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gical learning: and first, on the criti- says of the philosophy of his age, that cism of the text.
it is difficult to comprehend even a Now it seems obvious on the slight- little without knowing much, and, inest inspection of this subject, that to deed, being familiar with the whole have settled views on the nature and system. degree of proof, which may be To settle the comparative imporbrought in favour of any one copy of tance of different branches of theolothe old or new testament, in prefer- gical learning, is not very easy; and ence to others, is not so unimportant, among those branches, which are adthat it may be safely dispeosed with in mitted to be clearly of use, such dethose who appear before the world termination is wholly unnecessary. as the defenders and interpreters of the Perhaps it will be found on trial, that sacred volume. If it be thought re- this comparative value varies accordquisite that a public teacher of chris- ing to the exigencies of the times, and tianity should be familiar with the ar the difference of situation, and duties guments with which he is to vindicate required of different theologians. the divine origin of his religion against There was undoubtedly a period in the objections and cavils of the infi- the ecclesiastical concerns of this del; how can it be shewn that it is country, when any one speculating not likewise requisite that he should on this subject might have decided, be able clearly to identify the book in that for a clergyman to be deeply which this religion is taught? If it be versed in the argument for the truth said that all copies of the bible essen of christianity, was comparatively untially agree, and that, therefore, the important. Hardly an unbeliever knowledge of manuscripts and ver was to be found ; and a general sions, and of the mode of reasoning knowledge of the ground on which which is employed in determining the truth of revelation rests, was, their value, may
be safely left among for all practical purposes, sufficient. the non-essentials of a theological ed. There has been likewise a period, ucation ;-it is replied, that this a when great familiarity with this par. greement is a thing to be proved; ticular department of theological and in proportion to the importance learning, especially in certain situaof the fact, that there is this essential tions, was essential. agreement, is the importance of be The same may he said of that ing able to substantiate it with suita- part of sacred criticism, which reble arguments. That there is, howev. spects the text of the scriptures. If er, a diversity of opinion respectiog there has been a time when skill in the true reading of passages, which this department was of little or no concern, not points of mere specula- practical use, it was because the contion, but what are assumed as the very iroversies of the day were not made grounds and pillars of the truth, must to turn on a difference of readings. be well known to every one at all ac
But that time is not our own. In the quainted with theological controver- age in which we live, theological dissy. But to understand the nature of cussions almost uniformly are conthe argument respecting these passa- ducted in a greater or less degree, ges, it is necessary to be familiar, in with reference to such differences, a good degree, with the general course and the importance of an acquaintof reasoning on the whole subject of ance with the niceties” of criticism the criticism of the text. Every de- is proportionally enhanced. partment of knowledge has its own The labour pecessary for acquiring peculiar principles, which are neces- the requisite knowledge in this departsary to be understood, if we would ment of biblical criticism, is not great. reason to effect, even on its subordi- The materials, of which this knowl nate parts: for to most subjects of inves- edge is composed, have, indeed, been tigation may be applied, what Cicero collected with immense toil but
they are now so well digested in va- first glance of the eye on this part of rious works within the reach of every the sacred volume. The Psalms, liketheological student, and the princi- wise, from our ignorance of the occaples of judgiog arising out of these sions on which many of them were materials so well settled, that the written, are not of easy interpretation; course of the scholar is little impeded. and we, in fact, find that according as No one, then, need be deterred by the the circumstances, which are suppomagnitude of the undertaking from sed to have led to the composition of attempting to familiarize himself with very inany of them, are differently asthis part of critical knowledge. Even sumed, an entirely different meaning if an individual is satisfied that there is deduced by the expositor. If we 'is no important corruption in the turn to the new testament, the same cominon text of the scriptures, he can difficulties very early present themhave no valid reason for neglecting the selves. To be particular only as to means, which he may find necessary, the epistles of St. Paul: we find that to meet the doubts or cavils of others; most of them were written on special as it is only on critical ground, that occasions, to meet some new exigency critical objections can be successfully in the circumstances of the church, or repelled.
individual to whom he sends. The If this is the conclusion to which controversy respecting the obligations we are brought as to the value of crit- of the Jewish ritual on christians, and ical knowledge, when confined to the the terms on which Gentile converts settling of the text; much less réa- were to be admitted to the communion son will be found to underrate its im- of the Christian Church, occupies a portance, when viewed in connection large part of his attention. In his ewith the extensive subject of interpre- pistle to the Hebrews, the whole artation.
gument turns on the history, laws, and One of the first things we observe, observances of that people. To exin reading the old and uew testaments, plain, then, such a book as the bible, in our common English version, is the made up of the writings of men who very marked difference of style from lived in very different ages, writings that which is used by original writers accommodated to the ever várying in our own language. This difference condition of a nation, which experienis found in the structure of sentences, ced in turn the extremes of prosperity in the mode of argument and illustra- and adversity, would seem, on the first tion, and in the imagery adopted by view of the subject, to be attended the sacred writers. The whole book with difficulties of no ordinary charachas the air of very great antiquity: we ter, and to require no ordinary share here find ancient institutions, ancient of learning. customs, and the entire collection bas But to this it is objected, that the the appearance of being a very literal scriptures were intended for the gentranslation from very ancient langua- eral use of christians in all ages of the ges.
If we examine more particular- church; and that to maintain a very ly, we find no inconsiderable part of considerable share oferudition to be nethe old testament peculiarly obscurecessary to a full understanding of them, from the religious precepts being in- is to impeach the character of their volved in the history of the Jews and divine author : as the argument seems the surrounding nations. To deter- to suppose, that God has given to manmine, for instance, when the prophets kind a revelation of his will, but in so speak of things future, or when they obscure a manner, that very few, and are merely relating things past; wheth- those only who have enjoyed peculiar er what they say is of general appli- advantages of education, are really cation, or is to be limited by the occa- qualified to investigate its meaning. sion on which it was spoken, is a diffi- fo determine, however, from general culty which meets every reader, at the considerations of propriety and expe
diency, what God must or must not man of common understanding in reado, is a very unsafe course of proceed- ding the scriptures ; or that which ing in our reasonings about the divine would occur to such a man, in the age conduct ; especially when he has give and nation in which the several wrien as the means of judging from his ters lived; and for the immediate inown acts. If he has, in fact, given struction of which age and nation their lis a revelation which requires unusu- writings were produced ? That there al qualifications fully to explain ; then is an important difference in the acundoubtedly, it is entirely consistent ceptation in which persons so differwith the divine wisdom and goodness, ently situated, would receive very mathat he should adopt this course in ny parts of the sacred volume, that communicating with mankind : and what would be the literal and gramas to this fact, we are as well qualified matical sense to the one, would be 10 judge, as of any other fact in the often not the literal and grammatdivine adminstration.
ical sense to the other, is undeniaBut it is not necessary in order to ble. If there be any hesitation in adestablish the importance and necessi- mitting this, it should be considered, ty of critical skill in religious teachers, that the instruction conveyed to us in to deny that even the lowest attain- almost the whole bible, and especially ments in knowledge will be sufficient in the new testament, is contained in to guide the diligent and faithful in- discourses and precepts very intimatequirer in the way of salvation. It ly connected with the occasions on may be safely admitted, that the hum- which they were delivered. The disblest christian, who can read his bible, course, for instance, with Nicodewhen placed in circumstances, where mus has particular reference to the all aid from others is denied him, may character of the man, and to the reli. still find out so much of his duty, as gious ceremonies and peculiar relito secure him from essential error ; gious phraseology of the Jews. The yet nogeneral conclusion can be drawn epistle to the Galatians refers, in the from this fact, as to the requisite quale same way, to the circumstances of the ifications of public religious instruc-church in Galatia, and to the ques
It may be still necessary that tions, which, at that time, were in agitthose who interpret the bible, should ation among its members. To underbe furnished for their employment stand this peculiar language, these cirwith much subsidiary learning; and, cumstances, and these questions, is not indeed, it seems to be one principal so easy, that a reader in the niueteenth reason why a distinct order of men is century, with education, habits and needed in the church as interpreters language so different from what preof the word of God, that without them, vailed in Jerusalem and Galatia, can this word would be almost univer- rely, in many cases of importance, od sally misunderstood, and wrested to his first impressions, as the literal the support of error.
meaning of St. John or St. Paul. The Perhaps it will afford some aid in literal or grammatical sense of the the illustration of this part of the sub- scriptures, then, is conceded to be ject, briefly to inquire, what is the just the true sense ; but this sense is that rule of scriptural interpretation, that which was apprehended by those oriis, on what general principle must we giually concerned. The literal sense proceed, in settling the meaniog of the of the discourse to Nicodemus, is that sacred writings. In such an inquiry, which Christ intended to convey, and the answer almost of course returned, which Nicodemus, in his circumis, we must understand the bible in stances, must be supposed to have reits literal or grammatical sense. But ceived; and the literal sense of the ethe question arises, how is this literal pistle to the Galatians, is that which or grammatical sense to be determin- St. Paul meant to express, and which ed Is it that sense, which may be was actually put upon it by the Galasupposed to occur at this time, to a tian church : and the same is true of
many other parts of the bible. Some
on the heart in regeneration, quotes have denominated this the historical the following as express to bis pursense of the scriptures, in distinction pose.
“ No man can come to me from the literal or grammatical sense; except the father, which hath sent me but it is a distinction for which there draw him.” (Joho vi. 44.) His opseems to be no very good reason. ponent alleges the following text, unIf the literal or grammatical meaning derstanding it to contain the contrary thus understood, of the sacred writers, doctrine. « Whosoever will, let him is allowed to be their true meaning, take the water of life freely." (Rev. then no laboured course of argument xxii. 17.) The believer in baptismal is necessary to prove the importance regeneration and its necessity for salof critical skill in a public teacher vation, quotes the express words of of Christianity.
Christ to Nicodemus.
“ Except a If, however, it be still objected, that man be born of water, and of the Spirwhat is necessary to be known, is in it, he cannot enter into the kingdom, such plain language, that all must of of God." (John, iii. 5.) The advocourse understand it; and that the es cates for a short creed rely absolutely sential truths of the bible may be effi- * on the following plain declaration : ciently taught by men, who to good
“ If thou shalt confess with thy mouth sense uoite a respectable acquaintance the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in with human learning ; and that it is thine heart that God hath raised him only in the illustration of the more
from the dead, thou shalt be saved." difficult passages of scripture, which, (Rom. x. 9.). “Swear not at all,” in the language of the reviewer, are of (Math. v. 34.) is quoted by those who “minor importance," that the aid of deny the lawfulness of all oaths whatphilology is to be sought ; it may be soever, as containing a command of useful to inquire a little more partic- Christ express to their purpose. ularly, and see how the scriptures are Those who believe that religion chiefin fact understood.
ly concerns the external conduct, and Now it is notorious that almost ev. consists especially in acts of charity, ery variety of doctrine, which has been rely much on the following text, which derived from the scriptures, has been appears to them to take the form of a supposed by its abettors to rest, for definition; " Pure religion, and units certainty, on some plain declara- defiled before God and the father, is tions of holy writ. Thus the believer this, to visit the fatherless and widows. in the divinity of Christ, refers to the in their affliction, and to keep himself testimony of John as decisive of this unspotted from the world." (I. John, point; "the word was God” (John i. 1. 27.) He who maintains that faithi 1.) and the declaration of Paul, that is a necessary prerequisite in baptism, Christ is, “over all, God blessed for- quotes the language of Philip to the ever.” (Rom. ix. 5.) The Unitarian Ethiopian. “If thou believest with all appeals confidently to the language of thine heart, thou mayest.” (Acts, viii Christ himself, in which he under- 37.) Those Christians who adopt the stands the Saviour to disclaim divini- practice of washing each others feet, ty. “ This is life eternal, that they as a religious rite, suppose they act in might know thee, the only true God, obedience to an express injunction of and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
Christ bimself. If I, then, your (John xvii. 3.) The believer in the lord and master, have washed your necessity of special divine influence feet, ye also ought to wash one anoth
ers feet.” (John, xiii. 14.); and they * This, at least, is the opinion of Tillman. are confirmed in their belief by the " Nullo modo opus est nova appellatione language of St. Paul, who enumerates interpretationis bistoricæ, cum in grammat. having washed the saints' feet," (I. forica esse putantur." Præf. ad Melelema. Tim. v. 10.) among the tests of chrisla sacra.
tiao character. The doctrine of tran
substantiation, as is well known, is de- sense; and to establish such plain rules fended by the catholics, on the ground applicable to such cases, that a public of express declarations of scripture. expounder of the word of God, may " This is my body," " this is my make that word appear, as it in fact blood," (Mark, xiv. 22, 24.) And is, consistent with itself. It is not when the Jews "strove among them- pretended that even the best critics selves, saying, How can this man give agree in all cases in their explications us his flesh to eat ?” Jesus said to of scripture. Human infirmity, prejthem, “ Except ye eat the flesh of the udice, and passion, have here their son of man, and drink his blood, ye influence, and produce too often their have no life in you. Whoso eateth usual effects. It is, however, believed my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath that whoever will look at the progress eternal life ; and I will raise him up at of biblical interpretation from the the last day. For my flesh is meat days of Origen to the present time, iudeed, and my blood is drink in- will be fully satisfied, that critical deed." (John, vi. 52 &c.)
studies have done much in freeing the The words of St. James are alleg- sacred writings from a load of absurd ed as proof of the sacrament of ex- commentaries, and in establishing gentreme unction. “ Is any sick among eral principles of exposition, which you? let him call for the elders of the are producing a gradual approximachurch ; and let them pray over him, tion of opinion, among christians. anointing him with oil in the name of Another objection to the utility of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall biblical criticism, as actually pursued save the sick.” (James, v. 14, 15.) at the present time, is, that it partakes
It would be very easy to produce too largely of the rules and methods hundreds of similar texts, which, from adopted by the learned in settling the a supposed literal import, are custo texts and ascertaining the meaning of marily referred to as proof passages : other works of antiquity; when the these, however, now quoted, will truth is, as the objectors maintain, that serve as a specimen. Yet of these the criticism of the sacred books is few texts it may be safely asserted, of a peculiar character, and ought that no man, whatever his other quals not to be confounded with the critiifications may be, can interpret them cisin of profane“ writings. From satisfactorily to those who would have the first view of this objection a suspiclear views of christian faith and prac- cion might naturally arise in the mind tice, without much knowledge of the of one, who had not particularly conuse of language generally, nor without sidered this subject, that the criticism particular reference to the original of the Greek and Roman classics, is language of the new testament, to the made up chiefly of the fancies and repeculiarities of Hebrew phraseology, veries of the learned; and that reason and to Jewish customs and manners. and common sense have had little to And it might be found convenient do in settling the laws of the critical likewise, in interpreting this short list code. But what is the fact? Let the of passages, to question the integrity most approved edition of any one of of the common Greek text. To erase the principal classics, as Cicero, by criticism, then from the number Ernesti, or Virgil by Heyne, be taken of requisite qualifications of a religious as a specimen of what profane critiinstructor, is to separate things which cism is, and let a decision be formed ought to be indissolubly united. Un- of its vature and value, from what, doubtedly much of the bible conveys on examination, actually appears. the same meaning in our language, as What then, is the general method ain the original. It is an important dopted by each of these critics for repart of the business of criticism to de- vising the text, and elucidating the termine in what cases it is necessary meaning of his author ? It is no other 10 depart from the apparent literal than this ;-the existing manuscripts