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system of one or other of our christian rabbies. So various and so opposite are the characters, which in those performances our Lord is made to sustain, and the dialects which he is made to speak. How different is his own character and dialect ? If we be susceptible of the impartiality, and have attained the knowledge requisite to constitute us proper judges in these matters, we shall find, in what he says, nothing that can be thought to favour the subtle disquisitions of a sect. His language is not, like that of all dogmatists, the language of a bastard philosophy, which under the pretence of methodising religion hath corrupted it, and in less or more tinged all the parties into which christendom is divided. His language is not so much the language of the head, as of the heart ; his object is not science but wisdom, his discourses accordingly abound more in sentiments, than in opinions. His diction in general is so plain, and his instructions in the main are so obvious and striking, that it is scarely possible to conceive another design that any man can have in paraphrasing them, than to give what I may call an evangelical dress to his own notions, to make the passages of our Lord's history, his sayings and parables serve as a kind of vehicle for conveying into the minds of the readers the opinions of the expositor. And is not this actually the effect they commonly produce in their too implicit and habitual readers ? Are you willing to call the ingenious and learned Erasmus, your father and leader and master in religious truths ? Do you desire to understand christianity no otherwise than he is pleased to exhibit it ? Have recourse to his Latin paraphrase of the New Testament. Seek the religion of Jesus only there, and your end is answered. Would
Would you rather pay this homage to some of our English interpreters ? Suppose for example the mild, the dispassionate, the abstract, the rational Dr. Clarke. Let his paraphrase on the gospels serve you, as all the information needful of the history and teaching of Jesus : or if the devout, the warm, the serious Dr. Doddridge more engages you, make his Family Expositor your only counsellor as to the mind and will of Christ. And these methods, I'll answer for them, are the surest and most effectual, for making you become in religion the servants and disciples of men. But if, on the contrary, it is neither the gospel of Erasmus, nor the gospel of Clarke, nor the gospel of Doddridge, but the gospel of Jesus Christ, that you want to be acquainted with ; if ye would not that your faith should stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God; if sensible, that ye are bought with a price, ye are resolved not to be the servants of men ; if you gratefully and generously purpose to stand fast in the liberty where with Christ hath made you free, to call no man father on the earth, having one Father who is in heaven, and to call no man rabbi, leader, head or master on the earth, knowing that ye yourselves are all brethren, and have one leader, head and master Christ, who is at the right hand of God; if this, I say, is your settled purpose, read, habitually read his history and divine lessons, as they are recorded by those, whom he himself hath employed, and whom his spirit hath guided in the work, the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I shall tell you honestly my opinion. I have consulted paraphrases occasionally, and those too, written on different sides; I have compared them carefully with the original work they pretended to illustrate ; and abstracting from all other faults and defects, I have always found them, upon the whole, much inferior to the text in point of perspicuity. The latter hath ever appeared to me the more intelligible of the two. I do not say, that you may not consult them occasionally, as you would any other kind of exposition or commentary. But I repeat it, with regard to all kinds of interpretation whatever, that it is only occasionally, as when some difficulty occurs of which one is at the time at a loss to think of a satisfactory solution, or when one is desirous to examine, on a particular point, the different hypotheses of different parties, that we should have recourse to them. My idea with regard to commentators, scholiasts, paraphrasts and the whole tribe of expositors, is that they are to be consulted in the same way, and no otherwise, than we do glossaries and dictionaries; which is only when any thing perplexeth us, and we think we cannot do easily without them. But no one of them whatever, ought to be made our guide and conductor in carrying us forward through the sacred pages.
Further in the choice of those we should consult; there can be no doubt but those who have been most eminent for their critical knowledge and freedom of spirit (such as becomes men not servilely attached to a particular sect or party) are entitled to the preference. The learning, as well as the critical acumen and ingenuity of Grotius, have stamped a value upon his commentaries, especially on the gospels, which has hardly been 'equalled by any that has come after him. Yet I am far from saying, he is to be followed implicitly. He has fallen into gross mistakes, which men of much inferior genius have detected and avoided. Hammond and Whitby as commentators have their merit. Maldonat (though a Romish commentator) is not unworthy the attention of the impartial searcher after truth. But still it must be remembered, that they are to be consulted occasionally only, and we are to exercise our own judgments in deciding. In arguments and objec. tions, as well as in textuary difficulties, the student's first resource should be his own reflections; when the sense of any portion of scripture is concerned, a critical examinåtion of the passage and other similar pas. sages should come next, and when these do not answer, the aid of scholiasts, &c. should be the last resource. Let it be a standing maxim, that the student's business is more an habitual exercise of reflection, than barely of reading and remembrance. Are we no longer babes? Have we arrived at some maturity in christian knowledge ? Are our faculties at length enlarged and strengthened by exercise, and shall we hesitate to employ these faculties, when to leave them unemployed, is the surest way possible to debilitate them? When we may walk like men, shall we require to be carried, or at least to be led by the hand, or supported by leading-strings like children?
I know there are many very serious persons, who nevertheless attached by custom to human guidance in matters of religion, will not be able to relish such an indiscriminate rejection of expositors. One favourite author at least they would have excepted, and cannot allow themselves to think, that one is not more secure against error by the help of his direction, than by the light of holy writ alone. Nothing is more difficult than to convince men of the most glaring inconsisten
cies, to which, prior to reflection, they have become habituated, and which therefore have acquired an inveteracy hardly to be cured. Scripture, they readily admit, to be the only divine and infallible rule ; all hu* man interpreters, they will frankly acknowledge, to be fallible, and yet 'tis manifest that in human guidance they think there is greater safety. They will indeed tell
you, that it is by the unerring decision of scripture that all the doctrines of erring men are to be judged ; and yet what the sense of scripture is, they will learn no otherwise, than from the doctrines of erring men. Can any thing be more manifest, than that it is an empty compliment they pay the scriptures, and that their only confidence is in man? Suppose, for example, , that a body politic, or community, were to constitute certain persons judges of all those who should be impeached before them in any cause civil or criminal, declaring themselves resolved to see that the sentences of the judges shall be rigorously executed, but at the same time signifying that they were also resolved to constitute the parties the interpreters of the sentences in their own case, and that according to their interpretation only, the execution was to proceed; could any thing be more absurd, more selfsubversive than such a constitution ? Could any thing be more nugatory than the power they pretended to confer on the judges ? Yet is not the manner in which scripture is complimented, by almost all sects, at least all sectarists, with an authority merely nominal, exactly similar ? Shall I be thought to endanger the cause of truth, the cause of protestantism and of the reformation, by insisting so much on what this very cause hath laid down as a fundamental principle? Is not scripture, with all pro