« ZurückWeiter »
which nevertheless admit of exceptions, on account of some duties of benevolence or piety that ought to preponderate.
We may illustrate this rule by the often-repeated counsels of Solomon respecting becoming surety for another. (See Prov. vi. 1, 2. xi. 15. xvii. 18. and xx. 16.) In these passages he does not condemn suretiship, which, in many cases, is not only lawful, but, in some instances, even an act of justice, prudence, and charity ; but Solomon forbids his disciple to become surety rashly, without considering for whom, or how far he binds himself, or how he could discharge the debt, if occasion should require it.
IX. A change of circumstances changes moral things; therefore contrary things may be spoken together in moral things, on account of the difference of circumstances.
Thus, in Prov. xxvi. 4, 5. we meet with two precepts that seem to be diametrically opposite to each other: Answer not a fool, according to his folly, lest thou be like unto him; and, Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. But if we attend carefully to the reason which the sacred writer subjoins to each precept, we shall be enabled satisfactorily to account for the apparent repugnancy in the counsels of the Israelitish monarch and it will be evident that they form, not inconsistent, but distinct, rules of conduct, which are respectively to be observed, according to the difference of circumstances. The following observations on the two verses just cited will materially illustrate their meaning.
A fool, in the sense of Scripture, means a wicked man, or one who acts contrary to the wisdom that is from above, and who is supposed to utter his foolishness in speech or writing. Doubtless there are different descriptions of these characters; and some may require to be answered, while others are best treated with silence. But the cases here seem to be one; both have respect to the same character, and both require to be answered. The whole difference lies in the manner in which the answer should be given.
"In the first instance, the term, according to his folly,' means in a foolish manner, as is manifest from the reason given; lest thou also be like unto him.' But in the second instance they mean, in the manner in which his foolishness requires. This also is plain from the reason given, lest he be wise in his own conceit.' A foolish speech is not a rule for our imitation; nevertheless our answer must be so framed by it, as to meet and repel it. Both these proverbs caution us against evils to which we are not a little addicted; the first, that of saying and doing to others as they say and do to us, rather than as we would they should say and do; the last, that of suffering the cause of truth or justice to be run down, while we, from a love of ease, stand by as unconcerned spectators. The first of these proverbs is exemplified in the answer of Moses to the rebellious Israelites; the last in that of Job to his wife. It was a foolish speech which was addressed to the former :- 'Would God, that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?' Unhappily, this provoked Mo
1 Thus Judah became surety to his father, for his brother Benjamin (Gen. xliii 9. lxiv. 32.); and Paul to Philemon for Onesimus. (Philem. 18, 19.).
ses to speak unadvisedly with his lips; saying, 'Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock!' This was answering folly in a foolish manner, which he should not have done; and by which the servant of God became too much like them whom he opposed. — It was also a foolish saying of Job's wife, in the day of his distress; 'Curse God and die!' Job answered this speech, not in the manner of it, but in the manner which it required. What, shall we receive good at the hand of God; and shall we not receive evil?' In all the answers of our Saviour to the Scribes and Pharisees, we may perceive that he never lost the possession of his soul for a single moment; and never answered in the manner of his opponents, so as to be like unto them. Yet neither did he decline to repel their folly, and so to abase their self-conceit."
X. Different ideas must be annexed to the names of virtues or vices, according to different ages and places.
Thus, holiness and purity denote widely different things, in many parts of the Old Testament, from what they intend in the New; in the former, they are applied to persons and things dedicated to Jehovah; while in the latter, they are applied to all true Christians, who are called saints or holy, being made so through the illumination and renovation of the Holy Spirit, and because, being called. with a high and holy calling, they are bound to evince the sincerity of their profession by a pure and holy life. Faith may also be cited in illustration of this remark; which, as we have already seen, is used in various acceptations by different writers.
XI. In investigating and interpreting those passages of Scripture, the argument of which is moral,- that is, passages in which holy and virtuous actions are commended, but wicked and unholy ones are forbidden, the nature of the virtue enjoined, or of the sin prohibited, should be explained. We should also consider whether such passages are positive commands, or merely counsels or opinions, and by what motives or arguments the inspired writer supports his persuasions to virtue, and his dissuasives from sin or vice.
In conducting this investigation, the parallel passages will be found of the greatest service: and in applying the writings of the New Testament as authority for practical institutions, it is necessary to distinguish those precepts or articles, which are circumstantial and temporary, from such as are essential to true religion, and therefore obligatory, in all ages. Not only are all the important laws of morality permanent, but all those general rules of conduct, and institutions, which are evidently calculated in religion, to promote the good of mankind, and the glory of God. The situation of the first Christians, during the infancy of Christianity, required temporary regulations, which are not now binding on the church. The controversy concerning holy days, and particular kinds of food, occasioned Paul to enjoin such temporary precepts, as suited the situation of the church, when he wrote. Abstinence from the use of unclean beasts, in compliance with the opinions of the Jews, is not now necessary;
1 Fuller's Harmony of Scripture, pp. 17, 18. Bishop Warburton has given an excellent illustration of the passage above explained, in one of his Sermons. See his Works, vol. x. Serm. 21. pp. 61-78.
2 See pp. 663, 664. supra.
but a condescension to the very prejudices of weak brethren, in things indifferent, is at all times the duty of Christians. Those doctrines which were evidently adapted to the situation of Christ's disciples, when under persecution, do not apply to their conduct, when enjoying full liberty of conscience. Exhortations, which are restricted to particular cases, must not be applied as rules for general conduct.
Those directions, to be kind and hospitable to one another, in which the customs of eastern countries are mentioned, are not literally to be observed, by those among whom different manners prevail. Paul enjoins the saints, to salute one another with a holy kiss. (Rom. xvi. 16.) The Jews saluted one another, as an expression of sincere friendship. When Jesus Christ observed to Simon that he was deficient in kindness and affection, he said: Thou gavest me no kiss, but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. (Luke vii. 55.) The disposition is incumbent on saints, in all ages of the world; but not this mode of expressing it. In order to teach the disciples, how they ought to manifest their affection, for one another, by performing every office of friendship in their power, their Lord and Master took a towel and girded himself, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded; and said, if I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. (John xiii. 5. 14.) In those hot countries, after travelling in sandals, the washing of the feet was very refreshing, and an expression of the most tender care and regard: hence it is mentioned as an amiable part of the widow's character; that she hath washed the saints' feet, and relieved the afflicted. (1 Tim. v. 10.) It is evident, that this mode of expressing our love to one another, was not intended as a permanent law, but a direction adapted to the prevailing custom of the people, to whom it was originally given.
In concluding our remarks on the moral interpretation of the sacred writings, it is worthy of observation, that they contain two kinds of moral books and discourses, viz. 1. Detached sentences, such as occur in the book of Proverbs, in many of our Lord's sermons, and in several of the moral exhortations at the close of the apostolic epistles; and, 2. Continuous and connected discourses, such as are to be found in the book of Job. In the former, we are not to look for any order or arrangement, because they have been put together just as they presented themselves to the minds of their inspired authors: but, in the latter, we must carefully attend to the scope. Thus, the scope of the book of Job is specified in the second and third verses of the thirty-second chapter; to this, therefore, the whole book must be referred, without seeking for any mysteries.
The style also of the moral parts of Scripture is highly figurative, abounding not only with bold hyperboles and prosopopæias, but also with antitheses and seeming paradoxes: the former must be explained agreeably to those general rules for expounding the figurative language of Scripture, which have already been stated and illustrated;1
1 See pp. 581-589. supra.
and the latter must be interpreted and limited according to the nature of the thing for instance, the beatitudes, as related by Saint Matthew, (ch. v.) must be compared with those delivered at a different time, as related by Saint Luke (ch. vi. 20. et seq.); and from this collation we shall be enabled to reconcile the seeming differences, and fully to understand the antithetic sayings of our Lord.
Lastly, as the moral sentences in the Scriptures are written in the very concise style peculiar to the Orientals, many passages are in consequence necessarily obscure, and therefore admit of various expositions. In such cases, that interpretation which is most obvious to the reader, will in general be sufficiently intelligible for all purposes of practical edification, and beyond this we need not be anxiously solicitous, if we should fail in ascertaining the precise meaning of every word in a proverb or moral sentence.
ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PROMISES AND THREATENINGS OF SCRIPTURE.
A PROMISE, in the Scriptural sense of the term is a declaration or assurance of the divine will, in which God signifies what particular blessings or good things he will freely bestow, as well as the evils which he will remove. The promises therefore differ from the threatenings of God, inasmuch as the former are declarations concerning good, while the latter are denunciations of evil only at the same time it is to be observed, that promises seem to include threats, because, being in their very nature conditional, they imply the bestowment of the blessing promised, only on the condition being performed, which blessing is tacitly threatened to be withheld on non-compliance with such condition. Further, promises differ from the commands of God, because the latter are significations of the divine will concerning a duty enjoined to be performed, while promises relate to mercy to be received. As a considerable portion of the promises relates to the performance of moral and of pious duties, they might have been discussed under the preceding chapter: but, from the variety of topics which they embrace, it has been deemed preferable to give them a separate consideration.
There are four classes of promises mentioned in the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament; viz. 1. Promises relating to the Messiah: 2. Promises relating to the church; 3. Promises of blessings, both temporal and spiritual, to the pious; and, 4. Promises encouraging to the exercise of the several graces and duties that compose the Christian character. The two first of these classes, indeed, are many of them predictions as well as promises; consequently the same observations will apply to them, as are stated for the interpretation of Scripture prophecies: but in regard to those promises which are directed to particular persons, or to the performance of particular duties, the following remarks are offered to the attention of the reader.
I. "We must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in the Holy Scripture."3
To us "the promises of God are general and conditional. The Gospel dispensation is described as a covenant between God and man; and the salvation of every individual is made to depend upon
1 These promises are collected and printed at length, in a useful manual, published upwards of seventy years since, and intituled A Collection of the Promises of Scripture, arranged under proper heads. By Samuel Clarke, Ď. D. Of this little manual there are numerous cheap editions extant, but the earlier ones are preferable both for the clearness of the type and especially for the correctness of the printing. 2 See PP. 635-641. supra.
3 Art. XVII. of the Confession of the Anglican Church. Similar to this is the declaration of the Helvetic (not the Genevese) confession, which in general symbolises with that of the British Church. "In the temptation concerning predestination, and which perhaps is more dangerous than any other, we should derive comfort from the consideration, that God's promises are general to all that believe
that he himself says, Ask and ye shall receive:- Every one that asks receives." Chap. x. towards the end, or in the valuable work entitled, " Primitive Truth, in History of the Reformation, expressed by the Early Reformers in their Writings,"