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take as phe truly hisce, and hayalible in
This, indeed, seeins to make the case desperate : for if the comments and expositions of pious and learned men cannot be depended on, whither shall we go for help? To which I answer, I would not be mistaken, as if I thought the labours of the learned in this case wholly lost and fruitless. There is great use and benefit to be made of them, when we have once got a rule, to know which of their expositions, in the great variety there is of them, explains the words and phrases according to the apostle's meaning. Until then it is evident, from what is above said, they serve for the inost part to no other use, but either to make us find our own sense, and not his, in St. Paul's words; or else to find in them no settled sense at all.
Here it will be asked, “ How shall we come by this s rule you mention? Where is that touchstone to be “ had, that will show us, whether the meaning we our
selves put, or take as put by others, upon St. Paul's “ words, in his epistles, be truly his meaning or no?” I will not say the way which I propose, and have in the following paraphrase followed, will make us infallible in our interpretations of the apostle's text: but this I will own, that till I took this way, St. Paul's epistles, to me, in the ordinary way of reading and studying them, were very obscure parts of scripture, that left me almost everywhere at a loss; and I was at a great uncertainty, in which of the contrary senses, that were to be found in his commentators, he was to be taken. Whether what I have done has made it any clearer, and more visible, now, I must leave others to judge. This I beg leave to say for myself, that if some very sober, judicious christians, no strangers to the sacred scriptures, nay, learned divines of the church of England, had not professed, that by the perusal of these following papers, they understood the epistles much better than they did before, and had not, with repeated instances, pressed me to publish them, I should not have consented they should have gone beyond my own private use, for which they were at first designed, and where they made me not repent my pains.
If any one be so far pleased with my endeavours, as to think it worth while to be informed, what was the clue I guided myself by, through all the dark passages of these epistles, I shall minutely tell him the steps by which I was brought into this way, that he may judge whether I proceed rationally, upon right grounds, or no; if so be any thing, in so mean an example as mine, may be worth his notice.
After I had found by long experience, that the reading of the text and comments in the ordinary way, proved not so successful as I wished, to the end proposed, I began to suspect, that in reading a chapter as was usual, and thereupon sometimes consulting expositors upon some hard places of it, which at that time inost affected me, as relating to points then under consideration in my own mind, or in debate amongst others, was not a right method to get into the true sense of these epistles. I saw plainly, after I began once to reflect on it, that if any one now should write me a letter, as long as St. Paul's to the Romans, concerning such a matter as that is, in a style as foreign, and expressions as dubious, as his seem to be, if I should divide it into fifteen or sixteen chapters, and read of them one to-day, and another to-morrow, &c. it was ten to one, I should never come to a full and clear comprehension of it. The way to understand the mind of him that writ it, every one would agree, was to read the whole letter through, from one end to the other, all at once, to see what was the main subject and tendency of it: or if it had several views and purposes in it, not dependent one of another, nor in a subordination to one chief aim and end, to discover what those different matters were, and where the author concluded one, and began another; and if there were any necessity of dividing the epistle into parts, to make these the boundaries of them.
In prosecution of this thought, I concluded it necessary,for the understanding of any one of St. Paul's epistles, to read it all through at one sitting; and to observe, as well as I could, the drift and design of his writing it. If the first reading gave me some light, the second gave me more; and so I persisted on, reading constantly the whole epistle over at once, till I came to have a good
general view of the apostle's main purpose in writing the epistle, the chief branches of his discourse wherein he prosecuted it, the arguments he used, and the disposition of the whole. · This, I confess, is not to be obtained by one or two hasty readings; it must be repeated again and again, with a close attention to the tenour of the discourse, and a perfect neglect of the divisions into chapters and verses. On the contrary, the safest way is to suppose, that the epistle has but one business and one aimn, until, by a frequent perusal of it, you are forced to see there are distinct independent matters in it, which will forwardly enough show themselves.
It requires so much more pains, judgment, and application, to find the coherence of obscure and abstruse wri. tings, and makes them so much the more unfit to serve prejudice and pre-occupation, when found; that it is not to be wondered, that St. Paul's epistles have, with many, passed rather for disjointed, loose, pious discourses, full of warmth and zeal and overflows of light, rather than for calm, strong, coherent reasonings, that carried a thread of argument and consistency all through them.
But this muttering of lazy or ill-disposed readers hindered me not from persisting in the course I had begun: I continued to read the same epistle over and over, and over again, until I came to discover as appeared to me, what was the drift and aim of it, and by what steps and arguments St. Paul prosecuted his purpose. I remembered that St. Paul was miraculously called to the mi. nistry of the gospel, and declared to be a chosen vessel ; that he had the whole doctrine of the gospel from God, by immediate revelation; and was appointed to be the apostle of the Gentiles, for the propagating of it in the heathen world. This was enough to persuade me, that he was not a man of loose and shattered parts, incapable to argue, and unfit to convince those he had to deal with. God knows how to choose fit instruments for the business he employs them in. A large stock of jewish learning he had taken in, at the feet of Gamaliel ; and for his information in christian knowledge, and the mysteries and depths of the dispensation of grace by Jesus Christ, God himself had condescended to be his instructor and teacher. The light of the gospel he had received from the Fountain and Father of light himself, who, I concluded, had not furnished him in this extraordinary manner, if all this plentiful stock of learning and illumination had been in danger to have been lost, or proved useless, in a jumbled and confused head; nor have laid up such a store of admirable and useful knowledge in a man, who, for want of method and order, clearness of conception, or pertinency in discourse, could not draw it out into use with the greatest advantages of force and coherence. That he knew how to prosecute this purpose with strength of argument, and close reasoning, without incoherent sallies, or the intermixing of things foreign to his business, was evident to me, from several speeches of his, recorded in the Acts: and it was hard to think, that a man that could talk with so much consistency, and clearness of conviction, should not be able to write without confusion, inextricable obscurity, and perpetual rambling. The force, order, and perspicuity of those discourses, could not be denied to be very visible. How, then, came it, that the like was thought much wanting in his epistles ? And of this there appeared to me this plain reason: the particularities of the history, in which these speeches are inserted, show St. Paul's end in speaking; which, being seen, casts a light on the whole, and shows the pertinency of all that he says. But his epistles not being so circumstantiated; there being no concurring history, that plainly declares the disposition St. Paul was in; what the actions, expectations, or demands of those to whom he writ, required him to speak to, we are nowhere told. All this, and a great deal more, necessary to guide us into the true meaning of the epistles, is to be had only from the epistles themselves, and to be gathered from thence with stubborn attention, and more than common application.
This being the only safe guide (under the Spirit of God, that dictated these sacred writings) that can be relied on, I hope I may be excused, if I venture to say, that the utmost ought to be done to observe and trace out St. Paul's reasonings; to follow the thread of his discourse in each of his epistles; to show how it goes on, still directed with the same view, and pertinently drawing the several incidents towards the same point. To understand him right, his inferences should be strictly observed; and it should be carefully examined, from what they are drawn, and what they tend to. He is certainly a coherent, argumentative, pertinent writer ; and care, I think, should be taken, in expounding of him, to show that he is so. But though I say, he has weighty aims in his epistles, which he steadily keeps in his eye, and drives at, in all he says; yet I do not say, that he puts his discourses into an artificial method; or leads his reader into a distinction of his arguments, or gives them notice of new matter, by rhetorical or studied transitions. He has no ornaments borrowed from the Greek eloquence; no notions of their philosophy mixed with his doctrine, to set it off. The enticing words of man's wisdom, whereby he means all the studied rules of the Grecian schools, which made them such masters in the art of speaking, he, as he says himself, 1 Cor. ii. 4, wholly neglected. The reason whereof he gives in the next verse, and in other places. But though politeness of language, delicacy of style, fineness of expression, laboured periods, 'artificial transitions, and à very methodical ranging of the parts, with such other embellishments as make a discourse enter the mind smoothly, and strike the fancy at first hearing, have little or no place in his style ; yet coherence of discourse, and a direct tendency of all the parts of it to the argument in hand, are most eminently to be found in him. This I take to be his character, and doubt not but it will be found to be so upon diligent examination. And in this, if it be so, we have a clue, if we will take the pains to find it, that will conduct us with surety, through those seemingly dark places, and imagined intricacies, in which christians have wandered so far one from another, as to find quite contrary senses.