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FOUR GOSPEL S:
ABIEL ABBOT LIVERMORE.
JOHN CHAPMAN, 142 STRAND.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1841, by
ABIEL ABBOT LIVERMORE, in the Clerk's office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts
In bringing this work before the public, it will be proper to say something respecting its origin and object, and the principles on which it is based. The expositions and criticisms it contains were substantially given, in the first instance, in the lectureroom, and in meetings of Sabbath-school teachers; and only the repeated expression, on the part of friends, and by the public journals of our faith, of the pressing want of a popular commentary on the Scriptures, of a different complexion from those chiefly in use, has called them forth from the retirement in which they germinated.
If the Author wished to deprecate criticism, it would be sufficient to say that he has performed his task amidst professional cares and labors, which, though not altogether unpropitious to such an enterprise, in some respects, yet break in upon that continuity of interest and of thought, essential to the most successful intellectual or spiritual efforts. He would simply ask that the mantle of Christian charity may be thrown over those minor errors in fact, style, and opinion, which are incident to a divided attention of the mind. Of other and graver ones, if such there be, he would bear the responsibility as he best can, grounded on the consciousness of upright motives, and appealing to the common Master and final Judge, to whom we all stand or fall.
It is not, of course, the design of this work, prepared as it has been for general readers, to present the processes and details, so much as the results, of Biblical criticism, in a plain and direct manner; to exhibit, if possible, the kernel of the wheat, rather than the stalks and husks in which it grew
and ripened, though the one may have been often mistaken for the other. This method, however, gives an abruptness and baldness in some instances to the work, which are only excusable on account of the restricted limits of a popular exposition.
The same cause has led to the blending of several distinct elements, which in most commentaries have been more or less distinguished from each other by difference of location or type, but which are here compounded, or, as some may think, confounded together. It may be observed, in passing, that later expositors have generally shown an inclination to this mode. In accordance with it, a verbal criticism upon the text, and occasional corrections of the English translation and paraphrases, - details of history, biography, manners, and customs, accounts of ancient opinions, popular and philosophical, — evidences of the genuineness and veracity of the Gospel records, and of the divine authority of Christianity, — doctrines and duties inferred from the text, - poetical illustrations, - and general remarks of a practical and devotional character, interspersed as the spirit of composition dictated, - are combined upon the same page. To have separated these component parts, more or less formally, and to have arranged them respectively under the heads of Paraphrase, – Notes, - Comments, - Practical Observations, - Illustrations, - would have increased the work to a disproportionate size, and given it a stiff and cumbrous character, by no means desirable. The living frame is formed by the harmonious union of seemingly discordant substances, liquid and solid, - flowing blood, and tremulous nerve, and rock-like bone. So to have mingled the needful qualities and materials of a commentary, as to secure unity amid variety, and spiritual life and impulse among criticisms and calculations, dates and facts, will undoubtedly prove
to have been rather the ideal excellence aimed at, than the result actually attained. The general spirit manifested, in any work whatever, affects us more deeply than single sentences or precepts. Hence practical remarks and inferences are of less real effect, probably, when summed up by themselves, than when diffused throughout the exposition ; for, coming as a moral at the end of a fable, they are likely to be passed over either with formality or neglect. We are most profited by them when they are of a suggestive rather than a preceptive nature ; when they point the way to a field where we may ourselves reap or glean, rather than reap or glean for us.
The marginal references, commonly embraced in a work of this kind, are excluded on the simple ground that they are so little consulted as to be nearly useless, and also because they are liable, unless most judiciously selected, to foster erroneous associations and interpretations, and make analogies and connexions between portions of Scripture, where none really exist. The author has endeavored to shun this evil, but cannot hope to have done so entirely, for it is ingrained into a great part of the theology of the past. The few references which he has made in the body of the Notes he earnestly begs may be always consulted without exception, for they are designed to corroborate his arguments, or illustrate and enforce his conclusions, and may often shed an unexpected light upon a dark spot. If a Bible is constantly at hand, passages may be referred to without delay, and Scripture made to act in some degree as a self-interpreter.
The Introductions, and Calendar of our Lord's Ministry, are inserted to aid the general reader in his Scriptural inquiries.
The invaluable Harmony of the late lamented Dr. Lant Carpenter, of Bristol, England, has been mainly followed in this work. According to his theory, which was the earliest one received by the Christian church, the period of our Lord's active ministry extended over one year and a few months. Besides the support of antiquity, he finds reasons for this view in the facts of the case, as detailed by the evangelists, and