For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…
I. THE ARGUMENT FOR THE UNIVERSAL STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
1. There are different modes in which God might be pleased to reveal Himself to mankind.
(1) In creation God hath disclosed His power, wisdom, and love. This is an open Volume, which all men may read.
(2) God has revealed Himself in Providence. And here, too, the revelation is plainly intended for all. This Book, so far as it goes, is unsealed.
2. Observe at this point, however, that neither volume discloses what it is most essential for a human being, such as man actually is, to be informed of. And therefore it was quite to be expected beforehand that God should make some clear revelation of His will and design respecting our race. This revelation we have in His Word.
(1) Now, would it not be an anomalous thing if, unlike the other and less perfect disclosures, this were to be stamped with exclusiveness?
(2) If the Scriptures were intended for only partial perusal, we might surely expect that this limitation would be clearly defined in the Scriptures themselves.
(a) The Scriptures have been in use from the earliest times by the people, as well as by the priesthood (Deuteronomy 17:18; Deuteronomy 31:11, etc.).
(b) The people were commended for studying them, and sometimes rebuked for the neglect of them. How repeatedly Christ, in addressing the people, presupposes them to have read the records of inspiration! "Have ye not read?" or, "Have ye never read?" The New Testament Scriptures contain not one single intimation to any other effect than that they were to be universally studied. In the Acts we find the Bereans commended for the study of them. When St. Paul "charges" the Thessalonians, "by the Lord, that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren," and tells the Colossians, "when this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the Epistle from Laodicea." The Revelation opens with, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein."
II. THE OBJECTIONS THAT ARE ALLEGED AGAINST THE UNIVERSAL STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
1. The best that Rome has to allege is, "the evil which has in some instances arisen, and may again arise, from the indiscreet use of God's Word." We freely admit that many have drawn from the Scriptures doctrines opposed to God's truth, and pernicious to man's welfare. But what if some few have perverted a blessing into a curse? Is that any reason for withholding the blessing from others? Who made the Romish Church the guardian to step in and prevent the Scriptures from working injury? We know that in support of this objection the Romanists will appeal to the assertion of St. Peter, that in Paul's Epistles "are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." But this proves that in Peter's time the Scriptures were in free use, or how could the abuse of them have arisen? But if they are "unlearned and unstable" persons who wrest the Scriptures, surely it were a strange mode of rectifying the mischief to keep them still in a state of ignorance. And the apostle does not throw out the shadow of a hint that the Scriptures were not to be used.
2. But the objection referred to is not the real secret of Romish opposition to the free use of the Bible. That Church dares not let her doctrines and her practices be brought to the standard of Scripture. She knows that if people are allowed to read the Holy Scriptures otherwise than by the permission of, and under colour of the interpretation of the priest, they will find the doctrine of justification stated very differently from the way in which it is put forth in her teaching. They will find far less made of outward means, and a vast deal more of the inward and spiritual grace; far less of human, and a vast deal more of a Saviour's merits.
(Bp. R. Bickersteth.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.