknowledgment of ignorance, and a petition for guidance, for instruction. He, then, who reads the Scriptures without prayer, does not really consult them.
(E. Payson, D. D.)
Quarterly Review.A priest observing to William Tyndale, "We are better without God's laws than the Pope's," "I defy the Pope and all his laws," he replied; and added, "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause the boy which driveth the plough to know more of Scripture than you do."
(D. L. Moody.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(W. M. Punshon.)H. Rogers.)I. ITS POSSESSION IS AN IMMENSE "ADVANTAGE" TO ANY PEOPLE. What distinguishes it from all other books, and gives it transcendent worth, is that it contains the "oracles of God."
1. They are infinitely valuable in themselves. They are infallible truth. The "oracles" of the heathen world were gross deceptions, that of Apollo at Delphi was a notorious imposture. They give —(1) A true revelation of God to man.(2) A true revelation of man to himself. Who can estimate the transcendent worth of such revelations?
2. They are infinitely valuable in their influence.(1) Intellectually. They quicken reason and set the wheels of thought ageing.(2) Socially. They unseal the fountains of social sympathy, and bless the people with philanthropic societies and institutions.(3) Politically. They break down tyrannies, promote wholesome laws, and foster fair dealing, peace, and liberty.(4) Spiritually. Their great work is to generate, develope, and perfect the highest spiritual life.
II. THERE ARE THOSE WHO LACK TRUE FAITH IN IT. "What if some did not believe?" Though the Jews, as a people, had the "oracles," there were multitudes amongst them who were destitute of faith. Their conduct during their pilgrimage, their whole history in Canaan, and the rejection of the true Messiah, all proved they had little or no faith in the "oracles" they possessed. How few, today, who possess the Bible have any true faith in the Divine "oracles." To such the Bible —
1. Is of no real spiritual "advantage." It can convey no real benefit to the soul, only so far as its truths are believed and realised. Unless it is believed it has no more power to help the soul, the man, than the genial sunbeam or the fertilising shower to help the tree that is rotten at its roots.
2. It ultimately becomes a curse. It heightens responsibility and augments guilt. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not known sin."
III. THE LACK OF FAITH IS IT NEITHER AFFECTS ITS REALITY NOR LESSENS ITS IMPORTANCE (ver. 3). Man's lack of faith will neither affect nor nullify the faithfulness of God. Facts are independent of denials or affirmations. What if some say there is no God? Their denial does not destroy the fact, He still exists. What if some say there is no hell; hell still burns on. Though all Europe denied that the earth moved, it still pursued its course circling round the sun. But though our states of mind, whether credulous or incredulous, in no way affect those facts, they vitally affect our own character and destiny. What if we do not believe? It matters nothing to the universe or to God, but it matters much, nay everything to us.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.)reductio ad absurdum had begun to tell. Then came, by a natural logic, as correct as that of the school, the improvement. "Now, then, brethren, listen to me. Believe not what the scoffer and the infidel say. The Bible, the Bible is the compass of life. Keep it always at hand. Steadily, steadily fix your eye on it. Study your bearing by it. Make yourself acquainted with all its points. It will serve you in calm and in storm, in the brightness of noonday, and amid the blackness of night; it will carry you over every sea, in every clime, and navigate you, at last, into the harbour of eternal rest."
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