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Historical interpretation.

The continuation and completion of those Dissertations upon the Gospel' according to John, of which so much as relates to the first four chapters, was published by us thirteen years ago, has been a matter of long and frequent thought. To this labour we have not only been excited by the friends and patrons of Biblical Interpretation, but also allured by the daily study, and great admiration of the Sacred Volume. From early youth the perusal of the Scriptures has been in an eminent degree delightful ; in their interpretation, we have spent the chief and the sweetest portion of life ; and from experience can declare, that these pursuits can cherish youth, and sooth old age; give new ornament to prosperity, and afford a refuge and a solace amid the ills of life. And amongst all the Sacred Writings, this work of John has, in a special manner, gained our affection, and holds in our estimation an eminent place in the Inspired Volume. In this book, if any where, is Christ to be found ; here we do not merely see him acting, but we hear him speaking, and in almost every instance, we may say, speaking of himself, his Father, and his decrees and purposes with respect to man's salvation. Whoever he be that would become acquainted with Jesus, and learn what and how great was his character, let him learn of John, let him peruse this book. And we confess, that an intention of making public a complete commenta

ry upon the Gospel by John, was confirmed by observing so many things, from so many different hands, at the present time, written as comments upon this work, and yet most opposite, not the meaning of the Evangelist, and of Jesus himself, and to evangelical truth, but even to all historical verity, and thus in a high degree injurious to our glorious Master ; and further, by the hope and earnest desire of adding something by means of which, the excellence of this Gospel, and the majesty of our Lord Jesus, and the grandeur of his work of salvation, might be vindicated from the aspersions of adversaries; as well as that the meaning of the Gospel might be rendered more clear, and the faith of those who read confirmed.

In the interpretation of the Scriptures we have pursued, and shall ever pursue that mode, which those who have been most eminent in the criticism of classic authors, as well as of the Sacred Volume, and who have been most skilled in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin literature, have ever esteemed the only true and legitimate method of interpretation, and above all others, worthy of a man of letters; I speak of that which is denominated the grammatical mode of interpretation, which proposes, by the aid of extensive literary attainments, to investigate the precise sense of the words, by means of attending to the usus loquendi and other grammatical points, and when this sense has been determined, to express it in accordance with the idiom of any language, and confirming this sense by the fixed principles of grammar, to arrive, through the precise meaning of words, to the knowledge of things themselves.

Some may perhaps be disposed to denominate this the Historical Method, and to this the learned interpreter will not object. The most ancient interpreters, indeed, made use of this appellation, or, at least, spoke in high commendation of the Historical sense of the Scriptures ; yet it must be borne in mind that by this they did not mean to convey the idea that there was a grammatical in


terpretation differing from the historical, or as they expressed themselves, that the literal sense was one, and the historical another, but rather to distinguish the historical sense from that which was spiritual, moral, and mystical, and which the interpreters of those days thought they could discover in the Scriptures; they therefore made use of the denominations Grammatical and Historical as synonymous. And in this they were doubtless correct; for Grammatical interpretation is for the most part Historical, inasmuch as it depends for its correctness upon the usus loquendi, which is a matter of history, and is deduced from the observations of Grammarians upon the signification of words and phrases, teaching what is the import of every expression, at every different period, in every science, with each particular author and nation, and in each specific connexion or passage ; all which are historical facts, which history only can teach us. Those, then, who assert that grammatical interpretation only is the true and legitimate method, are by no means to be understood as saying that the knowledge of historical facts is, in no instance, to be introduced as an auxiliary to interpretation. For who ever supposed that the Greek and Latin classics could be understood and explained without an extensive acquaintance with history ? Indeed it is common even for the grammatical interpreter to have recourse occasionally to facts, that he may learn the true power and import of words and phrases ; and this is necessary in doctrinal as well as historical discourses. That the latter must be explained historically, to the utter rejection of the mystical and allegorical interpretation, cannot admit of a doubt ; in consequence of which, Morus, who is equally eminent in sacred and profane literature, has given to both the appellation of Historical, for the purpose of distinguishing them from the allegorical and mystic sense, in imitation of ancient interpreters. As it regards doctrinal passages, it has been denied by none, and indeed has received the

sanction of the most skilful grammatical interpreters, that in such cases, as the discourses of Jesus, that for instance with Nicodemus, as well as in the arguments of the Apostles concerning faith, justification, works, and many other subjects, recourse must be had to the history of those times, and the opinions of those men with whom the inspired men spoke, and in this way, and in no other, can the true meaning of the passages be evinced.

The grammatical interpreter will also concede what is urged by some of the most noted recent critics, that the Sacred. Writers in communicating and expounding the principles of the gospel, so accommodated themselves to the genius of their age, as to use a style and language which they would not have used, had they written for different people, and at another time. It is an excellence in teachers, and what we are accustomed to expect from eminent masters, that they should accommodate themselves to their several pupils ; yet we cannot too severely reprobate the sentiment hence deduced by some of our cotemporaries, that what we find thus communicated is not to be considered as pertaining to all christians, and that the doctrines thus revealed are by no means common, and necessary to every age, in such a manner as to be a perpetual rule of faith and practice.

Thus the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning the priesthood of Christ, and his comparison with Moses, Melchisedek, and the Aronic priests, was intended not for the whole body of christians at that day, but only for those who had been converted from Judaism : the Apostle could not have thus, with convenience, written to the Gentiles. This whole Epistle was inscribed to christians of the Jewish nation, whose minds were trained to an admiration of Moses and Aaron, whose eyes were dazzled by the pomp of the Sacrifices, the High Priest, and the whole Levitical service, to which they found nothing similar or equivalent in Christ,

nor any where in Christianity, either in the teachers or the rites of the religion, where all was unadorned and simple, and totally divested of splendid pageantry. It was in consequence of this change, that many, relinquishing the christian religion, reverted to Judaism. To guard against this danger, and for the confirmation of their minds, the Apostle composed this argument, and shews, first, that Jesus is far superior to Moses, whom they so much admired ; then, lest they should be swayed by the Pontifical dignity, that Christ in an infinite degree excels all their priests ; that they offered beasts in sacrifice, by which nothing real could be effected, since they did not obtain, but only signify the remission of sin—that he on the contrary, had given himself up to death for man, not that he might signify merely, but actually purchase their redemption ; that they were minister to one nation only, he, to the whole human race ; that they accomplished their work upon earth, he, also, in the heavens; that they were serviceable for a short time, he, for ever and ever ; that they were mortal and liable to sin, he immortal and holy ; they were mere men, he, the Eternal Son God, most perfect, most glorious, υιον εις τον αιώνα τετελειωμένον. This discussion, therefore, was undertaken by the Apostle, for the use of Jewish converts, with a most wise design, and in conscquence of their great necessity, and imminent peril. But he joins with this design, that of setting forth Jesus Christ, the author and giver of salvation, and of declaring the majesty of his person, and of that work, which was not completed upon this earth, but must throughout eternity, be going on in heaven. The peculiar mode of exhibiting these doctrines was adapted to the condition of those who had been Jews, but the truth which was conveyed under all this imagery is equally applicable to all men, in every age. As far as the manner of communication is concerned, the Sacred Writers accommodated themselves to the men of those days, and the wisdom and be

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