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and easy, and afterwards proceed to what is difficult; and always explain what is doubtful and dark, by what is explicit and clear. This rule appears to be almost too plain and too reasonable to need to be insisted on; yet it is one which has been very greatly disregarded. From that love of the marvellous, and passion for what is mysterious and obscure in religion, which belong to the human constitution, men are led to reverse this rule, and instead of explaining what is “ hard to be understood” in the epistles, in conformity to what is clear in the gospels, they often distort the plain tenor of the gospels into a conformity with their doubtful deductions from the epistles. This is a spirit, however, against which, as lovers of christian truth, we are bound to be on our guard. Our everlasting interests are too intimately connected with understanding aright the terms of salvation, to allow us to indulge any fancies or predilections in our study of the Bible. We ought to begin our inquiries with the teachings of our Saviour himself, as they are recorded in the Evangelists; sit like Mary at our Master's feet, and hear his words. There we shall undoubtedly find the fundamental truths of religion, and find them expressed in the plainest language. “ I call you friends,” says our Saviour to his disciples, “ for all things, which I

, have heard from my Father, I have made known unto you." It is true that he

them promises of farther illumination after his departure, but this must have referred to the dissipation of the Jewish prejudices which still hung over their minds and obstructed their understanding of the truth which they had already received, and not to any additions to the gospel scheme. For the Apostles never imply, that our Saviour himself did not teach the whole of the gospel; and to suppose that his teachings did not contain the great essentials of the revelation which he came to unfold, is to say, either that our Lord was ignorant of these doctrines, or that he designedly withheld them. Neither of these conclusions is to be for a moment entertained ; and therefore, even though we may find nothing in the Evangelists to support those doubtful disputations on which some choose to insist, as the very essence of christianity, we need not hesitate to say that no doctrine, which is not plainly and clearly taught or implied by our Saviour himself, and is not to be found in the record of his life and doctrines, can have any claim to be numbered among the vital principles of christianity.


The reason for the distinction, which exists between the gospels and the epistles, as primary sources of faith, seems to be very obvious. Our Saviour's own instructions were intended equally for all mankind in every age. They are conveyed in the form best adapted to make them intelligiblea history of his life and teachings; and these have every claim to occupy

the earliest and prin

cipal attention of the disciples of Christ. But the epistles were written to particular christian communities, at Rome, at Corinth, at Philippi, &c., under circumstances peculiar to that age of the world, and the situation of christians, who were then only a small and persecuted sect, surrounded by Jewish and Pagan enemies. They were frequently written in answer to particular questions put by converts to an Apostle, and with primary reference to certain divisions of opinion which then existed; some of which are now wholly unknown, and others, especially that about the abolition of the Mosaic law, have long since been settled. Now it is very

evident that letters written under such circumstances will contain some things, which though perfectly intelligible to the persons addressed, must be “ hard to be understood” by persons in a distant age, and in a wholly different situation.

There are other reasons for the obscurity of Paul's epistles; particularly his peculiar character as a writer. It is difficult to follow the course of a mind so rapid and impassioned through the whole of one of his epistles, leaping as he often does from conclusion to conclusion, without giving you the intermediate ideas by which he arrives at them ; sometimes so concise as hardly to permit a glimpse of his meaning, and sometimes presenting an idea under so many forms as almost to distract attention; intermingling in the same letter, allegory, metaphor, argument, invective, persuasion, terfor, pity, and sarcasm. To follow the stream of the thoughts of such a mind, through periods labouring with involutions, disjointed by parentheses, and broken up by digressions, though a very

interesting, is surely not an easy task. It is not with such writings as these, that those who have need of milk, and not of strong meat, should begin their inquiries after christian truth.

Do not imagine that these observations are to lead you

to undervalue the epistles. They are intended merely to remind you that the disciple is not above his Lord, and to assert this general principle, that christianity is to be first best learned from Christ himself. They are designed to lead you to our Saviour himself, as the original fountain of all christian truth. The epistles are undoubtedly to be read with the greatest care and attention, and they will richly reward as much of both of them as you can give. There is nothing in them when fairly understood, which does not perfectly harmonize with the teachings of our Saviour. The apostles are always to be listened to as acquainted by divine illumination, with the christian system, and when they profess to speak from the Lord, and do not, as they sometimes do, expressly say that they speak of themselves, they are to be reverenced as uttering the word of God. The writings of Paul, particularly, will be found more interesting the

the more they are studied. There is no writer who will more strongly impress an attentive reader with the belief, that in all he says he is giving you the genuine workings of his heart, the convictions of his inmost soul. There are no writings more indisputably genuine ; and none from which you can draw more powerful arguments for the truth and divinity, the glory and perfection of that religion, of which he was the eloquent and devoted defender.

III. The principle of interpretation of which we have been speaking, that we ought in our study of the scriptures to begin with what is simple and easy, and afterwards proceed to what is more difficult, might be farther illustrated and applied, not merely to particular books, but to individual passages. But I must hasten to another observation, which is, that in order to understand any part of the scriptures, we must attend to the subject on which the writer is treating, and the connexion in which it stands. The necessity of this rule you will at once perceive by recollecting how easily any one's writing or conversation may be misunderstood, if detached parts of it only are repeated, without the explanations and limitations with which they were accompanied. A man may be made in this way to say exactly the reverse of what he really meant, and yet his language may be correctly quoted.-Or to use another illustration, suppose you were to receive a long letter from a person in a distant country, on some unknown subject; and that you should begin, before you read it, with dividing

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