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Α Ν

Ι Ν Τ R Ο D UC TI Ο Ν

TO THE READING OF THE

NE W T E S T A M E N T.

PART I.

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The previous know- OD having been pleased to make use of ledge of several things the ministry of men, in revealing to us his is necessary to the un- will, and transmitting to posterity the divine oracles; derstanding the scrip- a general knowledge, at least, of several previous artures.

ticles, is absolutely necessary for a right understanding the holy fcriptures. We must know, for instance, the time and country the sacred penmen lived in ; their language and character ; the religion, manners, customs, and usages of the people with whom they conversed ; and many other particulars taken notice of hereafter.

Though there be this material difference between the sacred writings, and all others, of what character soever, that the firf having been inspired by the Spirit of God, their authority is divine, and consequently infalliblé, beyond all contradiction, as well as beyond all farallel and comparison ; yet in explaining both sacred and profane authors, the same rules of common sense must be obierved: we must have recourse to study and meditation, we must call in the help of history, chronology, geography, and languages; in a word, of what the learned term criticilin, or the art of judging of authors and their works, and of arriving at the true sense of them. This method is absolutely neceflary for the understanding both the Old and New Teflament; but then there is this difference between them, that the New having fucceeded the Old, and been, as it were, the accomplishment of it, the sacred writers of the former lave borrowed

the language of the latter, have perpetually alluded to it, and applied the predi&tions to the events of their own times, in imitation of their Divine Master; who always referred back to that Source. So that in order rightly to understand and explain the New Testament, one ought to be well read in the Old, and have a true notion of the state of things in the days of the Evangelists and Apofiles.

These are the reasons that have induced us to compose this Discourse, as an Introduction to the Reading of the New Testament. It is indeed true, that all things necessary to salvation are clearly and plainly revealed, and therefore such persons as have neither the leisure nor opportunity of improving themfelves in such parts of learning as are before mentioned, have yet this comfort and satisfaction, that they may easily find and discover all Saving Truths without much study and application; as, on the other hand, they are entirely without excule, if they neglect to search the scriptures on pretence of ignorance or inability. However, it must be owned, when we come to a close and thorough examination of the boly scriptures, we shall, unless furnished with the knowledge of the particulars above-mentioned, be continually liable to mistakes, imagine we understand what we have no notion of, or, at best, but a very imperfect one, and find ourselves puzzled and put to a stand at every turn, For want of these helps, the scriptures are frequently ill understood, and ill explained. Some put abstracted and metaphysical senses on passages that contain plain and simple truths, and expressed in common terms. Others having learnt a system of divinity, instead of explaining scripture by scripture, by confidering the context and parallel places, wreft the word of God to their pre-conceived opinions. Others again, having regard only to the modern languages, customs, and manners, cannot but mistake the meaning of the inspired writers, for want (if I may fo say) of conveying themselves back to the time when, and country where, the facred penmen wrote. Hence it comes to pass, that the holy fcriptures, and the christian religion, are fo disfigured, as hardly now to be known in the schools and seminaries of learning; where the heads of young students are filled with a thousand chimerical notions, entirely unheard of by the Evangelisis. In order to remedy these inconveniences, we shall endeavour to give a general knowledge of what is necessary for the more profitable reading of the holy fcriptures, cspecially the New Teftament.

1. As God designed, and had accordingly devealed The Gospel was it to the world by his prophets, (a) that the gospel to be preached to Thould be preached to the Feius first; lo was it natural, the Jews first, and even neceffary for Jesus Christ to chufe at first and by Jews. Disciples or Apostles out of the Jewish Nation and Religion. It was moreover requisite that they should be mean and illiterate persons, not only for the greater manifestation of God's glory, but because of that fpirit of pride and incredulity, which reigned among the rich and powerful, and rendered the precepts of the gospel odious in their eyes, as they were inconsistent with their prejudices and passions. But though the Apostles were mean and illiterate, it must not from thence be concluded, that they

were

(a) Ifa. ï. John iv. Afts xiil. 46.

were entirely deftitute of learning and judgment, or of such improvements as were necessary to qualify them for the discharge of their glorious function. Though their discourses are commonly expressed in a plain and familiar manner, yet you may frequently discover in them such eloquence and sublimity, as could not have proceeded from men of no education : Though they are fometimes guilty of failings, as unbelief, ambition, prefumption, and the like; yet it may be said in their behalf, that it proceeded not so much from their own, as the general temper of their nation. Nor let it be thought a disparagement to the Apostles, that some of them had learned and followed handy-crafts ; for it may rcatonably be inferred from the instance of Joseph, who, though he was defcended from the royal family of David, was yet a carpenter; and from that of St. Paul, who, notwithstanding his being a Rabbi, and a citizen of Rome, had learnt tent-making (b); that mechanical employ. ments were not inconsistent with learning, or accounted a disparagemeat (c). Though St. John was a fisherman, yet there are several paffages in his go pel, whereby we may be convinced that he was versed in the mystical writings of the Jews; and had even some tincture of the Grecian philosophy. Which lat will appear the more probable, if it be considered, that this Apostle lived for a considerable time in Asia. The office of a Publican, which was that of St. Matthew, was indeed looked upon as fcandalous among the Jews, who were extremely jealous and tender of their liberty; but it was in such high efteem and repute among the Romans, that, according to Cicero (d), The order of the Publicans confifted of the choicest of the Roman Knights, was the ornament of the city, and the fupport of the commonwealth. Hence it is evident, that though St. Matthew, in all appearance was a few; yet he could not be of the meanest of the people, since he had been admitted to so considerable a post. Thele few reflections and instances may serve to fhew, how false and groundless the objections are, that were urged by the Heathens against the Apostles, as if they had been a parcel of weak and silly men. Hence, also, on the other hand, it is manifeft, that they had neither learning nor authority enough, as that the wonderful propagation of the golpel throughout the world, could be ascribed merely to their own power and wisdom.

However this be, in reading the New Testament, we must have always in our minds, That the suspel was at first preached by the Jous,

and

(1) Acts xviii. 3. (c)

“ It was a custom among the forus, of what rank or quality for ver, to o teach their children time ingenious eraft or art, not only as a remedy “ against idlenets, but as a reserve in time of want.- We have a memo" rabe instance of this custom in those two brothers, Chalinai and Chanilai, " whole story Joliphus relates at large:

-though they were perfons of note, " they were ne estheicís put with a weaver to learn the trade, which, lays " the historian, was no difparagement to them, (connoios sx ortos (TEETTÖTois

& Sii) Rabbi Jose was a currier, or a leather-dretler ; Rabbi Jocha

anan was a fhoe-maker, and from thence firmamed Sandalar, &c." Mr. “ Falle's Sermow on Acts xviii. 3, p. 12, &c.

(di Flos equitum Romanorum, ornamentum civitatis, firmamentum reipublice, Publicanorum ordine continetur. Orat. pro Plancio.

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and in Judea, the Evangelists and Apostles having been all of that nation; (excepting St. Luke, who was born at Antioch in Syria, and concerning whom it is not well known whether he was a few, or a Heathen, when he embraced the Christian Religion. It is very likely that he was a Heathen by birth, but a Jewish Profelyte, as we have observed in our preface on his gospel, and in St. Paul's epistle to the Gulc runs). For this reason, we ineet, in the New Testament, with frequent allufions to the fewish customs and ceremonies. Their proverbs and moral tayings are often made use of; and for want of being acquainted with the ftyle of the inspired writers, we are apt to be at a loss, and look for myfteries where there are none, by understanding literally what is only an allusion to some custom or saying of the Old Testament.

The author of the new covenant proceeded in the same manner as the legislator of the old had done before. God's design in giving the children of Israel a law, being to diftinguish them from the rest of the world by a particular kind of worship; he adapted, in the best manner that can be conceived, the ordinances he gave that people, to their state and circumftances. Whatever might lead them into idolatry, that be forbid upon the severeft penalties. But left they should, at the fame tine, have an aversion for the religion he instituted, he was therefore pleased to appropriate to his worship, some of the harmless cultoms and ceremonies that were received among those nations whom the Ij aclites had conversed with. The same method was observed by Jesus Christ in his establishment of the religion which he revealed to mankind. Though circumcifion was a seal and token of the ancient covenant, yet the mediator of the new, was circumcised, that the Jews might have no manner of pretence for rejecting him: and, for the same reason, all other things relating to him were performed according to the law of Nioses. The baptism of John assured men of pardon, provided they repented of their iniquities. The Son of God had undoubtedly no need of it; vet we find that he desired to be baptized, not only that he might thereby authorize the ministry of his forerunner, but inore especially, that he might by this means fulfill all righteousness; i. e. omit nio cultom that was practised by the Jews (c). Jesus Christ being the accomplishment of the law, it coniequently ceased to be in force at his coming : But as it was not then a proper time to reveal this myslery, our Saviour therefore observed the law with great exactness, and even conítantly went up to Jerusalem at the folemn feasts. If he is sometimes accused of breaking the Sabbath, he answers all objections of that kind, with such reasons and instances as ought to have convinced at once thole that made them, that they were guilty both of calumny and superstition. From these several particulars it appears, how neccitary it is, for the right understanding of the New Testment, to be furnished with such parts of learning, as have been mentioned above.

JI. The condition mankind was in, at the time The state of mankind, and of Jesus Christ's appearance in the world, may of the Jewish nation in very fitly be represented under the idea of a person particular, at the time of amicted with a deadly distemper; and the coming our Savour's appearance. of our blessed Redeeiner be considered as the critical time, which was to

decide (c) Matth. ii. 15.

decide either the death or cure of that diseased person. What therefore John the Baptist said of the Jewish nation, that the ax was laid unto the root of the tree (f), hath, in other words, been said by St Paul (), of all the inhabitants of the world. The belt part of the univerte was without God (b); idolatry, which then generally prevailed, being the most inexcusable sort of atheism (i), because not content with not acknowledging the true God, it rendered to creatures a worship that was only due to the Almighty Creator of all things. It is indeed no wonder, that since the heathen worshipped for their gods monfters of uncleanness, and of all kinds of injustice, they Thould give themselves up to the most enormous vices, as we are told by St. Paul they did (á). But, on the other hand, the Jewish nation, that had been so highly favoured by Almighty God, was neither more holy, nor less vicious than the rest of the world, as the fame Apostle observes in several parts of his epiftles (1). We do not find indeed that they were ever guilty of idolatry after their return from the Babylonili captivity. But they had fallen into several other heinous crimes, whereby they no lefs deserved the wrath of God, or the compaffion of the great lover and physician of foulse Though God had, by a very special favour, committed his holy oracles to them, yet they had been so ungrateful as to flight and neglect fo valuable a treasure. For after the gift of prophecy ceased among them, and their Rabbins and Scribes came to interpret and comment on the facred writings, they adulterated them to that degree, that they rendered them of none effect by their falle glosses, and foolish traditions (m). They made the essence of their religion to consist in ceremonies, while they trod under foot the weightier inatters of the law, and their worship was resolved into a set of formal fhews and hypocritical pageantry. Puffed up moreover with arrogancy and pride at this their specious outside, and for having a law, which would indeed have promoted their glory and happiness, if they had stuck to the true tenie of it; they fancied they had a right to hate and despise the rest of mankind, with whom they agreed in no one point, but in an extreme corruption of manners. Those authors that are most jealous of the glory of the Jewish nation, for instance, Hofephus, have given a most thocking defcription of it, in this respect.

The account we have here given of the moral state The necessity of a forerunner.

of the Jews, affords us an occafion of admiring the ex

cellent inethod God was pleased to follow when he sent his Son into the world. For hence it is evident, that it was absolutely necessary the Mofiah should have such a forerunner, as John the Baptist was. Before any precepts can be instilled into men's minds, it is proper that the errors and prejudices which they labour under, should be removed ; to the end that the obedience, which they render to God, may be the effect of deliberation and choice: but when their corruption is come to an exorbitant height, and their understandings are clouded with a

thick

() Matth. iji. 10. (8) Rom. i. 18. (1) Eph. ii. 12. (i) Ibid. "Αθεοι εν τω κόσμων.

(*) Rom. i. 21, &c. (2) Ibid, ii. 17, 24, iii. 9. Ephef. ii. 3. Titus iii. 3. (m) Matt. xv. 3, 4, 5, &c.

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