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The four Gospels give an account of the ministry of John Baptift, and of our Lord, of the twelve apostles and of the seventy disciples; with what they said and did as preparatory to the setting up the kingdom of the Meffiah in the world. The Acts of the apostles contain the history of erecting the gospel-kingdom. In the Epistles, several things are cleared up, which are but briefly hinted in the Gospels and Acts of the apostles. They were written by different persons at various times and upon different occasions, and yet they all agree in the doctrines and precepts; and confirm the main facts, viz. that Jesus died and rose again, afcended into heaven, and poured out the fpirit; and thereby imparted the knowledge of the gospel unto mankind; and many miraculous powers in atteftation to the Christian doctrine.
It might be expected that the religions, which had been long in pofleffion, would obstruct the progress of the gospel ; and that the votaries of each would have their peculiar objections. Accordingly, we find in the epistles that the Jews and Heathens did actually make fuch objections; and we see also in what manner the apostles have anlwered them; and that the nature of the gospel and its evidences were such, and so glorious, that it fpeedily made its way against various and powerful opposition. The first profeffors, and more especially the first preachers, of the gospel, might expect persecution from several quarters. The Acts of the apostles, and their Epiftles, inform us that they were actually perfecuted; and let us know how they behaved, and what fupported them under such hardships and indignities.
By having Christianity set in fuch different lights; and the objections of those who firit opposed it so clearly and fully answered; we are enabled much better to understand Christianity in its great extent and glorious evidence; to clear up such difficulties, as would otherwise have been insuperable, and to defend it against all its adverfaries.
By Thewing what pure Christianity was at the beginning, we are able much more clearly to point out what it ought now to be, and what are the corruptions of it in later ages; and we have thereby the proper means, in our hands, of fhewing which way a reformation might be effected. And, when and where Christianity is professed in its purity, by having the authentic and original records of it in its primitive glory and perfection, we can the better maintain the purity of it, and prevent future corruptions.
Some, indeed, have applied passages in the Epistles to Christians of all ages, which were designed only for some Christians, and in fome particular cases : but that is one of the abuses of Holy Scripture, against which we are here guarding mankind. What inight be a proper rule, to persons indued with miraculous powers can be no rule to us who have no such
powers. And yet even such patlages are of service now-a-days; as they are a clear proof that, in the primitive church, there were such powers; and consequently the molt glorious evidence attended Christianity, when it firit made its
appearance in the world. Epistles, written to churches, where the apostles had many and bitter enemies; and which contain appeals to such churches, that such spiritual gifts and miraculous powers had been communicated by them, and did then fubfist and abound; contain arguments of a peculiar kind in favour of the truth of the Christian religion. For, if there had been, among their converts, no fuch spiritual gifts and miraculous powers, their enemies would not have failed to have infulted them, and triumphed over them : and Chriftianity muft, in a short time, have sunk, as a most notorious impofture. (See iny Rcafonableness of the Christian Religion, &c. p. 128, &c.]
It has been already observed that the apostolic epistles were not circular letters, nor catholic epistles, originally written to all Christians ; and equally suited to the cafes and circumstances of all Christian churches, at all times and in all places. The general doctrines and precepts do, indeed, equally concern all Christians.' And the apoftolic epistles, which were written to particular churches, or persons, and exactly adapted to their case, are fairly applicable to the cases of all churches and of all Christians, as far as their cases are like those of the persons, or churches, to which they were originally addressed. -This is not confining their meaning ; nor extending it, as I apprehend, beyond what the apostles designed ; or beyond the intention of that' sacred spirit, by which they were guided and directed in all that they spoke or wrote, relating to the doctrine of the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To conclude: It appears to me that a critical interpreter of holy Scripture should set out with this, as a first principle; viz." That “ no text of Scripture has more than one meaning."
That one true fense he should endeavour to find out, as he would find out the sense of Homer, or any other ancient writer. When he has found out that sense, he ought to acquiesce in it. And so ought his readers too ; unless, by the just rules of interpretation, they can fhew that he has mistaken the paffage ; and that another is the one, juft, true, and critical sense of the place.
END OF VOL. IV.