Page images
PDF
EPUB

was

The second tract is the substance of two letters on Inspiration, published, and, there is scarcely a doubt, written, by LE CLERC. LE CLERC was the contemporary and correspondent of Locke and Newton. He

a scholar of the most remarkable compass and variety of learning, and scarcely less distinguished for his clearness of mind, good sense, and acuteness. It may be doubted whether there is any where to be found, a more perspicuous and satisfactory statement on the subject in question, than what this tract presents.

In republishing, however, these two very valuable tracts, it is not intended to vouch for the correctness of every opinion and expression which they may contain. The general views are believed to be correct. But in a few comparatively unimportant respects, both authors might have written somewhat differently, if they had written in our day.

A. N.

AN ESSAY

FOR THE UNDERSTANDING

ST. PAUL'S EPISTLES, &c.

T

o 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 publick, 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 tem

per and circumstances of 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, 'tis 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 aftertimes 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, are 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 a 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 much more obscures and perplexes the meaning of these writings, than what

can be occasioned by the looseness and variety of the Greek tongue. The terms are Greek, but the idiom or turn of the phrases may be truly said to be Hebrew, or Syriack: the custom and familiarity of which tongues do sometimes so far influence the expressions in these epistles, that one may observe the force of the Hebrew conjugations, particularly that of Hiphil, given to Greek Verbs, in a way unknown to the Grecians themselves. Nor is this all; the subject treated of in these epistles is so wholly new, and the doctrines contained in them so perfectly remote from the notions that mankind were acquainted with, that most of the important terms in it have quite another signification from what they have in other discourses: so that putting all together, we may truly say, that the New Testament is a book written in a language peculiar to itself.

To these causes of obscurity, common to St. Paul with most of the other penmen of the several books of the New Testament, we may add those that are peculiarly his, and owing to his style and temper. Ile was, as 'tis visible, a man of quick thought, warm temper, mighty well versed in the writings of the Old Testament, and

« PreviousContinue »