« AnteriorContinuar »
that carried a thread of argument and consistency all through them.
But this muttering of lazy or ill-disposed readers hindered me not from persisting in the course I had begun: I continued to read the same epistle over and over, and over again, until I came to discover, as appeared to me, what was the drift and aim of it, and by what steps and arguments St. Paul prosecuted his purpose. I remembered that St. Paul was miraculously called to the ministry of the Gospel, and declared to be a chosen vessel ; that he had the whole doctrine of the Gospel from God, by immediate revelation; and was appointed to be the apostle of the Gentiles, for the propagating of it in the heathen world. . This was enough to persuade me, that he was not a man of loose and shattered parts, incapable to argue, and unfit to convince those he had to deal with. God knows how to choose fit instruments for the business he employs them in. A large stock of Jewish learning he had taken in, at the feet of Gamaliel ; and for his information in Christian knowledge, and the mysteries and depths of the dispensation of grace by Jesus Christ, God himself had condescended to be his instructor and teacher. The light of the Gospel he had received from the Fountain and Father of light himself, who, I concluded, had not furnished him in this extraordinary manner, if all this plentiful stock of learning and illumination had been in danger to have been lost, or proved useless, in a jumbled and confused head; nor have laid up such a store of admirable and useful knowledge in a man, who, for want of method and order, clearness of conception, or pertinency in discourse, could not draw it out into use with the greatest advantages of force and coherence. That he knew how to prosecute this purpose with strength of argument and close reasoning, without incoherent sallies, or the intermixing of things foreign to his business, was evident to me, from several speeches of his, recorded in the Acts: and it was hard to think, that a man, that could talk with so much consistency and clearness of conviction should not be able to write without confusion, inextricable obscurity,
and perpetual rambling. The force, order, and perspicuity of those discourses, could not be denied to be very visible. How then came it, that the like was thought much wanting in his epistles ? And of this there appeared to me this plain reason : the particularities of the history, in which these speeches are inserted, show St. Paul's end in speaking; which, being seen, casts a light on the whole, and shows the pertinency of all that he says. But his epistles not being so circumstantiated ; there being no concurring history, that plainly declares the disposition St. Paul was in; what the actions, expectations, or demands of those to whom he writ required him to speak to, we are nowhere told. All this, and a great deal more, necessary to guide us into the true meaning of the epistles, is to be had only from the epistles themselves, and to be gathered from thence with stubborn attention, and more than common application.
This being the only safe guide (under the Spirit of God, that dictated these sacred writings) that can be relied on, I hope I may be excused, if I venture to say that the utmost ought to be done to observe and trace out St. Paul's reasonings; to follow the thread of his discourse in each of his epistles; to show how it goes on, still directed with the same view, and pertinently drawing the several incidents towards the same point. To understand him right, his inferences should be strictly observed; and it should be carefully examined, from what they are drawn, and what they tend to. He is certainly a coherent, argumentative, pertinent writer; and care, I think, should be taken, in expounding of him, to show that he is so. But though Ì say he has weighty aims in his epistles, which he steadily keeps in his eye,
and drives at in all he says; yet I do not say, that he puts his discourses into an artificial method, or leads his reader into a distinction of his arguments, or gives them notice of new matter, by rhetorical or studied transitions. He has no ornaments borrowed from the Greek eloquence; no notions of their philosophy mixed with his doctrine, to set it off. The enticing words of man's wisdom, whereby he means all
the studied rules of the Grecian schools, which made them such masters in the art of speaking, he, as he says himself, 1 Cor. ii. 4, wholly neglected. The reason whereof he gives in the next verse, and in other places. But though politeness of language, delicacy of style, fineness of expression, laboured periods, artificial transitions, and a very methodical ranging of the parts, with such other embellishments as make a discourse enter the mind smoothly, and strike the fancy at first hearing, have little or no place in his style; yet coherence of discourse, and a direct tendency of all the parts of it to the argument in hand, are most eminently to be found in him. This I take to be his character, and doubt not but it will be found to be so upon diligent examination. And in this, if it be so, we have a clue, if we will take the pains to find it, that will conduct us with surety through those seemingly dark places, and imagined intricacies, in which Christians have wandered so far one from another, as to find quite contrary senses.
Whether a superficial reading, accompanied with the common opinion of his invincible obscurity, has kept off some from seeking, in him, the coherence of a discourse, tending with close, strong reasoning to a point; or a seemingly more honourable opinion of one that had been rapt up into the third heaven, as if from a man so warmed and illuminated as he had been, nothing could be expected but flashes of light, and raptures of zeal, hindered others to look for a train of reasoning, proceeding on regular and cogent argumentation, from a man raised above the ordinary pitch of humanity, to a higher and brighter way of illumination; or else, whether others were loth to beat their heads about the tenour and coherence in St. Paul's discourses; which, if found out, possibly might set them at a manifest and irreconcileable difference with their systems; it is certain that, whatever hath been the cause, this way of getting the true sense of St. Paul's epistles seems not to have been much made use of, or at least so thoroughly pursued, as I am apt to think it deserves.
For, granting that he was full stored with the knowledge of the things he treated of; for he had light from
any care of
heaven, it was God himself furnished him, and he could not want: allowing also that he had ability to make use of the knowledge had been given him, for the end for which it was given him, viz. the information, conviction, and conversion of others; and accordingly, that he knew how to direct his discourse to the point in hand: we cannot widely mistake the parts of his discourse employed about it, when we have any where found out the point he drives at: wherever we have got a view of his design, and the aim he proposed to himself in writing, we may be sure, that such or such an interpretation does not give us his genuine sense, it being nothing at all to his present purpose. Nay, among various meanings given a text, it fails not to direct us to the best, and very often to assure us of the true. For it is no presumption, when one sees a man arguing for this or that proposition, if he be a sober man, master of reason or common sense, and takes what he says, to pronounce with confidence, in several cases, that he could not talk thus or thus.
I do not yet so magnify this method of studying St. Paul's epistles, as well
as other parts of sacred Scripture, as to think it will perfectly clear every hard place, and leave no doubt unresolved. I know, expressions now out of use, opinions of those times not heard of in our days, allusions to customs lost to us, and various circumstances and particularities of the parties, which we cannot come at, &c. must needs continue several passages in the dark, now to us, at this distance, which shone with full light to those they were directed to. But for all that, the study. ing of St. Paul's epistles, in the way I have proposed, will, I humbly conceive, carry us a great length in the right understanding of them, and make us rejoice in the light we receive from those most useful parts of divine revelation, by furnishing us with visible grounds that we are not mistaken, whilst the consistency of the discourse, and the pertinency of it to the design he is upon, vouches it worthy of our great apostle. At least I hope it may be my excuse, for having endeavoured to make St. Paul an interpreter to me of his own epistles.
To this may be added another help, which St. Paul himself affords us, towards the attaining the true meaning contained in his epistles. He that reads him with the attention I propose will easily observe, that as he was full of the doctrine of the Gospel, so it lay all clear and in order, open to his view. When he gave his thoughts utterance upon any point, the matter flowed like a torrent; but it is plain, it was a matter he was perfectly master of: he fully possessed the entire revelation he had received from God; had thoroughly digested it; all the parts were formed together in his mind, into one well-contracted harmonious body. So that he was no way at an uncertainty, nor ever, in the least, at a loss concerning any branch of it. One may see his thoughts were all of a piece in all his epistles, his notions were at all times uniform, and constantly the same, though his expressions very various. In them he seems to take great liberty. This at least is certain, that no one seems less tied up to a form of words. If then, having, by the method before proposed, got into the sense of the several epistles, we will but compare what he says, in the places where he treats of the same subject, we can hardly be mistaken in his sense, nor doubt what it was that he believed and taught, concerning those points of the Christian religion. I known it is not unusual to find a multitude of texts heaped up, for the maintaining of an espoused proposition; but in a sense often so remote from their true meaning, that one can hardly avoid thinking, that those, who so used them, either sought not, or valued not the sense; and were satisfied with the sound, where they could but get that to favour them. But a verbal concordance leads not always to texts of the same meaning ; trusting too much thereto will furnish us but with slight proofs in many cases, and any one may observe, how apt that is to jumble together passages of Scripture, not relating to the same matter, and thereby to disturb and unsettle the true meaning of holy Scripture. I have therefore said, that we should compare together places of Scripture treating of the same point. Thus, indeed, one part of the sacred text could not fail to give light unto another. And since