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It is well said, “It is one of the highest tasks on which the labour of a life can be spent, to bring the words of Christ a little nearer the heart of man.” It is, indeed, a great privilege to seize the import of the sacred text and to bring it out in its integrity and distinctness.
It is asked, “ Is inspiration such as to preclude errors and inaccuracies?” The question is a confounding of the human and divine. In the one, errors and inaccuracies may and do exist; in the other, they cannot. So then, the former, notwithstanding its scientific errors and historical inaccuracies, may no less be the vehicle of the latter in all its integrity and power. And we shall find that if we follow the right principle of interpretation, and take the Bible as a connected whole, for
man lives by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” there will be no uneasy feeling of doubt and uncertainty. For therein we not only have a distinct theory of interpretation supported by the Word in every part of it, but understand the true value of visible things and allegorical modifications, relatively one to the other, and both to the eternal verities themselves.
When we know the one and all pervading faith, and show that all must be expounded according to it analogically, all difficulties—be they general, doctrinal, or theological—vanish. We are oftentimes told to interpret the Word according to the analogy of the faith ; but if we read the writings or listen to the discourses of those who thus speak, we cannot but perceive how that the Cross, a practical reality in the heart demonstrated in the life, is not set forth as the indispensable condition for receiving the blessing, or realising faith.
If man lives by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, then it becomes the duty and no less the privilege of the minister to explain every word, looking for the power to do so. A public journal says, “It is a settled conviction with us that the clergy of our Church lose a great power by neglecting the exposition of Holy Scripture in their public ministrations. Ordinary preaching has in it very little that is exegetical, and even when the commendable practice is followed of preaching on the portions of the Scriptures used in the services of the day, that is rather a method expository of the seasons of the Church than of the Bible itself. What is open to us is the exercise of the pulpit, yet even there the Bible seldom forms the text-book of our homilies, except in the method of choosing a text for the motto or theme of our discourses. It follows, that our people have but little harmonious and connected knowledge of what the Bible contains, or what it teaches.” To this very just complaint it may be asked—Why is it so ? The only answer that can be given is, The educational standard is made the qualification for the ministerial office and charge of souls. A logical mind, exact composition, pure diction, or a clear style, with a knowledge of dogmatic theology superadded, is required, instead of understanding what may truly be called the logic of life, as unfolded in the covenant of God.
It is said, “a catholic interpretation is an exegetical impossibility.” Does not this spring from looking at things a posteriori ? Although “Scripture has indeed had every possible variety of meaning assigned to it, that it has been understood to say this to one, age and that to another, that all hitherto has been conflict and uncertainty” (Bishop Ellicott), yet it is no argument against a catholic exegesis, as we show by “the analogy of the faith," and fall back upon the written Word itself, untrammelled by the theories of men, liberated from the bondage of prejudice and predilection, and take the stand-point of holy men, who spake as they were moved by the Spirit of God. This ground is not taken. It is not seen to be indispensable. Hence we so often hear the mournful complaint that preaching is without permanent effect.
The Bible is but little understood, even by its professed teachers ; and how shall it be otherwise, when there is such a blind following of men. A practical knowledge of the mind of God must not be confounded with a scientific knowledge of theology. It may truly be said, that he who comes to the Bible knowing only the principles of germinal life, even as developed in the vegetable world, and so looks for spiritual life in the Word of God, the incorruptible seed, will understand the meaning of the words and know more of the spirit and intention of the authors than all the controversial writers of former ages put together.
If, then, we would recover the original sense of the Word, we must ignore the numberless points of view taken by different interpreters, and take that only of the writer himself. It is a specious form of sentimentalism that would make the writers of the Word endowed with gifts of another order and nature from those required by him who would take their stand-point.
We well know that we must come to the Word unfettered by our prepossessions or the dogmas of men and
churches. We must read it as first spoken by Infinite Wisdom,
dependent on no earthly light or corporate body, and banish from us all reconcilable theories with the ideas of fathers, medieval light, or modern sectarianism." Astronomy may teach us that the universe is immeasurably vast, and geology, that the earth is immensely old ; yet both in their operative laws and complete machinery-even as Nature herself and true science--are only ancillary to the Word of Life and the kingdom of God.
We dare then ignore the interpretations of fathers, and those after them; for if we take the ground of the inspired writers, what have we to do with the after-thoughts of theology but, alas! to find that, withal, the most scientific age is one only of fearful doubt and terrible uncertainty regarding spiritual things.
There is then no necessity for putting the Word to the torture, for if the key of knowledge be rightly used, it will at once reveal and surrender its inmost treasures ; and this key is Christ.
Our plan will be to unfold the Covenant, and illustrate it by seven distinct references throughout the Word ; then to set forth the one faith, and illustrate it by a sevenfold aspect of the life of Abraham, whose faith, the common faith, was commended by the Lord ; then to discourse on prayer as the outcoming of the inward life, attested by the seven petitions of the Lord's prayer ; and, lastly, to describe the holy and consistent life as set forth by the seven beatitudes, the seven distinctive graces of the Christian character.
These seven beatitudes are in their import severally and respectively identified with the seven petitions, the sevenfold aspect of faith, and the unfolding of the Word of God.
We conclude then with the remarks of Bishop Butler. 6 As