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a wrong method of interpreting the sacred writings. A judicious work on the interpretation of Scripture would be a valuable treasure to the Christian world: it might be the instrument, under the grace of God, of leading many serious inquirers to the knowledge of the truth, and of uniting discordant sects in the bonds of Christian charity. The subject is too large to be fully discussed in a periodical work; nor do I feel by any means able to grasp the whole of it. A few detached observations is all that I propose to offer; but they will not prove wholly useless, if they have no other effect than that of leading some other person to treat the subject in a more regular and comprehensive manner. For the present, I shall only suggest, and illustrate by examples, a few canons of construction applicable to the sacred writings in general. I may, perhaps, at some future period, resume the subject by discussing some further rules of interpretation, relating more particularly to our Saviour's mode of instruction, and others relating to the epistolary writings of the apostles. It is a trite observation, that every passage should be construed by the context; but, trite as it is, commentators on Scripture (I should rather say, writers on controverted points of divinity), rarely apply it to all the uses of which it is capable. It is, indeed, a fundamental rule of construction, and most of the following observations may be considered as illustrations of it.
I. The first canon which I propose for interpreting Scripture is this:-A proposition, which is used merely as a link in a chain of reasoning, is often expressed in more general terms than would be required to establish the conclusion, which the writer is proving; in this case, the proposition is not necessarily to be taken in the widest sense of which the words would admit: it may be subject to various limitations, which the writer did not think it necessary to express, because they
did not affect the course of the argument; and we should ever bear in mind that our Saviour and his apostles adapted, for the most part, their instructions to the occasion, without attempting to treat religion in a systematic order. The following passages will at once illustrate and confirm the rule. In St. Luke, eh. ix. ver. 50, our Saviour says, "He that is not against us is for us;" but in St." Matthew, ch. xv. ver. 30, "He that is not with me is against me." How are these propositions to be reconciled? By taking one of them in some limited sense; and the occasion on which the first was delivered evidently points out the limitation which it requires-“ And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name-; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not :· for he that is not against us is for us.' "Forbid him not"-that is the precept-forbid him not to do good in my name-and the reason follows-" for he that is not against us is for us:" he who does not oppose me, promotes my cause: let my Gospel be preached, even though of strife and contention. Here our Saviour inculcates forbearance towards those who, from whatever motives, promote the progress of his kingdom: but in the passage from St. Matthew he teaches us, that mere indifference will not avail to our salvation; that they who would obtain the reward, must profess the character of his disciples; that they who do not confess him before men, and espouse his cause in this world, will be treated as his enemies at the day of judgment.
The manner in which St. James and St. Paul state the doctrine of justification will furnish another ilInstration of this canon of criticism. St. James says, "Ye see how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," (ii. 24.); and St. Paul, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds
of the law:" and it is a little singular, that each of the apostles illustrates his position by the instance of Abra ham. But the apparent discrepancy will be removed, if we examine the course of their reasoning. St. James is endeavouring to prove that faith without works is a dead faith, a faith which will not avail to salvation. "What," he asks," doth it profit though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith"- can such a faith" save him. If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace: be ye warmed and filled: notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?" What sincerity, what worth is there in such professions of kindness? What benefit do they confer on those who are the objects of them?" Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone;" alt professions of faith, which do not evidence their truth by a holy life and conversa tion, are false, vain, and unprofitable. "Yea, a man may say" to such a professor, "Thou hast faith,"-or pretendest to have it" and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works;" give me, if thou canst, some other proof of it; " and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble." Wherein doth thy faith differ from theirs, if it produce not the fruits of righteousness and holiness? "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead," wholly unprofitable to salvation? "Was not Abraham, our father, justified;" did he not shew forth a living faith unto justification; "by works, when he had offered Isaac, his son, upon the altar?" Did he not by that act of holy obedience prove and display that living faith in the truth and power and promises of God, which "was imputed to him for righteousness?" "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works," producing
obedience to the commands of God, however apparently severe and irreconcileable with his promises; "and by works was faith made perfect," brought forth into action, and shewn to be a lively and efficacious principle in the soul?" And the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see, then, how that by works a' man is justified, and not by faith only." Ye see that by works a man' is justified,-proves his title to be acquitted before God, by works evidencing that faith which is imputed to the believer for righteousness; by such works a man is justified, and not by faith only, not by a mere barren profession, or even a mere speculative belief, which does not influence the life and conduct. Such appears to be the course of St. James's reasoning. St. Paul, on the other hand, is proving to the Jews, that they, as well as the Gentiles, must be saved by faith: and his argument is this; "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" all have broken the moral law of God; no one, therefore, can be saved by that law, which exacts a perfect obedience; and thence he concludes "that a man is justified by faith without," apart from, distinct from, "the deeds of the law." In order to be justified before God, he must have that faith which God will impute to him for righteousness; a faith, however, which worketh by love, and maketh those who are influenced by it zealous of good works.
II. The passage of St. Paul, to which I have just referred, will serve to illustrate another rule, which may sometimes guide us in interpreting the Scriptores. The first rule was, that a proposition, occurring in the course of an argument, is not necessarily to be taken in the widest sense which the words will bear; the second is, that it must be understood in a sense sufficiently large to bear cut the conclusion which it is intended to prove. Thus,
as a dead man has for the pleasures of sense; he has no longer any enjoyment in it; he hates it, abhors it, dreads it, avoids it as the greatest of evils; he no longer lives in it."
in the first part of the epistle to the Romans, the Apostle's object is to shew, that the Jews as well as the Gentiles need the salvation which is by Christ Jesus: and his argument is this: "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" therefore all, both Jews and Gentiles must be "justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. iii. 23, 24). This conclusion will not follow from the premises, unless we understand the Apostle to lay it down as an universal proposition that "all have sinned."
III. A third principle of construction to be observed with respect to the Scriptures, relates to those doc. trines which are peculiar to reveal ed religion.
While we receive them not as mere matters of speculation, but as active principles influencing the heart and conduct, and leading us cheerfully to obey the practical precepts which the sacred writers derive from them; should use great caution whenever we attempt to deduce from them, by the mere force of reason, practical conclusions not warranted by the word of God.-An erroneous inference, thus rashly drawn from the doctrine of grace, is noticed and reprobated by St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans. After laying it down" that where sin abounded grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord," (v. 20, 21); he immediately asks; "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid: how shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" "The objection," as if he had said, "is built on ignorance of that grace which is to reign, through righteousness. The grace of which I speak, consists in the renewal of the heart unto holiness, as well as in the pardon of sin: and he, who is a partaker of this grace, is dead unto sin; he has lost his taste for it,
Yet we find this same error, which St. Paul thus refutes, still existing in the present day. The enemy of vital religion ascribes it to the true servants of God: the Antinomian actually adopts it. We. might also notice other errors of a similar description. St. Paul exhorts us to "work out" our Own salvation with fear and trembling;' and by way of encouragement (lest we should sink under the difficulties of the undertaking) adds, "for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. ii. 12, 13). While the selfrighteous seek, and seek in vain, to work out their own salvation, with-` out depending on the grace of God, working in them; others seem to give their whole attention to the encouragement conveyed in the latter part of the passage. Because God worketh in us, they seem to infer, in direct opposition to the apostle, that we need not work, and to forget that we are exhorted to "watch and be sober," to "watch and pray," to "strive to enter in at the strait gate."
I have often thought, that if we attended more to this rule of construction, we should hear less of the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. Without entering into minute distinctions upon abstruse points of doctrine, Christians would cordially unite in drawing from them the practical lessons to which the sacred writers constantly make. them subservient. Waving all speculative questions as to the nature of the Divine decrees, and the universality of Christ's redemption, they would agree, that all who would be saved must use "all diligence to make" their "calling and election sure;" that salvation is to be obtained only through the atonement of the Son of God, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy
Spirit; and that to man, therefore, belongeth the deepest humility, to God all the glory. While bringing forth the fruits of holiness, and preserving, through Divine grace," a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards man," the Calvinist would feel an assurance, and the Arminian a well-grounded hope, that God, who once loved him, would love him to the end, and enable him to finish his course with joy. From this trust in God, they would both derive support and consolation in the pilgrimage of life. At the same time, well knowing that" without holiness no one shall see the Lord," and that he who is living in habitual and allow ed sin, is living in a state of condemnation, they would carefully examine themselves by the standard of God's word, lest their hope should be found to be built not on the Rock, but on the sand, and should fail them at the judgment day: they would be instant in prayer, and constantly pressing forward to higher degrees of holiness, that so the evidences of their faith might be more clear, and their hope might become "the anchor of the soul, sure and sted fast."
FAMILY SERMONS. No. XXXVII. Rom. iii. 23.-All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. THE Holy Ghost, in writing the Scriptures, seems in nothing more diligent than to pull down the vain glory and pride of man, which of all vices are the most universally grafted in all mankind, even from the first infection of our father Adam. Therefore are we often taught in Scripture, to guard against this old rooted vice, and to cultivate the contrary virtue of humility; to know ourselves, and to remember what we are of ourselves. In the book of Genesis, God gives us all, in our great father Adam, a title which may serve to shew us, as in a glass, what and whence we are,
and whither we are going: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
Also, the holy patriarch Abraham did well remember this name and title, dust, earth, and ashes, appointed by God to all mankind: and therefore he calls himself by that name, when he makes his earnest prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah. And we read that Judith, Esther, Job, Jeremiah, with other holy men and women in the Old Testament, did use sackcloth, and cast dust and ashes upon their heads, when they bewailed their sins. They cried to God for help and mercy, with these ceremonies, that thereby they might declare to the whole world, what an humble and lowly estimation they had of themselves, and how well they remembered their true name and title; their vile, corrupt, frail nature, dust, earth, and ashes. And God commanded his prophet Isaiah to make a proclamation to the whole world: and Isaiah asking, "What shall I cry?" the Lord answered, "Cry, that all flesh is grass," and "that all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth,the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it. Surely the people is grass." And the holy man Job, having himself had great experience of the miserable and sinful estate of man, declares the same to the world in these words: "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble: he cometh forth like a. flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, aud continueth not. And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." Job xiv. 1-4. And all men, oftheir depravity and natural proneness, are so universally given to sin, that, as the Scripture saith, "God repented that he had made man," And by their sin his indigna
tion was so much provoked, that be drowned all the world with a flood, except Noah and his little household. It is not without great cause that the Scriptures so many times call all men in the world by this word, earth. Thus He plainly named us, who knows best, both what we are and what we ought of right to be called. And to the same effect he declares, speaking by his faithful apostle St. Paul: "Both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understand eth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." Rom. iii. 10-18.
And in another place, St. Paul thus writes: "God hath concluded all men in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all." The Scripture shuts up all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ should be given unto them that believe. St. Paul, in many places, paints us in our true colours, as" children of wrath," even when we are born, and as unable of ourselves to think a good thought. And the Wise Man saith in the book of Proverbs," the just man falleth seven times a-day." Job, that tried and approved man, distrusted all his works. St. John the Baptist, though sanctified from his mother's womb, and praised before he was born, being called great before the Lord, filled even from his birth with the Holy Ghost, the preparer of the way of our Saviour Christ, and declared by him to be "more than a prophet, and the greatest that ever was born of woman;" yet John the Baptist
plainly allows, that he had need to be washed of Christ. He extols and glorifies his Lord and Master Christ, and humbles himself as unworthy to loose the latchet of his shoes. Such also does St. Paul confess himself to be of himself, giving, as a most faithful servant, all praise to his Master and Saviour. In like manper the blessed St. John, in his own name and that of all other holy men, makes this open confession —“. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." The Wise Man also, in Ecclesiastes, makes this general confession "There is not a just man on earth that doth good and sinneth not." And David is ashamed of his sin, but not to confess his sin. How often and how earnestly does he implore God's great mercy for his great offences, and entreat that God would not enter into judgment with him! And again, how well does this holy man weigh his sins, when he admits, in the nineteenth Psalm, that they are so many, and so secret, that it is impossible, without the Divine help, to understand them. Having this just and deep view of his sins, yet feeling himself unable fully to understand them, he prays to God to cleanse him from his secret faults, the knowledge of which he could not otherwise attain to. And these his sins he rightly traces from their original root and spring, saying,
Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Our Saviour Christ saith, that "there is none good but God," and that we can do nothing that is good without him; nor can any man come to the Father but by Christ. He commands us also to say, "When we have done all that it was our duty to do," that we are still “unprofitable servants." He prefers the penitent Publican before the proud