Page images
PDF
EPUB

the period could a greater selection of beautiful passages of didactic, hortatory, and consolatory writings, be made.' (pp. 339-340.)

6

PROFESSOR STUART'S COMMENTARY. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, with a Translation and

various Excursus. By Moses STUART, Professor of Sacred Literature in the Theological Seminary at Andover.

What will the New-Haven reviewers now say? When reviewing Dr. Adam Clarke's Discourses, they made a great bustle concerning what they were pleased to call a vain parade and an ostentatious show of learning which the doctor exhibited in his Discourses and Commentary. In their estimation this was a fault which could be atoned for only by the remote probability that it might excite the illiterate Methodist preachers to a suitable ambition in the pursuit of learning. While they themselves betrayed no uncommon modesty in putting in their claims to a superior share of learning, they could indulge in a sneering contempt of Dr. Clarke because, forsooth, much learning had made him mad, so mad indeed as to lead him to trespass upon the rules of modesty and the laws of a just interpreter of the Holy Scriptures by a vain parade of learning! Will they utter similar sneers at the author of this Commentary upon the Epistle to the Romans? It is true the Andover professor does not disfigure his pages with quite as many sorts of strange types' as are to be found in the invaluable Commentary of Dr. Clarke, whether from the want of materials or from a conviction that it would have been useless, we pretend not to determine. He has, however, drawn largely upon his learned resources in his critical investigation of this important part of Divine revelation. Nor are we at all dissatisfied with this. In giving the Christian community a new translation, accompanied with critical notes, of a portion of the Holy Scriptures, he has only followed the example of Wesley, Campbell, Macknight, and many others, whose laudable attempts to elucidate the sacred writings have been hailed with pleasure by those who could justly estimate the worth of their labors ; and we should hope that the results of Professor Stuart's critical researches will benefit his more immediate brethren, and set them right on an important point of Christian doctrine, no less suitably and infallibly than the New-Haven reviewers flattered themselves Dr. Clarke would his Methodist brethren.

We are therefore not at all displeased at beholding the learning which Professor Stuart has brought to bear upon this highly interesting topic: on the contrary we cannot but think that those who skilfully

6

employ this sort of criticism in the cause of sacred literature, render an important service to the Christian Church. We are the more pleased with the learned labors of the Andover professor because he has confirmed those views we had heretofore entertained respecting some of those portions of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which had long been a subject of controversy among commentators, and among Christians in general. Whether his decision, which appears to have been the result of much patient and critical investigation, and made up too in opposition to his preconceived opinion and the most of Calvinistic commentators, will tend to settle the mooted question, we cannot tell. We trust, however, that his judgment on those points will not be lightly treated, although we know that bigotry will rarely yield to the force of truth, however forcibly that truth may be expressed.

But whatever may be the fate of the Commentary before us among those who most need the rectifying syllabus which Professor Stuart has prefixed to certain portions of this argumentative Epistle, he has certainly deserved well of his brethren, and laid the Christian community under obligation to him for the bold and independent manner in which he has combated some very popular errors, and, in our judgment, established their opposite truths. In this Commentary we see the same mind at work to divest itself of prejudice, of predilections in favor of long-adopted theories, as we beheld in surveying The Life and Times of Arminius,' a specimen of which we gave our readers in our last number ; and we most ardently hope that the author will persevere in his investigations until the last vestiges of the decretum absolutum, which has done so much mischief in the Church, shall be driven from the world.

In the work before us Professor Stuart gives in the first place a new and revised translation of the entire Epistle : this is followed by a copious introduction and a brief analysis of its general contents; then follows a critical examination of the sacred text, in which the author brings to his aid a vast compass of philological knowledge and verbal criticism, each subject being divided into sections, without breaking up the common division of chapters and verses. The critical annotations are accompanied with theological discussions in defence of the exegesis adopted in the Commentary. The whole concludes with what the author calls . Excursus,' (Excursions or digressions,) in which he far. ther illustrates and vindicates certain postulatums laid down in the critical notes. As a whole we are much pleased with this performance, although it is proper that we advertise the reader that there are some sentiments advanced at which we must take exceptions; these will be noticed in the course of our remarks. We rejoice, however, to find in this work that same fearless independence of mind in avowing

а

his convictions which he has evinced on a former occasion, when searching into the life and doctrine of James Arminius. Though educated in the Calvinistic school, and still ranked among that class of divines who have advocated the sentiments of the Geneva reformer, he has boldly struck out a path for himself, diverging in many important points from the path which had been opened by Augustine and Calvin, and since trodden by the most eminent commentators of the Calvinistic theology; though we think we discover now and then a zigzag course toward the old beaten path. It is to be hoped, however, that the same unerring thread which has so far conducted the learned professor out of the labyrinth of error will still serve as a clew to lead him into the broad and open field of Gospel truth, where, under the spreading branches of the tree of righteousness, he may regale himself in company with Arminius, Luther, and Melancthon, Wesley, Fletcher, and Clarke, and a host of other worthies who have labored to clear the field of the briers and thorns which had been growing for agesand strengthen his heart in partaking with them of the delicious fruits which enrich and beautify this noble tree.

That our readers may participate with us in this pleasing hope, we will give them an extract from the preface to the work before us, which will show the circumstances under which it has been brought forth, and the premises adopted by the author which have conducted him to his conclusions :

I publish,' says he, to the world the result of my labors upon the Epistle to the Romans, with unfeigned diffidence, and with a trembling sense of the responsibility which I incur by so doing. This Epistle has been the grand arena, if I may so express myself, on which theological combatants have been contending, ever since the third century; and perhaps still earlier. The turn which the Apostle James has given to his discussion respecting justification makes it probable, that even in his time there were some who abused the words of Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, concerning the doctrine of “justification by faith without the deeds of law.” If so, then it would seem, that there has been no period since this Epistle was written, in which its meaning has not been more or less a subject of contest.

How could this be otherwise, since it discusses the highest and most difficult of all the doctrines which pertain to the Christian system ?Men must be more alike in their early education, their illumination, their habits of reasoning, and their theological convictions, than they have hitherto been; and they must love God and each other, better than they have ever yet done ; not to differ in their interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans. It strikes at the root of all human pride and vain glory; it aims even a deadly blow. And where a passionate attachment to these is rankling in the breast, how is it possible that this Epistle should meet with a welcome reception, and the authority of its simple and obvious meaning be admitted ? Even where the

a

remains of such an attachment are still lurking within, and only now and then developing themselves, because the heart is in some measure unsanctified, there we cannot expect to find an unprejudiced interpretation of the writing in question. An epistle, which is as it were the very confession of faith that a true Christian is to make, must needs receive an interpretation more or less forced, on the part of all who are influenced by pride, by passion, by prejudice, by ill-directed early instruction, or by ignorance.

For these reasons, an interpreter of this Epistle must expect opposition at the present day, let his views be what they may. Be he Calvinist, Arminian, Pelagian, Antinomian, Socinian, or of any other sect,

, it is vain for him to think of escape. Paul is a writer too formidable to be acknowledged as an opponent. Hence, when he is interpreted so that the views of one party in any particular point seem to be favored, the others are very apt to unite in condemning the interpretation. Nothing will satisfy them, but to have such a writer explained as siding with them. Alas then for the interpreter! While he meets, perhaps, with the approbation of a few, he must of course expect the vehement dissent of many. He must make up his mind, therefore, before he publishes, to bear with all this, and to bear with it patiently and firmly; or else he had better abstain from publishing. It may appear to him as a very undesirable remuneration for painful and long-protracted labors; but it is one which others have been obliged to receive, and which he also must expect. The only offset for all the pain which this may occasion him, must be the hope, that his labors after all may do some good ; and that, if they do not themselves on the whole directly advance the cause of truth, they may at least be the means of exciting others to make inquiries, which will result in the accomplishment of such an end.

For myself, I do not profess to be free from all prejudices of education and all attachment to system, in such a degree as to make it certain that

my views may not sometimes be affected by them. Nor do I profess to be so illuminated in respect to Divine things, and so skilled in the original language and criticism of the New Testament, as to be certain that all my conclusions respecting the meaning of the Epistle before us, are correct. Homo sum, et nihil ab hominibus me alienum puto. When, therefore, I speak in the indicative mood, and say that this means thus and so, the reader will not understand that any thing more is intended, than that this is true in my opinion. To be always dealing in the conditional mode, and filling one's pages with if, perhaps, probably, possibly, may it not, can it not, etc, etc,

would be intolerable in such a writing as a commentary. Beside, it would represent the author himself as in a perpetual state of doubt or uncertainty. This I cannot truly say of myself. My convictions, for the most part, have become definite and full in respect to far the greater portion of the Epistle to the Romans. To represent them otherwise, would be to misrepresent them.

But this does not imply, that I am insensible of the weakness of human nature, or of my exposedness to err. If I have any knowledge of my own heart, it is very far from such insensibility. After all, however, a man who is liable to err, may form opinions, and may be satis

fied that they are correct. This all men do, and must do ; and all which can be properly demanded of them is, that they should hold themselves open to conviction, whenever adequate reasons are offered to convince them of their errors.

In this position, I trust and believe, do I hold myself, as to the opinions advanced in the interpretations that follow. I can say truly, that there are no opinions advanced here, which have been hastily taken up. I have been long engaged in the exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, and have studied it much more than any other part of the Bible. I have taken an extensive range in consulting commentators ancient and modern, as well as exegeses contained in theological essays and systems. This, however, I mention for one purpose, and one only, viz. to show that I have not come lightly to the responsible task of writing and publishing a commentary on the Epistle under consideration ; and that the opinions, therefore, which are advanced in it, are not the offspring of mere education or hasty conjecture.

Dissent, and probably contradiction, are almost of course to be expected. I may be permitted, however, respectfully to solicit those

Ι who may see fit to publish any thing of this nature, that they would investigate thoroughly, before they condemn what I have said.' When they have so done, I shall. value their opinion, however it may

differ from my own. Aiming, as I trust I do, at the development of truth, I shall rejoice to find any of my errors corrected ; for errors no doubt there are in my work ; and if the correction be made in the spirit of love and Christian friendship, so much the more acceptable will it be. If it be made in a different spirit, and is still

a real correction, I would fain hope for magnanimity enough to say: Fas est ab hoste doceri.

From some of those who have never deeply studied the Epistle to the Romans, and who have a traditional and systematic exegesis which answers their

purposes in an a priori way, I may probably expect, in regard to some things, vehement and unqualified dissent. Such, however, can hardly assert the right of demanding that my views should be accommodated to theirs ; since we proceed, in our respective interpretations, on grounds so exceedingly diverse. I hope, therefore, that such will excuse me from any obligation to contend with their exegesis.

To those who may differ from me, after thorough research, I can only say:

“ The field is open; as open for you as for me. You have the same right to publish your thoughts to the world, as I have to publish mine ; and as good a right to defend your views, as I have to proffer mine. The result of doing this, if done with deep, attentive, protracted consideration, and in the spirit of kindness, cannot be otherwise than favorable to the interests of truth. I may not live to vindicate my own views where just, or to abandon the errors of which you might convince me ; but others will live, who will do the one or the other for me, should it become necessary. The truth, at last, must and will prevail." I confess, frankly, that I do not expect, for this book, the favor of

, such as are truly sectarians. I have written it, so far as in my power, without any regard to sect or name. Doubtless my efforts have been imperfect, but so far as in me lay, the one only and simple inquiry with me has been : What did Paul mean to teach? What Calvin, or

a

a

« PreviousContinue »