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I am as
they declare and whether it be true. The word of God is true, for it is spoken by him who cannot lie. What is declared I believe because God declared it, but what is declared, I decide by the same general rules that guide me in deciding what is declared in any book. Were I to take up a book translated from the Indian tongue, in which it was stated that the earth stood still, and that the sun and stars revolved around it, I should not attempt to make this language mean,
that the sun stood still, and the moon and earth revolved round him; when there was nothing to convince me that the author believed so, or used the language in any other than its obvious sense. I should believe the writer meant as he said ; but I should not believe what he said. competent to judge of that fact as he. If I were to take up a work on benevolence, and should there read that I ought at least to give one tenth of my property to the cause of foreign missions or peace, I should not attempt to make the writer mean that Iought to give a hundredth or what I could ;
I should suppose he meant what he said ; but I should not believe him, simply because he said so; I should feel as if I were as well qualified as he, to judge of the amount to be given. We are thus to interpret the word of God,—to find what it does mean ; but not thus to decide that it is not true. It may or may not seem to coincide with my idea of fitness or duty, it may seem as strange and improper and unjust as the commands of a father often appear to his child. Christ has said that a man shall not put away his wife but for one offence, and that he specifies, so that it cannot be misunderstood. But man in his wisdom thinks, that the Creator of heaven and earth did not understand the matter, and he has therefore improved upon divine wisdom. Our legislators and critics leap over the word of God, as did the adversary of our race over the walls of Eden. God
- Love your enemy, pray for those who despitefully use you ;" this is written in letters of light upon heaven's recorded law; yet man has lifted up his arm against his fellow, and kings and princes have declared their defiance to His will by the roar of the battlefield, and written their contempt of the law of Heaven all over Christendom in blood. Is it said, that it is impossible that these commands could have been intended to be understood so as to prohibit retaliation and murder ? I answer, had these sayings been found in a human composition thus clearly expressed, they would have been understood as so declaring and prohibiting, and they would have been disregarded; not on the ground that they are not emphatically and unequivocally declared, but because,
though thus declared, they were false. We should interpret the word of God thus. Such is the command ;—its import is plain ; and if found in any other book thus stated, would not be denied. It must be obeyed.
I grant that it is not easy to see the beneficial tendency of all God's requirements in revelation, still less to understand the reasons of them all, any more than the beneficial tendency of all His laws in nature, but that they are beneficial is past a doubt. receive them because He has made them; we must receive and obey them as we would be happy and holy. The whole race of human beings may pronounce it impossible to sustain society, and promote human progress, in the individual and in the community, by such means, but the great doings of God will not be frustrated, they will roll on as majestically, and unobstructed as the stars in the firmament. I say then that when we interpret the Bible, we are not bound to make it consistent with our preconceived view of things (nor should attempt to do it) any more than we are any other book. We are to see what it says; the author is responsible for its contents, not we. It seems by appearances, that some feel as if they were accountable for what is in the Bible, and that they are bound to force every precept into some preestablished system of philosophy, so that it shall all be consistent, and perfectly comprehensible to the human mind. They do not feel so in regard to any other book, and they ought not to feel so in regard to the Bible. They are no more responsible for what it teaches, than they are for what any other book teaches. They are only to find what it does teach, and if what it does teach appears to them and the world false, it is no cause of shame to them ; they did not write it ; and in the case of the Bible, they believe it, not because they always thought it was or ought to be so, but because God has said so ; just as a little child thinks and does as its parent says, because he said so.
This is the general principle and spirit which ought to govern us in interpreting the Scriptures—the use of reason and the state of heart. And this we think will naturally be the case with
every one who has studied himself enough to know his ignorance and fallibility, We do not enter into an exposition of every single principle of Herme. neutics ; it is not called for by our discussion. It is sufficient to say, that figurative, poetical language is to be interpreted by the same rules that we would apply in interpreting any such language ; that general declarations in one place are to be qualified by particular ones in
another; that popular language is to be interpreted popularly, not philosophically; that precepts applicable to a particular case, or place and time, are not to be interpreted as general ; in one word, as we have before said, the same rules are to be used in interpreting the Bible as in interpreting any other book. The specific difference is, that what one is found to teach we believe, what the other is found to teach we believe or not, as seemeth to us good.
Now we do not feel called upon to answer the objection to this course of remark which may here be raised, that God never did, and never will, reveal to his creatures what they would not have eventually found out, or what does not seem to them perfectly reasonable. We have already said, that there was a presumption that this would be done. We go farther now, and say that he has done it. We do not say that what was revealed now seems contrary to reason; because reason is now enlightened, has been educated by, and in view of, these formerly apparent contradictions.
that God has spoken to man at times in such a manner, that to his reason at the time it did and must have appeared unreasonable.
He promised to Abraham that in his son Isaac his seed should be multiplied, and become as the sands upon the sea shore and as the stars of heaven in multitude; but when the promised son was born, from whom this innumerable host was to spring, and in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, the venerable father was commanded to take this very son, on whose existence the promises of God depended, and offer him as a burnt offering. How startled must the patriarch have been at the reception of this new command, directly contradicting the promises made before to him. But not reasoning as some philosophers do, that this was contrary to his views of God's character, and abhorrent to the instincts of his own nature, and therefore could not be from God who made his nature, the grayheaded father took the wood and his darling son, the hope, the only hope of his future name, and on the continuance of whose life God's veracity appeared to depend, and went forward to the mount on which he was commanded to make the offering. His obedience resulted, as obeying God's commands always will result, (however dark, however inconsistent with our conceptions of right and fitness they may appear,) in rendering the name of the good old man memorable for his faith in God, through all lands where this revelation is carried, and in calling down from Heaven a testimony to his “ fear of God.” Saul, when he had been commanded by Samuel not to attack the collecting enemy till he came and offered sacrifice, thought he knew better than God's prophet the means of overcoming the foe, and concluded that it would be better policy to offer the sacrifice himself, and march over and attack his enemies before they could assemble in greater numbers, and thus render victory more doubtful. What was the result of this exercise of human wisdom in opposition to the Divine ? His sceptre fell from his hands, as well as victory from his brow, and another was seated upon the throne of Israel. Saul reasoned out the impolicy of God's requirements, and thus lost a battle and a kingdom. So when Christ said to the cripple at the foot of Bethesda, “ Arise, take up thy bed and walk,” he did not stop to argue the impossibility of doing it till he was healed-he rose up and walked. Am I told that the command to do this was sufficient evidence that he was healed ? So it is sufficient evidence that it is right and fit, and my duty, to do what God commands me to do, simply because he has commanded it. If the cripple knew that he could rise and walk simply because he was told by one on whose authority and veracity he relied that he could do it, I know that a revelation is true simply because it has been made. No farther evidence is or can be demanded or given.
R. P. S.
HONOUR TO OUR FATHERS.
The recurrence of Forefathers' Day has recalled to my mind some lines which I wrote in commemoration of those great men, on occasion of the centennial celebration at Harvard College. No use having ever been made of them, I send them for insertion at this season in the Miscellany.
December 22, 1839.