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Returning from his voyage, he entered anew on his beloved task of preaching the gospel to his people in Virginia. Here he continued till the year 1759. The unusual lustre of his piety and talents was now no longer to be confined to so remote a re gion. A vacancy being occa sioned in the college of New Jersey by the decease of the eminent President Edwards (who had occupied the place but a few days) Mr. Davies was elected by the Trustees to fill the important station. He received the news of this event not merely with concern, but with a kind of consternation. Though earnestly invited to accept the charge, it was with great difficulty he was brought to think it his duty. The province he occupied was important; and it was unspeakably distressing, both to him and his people, united by the strongest bonds of mutual affection, to think of a separation. Repeated applications, however, at length prevailed to shake his resolution. But to preclude all mistake in a case so important, he withheld his consent, until he had submitted the matter to the Rev. synod of New York and Philadelphia. They unanimously gave their opinion in favour of his acceptance. Thus, to use his own expressions, the evidence of his duty was so plain, that even his sceptical mind was satisfied; while his people saw the hand of Providence in it, and dared not oppose.
The period of his presidency was equally auspicious to the college, and honourable to himself. It was here that he gave the crowning evidence of the vigor and versatility of his geni
us. His previous situation had afforded little leisure and com paratively few means, for the cultivation of general science. He came likewise to the college at a time when its literary state and reputation had been much improved by the great and ac knowledged abilities of President Burr. It was natural, therefore, that even his friends should have some doubts of his complete preparation to fill and adorn so exalted a sphere. But it soon appeared that the force and activity of his mind had supplied every defect, and surmounted every obstacle. His official duties were discharged, from the first, with an ability which disappointed ev ery fear, and realized the brightest hopes.
The ample opportunities and demands which he found for the exercise of his talents, gave a new spring to his diligence. While his active labours were multiplied and arduous, his ap plication to study was unusually intense. His exertions through the day seemed rather to dispose him for reading,than rest by night. Though he rose by break of day, he seldom retired till twelve o'clock, or a later hour. His suc; cess was proportionate. By the united efforts of his talents and industry, he left the college, at his death, in as high literary excellence, as it had ever known since its institution. The few innovations which he introduced into the academical exercises and plans of study, were confessedly improvements. He was particularly happy in inspir ing his pupils with a taste for composition and oratory, in which he himself so much excel led.
a state of
His unremitted application to study, and to the duties of his office, probably precipitated his death. The habit of his body being plethoric, his health had, for some years, greatly depended on the exercise of riding, to which he was, from necessity, much habituated in Virginia. This salutary employment had been, from the time he took the charge of the college, almost entirely relinquished. Toward the close of January, 1761, he was seized with a bad cold, for which he was bled. The same day, he transcribed for the press his sermon on the death of king George the Second. The day following, he preached twice in the college hall. The arm in which he had been bled, became in consequence, much inflamed, and his former indisposition increased. On the morning of the succeeding Monday, he was seized, while at breakfast, with violent chills. An inflammatory fever followed, which, in ten days, put a period to his important life.
What are called premonitions of death, are generally rather the fictions of a gloomy or misguided imagination, than realities. Yet the following anecdote contains so singular a concurrence of circumstances, as gives it a claim to be recorded.
A few days before the beginning of the year in which Mr. Davies died, an intimate friend told him, that a sermon would be expected from him on new year's day; adding, among other things, that President Burr, on the first day of the year in which he died, preached a sermon on Jer. xxviii. 16. Thus saith the Lord, This year thou shalt die : and that after his death, the peo
ple remarked that it was premonitory. Mr. Davies replied, that "although it ought not to be viewed in that light, yet it was very remarkable." When newyear's day came he preached; and, to the surprise of the congregation, from the same text. Being seized about three weeks afterward, he soon adverted to the circumstance, and remarked, that he had been undesignedly led to preach, as it were, his own funeral sermon.
It is to be regretted that the violence of his disorder deprived him of the exercise of reason, through most of his sickness. Had it been otherwise, his friends and the public would doubtless have been gratified with an additional evidence of the transcendent excellence of the Christian religion, and of its power to support the soul in the prospect and approach of death. But he had preached still more emphatically by his life; and even in his delirium, he clearly manifested what were the favourite objects of his concern. His bewildered mind was continually imagining, and his faltering tongue uttering some expedient to promote the prosperity of Christ's church, and the good of mankind.
His premature exit (he was but little more than thirty-six) was generally and justly lamented, as a loss almost irreparable, not only to a distressed family, and a bereaved college, but to the ministry, the church, the community, the republic of letters, and in short, to all the most valuable interests of mankind. An affectionate tribute was paid to his character and virtues, by Dr. Finley, his successor, in a
THOUGH the apostles in writing, as well as in preaching, used great plainness of speech; yet particular passages, taken by themselves, may to us seem obscure. These however may generally be elucidated by other passages, or by the analogy of faith. If they remain of doubtful interpretation, yet the essential doctrines and duties of religion are not endangered by them; for these depend not on a few doubtful or obscure passages, but are plainly taught in innumerable places. Still it may be useful to investigate the meaning of texts, which seem obscure.
The writers of the New Testament, it is well known, used the Greek language, except Matthew and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, who wrote in Aramaan. This was the learned language of the day; most men of education were acquainted with it; and it was the native language of many subjects of the Roman empire; of those particularly, to whom St. Paul wrote most of his epistles. It was, on many accounts, the best language in which the inspired books of the
The inspired writers had occasion to treat of many things, of which the Greeks had no previous knowledge, and for which they had no appropriate terms. But those writers chose such terms and phrases, as were best adapted to express their meaning. Where perspicuity required, they used description. To ascertain the sense of particular terms, it is not necessary to recur to heathen writers; it is better to consult the sacred writers themselves. As they have used words, so we must understand them. They are their
own best interpreters.
The New Testament is written, not in pure, classical Greek, but in a peculiar dialect, which may be called Hebraistical Greek. The writers were Jews, and spake the Hebrew, or rather the Aramean, or Syro-Chaldee language. When they wrote Greek, they introduced into it the idioms of their own language. Thus also did the seventy Jews, who translated the Old Testament into Greek by the command of Ptolemy, king of Egypt. Their translation was in use in the apostles' times, and from it are made most of the quotations from the Old Testament, which we find in the New, Without some ac
quaintance with that translation and with the Hebrew, a man cannot be a very accurate critic in the original language of the New Testament. The study of both may therefore be justly recommended to young gentlemen, who contemplate the ministerial profession.
The Hebrews often express the superlative degree by adding the word God. Exceeding high mountains and trees are called mountains of God and trees of God. This Hebrew idiom is introduced into the Greek of the New Testament. Stephen says of Moses that, when he was born, he was fair according to God, or divinely fair. Our translators have judiciously rendered it exceeding fair.
This observation gives an easy sense to an obscure passage, in 2 Cor. viii. 1. Paul exhorting the Corinthians to send relief to the persecuted saints in Jerusalem, refers them to the example of the Macedonians. "Brethren, we do you to wit," or we make known to you" the grace of God, bestowed on the churches of Macedonia." The grace of God, i. e. (according to the Hebrew idiom) the divine, the godlike, the abundant liberality, bestowed, (not on the churches, but) by, in, among the churches of Macedonia, for the relief of the brethren in Judea. To this, and only to this sense, the following words agree; "How that in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality. For to their power, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves, &c." Vol. II. No. 4. X
As the Hebrew verbs have no present time, the past is often used for the present. The writers of the New Testament have, in some instances, written their Greek in the same manner. John tells us that, when Christ discovered himself to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, he said to her, "Touch me not." Mary, transported with joy at seeing her Lord alive again, fell down and would have embraced his feet, according to the custom of the east, when women saluted men of superior character, especially when they wished to detain them. Thus the woman of Shunem saluted Elisha; and thus the two Marys saluted Jesus. The Lord says to her, "Touch me not," for I am not yet, or have not yet ascended, (anabebeka) i. e. “I do not yet ascend to my Father." You need not detain me; you may have opportunity to see me again. "Go, tell my brethren, that I ascend to my Father and their Father."
The Hebrew verbs, by a small alteration in the radical 'letters, or in the points only, where points are used, give to actions different relations and qualities. These various forms and powers are by grammarians called conjugations. The seventy, and the New Testament writers have sometimes used the Greek verbs, as if they had these Hebrew conjugations. In Psalm cxix. the Seventy use the neutral verb, zao, to live, in an active or transitive sense, to quicken, or cause to live. The same Hebrew idiom we find in the New Testament. Paul gives the Greek word, oida, to know, the power
of the Hebrew conjugation Hiphil to make known. He says to the Corinthians, "I determined not to know," i. e. not to make known, or to preach any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." Thus the same word is probably to be understood in Mark xiii. 32, where some erroneously suppose, that Christ disclaims a knowledge of future events. Speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus says, "Of that day and hour knoweth none, neither the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." Christ had already foretold the event, and given the previous signs of it. Some might wish for a knowledge of the exact time of it. But this knowledge, for various reasons, was improper to be then communicated. Jesus therefore says, "That day and hour none maketh known; no, not the angels, neither the Son." To reveal this belongs not to my commission ; "but it will be made known by the Father," in the course of his providence. We find a similar mode of expression in Christ's answer to the two brethren, who solicited the chief posts of power in the temporal kingdom, which, they imagined, he would soon erect. They ask, "Grant that we may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom." He answers, "To sit on my right hand and on my left," i. e. promotion to temporal honours, "is not mine to give; it is not committed to me. as the Teacher, Reformer, and Saviour of men. But worldly honours "will be given" under my gospel, as they have been heretofore, to them, for whom
they are prepared of my Father." They will be dispensed agreeably to the usual methods of Providence.
This observation will explain a passage in the 9th chap. to the Romans. "He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." An antithesis, which is a frequent figure in Paul's writings, is naturally expected, and was doubtless intended here." He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy." The antithesis to this is, "He withholdeth mercy, from whom he will withhold it." But as there was no single word, in the Greek language, which expressed this antithesis, the writer took the word skleeruno, to harden, and used it according to the intransitive conjugation, in which it would signify, not hardening another, but hardening one's self against another, or shutting up the bowels of mercy. Thus the word is used in the book of Job. The Ostrich is said to be hardened against her young ones. The word, she is hardened, is the same, which Paul uses in the passage under consideration; and rendered there, as it is here, it would be, "She hardeneth her young ones." But the meaning is, "She leaveth her young without care." So the passage in Romans signifies, not that God infuses hardness into sinners; but that he exercises, or forbears to exercise his mercy toward sinners, according to his own sovereign will and unerring wisdom. To whom he will, he shows mercy, and from whom he will he withholds mercy, leaving them to meet their own deserts.