Page images
PDF
EPUB

passages, which are not of themselves plain, by those opinions, of the belief of which they are already possessed; but for which they have little ground besides the mere sound of some texts, that appear, when first heard, to be favourable to their preconceived notions. Whereas, if such texts were compared with the scope of the sacred writers, they would be found to bear quite a different meaning. For instance, no truth is asserted more frequently in the Bible, and consequently is more certain in religion, than that God is good, not only to some individuals, but also toward all men. Thus, David says, (Psal. cxlv. 9.) The Lord is good to ALL, and his tender mercies are over all his works ; and Ezekiel, (xviii

. 23.) Have I any pleasure at all in the wicked that he should die ? saith the Lord: and. not that he should turn from his ways and live ? Frequently also does the Almighty declare, both in the books of the law as well as in the prophets, and also in the New Testament, how earnestly he desires the sinner's return to him. See, among other passages, Deut. v. 29. Ezek. xvii. 32. and xxxiii. 11. Matt. xxiii. 37 John lii. 16. I Tim. q. 4. Titus ii. 11. and 2 Pet. iii. 9. If, therefore, any passages occur which at first sight appear to contradict the goodness of God, as, for instance, that He has created some persons that he might damn them (as some have insinuated); in such case the very clear and certain doctrine relative to the goodness of God is not to be impugned, much less set aside, by these obscure places, which, on the contrary, ought to be illustrated by such passages as are more clear. Thus, in Prov. xvi. 4. according to most modern versions, we read, that The Lord hath made all things for himself, yea even the wicked for the day of evil. This passage has, by several eminent writers, been supposed to refor to the predestination of the elect and the reprobation of the wicked, but without any foundation. Junius, Cocceius, Michaelis, Glassius, Pfeiffer, Turretin, Ostervald, Dr. Whitby, Dr. S. Clarke, and other critics, have shown that this verse may be more correctly rendered, The Lord hath made all things to answer to themselves, or aptly to refer to one another, yea eren the wicked, for the eril day, that is, to be the executioner of evil to others : on which account they are in Scripture termed the rod of Johovah (Isa. 2.5.), and his sword. (Psal. xvii. 13.) But there is no necessity for rejecting the received version, the plain and obvious sense of which is that there is nothing in the world which does not contribute to the glory of God, and promote the accomplishment of his adorable designs. The pious and the wicked alike conduce to this end; the wicked, whom God has destined to punishment on account of their impiety, serve to display his justice (see Job xxi. 30.), and consequently to manifest his glory. “God,” says Dr. Gill (who was a strenuous advocate for the doctrines of election and reprobation)" made man neither to damn him nor to save him, but for his own glory, and that is secured whether in his salvation or damnation ; nor did or does God make men wicked: He made man upright, and man has made himself wicked; and being so, God may justly appoint him to damnation for his wickedness, in doing which he glorifies his justice.

2. No doctrine can belong to the analogy of faith, which is founded on a SINGLE text : for every essential principle of religion is delivered in more than one place. Besides, single sentences are not to be detached from the places where they stand, but must be taken in connection with the whole discourse.

From disregard of this rule, the temporary direction of the apostle James (v. 14, 15.) has been perverted by the church of Rome, and rendered a permanent institution, from a mean of recovery, to a charm, when recovery is desperate, for the salvation of the soul. The mistake of the church of Rome, in founding what she calls the sacrament of ectrome unction upon this place, is very obvious ; for the anointing here mentioned was applied to those whose recovery was expected, as appears from verse 16. where it is said that the Lord in answer to the prayer of faith shall raise up and restore the sick : whereas in the Roman Catholic church, extreme unction is used where there is little, or no hope of recovery, and is called the sucrament of the dying 2 The same remark is applicable to the popish system of auricular confession to a priest; which is attempted to be supported by James v. 16. and 1 John i. 9. neither of which passages has any reference whatever to the ministerial office. In the former, confessions of our faults is represented as the duty of the faithful to each other; and in the fatter, as the duty of the penitent to God alone.

1 Gill in loc. See also J. E. Pfeiffer's Instit. Herm. Sacr. p. 134–136.

2 See Bishop Burnet on the 25th Article ; Whitby, Benson, Macknight, and other commentators on this text; and Mr. Fletcher's Lectures on the Principles and Institations of the Roman Catholic Religion, p. 198. et seq.

3. The WHOLE system of revelation must be explained, so as to be consistent with itself. - When two passages APPEAR to be contradictory, if the sense of the one can be clearly ascertained, in such case that must regulate our interpretation of the other.

Thus, in one passage, the apostle John says ; If we say that we hare no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins : if we say we have not sinned, we make him e liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John i. 8–10.) In another passage the same apostle affirms : Whoever abidcth in him, sinneth not. Whosoccer is born of God, doth not commit sin; for his sced remainoth in him : and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John iii. 6. 9.)

This is an apparent contradiction ; but the texts must be explained, so as to agree with one another. Now, from Scripture and experience we are certain, that the first passage must be literally understood. At the dedication of the temple, Soloinon said : If they sin against thee, and thou be angry, (for there is no man that sinneth not) 1 Kings viii. 46. And in Eccl. vii. 20. For there is not a just mun upon the earth, that doeth good and sinneth not. The explanation of the second passage, therefore, must be regulated by the established signification of the first ; that both may agree. When it is affirmed, that even good men cannot say, they have no sin ; the apostle speaks of occasional acts, from which none are free. When Saint John says, that he who is born of God doth not commit sin, he evidently means, habitually as the slave of sin ; and this is incompatible with a state of grace. Both passages, therefore, agree, as the one refers to particular deeds, and the other to general practice : and in this manner, must every seeming contradiction be removed. The passage, of which the literal sense can be established, must always regulate the interpretation of a different expression, so as to make it agree with fixed principles.

4. No interpretation of Scripture can belong to the analogy of faith, that contradicts any of those fundamental points of DOCTRINE or 10RALITY, which are frequently repeated in the Scriptures, and which we every where find most urgently enforced.

To this purpose Saint John (1 John iv. 2, 3.) has laid down the following axiom as a test by which to try the spirits, or teachers pretending to be inspired by the Holy Spirit: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesk, is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in tke flesh, is not of God. This was a fundamental doctrine, or principle of Christianity by which other doctrines were to be tried. Nearly to the same purpose is the following rule of Saint Paul (1 Tim. vi. 3. 5.): – If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, and to the doctrine which is according to godli. ness......from such withdraw thyself. The obvious meaning of which is, that if ang man teach such doctrines as contradict the main design of Christianity, which is to promote truo holiness, he is not to be attended to ; nor is the sense which such a one gives of any particular text of Scripture to be received, because it militates against the grand design of the Christian scheme, which explicitly states (to use the language of Saint Paul himself,) that Christ came into the world to destroy the works of the Devil, and gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zeulous of good works. (Tit. ii. 14.)

5. An obscure, doubtful, ambiguous, or figurative text must never be interpreted in such a sense as to make it contradict a plain onc : for, in explaining the Scriptures, consistency of sense and principles ought to be supported in all their scveral parts ; and if any one part be so interpreted as to clash with another, such interpretation cannot be justified. Nor can it be otherwise corrected than by considering every doubtful or difficult tert, first by itself, then with its content, and then by comparing it roith other passages of Scripture ; and thus bringing what may seem obscure into a consistency with what is plain and evident.

The doctrine of transubstantiation, inculcated by the church of Rome, is founded on a strictly literal interpretation of figurative expressions, this is my body, &c. (Matt. xxvi. 26, &c.) and (which has no relation to the supper,) eat my flesh, drink my blood. (John ví. 51–58.) But independently of this, we may further conclude that the sense put upon the words "this is my body," by the church of

Rome, cannot be the true one, being contrary to the express declaration of the New Testament history, from which it is evident that our Lord is ascended into Heaven, where he is to continue "till the time of the restitution of all things ;" (Acts iii. 21.) that is, till his second coming to judgment: How then can his body be in ten thousand several places on earth at one and the same time? We may further add that, if the doctrine of transubstantiation be true, it will follow that our Saviour, when he instituted the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, did actually eat his own flesh and drink his own blood; a conclusion this, so obviously contradictory both to reason and to Scripture, that it is astonishing how any sensible and religious man can credit such a tenet.

Upon a similar literal interpretation of Matt. xvi. 18. Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, the church of Rome has erected the claim of supremacy for Peter and his successors. Hence building on Peter is explained away by some commentators, as being contrary to the faith that Christ is the only foundation. (1 Cor. iii. 11.) The most eminent of the antient fathers, as well as some of the early bishops or popes of Rome, particularly Gregory the Great, and likewise several of the most judicious modern commentators, respectively take thiş rock to be the profession of faith, which Peter had just made that Christ was the Son of God. The connection however shows that Peter is here plainly meant. Thou art Peter, says Christ; and upon this rock, that is, Peter, pointing to him ; for thus it connects with the reason which follows for the name, in the same manner as the reason is given for that of Abraham in Gen. xvii. 5. and of Israel in Gen. xxxii. 28. The Apostles are also called, in other parts of the New Tes: tament, the foundation on which the church is built, as in Eph. ii. 20. and Rev. xxi. 14. as being the persons employed in erecting the church, by preaching. It is here promised that Peter should commence the building of it by his preaching, which was fulfilled by his first converting the Jews (Acts ii. 14–42.), and also the Gentiles. (Acts x. xv. 7.) This passage therefore gives no countenance to the papal supremacy, but the contrary, for this prerogative was personal and ins communicable. 1

6. Such passages as are erpressed with brevity are to be expounded by those where the same doctrines or duties are expressed more largely and fully.

Even light variations will oftentimes serve for the purpose of reciprocal illustration. Thus the beatitudes related in the sixth chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel, though delivered at another time and in a different place, are the same with those delivered by our Lord in his sermon on the mount, and recorded in the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel. Being however epitomised by the former Evangelist, they may be explained by the latter. Further, the quotation from Isaiah vi. 9, 10. 'Hear ye indeed, but understand not, &c. is contracted in Mark iv. 12. Luke viii. 10. and John xii. 40., but it is given at large in Matt. xiii. 14, 15.; and accordingly from this last cited Gospel, the sense of the prophet is most evident, Again, nothing is more certain than that God hath no pleasure in wickedness, or sin (Psal. v. 4.), and consequently cannot be the cause of sin. When, therefore, any passages occur which appear to intimate the contrary, they must be so under stood as not to impugn this important truth. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart, therefore, is not to be taken as the act of God, but that he permitted him to go on, following his own cruel schemes, regardless of the divine judgments.?

7. In ascertaining the analogy of faith, the seat of a subject must be consulted and considered.

By the seat of a subject we mean any place or passage in Scripture where any subject is treated, either professedly, or in subordination to another subject, or in which more especially it is regularly discussed and grounded by the special ap, pointment of the Holy Spirit. This last has been termed its proper and principal seat, and is that which must chiefly be regarded : for there is no article of faith, necessary to be believed unto salvation, which is not clearly and explicitly proposed in some part or other of the Scripture. Such texts therefore as treat profess

1 Barrow's Works, vol. i. p. 581. Grotius in loc. Elsley's Annotations, vol. i. pp. 273_275. Gerard's Institutes, p. 163. See also the commencement of Bishop Burgess's Letter to his Clergy, entitled Christ, and not St. Peter, the Rock of the Christian Church, and especially Dr. A. Clarke's Commentary on Matt. xvi. 18.

2 See this text more fully considered, supra, Vol. I. Appendix, No. II]. Sect. V. pp. 558, 559. J. E. Pfeiffer has given some additional examples, illustrating the preceding rule, in his Ist. Herm. Sacr. pp. 142-144. VOL. n.

71

edly on a subject, have greater weight than those which only touch upon it inci. dentally: and texts that express it absolutely, and as it is in itself, are clearer and more decisive than such as have a reference to particular occasions, without a perfect knowledge of which they cannot be understood, but may be totally misapprehended.

Thus the Lord's Supper is treated of, professedly, and in its proper and principal seat, in the words of its institution related in Matt. xxvi. 26–28. Mark xiv. 22-24. Luke xxii. 19, 20. and I Cor. xi. 23—26. Now, should any question arise relative to this point, these passages are to be exclusively consulted, and not uncertain or dubious places, as Luke xxiv. 30. in which there appears no vestige of the Lord's Supper, or John vi. 51–58. where indeed mention is made of the eating of Christ's flesh and drinking his blood, but not sacramentally, as it is done in the Lord's Supper. Further, The doctrine of justification is considered in the third chapter of Saint Paul's epistle to the Philippians, as in its proper seat : and the epistle to the Galatians, and especially that to the Romans, are the principal seats of that momentous doctrine ; and according to the tenor of these, particularly Rom. iii., all the other passages of Scripture that treat of justification, should be explained.

8.'" Where several doctrines of equal importance are proposed, and revealed with great clearness, we must be careful to give to each its full and equal weight."

“ Thus, that we are saved by the free grace of God, and through faith in Christ, is a doctrine too plainly affirmed by the sacred writers to be set aside by any contravening position: for it is said, By grace yc are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. (Eph. ii. 8.) But so, on the other hand, are the doctrines of repentance unto life, and of obedience unto salvation ; for, again it is said, Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, (Acts ii. 19.) and, if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. (Matt. xix. 17.) To set eithor of these truths at variance with the others, would be to frustrate the declared purpose of the Gospel, and to make it of none effect. Points thus clearly established, and from their very nature indispensable, must be made to correspond with each other; and the exposition, which best preserves them unimpaired and undiminished, will in any case be a safe interpretation, and most probably the true one. The analogy of faith will thus be kept entire, and will ap: prove itself, in every respect, as becoming its divine author, and worthy of all acceptation.

Some farther remarks might be offered in addition to the above rules; but as they fall more properly under consideration in the subsequent part of this work, the preceding observations on the interpretations of Scripture by the analogy of faith will perhaps be found abundantly sufficient. It only remains to state, that valuable as this aid is for ascertaining the sense of Scripture, it must be used in concurrence with those which have been illustrated in the foregoing sections, and to subjoin a few cautions respecting the application of the analogy of faith, attention to which will enable us successfully to "compare things spiritual with spiritual.

1. “Care," then, “must be taken, not to confound seeming with real analogies; - not to rely upon merely verbal resemblances when the sense may require a different application ; not to interpret what is parallel in one respect, as if it were so in all ; not to give to any parallel passages so absolute a sway in our decisions as to over-rule the clear and evident meaning of the text under consideration; and, above all, not to suffer an eagerness in multiplying proofs of this kind, to betray us into a neglect of the immediate context of the passage in question, upon which its signification must principally depend."

1 Franck's Guide, p. 41. Pfeiffer, Herm. Sacr. c. xii. p. 659. and Critica Sacra, c. v. $ 15. pp. 719, 720. Gerard's Institutes, p. 161.

2 Bishop Vanmildert's Bampton Lectures, 204. 3 Ibid. p. 215.

The occasion, coherence, and connection of the writing, the argument carrying on, as well as the scope and intent of the paragraph, and the correspondence of the type with its antitype, are all to be carefully remarked.

2. Further, “ In forming the analogy of faith, all the plain texts relating to one subject or article, ought to be taken together, impartially compared the expressions of one of them restricted by those of another, and explained in mutual consistency; and that article deduced from them all in conjunction : not, as has been most commonly the practice, one set of texts selected, which have the same aspect, explained in their greatest possible rigour; and all others, which look another way, neglected or explained away, and tortured into a compatibility with the opinion in that manner partially deduced.

3. Lastly, the analogy of faith, as applicable to the examination of particular passages, ought to be very short, simple, and purely scriptural; but most sects conceive it, as taking in all the complex peculiarities, and scholastic refinements, of their own favourite systems.”

Thus, as it has been remarked with equal truth and elegance,” “by due attention to these principles, accompanied with the great moral requisites already shown to be indispensable, and with humble supplication to the throne of grace for a blessing on his labours, the diligent inquirer after Scripture truth may confidently hope for success. The design of every portion of holy writ, its harmony with the rest, and the divine perfection of the whole, will more and more fully be displayed. And thus will he be led, with increasing veneration and gratitude, to adore him, to whom every sacred book bears witness, and every divine dispensation led the way; even him who is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever."93

SECTION IX.

ON COMMENTARIES. I. Different Classes of Commentaries. — II. Nature of Scholia.

III. Of Commentaries strictly so called. - IV. Paraphrases. V. Collections of Observations on Holy Writ

. — Vl. The Utility and Advantage of Commentaries. - VII. Design to be kept in view, when consulting them. – VIII. Rules for consulting Commen

taries to the best advantage. THE labours of expositors and commentators have been divided into various classes, according to the nature of their different works; for, although few confine themselves to one method of interpretation, exclusively, yet each generally has some predominant character, by which he is peculiarly distinguished. Thus, some are,

1 Gerard's Institutes, p. 161. The analogy of faith is copiously illustrated, in addition to the authorities already cited, by Franck, in his Prælect. Herm. positio v. pp. 166–192.; by Rambach, in his Instit. Herm. Sacræ, lib. ii. c. i. pp. 87–106.;

. in his Instit. Herm. Sacræ, pp. 706—740.; and by Chladenius, in his Institutiones Exegeticæ, pp. 406–430.

By Bishop Vanmildest, Bampt. Loct. p. 216 3 Rev. i. 11. Heb. xii. 8.

« PreviousContinue »