« AnteriorContinua »
thereupon, had been set down in a continuance, it had been the best book in divinity which had been written since the Apostles' times.". Agreeably to this suggestion, it has been the object of the following work to draw remarks from other sources than set commentators; to resort for this purpose to sermons, essays, poems, and stories. Books not specially intended for expositions often contain most valuable hints; in particular, the periodicals of the day embody some incomparable dissertations and comments on the sacred writings; in proof of which, among many instances, we need but refer to an article in the (English) Christian Teacher for Jan., 1841, on Mat. xi., John's message to Jesus ; which was copied into the Christian Register of Feb. 13, 1841. The remarks of Dr. Channing on this point are worthy of attention: " Commentators have their use, but not the highest use. They explain the letter of Christianity, give the meaning of words, remove obscurities from the sense, and so far they do great good; but the life, the power, the spirit of Christianity, they do not un. fold. They do not lay open to us the heart of Christ. I remember that a short time ago I was reading a book, not intended to be a religious one, in which some remarks were offered on the conduct of Jesus, as, just before his death, he descended from the Mount of Olives, and amidst a crowd of shouting disciples looked on Jerusalem, the city of his murderers, which in a few hours was to be stained with his innocent blood. The conscious greatness with which he announced the ruin of that proud metropolis and its venerated temple, and his deep sympathy with its approaching woes, bursting forth in tears, and making him forget for a moment his own near agonies and the shouts of the surrounding multitude, were brought to my mind more distinctly than ever before; and I felt that this more vivid apprehension of Jesus was worth more than much of the learning in which commentators abound.”
The Text used in this work is the Received Text, printed in
paragraphs, according to the arrangement of Griesbach, and chiefly with his punctuation.
The occasional repetition of the same explanations and remarks is partly attributable to the interrupted method of composition unavoidable in a case where many authorities are consulted, and partly to the advantage of repeating what has been before said, rather than of occupying quite as large a space in making a reference to a previous passage.
Touching the general difficulties of forming a true and earnest commentary on the sacred writings, the author has become fully apprized in the progress of his labors. If, as some have contended, the interpretation of the Bible were a matter to be decided simply by the rules of philology, by the grammar and lexicon, the liabilities to error would be very much diminished. But it is far otherwise. All our philosophical and theological views, all our habits, principles, and sentiments, our constitutional and acquired peculiarities, have a bearing upon our apprehension and explanation of each sentence. Biblical criticism puts under levy the whole existing amount of our knowledge and experience., Our views of the nature of God, his Providence, his Son Jesus Christ, of Man, of Life, of Futurity, will tinge with their own hues every verse. Our theories and practices sway us hither and thither, like grass in the wind, however determined our resolution to forget ourselves and yield with unprejudiced hearts to the pure impressions of Truth. Hence it is questionable whether creeds do not often exert more influence to dispose men to certain interpretations of the Bible, than does the Bible to modify creeds. Petrifactions are wont to gather around the fount of life, and to shape and impede the free jet and course of the waters, and therefore do the storms and overflowings of Reformations come to break down and wash away these incrustations, that the streams may run in their native channels, pure, refreshing, and fertilizing.
The expositor is in constant danger of marring the high and
holy beauty of the Ancient Thought by the intrusion of his modern factitious associations ; of separating the pure light into the more striking but less natural colors of which it is combined ; of making the short long, and the long short, on his Procrustean bed; of spreading his own parti-colored mosaic over the simple corner-stone of Christ, or “daubing it with untempered mortar." It seems to be the object of some commentators to put as much into a text, or get as much out of it, as they can. They infer all the doctrines and duties of Christianity from a verse in the Pentateuch, or a parallelism in Proverbs, and justify their whole creed, however irrational, by an obscure phrase in the book of Revelation. Hence a learned divine of the last century, in a Latin epigram, written in a Bible, said, that it was a book," where every one sought his own opinions, and where every one found them.” The sarcasm is not without point. One denomination, of Christians has been accused of using a Bible of its own, different from that of others. The charge was untrue in its common acceptation, and unsupported by facts. But in reality, not one, but all sects have Bibles of their own, because all have their own interpretations of the volume. In this sense the Baptists have their Scriptures, and the Presbyterians theirs, and the Trinitarians, and Unitarians, and Swedenborgians, theirs. As Cecil said, “Men labor to make the Bible their Bible." And they succeed; for the Bible is to each one the sense, the thoughts, the doctrines, which he draws from it, and attaches to it. So that when we enumerate the varieties of Christian belief, we begin to think that the old Talmudists were not so much out of the way, who assigned to each text of Holy Writ seventy-two faces.
The origin of these diversities may be illustrated in the following way. When we look at the heavenly bodies we look through two atmospheres, both of which will affect the vision; first, that of the earth, and secondly, that of the distant sun or star. So in studying the word of God, we are obliged to view it through our atmosphere, and its atmosphere; our atmosphere of prejudice,
interest, and passion ; and its atmosphere of dead languages, ancient manners and customs, and obsolete opinions, which envelopes the great ideas of prophet and evangelist. Now the power of the commentator is restricted chiefly to clearing away, as far as may be done now after the lapse of centuries, the latter haze. He must seek to interpret his text in the spirit in which it was spoken or written. He must see with the eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with the hearts of the men of old, place himself in their situation, and live over again their victories and defeats, their joys and agonies. He must enter the house of Joseph, and see him make himself known to his brethren, and shed tear for tear with him. He must mix with the furious multitude that rushes forth upon Mount Calvary, and catch a distant glimpse of the meek and undaunted Sufferer, and listen to his clear and sweet tones of love and pity, which are poured out like oil upon the sea of rage and scorn that dashed around him. The interpreter must become for the time the actor whose deeds he would explain, the speaker whose words he would illustrate and enjoin. But to revert to the former comparison, — the atmosphere of our own minds cannot be much affected by the commentator; that must be clarified by self-culture, and the purifying influence of virtue, If we would find the truth, the condition is, to love and seek the truth.
It is the fashion with some to despise Biblical learning, and to assert that the Scriptures shine best in their own light. No doubt they do, if we are assured that it is their own light, and not some false meteoric ray. No doubt we may put up too many critical glasses to our eye, and obscure, rather than brighten or magnify into their true and immense size, the eternal principles of religion. Still, the naked eye is often materially aided in bringing them near, in all their sublime magnitude and unearthly glory, by the telescope of sacred criticism ; though they may twinkle with sufficient brightness, even to the most unassisted sight, to designate the great moral points of compass, and to guide the
voyager home over the waters to his haven of rest. obscure allusions, ancient customs, peculiar idioms, unusual figures,—the venerable drapery of Truth,—which may often be so explained as to increase our interest in and our knowledge of the word of God. And surely it is not the part of wisdom to reject even those inferior instruments by which the principles of the Gospel are placed in their clear, bold relief, and due perspective.
But, with this difference of estimation attached to Scriptural learning, there can be no difference of opinion as to the great end to which all Biblical studies and criticisms should ultimately reach, the quickening of man in the spiritual life. - His dim and broken conceptions of truth are to be brought nearer into harmony with the Divine Archetype. His low and weak character is to be exalted and invigorated, so that he shall live the life of God in his soul, so that Jesus Christ shall be formed within him. The same desire for man's salvation, that caused the glad tidings of the Gospel to be originally sent abroad over the earth, should still inspire the heart of the philologist and critic, and sanctify all his labors. May it not be added, with all due deference to his most profound attainments in sacred learning, that this desire of human good is the most important qualification for his office? It has been thought with justice that the increased knowledge of ancient languages, arts, manners, and opinions, enjoyed in our day, has illuminated the sacred page with a new light. But have not the moral and spiritual movements of the present age, the great principles of Freedom, Toleration, Peace, Union, Temperance, that begin to stir in the hearts of men, and to shake the kingdoms of the world, done as much or more ? From the struggle for his rights, from the sacrifices of philanthropy, from the efforts of reform, has not man gone to the volume of Truth, with a newly couched eye, to see the length and breadth and depth of its im. mortal principles? In other words, can the Scriptures be understood or explained truly, except in the same enlarged spirit of love