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CORRELATIVE CHARACTER OF
PRIVILEGES AND DUTIES.
Rom. iii, 1. 2. 9.
WHAT ADVANTAGE THEN HATH THE JEW: OR WHAT PROFIT IS
THERE OF CIRCUMCISION? MUCH EVERY WAY: CHIEFLY BECAUSE THAT UNTO THEM WERE COMMITTED THE ORACLES OF GOD.......
WHAT THEN? ARE WE BETTER THAN THEY? NO, IN
It is no new remark, that the writings of St. Paul present greater difficulties to the student of the word of God, than any other of the doctrinal parts of Scripture. And of course in this, as in all other cases, any obscurity, which hangs over these writings, must be very much increased, when they are presented to us in small detached portions, separated from the thread of the argument, as is the case with the parts read in the public services of our Church. Indeed, very many chapters of the epistles, when thus offered to the notice of those who have not such an acquaintance with their contents, as to be able of themselves to supply the broken links of the chain of reasoning, must necessarily fail entirely in conveying their real and original meaning in such a manner as to be understood. Such passages, therefore, would little profit the hearer, were it not, that Scripture, even when partially and imperfectly comprehended, may yet be rich in lessons of practical holiness: and by its very crumbs and fragments, nourish the spiritual life of the soul, and purify the feelings; though the understanding wander far from the mark in searching out its real import. So much, indeed, is this the case, and so true is it that spiritual improvement has to do rather with the heart than with the head, that we cannot doubt that the humble, uninstructed, ignorant hearer often derives more instruction from passages of Scripture, than the clear-sighted, accurate, learned theologian does. The one, though he may not follow the reasoning of the inspired record, feels its force: the other, we may fear, not unfrequently traces out the chain of reasoning with critical skill, and follows the connection of the argument, but without realising to his own conscience the practical importance of the sacred truths, or tasting the spiritual application, even when he sees clearly the logical strength.
But though Scripture be thus made by God to avail in some degree for the purpose for which he gave it, even when imperfectly understood; no doubt the want of a due comprehension of its meaning is a bar to its usefulness; the effect of which must, as I said, be often felt by the reader or hearer of the detached portions presented to us, in our public services.
In fact, the whole division of the Bible into chapters, though convenient for the purpose of reference, tends very much by its artificial arrangement and subdivision to perplex the sense of the less easy parts. And the same evil, which arises from reading single chapters, may attach still more strongly to considering separately yet smaller portions. So that, if the division into chapters be one of questionable utility; that into verses is, except as a means of reference and a help to the memory, an undoubted evil-to an extent, indeed, which may, perhaps, make us regret that unfortunate leisure of Robert Stephens, during his journey from Lyons to Paris, in the year 1551, in the course of which he framed that division of the New Testament into verses, which is now in use. For, doubtless, this separating of Scripture into fragments is a means of enabling perversions of Christian truth to be made and supported on the authority of Scripture itself: and of facilitating the marshalling passages against passages, and texts against texts, where, perhaps, on a more connected view of the whole portions from which such texts are taken, such fancied discrepancies would disappear. The whole of the observations on this subject, in the admirable preface to Locke's paraphrase of some of St. Paul's epistles, are so just and forcible, that I cannot but recommend them to the notice of my younger hearers : and I do not doubt that the opinion he expresses is a just one, viz., that whoever wishes to attain a knowledge of the full scope and meaning of any of the epistles of St. Paul, is far more likely to do so by reading through the whole epistle, even less carefully, at a single time, as he would any other letter, than by bestowing, at different times, the most minute attention on single chapters and individual verses.
Not, indeed, that this comprehensive view of Scripture would supersede the necessity for a more accurate and detailed examination of it. For each mode of study has its proper end and object: the one, to give us the full scope and bearing of the writer's design ; the other, to expand and develop in their practical application the lessons of divine truth, thrown out, as it were, by the way. The one shows as the port, to which the course of the vessel is ultimately directed; the other exhibits to us the fair prospects, and guides us along all the pleasant coasts which it visits in its voyages.
If, however, there be any part of these writings of St. Paul, in respect to which a general view of the context is especially necessary, in order to develop to us its meaning, it is that portion of the epistle to the Romans, from which I have taken my text. In proceeding, therefore, to discourse upon
this passage, before I endeavour to deduce from it the practical instruction, which it will be my object to enforce, I will attempt just so far to connect these verses with their immediate context as to give us their meaning; without entering beyond this into the general argument of the epistle, which
my limits on the present occasion would not permit.
I have, indeed, nothing new to offer as regards the interpretation of this important portion of the word of God. But there are in all congregations some, to whom truths, old in themselves, come with the force of novelty: while, on the other hand, they, who are best and most practically acquainted with the doctrines of our faith, will ever be most ready to hail them with satisfaction as familiar friends, and to prefer them in their recollected simplicity to novelties however specious—to fancies, however brilliant and well adorned. And again ; though the practical inferences I shall draw from this passage, be no other than such as each individual might readily supply for himself; it may not, by the blessing of God, be altogether useless to be reminded of duties, however obvious, and to have the plainest suggestions of conscience stirred up within our hearts.
St. Paul, intending in this epistle fully to open the great doctrine of the Gospel, that in it justification is freely offered to all through the atoning