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The Author's Preface to the Doctrine and Practice of Repentance..
SECTION IV. V.
Of the Difficulty of expounding Scripture. 1. These considerations are taken from the nature of Scripture itself ; but then if we consider that we have no certain ways of determining places of difficulty and question, infallibly and certainly, but that we must hope to be saved in the belief of things plain, necessary, and fundamental, and our pious endeavour to find out God's meaning in such places, which he hath left under a cloud for other great ends reserved to his own knowledge, we shall see a very great necessity in allowing a liberty in prophesying, without prescribing authoritatively to other men's consciences, and becoming lords and masters of their faith. Now the means of expounding Scripture are either external or internal. For the external, as church-authority, tradition, fathers, councils and decrees of bishops,- they are of a distinct consideration, and follow after in their order. But here we will first consider the invalidity and uncertainty of all those means of expounding Scripture; which are more proper and internal to the nature of the thing. The great masters of commentaries, some whereof have undertaken to know all mysteries, have propounded many ways to expound Scripture, which indeed are excellent helps, but not infallible assistances, both because themselves are but moral instruments, which force not truth ex abscondito, as also because they are not infallibly used and applied. 1. Sometime the sense is drawn forth by
the context and connexion of parts : it is well, when it can be so. But when there are two or three antecedents, and subjects spoken of, what man or what rule shall ascertain me, that I make my reference true by drawing the relation to such an antecedent; to which I have a mind to apply it, another hath not? For in a contexture, where one part does not always depend upon another, where things of differing natures intervene and interrupt the first intentions, there it is not always very probable to expound Scripture, and take its meaning by its proportion to the neighbouring words. But who desires satisfaction in this, may read the observation verified in St. Gregory's“ morals upon Job; and the instances he there brings, are excellent proof, that this way of interpretation does not warrant any man to impose his expositions upon the belief and understanding of other men too confidently and magisterially
2. Secondly: another great pretence or medium is the conference of places, which Illyricus calls“ ingens remedium et felicissimam expositionem sanctæ scripturæ;" and indeed so it is, if well and temperately used ; but then we are beholden to them that do so; for there is no rule that can constrain them to it; for comparing of places is of so indefinite capacity, that if there be ambiguity of words, variety of sense, alteration of circumstances, or difference of style amongst divine writers, then there is nothing that may be more abused by wilful people, or may more easily deceive the unwary, or that may more amuse the most intelligent ob
The anabaptists take advantage enough in this proceeding ;-and indeed so may any one that list; and when we pretend against them the necessity of baptizing all, by authority of nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua et Spiritu," they have a parallel for it, and tell us, that Christ will “ baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire," and that one place expounds the other; and because by fire is not meant an element, or any thing that is natural, but an allegory and figurative expression of the same thing ; so also by water may be meant the figure signifying the effect or manner of operation of the Holy Spirit. Fire in one place, and water in the other, do but represent to us that Christ's baptism is nothing else but the cleansing and purifying us by the Holy
a Lib. 5. c. 22.