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themselves. Nor is this all; the subject treated of in these epistles is so wholly new, and the doctrines contained in them so perfectly remote from the notions that mankind were acquainted with, that most of the important terms in it have quite another signification from what they have in other discourses. So that putting all together, we may truly say, that the New Testament is a book written in a language peculiar to itself.
To these causes of obscurity, common to St. Paul, with most of the other penmen of the several books of the New Testament, we may add those that are peculiarly his, and owing to his style and temper. He was, as it is visible, a mau of quick thought, and warm temper, mighty well versed in the writings of the Old Testament, and full of the doctrine of the New. All this put together, suggested matter to him in abundance, on those subjects which came in his .way: so that one may consider him, when he was writing, as beset with a croud of thoughts, all striving for utterance. In this posture of mind it was almost impossible for him to keep that slow pace, and observe minutely that order and method of ranging all he said, from which results an easy and obvious perspicuity. To this plenty and vehemence of his, may be imputed those many large parentheses, which a careful reader may observe in his epistles. Upon this account also it is, that he often breaks off in the middle of an argument, to let in some new thought suggested by his own words; which having pursued and explained, as far as conduced to his present purpose, he re-assumes again the thread of his discourse, and goes on with it, without taking any notice, that he returns again to what he had been before saying; though sometimes it be so far off, that it may well have slipt out of his mind, and requires a very attentive reader to observe, and so bring the disjointed members together, as to make up the connexion, and see how the scattered parts of the discourse hang together in a coherent, well-agreeing sense, that makes it all of a piece.
Besides the disturbance in perusing St. Paul's epistles, from the plenty and vivacity of his thoughts, which may - obscure his method, and often hide his sense from an un
wary, or over-hasty reader; the frequent changing of the - personage he speaks in, renders the sense very uncertain, and is apt to mislead one that has not some clue to guide him; sometimes by the pronoun I, he means himself; sometimes any christian; sometimes a Jew, and sometimes any man, &c. If speaking of himself, in the first person singular, has so various meanings ; his use of the first person plural is with a far greater latitude, sometimes designing himself alone, sometimes those with himself, whom he makes partners to the epistles ; sometimes with himself, comprehending the other apostles, or preachers of the gospel, or christians: nay, sometimes he in that way speaks of the converted Jews, other times of the converted Gentiles, and sometimes of others, in a more or less extended sense, every one of which varies the meaning of the place, and makes it to be differently understood. I have forborne to trouble the reader with examples of them here. If his own observation hath not already furnished him with them, the following paraphrase and notes, I suppose, will satisfy him in the point.
In the current also of his discourse, he sometimes drops in the objections of others, and his answers to them, without any change in the scheme of his language, that might give notice of any other speaking, besides himself. This requires great attention to observe; and yet, if it be neglected or overlooked, will make the reader very much mistake and misunderstand his meaning, and render the sense very perplexed.
These are intrinsic difficulties arising from the text itself, whereof there might be a great many other named, as the uncertainty, sometimes, who are the persons he speaks to, or the opinions, or practices, which he has in his eye, sometimes in alluding to them, sometimes in his exhortations and reproofs. But, those above-mentioned being the chief, it may suffice to have opened our eyes a little upon them, which, well examined, may contribute towards our discovery of the rest.
To these we may subjoin two external causes, that have made no small increase of the native and original difficulties, that keep us from an easy and assured discovery of St. Paul's sense, in many parts of his epistles : and those are,
First, The dividing of them into chapters and verses, as
we have done; whereby they are so chopped and minced, and, as they are now printed, stand so broken and divided, that not only the common people take the verses usually for distinct aphorisms; but even men of more advanced knowledge, in reading them, lose very much of the strength and force of the coherence, and the light that depends on it. Our minds are so weak and narrow, that they have need of all the helps and assistances that can be procured, to lay before them undisturbedly the thread and coherence of any discourse; by which alone they are truly improved, and led into the genuine sense of the author. When the eye is constantly disturbed in loose sentences, that by their standing and separation appear as so many distinct frage ments: the mind will have much ado to take in, and carry on in its memory, an uniform discourse of dependent reasonings; especially having from the cradle been used to wrong impressions concerning them, and constantly accustomed to hear them quoted as distinct sentences, without any limitation or explication of their precise meaning, from the place they stand in, and the relation they bear to what goes before, or follows. These divisions also have given occasion to the reading these epistles by parcels, and in scraps, which has farther confirmed the evil arising from such partitions. And I doubt not but every one will confess it to be a very unlikely way, to come to the understanding of any other letters, to read them piece-meal, a bit töday, and another scrap to-morrow, and so on by broken intervals : especially if the pause and cessation should be made, as the chapters the apostle's epistles are divided into, do end sometimes in the middle of a discourse, and sometimes in the middle of a sentence. It cannot therefore but be wondered, that that should be permitted to be done to holy writ, which would visibly disturb the sense, and hinder the understanding of any other book whatsoever. IfTully's epistles were so printed, and so used, I ask, Whether they would not be much harder to be understood, less easy, and less pleasant to be read, by much, than now they are?
How plain soever this abuse is, and what prejudice soever it does to the understanding of the sacred scripture, yet if a bible was printed as it should be, and as the several parts of it were writ, in continued discourses, where the argument
is continued, I doubt not but the several parties would complain of it, as an innovation, and a dangerous change in the publishing those holy books. And indeed, those who are for maintaining their
opinions, and the systems of parties, by sound of words, with a neglect of the true sense of scripture, would have reason to make and foment the outcry. They would most of them be immediately disarmed of their great magazine of artillery, wherewith they defend themselves and fall upon others. If the holy scriptures were þut laid before the eyes of christians, in its connexion and consistency, it would not then be so easy to snatch out a few words, as if they were separate from the rest, to serve a purpose, to which they do not at all belong, and with which they have nothing to do. But, as the matter now stands, he that has a mind to it, may at a cheap rate be a notable champion for the truth, that is, for the doctrines of the sect, that chance or interest has cast him into. He need but be furnished with verses of sacred scripture, containing words and expressions that are but flexible, (as all general obscure and doubtful ones are) and his system, that has appropriated them to the orthodoxy of his church, makes them immediately strong and irrefragable arguments for his opinion. This is the benefit of loose sentences, and scriptūre crumbled into verses, which quickly turn into independent aphorisms. But if the quotation in the verse produced were considered as a part of a continued coherent discourse, and so its sense were limited by the tenour of the context, most of these forward and warm disputants would be quite stripped of those, which they doubt not now to call spiritual weapons; and they would have often nothing to say, that would not show their weakness, and manifestly fly in their faces. I crave leave to set down a saying of the learned and judicious Mr. Selden: “In interpreting the scripture,
says he, many do as if a man should see one have ten pounds, which he reckoned by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
meaning four was but four units, and five five units, &c. “ and that he had in all but ten pounds: the other that
sees him, takes not the figures together as he doth, but
picks here and there; and thereupon reports that he had “ five pounds in one bag, and six pounds in another bag, " and nine pounds in another bag, &c. when as, in truth,
“ he has but ten pounds in all. So we pick out a text here “ and there, to make it serve our turn; whereas if we take " it altogether, and consider what went before, and what “ followed after, we should find it meant no such thing."
I have heard sober christians very much admire, why ordinary illiterate people, who were professors, that showed a concern for religion, seemed much more conversant in St. Paul's epistles, than in the plainer, and (as it seemed to them) much more intelligible parts of the New Testament; they confessed, that, though they read St. Paul's epistles with their best attention, yet they generally found them too hard to be mastered, and they laboured in vain so far to reach the apostle's meaning, all along in the train of what he said, as to read them with that satisfaction that arises from a fecling, that we understand and fully comprehend the force and reasoning of an author; and therefore they could not imagine what those saw in them whose eyes they thought not much better than their own. But the case was plain, these sober inquisitive readers had a mind to see nothing in St. Paul's epistles, but just what he meant; whereas those others, of a quicker and gayer sight, could see in them what they pleased. Nothing is more acceptable to fancy, than pliant terms, and expressions that are not obstinate; in such it can find its account with delight, and with them be illuminated, orthodox, infallible at pleasure, and in its own way. But where the sense of the author goes visibly in its own train, and the words, receiving a determined sense from their companions and adjacents, will not consent to give countenance and colour to what is agreed to be right, and must be supported at any rate, there men of established orthodoxy do not so well find their satisfaction. And perhaps, if it were well examined, it would be no very extravagant paradox to say, that there are fewer that bring their opinions to the sacred scripture, to be tried by that infallible rule, than bring the sacred scripture to their opinions, to bend it to them, to make it, as they can, a cover and guard to them. And to this purpose, its being divided into verses, and brought, as much as may be, into - loose and general aphorisms, makes it most useful and serviceable. And in this lies the other great cause of obscurity