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INTERPRETATION OF HOLY SCRIPTURE.—INSPIRED INTERPRETATION.—THE BIBLE IS NOT TO BE INTERPRETED LIKE ANY OTHER BOOK.—GOD, (NOT MAN,) THE REAL AUTHOR OF THE BIBLE.
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
IT is impossible to preserve exact method in Sermons like these, uncertain in number, and delivered at irregular intervals. It shall only be stated that, having already spoken at considerable length, of the Inspiration of Holy Scripture;—not, one part more, one part less, but every part equally inspired throughout; not general, (whatever the exact notion may be of a book generally inspired,) but particular, by which I mean that every word is none other than the utterance of the Holy Ghost436436 “It cannot be said that this, [viz. that the Bible is the word of God,] is always remembered. It cannot be said that they who write respecting the Bible, even Christian writers who are looked up to, always appear to have been in that frame of mind while contemplating the statements of the Sacred Volume, which they, the same men, would have been in if they had been listening for a voice out of a cloud; a word reaching them which was simply, and in that sense, the Word of God. Yet the Sacred Volume comes to us with no less claims than as conveying such a message; and on every feature of it, it carries that claim. It professes to be this,—an account of what went on in the secret council-chamber of the Most High.”—Eden’s Sermons, pp. 150-1.: having, moreover, explained the reasonableness,—(the logical necessity, as it seems,)—of giving such an account of the Bible propose to-day to proceed to the subject of Interpretation. Really, it has become the fashion of a School of unbelief which has lately emerged into infamous notoriety, to deal with both these questions in so insolent a style of dogmatism, that the preacher is compelled to halt in limine; and to explain that he begs that no offence may be taken at the account which he has just given of the Bible; for that really he means no more than Bp. Pearson meant when he said that “the Scripture phrase” is “the Language of the Holy Ghost437437 Exposition of the Creed, Art. II. (“Our Lord,”)—vol. i. p. 183.:”—that he desires to say no other thing than what he said, by whose Spirit, (as St. Peter declares438438 1 St. Peter i. 11.,) the prophets prophesied;—the preacher, I say, wishes to explain that he desires to mean no other thing than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself meant, when he spoke of “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
I. Interpretation, then, in the largest sense of the term, I take to denote the discovery of the method and meaning of Holy Scripture.—I exclude those critical labours which merely aim at establishing a correct text.—I exclude also the learning which merely investigates the grammatical force of single words. True, that even to translate is often to interpret; but this results only from the imperfection of language,—which can seldom represent the words of one idiom by the words of another, without at the same time parting with the associations which belong to the old words, and importing those which are inseparable from the new.—Moreover, except occasionally, it is presumed that the lore of the Antiquary, Geographer, and so forth, does not aspire to the dignity of Interpretation.—To be brief,—whatever simply puts us on a level with ordinary hearers of ancient days; does no more than inform us what custom, locality, or date is intended by the sacred writer; (things which once were obvious, and which ought not to be any difficulty now;)—all this, I say, seems external to the province of Interpretation; the purpose of which is to discover the method and the meaning of Holy Writ. And I find that every extant specimen of this sacred Science is either (1) what God hath Himself revealed; or (2) what the Church hath with authority delivered; or (3) what individuals have thought themselves competent to declare.
Of these three authorities concerning the sense of Scripture, it is evident that the last-named is entitled to least notice. So unimportant indeed is it, as scarcely to be of any weight at all. What one individual asserts, on his own unsupported authority, another individual may, with as much or as little authority, deny; and who is to decide?
But the authority indicated in the second place, clearly challenges very different attention. When, for example, our own Hooker declares, concerning the 5th verse of the iiird chapter of St. John, that “of all the ancients there is not one to be named that ever did otherwise expound or allege this place than as implying external Baptism439439 Eccl. Pol., B. v. c. lix. § 3.” we perceive at once that such consent, on the part of men in whose ears the echoes of the Apostolic Age had not yet quite ceased to vibrate; and who were themselves professors of that Divine Science which takes cognizance of the subject-matter in hand:—such general consent of Antiquity, I say, on a point of Interpretation, must evidently be held to be decisive.
“Religio mihi est, eritque, contra torrentem omnium Patrum, Sanctas Scripturas interpretari; nisi quando me argumenta cogunt evidentissima,—quod nunquam eventurum credo440440 Bp. Bull, Defensio Fid. Nic. I. i. 9, (Works, vol. v. p. 22.).” So spake one who had read the Fathers with no common care, and who turned his reading to no common account. “I persuade. myself,” he says, “that you will learn the modesty of submitting your judgment to that of the Catholic Doctors, where they are found generally to concur in the interpretation of a text of Scripture, how absurd soever that interpretation may, at first appearance, seem to be. For upon a diligent search you will find, that aliquid latet quod non patet,—‘there is a mystery in the bottom:’ and that which at first view seemed even ridiculous, will afterwards appear to be a most certain truth441441 Disc. v. The elate of Man before the Fall. Bull’s Works, vol. ii. p. 99..” “No man can oppose Catholic consent, but he will at last be found to oppose both the Divine Oracles and Sound Reason442442 “Deus novit cordis mei secreta: in dogmatis theologicis a novaturiendi prurigine (quam etiam supremi Judicis tribunal insiliens fidenter mihi tribuit theologiæ professor) adeo alienus sum, ut quæcunque catholicorum Patrum et veterum episcoporum consensu comprobata sunt, etiamsi meum ingeniolum ea non assequatur, tamen omni reverentia amplexurus sim. Nimirum non paucis experimentis monitus didiceram, cum adhuc juvenis Harmoniam scriberem, (quod mihi jam confirmata ætate persuasissimum est,) neminem catholico consensui repugnare posse, quin is (utcunque ipsi aliquantisper adblandiri videantur sacræ Scripturæ loca nonnulla perperam intellecta, et levicularum ratiuncularum phantasmata) tandem et Divinis Oraculis et sanæ rationi repugnasse deprehendatur.”—Bp. Bull’s Works, vol. iv. p. 313..”
The distinction thus drawn between individual opinion and the collective voice of the Church, was far better understood anciently than at present. The interpretation of a Council, especially if œcumenical, was accounted decisive. Even the generally consentient voice of Doctors and Fathers, as far as it could be ascertained, was held to be of the same authoritative kind. An interesting illustration occurs. Than Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, few Fathers of the fourth century were more learned in Holy Scripture. He, commenting upon “the Captain of the Lord’s Host,” mentioned in the with chapter of the Book of Joshua, delivers it as his opinion that it was the same Personage who spoke to Moses ‘in the Bush;’ viz. the Eternal Son443443 In days of unbelief, one is tempted to add a note even on a Theological truism like that in the text,—“Esto igitur, inquies; fuerit Deus, qui in Veteri Testamento, sive per Angelum, sive sub angelicâ repræsentatione sanctis viris apparuit et locutus est; at quâ demum ratione adducti crediderunt doctores, fuisse Dei Filium? Respondeo: Ratione, ni fallor, optimâ, quam ex traditione Apostolicâ edidicerant.”—Def. Fid. Nicæn. I. i. 12. Bp. Bull’s Works, vol. v. i, p. 27.. On which opinion, a learned man of the same age, in a scholion of singular beauty which has come down to us, remarks as follows:—“Aye, but the Church, O most holy Eusebius, holds a view on this subject altogether at variance with thine444444 Ἀλλ᾽ ἡ ἐκκλησία, ὦ ἁγιώτατε Εὐσέβιε, ἑτέρως τὰ περὶ τούτου νομίζει καὶ οὐχ ὡς σύ. τὸν μὲν γὰρ ἐν τῇ βάτῳ φανέντα τῷ Μωϋσῇ θεολογεῖ· τὸν δὲ ἐν Ἱεριχῷ τῷ μετ᾽ αὐτὸν ὀφθέντα, τὸν τῶν Ἑβραίων ἐπιστασίαν λαχόντα, μάχαιραν ἐσπασμένον, καὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λῦσαι προστάττοντα τὸ ὑπόδημα, τοῦτον δέ γε τὸν ἀρχάγγελον ὑπείληφε Μιχαήλ, κ.τ.λ.—The entire passage may be seen in the best annotated editions of Eusebius, (lib. I. c. ii. § 17.) since that of Valesius, who first introduced it to notice. But to read it in a truly valuable context, reference should be made to Dr. Mill’s Christian Advocate’s publication for 1841, p. 92. The note alluded to has been reprinted in Dr. Lee’s Discourses On Inspiration, p. 535..” He goes on to allege reasons why the ἀρχιστράτηγος of Joshua must be held to have been not an uncreated, but a created Angel; the Archangel Michael, in fact. We will not now go into that matter. You are but requested to observe, how profoundly unimportant the opinion of a very learned individual was held to be, by one in whose ears the Patristic “torrent “was yet sounding; although Justin Martyr is known to have been of the same mind with Eusebius.—And thus much for individual views as to the meaning of Holy Scripture; as contrasted with the decisions of Councils and Fathers. To judge from the signs of the Age, we have exactly reversed the ancient estimate; and expect that more respect will be shewn to our own private fancies, than to a general consensus of Divines, ancient and modern. It seems to have been discovered that the supreme guide of Life is the individual conscience,—“without appeal—except to himself445445 Essays and Reviews, p. 31.!”
II. Before descending, however, to the business of Interpretation, there is clearly one preliminary question to be settled: namely, the principle on which Interpretation is to be conducted. And this is all that can be discussed to-day. To seek for that principle in the contradictory pages of solitary theorists, would of course be hopeless, as well as absurd. To elicit it from Patristic Commentaries, would obviously leave a door open for cavil. The ancient Fathers, (allowing that they often speak with consentient voice,) singly, were but fallible men,—however famous, as professors of Theological Science, they may have been. This, however, I venture to assume without any hesitation whatever,—that if, instead of either of these two ways of ascertaining how Holy Scripture ought to be handled, we can be so fortunate as to discover from the Inspired Writers themselves what their method was with respect to the Word of God,—in such case, I say, we shall be in a position of entire certainty446446 See Appendix (J).. We shall then have full warrant for disregarding the dicta of modern sciolists on this great subject;—however arrogant their dogmatism, however confident their unsupported asseverations.
I desire to be very clearly understood. My position is this. All Christian men allow that the Apostles and Evangelists of our Lord were inspired. Before such an audience as the present, I will not condescend even to allude to the absolute claim of our Saviour Christ, who, as the Son of Man, enjoyed the gift of the Spirit without measure; who, as very God, “in the beginning created the Heaven and the Earth,”—(for, “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. . . . All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made447447 St. John i. 1-3.:”)—I will not, I say, for every utterance of our Saviour Christ pause even, to claim the entire reverence of our hearts,—the prostrate homage of our understandings. . . . Well then. If we can but discover what the mind and method of these several speakers and writers was, with regard to the Interpretation of Holy Scripture; on what principle, and with what sentiments, they handled the Book of God’s Law; we shall have discovered the thing of which we are in search. For the Author of a book must perforce be allowed to be the best judge of the method and intention of that book:—the Holy Ghost must be allowed to be the best authority as to His own meaning!
Now this method,—(of which, as I will presently remind you, we possess a great many specimens,)—proves to be very extraordinary. It altogether establishes the fact that the Bible is not to be interpreted “like any other book.” That it could not be so interpreted, might have been confidently anticipated beforehand, from the very fact of its Divine origin448448 So Bp. Butler, in a passage which will be found below, at p. 165-6.—Very different is the judgment of Professor Jowett, who is of opinion that “it will be a further assistance in the consideration of this subject, to observe that the Interpretation of Scripture has nothing to do with any opinion respecting its origin.”—Essays and Reviews, p. 350.. What I mean,—Since, “by the mouth of David,” the Holy Ghost is expressly declared by Christ and by St. Peter to have “spoken;” and since the Psalms collectively are described by St. Paul as the utterance of the Holy Ghost; since Jeremiah’s witness is said to be the witness of the Holy Ghost; and the Holy Ghost is actually said to have spoken by Isaiah; while the Spirit of Christ Himself, (St. Peter says,) dwelt in the Prophets:—in a word, since “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” and the provisions of the Mosaic Law are to the same Holy Ghost by St. Paul emphatically ascribed449449 See above, pp. 55-57.;—stubborn facts, you are requested to observe, which Essayists may prudently suppress but which no Sophistry on earth can either evade or deny:—seeing, I say, that Holy Scripture is declared by inspired men to be the utterance of the Eternal God, it was to have been expected beforehand that its texture would bear witness to its Divine origin; and that, to interpret it “like any other book,” would be to forget its extraordinary character. Interpret Sophocles and Plato, if you will, like any other book, for a very plain reason; but beware how you apply your purely human notions to the utterance of the Ancient of Days; for that utterance, enshrined in one particular volume, clearly makes that one volume essentially unlike any other volume in the world.
You are particularly requested to observe, further,—that singular pains have been taken to mystify this entire subject. It has been a favourite device to multiply difficulties,—real or imaginary,—and so, to create a miserable sense of the dangers which fairly hem the subject in,—in order to render more palatable a desperate escape from them all. Thus, we are told of the risks to which Grammatical nicety, and Rhetorical accommodation expose us; and again, the snares into which the Logical method may betray. Metaphysical aid, we are assured, mystifies; and even Learning, (would to Heaven we had a little more of it!) obscures the sense450450 Professor Jowett in Essays and Reviews, pp. 393-402. He adds,—“Discussions respecting the use of the Greek article, have gone far beyond the line of utility. There seem to be reasons for doubting whether any considerable light can be thrown on the New Testament from inquiry into the language. . . . Minute corrections of tenses or particles are no good.” (p. 393.) And this, from a Regius Professor of Greek!. Might we just take the liberty of suggesting that the study of the exploded works of German unbelievers, (of which Germany herself, thank God! is beginning to be ashamed,) on the part of men of -very moderate intellectual powers, however wise in their own conceit; and with no previous Theological knowledge to guide them,—is another yet more fruitful avenue to error? . . . Next, we are threatened with the manifold inconveniences which would ensue from the discovery that there is more than one sense in Holy Scripture,—(that one sense being assumed to be, not the sense intended by its Divine Author, but the sense which the first hearers may be supposed to have put upon it451451 See below, pp. 164-5..) “If words may have more than one meaning,” (it is not very logically argued,) “they may have any meaning452452 Essays and Reviews, p. 372..” We are told a great deal about “the growth of ideas;” and of human prejudices; and of “the disturbing influence of Theological terms.”—But all this kind of thing, it will be perceived at once, is altogether foreign to the matter in hand. Ought Scripture to be interpreted like any other book,—or not? That is the real question! Has Scripture only one meaning, or more? That is the point in dispute! Above all, What is Me true principle of Scripture Interpretation? That is the only thing we have to discover!
Now, as for how the principles of Divine Interpretation are to be discovered, it is undeniable that there can be no surer way than by discovering what is the method of the Holy Ghost; by inquiring, what is the method of our Saviour Christ, and of His Evangelists, and of His Apostles?
1. Surely it is needless to remind an audience like the present, what that method is! Turn the first page of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and weigh well the three famous cases of Interpretation which there encounter you453453 St. Matt. ii. 15: 17, 18: 23.:—namely, the assurance that Hosea’s words, “Out of Egypt have I called my son454454 Hos. xi. 1.;”—that Jeremiah’s declaration concerning the tears of Rachel455455 Jer. xxxi. 15.;—and that the many prophetic utterances concerning “the Branch456456 e.g. Is. xi. 1. Also Zech. iii. 8: vi. 12. Jer. xxiii. 5 and xxxiii. 15.;”—found fulfilment, each, in Christ. The first,—when, at Jehovah’s bidding, He was carried up out of Egypt into Palestine; the second,—when the bereaved mothers of Bethlehem wept for their murdered offspring; the third,—when Christ, being bred up in Nazareth, was called a “Nazarene,”—the root of which, etymologically, denotes “a branch.”—But look further, and your surprise will increase at discovering how extraordinary the Divine method is. When our Saviour cast out evil spirits and healed the sick, St. Matthew declares that He fulfilled that prophecy of Isaiah, “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses457457 St. Matth. viii. 17.;” the language of the prophet in fact being, “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows458458 Is. liii. 4.;” which, as far as the words go, is rather a different thing.
2. But it is St. Paul who affords us the largest induction of instances. When he would establish the right of the Clergy to have due provision made for them, he finds his warrant in a most unexpected place of Scripture. “Say I these things as a man? or saith not the Law the same also? For it is written in the Law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.’ Doth God care for the oxen here alluded to459459 For consider Exod. ix. 19, Jonah iv. 11, &c.? (μὴ τῶν βοῶν μέλει τῷ Θεῷ;) or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written460460 1 Cor. ix. 8-10, quoting Deut. xxv. 4. See also 1 Tim. v. 18.—“It seems providentially appointed that texts of the Old Testament should be called out into Christian meaning which are the very texts we might have dismissed into a transitory interest. ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.’ ‘Humane provision!’, modern observation might say. ‘Is it for oxen God careth?’ is an Apostle’s interpretation of the same text; ‘or saith He it altogether for our sakes?’ . . . . It is a law, we find, prospectively set down for the Christian Church.”—Eden’s Sermons, p. 189..” I remind you of the entire passage, because it is so very express.—Elsewhere, St. Paul adduces a few verses from the viiith Psalm, the primary and more obvious meaning of which appears to assert nothing more than the supremacy of Man’s present nature over the inferior races of animals; (“all sheep and oxen, yea and all the beasts of the field461461 Ps. viii. 7..”) The application of it, in a prophetic sense, to the supreme dominion of our Redeemer over all created beings in Heaven and Earth, is certainly not one which would naturally suggest itself to us; yet is it for this purpose, and this only, that St. Paul adduces it; and as confirmatory of the universal sovereignty of Christ, the place in question is three times quoted by the same Apostle462462 Heb. ii. 6-8. 1 Cor. xv. 25, and Eph. i. 22.—See Shuttleworth’s Paraphrase of the first place cited, p. 394..—Elsewhere, when he would warn persons who have been partakers of both Sacraments, of the danger of final rejection) he cites the example of the Fathers of Israel in the Wilderness. “The waters of the Red Sea were a wall unto them, on their right hand and on their left463463 Exod. xiv. 22, 29.,” and the watery Cloud covered them above; whereby it came to pass that “all our Fathers were under the Cloud, and all passed through the Sea; and were all therefore baptized unto Moses in the Cloud and in the Sea.” Moreover, he declares that they “did all eat the same spiritual meat;” (alluding to the Manna;) “and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ464464 1 Cor. x. 1-4..” . . . . Our Saviour’s emphatic application to Himself (in the vith of St. John) of the Manna, “the bread which came down from Heaven,”—none can forget465465 St. John vi. 32-58..
3. But St. Paul further largely interprets the ordinances of the Mosaic Law. Thus, the provision that the high-priest alone should enter, once a year, into the Holy of Holies, not without blood, he interprets as follows ,—“the Holy Ghost this signifying,”—(“the Holy Ghost this signifying!)—that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first Tabernacle was yet standing466466 Hebr. ix. 6-9..” He explains further that “Christ being come an High-Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect Tabernacle, by His own Blood entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal Redemption for us467467 Ibid., v. 11, 12..”—The Veil of the Temple, (he says,) typified Christ’s flesh468468 Διὰ τοῦ καταπετάσματος, τουτέστι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Hebr. x. 20.; and St. Paul intimates that he could further have spoken particularly of the Golden Censer, and the Ark of the Covenant, and the Pot of Manna, and Aaron’s rod, and the Tables of the Covenant, and the Cherubims of Glory469469 Hebr. ix. 2-5..—Again, he says, that “the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the Sanctuary by the High Priest for Sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own Blood, suffered without the gate470470 Hebr. xiii. 11, 12..”—Who is not familiar with the same Apostle’s declaration that the words of our father Adam relative to Marriage, are expressive of a great mystery, and set forth symbolically the union of Christ and His Church; “For we are members of His Body,—of His Flesh and of His Bones471471 Eph. v. 30-32.?”—St. Peter is at least as remarkable in his Interpretations as St. Paul; for he says of the Ark “wherein eight souls were saved by water,”—“The like figure whereunto, even Baptism, cloth also now save us472472 Ὣ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα. 1 St. Pet. iii. 21..”
Now these samples of Inspired Interpretation would be abundantly sufficient for our present purpose. But before I proceed to make any use of them, it is right to draw attention to a phenomenon, even more extraordinary.
4. It is found then, that besides vindicating for the Scriptures of the Old Testament this unsuspected depth and fulness of prophetic and typical meaning, the very Narrative itself teems to overflowing with mysterious purpose. You have but to weigh well what the Holy Spirit hath delivered concerning Abraham and Melchizedek, Hagar and Sarah,—to perceive that the texture of the Historical Narrative itself is of supernatural fabric. All are familiar with what I allude to; but I must remind you of it, in detail. The Apostle is bent on sheaving the superiority of our Saviour’s Priesthood to that of Aaron. How does he proceed? He lays his finger, unhesitatingly, on a verse in the cxth Psalm, (“Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek;”)—declares with authority that it is Christ whom the prophet there alludes to,—or rather, whom God apostrophizes,—(for that is what St. Paul actually says; προσαγορευθεὶς ὑπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ473473 Hebr. v. 10.: although David undeniably wrote the Psalm;)—and proceeds, without more ado, to draw out minutely the characteristics of our Saviour’s Priesthood, from the very brief narrative contained in the xivth Chapter of Genesis. Do but hear him!
The compound name “Melchi-zedek,” being interpreted, denotes “King of Righteousness:” while “King of Salem” denotes “King of Peace.” These titles, (it is implied,) are emphatically appropriate to Christ our King; to Him who “is our Righteousness,” and the very “Prince of Peace.” It happens that nothing is said in Genesis about the parentage of Melchizedek, nor about the family from which he sprang: not a word as to when he was born, or when he died. From this silence of Scripture, St. Paul collects the typical adumbration of One who, as very God, was without human parentage,—had no earthly lineage;—“was before all things,” God from all eternity,—having indeed “neither beginning of days nor end of life.”—Did not Abraham give to Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils? Consider then, (St. Paul says,) how great an one Melchizedek must have been! Nay, consider that the descendants of Levi are commanded to take tithe of their brethren, although all are sprung from Abraham alike; but here is one, altogether of a different family, taking tithes of Abraham,—aye and blessing Abraham too;—(δεδεκάτωκε, εὐλόγηκε, “hath tithed,” “hath blessed,”—the effect of the act remaining for ever in Christ typified by Melchizedek.)—This mysterious King of Salem and Priest of the Most High God not only tithes but blesses Abraham, who had received from Almighty God the promises, which included all blessedness, earthly and heavenly. Now, this implies Melchizedek’s superiority,—for, of course, the less is blessed of the greater.—Men who receive tithe here below are mortal; but the very silence of Scripture respecting Melchizedek’s death, symbolically teaches that He whom Melchizedek typified, yet liveth.—And indeed, (so to speak,) the tribe of Levi who take tithes, paid tithes to Melchizedek in the person of their great progenitor; because Levi was as yet in the loins of his father Abraham when Melchizedek met him474474 Hebr. vii. 1-10. The student in Divinity will find it well worth his while to inquire for a Latin Dissertation by the late learned Dr. W. H. Mill on this subject.. . . . I do not ask your pardon for thus leading you in detail over one unusually minute specimen of Divine Interpretation. I know well that there are many persons to whom the Divine method is highly distasteful; and who think their own method of Interpretation infinitely better. But, unfortunately for those persons, the question in hand is not a question of taste, but a dry matter of fact. We have to discover what is the Divine method of Interpretation, and no other thing. Its improbability and its inconvenience,—its difficulty, and its strangeness,—its seeming inconclusiveness, (apart from the authority on which it rests) and its certain uniqueness, (notwithstanding the many injunctions we have met with that we must interpret the Bible like any other book475475 Essays and Reviews, pp. 338, 375, 377, 419-20, 426, 428, 429, &c. The advice is Professor Jowett’s.,)—all these considerations are all together irrelevant, and beside the question. St. Paul himself admits that the Discourse now before us is πολὺς καὶ δυσερμήνευτος,—long and of difficult interpretation476476 Hebr. v. 11..—Some will perhaps be found to inquire how it happens that while so many remote points of analogy are adduced, so obviously typical a circumstance as Melchizedek’s bringing forth “bread and wine477477 Gen. xiv. 18.” obtains no notice from the Apostle? I answer,—For the same reason that Isaac is nowhere spoken of, nowhere so much as hinted at, in the Bible, as being .a type of Christ. A blind man may see it. It requires no Revelation from Heaven to teach such things as that! But the typical foreshadowing of the superiority of our Saviour’s Priesthood over that of Aaron, in the story of Melchizedek, would infallibly have escaped mankind altogether, unless it had been thus specially revealed.
Some there may be so utterly wanting in Theological instinct, or so depraved of taste so utterly unused to the study of God’s Word, or so unobservant of the characteristic method of it,—as to imagine that there is something trifling in the specimens of Interpretation before us. I am only concerned to maintain that they are Divine. You may think what you please about them. They are the teaching of the Holy Ghost. Nay, if unfortunately any persons here present should think themselves wiser than God, I would request them to observe that, singularly enough, God has connected with this very exposition a short address to themselves. It runs as follows:—“Concerning Melchizedek, we have to deliver a long and difficult interpretation; difficult, however, only because ye have become dull of hearing478478 Νωθροὶ γ^γόνατε ταῖς ἀκοαῖς.—Hebr. v. 11..” (The fault, you observe, is yours. Whereas God made your spiritual senses sharp and quick, you have blunted their edge, and are become stupid and obtuse. It follows:)—“For when, by reason of the length of time that ye have professed Christianity, ye ought to be Teachers,”—(pray mark that!),—“ye have need that some one should teach you the first Principles of the Oracles of God; and ye have become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that useth milk, is without experience in the Word of Righteousness; for he is an infant. But solid food (στερεὰ τροφή) is for them that are of full age479479 Hebr. v. 12-14..” Where you are requested to observe that a specimen of Interpretation you think trifling, the Holy Ghost calls “solid food;” and yourselves, who in your own conceit represent the World’s Manhood480480 Dr. Temple in Essays and Reviews., He calls νηπίους,—“babes.” . . . . This discrepancy of opinion strikes me as rather curious.
5. The time would fail, were we to enter as particularly into the Divine Interpretation elsewhere given of another story, apparently as little fraught with mystery as any in the Bible. Who would ever have imagined that the brief narrative of Hagar’s dismissal from the house of Abraham at Sarah’s instance, was the ἀλληγορία of so Divine a thing as St. Paul declares;—the two Mothers setting forth the two Covenants, (one, bearing children unto bondage,—the other, the free Mother of us all: Sinai symbolized by that, the heavenly Jerusalem by this:) and even Ishmael’s mockery not being without mysterious meaning?—Such however is the Divine Interpretation.—Elsewhere, when St. Paul desires to contrast the method of the Gospel with the method of the Law,—(this, glorious; that, with the same glorious features concealed;)—and also to illustrate the present unbelief of the Jewish nation;—the Apostle finds a prophetic emblem of their blindness in the veiled countenance of their great Lawgiver, as described in the xxxivth chapter of Exodus. The mystical intention of that veil, (he says,) was to symbolize the nation’s inability to look steadfastly to the end of the dispensation, and to recognize Messiah. Nay, to this hour, while they read their Scriptures, that veil (he says) is upon their hearts. And yet, even as Moses, when he returned to God, is related to have taken off the veil from his face, so (St. Paul says) will it fare with the Jews, when they convert and turn themselves to Christ. The veil will be withdrawn481481 2 Cor. iii. 12-16.—Take notice that in allusion to the place, Exod. xxxiv. 34, (ἡνίκα δ᾽ ἂν εἰσεπορεύετο Μωϋσῆς ἔναντι Κυρίου λαλεῖν αὐτῷ, περιῃρεῖτο τὸ κάλυμμα,) St. Paul says,—ἡνίκα δ᾽ ἂν ἐπιστρέψῃ προς Κύριον, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα. The expression is altered in order to bring out more clearly the allegorical meaning..—Now, I gather from all this, and many a hint of the like kind,—that the whole of Scripture is of the same marvellous texture, the Old Testament and the New, alike,—whether we have the dyes to see it or not.
6. But I cannot dismiss the typical character of the Scripture narrative, until I have reminded you of one striking intimation of it which you might easily overlook. “O fools and slow of heart,” was our Lord’s reproof to Cleophas and his companion on the evening of the first Easter: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His Glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself482482 St. Luke xxiv. 25-27..” In like manner, St. Paul at Rome expounded to the unbelieving Jews, “persuading them concerning Jesus both out of the Law of Moses and out of the Prophets, from morning till evening483483 Acts xxviii. 23..” The same thing is repeated elsewhere484484 Acts xxvi. 22, 23.: but the most express declaration is that of our Lord Himself to the Jews:—“Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me485485 St. John v. 46, 47..” Moses therefore wrote concerning Christ. Christ Himself says so. But where? Shew me the places in the Pentateuch which prove that Christ was “to suffer these things” and then to “enter into glory?” You cannot do it; unless indeed in Isaac’s Sacrifice you are content to find the adumbration of the scene on Calvary. You cannot do it; unless in Joseph’s betrayal for twenty pieces of silver, (the deed of another Judas!) and his letting down into the pit without water, you recognize the image of the death of One by the blood of whose Covenant the prisoners of hope were set free486486 Zech. ix. 11, 12.. You cannot do it; unless in the same Joseph’s exaltation to the supreme power of Egypt, (when they “cried before him, Bow the knee!”) you behold Messiah’s session at the Right Hand of God. You cannot do it; unless you notice how “Joseph, who was ordained to save his Brethren from death, who would have slain him, did represent the Son of God, who was slain by us and yet dying saved us487487 Bp. Pearson..” You cannot do it; unless in the Paschal Lamb, and the wave-sheaf, you discern things Heavenly, and of eternal moment. You cannot do it; unless you remember “that as, in order to consecrate the Harvest by offering to God the first-fruits of it, a sheaf was lifted up and waved; as well as a Lamb offered on that day by the priest to God; so Messiah, that immaculate Lamb which was to die, that Priest which dying was to offer up Himself to God, was upon the same day lifted up and raised from the dead; or rather shook and lifted up, and presented Himself to God, and so was accepted for us all; that so our dust might be sanctified, our corruption hallowed, our mortality consecrated to eternity.” Many who hear me will perceive that I have been quoting from Bp. Pearson; and will be constrained to admit that Isaac and Joseph,—the wave-sheaf and the Paschal Lamb,—may well be types of Christ; and that, thus lightly touched, there can be little objection to tracing in such histories and provisions of the Law, the main outlines of the Life and Death and Resurrection of our Redeemer. But remember, we have handled wondrous little of the patriarchal History and of the Law; and that little, wondrous cursorily; more, as it seems to me, in the manner of children in a Sunday-school, than as Divines in the first University of Europe! . . . Now, St. Paul entertained his audience “from morning until evening.” Had he nothing to say about Paradise, think you, and the mysterious parallel between the first and second Adam? nothing to say about the Ark of Noah, and the waters of the Flood? What of the history of the patriarch Jacob, and of Joseph “at the second time made known to his brethren?” What of Moses, and the miracles of the Exode? What of the many minute provisions, (all of them, no doubt, significant!) of the Mosaic Law? What of Esau’s posterity and Balaam’s prophecies,—the Cloud and the Flame,—the Manna and the Quails,—the riven Rock and Jordan driven back? . . .
I have already said enough to feel at liberty to gather out of it all, the two chief propositions concerning Holy Scripture, which it is my business this morning to establish. And first, I assert that it may be regarded as a fundamental rule, that the Bible is not to be interpreted like any other book. This I gather infallibly from the plain fact, that the inspired Writers themselves habitually interpret it as no other book either is, or can be interpreted.
Next, I assert without fear of contradiction that inspired Interpretation, whatever varieties of method it may exhibit, is yet uniform and unequivocal in this one result; namely, that it proves Holy Scripture to be of far deeper significancy than at first sight appears488488 Consider St. John ii. 17, 22: xii. 16. St. Luke xxiv. 8, 45. Acts xi. 16.. By no imaginable artifice of Rhetoric or sophistry of evasion,—by no possible vehemence of denial or plausibility of counter assertion,—can it be rendered probable that Scripture has invariably one only meaning; and that meaning, the most obvious and easy to those who first heard or read it.
I would not be misunderstood by this audience, nor do I fear that I shall be. I am not denying (God forbid!) the literal sense of Scripture. Rather am I, above all, contending for it. We may never play tricks with the letter. Those Six Days of Creation, depend upon it, were six days: and the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge, and the Serpent, were the very things they are called,—and no other things. So of every other part of the Bible. The Temptation of our Lord was as matter of fact a transaction as one of His walks by the sea of Galilee. In what form the Tempter came to Him, hath not been revealed. After what fashion the Prince of the power of the air contrived the dazzling panorama “in a moment of time489489 Ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου.—St. Luke iv. 5.,” I do not pretend to understand. The literal sense of what has been revealed, is, for all that, to be depended on. All is sincere History: nothing is ever allegory,—nothing may ever be evacuated or explained away! We have our Lord’s on word for it. The speech in Paradise, and what happened at the time of the Flood; the fate of Lot’s wife, and what befel the cities of the plain; the conduct of David (when he ate the shew-bread), and the visit to Solomon of the Queen of Sheba; the history of the widow of Sarepta, and of Naaman the Syrian:—all these stories of the Old Testament are by our Lord himself appealed to as veritable History490490 St. Matth. xix. 5. St. Luke xvii. 27 and 32. St. Matth. xi. 23: xii. 4 and 42. St. Luke iv. 25-27..
But I am proving that Scripture itself, literally understood, compels us to believe that under the letter of Scripture, (which of course is to be interpreted literally,) there lies a deeper and sometimes a far less obvious meaning; occasionally a meaning so improbable, (as men account improbability,) that, but for the finger of God pointing it out, we could never by possibility have discerned it; so extraordinary, that when it is shewn us, it needs an effort of the heart and of the mind to embrace it fully.
Cases of literal Interpretation are indeed of constant occurrence in Scripture; but the principle on which they depend is obvious, and common to all writings alike. I do not doubt, for a moment, that the history of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, (which we heard read this morning,) is a bond fide narrative,—truer and more authentic in details, than is to be found in any other book of History.—Neither do I doubt that the obvious teaching, (the moral Interpretation as it may be called,) of that incident, is the proper one: viz. that even for the most fiery of fleshly trials, God’s grace is sufficient:—that Joseph’s safety lay in refusing even to be with her, joined to his holy fear of sinning against God:—that lust is ever cruel, and will hunt for the precious life491491 Prov. vi. 26. Consider v. 9. Eccl. vii. 26. Gen. xxxix. 20. 2 Sam. xi. 15. St. Mark vi. 25.:—finally, that the way of purity, though it may lead at first to sorrow, will infallibly conduct to blessedness at the last. Considerations like these, which are obvious and easy, are also unquestionably true; and especially precious, (who ever doubted it?) as helps to personal holiness.—But still, there may underlie this narrative, for aught I see to the contrary, a mystical signification. Potiphar’s wife may, (as the best and wisest of ancient and modern Divines have thought,) symbolize the Power of Darkness and Joseph, our Divine Lord, The garment Joseph left in the woman’s hand, may represent that fleshly garment of which the true Joseph divested Himself,—(ἀπεκδυσάμενος as St. Paul speaks in a very remarkable place,)—the mortal body which Satan apprehended (his sole triumph!) and by which he was ensnared, when a greater than Joseph gat Him out from an adulterous world492492 The learned reader,—(and the unlearned reader too, who will bear in mind that ἀπεκδυσάμενος, [in the E. V. ‘having spoiled,’] certainly means ‘having stripped off from himself,’)—is invited to consider with attention those words of Col. ii. 15:—ἀπεκδυσάμενος τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας, ἐδειγμάτισεν ἐν παρρησίᾳ, θριαμβεύσας αὐτοὺς [not αὐάς, observe;] ἐν αὐτῷ [sc. τῷ σταυρῷ. See by all means Pearson on the Creed, Art. v. note (l): (ed. Burton, vol. ii. p. 217-8.) Cf. Eph. ii. 16. Consider St. Luke xi. 22.] To complete the teaching of the passage, the reader is invited to study also, in connexion with what goes before, 1 Cor. ii. 6-8; taking notice, that οἱ ἀρχόντες τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου are not, (as the marginal references suggest,) the powers of the visible, but of the invisible World. See St. John xii. 31: xiv. 30: xvi. 11, and Ephes. ii. 2: vi. 12.—See Ignatius Ep. ad Ephes. c. xix., (with the notes in Jacobson’s ed.) See also Dr. Mill on the Temptation, p. 165.. Joseph in the prison, and Christ in the grave: Joseph exalted, and Christ Ascended: Joseph at last feeding the families of the World, and Christ becoming the Bread of Life to all:—let it not occasion offence, Brethren, if I confess that, for aught I see to the contrary, some such hidden teaching as this, may underlie the plain historical narrative; and in no way interfere with a literal interpretation.
III. From the two foregoing negative positions, however, (which almost need an apology, such obvious truisms are they,) I eagerly pass on to something better and higher.
1. And first, I boldly declare that the clue to all that has been advanced concerning the marvellous method of Holy Writ is supplied by the single consideration that the Bible is the Word of God,—that Holy Scripture, from the Alpha to the Omega of it, is the language of the Holy Ghost. Incomprehensible and unmanageable on any other hypothesis,—all the disclosures of inspired Interpretation, by the hearty reception of this one revealed truth, are rendered perfectly intelligible and clear. The Holy Spirit may surely be assumed competent to interpret what the Holy Spirithas already delivered! his disclosures therefore are beyond the reach of censure; however marvellous they may happen to be. But they are all a hopeless riddle to those who have blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.
Thus, to advert for a moment to the prophetic character (as it may be called) of the historical parts of Scripture,—What is it which moves secret unbelief, and prompts a reference to the human devices of Allegory and Accommodation493493 See Sermon VI.? It is the profound conviction that no merely human narrative could be handled as St. Paul handles Genesis, except by indulging in rhetorical license, and giving to Fancy a very free rein. But disabuse your mind of this lurking suspicion, so derogatory to the honour of Him by whose Spirit the Bible is inspired,—cease to suspect that the narrative of Scripture is a merely human narrative,—and how different becomes the problem! Why should the Holy Ghost have spoken less by the mouth of Moses, than by the mouth of David and Isaiah, Jeremiah and the rest of the prophets? But if He speaks in Genesis, then are the words of Genesis His;—and every word of the narrative “proceedeth” (as our Lord phrases it,) “out of the mouth of God.”
I am constrained to be thus express and emphatic, because it has been lately “laid down that Scripture has one meaning;—the meaning which it had to the mind of the Prophet or Evangelist who first uttered or wrote,—to the hearers or readers who first received it494494 Professor Jowett in Essays and Reviews, p. 378..” The original sense of Scripture, (says this writer,) is “the meaning of the words as they first struck on the ears, or flashed before the eyes, of those who heard and read them495495 Professor Jowett in Essays and Reviews, p. 338..” Now, I will not pause to remark on the complicated fallacy involved in this. For (1), Why should a hearer’s first impression of a speaker’s meaning be assumed to be that speaker’s meaning496496 Consider St. John xii. 16: x. 6: xi. 13. St. Luke xviii. 34. St. Matth. xvi. 11, 12. St. John viii. 27, &c., &c.? And (2), Why may not Prophets and Evangelists have intended secondary meanings497497 See St. John xi. 49-62: vii. 37-39.? But I do not dwell on this, for it does not touch the point. Let us hear the voice of one who adorned this place many years before the present controversy arose, and who has exactly anticipated the question now at issue. “Observe how this matter really is,” says Bp. Butler. “If one knew a person to be the sole Author of a book; and were certainly assured, or satisfied to any degree, that one knew the whole of what he intended in it; one should be assured or satisfied to such degree, that one knew the whole meaning of that book: for the meaning of a book is nothing but the meaning of the Author. But if one knew a person to have compiled a Book out of memoirs which he received from Another, of vastly superior knowledge in the subject of it; especially if it were a Book full of great intricacies and difficulties; it would in no wise follow that one knew the whole meaning of the Book, from knowing the whole meaning of the compilers: for the original memoirs, (i. e. the Author of them,) might have, (and there would be no degree of presumption, in many cases, against supposing him to have,) some farther meaning than the compiler saw. To say then, that the Scriptures, and the things contained in them, can have no other or farther meaning than those persons thought or had, who first recited or wrote them; is evidently saying, that those persons were the original, proper, and sole authors of those books, i.e. that they are not inspired: which is absurd, whilst the authority of these books is under examination; i.e. till you have determined they are of no divine authority at all. Till this be determined, it must in all reason be supposed,—not indeed that they have, (for this is taking for granted that they are inspired;) but,—that they may have, some farther meaning than what the compilers saw or understood498498 Analogy, Part II. ch. vii..”—So far Bp. Butler.
2. Now, if God be in effect the Speaker, why need we hesitate to believe that He has so framed the stories, that they shall be throughout adumbrations of the things which concern our peace499499 Augustine, speaking of the New Testament, says,—“Factum quidem est, et ita ut narratur, impletum; sed tamen etiam ipsa, quæ a Domino facta sunt, aliquid significantia erant,—quasi verba (si dici potest) visibilia, et aliquid significantia.”—Opp., tom. v. p. 421 F.? Let some garment be shewn me of merely human manufacture, and however costly it may prove, I look for nothing in it beyond the known properties of any other earthly fabric. But give me the assurance that, on the contrary, it was woven by Divine hands, and fashioned in a Heavenly loom, and do I not straightway expect to find it a mystery and a marvel of Art? It is even so with the language of Holy Writ. It is all framed and fashioned after a Diviner model than men are able to imagine. It is instinct with sublimest meanings. It is penetrated, through and through, with the Spirit of the Most High God. It is of so celestial a texture, that, to the eye of the soundest Reason, informed by the purest Faith, it reveals, (when the Spirit of its Divine Author shines upon it,) the glorious outlines of an imperishable Life!
3. The strong root of bitterness out of which springs unbelief in this supernatural character of the historical parts of the Bible, is an unworthy notion of God’s Power. Because human histories are perforce barren and lifeless, it is assumed that the Book of God’s Law must be a dead thing also. And then, the conceit of self-relying Reason glides in, (like a serpent,) and remonstrates as follows:—“Yea, can God have sanctioned a method of such subtlety and pliability as will make His own Scriptures mean anything500500 Essays and Reviews, pp. 368, 372.? Is it not rather, an exploded fashion, which the age has outgrown,—that fashion of supposing that there is sometimes a double sense in Prophecy, and that the Gospel is symbolized in the Law? Were then the worthies of the Old Testament puppets in God’s Hands, acting parts?—now, typifying remote personages; now, exhibiting future transactions; now, symbolizing national events? Is it credible? Not so! Accept one of two alternatives, and never dream of a third. Believe either that the Evangelists, the Apostles, our Saviour Christ Himself,—partaking of the ignorance of their age, and speaking according to the modes of thought then prevalent, were mistaken in their interpretations of Holy Scripture; or else, deny boldly that there are interpretations at all. Assume that they are mere allegory and accommodation Something must be allowed for the backwardness of the Past;—and ‘the time has come when it is no longer possible to ignore the results of criticism501501 Professor Jowett in Essays and .Reviews, p. 374..’ A change of method ‘is not so much a matter of expediency as of necessity. The original meaning of Scripture’ is at last ‘beginning to be understood502502 Professor Jowett in Essays and Reviews, p. 418..’ Be persuaded, and make it thy business to persuade others, that the Bible is but a common Book!”
4. To all of which, we make summary answer:—Passing by thy self-congratulation on the enlightenment of the age,—of which, except in certain departments of physical Science, we see no evidence;—the whole of thy argument concerning Holy Scripture amounts to this;—that it would be very distasteful to thee, to find that it contained any sense beyond that which lies on the surface. Types, intended by the Author of Scripture to be types: Prophecy with sometimes more than a single application: historical events foreshadowing remote transactions:—all these thou deniest, because thou dislikest. Observe, however, that while thou art urging thine own private opinion, we are dealing with a revealed fact. Thou talkest about a probability, but we are establishing a proof. “It is written “that Scripture is thus significant, is thus mysterious in its historical outlines. And thou canst not explain away one syllable, though thou shouldest deny “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
5. Let us, however, examine the question merely by the light of unaided reason.—Consider then! If God made this world the particular kind of world which he is found to have made it, in order that it might in due time preach to mankind about Himself, and about His providence:—if He contrived beforehand the germination of seeds, the growth of plants, the analogies of animal life; all, evidently, in order that they might furnish illustrations of His teaching; and that so, great Nature’s self might prove one vast Parable in His Hands:—why may not the same God, by His Eternal Spirit, have so overruled the utterance of the human agents whom He employed to write the Bible, that their historical narratives, however little their authors meant or suspected it, should embody the outline of things heavenly; and, while they convey a true picture of actual events, should also after a most mysterious fashion, yield, in the Hands of His own informing Spirit, celestial Doctrine also?
6. For let me remind you,—The very actions of men,—the complicated transactions of our common lives,—are thus overruled by God’s Providence; and, without restraint, are so controlled that they shall subserve to the ulterior purposes of His will,—after a fashion which altogether defies analysis. Beyond this inner circle of comprehensible causation,—external to the immediate sphere of cause and effect which courts our daily scrutiny,—there is an outer circle, which rounds our lives; and (as I said) overrules all we do; fashioning, by virtue of a supreme fiat which is altogether beyond our comprehension, all our ends. Why then, I ask, may not the Bible be, what it purports to be,—the authentic record of transactions which the marvellous skill of Him who governeth all things in Heaven and Earth did so overrule, that they should become foreshadowings of chief transactions in the Kingdom of Christ? Shall prophecy, in the ordinary sense of the term, be admitted by all,—and yet a prophetic transaction be deemed impossible with God? If Isaiah may prophesy of one “red in His apparel,” after “treading the winepress alone503503 Is. 1xiii. 2, 3.;” may describe Him as “despised and rejected of men;” “a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief;” “wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities;” “brought as a lamb to the slaughter,” and “making intercession for the transgressors;” and at last destined to find “His grave with the wicked, yet with the rich in His deathIs. liii.:”—if this may be in words described minutely, and move no doubt; shall we close our eyes that we may not see,—or seeing shall we fail to recognize,—in the person of such an one as David, a divinely-intended type of Messiah? What! when he who was born in Bethlehem, overcomes the Philistine at the end of forty days, and takes from him the armour wherein he trusted;—when he,—a prophet, priest, and king,—is persecuted by his enemies, and betrayed by his own familiar friend; when he at last passes over the brook Kidron and ascends Olivet, sorrowing as he goes;—yea, when he utters words which our Redeemer resyllables with His dying breath504504 Comp. Ps. xxxi. 5 with St. Luke xxiii. 46.;—wilt thou refuse to discern in the person of David, the lineaments of David’s Son? and sneer at us, who herein have been better taught than thou; although thou hast no better reason to give for thy unbelief than that the view of Holy Scripture which the Church Catholic hath held in all ages, seems to thee a thing impossible?
7. Take once more, if thou wilt, the analogy of Nature; and thence infer what is probable concerning things Divine. Is it observed that the works of God are thus single in their office; or are they, on the contrary, manifold in their virtues and uses? Than the metal Iron, what substance more serviceable for every ordinary mechanical purpose of daily life? Yet, ask the physician which of the metals he could least afford to forego as an instrument of cure: and he will tell thee that he finds Iron the fullest of healing virtues also. Shall then plants and animals, yea, and the whole of the Animal Kingdom, be admitted to sub-serve to manifold, and at first sight unsuspected uses,—so that the wisest are ready to confess that the function of most remains to this hour a secret:—and shall we be reluctant to allow that the Word of God”—the Tree of Life,” whereof “the leaves are for the healing of the nations,”—may also be thus various in its purpose; fraught with other teaching besides that which on its very surface meets the careless eye?
8. To speak without a figure,—It is not of course to be supposed that the inspired writers knew all the wondrous qualities of the message they delivered, or of the narrative they were divinely guided to indite. Altogether a distinct question this; although the two have been sometimes confused together505505 By Professor Jowett for example. “The time will come when educated men will no more be able to believe that the words of Hos. xi. 1 were intended by the prophet to refer to the return of Joseph and Mary from Egypt, than,” &c.—E. and R., p. 418. When did “educated men” ever believe anything of the kind?. Nay, Revelation itself comes in to help us here. St. Peter, in express words, declares that concerning the mystery of Redemption “the prophets inquired and searched diligently; . . . searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it,”—(not they, observe, but It)—“testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” That “not unto, themselves, but unto us they did minister,”—thus much, indeed, was revealed to them; but no more. The rest, to this hour, the very “Angels desire to look into!”
9. But between the words which a man delivers being full of Divine significancy, and himself knowing the full scope and purport of those words,—there is surely a mighty difference! When Caiaphas foretold the universal efficacy of Christ’s Death, who less than Caiaphas suspected the far-reaching truth of the words which fell from his unholy lips? He knew nothing about the triumphs of the Cross; and yet he could prophesy very accurately concerning them. “This spake he not of himself’,” (says the Evangelist,) “but being high-priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad506506 St. John xi. 50. Comp. xviii. 14..” . . . It may safely be assumed that the sacred writers no more knew the force and power of their own words, than those Priests who lived and moved amid the shadows of the Mosaic Ritual were able to discern therein, the substance of things eternal in the Heavens. And yet we believe concerning those ritual types that “they were a concealed prophetic evidence, the force of which was made apparent by the presence of the Gospel507507 Davison on Prophecy, p. 192..” I am prone to suspect that the burning vehemence of their own language must many a time have moved the Prophets of old to deepest astonishment; and that when there broke from them words of more than mortal power,—or images of unearthly grandeur,—or the outlines of a grief more than human; when they spake of a betrayal for thirty pieces of silver508508 Zech. xi. 12, 13., of blows and spitting509509 Is. l. 6., and of pierced hands and feet510510 Ps. xxii. 16. Zech. xiii. 13.; of parted garments and lots cast upon a vesture511511 Ps. xxii. 18.,—they must have felt, they must have felt the awfulness of the message they were commissioned to deliver; and longed, yea yearned unutterably to see and to hear the things which were reserved to be witnessed in the days of the Son of Man!
10. Enough, however, of all this. In reply to à priori objections, I have been content to argue the question as if the Bible were a newly-discovered Book without a history; whereas the consentient writings of all the Fathers and Doctors of every age, in every portion of the Christian Church, is an overwhelming fact! Rather have I reasoned as if the Bible were a book altogether silent concerning itself. But the plain truth, as I have fully shewn, is the very reverse. Scripture is full of interpretations of Scripture;—and the constant method of Scripture in such interpretations, is spiritual or mystical;—and this witness of Scripture is the strongest proof possible that the principle involved is correct. Meanwhile, the great underlying truth which I now desire, more than any other to bring before you, is this:—that it is the Holy Ghost who, in the New Testament, interprets what the same Holy Ghost had delivered in the Old. This, believe me, is the true key, the only intelligible solution, to all those difficulties respecting places of the Old Testament, Whether interpreted, or only quoted, in the New, which have so exercised the ingenuity of learned men. We are always to remember, in a word, that the true Author of either Testament,—the real Author of every part of the Bible, is (not Man, but) God!
IV. Such then, (to conclude,) is the Divine method of Interpretation. We are not concerned now to classify, and sort it out under different heads. To apply, even to a small extent, the principles we have been labouring to establish, would not only lead us much too far, but would constrain us to travel out of our proper subject and prescribed province. Our purpose has only been, to vindicate the profundity, or rather the fulness of Holy Writ512512 “Adoro Scripturæ plenitudinem.”—Tertullian adv. Hermog., c. 22.; and to shew that under the obvious and literal meaning of the words, there lies concealed a more recondite, and a profounder sense: call that sense mystical, or spiritual, or Christian, or what you will. Unerringly to elicit that hidden sense is the sublime privilege of inspired Writers; and they do it by allusion, by quotation, by the importation of a short phrase513513 Comp. St. Matth. ii. 20, with the LXX Version of Exod. iv. 19: St. Matth. iii. 4, with the same version of 2 Kings i. 8: St. Matth. xxvi. 38 with Ps. xlii. 5. St. Luke i. 37, with Gen. xxiii. 14,—i. 48, with 1 Sam. i. 11, and with Gen. xxx. 13,—i. 50, with Ps. ciii. 17. St. John i. 52, with Gen. xxviii. 12,—&c., &c., by the adoption of a single word514514 A few examples may prove suggestive to a thoughtful reader:—ἔξοδος, in St. Luke ix. 31 and in 1 St: Pet. i. 15:—ἀποκαταστήσει, in St. Matth. xvii. 11, (cf. Mal. iv. 5): σιτομέτριον, in St. Luke xii. 42, (cf. Gen. xlvii. 12): παράδεισος, in St. Luke xxiii. 43. The reference is of course always to the Septuagint version.,—to an extent which no one would suspect who had not carefully studied the subject. How that method of theirs is to be applied by ourselves, it is impossible, I repeat, for me even to hint at in a single discourse. But this, I will say; and with this I dismiss the subject;—that Interpretation would be a hopeless task, but for the solemn circumstance that the whole of the Bible is inspired by one and the selfsame Spirit; so that one part may always be safely compared with any other part of it, you please. Nay, by no other method can you hope to understand the Bible, than by such a laborious comparison of its several parts. “Non nisi ex Scripturâ, Scripturam potes interpretari.” The more you study the Book, the more you will feel convinced that its many authors all resorted to one and the same Fountain of Inspiration. They all use the same imagery; they all speak the same language; they all mean the same thing. St. John the Divine, in the Book of Revelation, shuts up the Canon by reproducing the combined imagery of all the ancient prophets,—by declaring that the Song of Moses and of the Lamb is sung by the redeemed in Heaven,—by marvellous words about “the Tree of Life,” which is “in the midst of the Paradise of God.” The Inspired writers of either Testament all draw from the same Treasury, and therefore all say the same things. The Heavenly Jerusalem, (with her gates of pearl and streets of gold,) is the home of the spirit of each one of them515515 Ps. xlvi. 4: xlviii. 1, 8: lxxxvii. 3. Is. lii. 1: lx. 14. Ezek. xlviii. Ephes. ii. 19, 20. Phil. iii. 20. Gal. iv. 26. Hebr. xi. 10: xii. 22: xiii. 14. Rev. xxi. 2, 10: iii. 12, &c.; Jesus Christ, and He Crucified, is the abiding theme of them all. And O, how their words do sometimes teem, and their phrases swell, almost to bursting, with their blessed argument516516 “Scriptores θεόπνευστοι, de typo disserentes, divinius quiddam ex inopinato pati solent, et ad antitypum vehementiore Spiritus afflatu rapi et elevari. Assertionis hujusce veritas inde constat, quod verba quædam haud expectata sæpius inferant, quæ Messiæ vel solum vel aptius quam Illius typo congruant.”—Spencer De Legg. Hebr., vol. ii. p. 1035. Consider such places as Ps. ii. 6, 7: xli. 9, 10: xlv. 10, 11: lxi. 6: lxxii. 5, 7, 11, 16, 17: lxxxix. 29. Gen. xlix. 18. Is. lxi. 1, 2, 3. Zech. vi. 11, 12.! You shall be troubled with only one example of what I mean. Moses having described the interview between Melchizedek and Abraham, the mighty secret of Messiah’s priesthood which therein lay enshrined was curtained all so close, that neither Angels nor Men could possibly discern it. Must it then remain a mystery for 2000 years? Not so! Midway between the day of Abraham and the day of Christ,—just midway,—David, speaking by the Holy Ghost,—(of that, our Lord Himself assures us517517 St. Mark xii. 36.,)—David, I say, when a thousand years had rolled by, utters the cxth Psalm and in the fulness of his prophetic fervour, the great secret bursts unexpectedly into light! A thousand years had passed since Abraham returned from ‘the slaughter of the Kings.’ It wanted yet a thousand years to the date of our Saviour’s Birth. And lo, midway, a voice is heard, shouting to Him across the gulf of Ages,—“Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek!”
“And let not Reason be alarmed. Her vocation is not gone. Yea rather, I know not if Human Intellect ever had a loftier problem presented to her than to follow out that deep Analogy which has been noticed above and to learn, (if it may be called Reason’s learning,) how to deal with Holy Scripture as Apostles and Evangelists deal with it. Let not Reason be alarmed. She is only asked to listen, and to discern the nature and laws of Sacred Study. She is asked but to discern the evidence which there is of her being in a world which she imperfectly understands. . . . . The student of the Bible is advised so to address himself to the study of that Book, so to deal with its language, as one should deal with the Word of God,—the measure of whose import is in the infinite, not in the finite World.—Surely, by these things the Lord tries the spirits of us all; tries other men by other mean’s, but tries the intellectual man by the Word of God518518 “And their manner of treating this subject when laid before them, shews what is in their heart, and is an exertion of it.” Bp. Butler’s Analogy, P. II. ch. vi.—See Appendix (C)., and watches him as he reads it; hardens the obdurate; blinds the self-blinded; but pours into the humble mind the riches of His divine Wisdom like showers into a valley; making it soft with the drops of rain and blessing the increase of it519519 Eden’s Sermons, pp. 192-5..”
V. Friends and brethren, it is not without reluctance that on a Sunday in Lent, when penitential thoughts should rather occupy us,—and in this place too, where the promotion of practical piety should rather be our aim,—I have so addressed you. But indeed, I seem to have no choice. It is idle crying “peace, peace,” when there is no peace. If the Inspiration of Holy Scripture be a deceit, and the Divine meaning of Holy Scripture a superstition,—then, farewell to all our hopes in Life and in Death; farewell to peace in days of despondency and gloom. Our faith is gone, and our teaching becomes a hollow heartless thing. Since, under the name of freedom of discussion, unbounded licentiousness of speculation is openly the fashion of the age, we are constrained to give a reason for the hope which is in us; and to defend, without compromise or hesitation, that Bible, which is the great bulwark of the Faith. It shall not be said that we can condemn, but that we make no answer. It must be seen that we put forth in reply the ancient Truths; and it will be felt that before the majesty of those ancient Truths, the arts of the enemy will prove weak and unavailing,—rather, will stand revealed in all their native deformity. If English Clergymen, coining abroad in the cast-off clothes of German unbelief520520 “With the exception of the still-imperfect science of Geology,” (says Dr. Pusey,) “the Essays and Reviews contain nothing with which those acquainted with the writings of unbelievers in Germany have not been familiar these thirty years.” Even the Apologist for the volume in question assures us that one who “had looked ever so cursorily through the works of Herder, Schleiermacher, Lücke, Neander, De Wette, Ewald, &c., would see that the greater part of the passages which have given so much cause for exultation or for offence in this volume, have their counterpart in those distinguished Theologians.”—Edinb. Rev., Ap. 1861, p. 480., and decked out with the exploded sophisms of the last century, are to declare openly that the faith of our Fathers is already looked upon among ourselves as ‘a kind of fossil of the Past,’—then is it high time that voices should be heard vindicating that ancient method of our Fathers; and boldly proclaiming that this imputation against the Clergy of England is a disreputable untruth. The Church of England, (God be praised!) hath not left her first love; hath not given up her ancient method; Christianity is not ‘a difficulty to the highest minds.’ ‘The Christian Religion embraces, as much as ever it did, “the thought of men upon the Earth.” “All the tendencies of Knowledge” are not “opposed to it.” The Gospel is still immeasurably before the age. Intellect has not gone,—the loftiest order of well-trained intellects will never go,—the other way521521 Rev. B. Jowett in Essays and Reviews, pp. 374-5.. It is, on the contrary, none but a very shallow wit which errs. Had it confined its speculations to the cloister, or come abroad with sorrow and shame, we should have pitied in silence, and in silence also have lamented. But when it comes insultingly abroad, and sets up a claim to intellectual superiority even while it denies the most sacred truths;—then pity gives way before indignation and disgust. Crown the whole with the iniquity of imputing these views generally to the more thoughtful of the English Clergy522522 Rev. B. Jowett in Essays and Reviews, pp. 372, (bottom,) 340, 374, &c.,—and we are constrained openly to resent the grievous wrong. We declare it to be an unfounded calumny; a calumny which, in the name of the whole Church, I solemnly repel before God,—and His Holy Angels,—and you!
Vain, utterly vain,—worthless, utterly worthless,—must any superstructure of intellectual, moral, or religious training be, which is built up on the doctrine that the Bible is to be interpreted like any other Book; in other words, that the Bible is a common Book; in other words, that Inspiration is a fable and a dream. We have no fear whatever that your high instincts, (with all your faults!),—your English manliness,—will, to any extent be led astray, by sophistry worthless as that which we have been exposing. But we know you look to your appointed Teachers from this place, (as well you may,) for advice, and support, and encouragement, in your better aspirations;—and let me, at least, in plain language, warn you that novelties in Religion never can be true. “Philosophia,” says the great Bishop Pearson speaking of Physical Science; “Philosophia quotidie progressu: Theologia nisi regressu non crescit523523 Minor Works, vol. ii. pp. 9-10.—“In Christianity, there can be no concerning truth which is not ancient; and whatsoever is truly new is certainly false.”—Epistle Dedicatory prefixed to Pearson on the Creed, p. x..” “Ask or the old paths!” . . The faith, remember, was ἅπαξ—once for all,—delivered to the Saints. There will be no new deposit. There can be no new doctrines. There has been no fresh Revelation,—no new principle of guidance vouchsafed to man. A new method of interpreting Scripture is quite impossible. And the true method,—the only true method—must be that which was adopted by our Saviour, by His Evangelists, and by His Apostles: a method which they taught to their first disciples, and which those early Bishops and Doctors handed on in turn to the generation which came after them. That method, by God’s great goodness, has descended in an unbroken stream, even to ourselves; who have described it this morning, feebly indeed and unworthily,—yet, in the main, as it would have been described at any time, by any of the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, the noble army of Martyrs,—by any of the Doctors and Fathers of the Holy Church throughout the world! O let it be our great concern,—yours and mine,—to preserve with undiminished lustre the whole deposit of Heaven-descended teaching which is the Church’s treasure! . . . . Like runners in a certain ancient race of which we all have read, let it be our pride and joy,—yours and mine,—to grasp the torch of Truth with a strong unwavering hand; to run joyously with it so long as the days of this earthly race shall last; and dying, to hand it on to another, who, with strength renewed like the eagle’s, may again,—swiftly, steadily, exultingly,—run with it, till he fails . . . So, when the Judge of quick and dead appeareth,—so let Him find you occupied,—O young men, (many of you, my friends,) who are already the hope of half the English Church! So faithfully may we, Brethren and Fathers, one and all, be found employed, when He cometh,—whose answer to the Tempter is emphatically the text of the present solemn season, as well as a mighty voucher for the Divine origin, and sustaining efficacy of that Book concerning which I have been detaining you so long,—“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone; but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God!”
UT verum fatear, semper existimavi, allusiones istas, (ad quas confugiunt quidam tanquam ad sacrum suæ ignorantiæ asylum,) plerumque nihil aliud esse, quam Sacræ Scripturæ abusiones manifestas.
Bishop Bull, Harmonia Apostolica, cap. xi. sect. 3.
THERE would be no need to scruple the term, if it were not meant to imply that this Accommodation was arbitrary on the part of the Evangelist; or that the mind of the Spirit that spoke by the Prophet does not most fully include this application.
Dr. W. H. Mill.
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