DAILY SCRIPTURE READINGS
The two series of Biblical compositions now to be offered
to the public, were commenced by Dr. Chalmers in October 1841, and continued
with unbroken regularity till the day of his decease. Go where he might,
however he might be engaged, each weekday had its few verses read, thought
over, written upon - forming what he denominated "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae;"
each Sabbath-day had its two chapters, one in the Old and the other in the New
Testament, with the two trains of meditative devotion recorded to which the
reading of them respectively gave birth - forming what he denominated " Horae
Biblicae Sabbaticae." When absent from home, or when the manuscript books in
which they were ordinarily inserted were not beside him, he wrote in shorthand,
carefully entering what was thus written in the larger volumes afterwards. Not
a trace of haste, or of the extreme pressure from without to which he was so
often subjected, is exhibited in the hand-writing of these volumes. There are
but few words omitted - scarcely any erased. Instead of being a first and an
only copy written often in the midst of a multitude of engagements, they look
more like the last and the corrected copy of one who had few other tasks than
that of their preparation to occupy him. This singular correctness was a
general characteristic of his compositions. His Lectures on the Epistle to the
Romans were written currente calamo in Glasgow, during the most hurried
and over-burdened period of his life. And when, many years afterwards, they
were given out to be copied for the press, scarcely a blot or an erasure or a
correction was to be found in them, and they were printed off exactly as they
had originally been written.
In preparing the "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae," he had beside him for use and reference, the Concordance, the Pictorial Bible, Poole's Synopsis, Henry's Commentary, and Robinson's Researches in Palestine. These constituted what he called his "Biblical Library." "There" said he to a friend, pointing as he spoke to the above-named volumes, as they lay together on his library table, with a volume of the "Quotidianae" in which he had just been writing lying open beside them, "There are the books I use - all that is Biblical is there. I have to do with nothing besides in my Biblical study." To the consultation of these few volumes he throughout restricted himself. It would have interfered with - it would have defeated his primary design in commencing these compositions had he used the many other helps which were at hand - had he been led away by their employment into any lengthened critical, or historical or doctrinal investigations. These writings were not intended to be the vehicles of learned research. They were not intended to constitute an elaborate exposition. He had no intention of drawing up for the use of others a regular Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. The thought of others - the idea of publication, was not in his mind when he began to write. He used the pen in this instance for his own private benefit alone. Seeking to bring his mind into as close and as full contact as possible with the passage of the Bible which was before him at the time, he recorded the thoughts suggested, the moral or emotional produced - that these thoughts might be the less out of his memory, that these effects might be more pervading and more permanent. His great desire was to take off from the sacred page as quick, fresh, as vivid, and as complete an impression as he could - and in using his pen to aid in this, his object was far more to secure thereby a faithful transcript of that impression, than either critically to examine or minutely to describe the mould that made it. His own description of these "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae" was that firstly consisted of his first and readiest thoughts, and he clothed these thoughts in what to him at least were the first and readiest words. Traces of his own peculiar phraseology do constantly occur, and yet in such a form as to demonstrate of that phraseology that it was as capable of condensation as of expansion - that it could be brief and aphoristic, or ample and many-volumed, as the time or the object might require. And yet - though both as to thought and expression of such instant and easy and natural growth - we have here the mature fruits of a whole lifetime's study of the Divine Oracles, conducted by one who tells us more than once that the verse in all the Bible most descriptive of his own experience is the utterance of David, "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times."
To the great mass of intelligent and devout readers of the Bible - the very manner in which these "Horae Quotidianae" were prepared - the very object for which they originally were drawn up - giving to them as these do so unique a character, will not only deepen the interest with which they will be read - but will attach to them a value far beyond that which any larger measure of mere biblical scholarship embarked in their preparation could have bestowed. To such, the reading of them may render something of the same service which the writing of them rendered to their author, and render it all the more effectually, that he had his own and not their benefit immediately in view. It may be even hoped that many who have not been very frequent or very interested readers of the Holy Scriptures, may be led to look upon them with a different eye, whilst looking at them through the medium here held up - attracted by what will form to not a few the chief natural charm of these volumes - the extreme freshness and vividness with which each graphic narrative of patriarchal and prophetic times is here presented, as seen reflected in that life-like image made by it upon an eye of the most exquisite susceptibility.
A glance into the volume of the " Quotidianae" now presented to him, will satisfy the reader that it is not fitted fbr continuous or consecutive perusal. To be read intelligently it must be read along with the original text of the Bible, and to be read profitably, it must be read as it in detail. In the form now given to it, it found so suitable for domestic as for private use. By combining the "Horae Quotidianae" and "Horae Sabbaticae" making in each such modifications as may be necessary, they may at some future time be formed into a suitable guide and accompaniment to Family Devotion. whatever shape, however, they may ultimately be cast, it has been thought advisable that, in the first instance they should be presented to the public as nearly as possible in the same state in which they were left by the author.
The "Horae Biblicae Sabbaticae" differ both in form and substance from the "Horae Biblicae Quotidianae." Written amid the quiet of the day of rest, they rise to a higher region, and breathe a calmer and a holier air. They are contemplative and devotional, passing generally into direct addresses to the Deity. But though springing from and grounded upon the portions of Scripture which had just been read, these Sabbath Musings are not limited to the topics which the Scripture passages embrace. The meditative faculty takes its flight from one or other of the elevations to which the Word has raised it - but it soars freely and broadly away. And the region oftenest visited, and from which it brings the richest treasures, is the inner circle of the private and the personal. References are continually occurring to those incidents, whether of a public or more private character, by which he was particularly interested, or wherein he was personally engaged. Full and unrestrained expression of his convictions and impressions in regard to these is often given, whilst in the great and sacred matter of his own personal intercourse with God - in his communings with spiritual and eternal things - the innermost movements of his spirit are here spread out to us, even as he spread them out beneath that eye which seeth in secret. The private journal which he had commenced in Kilmany having years before been discontinued, these " Horae Sabbaticae" might fitly be described - if the expression were allowable - as the Sabbath diary of the last six years of his life He kept them in strict seclusion. The "Quotidianae" volumes lay where access was not forbidden - they were shown occasionally to a familiar friend; but to no eye - not even to that of his nearest relative - were the " Sabbaticae" ever exposed. Whilst no difficulty, therefore, was felt as to the publication of the one, a difficulty has been felt as to the publication of the other. It was a region - that secret chamber of his innermost thoughts and emotions - which lay very deeply buried from the public eye - which he never voluntarily exposed - which he sensitively guarded against access and invasion. Ought that vail which he drew so carefully around it to be lifted off - ought that to be exposed to the public eye which he would himself have so sensitively shrunk from presenting to it? This is a question in some of its applications of exceeding difficulty; but there are the highest and best reasons for lifting that vail - at least so far that those who have seen him only as he walked in all the colossal proportions of hie loftier and more radiant manftood among his fellow-men - or heard him only as the full-toned swell of his marvellous oratory rose high above the highest pitch to which human eloquence is wont to reach - should see him also, as he bowed in simple, sincere, profound humility, when alone in the presence of God - should hear him, also, as in tones so low, so deep, so earnest, he breathed out his confessions and desires and aspirations into the ear of the Holy One.
In closing these prefatory notices, I may be permitted to
add, that it is in obedience to the express desire of my venerated
father-in-law, that I have undertaken a trust which has fallen so unexpectedly
into hands so unprepared to execute it. The mournful and anxious labour of
execution is lightened by the thought - that those lips which have already fed
so many shall be opened afresh - and that he, though dead, shall still be heard
as if speaking in the midst of us. He cannot now to these new words spoken to
us, add his own prayers on their behalf; but how many are there - and of these
not a few whom he first taught to offer the effectual fervent prayer of faith -
who will need no other invitation than this suggestion conveys - to unite in
supplicating the Spirit of all truth and grace to accompany with His own
vivifying energy these volumes as they are now sent forth. W. H.
The following "Sabbath Exercises" were found among Dr. Chalmers' private papers, and are prefixed as a not unsuitable introduction to the present series of his practical and devotional writings. It will be perceived that they are scattered very irregularly over the space of time which they cover, and having been abruptly closed, they seem never to have been resumed. One reason for this the reader may perhaps discover in the following extract from a letter written by Dr. Chalmers to his sister only two days before the "Daily Scripture Readings" were begun, and when of course the plan of these and of his other Biblical compositions, must have been matured, as being on the very eve of execution: -
Burntisland Sept. 29, 1841.
My Dearest J - - -
I do hope that all these family trials and changes will issue in the spiritual wellbeing of us all. Would that we could make them subserve our discipline for eternity, one of the most essential preparations for which is delight in praising God - a higher acquirement I do think than even delight and devotedness in prayer. It is a great matter, however, that in the exercise of praise, we should not trust to the mere resources of our own meditation, but seek help in the Bible; and I have never, I think, approximated so much to the spirit of praise as when reading, not in a cursory manner, but with intentness and fixedness of thought, on the subjects laid before me in the Psalms of David. The archetypes of the real words in Scripture will serve us better than the conceptions which come at will or at random into our own minds, or when left to seek for them without this aid, by dint of our own meditative energies alone.
I am, my dearest J - -
Yours very truly,
Craigholm, August 30, 1836.
In reading the life of Sir Matthew Hale, I find that he employed the pen to aid him in his spiritual meditations. He wrote as he thought; and hitherto my attempts at the sustained contemplation of divine things have been so confused and unsatisfactory, that I am glad to try the expedient. May the Spirit of God, who worketh not in means but by them, bless this humble endeavour after a nearer approach to the viewless objects of faith Guard me, 0 heavenly Father, against the illusions of fancy. Suffer me not to walk in sparks of kindling. In thy light may I clearly see light; let me never abandon the guidance and supreme Authority of that Word which thou hast exalted above all thy name. Teach me the habit of communion with Thyself; and may these imperfect aspirations after Thee upon earth, open a way for the full enjoyment of Thine immediate presence and of Thy revealed glory in heaven.
September 6. - To express my religious state in one sentence: I have a strong general desirousness towards God, though often suspended by the avocations of life, and daily overborne amid its manifold and besetting urgencies. And it is a desirousness not satisfied - as if knocking at a door not yet opened, with a sort of earnest and indefinite longing after a good not yet attained. Perhaps the experience which I have oftenest realized is that of the Psalmist when he said, "My soul breaketh for the longing which it hath unto Thy judgments at all times." "He that drinketh this water," says the Saviour, "shall thirst again; but he that drinketh the water which I will give him shall never thirst." I have not yet drunk that water. I have the appetency - I hunger and thirst after righteousness; but am yet a stranger to the promised blessing - "they shall be filled." And so I long after God; but know not what it is to be filled with the fulness of God. And yet there is one distinct and definite and intelligible direction which stands connected with the result of the "soul delighting itself in fatness." It is to "hearken diligently" unto God. (Is. Iv. 2.) It is to hear and our soul shall live. This points to the way in which I ought to entertain God's Word. It is to charge myself with attention to it. It is to dwell on the import of its sayings, both as respects their meaning and their trueness. And for my encouragement I may remember the gleams of comfort which I have experienced on the entrance of such words as "The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin;" "In quietness and in confidence we shall have strength;" "Whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Give me, 0 Lord, to feel more and more the preciousness and the power of Thy Scriptures. 0 let the ensuing week be characterized by the heed which I take unto Thy Word.
September 13. What a damper to spirituality - what a rude
extinguisher on all its feelings and contemplations is sin. An unforeseen gust
of anger will put them all to flight - and the objective truth is lost in that
disturbed and so darkened medium by which the subjective mind is encompassed.
There is one lesson, however, to be gathered from the connexion which obtains
between obedience and spiritual discernment on the one hand, between
disobedience and spiritual dimness or obscuration on the other. A strict and
conscientious perseverance in the walk of known duty may at length conduct to
those manifestations after which we aspire - or, in other words, the humble
doings of our every-day obedience may prove a stepping-stone to the higher
experiences of the divine life. Certain it is, that to cast off this obedience
is to cut away the first round of the ascending ladder; and so to make a
commencement impossible. Let me then undervalue not the of the commandments.
Let me be watchful and maintain a steady guidance and guardianship over all my
words and works and ways. Above everything, let me keep my heart with all
diligence, and ever pray against those wretched aberrations of unruly temper
and on which are breaking forth there. The order is Awake O sinner, and then
Christ shall give thee light. That light I am profoundly sensible must be given
- revealed by God, not discovered by men. It comes by an act of creative power
- when the same Spirit which moved on the face of the waters begins His work of
restoration on the chaos of our ruined nature. Lift upon me, O God, the light
of Thy countenance.
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