Alexander Campbell Short Sermons on Christian Practice--No. IV:
On Bible-Reading--No. I






B E T H A N Y, VA. AUGUST, 1839. =================================================================



      MOTTO.--Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. John xvii. 17. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Heb. xii. 14. Be you holy, for I am holy--Holy in all manner of behaviour. 1 Peter i. 15, 16. Having purified your souls by obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren. 1 Peter i. 22. Being born again, not of corruptible, but incorruptible seed; by the word* of God, that liveth and abideth forever. 1 Peter 1. 23.

      WE speak to God in prayer, praise, thanksgiving. He speaks to us in nature, in his providence, in his word. Creation--universal nature is, indeed, a voice--"a still small voice"--a whisper from God in the ear of reason to the heart of man. "The heavens," said the royal poet, "declare the glory of God: the firmament showeth his handy work: day unto day utters speech, and night unto night teacheth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard: their line [or sound] is gone out through all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world."

"What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial hail--
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid the radiant orbs be found--
In reason's ear they all rejoice
And utter forth a glorious voice;
Forever singing as they shine.
The hand that made us is divine!"---- ADDISON.

      But in his moral government, as well as in creation, God speaks:--"The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works." Ps. cxlv. 17. "Just and righteous are thy ways, [providences,] thou King of saints." Rev. xv. 3. "By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation!" Ps. lxv. 5. "The works of his hand are verity and judgment." Ps. cxi. 7. "All his works are done in truth: he loveth righteousness and judgment. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." Ps. xxxiii. 4, 5.

      But it is in the Bible alone that God speaks to man on his moral nature, relations, and destiny. That wondrous volume is so composed, arranged, and inspired, that it can be made to speak to man in answer to all his prayers for light, knowledge, motive, strength, comfort, in special, precise, and direct reference to any given case, in which he can by any possibility be placed.

      Men have ingeniously contrived instruments of music on which all sorts of tunes can be played; and thus a few strings when touched by the hand of a master, are made to express all the variety of human sentiments, frames, and feelings. Such a religious and moral instrument is the Bible, only incomparably more wonderfully fitted to its end. The Spirit that inspired the men that spoke and wrote it is ever present with it, giving it a life-inspiring, a soul-renewing efficacy; inasmuch that no man can possibly fall in love with the Bible, and become a habitual and prayerful student of the Book of Life, without being inspired, animated, remoulded, and new created by the omnipotent moral energies of that holy and divine sanctifier, the Spirit of the [342] living God, which breathes upon our souls in all its facts, declarations, invitations, promises, precepts, and threatenings.

      On all hands, and in all schools, ancient and modern, happiness, perfect and complete, is confessed to be the universal aim, pursuit, and end of our being. It is to be regretted that the way of attainment is not so universally seen and appreciated as the end proposed. The Bible says, and says truly, for it speaks with authority, that holiness is the way to happiness; and that no other way exists or can he found. If this be true, (and who can disprove it?) then the means of holiness are the means of happiness; for happiness is to holiness as the shadow to the substance, or as light to the sun.

      But what is holiness? It is sanctification. And what is sanctification? It is a separation or consecration to God in heart as well as in state. And what is this separation of heart, but a conformity of views, feelings, and desires; or an approving and choosing the same thing? To will what God wills, to love what he loves, and to hate what he hates, is holiness in principle and in heart; and to carry this out in practice is holiness in fact and in truth.

      This implies a knowledge of God and his will, and of our own nature and condition, which can be acquired with infallible certainty, and with a soul-subduing power, but from One Book, and only one among all the books on this wide earth. The intelligence in that volume is to holiness what holiness is to happiness. They are united by a relation intimate and powerful as that of cause and effect.

      Bible-reading, then, comes recommended to us by this highest of considerations: Jesus himself, the LIVING and INCARNATE WORD OF GOD, proposes this word to us as the alone and all-sufficient means of sanctification--"Sanctify [or make them holy] through thy truth: thy word is truth." The fact that the Lord of Life has selected this word as the instrument and means of sanctification, is the best proof in the universe of its perfect adaptation to that end. That it is, then, the divinely wise and effectual mean of purifying, refining, elevating, and ennobling the human affections--of creating a clean heart, and renewing a right spirit in man, is placed beyond a rational doubt. Without farther evidence we then conclude, that the truth, or the word of God, is the true and proper instrument of holiness.

      But what means Bible reading? In one sentence, it is the devout, prayerful, habitual ponderings of the heart upon the facts, declarations, calls, precepts, promises, and threatenings of the Book of God; not an occasional reading, of a book or a chapter in the volume--not a periodical, measured, daily attention to some portions of sacred scripture, but a concentration of the whole mind upon the whole subject of revelation, as the very elements of devotion, and unfailing springs of our pleasures and delights.

      Such an earnest engagedness of the whole heart upon the subject, differs exceedingly from the readings of the textuary, the theologian, the disputant, the critic, the formalist, and the ordinary professor. The soul pants for this reading as the thirsty roe pants for the brooks of water. The Bible, thus read, is read for pleasure, for enjoyment, for communion with God--as a prelibation of the joys of celestial light, purity, and love; the nature and advantages of which, we shall have to make the subject of another sermon. Meanwhile, we beseech [343] and exhort all our brethren to be more distinguished by Bible reading as above defined, than by any other peculiarity whatsoever. This secures every thing--piety and humanity, holiness and happiness, usefulness and honor. No man can possibly be habitually and cordially pondering upon the communications of the Holy Spirit, without feeling the Spirit of God working in him to will and do every thing pleasing to God and profitable to man as he has opportunity.

A. C.      

      * Dia logos and dia pneumatos. It is the same in construction in verse 22 and 23:--"Through the Word"--"through the Spirit." [342]

[The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, 3 (August 1839): 342-344.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Short Sermons on Christian Practice--No. IV: On Bible-Reading--No. I" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 8, August 1839. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1839), pp. 342-344.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. Inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and typography have been retained; however, corrections have been offered for misspellings and other accidental corruptions. Emendations are as follows:

            Printed Text [ Electronic Text
 p. 342:    1 Peter 1. 23-25. [ 1 Peter 1. 23.
            Rev. xv. 4. [ Rev. xv. 3.
 p. 343:    unfailings springs [ unfailing springs

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 21 February 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Short Sermons on Christian Practice--No. IV:
On Bible-Reading--No. I

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