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and, as is visible in most of them, made with partial views, and adapted to what the occasions of that time, and the present circumstances they were then in, were thought to require for the support or justification of themselves.
Their philosophy, also, has its part in misleading men from the true sense of the sacred Scripture. It is plain, that the teaching of men philosophy was no part of the design of divine revelation; but that the expressions of Scripture are commonly suited, in those matters, to the vulgar apprehensions and conceptions of the place and people where they were delivered. And, as to the doctrine therein directly taught by the Apostles, that tends wholly to the setting up the kingdom of Jesus Christ in this world, and the salvation of men's souls; and in this, it is plain, their expressions were conformed to the ideas and notions which they had received from revelation, or were consequent from it. We shall, therefore, in vain go about to interpret their words by the notions of our philosophy, and the doctrines of men delivered in our schools. This is to explain the Apostles' meaning by what they never thought of while they were writing; which is not the way to find their sense in what they delivered, but our own, and to take up from their writings, not what they left there for us, but what we bring along with us in ourselves. He that would understand St Paul right, must understand his terms in the sense he uses them; and not as they are appropriated, by each man's particular philosophy, to conceptions that never entered the mind of the Apostle. To represent to himself the notions St Paul then had in his mind is what we should
aim at in reading him, or any other author; and till we, from his words, paint his very ideas and thoughts in our minds, we do not understand him.
In a writer like St Paul, it is not so easy always to find precisely where one subject ends, and another begins. He is full of the matter he treats, and writes with warmth; which usually neglects method, and those partitions and pauses, which men educated in the schools of rhetoricians usually observe. Those arts of writing St Paul, as well out of design as temper, wholly laid by; the subject he had in hand and the grounds upon which it stood firm, and by which he enforced it, were what alone he minded; and, without solemnly winding up one argument, and intimating any way that he began another, let his thoughts, which were fully possessed of the matter, run in one continued train, wherein the parts of his discourse were woven one into another. So that it is seldom that the scheme of his discourse makes any gap; and therefore, without breaking in upon the connexion of his language, it is hardly possible to separate his discourse, and give a distinct view of his several arguments in distinct sections.
I am far from pretending infallibility, in the sense which I have anywhere given to his words; that would be to erect myself into an Apostle, a presumption of the highest nature in any one, that cannot confirm what he says by miracles. I have, for my own information, sought the true meaning, as far as my poor abilities would reach; and I have unbiassedly embraced what, upon a fair inquiry, appeared so to me. This I thought my duty and interest, in a matter of so great
concernment to me. If I must believe for myself, it is unavoidable that I must understand for myself; for if I blindly, and with an implicit faith, take the Pope's interpretation of the sacred Scripture, without examining whether it be Christ's meaning, it is the Pope I believe in, and not in Christ; it is his authority I rest upon; it is what he says I embrace; for what it is Christ says, I neither know, nor concern myself. It is the same thing when I set up any other man in Christ's place, and make him the authentic interpreter of sacred Scripture to myself. He may possibly understand the sacred Scripture as right as any man, but I shall do well to examine myself, whether that which I do not know, nay which (in the way I take) I can never know, can justify me in making myself his disciple, instead of Jesus Christ's, who of right is alone, and ought to be my only, Lord and Master; and it will be no less sacrilege in me to substitute to myself any other in his room, to be a prophet to me, than to be my king, or priest.
We are all men liable to errors, and infected with them; but have this sure way to preserve ourselves, every one, from danger by them, if, laying aside sloth, carelessness, prejudice, party, and a reverence of men, we betake ourselves in earnest to the study of the way to salvation, in those holy writings wherein God has revealed it from Heaven, and proposed it to the world; seeking our religion where we are sure it is in truth to be found, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things.
PIETY АТ НОМЕ.
BY CALEB STETSON.
PRINTED FOR THE
American Unitarian Association.
GRAY AND BOWEN, 141 WASHINGTON STREET.
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