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to manifest the truth so clearly to the conscience, that even “ the unlearned and unbelievers may be judged and convinced, and so falling down may worship God.” One, who only speaks mysteries in the spirit, he compares to a trumpet, which, giving an uncertain sound, warns none to prepare for battle. And he professes, that “ he had rather speak five words in the church with his understand. ing, so as to teach others, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” As he did, so ought ev. ery preacher to “ seek that he may excel to the edifying of the church."
In opposition to certain mystical teachers, who early crept into the christian church, the apostle John introduces his first epistle with a declaration, that he and the other apostles had always adapted their instructions to the common sense and understanding of mankind. 66. That which we have seen and heard, and which our hands have handled of the word of life, we declare unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us: For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and we shew unto you that eternal life, which was manifested to us. And these things we write to you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message, which we have heard, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness. And if we say, that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." And on account of that clear and distinct manner, in which the sacred oracles reveal divine and spiritual things, they are called a light, and compared, not only to a lamp, which guides a traveller's feet by night, but to the sun, which gives day to the hemisphere, and sheds light and heat on those who sit under his friendly beams. The heathens, destitute of revelation, are described as sitting in darkness, and in the region and shadow of death, and as secking the nearest objects, not by
vision, but by feeling after them, if haply they may find them. “But God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” has blest our eyes with "the light of the glorious gospel of Christ and has “shined into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus,” who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.'
It is not denied, that there are some things in the scriptures hard to be understood. Prophecies must, in their nature, be obscure, till they are elucidated by the event. Their general intention may be obvious, but the particular circumstances of the grand event foretold will remain unknown, till the event itself brings them to view.
Some of the doctrines of religion, as the distinction of Father, Son, and Spirit in one deity-the union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ--the resurrection of the dead, and the instant change of those who shall be found alive at the coming of Christ, are too deep to be fathomed by the line of human intellect. They are discovered as far as it is necessary for us to know them; and, perhaps, as far as language can discover them to such beings as we are.
But still they remain incomprehensible to us, not through unnecessary obscurity in the manner of revelation, but by reason of the sublimity of the subjects, and our own imperfection.
There are many particular passages in revelation difficult to be explained ; and after all our enquiries, still doubtful in their meaning ; not because they are improperly expressed, but because certain customs and usages alluded to, are now un. known. It should, however, be always remem. bered, that no doctrine or duty of religion de pends on a single passage, much less on a doubtful passage of scripturer Be the sense of the uncer
tain text what it may, still the great articles of Christianity remain clearly stated, and firmly supported elsewhere. Only let us govern ourselves by that which is plain, and a few inexplicable texts will never endanger us.
In all things necessary to eternal salvation, the sacred writings are sufficiently intelligible and clear. What the Psalmist says of the divine law, may with equal truth be applied to the gospel. " The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple : The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
The doctrines of the incarnation of the divine Saviour, and of his sufferings for the sins of fallen mortals ; the doctrines of a universal resurrection, a righteous judgment, and an eternal retribution, are declared as strongly as language can express them, and revealed as clearly as the nature of the subjects will permit. The necessity and the nature of repentance toward God, and faith toward Jesus Christ; the duties and virtues of piety and devotion—of justice, charity, peace, and condescension -of humility, patience, temperance, and self-denial, are stated so plainly, repeated so often, inculcated in such a variety of phrases, and illustrated by such pertinent instances and examples, and most of them so familiarly exhibited in the life and character of the divine Redeemer, that no person of common understanding, while he reads with honest attention, can mistake them.
But then we must remember, that in searching the scriptures, we are not to take single detached passages by themselves, and shape them into a conformity to our own pre-concerted scheme. We are to consider the inspired writer's discourse in its natural coherence-observe the dependence of one part on another---compare spiritual things with
spiritual, and pursue the enquiry, not with a fixed determination to establish a favorite plan, but with an upright intention to discover the will of God. Thus we shall be led into all truth. If any man desire to do his will, he shall know of every doctrine proposed, whether it be divine, or whether it be the invention of men.
Now this being admitted, which is a certain and undeniable truth, that the sacred writers have used great plainness of speech, we may hence rectify se veral dangerous errors, which many have entertained concerning the scriptures.
1. Our subject exposes and confutes the very great mistake of those, who suppose that the scriptures in general, even in the historical, doctrinal and practical parts of them, are not to be understood literally, but contain some secret, mystical sense, distinct from the literal.
This notion is directly opposite to the express words of the apostle in our text.
“ We use great plainness of speech ; and not as Moses, put a vail on his face. We all with open face behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord.” If the apostles had concealed, under a vail, the sacred doctrines of religion ; if they had hidden a spiritual, under a literal meaning; how could it be said, “ they used great plainness of speech," in distinction from the ritual law, which represented, by types and figures, a Saviour to come ? The contrast evidently shews, that the obvious, literal sense of the sacred writings is, in general, the true sense, and we are to look for no other. Figures and similitudes are often used by all good writers ; not to conceal their meaning, but to exhibit truth in a more clear and striking light. Comparisons and parables frequently occur in the sacred writings ; but the design and tenden. су of them is to illustrate spiritual things, and make them plainer to the apprehension ; or to give them
an easier entrance into, and deeper impression on the heart. And they are either immediately explained, or else are in themselves so easy and obvious, that common sense cannot fail to understand and apply them.
To suppose that the scriptures are a mere enigma and allegory, not to be understood literally, but according to some curious, far-fetched interpretation, is to render them nugatory and useless. They can, on this supposition, be no rule of faith or practice; but every man's fancy must be his rule ; and the best expositor of the Bible will not be the man, who has the soundest judgment, the purest heart, and the most improved understanding; but he who has the most teeming invention, and the wildest imagination. At this rate of interpreting it, we shall make it speak any thing and every thing, and con. sequently we can depend upon nothing.
In the times of the apostles, as we learn from some intimations in their writings, as well as from the writings of the Christian fathers, there were certain heretics, 'who went into the mystical way of treating religion. They denied Christ's real incarnation, death and resurrection, and the literal resurrection of the dead. They taught that Christ came not in the flesh, and that the resurrection was already past. They pretended that these things were only visionary and ideal. The apostle John plainly alludes to these heretics in his first epistle. “Beloved, believe not every spirit,” or every man who boasts that he is guided by the spirit ; “but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets," pretending to be under the direction of the spirit, "are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the spirit of God. Every spirit, who confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God; but every spirit, who confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” Jude Vol. II.