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FOR THE UNDERSTANDING OF
ST. PAUL'S EPISTLES,
BY CONSULTING ST. PAUL HIMSELF.
To go about to explain any of St. Paul's epistles, after so great a train of expositors and commentators, might seem an attempt of vanity, censurable for its needlessness, did not the daily and approved examples of pious and learned men justify it. This may be some excuse for me to the public, if ever these following papers should chance to come abroad: but to myself, for whose use this work was undertaken, I need make no apology. Though I had been conversant in these epistles, as well as in other parts of sacred Scripture, yet I found that I understood them not; I mean the doctrinal and discursive parts of them: though the
practical directions, which are usually dropped in the latter part of each epistle, appeared to me very plain, intelligible, and instructive.
I did not, when I reflected on it, very much wonder that this part of sacred Scripture had difficulties in it : many causes of obscurity did readily occur to me. The nature of epistolary writings in general disposes the writer to pass by the mentioning of many things, as well known to him to whom his letter is addressed, which are necessary to be laid open to a stranger, to make him comprehend what is said: and it not seldom falls out that a well-penned letter, which is very easy and intelligible to the receiver, is very obscure to a stranger, who hardly knows what to make of it. The matters that St. Paul writ about were certainly things well known to those he writ to, and which they had some peculiar concern in; which made them easily apprehend his meaning, and see the tendency and force of his discourse. But we having now, at this distance, no information of the occasion of his writing, little or no knowledge of the temper and circumstances those he writ to were in, but what is to be gathered out of the epistles themselves; it is not strange that many things in them lie concealed to us, which, no doubt, they who were concerned in the letter understood at first sight. Add to this, that in many places it is manifest he answers letters sent, and questions proposed to him, which, if we had, would much better clear those passages that relate to them than all the learned notes of critics and commentators, who in after-times fill us with their conjectures; for very often, as to the matter in hand, they are nothing else.
The language wherein these epistles are writ is another, and that no small occasion of their obscurity to us now the words are Greek; a language dead many ages since; a language of a very witty, volatile people, seekers after novelty, and abounding with variety of notions and sects, to which they applied the terms of their common tongue with great liberty and variety: and yet this makes but one small part of the difficulty in the language of these epistles; there is a peculiarity in it that