SCRIPTURE THE KEY TO THE PERFECT LIFE

BY THE REV. S. LEE, B.D.
All Scripture is given hy ijispiralion of God, and is prof table
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction
in righteousness ; that the man of God may be perfect,
throughly furnished unto all good works. — 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17.
It is not my intention here to discuss the various questions
relating to the inspiration of the Scriptures, because the
Apostle seems to have had in view, in the first member of
our text, their divinely inspired authority, rather than any
question relating to the manner or mode of their original
revelation. I shall, therefore, in the first place, confine
myself to the consideration of this point ; and then, in the
second, proceed to discuss those particulars which form the
remainder of our text.
The most interesting light, perhaps, in which the Scrip-
tures present themselves to an inquirer, is the super-human
authority, and consequently, the perfect obedience, to which
they every where lay claim. The Lord spake unto Abraham,
Moses, or one or other of the prophets, is the constant lan-
guage of the Old Testament ; and in unison with this are the
declarations of the ew. Human authority is every where
excluded in this question, and man is treated as a sin-
ful, short-sighted, and, in respect to religion, as an ignorant
being. The justness of this position will be considered in a
future discourse ; it will be sufficient for our present purpose
to shew, that a book given as a revelation from above, and
intended to be universally beneficial to mankind, must ne-
cessarily be of this character.
We know from experience that no moral truths however
clearly stated, or ably recommended, can insure universal
acceptance. The human intellect cannot be made to bow to
any thing short of either purely mathematical demonstration
Ixxii SERMO III.
or supreme authority. The former of these is incompatible
with the statement of moral truths ; and therefore, to make
these binding on all, authority alone can be resorted to.
There are, however, still other difficulties which can be
overcome in no other way. One is, that of ascertaining
what is or is not worthy of acceptation, in all possible cases ;
and another, the impossibility of enforcing the practice of
what may have once been ascertained to be thus acceptable.
To the first, the powers of the human mind, assisted by all
the advantages of experience, are confessedly unequal; and,
to the second, the perverseness and wrongheadedness of the
many, will always present an insurmountable obstacle. In
these cases, then, autliority alone can succeed, and indeed
the same holds good in all human laws. To this, then, the
Scripture has very wisely, and, as it will be shewn hereafter,
very justly, laid claim.
Morality has nevertheless been, and is still, recommended
on other grounds. The requirements of society, which have
sometimes been termed the fitness of things, have been urged
with some success both in ancient and modern times ; and,
the happiness usually attendant on virtue on the one hand,
with the misery inseparable from vice on the other, has
occasionally contributed to give a moral tone to the well
informed, no less beneficial than it was admirable. On vulgar
minds, however, reasoning of this sort can exert no force ;
and of these the majority of society consists ; nor, on the well
informed has it ever prevailed to any considerable extent.
Authority, therefore, can alone be generally binding. Still,
how rational soever and well directed the authority of the
Scriptures might have been, there have never been want-
ing large numbers ready either to disregard this, or else to
deny its real existence. With the first of these, who are
habitual unbelievers, we are not, at present, concerned.
Our business will be, therefore, to consider a few of the
leading objections made by the second.
The class of objectors to which w^e now allude are those
SERMO III. Ixxiii
who have assumed the title of Rationalists, and are princi-
pally to be found among the Divines of modern Germany.
Their numbers are large, and their learning is considerable ;
and, as they propose their doctrines on what they deem to
be the just principles of Scriptural interpretation, and argue
that these are grounded on the deductions of sound reason,
they merit the most patient, fair, and impartial, examination.
The principal objection, generally made for the purpose of
impugning the absolute authority of the Holy Scriptures, is
to the doctrine of miracle. This, say they, is impossible,
improbable, and incapable of proof .
With reference to the first position, which is by no
means new, it may be replied generally : To determine
what is impossible with man, is indeed no difficult thing to
effect; but the question here is with respect to the Deity;
and, from what we know of his power, it should seem to be
no easy task to prove what is impossible with him. For,
although we possess some general knowledge of his attri-
butes, we confessedly have not enough to determine either
the extent of his power, or the manner in which it must
exert itself. These are particulars which neither experience
nor science can teach us ; and, as the Revelation itself is
silent on them, it must follow, that whatever we may think
or believe, we certainly have no real knowledge.
From our knowledge, or rather ignorance, therefore, it is per-
fectly absurd to attempt to determine what is, or what is not,
impossible with God. This is a subject manifestly above our
capacities ; and as such we must for ever leave it. But, it
is argued, in the next place, that from what we do know of
the order of nature, and the established course of things, it
is as impossible as it would be injurious to the whole, that
any perturbation or event not provided for, should be allowed
to happen; and this, it is added, the doctrine of miracle
takes for granted. I answer: This is again, not only to set
bounds both to infinite wisdom and power, but to assume a
knowledge of things which no man living ever possessed.
f
Ixxiv SERMO III.
Of the primary laws of nature we can know but little :
from what we do know, however, we can positively affirm,
that the common course of nature itself is liable to great
perturbations : and the probability seems to be, that these
are not conducive to the injury, but to the welfare of the
whole ; and, that for all cases of this kind occurring in the
natural world, provision has actually been made. The
perturbations which we can observe, and which we are
compelled by our ignorance thus to designate, are probably
nothing more than instances of obedience to still higher
laws, of which the mind of man has yet acquired no know-
ledge 3 and which, until he has, may be classed with what
we term miracles. ot, let it be remembered, that such
occurrences can be miraculous with the Deity ; but only
with such of his creatures as are unacquainted with the
laws by which they are regulated, and the ends for which
they may have been designed. In this point of view, then,
such occurrences, varying it may be from the common
operations of nature, can be referred to no other source than
the ruill of the Deitt/, operating according to laws known
only to his inscrutable wisdom, and for ends, in most cases,
cognizable to him alone.
Again : to assert that such apparent anomalies cannot
take place without being injurious to the whole, is to assert
that which no man can prove: injurious, indeed, they may
seem ; but this is a very different thing from positive know-
ledge that they are so ; and, from the order nevertheless
observed, and the happiness so impartially and so extensively
spread throughout the world, there are grounds for a strong
presumption that they are not so.
ow, let it be asked. What is generally contended for by
those who argue for the truth of Scripture miracles ? ot
that something anomalous, unnecessary, or injurious, has
taken place ; but, operations which can be referred to none
but God as their author, — events which it is plainly de-
clared have been provided for in the Divine counsels, which
SERMO III. IXXV
are indeed as unsearchable to us, as are raanj' of the causes
operating in the natural world, but which contribute to
promote the general welfare. If, then, laws not indeed
necessarily connected with those which regulate the ma-
terial world, but confessedly emanating from the same
Lawgiver, are stated to be in operation for the pur-
pose of furthering ends similar to those had in view in the
creation, preservation, and support of man, and not more
unaccountable in their origin, operations, and effects; Who,
it may be asked, can affirm that these are impossible, or
offer any thing like a shadow of proof that they are so?
There may, indeed, be a presumption entertained that they
are so ; but even this can be held only on a contracted view
of things, and that as unworthy of the unmeasurable system
of mercy, wisdom, and goodness, with which we are sur-
rounded, as it is unsuitable to the soul aspiring after the
happiness, and anxious to realise all the blessedness, of which
both reason and Revelation proclaim it to be capable.
But it still may be said. That it is improbable any
such anomalous effects should be allowed to take place in a
system emanating from the hands of infinite wisdom and
power. I answer : With just as much propriety might
it be objected to the probability of earthquakes, volcanoes,
tempests, the flux and reflux of the tides, pain, and a
thousand other such things, — all evidently brought into being
and allowed to continue by infinite wisdom and power, — did
not their occurrence afford us the amplest proof to the con-
trary. The same reasoning may be applied to both ; and, as
facts in the one case flatly contradict the conclusion which
might be drawn, so may they in the other ; and we shall
hereafter shew that they actually do. o reliance, therefore,
can be placed upon this kind of reasoning ; and we now pro-
ceed to shew, that there is not only a strong presumption to
the contrary, but an absolute moral certainty.
Let us now suppose man to have been placed on the earth
such as he is, — without knowledge to any useful extent on the
IxXVi SERMO III.
subject of religion, liable to mistake and error, but yet ca-
pable of receiving instruction, and intended to enjoy immor-
tality in a better state of being. If, then, we can suppose
him to have been without knowledge on this subject (and
without it he must have necessarily been, until he received it
from some Being superior to himself), how, it may be asked,
was he ever to acquire it ? Man, as such, had it not either
to enjoy in himself or to impart to others ; and yet, it would
not only have been unmerciful, but cruel, that it should be
withheld. The high and immortal destinies of the soul must,
in such a case, have remained unknown and undeveloped;
the warmest feelings of the heart have for ever lain dor-
mant ; hope, the best motive to exertion implanted in our
nature, could scarcely have had an existence in a world like
this, abounding in temptations, mortifications, and trials;
and the confessedly noblest work of an all-wise Creator could
not but have been the most unhappy being to be found
amongst the works of his hands.
In the universal darkness, then, which must under this
supposition have necessarily prevailed, we can imagine it
possible that some reflecting minds might have come to the
conclusion that there was a Supreme Ruler who governed all
things after the counsel of his own will ; and that, although
oppression, affliction, and sorrow, might be the lot of the vir-
tuous here, there must be, nevertheless, an hereafter, in which
judgment would be pronounced against wickedness, and an
adequate reward apportioned to a patient endurance in well
doing. And, if we allow this, at what shall we have arrived ?
ot that all this would have been certain ; but only that it
would have been probable, — a conclusion too weak either to
disarm the hand of the oppressor, or to raise the heart or the
hopes of the sufferer: and, to have gone one step further would
have been utter impositio)i ; and as such, would on the very
best supposition generally be treated as falsehood, and its
propagator as a liar and a wretch. If, then, the knowledge
of God's will was at all to be made known to man, in a way
SERMO III. Ixxvii
calculated to produce its due effect, I will now affirm, that
this could have been done only by miracle ; or, in other
words, in such a way as to carry with it the conviction that
it was in truth the Word of God. In this case, but in no
other, could men entertain an assurance that imposition had
not been practised upon them, and that they could give an
entire and hearty reception and consent to the whole matter
revealed. It is not merely probable, therefore, that miracle
vi^ould be resorted to in this case, but it was absolutely neces-
sary that it should ; because a Revelation, properly so called,
could have been made in no other way. So far, therefore,
is the occurrence of miracle from being improbable, that it is
absolutely necessary, to the establishment of a true religion
in the world.
The last objection, that this is incapable of proof , is like-
wise futile. Believers do not here argue in a circle, as the
objectors affirm ; but proceed on grounds as legitimate as they
are truly convincing. If, say they, the Scriptures assure us,
as matter of history, that the Almighty openly revealed his
laws in the presence of the whole camp of the Israelites ; and,
if we are also assured by the concurrent testimony of the persons
then present, as well as that (originally received from them) of
their posterity throughout all succeeding ages, — men, let it be
remembered, who made no hesitation to rebel and resist the
constituted authorities whenever it suited their purposes to do
so, — we have reasons sufficient for believing that this was the
fact ; but none that it was not ; unless indeed we are bound
not to believe the declarations of any book professing to give
accounts of which we had no previous knowledge : which is
absurd. There are, moreover, other considerations, and such
as to make it morally impossible that this was not the fact.
We have predictions made on occasions similar to this,
stretching out through periods of some thousands of years ;
which, it should be observed, are generally of the most parti-
cular character, specifying times, families, persons, places,
events, and their consequences, in a manner setting perfectly
IXXviii SERMO III.
at defiance all the doctrines of probabilities, with which
science ever has been, or ever can be, acquainted. These
are, in many cases, cited as miraculous, and the whole heathen
world is openly challenged to do the like (which however was
not likely to be attempted), they are then, with their fulfilling
events, left as land-marks for the satisfaction and conviction
of all future generations, that the hand of God was in this.
It is true, these are all found in the Bible, as the objectors
urge; and, it may be asked, Why should they not? If
collateral history can now be adduced, to shew that the whole
is false, let it be brought forward. Their being recorded
surely affords the best opportunity now, as it formerly did,
for their refutation and explosion. But this, as far as it is
collateral, inquiry has shewn to be on the side of the Revela-
tion and against the objectors.
Again ; if these things were false, why have not the
enemies of Revelation, and in this case the friends of truth,
recorded the errors, and exposed the delusion? Why have not
the histories of Trogus Pompeius, as epitomised by Justin,
the fragments of Sanchoniathon, Manetho, Berosus, the
writings of Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and others, laid
open and exposed the fraud ?* Or, to come lower down. Why
did not Porphyry, Julian the Apostate, Hierocles, lamblichus,
Lucian, Antoninus Pius, or some of the literati of his court,
convince the Roman world, that this was all mistake and
imposition? Or, Why was not this done either at Athens
or in Egypt, before the ancient records, now lost, were placed
beyond the reach of inquiry ? Had this indeed ever been
done, or could it now be, we should have grounds for
suspicion, that the writers of the Bible have been partial and
unworthy of credit; but, to affirm that their testimony ought
not to be received, supported as it is by the nature of the
* Some most valuable testimonies to the Scripture histories are to be
found in llie Pra-paratio Evangclica of Eusebius, — a work which is at
this
day tfiQ liule read.
SERMO III. Ixxix
case, confirmed as it is by the fulfilment of the predictions
alluded to, and established as it is beyond contradiction by
all the collateral history now extant, is to my mind a propo-
sition so monstrous and so unreasonable, that, did I not see it
recorded and reprinted again and again, I should be induced
to believe it never had an existence, but was one of those
pious, or rather impious, frauds, which have, from time
to time, been practised upon the world.
The grounds, therefore, upon which Christians believe the
miracles recorded in the Bible, are not implicitly relied upon,
because they are chiefly found there ; but, because, being found
at all, recommended and confirmed as they are beyond all pos-
sible reason for doubt, they are worthy of all acceptation, at
least until testimony equally convincing shall have been pro-
posed, and shall have proved the contrary. For similar reasons
it is, that we believe Grecian and Roman history : not, because
it has been recorded by Grecian or Roman writers, respectively;
but, because it has been recorded by persons whose testi-
mony we have no good reason to call in question : and the
same would have been the case, had these facts been reduced
to writing by Englishmen, or Frenchmen, provided we had
reason to believe they had either been eye-witnesses of
the facts themselves, or had made use of documents,
which there is good ground for believing were worthy of
credit. The proof, consequently, which is made out by
Christians, as to the fact of miracles having been performed,
is perfectly on a par with those offered as to the occurrence
of those historical events which no one has hitherto called
in question ; with this difference, the witnesses in the one
case had neither national nor individual vanity to support,
with the additional circumstance, that many of them sealed
their testimony with their blood : in confirmation, let it be
remembered, of a religion which, had they borne testimony
to a lie, must have left them entirely destitute with regard to
the present world, and hopeless as to that which is to come.
The next question wc have to do with, and which is
Ixxx
SERMO III.
perhaps peculiar to this school of divines, is the following :
Although, say they, many events recorded in the Scrip-
tures are there related as miraculous, and were most pro-
bably believed to be so by those who committed them to
writing ; yet, when we consider the low state of the sciences
in their times, and also find that all these events can be
accounted for by having recourse to natural causes, we are
bound to reject the miraculous character ascribed to them,
while we are willing to allow both the honesty and good
intentions of those who have delivered them down to us.
Suppose then, we allow, that the sciences never ar-
rived at any high degree of cultivation among the Jews,
which was probably the case ; How will the question now
stand ? — If it can be shewn, that the writers of either the
Old or ew Testament have called in the aid of science,
and failed in its application, there will, indeed, be reason
to suspect that, whatever their facts were, their philosophy
was wrong. But the truth is, they have called in no such aid.
They have simply told us, that such or such an event hap-
pened at such or such a time or place, — that Moses, or
David, or Isaiah, or some other Prophet, left such or such
a prediction on record, which, at so many years afterwards
was expected to come to pass : and which was actually
fulfilled, at the time, and in the manner specified. We
have now to judge of facts, not of philosophy ; of events,
together with the passages predicting them, or the circum-
stances attending them: and, from all that I can discover,
the state of science either at this or that period, has not
with these the most distant point of connection. They
have indeed been recorded as being, and they actually are,
beyond the power of man, however aided by human
science, or human experience, to effect.* Besides, the solu-
tions offered by the objectors are not founded on any
known science whatsoever ; they consist only of conjectures
* See pp. 138, Js.c. of the following Dissertations
SERMO III. Ixxxi
the most childish and trifling ; and such, if I am not greatly
mistaken, as to admit of no comparison in any other school,
ancient or modern.*
Another favourite objection (and the last I shall notice),
with this school is this : If, say they, we allow the Scriptures
to be vested with divine authority, still they have never pro-
duced the unanimity which they seem, as such, to promise :
and, therefore, whether we take them as possessing a na-
tural, or a supernatural, claim to attention, the result arrived
at is one and the same : the majority of those who know
them are disobedient; and millions have never yet heard of
their existence.
I answer : In the first place, the goodness or badness of
any code of laws can never be argued from the disregard
with which it may happen to have been treated. This
would be the same thing as to affirm, that laws are to be
judged of by the lawless, and the maxims of virtue extant in
any country, to be estimated or condemned, according to
the taste of those only who are strangers to their require-
ments : unless, indeed, we can suppose the existence of laws
such as to force the will, control the judgment, and irresist-
ibly to bring about an entire obedience to all their enact-
ments. But this would be to suppose the exertion of a
constant miraculous power, unsuitable to the present nature
of things, such as necessarily to put an end to every moral
distinction between right and wrong, and to reduce the
intelligent and now accountable creatures of God, to the
situation of mere machines. But, if any persons are to be
appealed to on the nature of such laws, it must surely be
those who have examined and tried them, — those who have
marked their effects under every variety of circumstance,
and who could have no earthly reason whatever for offering
an untrue testimony.
In this respect, then, the evidence tendered in favour of
* On this subject, see the Second Part of the First Dissextation,
following.
Ixxxii SERMO III.
the efficiency of our Scriptures is in all respects complete.
We have here a cloud of witnesses, continued through a
period of nearly six thousand years, testifying in the face
of persecutions, mockings, scourgings, destitutions, death,
and with a constancy, calmness, and intrepidity, unequalled
in the records of time, and never adduced in any other case,
that the word of God is both profitable and powerful.
We have an army of martyrs, as remarkable in many cases
for their learning, strength of judgment, and due subjection
to constituted authorities, as they were disinterested in
their profession, resigned in their sufferings, or joyful in
their deaths. In them we find men who had submitted,
not only to the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction
in righteousness, proposed in the Holy Scriptures ; but who
were as abundantly furnished to every good work, as the
most rigid moralist, the most devoted philanthropist, the
most rigorous interpreter of human laws, could desire or
expect to find ; and much more so than the world has evier
yet seen in its almost endless list of heroes, philosophers,
poets, and patriots.
But to descend to points still better known, and more
widely felt. Taking the religion of the Bible at its very
lowest estimate, and allowing that the sublimity and purity
of its precepts have not invariably produced their due effects ;
still, I might ask : Did the public tone of morals in heathen
countries, or in heathen times, ever present any thing com-
parable to what is to be found even among Rationalists
themselves, where Christianity has been divested of more
than half its power? Or, to descend still lower. Is
it probable that civilisation would have ever smoothed
the rugged path of life, or human society have exhibited
any thing better than barbarism, had no such revelation
been made, as that which is found in the Bible, * unequal as
* From the long continuance of barbarism in the South Sea Islands and
elsewhere, without the least approximation evinced towards civilisation,
taken
in addition to the numerous instances in vvliich many of them, even
after
SERMO III. Ixxxiii
it is to the miraculous power of converting every stubborn
heart, or of bowing down every objector to the humility
of a saint in light? But, passing over these considera-
tions, which however lay claim to our highest regard, the
charge here considered, taking as it does for granted that,
because the declarations of the Scriptures are not miracu-
lously overpowering, (the possibility, however, of which in
any case the objectors deny,) they are therefore powerless,
rests on the fallacy, that because they will admit of being
mistaken and misrepresented, they therefore possess no in-
fluence which can justly lay claim to the title of divine; a
position too absurd to stand in need of a moment's con-
sideration. We may therefore conclude, that, as those who
have known them best, and whose testimony is consequently
entitled to the greatest regard, have given and ratified with
their blood, a very different kind of evidence, we are bound
to admit, that they really and truly possess all the properties
ascribed to them in our text, and, as the same Apostle else-
where affirms, that they are " able to save the soul."
witnessing the advantages of civilised life, have again willingly relapsed into
savage life, it may justly be doubted, that had man been originally placed on
this earth in the situation of a savage, and no means of instruction been
afforded him from above, whether all the powers he possessed, or could
call into action, would have been equal to the task of making him any thing
better than a savage, under any circumstances. My own opinion is, and I
think it will be borne out by the facts of the case, that under such circum-
stances he would never have felt, or wished to have felt, any motives for
exertion higher than those necessary to gratify his wants, or to provide for
the very lowest gratification of his senses. It is common and easy, I very
well know, to say, that other things rnight have been brought about. I contend,
however, that the testimony of fact, as far as that is hitherto known, speaks a
totally different language, and affirms, that the world has never yet seen any
such efforts made by unassisted nature only : and, my conclusion from these
premises is, that if man had come from the hands of his Maker in a state of
savage life, and received no instmction from above, he must, and would,
still have remained a savage to all intents and purposes.
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