« PreviousContinue »
UR estimation of the holy scriptures should
be proportionable to their importance and excellence. That ignorance of spiritual things, which is so natural to all men, demonstrates their necessity; and the happy influence which they have upon the mind in seasons of adversity and distress, proves their value and utility. They are admirably adapted to our circumstances, as they present us with a complete system of truth and a perfect rule of conduct, and thus make those who properly understand them wise unto sal. vation.
But whatever relates either to faith or to
prac. tice, was delivered in ages very distant from the · present, in places very remote from the spot which we inhabit, and by persons of habits and manners materially different from those with which we are familiar. General and permanently established usages, to which persons conformed themselves from early infancy, must have had a strong hold of the mind, and would greatly influence the turn
of thought and the mode of expression. By these circumstances we must suppose the penman of the scriptures to have been affected; nor can we expect that a revelation coming from God, through the medium of men oflike passions with ourselves, should be divested of such peculiarities. This consideration, so far from disparaging divine revelation, on the principle that it is more local than universal, in some measure serves to authenticate it; for though upon a superficial view of the subject, this circumstance may appear to give it such an aspect, yet upon mature examination it will be found that if it contain those branches and articles of truth, which are of general application, and which are productive of similar effects in distant ages and places, whatever local pecúliarities it may possess, remainconvincingand perpetual evidences of its credibility, while those circumstances are known to have existed, or are in any measure retained by the eastern nations.
If the credibility of the Bible be in any degree connected with the customs which are therein recorded or alluded to, it is certainly very material to observe, that in the East the usages and habits of the people are invariable; many of those which are particularly observable in the scriptures continue to this day unaltered; and doubt. less, many things which are noticed as singu. larities of more recent establishment, may be traced back into ages now almost forgotten, the
distance of time and the remoteness of situation, being the only circumstances which obscure the connexion between the past and the present state of things. Thus many things shall revive which have fallen into decay ; multa renascentur que jam cecidere. Horace, That the eastern customs remain unchanged is a fact that admits of no doubt; it is so incontestable, that the Baron de Montesquieu, in his Spirit of Laws, (b. xiv.c. 4.) has endeavoured to assign a natural cause for it, Sir John Chardin, from whose travels and manuscript papers many articles have been selected for the following work, adverting to his collections for the illustration of the Bible, says, “the language of that divine book (especially of the Old Testament) being oriental, and veryoften figurative and hyperbolical, those parts of scripture which are written in verse, and in the prophecies, are full of figures and hyperboles, which, as it is manifest, cannot be well understood without a knowledge of the things from whence such figures are taken, which are natural properties and particular manners of the countries to which they refer : I discerned this in my first voyage to the Indies; for I gradually found a greater sense and beauty in divers passages of scripture than I had before, by having in my view the things, either natural or moral, which explained them to me: and in perusing the different translations, which the greatest part of the translators of the Bible had made, I observed that every one of them, (to render the expositions as they thought more intelligible) used such expressions as would accommodate the phrase to the places where they wrote, which did not only many
pervert the text, but often rendered the sense ob. scure, and sometimes absurd also. In fine, consulting the commentators upon such kind of
passages, I found very strange mistakes in them; and that they had all along guessed at the sense, and did but grope (as in the dark) in the search of it; and from these reflections I took a resolution to make my remarks upon many passages of the scripture, persuading myself that they would be equally agreeable and profitable for use. And the learned, to whom I communicated my design, encouraged mevery much (by their commendations) to proceed in it; and more especially when I informed them, that it is not in Asia as in our Europe, where there are frequent changes, more or less in the form of things, as the habits, buildings, gardens, and the like. In the East they are constant in all things : the habits are at this day in the same manner as in the precedent ages, so that one may reasonably believe, that in that part of the world the exterior forms of things, (as their manners and customs) are the same now as they were two thousand years since, except in such changes as may have been introduced by religion, which are nevertheless very inconsider, able." (Preface to Travels in Persia, p. vi.)