THESE five books of scripture, which I have here endeavoured, according to the measure of the gift given to me, to explain and improve, for the use of those who desire to read them, not only with under- standing, but to their edification—though they have the same divine origin, design, and authority, as those that went before, yet, upon some accounts, are of a very different nature from them, and from the rest of the sacred writings: such variety of methods has Infinite Wisdom seen fit to take, in conveying the light of divine revelation to the children of men, that this heavenly food might have (as the Jews say of the manna) something in it agreeable to every palate, and suited to every constitution. If every eye be not thus opened, every mouth will be stopped, and such as perish in their ignorance will be left without excuse. We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented, Matth. xi. 17.
1. The books of scripture have hitherto been, for the most part, very plain and easy narratives of mat- ter of fact, which he that runs may read and understand, and which are milk for babes, such as they can receive and digest, and both entertain and nourish themselves with. The waters of the sanctuary have hitherto been but to the ankles or to the knees, such as a lamb might wade in, to drink of and wash in; but here we are advanced to a higher form in God's school, and have books put into our hands, where- in are many things dark, and hard to be understood, which we do not apprehend the meaning of so sud- denly and so certainly as we could wish; the study whereof requires a more close application of mind, a greater intenseness of thought, and the accomplishing of a diligent search, which yet the treasure hid in them, when it is found, will abundantly recompense. The waters of the sanctuary are here to the loins, and still, as we go forward, we shall find the waters still risen in the prophetical books, waters to swim in, (Ezek. xlvii. 3••5.) not fordable, nor otherwise to be passed over; depths in which an elephant will not find footing; strong meat for strong men. The same method is observable in the New Testament, where we find the plain history of Christ and his gospel placed first in the Evangelists, and the Acts of the Apostles; then the mystery of both in the Epistles, which are more difficult to be understood; and, lastly, the prophecies of things to come, in the Apocalyptic visions.
This method, so exactly observed in both the Testaments, directs us in what order to proceed, both in studying the things of God ourselves, and in teaching them to others; we must go in the order that the scripture does; and where can we expect to find a better method of divinity, and a better method of preaching?
1. We must begin with those things that are most plain and easy, as, blessed be God, those things are which are most necessary to salvation, and of the greatest use. We must lay our foundation firm, in a sound experimental knowledge of the principles of religion, and then the superstructure will be well- reared, and stand firm. It is not safe to launch out into the deep at first, or to venture into points difficult and controverted, until we have first thoroughly digested the elements of the oracles of God, and turned them in succum et sanguinem—juice and blood. Those that begin their Bible at the wrong end, commonly use their knowledge of it in the wrong way.
And, in training up others, we must be sure to ground them well at first in those truths of God which are plain, and in some measure level to their capacity, which we find they take and relish, and know how to make use of, and not amuse those that are weak with things above them, things of doubtful dis- putation, which they cannot apprehend any certainty of, or advantage by. Our Lord Jesus spake the word to the people as they were able to hear it, (Mark iv. 33.) and had many things to say to his disci- ples which he did not say, because as yet they could not bear them, John xvi. 12, 13. And those whom St. Paul could not speak to as unto spiritual—though he blamed them for their backwardness, yet he ac- commodated himself to their weakness, and spake to them as unto babes in Christ, 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2.2. Yet we must not rest in these things; we must not be always children, that have need of milk, but, nourished up with that, and gaining strength, we must go on to perfection, (Heb. vi. 1.) that, having, by reason of use, our spiritual senses exercised, we may come to full age, and put away childish things, and, forgetting the things which are behind, (Heb. v. 14.) that is, so well remembering them, (Phil. iii. 13.) that we need not be still poring over them, as those that are ever learning the same lesson, we may reach