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teaches internally. The scriptures externally reveal what we are to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man; but the inward illumination of the Spirit of God is necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the scriptures, for several reasons which I mentioned in the former discourse, and shall not now repeat.
III. I come now to consider the sense of the scripture.
1. The sense of the scripture is but one, and not manifold. There may be several parts of that one sense subordinate one to another; as some prophecies have a respect to the deliverance from Babylon, the spiritual by Christ, and the eternal in heaven ; and some passages have one thing that is typical of another: yet these are but one full sense, only that may be of two sorts; one is simple, and another compound. Some scriptures have only a simple sense, containing a declaration of one thing only; and that is either proper or figurative. A proper sense is that which arises from the words taken properly, and the figurative from the words taken figuratively. Some have a simple proper sense, as, 'God is a Spirit, God created the heavens and the earth ;' which are to be understood according to the propriety of the words. Some have a simple figurative sense; as, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away,' &c. These have but one simple sense; but then it is the figurative, and is not to be understood according to the propriety of the words, as if Christ were a tree, &c. Thus you see what the simple sense is. The compound or mixed sense is found wherein one thing is held forth as a type of the other; and so it consists of two parts, the one respecting the type, the other the antitype ; which are not two senses, but two parts of that one and entire sense intended by the Holy Ghost : e. g. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that those who were stung by the fiery serpents might look to it and be healed. The full sense of which is, ' As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that, &c. even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.' Here is a literal and mystical sense, which make up one full sense betwixt them. Those scriptures that have this compound sense are sometimes fulfilled properly (or literally, as it is taken in opposition to figuratively) in the type and antitype both; as Hos. xi. 1. 'I have called my Son out of Egypt,' which was literally true both of Israel and Christ. Sometimes figuratively in the type, and properly in the antitype, as Psal. Ixix. 21. They gave nie vinegar to drink.' Sometimes properly in the typo, and figuratively in the antitype, as Psal. ii. 9. "Thou shalt break them with a rod of
iron.' Compare 2 Sam. xii. 31. Sometimes figuratively in both, as Psal. xli. 9. Yea mine own familiar friend—hath lifted up his heel against me;' which is meant of Ahitophel and Judas. Now the sense of the scripture must be but one, and not manifold, that is, quite different and no wise subordinate one to another, because of the unity of truth, and because of the perspicuity of the scripture.
2. Where there is a question about the true sense of scripture, it must be found out what it is by searching other places that speak more clearly, the scripture itself being the infallible rule of interpreting scripture. Now that it is so, appears from the following arguments.
(1.) The Holy Spirit gives this as a rule, 2 Pet. i. 20. 21. After the apostle had called the Christians to take heed to the scripture, he gives them this rule for understanding it, 'Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, tes ideas e-piluseos, of our own exposition. For the prophecy came not 'in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' As it came; so it is to be expounded : but it came not by the will of man; therefore we are not to rest on men for the sense of it, but holy men speaking as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and so never erring; therefore we are to look to the dictates of the same Spirit in other places.
(2.) There are several approved examples of this, comparing one scripture with another, to find out the meaning of the Holy Ghost; as Acts xv. 15. 'And to this agree the words of the prophet,' &c. The Bereans are commended for this, Acts xvii. 11. Yea, Christ himself makes use of this to shew the true sense of the scripture against the devil, Matth. iv. 6. Cast thyself down, (said that wicked spirit): for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee,' &c. Yer. 7. 'It is written again, (says Christ), Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.' And thus our Lord makes out the true sense of that scripture, that it is to be understood only with respect to them who do not cast themselves on a tempting of God. Some more will occur concerning this point under the next head.
This then is the great, chief, and infallible rule of interpretation of scripture, to compare one passage with another. Other things may be added as helps and means in order to find out the true
1. The knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek, in which languages the prophets and apostles wrote, is an excellent mean to the right understanding of the scriptures. These original tongues are the best commentaries on scripture ; and many times it is found so by those that know them.
2. Diligently consider the scope and design of the Holy Ghost in the portion of scripture where ye find difficulty, the coherence and context, with all circumstances going before and following. Nullo est objectio in lege quæ non habet solutionem in latere says a rabbi, Quis scopus, impettcns, scdes, tempusque, locusque, et modus, hax septem scripturce attendito lector.
3. Distinguish proper from improper words. The scripture frequently uses improper and figurative expressions, which, if taken as the letters sound, will found a very absurd sense.
4. The commentaries of godly and learned writers are not to be neglected.
5. The reading also of profane history is of notable use in the knowledge of the prophetical writings. And the knowledge of the Jewish customs brings great light to the scriptures.
6. Lastly, Always take heed to the analogy of faith, and see there be no deviating therefrom: for the Spirit of God speaking in the scripture is always one and the same; and therefore we are never to think that one scripture can be contrary to another, or the known doctrine of the Bible and the form of sound words : e. g. * This is my body which is broken for you;' it cannot be so understood as if Christ's body were locally present in the sacrament; because we believe, according to the constant doctrine of scripture, that Christ is ascended into heaven, and will come again at the last day; and till then the heavens must contain him. So wo must not take the words literally, when it is contrary to modesty, as when Isaiah is bid go naked, Isa. xx. 2.; or to piety, to cut off the right hand, &c. More particularly,
1. Go to God for his Spirit to teach you, Psal. cxix. 18. It is Christ's work to give people to understand the scriptures. If you would know what Paul says, pray for the spirit by which he wrote.
2. Take heed of a carnal, earthly, and fleshly mind. When the heart is carnal, the mind is much blinded, and so utterly unfit for searching the scriptures.
3. Endeavour to be exercised unto godliness. An exercised frame proves sometimes an excellent commentator.
4. Lastly, Endeavour to practise what you know.
IV. I proceed to shew that the spirit of God speaking in scripture is the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest.
This is a very important point, and upon it depends the whole of religion. One man says so, another man says otherwise : the ques
tion is, Who shall be judge, and to whose determination are we to stand and acquiesce in? Four sundry ways do men go here.
First, Enthusiasts set up the private spirit, and its revelations, without the Spirit, for the judge of controversies. But whatever these may pretend, the scripture is our only rule. For,
1. Whatever revelation or light men may pretend to, God binds them and us to the written word, Isa. viii. 20. 'If they speak not according to the scriptures,' it is not true light, but because there is no light in them,' that makes it so: for going against the word, they shew themselves to be acted with a spirit of delusion, 1 John iv. 6.
2. The Apostle Paul devotes them to a curse, though they were angels, who preach any other gospel than what he preached, and the Galatians received from his hand, Gal. i. 8, 9; not only a gospel contrary to it, but another, any thing diverse from or besides it, though not contrary to it. And if it be contrary the Spirit is contrary to himself, for he is the author of the scriptures.
3. We are commanded to 'try the spirits,' 1 John iv. 1. Now, how must they be tried but by a rule; and what rule have we to try them by but the written word? This was the rule which the Bereans made use of to try the spirit of the apostles, for which they are highly commended. It is that rule which Christ sends the Pharisees to try his own doctrine by, John v. 40. But by the scriptures we cannot try the spirits, unless we lay them to that rule, and observe whether or not the spirits speak as the scriptures do; and then how can the new revelations be received ?
4. The spirit's revelations are either a complete or partial rule. If our complete rule, then the scriptures are useless which is blasphemous, and contrary to all those commands that requires us to give attendance to the reading, searching, &c. of them. If they be a partial rule only, then they either teach according to the scripture, or not. If according to it, then it is no new revelation, but what the scripture already affords us. If not, it is because there is no light in them, Isa. viii. 20.
There is one scripture that we must more narrowly inquire into, both because it is abused by the adversaries in this point, and affords us an argument for our doctrine, The passage is, 2 Pet. i. 19. * We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that
ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.' Enthusiasts here, by the day-star arising in the heart, understand some extraordinary revelation and light which God sets up in the soul, which when it is set up, the person is to take heed to the written word no
longer. But, (1.) Whither would these men drive us ? They tell us, that all men have a light within them, according to which they must walk; and this is the spirit within us; yet must we still expect a new light to turn us off from the scriptures; (2.) The apostle here plainly prefers the word of prophecy unto an immediate voice from heaven, and that in the very same thing wherein they both agree: how much more preferable is the scripture to new revelations? (3.) This supposes, that the apostles and believers in those days had not this light; for they say, 'We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.' This being so, we envy not the Quakers their light, which the apostles and these Christians were strangers to.
Some by the day dawning and the day-star arising understand the more clear dispensation which they suppose is to come in the latter days.
Others understand by it the sight of God and Christ in glory, till which time the scriptures must be made use of, but no longer. . Others understand this as spoken to the believing Jews in reference to the prophets of the Old Testament, to which they did well to take heed, till their gospel light should shine more clearly. Some say, the word until is not to be taken exclusively of the time following that dawning of the day, and day star arising; and thereby understand simply more clear light arising after some darkness, which the people of God may be in for a time; till which light arising they are to take heed to the scriptures; not that they are then to give over taking heed to them. Laying aside that which relates to a more clear dispensation yet to come, because it supposes that then the scriptures must be laid aside, which is very contrary to the scripture, for the Spirit shall never in this life justle out the word, but his office is to teach, not new things unwritten, but whatever Christ spoke to his disciples : He shall bring all things to your remembrance, (says he), whatsoever I have said unto you,' John xiv. 26: Laying aside that, it is hard to determine which of the rest is indeed the true meaning of the apostle. Only it seems to bid fairest for the apostle's sense, to say, that he speaks of the more clear knowledge of Christ which the believers at that time were afterwards to have, till which time they did well to take heed to the prophetical word, as it is in the Greek; that is, to the doctrine of the prophets who prophesied of Christ; not that they were then to lay by the use of the prophets, but that then they would be of less use to them than before, when they should attain to a more clear gospel-light; as the candle is of less use when the day dawns than it was before, though it bo still useful. And I think it abundantly plain, that the word of prophecy is not here to