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are, too often, mistaken, misrepresented, and abused. The intimations, therefore, which the Almighty has vouchsafed of his nature, subsistence, and decrees, as well as the ampler instructions he has addressed to us as the ground of our hope and the rule of our practice, must be regarded as subjects of our humble and serious judgment. And the immediate impediments to our progress in religious knowledge of each description, will occur in the expressions wherein the Divine oracles are comprised.
Every well-informed person, whose calling renders him conversant with such as have derived little or no benefit from education, must have found it difficult to explain his meaning to them, whether on spiritual or temporal affairs. People who discover a concern for eternal salvation, are mostly of the lower classes among mankind. Some cannot read. Many, who have this advantage, must often meet with terms in their Bibles, of which they are liable to form no distinct idea, or one that is false. And even those who have a good knowl. edge of their own language, may be at a loss to decide upon the meaning of many sentences, which either were at first obscure, from their construction, or have become so in the course of nearly two centuries, by a progressive change of words and phrases in the English tongue.
Much of the obscurity of our Bibles is deducible from a circumstance productive of inevitable and complicated difficulties. If it be not always easy for a person to communicate his ideas to one of his own nation, how much less to become intelligible to others, who not merely speak a foreign language, but whose very ideas are foreign, having been excited by different objects from those which are familiar to us? The illustration of any thing not present, must depend upon its comparison with something at hand. But the subjects of comparison vary according to the climates, productions, and customs, of distant countries. If a modern inhabitant of Judea spoke our language, he would still, therefore, find a difficulty in explaining himself to us. But the present languages and manners of most nations hardly differ more from those of one another, than from what were their own in former ages. So the Hebrew writings, which compose the Old Testament, had, through changes in their language, become unintelligible to the common people among the Jews, long before our Lord's appearance on earth. Hence those of the New Testament were written in another tongue, the Greek, which was then familiar to the dispersed Christian converts, for whose immediate benefit they were originally designed; and wherein, likewise, a translation of the Old Testament had been made, which was at that time in general use. The phraseology, however, both of that version and of the New Testament itself, partakes evidently more of the modes of speaking and writing which still continued to be customary among the Jews, than of the dialects which are found in remaining compositions of those profane authors who wrote in Greek, as their native language, in the ages preceding Christianity.
A due consideration of these indisputable facts will lead us to expect, and assist us to surmount, such impediments as occur in a translation from a tongué so ancient, and so little written, as the Hebrew; or from
one so heterogeneous at first, and now so long out of use, as the Greek of the New Testament. Veneration, also, that is due to writings divinely inspired, induced our translators rather to leave the ambiguous or obscure, where they found it so, than to avail themselves of the liberty of conjecture or paraphrase. This characteristic of our version is frequently attended with perplexity, and, if not attended to, with mistake. Yet it may be improved to some advantage; as, while it calls for the stronger exertion of our faculties, it affords them the greater scope, in ascertaining the primitive signification of the sacred writings.
Nothing is more remote from the design of these remarks, than to depreciate the value of the Bible in common use among us. A translation is the only medium by which the inestimable revelation of God's will can become generally known in any nation now on the face of the earth. We, as a people, are obliged to thankfulness for the enjoyment of this mercy in a superior degree to most others that profess Christianity. The best evidence of that disposition is to make a suitable and effectual improvement of the trust committed to us. The way to do this is, not to content ourselves with the sound of a few passages of Scripture, but to spare no efforts to comprehend the grand and connected meaning of the whole. We must not only be on our guard against adopting religious sentiments without reading the Scriptures which are thus put into our hands, but we must avoid forming a hasty and immature judgment, from a careless and desultory perusal of them. From what has been suggested respecting the dissim
ilitude of the terms and phrases of different languages, the present obscurity of those in which the Scriptures were originally recorded, and the proper character of our own version of them, it is hoped that the danger of depending upon the apparent meaning of detached texts and insulated expressions, will be sufficiently clear. A serious, humble, and devout attention to all that precedes and follows them, in the division of Scripture to which they belong, can alone, in most instances, fix their genuine sense.
If the certainty of this observation be still doubted, the reader may easily satisfy himself by looking into any two comments upon some important portion of the word of God, the authors of which are known to have differed materially in sentiment: and he may be still more informed and convinced upon the subject, by comparing the opposite arguments of almost any two writers in religious controversy. Of the latter, however, with very few exceptions, it may be proper to warn the reader against making farther use. The temper and conduct of persons, whose minds have been heated and warped by the violence of party zeal, may answer a similar purpose with the Spartan exhibition of inebriated slaves, by associating ideas of disgust with the wilful divesture of reason. But, of all modes of pursuing religious truths, the most unpromising is the perusal of such writers as use the Bible only to accumulate detached sentences out of it. Any one of them, most probably, when taken by itself, may signify one thing or another: and when the writer has arranged and connected the whole of them according to his own fancy or interest, it is hard indeed if he cannot deduce or infer from them any VOL. III.
thing he pleases. The only candid controversialists are those who argue from the necessary import of any text as fixed by the context; and this, it is hoped, the reader will be enabled to determine for himself, in a more safe and profitable manner, if the object of these remarks is accomplished.
In speaking above, of the division of Scripture to which any particular text belongs, I adverted to the entire book of history, prophecy, or epistolary instruction, in which the passage is found. If the laboriousness of such an examination appears alarming, it will not be denied that the end to be obtained deserves all possible application. But this seeming discouragement will probably vanish, when it is considered, that, for this purpose, it is not a perpetual reference, to the whole book for the explanation of every incidental text that is recommended as expedient, but a continued perusal of the several inspired books; so that, when a part of any one of them is in question, the judgment of its meaning may
be assisted by'a familiarity with the complete portion from which it has been taken.
It may be of advantage to read each distinct book of the scriptures repeatedly, before proceeding to the next; in order to be certain what was the leading view of the inspired penman, when influenced to compose it. Το discover this, it should be read throughout with as little interruption or delay as relative circumstances and adequate attention will permit. The subject to which the writer most constantly adheres, or to which he most frequently returns, will aid the reader to interpret occasional digressions and ambiguous phrases. If this fixo ed point, like the polar star, be kept in view, we shall