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ceiving thereby, we shall be ready to entertain prejudices against it, till we lay it aside, with the utmost dislike; and, as the consequence thereof, we shall be utterly estranged from the life of God, through the ignorance and vanity of our minds. We must also read the word of God with a desire to have our faith established thereby, that our feet may be set upon a rock, and we may be delivered from all manner of doubts and hesitations, with respect to those important truths which are revealed therein; and we ought to desire, not only to believe, but yield a constant and cheerful obedience to every thing that God requires of us therein.
4. Our reading the word of God ought to be accompanied with meditation, and the exercise of self-denial. Our thoughts should be wholly taken up with the subject-matter thereof, and that with the greatest intenseness, as those who are studiously, and with the greatest earnestness, pressing after the knowledge of those doctrines that are of the highest importance, that our profiting herein may appear to ourselves and others, I 1 Tim. iv. 15.
As to the exercise of self-denial, all those perverse reasonings which our carnal minds are prone to suggest against the subject-matter of divine revelation, are to be laid aside. If we are resolved to believe nothing but what we can comprehend, we ought to consider that the gospel contains unsearchable mysteries, that surpass finite wisdom; therefore we must be content to acknowledge, that we know but in part. There is a deference to be paid to the wisdom of God, that eminently appears in every thing which he has discovered to us in his word; so that we must adore the divine perfections that are displayed therein, whilst we retain an humble sense of the imperfection of our own knowledge. Our reason is not to be considered as useless; but we must desire that it may be sanctified, and inclined to receive whatever God is pleased to impart. We are also to exercise the grace of self-denial, with respect to the obstinacy of our wills; whereby they are naturally disinclined to acquiesce in, approve of, and yield obedience to the law of God, so that we may be entirely satisfied, that every thing that he commands in his word, is holy, just, and good.
5. The word of God is to be read with fervent prayer; as the apostle says, If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him, James i. 5. The advantage we expect hereby, is as was before observed, his gift; and therefore we are humbly to supplicate him for it. There are many things in his word that are hard to be understood; therefore we ought to say, whenever we take the scriptures into our hands, as the
Psalmist does, Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law, Psal. cxix. 18. We may, in this case, humbly acknowlege the weakness of our capacities and the blindness of our minds, which renders it necessary for us to desire to be instructed by him, in the way of truth. We may also plead, that his design in giving us this word, was, that it may be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths; therefore we dread the thoughts of walking in darkness, when there is such a clear discovery of those things which are so glorious and necessary to be known. We may also plead, that our Lord Jesus is revealed to his people as the prophet of his church; and that whatever office he is invested with, he delights to execute it, as his glory is concerned therein; therefore we trust, and hope that he will lead us, by his Spirit into his truth. We may also plead the impossibility of our attaining the knowlege of divine things, without his assistance; and how much it would redound to his glory, as well as our own comfort and advantage, if he will be pleased to lead us into the saving knowlege of the truth, as it is in him: This we cannot but importunately desire, as being sensible of the sad consequences of our being destitute of it; inasmuch as we should remain in darkness, though favoured with the light of the gospel.
6. The word of God is to be read with diligence and attention to the matter and scope thereof. We have hitherto been directed in this answer, to apply ourselves to the reading of scripture, with that frame of spirit which becometh Christians, who desire to know the mind and will of God therein, viz. that we ought to have our minds disengaged from those prejudices which would hinder our receiving any advantage from it, and to exercise those graces that the nature and importance of the duty requires; that we ought to depend upon God, and address ourselves to him by faith and prayer for the knowlege of those divine truths contained therein. But, in this last head, we are led to speak of some other methods conducive to our understanding the scriptures; which are the effects of diligence and attendance to the sense of the words thereof, and the scope and design of them.
This being an useful head, I shall take occasion to enlarge on it more than I have done on the former, and to add some other things, which may serve as a farther means to direct us, how we may read the scriptures with understanding. I might here observe, that they who are well acquainted with the languages in which they were written, and are able to make just remarks on the words, phrases, and particles used therein, some of which cannot be expressed in another language without losing much of their native beauty and significancy, these
have certainly the advantage of all others: But since this cannot be done by the greatest part of mankind, who are strangers to the Greek and Hebrew languages; they must have recourse to some other helps for the attaining this valuable end. And in order thereunto,
(1.) It will be of great use for them to consult those expositions, which we have of the whole, or some particular parts of scripture; of which some are more large, others concise; some critical, others practical. I shall forbear making any remarks tending to depreciate the performance of some, or extol the judgment of others; only this must be observed, that many have passed over some difficulties of scripture, which omission has given a degree of disgust to the more inquisitive part of Christians But this may be attributed in some instances, to a commendable modesty, which we find not only in those that have written in our own, but in other languages; whereby they tacitly confess, either that they could not solve the difficulty; or, that it was better to leave it undetermined, than to attempt a solution, which, at best, would amount to little more than a probable conjecture. It may also be observed, that others, who have commented on scripture, seem to be prepossessed with a particular scheme of doctrine, which, if duly considered, is not very defensible; and they are obliged, sometimes, to strain the sense thereof, that it may appear to speak agreeably to their own sentiments; however, their expositions, in other respects, may be used with great advantage.
To this we may add, that the word preached, being designed to lead us into the knowledge of scripture-doctrines, we ought to attend upon, and improve it, as a means conducive thereto, and to bless God for the great helps and advantages we have to attain it; but more of this will be considered under some following answers relating to the preaching and hearing the word: therefore we proceed to consider,
(2.) That we ought to make the best use we can of those translations of scripture, that we have in our own language; which, if we compare together, we shall find, not only that the style in which one is written, differs from that of another, agreeably to the respective times in which they were written; but they differ very much in the sense they give of many places of scripture; which may easily be accounted for from the various acceptations of the same Hebrew or Greek word, as may be observed in all other languages; and there are other difficulties relating to the propriety of translating some particular phrases, or the various senses in which several particles made use of, are to be understood. However, by comparing
* See Quest, clix, olx.
these translations together, they who are unacquainted with the original, will be sometimes led into a sense more agreeable to the context and the analogy of faith, by one of them, than by another. But we will suppose the English reader to confine himself to the translation that is generally used by us; which, as it cannot be supposed to be of equal authority with the original, nor yet so perfect, as that it is impossible to be corrected, as to every word or phrase contained therein; yet I would be far from taking occasion from hence to depreciate it, or say any thing that may stagger the faith of any, as though we were in danger of being led aside thereby, from the way of truth, as some have pretended, who plead for the necessity of a new translation of the Bible; whereas it is much to be feared, that if any such thing should be attempted, it would deviate more from the sense of the Holy Ghost, than that which we now have, and have reason to bless God for, which, I cannot but think, comes as near the original as most that are extant. We shall therefore consider how this may be used to the best advantage, for our understanding the mind of God therein. And here we shall observe,
[1.] That there is another translation of words referred to in the margin of our Bibles; which will sometimes give very great light to the sense of the text, and appear more emphatical, and rather to be acquiesced in. I shall give a short specimen of some texts of scripture, that may be illustrated this way; in which the marginal reading differs from the words it refers to Thus it is said, in Job iv. 18. He put no trust in his servants, and his angels he charged with folly: In the margin, it is observed, that the words may be read, He put no trust in his servants, nor in his angels in whom he put light; which denotes the excellency of their nature, and the wisdom with which they are endowed: Nevertheless, God put no trust in them, not having thought fit to make use of them in creating the world, nor committing the government thereof to them. Again, in Isaiah liii. 3. it is said, We hid, as it were, our faces from him, speaking of our Saviour; but in the margin, it is, He hid, as it were, his face from us; which implies, that, as he bore our grief, so he was charged with our guilt; and accordingly is represented, as having his face covered, as an emblem hereof; or else it denotes his concealing or veiling his glory, as he, who was really in the form of God, appeared in the form of a servant.
Again, in Jer. xlii. 20. the prophet reproving the people, says, Ye dissembled in your hearts, when ye sent me unto the Lord your God, saying, Pray for us; but, in the margin, it is, You have used deceit against your souls; which contains a farther illustration of the sense of the words; as it not only de
notes their hypocrisy, but the consequence thereof, to wit, their destruction; which agrees very well with the threatning denounced in verse 22. that they should die by the sword, the famine, and by the pestilence. And the same prophet in chap. x. 14. speaking of idolaters, says, Every man is brutish in his knowlege; but in the margin it is, Every man is more brutish than to know; in which their stupidity is rather assigned to their ignorance than their knowlege.
Again, in Zechariah xii. 5. it is said in the text, The governors of Judah shall say in their hearts, The inhabitants of Ferusalem shall be my strength in the Lord of hosts their God; but in the margin it is, The governors of Judah shall say, There is strength to me, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in the Lord of hosts and this reading seems more agreeable to what follows; which contains several promises of deliverance and salvation, which God would work for the inhabitants of Jerusalem; So that we are not to suppose them saying, Jerusalem shall be our strength; but, the Lord of hosts, who is a safeguard to it, as well as to the governors of Judah.
Again, in Acts xvii. 23. it is said in the text, As I passed by, and beheld your devotions; but, in the margin it is, The gods whom you worship, or, the things ye pay divine honour to; which is very agreeable to the context, and the design of the apostle therein. Again, in chap. xxii. 29. it is said in the text, that they departed from him, which should have examined him, meaning Paul, in the margin it is, tortured him; which is agreeable to the Roman custom of scourging, and thereby tormenting one that was under examination for supposed crimes.
Again, in Gal. i. 14. the apostle says, I profited in the Jews religion, above many my equals; in the margin it is, My equals in years; which seems much more agreeable to the apostle's design.
Again, in Heb. ii. 7. it is said in the text, Thou madest him, viz. our Saviour, a little lower than the angels; in the margin it is, A little while inferior to them; as referring to his state of humiliation; which continued comparatively, but a little while.
[2.] In order to our making a right use of our English translation, that we may understand the mind of God contained therein, let it be farther observed, that by reason of the conciseness of the Hebrew and Greek texts, there are several words left out, which must be supplied, to complete the sense thereof; which are inserted in an Italic character. And it will not be difficult for us to determine whether the insertion be just or no; when we consider that the translators often take their direction herein from some words, either