« AnteriorContinuar »
something more than the guidance of man is necessary: and the royal prophet was sensible of it,' when he said, Open thou mine eyes, that I may see the wondrous things of thy law.— Even in men of honest minds, well affected to the truth, there was found a slowness of heart, which our blessed Saviour found it necessary to remove by his own immediate grace, before his discourse could be understood: then opened he their understandings, that they might understand the scripture.
These, and many other like passages, shew, that there is a certain obscurity in the language of the bible, which renders it difficult to be understood; that there is something which common eyes cannot discern: and it may be collected from what happens to us in every other kind of learning, that there are elements or principles which must be known and allowed, before we can understand what the scriptures contain. The case of the Jews demonstrates by a notorious fact, that the matter of the bible may be grossly misapprehended and falsely interpreted. They were zealously affected, after their manner, to Moses and the prophets: they were familiarly acquainted with their writings, and understood the original language in which they were delivered. But still, they had eyes B 4 without tvithout seeing, and ears without hearing. The bible was open before them; but their attention or their affection (one of the two it must have been) did not penetrate beyond the surface. And as our Saviour preached to them in the same way as Moses and the prophets had written (of which we shall see more hereafter), they were as much at a loss for the meaning of his discourses, as for the true sense of the law and the prophets. The same defect may be in us at this day, and certainly is in many, although we have the scripture* in our mother tongue; a blessing which was denied to us so long as we were under the authority of the Church of Rome. If a man hears the bible all his life with a Jewish mind, he will know no more of it at last than the Jews do. The son of Adam will be left as ignorant as the son of Abraham, unless his heart and understanding are opened to admit the principles of the Christian Revelation. It is vain to argue about the superstructure, so long as the foundation is disputed, either through ignorance or disaffection.
This obscurity then in the word of God doth not arise from the language or the grammar; for so far the bible, like other books, is the subject of critical industry: and much useful labour hath been employed by learned and pious men in clearing the letter of the scripture from the ambiguities to which all language is subject. The difficulties under which the Jews laboured were not grammatical difficulties: and whatever these may be in the original, they are removed for all common readers by the translation of the bible into their mother tongue. The great difficulties of the scripture arise totally from other causes and principles; namely, from the matter of which it treats, and the various forms under which that matter is delivered.
Let us consider first, how the case stands with respect to the matter of the scripture; and then secondly, with respect to the form or manner in which that matter is represented.
The bible treats of a dispensation of God, which began before this world, and will not be finished till the world is at an end, and the eternal kingdom of God is established. It informs us of the institution of religion in paradise, with the original dependence of man upon his maker: of a primitive state of man under a former covenant, which is now forfeited: of his temptation and fall: of the causes of death, and the promise of redemption. It founds a ritual on the remission of sin by the shedding of blood^ and the benefits of intercession ; which the heathens ulso acknowledged in the traditionary rites of their priesthood. It relates the dispersion of the Gentile nations, and the separation of the Hebrews. It foretells the manifestation of a Saviour in the Hesh; the rejection of the Jews 5 ,the calling and conversion of the heathens; the establishment of the Christian Church, with its preservation against the powers of the world, and the gates of hell. It treats of a spiritual life, and renewed affections in its members; that they must even be born again in a spiritual manner, and return to a state of childish simplicity in their understandings ; it assures us of the resurrection of the body after death; of the future judgment of the world by the man Jesus Christ; of the glorification of the faithful, and the condemnation of the wicked. It opens to us an invisible world of spirits,. some of whom are in alliance with God, and others in rebellion against him ; assuring us withal, that every man will have his final portion with the one party or the other.
None of these things are known to us by nature; and it is not pretended that they are; for if man draws a scheme of religion for himself, not one of all these articles finds a place in it. Therefore as the nature of man doth not know any of these things till God reveals them, it must of course be under two very great di$
cyltie,s> culties; first, of understanding or comprehending; and secondly, of admitting or receiving them.
From the difficulty we are under of comprehending such things as are above natural reason, the manner of the scripture is as extraordinary as its matter: and it must be so from the necessity of the case. Of all the objects of sense we have ideas, and our minds and memories are stored with them. But of invisible things we have no ideas till they are pointed out to us by revelation: and as we cannot know them immediately, such as they are in themselves, after the manner in which we know sensible objects, they must be communicated to us by the mediation of such things as we already comprehend. For this reason, the scripture is found to have a language of its,own, which doth not consist of words, but of signs or figures taken from visible things. It could not otherwise treat of God, who is a spirit, and of the spirit of man, and of a spiritual world; which no words can describe. Words are the arbitrary signs of natural things > but the language of revelation goes a step farther, and uses some things as the signs of other things; in consequence of which, the world which we now see becomes a sort of commentary