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Method of prosecuting our Inquiries in Polemic Divinity..... The use to
be made of Scholia, Paraphrases, and Commentaries....Danger of relying on human guidance in matters of Religion.
I now come more particularly to the method of prosecuting these inquiries in polemic divinity. The briefest, and, therefore, not the worst way, is by means of systems. And of these, I own, I generally like the shortest best. My reason is, that all of them, without exception, have on certain topics, and in some degree or other, departed from the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus. They have indulged too much to imagination, and fallen at times into the dotage about questions and strifes of words which minister contention, and not godly edifying, and they have not sufficiently known, or acknowledged, the limits on those sublime subjects, which God hath assigned to the human faculties. It ought never to be forgotten by. the student, that the deity hath prescribed bounds to the human mind, as well as to the mighty ocean, and in effect tells us in his word, “Thus far shalt thou come and no farther, and here shall thy airy flights, thy proud excursions be staid.” If the student can, let him provide himself in some of the most approved systems on the different sides. 'Tis error, not truth, vice, not virtue that fears the light. You may rest
assured of it, that, if any teacher exclaims against such a fair and impartial inquiry, and would limit you to the works of one side only, the reason is, whatever he may pretend, and however much he may disguise it even from himself, he is more solicitous to make you his own follower, than the follower of Christ, and a blind retainer to the sect to which he has attached himself, than a well instructed friend of truth, without any partial respects to persons or parties. On reading an article in one system, let him peruse the correspondent article in the others, and examine impartially by scripture as he proceeds; and in this manner, let him advance from one article to another, till he hath canvassed the whole. 'Tis more than probable, that on some points he will conclude them all to be in the wrong; because all may go farther than holy writ affords a foundation for deciding, a thing by no means uncommon ; but in no case, wherein they differ, can more than one be in the right. If he shall find it expedient afterwards to inquire more narrowly into some branches of controversy, he will have an opportunity of reading books written on purpose on both sides the question. If he should not have it in his power to consult different systems, he will find a good deal of some of our principal controversies in Burnet's exposition of the articles, and Pearson on the Creed. When thus far advanced, he may occasionally as he finds a difficulty (and in my opinion he ought not otherwise) consult scholia and commentaries. Of these I like the first best, both because they are briefer, and because they promise less. The scholiast proposes only to assist you in interpreting some passages, which, in the course of his study, he has met with things that serve
to illustrate; whereas the commentator sets out with the express purpose of explaining every thing. I have the less faith in him on that account, and am ready to say with Horace, “Quid dignum tanto feret hic pro,missor hiatu.”
I own, for I will tell you freely what I think, that of all the kinds of expositors, I like least the paraphrast. There is in him, an appearance of presumption, both in giving what he seems to imagine a more proper style to the inspired writer, and in his manner of interweaving his own sentiments indiscriminately with those delivered by unerring wisdom, with which neither the commentator nor the scholiast is chargeable; for in these the text and commentary are never confounded by being blended. Another fault in paraphrascs, of which few or no commentaries, that I know of, can be accused, is that you have, by way of explanation, in the former, to wit the paraphrase, the sentiments of the paraphrast alone; whereas in the latter, the commentary, you have often the opinions of others also, with their reasons, which, notwithstanding the partiality of the relater, will to the judicious reader often appear preferable. I do not say however, that paraphrase can never be a useful mode of explication, though I own, that the cases wherein it may be reckoned not improper, nor altogether unuseful, are not numerous. As the only valuable aim of this species of exposition is to give greater perspicuity to the text, obscurity is the only reasonable plea for employing it. When the style is extremely concise or figurative, or when there are frequent allusions to customs or incidents now not generally known, to add as much as is
necessary for supplying an ellipsis, explaining an unusual figure, or
suggesting an unknown fact, or custom alluded to, may serve to render scripture more intelligible, without taking much from its energy by the paraphrastic dress it is put in. But if the use and occasions of paraphrase be only such, as have been now represented, it is evident, that there are but a few books of holy writ, and but certain portions of those few, that require to be treated in this manner. No historical piece is written with greater simplicity and perspicuity than the history contained in the Bible, and both as to facts and moral instructions, we have not any thing more eminent in this respect, than the gospels. Yet nothing is more common, than the attempt of paraphrasing these. And indeed the notions, which the generality of paraphrasts seem to entertain on this subject, are curious. If we judge from their productions, we must conclude, that they have considered such a size of subject-matter (if I may be indulged in the expression) as affording a proper foundation for a composition of such a magmtude, and have therefore laid it down as a maxim, from which in their practice they do not often depart, that the most commodious way of giving to the work the proposed extent, is that equal portions of the text (perspicuous or obscure it matters not) should be equally protracted*. Thus regarding only quantity, they view their text, and parcel it, and treat it in much the same manner, as gold-beaters and wire-drawers do the metals on which their art is employed. Verbosity is the proper character of this kind of composition. The professed design of the paraphrast is to say in many words what his text expresseth in few : accordingly all the writers of this class must be at pains to provide themselves in a sufficient stock of synonymas, epithets, expletives, circumlocutions and tautologies, which are in fact the necessary implements of their craft. A deficiency of words is no doubt oftener than the contrary, the cause of obscurity. Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio: but this evil may also be the effect of an exuberance. By a multiplicity of words the sentiment is not set off and accommodated, but like David equipt in Saul's armour, it is incumbered and opprest.
* See Philosophy of Rhetoric, Book III. Chap. 2:
Yet this is not the only, nor perhaps the worst consequence resulting from this manner of treating sacred writ. In the very best compositions of this kind, that can be expected, the gospel may be compared to a rich wine of a high flavour, diluted in such a quantity of water, as renders it extremely vapid. This would be the case, if the paraphrase (which is indeed hardly possible) took vo tincture from the opinions of the paraphrast, but exhibited faithfully, though insipidly, the sentiments of the text. Whereas in all those paraphrases we have seen, the gospel may more justly be compared to such a wine as hath been mentioned, so much adulterated with a liquor of a very different taste and quality, that little or nothing of its original relish and properties can be discovered. Accordingly in one paraphrase, Jesus Christ appears in the character of a bigotted papist, in another of a flaming protestant ; in one he argues with all the sophistry of the Jesuit, in another he declaims with all the fanaticism of the Jansenist ; in one you trace the metaphysical ratiocinations of Arminius, in another you recognise the bold conclusions of Gomarus ; and you hear the language of a man who has thoroughly imbibed the