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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 objections, 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 examination of the passage and other similar passages 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 inve. teracy hardly to be cured. Scripture, they readily admít, to be the only divine and infallible rule; all human 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
testants, the only tribunal, in the last resort, in all questions of faith? Do they admit an appeal from the verdict of this supreme arbitress, either to the judgment of individuals, or to that of any societies of men, whatever denomination you may please to give them, or with whatever jurisdiction you may think fit to vest them? Is not her decision, on the contrary, admitted on all hands to be final ? Hear the church of England on this point. Article sixth, entitled, “Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may
proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” And again article twenty-first, entitled, “Of the Authority of General Councils. When they (general councils) be gathered together (for as much as they be an assembly of men whereof all be not governed with the spirit and word of God) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may
be declared, that they be taken out of holy scripture." Hear on the same head the avowed sentiments of the church of Scotland. Westminster Confession, first chapter, entitled, Of the Holy Scripture, sixth paragraph. “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture ; unto which nothing at any time is to be added.” Again chapter thirty-first, entitled, Of Synods and Councils, fourth paragraph. “All synods or councils, since the apostles' time, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred, therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be read as an help in both.”
I am aware that an argument may be drawn (which to some will no doubt appear plausible) from these very declarations. If private men liave erred, if even synods and councils have erred, would it not be extreme arrogance in me, may one say, unassisted and alone in my inquiries, to think that I should escape error, altogether ? But how easily is this plea retorted. If private persons, if even the wise and learned have erred, if synods and councils have erred, what security have I in their direction? Yet that all these have erred, egregiously erred, appears unquestionably from their mutual contradictions and jars. On the other side, there is no such ground of fear from the aforesaid reflection (as one would at first imagine) that in our inquiries into scripture we shall err materially, even though alone and unassisted by any human expositor or council.
I have before now assigned the reason, why human interpretations of scripture, whether private or what hath been called authoritative, are, notwithstanding the perspicuity of that book, so infinitely various. The same would be the fate of any book whatever that were treated in the same manner. Men begin with deriving their opinions from another source, and being perfectly full of these opinions and wedded to them, they have recourse to scripture, not to discover the doctrines contained there, but to discover there their own opinions, that is, in other words, to exercise all their art and ingenuity to give such a turn