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WESLEYAN MET IIODIST ASSOCIATION
18 5 4.
The right of private judgment in the reading of the Sacred Volume.
VOLUME THE SEVENTEENTH.
5, HORSESHOE COURT, LUDGATE HILL.
THE OPENING OF THE BOOK ;
OR, JUBILEE REJOICINGS ON ACCOUNT OF GOD'S WORD.
“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people ; for he was above all the people: and when he opened it all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the Lord the Great God. And all the people answered, Amen, amen, with lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”—NEHEMIAH viii, 5, 6, 12.
TAE Lord said to the children of Israel by Moses, “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you ; and
ye shall return every man unto his possession, and shall return every man unto his family.” This was a very benevolent political institute, prefigurative of a better dispensation in the fulness of time.
There exists a general disposition in nations unenlightened by Divine Revelation, to yield to the law of might. The strongest bear rule. It is the interest of despotic rulers to keep the people enslaved, physically and mentally. The history of antiquity is the history of enslavement and oppression. Kings and rulers grasped at the absolute disposal of the persons and substances of those they governed. Had not the world been visited by Divine Revelation tyranny would have had universal sway, and have enslaved the whole family of man ; or otherwise anarchy would have kept the world in a perpetual turmoil of bloodshed and strife.
But God instructed Moses to write a book which should contain laws and principles in the study and observance of which his people should become religious, enlightened and free. The jubilee regulation, to which we refer, among others had a tendency to prevent the oppression of the poor, and saved them from the liability of perpetual slavery. The rich were prevented from accumulating property by taking advantage of the poor man's necessity, and a kind of equality was preserved throughout all the families of Israel.
The book, which Moses wrote, containing these regulations was intended to prepare the way for the enlightenment and liberty of all nations. Moses, “because of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews,
suffered” many things, which the enemies of human equality and fraternity, and liberty, may pervert“ as they do many other Scriptures to their own destruction," but the spirit of the Mosaic legislation is evidently favourable to universal liberty-the rights of humanitythe rights of conscience—the rights of God.
The jubilee itself was a type of Gospel days. Thus the Messiah is described by the prophet, as saying, “ The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me: because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prisons to them that are bound.” It proclaims “ the acceptable year of the Lord.” Christ proclaims a universal and perpetual jubilee. Our debt he cancels-our inheritance he restores.
The fulfilment of the prediction of the prophet is recorded by the Evangelist Luke. He
Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up; and as his custom was he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written. And he began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
“Let every mortal ear attend,
And every heart rejoice ;
With an inviting voice.” Thus the introduction of the Gospel jubilee was by the opening of the Book.” We are now invited to celebrate the jubilee of the British and Foreign Bible Society; and though not binding on us by the force of a positive Divine command, yet we may reasonably rejoice that the book, which announces the jubilee of the world, has become more widely circulated by an institution seeking to make all nations acquainted with the Word of the Lord.
To aid this jubilee rejoicing we have called your attention to the narrative of Nehemiah, in which we find an entire people rejoicing in the opening of the Book of God's law. The people had lately returned from a long captivity—their inheritance was restored, but above all, God's Word was restored, and these things led them most jubilently to show forth their gratitude.
In directing attention to these words we will notice
I. THE BOOK THAT EXCITED SUCH GENERAL REGARD.
“And Ezra opened the Book."
This book was the copy, or the transcript of the copy, of the law of the Lord made by Moses, and placed by his direction within the ark of the covenant, kept in the most holy place of the sanctuary. This was a sacred deposit entrusted to the care of the Jewish people. In this was contained the lively oracles of the living God. This book contained the revealed will of God concerning his worship, and the obedience he demanded from them as his people. This was the covenant God had made with the nation of Israel, at Mount Sinai, by which the people avowed themselves to be the servants of the true Jehovah, and chose the only true God to be their God; and by which God avowed his favour towards Israel as his own peculiar people, above all other nations of the earth. This covenant was ratified by the shedding of blood. It was a covenant of life to those who had forfeited life; ind, therefore, could not have been made without the ransom of life. Forfeited life must have been redeemed before a new life could be granted. Therefore, “Moses, when he had spoken every precept to all the people, according to the law, took the blood of calves and goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you."
This book, therefore, assumed a most sacred character; to neglect or to violate it involved the most fearful calamities; the forfeiture of life, and the infliction of the severest penalties for the infraction of a covenant, solemnly ratified on the most binding obligations, to secure the obedience of creatures to an Omnipotent and Holy Creator.
“ What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” On observance of the covenant of this book depended all manner of blessings; but on its violation all manner of plagues and bitter evils. “ It shall come to pass if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes, the Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me.”
This book, therefore, was a most divinely authenticated book. The most awful manifestations of majesty attended its immediate revelation in the sight of all Israel ; and then the fulfilment of its judgments so long previously predicted, must have deeply impressed the minds of the people, in the days of Ezra, of its original divinity. It spoke to their consciences and experiences on behalf of its truth; and thus they were prepared to receive it as having authority, when it was opened that they might hear and understand the words of this law.
This book was, therefore, to the Jews pre-eminently the book. Whatever other writings they might possess, none were equal in authority to this ; at least it was not till later years, that Talmuds and Targums rendered void the law by rabbinical traditions. The people desired God's pure truth in God's own words, and were prepared, with lively reverence, to listen to the reading of the book which so expressly contained for them the mind and will of God.
The book that excited such regard in the days of Ezra formed the nucleus of that book which we in this day would elevate in the sight of all the people, over all other volumes whatsoever. This book we call the Bible, from “ biblos,” the book, so superior in excellence to all other books whatever. The book of books—the book of inspired writings—the sacred book—the book of God—God's revelation of grace and goodwill to the children of men—the guide which leads to heaven. Such is the estimation in which we hold the Bible. The book, to which we direct attention, contains the law which Ezra read the