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by learned and pious men in clearing the letter of the scripture from the ambiguities to which all language is subject. The difficulties under which the Jews laboured were not grammatical difficulties: and whatever these may be in the original, they are removed for all common readers by the translation of the bible into their mother tongue. The great difficulties of the scripture arise totally from other causes and principles; namely, from the matter of which it treats, and the various forms under which that matter is delivered.
Let us consider first, how the case stands with respect to the matter of the scripture; and then secondly, with respect to the form or manner in which that matter is represented.
The bible treats of a dispensation of God, which began before this world, and will not be finished till the world is at an end, and the eternal kingdom of God is established. It informs us of the institution of religion in paradise, with the original dependence of man upon his Maker: of a primitive state of man under a former covenant, which is now forfeited : of his temptation and fall : of the causes of death and the promise of redemption. It founds a ritual on the remission of sin by the shedding of blood, and the benefits of intercession; which the heathens also acknowledged in the traditionary rites of their priesthood. It relates the dispersion of the Gentile nations, and the separation of the Hebrews. It foretells the manifestation of a Saviour in the flesh; the rejection of the Jews; the calling and conversion of the heathens; the establishment of the Christian Church, with its preservation against the powers of the world, and the gates of hell. It treats of a spiritual life, and renewed affections in its members ; that they must even be born again in a spiritual
manner, and return to a state of childish simplicity in their understandings; it assures us of the resurrection of the body after death; of the future judgment of the world by the man Jesus Christ; of the glorification of the faithful, and the condemnation of the wicked. It opens to us an invisible world of spirits, some of whom are in alliance with God, and others in rebellion against him; assuring us withal, that every man will have his final portion with the one party or the other.
None of these things are known to us by nature; and it is not pretended that they are; for if man draws a scheme of religion for himself, not one of all these articles finds a place in it. Therefore as the nature of man doth not know any of these things till God reveals them, it must of course be under two very great difficulties; first of understanding or comprehending; and secondly, of admitting or receiving them.
From the difficulty we are under of comprehending such things as are above natural reason, the manner of the Scripture is as extraordinary as its matter: and it must be so from the necessity of the case. Of all the objects of sense we have ideas, and our minds and memories are stored with them. But of invisible things we have no ideas till they are pointed out to us by revelation : and as we cannot know them immediately, such as they are in themselves, after the manner in which we know sensible objects, they must be communicated to us by the mediation of such things as we already comprehend. For this reason, the Scripture is found to have a language of its own, which doth not consist of words, but of signs or figures taken from visible things. It could not otherwise treat of God, who is a spirit, and of the
spirit of man, and of a spiritual world; which no words can describe. Words are the arbitrary signs of natural things; but the language of revelation goes a step farther, and uses some things as the signs of other things; in consequence of which, the world which we now see becomes a sort of commentary on the mind of God, and explains the world in which we believe.
It being then the professed design of the Scripture to teach us such things as we neither see nor know of ourselves, its style and manner must be such as are no where else to be found. It must abound with figurative expressions ; it cannot proceed without them : and if we descend to an actual examination of particulars, we find it assisting and leading our faculties forward ; by an application of all visible objects to a figurative use; from the glorious orb which shines in the firmament, to a grain of seed which is buried in the earth. In this sort of language did our blessed Saviour instruct his hearers; always referring them to such objects as were familiar to their senses, that they might see the propriety and feel the force of his doctrine. This method he observed, not in compliance with any customary figures of speech peculiar to the Eastern people, but consulting the exigence of human nature, which is every where the same. He spake a sort of language which was to be carried out into all lands; and we of the western world are obliged to follow in our preaching of the Gospel, because we cannot otherwise preach it so as to be understood by our hearers. Here I find it necessary to confirm what I have advanced by some examples.
As we have but imperfect notions of the relations and differences between life and death, our Saviour, when he was about to raise a maid to life, said to those who were present, the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. He did not say she is dead, and I will raise her to life: but she is asleep; whence it was to be inferred, that she would awake. They who were not skilled in the divine language of signs and figures, laughed him to scorn; as if he had spoken in ignorance what was expressed with consummate truth and wisdom: for the substitution of sleep for death, when we have it upon such great authority, has the force and value of a whole sermon in a single word: it is a seed from whence a tree of life may be unfolded.
Upon another like occasion our Saviour expressed himself in the same manner to his disciples : our friend Lazarus sleepeth ; and when they did not understand the force of his words, he said plainly, Lazarus is dead. When he spake of the deadness of the mind, a state, which, however real, must always be invisible, because the mind itself is so; he expressed it under the same term with the death of the body; let the dead bury their dead: of which expression no sense can be made by those who are not aware, that the Scripture speaks to us by things instead of words. Admit this principle, and then all is clear and consistent. It is as if Christ had said, “ let those who “ are dead in their spirits (with respect to the new “ life of the Gospel), employ themselves in burying “ those who are dead in body; for they are fit for “ nothing else : but by following me and preaching “ the Gospel, thou shalt raise men from the death of “ sin unto the life of righteousness.”
In the writings of the prophets, the spiritual blessings of the Gospel are so constantly described under some allusion to nature, that their expressions are not true till they are figuratively interpreted. Let us take an example from the prophet Isaiah: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. Who ever heard that this was literally fulfilled ? In what part of the world were all the mountains levelled; the valleys filled up; the crooked and rough places made straight and plain ? But in the figurative sense, all these things were to be brought to pass in the minds of men at the publication of the Gospel, when all flesh should see the salvation of God *. Then should the high and mighty of this world be confounded and brought low; the humble should be exalted, the meek encouraged, the crooked ways of men rectified, their wild and rugged tempers softened and civilized.
The bible has farther difficulties arising from another principle. For it pleased God, for wise ends, to exercise the faith and devotion of his people with a system of forms and ceremonies, which had no value but from their signification. I mention no particulars here, because they will occur to us abundantly hereafter; but the fact is undoubted from that general assertion of St. Paul, that the law had a shadow of good things to comet: and again, that the instituted meats and drinks, the holy days, new moons and sabbaths, of the law, are a shadow of things to come, having their substance in the doctrines and mysteries of Christianity; or, as the apostle speaks, whose body is of Christ I. And therefore in the Gospel things are still described to us in the terms of the law; the substance itself taking the language of the shadow, that the design of both may be understood : as where the apostle saith, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,
* Luke iii. 6.
+ Heb. x. 1.
$ Col. ii. 17.