« EelmineJätka »
fail, as they frequently do, this will afford him the best relief. The labours of former expositors are of excellent use ; but they are far from having discovered the depths of this vein of wisdom ; nor will the best of our endeavours prescribe limits to our successors : and the reason why the generality of expositors go in the same track, except in some excursions of curiosity, is, not giving theinselves up 20 the conduct of the Holy Ghost in the diligent performance of their duty.
Readiness to receive impressions from divine truths, as revealed to us in the Scripture, is another means to the same end. The design of all divine revelations is to produce their image and likeness in our minds; and we miss our aim if this be not our first object in the study of the Bible. He only is in a posture to learn of God, who sincerely gives up his mind, conscience, and affections, to the power and rule of what is revealed to him.
Practical obedience, in the course of our walking before God, is another means to the same end: Herein alone can we be assured that what we learn is indeed the truth. So our Saviour says, John vii. 17. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.' While men learn the truth only in the notion of it, whatever conviction of its being so it is accompanied with, they will never attain stability in their minds, unless they exemplify it in their obedience, by doing the will of God. Hence we see so many that lose that very understanding of the truth, which they had of the docirines of it, when once they abandon themselves to ungodly lives.
A constant desire and endeavour to increase in knowledge, arising from the love of truth and experience of its excellency, is very useful, yea needful to the right understanding the mind of God in the Scripture. Some are apt to think they know.enough already, or, perhaps, all that is to be known of divine things. I expect no great or useful discoveries of the mind of God from such persons, A different frame of heart is necessary in those who wish to be instructed ;-they continually press forward in the nse of all means to increase in this wisdom,'-' to grow
grace, and in the knowledge of Christ.' This frame of mind is under a promise of divine teaching— Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.' Hosea vi. 3. . If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice
for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.' Prov. ii. 3, &c. When men live in holy admiration of God, as the God of truth ; when they adore the fulness of those revelations of himself, which he hath treasured up in the Scripture; and, under a deep sense of the meanness of their own attainments, abide patiently in the study of the word, they are in the way of being taught by him, and learning his mind, unto all the proper ends of its revelation.
The second sort of means I call Disciplinarian, as consisting in the due use and improvement of arts and sciences, applied to the study of the Scripture ; the first of which is skill in the languages wherein the Scripture was originally written ; for the very words of the Scripture were peculiarly from the Holy Spirit. It must be acknowledged that, reading the Bible, as written in the original languages, is accompanied with many and great advantages. In them, peculiarly, it is zpran Teorieuses a writing by divine inspiration, 2 Tim. jii. 16: and 7177'702 the book of the writing of the Lord,' Isa. xxxiv. 16, with a singular privilege above all translations. Hence the very words themselves, as they are used and placed, are sacred, consecrated by God to that holy use ; every apex, tittle, or iota, is there. fore important : and sometimes divine senses and singular mysteries may be couched in the use and disposal of a single letter, as in the change of the names of Abram and Sarai. There is also, in the originals, a peculiar emphasis of words and expressions, and in them a special energy: intimating the sense of the Holy Ghost, which cannot be translated so as to retain that power and efficacy. The knowledge, therefore, of these languages is of great use to those who are called to interpret the Scriptures; and the Church of God has derived no small advantage from the labours
of learned men: but yet, this skill is not a duty in it. self, nor enjoined upon any for its own sake, but only as it has a goodness in it, with respect to a certain end. But the sense and substance of the Scripture being retained entirely in every good translation (among which that in use among ourselves is excellent) men may, by the use ofthe means before mentioned,
and under the conduct and teaching of the Holy Spirit, usefully and rightly expound the Scripture, in general, to the edification of others; many instances of which, both ancient and modern, may easily be given.
An acquaintance with history, geography, and chronology, as also skill in the art of reasoning, are among these disciplinarian aids which greatly assist in the interpretation of Scripture: and those who undertake the exposition of any series of Scripture discourse, without some knowledge of these sciences, will often find themselves at a loss. This, however, must be admitted with proper limitations ; for whatever perfection there seems to be in our art of reasoning, it is to be subjected to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost. His
way of reasoning is always his own, and sometimes so sublime and heavenly, as not to be reduced to the common rules of our arts and sciences, without a derogation from its instructive, convincing, and persuasive efficacy.
Thirdly,—There are means and helps which may be called ecclesiastical,—that is, such as we are supplied with by the ministry of the Church, in all ages.
It is pleaded by some that the Scripture is to be interpreted only according to catholic or universal tradition ; but whatever some pretend, or boast of, no man living can prove his interpretation of any one passage to be dictated or warranted by universal tradition, any otherwise than as he can prove it to be agreeable to the Scripture itself; unless we admit, without proof, that the judgment of some men, who now call themselves the Church, was really the mind of Christ, his apostles, and all true believers ever since.
The joint consent of the Fathers, or ancient Doctors of the Church, is also pretended to be the rule of Scriptureinterpretation; but it is impossible that they should be an authentic rule to others who disagree so much from each other in their expositions; but the pretence of the authoritative determination of the Fathers, in points of religion, hath been so fully disproved, that it need not be here insisted
upon. We say, therefore, that the sole use of ecclesiastical means in the interpretation of Scripture, is, in the due consideration and improvement of that light and understanding in, and those gifts for, the declaration of the mind of God in his word, which he hath granted to those who have gone before us in the ministry of the gospel : for, as God has, in all ages,
taken care that the doctrine of the gospel should
be preached, viva voce, to the edification of the Church, se hath he, in almost all ages, stirred up sundry persons to declare, by writing, their understanding of his mind in the Scripture. Of those who designedly wrote comments, Orie gin was the first ; whose fooleries and mistakes, occasioned by the prepossession of his mind with Platonic philosophy, confidence in his own great abilities, with the curiosity of a speculative mind, discouraged not others, with more sobriety and better success, to write expositions on some entire parts of the Scripture. Such, among the Greeks, were Chrysostom, Theodoret, Arretine, Oecomenius, Theophylact; and among the Latins, Jerom, Ambrose, Austin, and others. These have been followed by multitudes in succeeding ages; and, especially since the Reformation, with great success. All these are singular helps to the right understanding the Scripture; and it is easy to discern, by the diversity of their gifts, that the Holy Spirit ' has divided unto them as he pleased. The same Spirit renders them useful, according to the counsel of his own will. Some are prone, in the use of them, to lean to their own understandings, and to wander after the imagination of their minds; and others he leaves in the shell of the text, to exercise their skill about mere words, without leading them into the spiritual sense of the word, which is its life and power. In some, he blesseth them to the full and proper end, but not unless they are in a compliance with the spiritual means and dulies before insisted upon.
It may be objected to what has now been advanced, 1. That those who have not divine assistance afforded to them, cannot understandthe truth contained in the Scripture, and therefore are not to be blamed :-2. That those who are guided by the Spirit must understand all the Scriptüre correctly, without any sort of mistake : both which are contrary to matter of fact; for many persons who are evidently destitute of any saving work of the Spirit on their minds, have, nevertheless, attained a considerable knowledge of the truth; and it is evident also, that some who are truly enlightened and sanctified, do fall into various errors and mistakes. A brief answer to these objections will close this discourse.
(1.) There are, in the Scripture, sundry things that are common to others writings, such as historical facts, phrases of speech, various, kinds of arguments, &c. all which persons may clearly understand without the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. (2.) The principal doctrines of truth are proposed in such a plain and distinct manner, that persons attending to them without prejudice, and in the use of ordinary means, may understand them without any special work of saving illumination on their minds. The propositions of truth are so plain and evident, that it is the faúlt and sin of men, endued with rational powers, if they do not perceive and assent to them. (3.) Considering the natural vanity of the human mind, and its proneness to error, whatever it attains in the knowledge of the truth, is to be ascribed to the Spirit of God, although not working on the mind by the communication of saving light and grace :-for (4.) The knowledge of truth, thus attained, is not that illumination which we are thus enquiring after; nor does it produce those effects of renewing the mind, and transforming it into the image of the things known, together with the fruits of holy obedience, which are inseparable from saving illumination.
I answer to the second objection :- I observe, (1.) That the promise of the Spirit • to teach, instruct, and guide into all truth,' is suited to that great end for which God hath given us his word, namely, that we might live to hiim Here according to his will, and hereafter be brought to his glory. (2.) That it is not necessary that we should undei stand the direct sense and meaning of any particular text of:Scripture, nor yet that we should obtain the knowledge of every thing therein revealed ; it is sufficient that the knowledge of all truth necessary to that end be communicated to us. (3.) We are not hereby absolutely secured from particular mistakes, no more than we are secured from all actual sins, by the renewing grace of God on our wills; but as the wills of believers are so far renewed by grace as to preserve them from such sins as are inconsistent with a holy life, according to tenor of the covenant, which yet leaves a possibility of many infirmities and actual sins, so their minds are so far renewed as to know and assent to all truths necessary to their life of obedience, which may yet consist with many mistakes to their great disadvantage : but, it must be added, such are the teachings of the Spirit of God, as to all divine truths, both in the revelation of them in the Scripture, and in the as: sístance he gives us to understand his mind therein, that