Images de page
PDF
ePub

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

promissor 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 paraphrases, 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 magnitude, 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 la. boro, 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:

1

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 no 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 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 differ. ent 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,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

and
your
end is answered. 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 need-
ful 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 meth-
ods, I'll answer for them, are the surest and most
effectual, for making you become in religion the ser-
vants 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

« PrécédentContinuer »