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have been the case, had we been native Hebrews, contemporary with the prophets and apostles,
When the art of interpretation, therefore, is imagined or asserted to be a difficult and recondite art, dependent on great learning and high intellectual acuteness, the obvious mistake is made of confounding with it another sort of learning, which is only preparatory and conditional, but does not constitute the principles themselves of hermeneutics.
It seems to my own mind, that we have arrived at the conclusion which it was proposed to examine and confirm, in a very plain, natural, and simple way. The substance of all is, the Bible was made to be understood; it was written by men, and for men; it was addressed to all classes of people; it was for the most part understood by them all, just as our present religious discourses are; and of course it was interpreted in such a way, or by the aid of such principles, as other books are understood and explained.
But there are objectors to this position. Some of them, too, speak very boldly, and with great zeal and confidence. Candor requires that we should listen to them, and examine their allegations.
Obj. 1. How can the common laws of interpretation apply to the Scriptures, when confessedly the Bible is a book which contains revelations in respect to supernatural things, to the knowledge of which no human understanding is adequate to attain ?
The fact alleged I cheerfully concede. But the inference drawn from it, I do not feel to be at all a necessary one, nor in fact in any measure a just one. So far as the Scriptures are designed to make known a revelation to us, respecting things that are above the reach of our natural understanding, just so far they are designed to communicate that which is intelligible. If you deny this, then you must maintain that to be a revelation, which is not intelligible; or, in other, words, that to be a revelation, by which nothing is revealed.
If you say that a new interposition on the part of heaven is necessary, in order that any one may understand the Scriptures, then you make two miracles necessary to accomplish one end; the first, in giving a so called revelation, which after all is unintellgiible; the second, in supernaturally influencing he mind to discern what is meant by this revelation. The reply to this has been already suggested above, viz, it contradicts experience, and it is contrary to the analogy of God's dealing with us in all other respects.
As far then as any revelation is actually made in the Scriptures, so far they are intelligible. But, perhaps, some one will here make another objection, viz.-
Oh. 2. Intelligible to whom? A man must be enlightened in a spiritual respect, before he can understand the Scriptures. How then can the usual laws of interpretation enable him to understand and to explain them?
The fact here alleged is rather over-stated; I mean to say, the assertion is too general. That there are parts of the Scriptures which no unsanctified man can fully understand and appreciate, is and must
be be true, so long as the fact is admitted that there are parts which relate to spiritual experienre. “The natural man receive h not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Niost freely and frilly do I concede what is here meant to be athrmed. How can any man fully understand what is said of religious experience and feelings, who is not himself, and never has been, the subject of such experience and feelings? ,
After all, huwever, there is nothing new or singular in this, at least 80 far as the principle itself is concerned. The same principle holds true, in regard to other things and other books. Before a man can understand them, he must be in a condition to do so. Who can read Newton's Principia or Mecanique Celeste of La Place, and understand them, unless he comes to the study of them with due preparation? Who can read any book of mental or moral science, and enter fully into the understanding of it, unless he is himself in a state which enables him throughout to sympathize with the author, and to enter into all his feelings and views? Who, for example, can read and fully understand Milton and Homer, without the spirit and soul of poetry within him which will enable him to enter into their views and feel. ings? Who can read intelligently even a book of mathematics, without sympathizing with the writer?
The answer to these questions is too plain to need being repeated. How then does the principle differ, when I ask, "Who can read the Scriptures intelligently, that does not enter into the moral and religious sympathies of the writers ?" I agree fully to the answer which says, "No one. The thing is impossible. But is equally impossible in all other cases to read intelligently, without entering into the the sympathies of the writers.
Those then who are solicitous for the honor of the Scriptures, have in reality nothing to fear from this quarter, in respect to the principle which I have been advocating. A demand for religious feeling, in order. fully to enter into the meaning of the sacred writers, resis on the same principle as the demand for a poetic feeling in order to read Milton with success, or a mathematical feeling in order to study in. telligibly Newton and La Place, How can any writer be well and thoroughly understood, when there is not some good degree of community of feeling between him and his re: der? This is so obvious a principle, that it needs only to be stated in order to be recognized.
But still, it would be incorrect to say that Newton or Milton is unintelligible, They have both employed language in its unusual way: or if not always so, yet they have furnished adequate explana. tion of what they do mean. The laws of exegesis are the very same, in reading and explaining Milton, as they are in reading and explaining Pope or Cowper; they are the same in respect to La Place, that they are in respect to Day's mathematics. But in both these cases, higher acquisitions are demanded of the reader in the former instance than in the latter.
It is incorrect, therefore, to say that the Bible is unintelligible, or to say that the usual laws of interpretation are not to be applied to it, because an individual's feelings must be in unison with those of the writers, in order to understand all which they say.
Let me add a word also by way of caution, in regard to the subject now under consideration. There is a way of inculcating the truth, that the natural man receiveth and knoweth not the things of the Spirit,” which is adapted to make a wrong impression on the minds of men. They are prone to deduce from certain representations of this subject which have sometimes been made, the conclusion that natural men can understand no part of the Bible, and that they must be regenerated before they can have any right views of ihe Scriptures, But this is carrying the doctrine much beyond its just limits. A great part of the Bible is addressed to intelligent, rational, moral beings as such. All men belong to this class; and because this is so, they are capable of understanding the sacred writers, at least so far as they designed originally to be understood by all, and so far as the great purposes of warning and instruction are concerned. It is the con. demnation of men, that light has come into the world, and they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” Our Saviour could not have said, that if he had not come and spoken to the Jews, they would not have had sin,' except on the ground that the light which he communicated to them, rendered them altogether inexcusable, Let the preachers of the divine word take good care, then, that they do not so represent the ignorance of sinners as to diminish their guilt, When this ignorance is represented as involuntary, or as a inatter of dire necessity, then is this offence committed.
Obj. 3. But is it not God who speaks in the Bible, and not man? How can we expect the words of God himself to be scanned by the rules of human language ?
The answer is brief, and like to that which has already been given, When God speaks to men, he speaks more humana, in human language; and this, in condescension to our wants. Does he expect us to understand the language of angels? He does not. The Bible is filled with the most ample illustrations of this, Every where human idioms and forms of speech, common to the Jewish nation and to in. dividuals, are employed by the sacred writers. All the varieties of style and expression are observable in these writers, which we see any where else. The same figures of speech are employed; the same modes of address and instruction. We have historic narration, gene. alogical catalogues, prose, poetry, proverbs, addresses, sermons, parables, allegories, enigmas even; and all this in a way similar to that found in the works of uninspired writers. It is the matter rather than the manner, which characterizes the superiority of the Scriptures, The manner indeed is sublime, irnpressive, awful, delightful. But this is intimately connected with the elevated matter, the high and holy contents of the Bible. After all due allowances for this, we may say, that the manner is the manner of men; it is by men and for
We come, then, after canvassing these principal objections against the position which has been advanced, to the conclusion before stated, viz. that the rules of interpretation applied to other books, are applicable to the Scriptures. If their contents are peculiar, (as they are,) still we apply the same laws to them as to other books that are peculiar, i, e. we construe them in accordance with the matter which they contain. If there are peculiarities belonging to individual writers, as is the fact with respect to several of them, we still apply the same principles to the interpretation of them which we do to other peculiar writers, i. e. we compare such writers with themselves, and illustrate them in this way. In short, no case occurs to my mind, in which the general principle above stated will not hold good, unless it be one which has been often proposed, and strenuously asserted, and which still has deep hold on the minds of some in our religious community; I mean the position that some of the Scriptures has a double sense, a temporal and a spiritual meaning at one and tbe same time. If this be true, it is indeed an exception to all the rules of interpretation which we apply to other books. But whether it be well grounded, in my apprehension may be doubted, salva fide et salva ecclesia. The discussion of the question respecting this, however, would occupy too much room for the present. If Providence permit, it will be mado the subject of examination at some future period.
THE CHURCH. (Under this series the attention of our readers will be called to the Constitution, Ordinances, Laws, and Discipline of the Christian Church; general views of the Church of God, prefatory to the Christian Institution, first demanding consideration.]
NO. 1, LET men say what they please, the church with its affairs, its origin, fortunes, and consummation, is the most ample and elevated theme to which the mind of man, to which the towering hierarchies of heaven can aspire. Displays of divine greatness-of power, wisdom, and goodnsss, to the amplitude of creation, elevate and astonish all finite intelligence; but the moral effulgence, grandeur, sublimity, in the harmony of truth, justice, mercy, and love, to the amplitude of the eternal redemption of fallen man, present to all intellects a more transcendant glory, a more enrapturing and transporting excellency:
1. “'Twas glorious to create'more glorious to redeem!" .
Let haughty mortals, aspiring to be gods on earth, frown or fret. The eternal glory of the church stands engraven on her. gates and towers as the final consummation of God's'eternal purpose in creation, providence, and redemption. For this the foundations of the earth were laid, and the curtains of the heavens were stretched abroad. But they all shall wax old as does a garment, and as a vesture shall they be folded up! The pillars of the earth shall crumble down to dust, and the everlasting mountains melt away when this building of grace shall be completed, when the many sons of God are cognied up to be enrolled in heaven. The frame of political socieiy-nay, the frame of the m erial system, is but the scaffolding to the walls of Zion: for when the last stone is fitted for the heavenly temple, the earth, with all the works of man upon it, its cities, palaces, temples, towers, sh. II be dissolved, and the new heavens and earth, long foretold by God's holy seers, shall appear to our admiring eyes, amidst the acclamations of the myriads of myriads and millions of millions of the ransomed sons of God. '
But now the creation proceeds. The multiplication of our race is in progress. The vegetable and animal generations yield their abundant products in proportion to the wants of mai), for whom suns rise and set, moons wax and wane, tides ebb and flow, seasuns revolve, and all nature teems with life. God created the farm, built the house, planted the garden, and furnished millions of servants to minister to man, all within the space of six days. But for six thousand years he has been creating, preserving, and redeeming man. The old creation always precedes the new-the natural first, the spiritual second. But as generations and nations increase, God, by the operation of the economy of grace, “takes out of them a people for his name."
Tiis leads us to speak of the society called the church." In its full import, as inclusive of the nations of the redeemed in all ages, it began in the family of Adam. Abel placed by Paul at the head of the long line of saints of great and eternal renown, was the first who, by faith in God's promise, exhibited in offering more sacrifice than Cain, obtained for himself the reputation of citizenship in this elect assembly. Cain, incited by pride, envy, and a worldly temper, be came incensed against his brother. That arch apostate who plotted the revolt and consequent overthrow of Adam and Eve, and occasioned their expulsion from Eden and the presence of the Lord, next machinated the extinction of the church in the person of its first born Son. He instigated Cain, the first born of the flesh, to persecute to death his own brother, a son of Adam, and a son of God. Cain the husbandman, and Abel the shepherd, both appeared at the altar. Abel wa'ked by faith, while Cain walked by his own experience, Cain, like many a graceless sinner, thanked God for food and raiment; while Abel, bringing his lamb also, mindful not only of the common bounties he enjoyed, but in faith of revelations concerning future times, presents a sin offering to the Lord. God testified of his gifts and offerings, graciously receiving them at his hand; while Cain, slighted in his offering, became incensed, and meditated ven. geance against his brother, for no fault but that of faith. Abel, to his .. eternal fame, falls a martyr to his faith in the promises of God.
Faith forsook not the earth with the spirit of Abel. God's church since its birth was never extinct on earth. Eve, in the faith of God's promises to her, on the birth of Seth, said, "God has appointed me another seed instead of Abel whom Cain slew” The God of Abel was the God of Soth. In the time of Enos, son of Seth, the faithful