We left Brother Ware (see all Posts Ware Jr.) at the end of Chapter Three. Thus far, in fairly standard devotional form, he has explained what it is we are to seek, reassured us that what we seek is attainable, and described the state of mind with which we are to seek it.
In Chapter 4, "The Means of Religious Improvement," he proposes to explain The means to be used in order to render permanent your religious impressions, and promote the growth of your character
First on his list, in good Unitarian fashion, is Reading...because it is in the perusal of the Scriptures that the beginning of religious knowledge is to be found. He begins by exhorting his readers, no matter their condition or circumstances, to set aside some reugualr time for the reading of scripture if even five minutes a day and chastises those with time, education and leisure who, in spite of their good fortune, neglect this duty. What to read? In your selection of books, the Bible will, of course, hold the first place. This is to be read daily, and to be your favorite book. A warning: Remember, however, that it may be perused in such a manner, that it were better never to have opened it. If studied inattentively, for form's sake, or only for the purpose of gathering arguments to support your opinions, it is read irreligiously, and therefore unprofitably. So: You will therefore always have in view two objects — to understand the book, and to apply it to your own heart and character.
As to the first object: The study of the Bible, for the purpose of understanding it, is an arduous labor. Dr. Johnson said of the New Testament...No book requires greater and more various aid. Its thorough interpretation is a science by itself...And be not afraid of examining the text scrupulously, and employing the utmost energy of your mind in discovering and determining its true sense. It is a duty to do this. You can decide between opposing and possible interpretations only by applying your own mind to judge between them ; and the more keenly, impartially, and fearlessly you proceed, the greater the probability that your decision will be correct... in deciding upon the meaning of scripture, you cannot use your intellectual powers too much or too acutely. Use them constantly, coolly, impartially, with the best aid you can obtain from human authors, and then you may rest satisfied that you have done your duty, — have done all which you could do toward learning the truth ; and if you have accompanied it with prayer for a blessing from the Source of truth and wisdom, you cannot have failed, in any essential point, to ascertain the will of God.
As to the second object, the application of scripture to the forming of the heart and character. This is a higher object than the other, and may be effected in cases where very little of rigid scrutiny can be made into the dark places of the divine word. Blessed be God, it is not necessary, in order to salvation, that one should comprehend all the things hard to be understood, or be able to follow out the train of reasoning in every Epistle, and restore the text in every corruption. Do all this as much as you can. But when you read, as it were for your life ; when you take the Bible to your closet, to be the help and the solitary witness of your prayers; when you take it up as a lamp which you are to hold to your heart, for the purpose of searching into its true state, that you may purify and perfect it; — then put from your mind all thoughts of differing interpretations and various readings, and the perplexities of criticism and translation. You have only to do with what is spiritual and practical. You are no more a scholar, seeking for intellectual guidance, but a sinful and accountable creature, asking for help in duty, and deliverance from an evil world and an evil heart. Read, therefore, as if on your knees.
You are not to suppose, from what has been said, that you are altogether to separate these two modes of reading the Scriptures...The cautions thus briefly sketched are important for two reasons ; one, that there is a tendency in him who has become interested in the critical examination of the sacred writings, to continue to read them critically and with a principal regard to their elucidation, when he ought to be imbibing their spirit; and the other, that the perception of this tendency has been an apology to many for not engaging in such inquiries at all. They esteem it better to go on with their crude, unconnected, and undigested knowledge, which in many cases is only ignorance.
Reading the Bible with head and heart and on your knees. Blessings