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MY CHRISTIAN BRETHREN,
In all theological controversies our appeal lies to the Bible, which contains the writings of the inspired prophets, and of the apostles and evangelists, who have recorded the precepts and doctrines of Christ. To those who lived in the times in which these books were published, they were, no doubt, very intelligible ; the language in which they are written, and the customs to which they allude, being perfectly known to them. But what was easy to them, a long course of time has rendered extremely difficult to us, who use a very different language, and whose manners and customs are so exceedingly unlike those of the jews. On this. account, it may puzzle the greatest scholar of the present age to make out the sense of a passage of fcripture, which could not but have been perfectly understood by the most illiterate perfon in that age. In this state of things, the ignorant and unlearned are very liable to wrest the scriptures, as the apostle Peter says they ever have done, while good sense and found learning often maintain a very unequal conteft.
It is another unfavourable circumstance with refpect to the right understanding of the scriptures in this country, that the English translation of them was made at a time when the christian world was but just emerged from the darkness of popery, and while the belief of all those opinions which are combated in the Appeal was almost universally retained. Our translators, therefore, having been educated in the belief of, and in a reverence for, those particular opinions, and not having had their minds sufficiently enlightened to call them in question, it is no wonder that, without any ill design, they should, in many places of their version, have expressed their own sentiments, and not those of the apostles. In all these cases a just translation is all that is necessary to remove the errors into which a wrong translation has led us.
But with respect to them, you, my brethren, who are not acquainted with the languages in which the scriptures were originally written, must necessarily depend upon other persons for the interpretation of them. You may however be able, in a great measure, to judge for yourselves concerning different translations, by considering, if you will take pains to refect upon the subject, which rendering of a doubtful paffage is most agreeable to the general strain of the scriptures, and to common sense.
Do not, however, immediately conclude that an interpretation of a passage in scripture is unnatural,
because, when it is first proposed to you, it may seem to be so; because this inay arise from nothing but your having been long accustomed to understand it in a different sense, and from having imagined, though without sufficient grounds, that the tenor of scripture favoured a contrary sense. The roman-catholics, I doubt not, think it very unna. tural to interpret the words of our Saviour, This is my body, in any other than in the most literal manner; and they think that our lord's saying upon another occasion, Unless ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you, abundantly confirms their interpretation.
Now, in this little treatise, I desire no greater indulgence in the interpretation of scripture than all protestants think themselves justified in taking, when they affert, that the meaning of these figurative expressions is, not that the flesh and blood, but that the doctrine of Christ is to be received and digested, that is, to be improved and practised by us, in order to our final salvation. Since the
very strongest figures of speech are manifestly used in almost all the books of scripture, it must be very unreasonable to expect that the most literal interprecation should always be the best.
I must farther apprize you, my brethren, that the passages which I have attempted to explain, being, for the most part, highly figurative, are, on that account, peculiarly difficult to understand ;
so that though I may not have hit upon the precise sense of the writers, there may be no doubt, from other confiderations, that the sense which I am combating is not the true one, which is quite sufficient for my purpose. It by no means follows that because I am wrong, my adversarics are right. In these cases there is the greatest room for criticism, and diversity of opinion. I have given what at present appears to me to be the real sense of every text of scripture which I have taken into consideration, but I shall gladly avail myself of the new lights, which may be thrown upon any of them in future editions of this pamphlet.
In the mean time, with great diffidence of my own judgment, I recommend what I have now written to your most serious and candid confidera. tion ; desiring that you would read it with yous; bibles at hand, turning to every paffage to which I refer, and reading what goes before and after it; because I have no doubt but that, in this manner, you will see much more reason, if not to approve. of my interpretations, yet to reject those of my adversaries, than I have suggested in this treatise, in which I have made a point of being as concise as I possibly could, consistently with perspicuity.
The rapid sale of the Appeal makes me hope that, inconsiderable as the performance is, it has been the instrument of some good, in the hands of that Being who works by small things as well as by great ones