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days of Pagan antiquity, no other question could be put; and to the wretched delusions and idolatries of that period let us see what kind of answer the human mind is capable of making, when left to its own guidance, and its own authority. But we call ourselves Christians, and profess to receive the Bible as the directory of our faith; and the only question in which we are concerned, is, “ What is written in the law ? how readest thou ?”
But there is a way of escaping from this conclusion. No man calling himself a Christian, will ever disown in words the authority of the Bible. Whatever be counted the genuine in. terpretation, it must be submitted to. But in the act of coming to this interpretation, it will be observed, there is room for the unwarrantable principles which we are attempting to expose. The business of a scripture critic is to give a fair representation of the sense of all its passages as they exist in the original. Now, this is a process which requires some investigation, and it is during the time that this process is carrying on, that the ten. dencies and antecedent opinions of the mind are suffered to mis. lead the inquirer from the true principles of the business in which he is employed. The mind and meaning of the author, who is translated, is purely a question of language, and should be decided upon no other principles than those of grammar or philology. Now, what we complain of is, that while this principle is recognized and acted upon in every other composition which has come down to us from antiquity, it has been most glaringly departed from in the case of the Bible ; that the mean. ing of its author, instead of being made singly and entirely a question of grammar, has been made a question of metaphysics, or a question of sentiment; that instead of the argument resort. ed to being, “ such must be the rendering from the structure of the language, and the import and significancy of its phrases," it has been, " such must be the rendering from the analogy of the faith, the reason of the thing, the character of the Divine mind, and the wisdom of all his dispensations." And whether this argument be formally insisted upon or not, we have still to complain, that in reality it has a most decided influence on the understanding of many a Christian ; and in this way, the creed which exists in his mind, instead of being a fair transcript of the
New Testament, is the result of a compromise which has been made between its authoritative decisions and the speculations of his own fancy.
What is the reason why there is so much more unanimity among critics and grammarians about the sense of any
ancient author, than about the sense of the New Testament ? Because the one is made purely a question of criticism : The other has been complicated with the uncertain fancies of a daring and presumptuous theology. Could we only dismiss these fancies, sit down like a school-boy to his task, and look upon the study of divinity as a mere work of translation, then we would expect the same unanimity among Christians that we meet with among scholars and literati, about the system of Epicurus or the phi. losophy of Aristotle. But here lies the distinction between the two cases. When we make out, by a critical examination of the Greek of Aristotle, that such was his meaning, and such his philosophy, the result carries no authority with it, and our mind retains the congenial liberty of its own speculations. But if we make out by a critical examination of the Greek of St. Paul, that such is the theology of the New Testament, we are bound to submit to this theology; and our minds must surrender every opinion, however dear to it. It is quite in vain to talk of the mysteriousness of the subject, as being the cause of the want of unanimity among Christians. It may be mysterious, in reference to our former conceptions. It may be mysterious in the utter imposibility of reconciling it with our own assumed fancies, and self-formed principles. It may be mysterions in the difficulty which we feel in comprehending the manner of the doc. trine, when we ought to be satisfied with the authoritative rev. elation which has been made to us of its existence and its truth. But if we could only abandon all our former conceptions, if we felt that our business was to submit to the oracles of God, and that we are not called upon to effect a reconciliation between a revealed doctrine of the Bible, and an assumed or ex. cogitated principle of our own ;-then we are satisfied, that we would find the language of the Testament to have as much clear, and procise, and didactic simplicity, as the language of any sage or philosopher that has come down to us.
Could we only get it reduced to a mere question of language, we should look at no distant period for the establishment of a pure and unanimous Christianity in the world. But no. While the mind and the meaning of any philosopher is collected from his words, and these words tried, as to their import and signifi. cancy, upon the appropriate principles of criticism, the mind and the meaning of the Spirit of God is not collected upon the same pure and competent principles of investigation. In order to know the mind of the Spirit, the communications of the Spirit, and the expression of these communications in written language, should be consulted. These are the only data upon which the inquiry should be instituted. But, no. Instead of learning the designs and character of the Almighty from his own mouth, we sit in judgment upon them ; and make our conjecture of what they should be, take the precedency of his revelation of what they are. We do him the same injustice that we do to an ac. quaintance, whose proceedings and whose intentions we venture to pronounce upon, while we refuse him a hearing, or turn away from the letter in which he explains himself. No wonder, then, at the want of unanimity among Christians, so long as the question of “ What thinkest thou ?” is made the principle of their creed, and, for the safe guidance of criticism, they have committed themselves to the endless caprices of the human in. tellect. Let the principle of " what thinkest thou” be exploded, and that of “what readest thou” be substituted in its place. Let us take our lesson as the Almighty places it before us, and, instead of being the judge of his conduct, be satisfied with the safer and humbler office of being the interpreter of his language.
Now this principle is not exclusively applicable to the learn. ed. The great bulk of Christians have no access to the Bible in its original languages; but they hàve access to the common translation, and they may be satisfied by the concurrent testimo. ny of the learned among the different sectaries of this country, that the translation is a good one. We do not confine the princi, ple to critics and translators; we press it upon all. We call upon them not to form their divinity by independent thinking, but to receive it by obedient reading, to take the words as they stand, and submit to the plain English of the Scriptures which
lie before them. It is the office of a translator to give a faitis. ful representation of the original. Now that this faithful re. presentation has been given, it is our part to peruse it with care and to take a fair and a faithful impression of it. It is our part to purify our understanding of all its previous conceptions. We must bring a free and unoccupied mind to the exercise. must not be the pride or the obstinacy of self-formed opinions, or the haughty independence of him who thinks he has reached the manhood of his understanding. We must bring with us the docility of a child, if we want to gain the kingdom of heaven. It must not be a partial, but an entire and unexcepted obedi
There must be no garbling of that which is entire, no darkening of that which is luminous, no softening down of that which is authoritative or severe. The Bible will allow of no com. promise. It professes to be the directory of our faith, and claims a total ascendency over the souls and the understandings of
It will enter into no composition with us, or our natural principles. It challenges the whole mind as its due, and it appeals to the truth of heaven for the high authority of its sanctions. “Whosoever addeth to, or taketh from, the words of this book, is accursed,” is the absolute language in which it deli. vers itself. This brings us to its terms. There is no way of escaping after this. We must bring every thought into the captivity of its obedience, and as closely as ever lawyer stuck to his document or his extract, must we abide by the rule and the doctrine which this authentic memorial of God sets before
Now we hazard the assertion, that with a number of professing Christians, there is not this unexcepted submission of the understanding to the authority of the Bible; and that the author. ity of the Bible is often modified, and in some cases superseded by the authority of other principles. One of these principles is the reason of the thing. We do not know if this principle would be at all felt or appealed to by the earliest Christians. It may perhaps by the disputations or the philosophising among converted Jews and Greeks, but not certainly by those of whom Paul said, that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, were called.” They turned from
ilumb idols to serve the living and the true God. There was nothing in their antecedent theology which they could have any respect for : Nothing which they could confront, or bring into competition with the doctrines of the New Testament. In those days, the truth as it is in Jesus came to the mind of its disciples, recommended by its novelty, by its grandeur, by the power and recency of its evidences, and above all by its vast and evident superiority over the fooleries of a degrading Pa. ganism. It does not occur to us, that men in these circum. stances would ever think of sitting in judgment over the mysteries of that sublime faith which had charmed them into an abandonment of their earlier religion. It rather strikes us, that they would receive them passively ; that, like scholars who had all to learn, they would take their lesson as they found it; that the information of their teachers would be enough for them; and that the restless tendency of the human mind to speculation, would for a time find ample enjoyment in the rich and splendid discoveries, which broke like a flood of light upon the world. But we are in different circumstances. To us, these discoveries, rich and splendid as they are, have lost the freshness of novelty. The sun of righteousness, like the sun in the firmament, has become familiarized to us by possession. In a few ages, the human mind deserted its guidance, and rambled as much as ever in quest of new speculations. It is true, that they took a juster and loftier flight since the days of Heathen. ism. But it was only because they walked in the light of revelation. They borrowed of the New Testament without ac. knowledgment, and took its beauties and its truths to deck their own wretched fancies and self-constituted systems. In the process of time, the delusion multiplied and extended. Schools were formed, and the ways of the Divinity were as confidently theorized upon, as the processes of chemistry, or the economy of the heavens. Universities were endowed, and natural theo. logy took its place in the circle of the sciences. Folios were written, and the respected luminaries of a former age poured their a priori and their a posteriori demonstrations on the world. Taste, and sentiment, and imagination, grew apace; and every raw untutored principle which poetry could clothe in prettı.