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Interpretation of Scripture. The different means that may be made use of for this purpose, and the assistance that may be obtained in each. Commentators, works of criticism.
The Bible, then, presents itself as the proper subject for the Christian minister's studies. Of this we may say with fuller justice, thau was said of models of literary taste, “ Nocturnà versate manu, versate diurna.” All that the minister wants, all that he has to say, all that he has to do, is to be found here. The message which he has to communicate, the arguments by which it is to be pressed, the authority by which it is to be
supported, are all included in this book. Let him but make this book his own, comprehend its bearing, einbrace its views, imbibe its spirit; and he then will be a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
But this work is not without its difficulties. It is not possible that a book produced under similar circumstances, composed of Revelations made at variou times, and to various persons ; treating of subjects the most awful and mysterious, conveyed to us through the medium of language no longer in common use, and open to all the varieties of interpretation which belong to such a record, should offer no difficulty to any mind, or be equally clear to all. We might reasonably hope that all should be capable of understanding that, which was necessary to be known by all; and we have the express encouragement of prophecy for hoping, that no earnest, humble inquirer after truth will be disappointed in his pursuit.* But there is obviously a difference between the case of him who merely seeks knowledge for his own guidance, and that of him who seeks it for the professed purpose of guiding others. The former case is simple and plain: one series of wants is proposed; one application of the word of truth may be sufficient for its relief; the man knows his own ailment, and can feel when it is met. The case is different where a variety of moral conditions are to be examined, and where the state of many is to be considered.
Self-experience here offers no assistance, or merely rises to conjecture. A wider knowledge of Scripture, and a deeper acquaintance with the human heart, will be needed; for the minister cannot venture to hope that the state of all shall be alike, or that all minds should be open to the arguments which are found conclusive in the case of some. Hence arises a new view of his duty as an interpreter of Scripture. Scripture he has to apply; but in order to apply it usefully, he must know how to interpret it properly, to deduce the proper sense, to draw the natural inference, and to feel that the doctrine which he inculcates is really the doctrine of Scripture, and not an imagination of his own, which he has grafted on the letter of it. And here it is important to mark the difference between the studies of the minister, and those of the private Christian. The mercy of God has ordained that conviction should invariably follow a humble and faithful application to the word of truth, under circumstances which in other respects might seem most unfavourable to the acquisition of knowledge; and we are compelled continually to remark with astonishment and delight, the manner in which the inquiries begun and carried on in this spirit are guided to the truth, even.com in questions where the learned and wise are lost in perplexity and doubts.
* Isaiah xxx, 21; xxxv. 8.
But we cannot but feel that the case of one who is called to minister to others, differs materially from that of common individuals. We can conceive that in them one single test of truth is sufficient, the reference to a conscience awakened and enlightened by the grace of God. We can conceive that in them the testimony of the Spirit, testifying with their spirit, might ascertain the great subject of inquiry; and that dismissing all attempt at explaining what they felt, they might satisfy themselves with the conclusion of the man who had received his sight; “ One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” But this cannot be the case with him, whose office it is to apply to others the truth which is to prodace conversion; and who therefore in his proceedings towards them, or in his inferences with respect to them, cannot be guided by that testimony of conscience, and that inward witness of the