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drawing the several incidents towards the same point: To understand him right, his inferences should be strictly observed; and it should be carefully examined from what they are drawn, and what they tend to. He is certainly a coherent, argumentative, pertinent writer; and care, I think, should be taken in the expounding of him, to show that he is so. But though I say he has weighty aims in his Epistles, which he steadily keeps in his eye, and drives at in all that he says; yet I do not say that he puts his discourses into an artificial method, or leads his reader into a distinction of his arguments, or gives them notice of new matter, by rhetorical, or studied transitions. He has no ornaments borrowed from the Greek eloquence; no notions of their philosophy mixed with his doctrine, to set it off. The enticing words of man's wisdom,' whereby he means all the studied rules of the Grecian schools, which made them such masters in the art of speaking, he, as he says himself, (1 Cor. ii. 4,) wholly neglected; the reason whereof he gives us in the next verse, and in other places. But though politeness of language, delicacy of style, fineness of expression, labored periods, artificial transitions, and a very methodical ranging of the parts, with such other embellishments as make a discourse enter the mind smoothly, and strike the fancy at first hearing, have little or no place in his style; yet coherence of discourse, and a direct tendency of all the parts of it to the argument in hand, are most eminently to be found in him. This I take to be his character, and doubt not but he will be found to be so upon diligent examination. And in this, if it be so, we have a clue, if we will take the pains to find it, that will conduct us with surety through those seemingly 2*
dark places, and imagined intricacies, in which Christians have wandered so far one from another, as to find quite contrary senses.
Whether a superficial reading, accompanied with the common opinion of his invincible obscurity, has kept off some from seeking in him the coherence of a discourse, tending with close, strong reasoning to a point; or a seemingly more honorable opinion of one, that had been wrapped up into the third heaven, as if from a man so warmed and illuminated as he had been, nothing could be expected but flashes of light, and raptures of zeal, hindered others to look for a train of reasoning, proceeding on regular and cogent argumentation, from a man raised above the ordinary pitch of humanity to a higher and brighter way of illumination; or else, whether others were loath to beat their heads about the tenor and coherence in St Paul's discourses, which, if found out, possibly might set him at a manifest and irreconcileable difference with their systems; it is certain, that whatever has been the cause, this way of getting the true sense of St Paul's Epistles seems not to have been much made use of, or at least so thoroughly pursued as I am apt to think it deserves.
For, granting that he was full stored with knowledge of the things he treated of, for he had light from heaven, it was God himself furnished him, and he could not want; allowing also that he had ability to make use of the knowledge that had been given him, for the end for which it was given him, viz. the information, conviction, and conversion of others; and, accordingly, that he knew how to direct his discourse to the point in hand, we cannot widely mistake the parts of his.
discourse employed about it, when we have anywhere found out the point he drives at; wherever we have got a view of his design, and the aim he proposed to himself in writing, we may be sure that such or such an interpretation does not give us his genuine sense, it being nothing at all to his present purpose. Nay, among various meanings given a text, it fails not to direct us to the best, and very often to assure us of the true; for it is no presumption, when one sees a man arguing for this or that proposition, if he be a sober man, master of reason or common sense, and takes any care of what he says, to pronounce, with confidence in several cases, that he could not talk thus or thus.
I do not yet so magnify this method of studying St Paul's Epistles, as well as other parts of sacred Scripture, as to think it will perfectly clear every hard place, and leave no doubt unresolved. I know, expressions now out of use, opinions of those times not heard of in our days, allusions to customs lost to us, and various circumstances and particularities of the parties, which we cannot come at, &c, must needs continue several passages in the dark now to us at this distance, which shone with full light to those they were directed to. But for all that, the studying of St Paul's Epistles in the way I have proposed, will, I humbly conceive, carry us a great length in the right understanding of them, and make us rejoice in the light we receive from these most useful parts of divine revelation, by furnishing us with visible grounds that we are not mistaken, while the consistency of the discourse, and the pertinency of it to the design he is upon, vouch it worthy of our great Apostle, At least, I hope, it may be my
excuse, for having endeavored to make St Paul an interpreter to me of his own Epistles.
To this may be added another help, which St Paul himself affords us, towards the attaining the true meaning contained in his Epistles. He that reads him with the attention I propose, will easily observe, that as he was full of the doctrine of the Gospel; so it lay all clear, and in order, open to his view. When he gave his thoughts utterance upon any point, the matter flowed like a torrent; but, it is plain, it was a matter he was perfectly master of; he fully possessed the entire revelation he had received from God; had thoroughly digested it; all the parts were formed together in his mind into one well contracted, harmonious body; so that he was no way at uncertainty, nor ever in the least at a loss concerning any branch of it. One may see his thoughts were all of a piece in all his Epistles; his notions were at all times uniform, and constantly the same, though his expressions very various; in them he seems to take great liberty. This, at least, is certain, that no one seems less tied up to a form of words. If then, having, by the method before proposed, got into the sense of the several Epistles, we will but compare what he says, in the places where he treats of the same subject, we can hardly be mistaken in his sense, nor doubt what it was, that he believed and taught concerning these points of the christian religion.
I know it is not unusual to find a multitude of texts heaped up for the maintaining of an espoused proposi tion, but in a sense often so remote from their true meaning, that one can hardly avoid thinking that those who so used them, either sought not, or valued not
the sense; and were satisfied with the sound, where they could but get that to favor them. But a verbal concordance leads not always to texts of the same meaning; trusting too much thereto will furnish us but with slight proofs in many cases; and any one may observe, how apt that is to jumble together passages of Scripture, not relating to the same matter, and thereby to disturb and unsettle the true meaning of holy Scripture. I have therefore said, that we should compare. together places of Scripture treating upon the same point. Thus, indeed, one part of the sacred text could not fail to give light unto another. And since the providence of God has so ordered it, that St Paul has written a great number of Epistles, which, though upon different occasions, and to several purposes, yet are all confined within the business of his Apostleship, and so contain nothing but points of christian instruction, among which he seldom fails to drop in, and often to enlarge on the great and distinguishing doctrines of our holy religion; if, quitting our own infallibility in that analogy of faith which we have made to ourselves, or have implicitly adopted from some other, we would carefully lay these together, and diligently compare and study them, I am apt to think this would give us St Paul's system in a clear and indisputable sense. Every one must acknowledge this to be a better standard to interpret his meaning by, in any obscure and doubtful parts of his Epistles, if any such should still remain, than the system, confession, or articles of any church or society of Christians yet known; which, however pretended to be founded on Scripture, are visibly the contrivances of men, fallible both in their opinions and interpretations;