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holy beauty of the Ancient Thought by the intrusion of his modern factitious associations ; of separating the pure light into the more striking but less natural colors of which it is combined ; of making the short long, and the long short, on his Procrustean bed; of spreading his own parti-colored mosaic over the simple corner-stone of Christ, or “daubing it with untempered mortar.” It seems to be the object of some commentators to put as much into a text, or get as much out of it, as they can. They infer all the doctrines and duties of Christianity from a verse in the Pentateuch, or a parallelism in Proverbs, and justify their whole creed, however irrational, by an obscure phrase in the book of Revelation. Hence a learned divine of the last century, in a Latin epigram, written in a Bible, said, that it was a book, “ where every one sought his own opinions, and where every one found them.” The sarcasm is not without point. One denomination of Christians has been accused of using a Bible of its own, different from that of others. The charge was untrue in its common acceptation, and unsupported by facts. But in reality, not one, but all sects have Bibles of their own, because all have their own interpretations of the volume. In this sense the Baptists have their Scriptures, and the Presbyterians theirs, and the Trinitarians, and Unitarians, and Swedenborgians, theirs. As Cecil said, " Men labor to make the Bible their Bible.” And they succeed; for the Bible is to each one the sense, the thoughts, the doctrines, which he draws from it, and attaches to it. So that when we enumerate the varieties of Christian belief, we begin to think that the old Talmudists were not so much out of the way, who assigned to each text of Holy Writ seventy-two faces.
The origin of these diversities may be illustrated in the following way. When we look at the heavenly bodies we look through two atmospheres, both of which will affect the vision ; first, that of the earth, and secondly, that of the distant sun or star. So in studying the word of God, we are obliged to view it through our atmosphere, and its atmosphere ; our atmosphere of prejudice, interest, and passion; and its atmosphere of dead languages, ancient manners and customs, and obsolete opinions, which envelopes the great ideas of prophet and evangelist. Now the power of the commentator is restricted chiefly to clearing away, as far as may be done now after the lapse of centuries, the latter haze. He must seek to interpret his text in the spirit in which it was spoken or written. He must see with the eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with the hearts of the men of old, place himself in their situation, and live over again their victories and defeats, their joys and agonies. He must enter the house of Joseph, and see him make himself known to his brethren, and shed tear for tear with him. He must mix with the furious multitude that rushes forth upon Mount Calvary, and catch a distant glimpse of the meek and undaunted Sufferer, and listen to his clear and sweet tones of love and pity, which are poured out like oil upon the sea of rage and scorn that dashed around him. The interpreter must become for the time the actor whose deeds he would explain, the speaker whose words he would illustrate and enjoin. But to revert to the former comparison, - the atmosphere of our own minds cannot be much affected by the commentator ; that must be clarified by self-culture, and the purifying influence of virtue. If we would find the truth, the condition is, to love and seek the truth.
It is the fashion with some to despise Biblical learning, and to assert that the Scriptures shine best in their own light. No doubt they do, if we are assured that it is their own light, and not some false meteoric ray. No doubt we, may put up too many critical glasses to our eye, and obscure, rather than brighten or magnify into their true and immense size, the eternal principles of religion. Still, the naked eye is often materially aided in bringing them near, in all their sublime magnitude and unearthly glory, by the telescope of sacred criticism ; though they may twinkle with sufficient brightness, even to the most unassisted sight, to designate the great moral points of compass, and to guide the voyager home over the waters to his haven of rest. There are obscure allusions, ancient customs, peculiar idioms, unusual figures, - the venerable drapery of Truth, — which may often be so explained as to increase our interest in and our knowledge of the word of God. And surely it is not the part of wisdom to reject even those inferior instruments by which the principles of the Gospel are placed in their clear, bold relief, and due perspective.
But, with this difference of estimation attached to scriptural learning, there can be no difference of opinion as to the great end to which all biblical studies and criticisms should ultimately reach, the quickening of man in the spiritual life. His dim and broken conceptions of truth are to be brought nearer into harmony with the Divine Archetype. His low and weak character is to be exalted and invigorated, so that he shall live the life of God in his soul, so that Jesus Christ shall be formed within him. The same desire for man's salvation, that caused the glad tidings of the Gospel to be originally sent abroad over the earth, should still inspire the heart of the philologist and critic, and sanctify all his labors. May it not be added, with all due deference to his most profound attainments in sacred learning, that this desire of human good is the most important qualification for his office? It has been thought, with justice, that the increased knowledge of ancient languages, arts, manners, and opinions, enjoyed in our day, has illuminated the sacred page with a new light. But have not the moral and spiritual movements of the present age, the great principles of Freedom, Toleration, Peace, Union, Temperance, that begin to stir in the hearts of men, and to shake the kingdoms of the world, done as much or more ? From the struggle for his rights, from the sacrifices of philanthropy, from the efforts of reform, has not man gone to the volume of Truth, with a newly couched eye, to see the length and breadth and depth of immortal principles? In other words, can the Scriptures be understood or explained truly, except in the same enlarged spirit of love to God and man in which they were composed ? Then must the interpreter be imbued with the spirit of benevolence and piety, as well as conversant with Hebrew and Greek, to discharge his office.
It was the far-reaching observation of Robinson, the Puritan Pastor, at that eventful crisis in human affairs, when he dismissed, with religious solemnities, from the shores of the Old World, the pioneers of liberty and religion to the New, that “the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word,” and he besought them to remember it as an article of their church covenant, that they should be ready “to receive whatsoever light or truth should be made known to them from the written Word of God.” Since he bade farewell to that immortal company, freighted with the seeds of a new empire and a new world, and with noble forecast directed them to act worthily as the founders of a new church, it is believed that more light has broken forth from God's word as well as from his works. It is believed that the red rays of the morning, the early beams, shooting aslant a cloudy horizon, and betokening wrath and vengeance, and filling men's hearts with the chills of fear more than the fervors of love, have been succeeded by the white light of broad day, the warm and cheering radiance of an unclouded Gospel.
Every religion retains for a time the characteristics, and breathes the spirit, of that which preceded it. Thus Judaism slowly emerged from idolatry, until the One God was at last worshipped without rival. Thus has Christianity risen out of the bosom of Judaism, and has long retained the family like
Even now, notions, essentially Jewish, or Heathen, predominate in the Christian body. To what source, but to Jerusalem or to Rome, shall we assign the doctrine of Sacrifice, as spiritually atoning for human sins ; the overweening importance attached to forms, and meetings; the belief that men could sin before they were born (John ix. 2); the greater estimation given to inferred, than to declared doctrines ; and the exclusive spirit which says, “ Stand by thyself, come not near to me ; for I am holier than thou” ?
But the gilded pomp of Pagan and of Papal worship, the superstitions and fears of brahmin and monk, are slowly vanishing.
“One spell upon the minds of men
Breaks, never to unite again.”
The contracted Hebrew age of Christianity is also passing away. The sceptre is departing from Judah. But let the sheet-anchor of that elder dispensation, the inviolable Unity of God, in which the Jews were disciplined for fifteen hundred years to trust, still hold us from drifting away into mists and mysticism. With that central principle, the additional disclosures of the Gospel, the fatherly character of the Almighty, mildly reflected in his Son, beaming with mercy towards the penitent sinner, inviting his children to glory and immortality, and the brotherhood of man with man everywhere, beautifully harmonize. These truths are great, and they will prevail. Not more surely does the mighty sun mount the steep of heaven in his strength, burning up the vapors of night, blazing with his awful glories, and quickening all things into life, than will these everlasting principles rise above all sectarian enclosures, enlighten in due time the whole moral world, and vivify all souls with the spirit of the living God.
If the following pages should become instrumental, in the remotest degree, in hastening this consummation, the labor bestowed upon them will not have been in vain. If they should, by the favor of God, prove useful to the Sabbath-school teacher in his disinterested efforts ; to his pupils in their faithful studies ; to the parent in the religious education of his family ; and to the inquirer after truth and duty, of whatever age or office ; if, in the quaint, but expressive language of an old writer, they should be found to contain the slip for use, and part of the root for growth,” the most fervent desire of the author will be satisfied ; but if it should be otherwise, none will greet more cordially than he a better work to supersede his own.
To those friends who have cheered and aided him in his task, and favored him with the loan of necessary books, he would