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manner of men." Their language is elliptical, like that of other men. They presume on many things being known as a qualification for understanding what they imperfectly state. Their language, therefore, unlike the language of mathematical science and of the statutebook, will not bear close pressing on all sides. When viewed from the true stand-point and in its proper relations alone, does its true significance unfold itself.
These obvious principles are most frequently overlooked by those who are accustomed, in accordance with the popular methods of the time, to reason by inference from the mere letter of the Scriptures, often dissociating the place from all those circumstances which can help to determine its meaning. Doctrines are thus drawn from the Bible which the sacred writers themselves never entertained. How often have we heard the woe of the wicked immediately after death, inferred from the language of the Revelator: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."2 The inference is that the dead who do not die in the Lord are not blessed. Few persons, however, would think of pursuing their inferences through the passage, and show that the wicked may not rest from their labors; and that their works do not follow them. Reasoning from a denial of Christ's resurrection, Paul states, among other conclusions, that "they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."3 Shall we infer that they who have fallen asleep, but not in Christ, have not perished? Or shall we conclude rather that Paul makes a special application of a general truth? Again, he says, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."4 Hence it is inferred that they who sleep, but not in Jesus, God will not bring with him. A little reflection, however, will show that this proposition is not contained in the language of Paul. That language, at the most, simply does not exclude such an inference. It may be a truth resting on some other foundation; but before this passage can yield it any support, it must be shown, as in the former instance, that Paul's language gives his statement the widest appli
1 Gal. iii. 15. 2 Rev. xiv. 13. 31 Cor. xv. 18. 4 1 Thess. iv. 14.
cation it will bear. The force and implied relations of the phrases" asleep in Jesus," "dead in Christ," and the like, must also be determined by a careful analysis of all the places where they occur. Christ often concludes his parables with the emphatic exhortation, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."5 Can we safely infer from this language that some men have no ears to hear; or that, having ears, they were not intended to hear with? Or does Christ mean to say simply, Since you have ears, use them? Such examples might be multiplied indefinitely. These, however, are sufficient to show that very great caution is necessary in interpreting the free language of Scripture. And perhaps we cannot do better than to call attention to a few obvious rules which may guard the general reader against false deductions from the phraseology of the Bible.
I. In the first place, we shall often save ourselves from drawing erroneous inferences from the mere letter of the Scriptures by observing carefully the main drift of the place. The general scope of a passage will help us determine whether or not the idea, embodied in a doubtful inference, entered into the writer's mind. Of course, we ought not to press the language of any place beyond what the writer intended to teach, or at most beyond what is necessarily involved therein. We shall find very little difficulty, however, in the application of this rule to such Scriptures as have never been drawn into controversy. For example, Solomon's description of a virtuous woman, though continually open to inferences from the mere letter, which would condemn most of the women of our time, is, nevertheless, easily understood in the light of the writer's aim.
"She considereth a field, and buyeth it;
With the fruit of her hand she planteth a vineyard.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good."
Such particulars in the description indicate the breadth of female enterprise in the time of Solomon. In allusion to forms of labor, still prevailing in the south of Italy, he says, "She layeth her hands to the spindle,
And her hands hold the distaff.
5 Matt. xiii. 43.
6 Prov. xxxi. 16-23.
In the generosity of her heart,
"She stretcheth out her hand to the poor;
Yea, she reacheth forth her hand to the needy."
"She is not afraid of the snow for her household;
in allusion perhaps to the usual color of the warmest clothing. Or it may be that the marginal reading gives the signification more exactly :7
"For all her household are clothed with double garments."
The success of her enterprises is denoted in the richness of her furniture and wardrobe.
"She maketh herself coverings of tapestry;
Her clothing is silk and purple."
She reflects honor upon her husband, and thus aids in raising him to the dignity of a magistrate, whose place for the hearing of causes is in the gates of the walled cities.
"Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sitteth among the elders of the land." After this fashion does the description proceed. Now every one would feel how puerile would be the inference from this language, that any woman who does not consider a field and buy it; or plant a vineyard; or burn a candle through the night; or hold the distaff; or clothe her household in scarlet, or herself in silk and purple; or make her husband sit among the magistrates in the gates of the city, is not a virtuous woman. The truth is, the description is given in a garb fashioned by the circumstances of the time. Instead of an explicit statement of the qualities of a virtuous woman, such as industry, prudence, forecast, and benevolence, with domestic carefulness and vigilance, and conjugal fidelity, instead of such an enumeration of qualities, Solomon presents their results. He shows them in action; gives us an embodiment of them in the forms of labor and responsibility devolving on the women of his day. To suppose that the mere letter of this description is rigidly employed by the Holy Spirit, is to suppose that certain forms of labor are demanded, instead of moral qualities; buying a field,
7 See Dr. A. Clarke in loco.
instead of prudent forecast; burning a candle, instead of watchful vigilance; holding the distaff, instead of the general virtue of industry; and the attainment of the office of magistrate, instead of the qualities of an honest
Among the numerous illustrations of this free use of language, we may mention the announcement by the apostle James of the judgments of God upon fraudulent rich men: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire." Shall we infer from this passage that whenever a garment chances to be moth-eaten, it is to be regarded as a special judgment from heaven? This language was shaped by the ancient custom among the eastern nations of holding much of their wealth in a great number of splendid dresses, amounting sometimes to sev eral thousands of the same kind. The moth preys upon these, as the rust corrupts the ordinary metals. But the passage is not so much a threatening of this specific form of judgment, as it is an announcement of the general truth that riches gotten unjustly, "take to themselves wings and fly away;" or of the still more general truth, that a miserly spirit is sure to bring upon itself a just retribution.
Further illustrations are found in the book of Job. The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, with a view to impress him with his weakness, and said,
"The waters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen.
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pléiades ?"
a constellation supposed to bring in the spring
"Or loose the bands of Orion?" 9
another constellation supposed to rule the winter. Now we surely are not to infer, because Jehovah addresses his servant, with regard to his own divine prerogatives, in language conformed to the then prevailing philosophy of men, that he therefore sanctions that philosophy. No
8 James v.
9 Job xxxviii. 30 & 31.
wise commentator would undertake to maintain that we have here divine authority for saying that the Pleiades do bring in the genial spring-time; or that Orion does' rule the winter, chaining the earth as in bands of ice, and hiding the waters as with a stone. He is not teaching Job philosophy at all; he neither sanctions nor denies the current ideas on this subject. He is instructing him in his own sovereignty and perfect rule; and conveys this instruction in harmony with the errors of the time. Or, admitting the correctness of the translation-which, however, there is some reason to doubt 10-if the language referring to the constellations be understood as a poetic embellishment, we shall be compelled to make equal allowance in its interpretation, though of a somewhat different character. Such allusions, whatever may be their character, do not permit rigid verbal inferences to be deduced therefrom. This is the principal fact we wish to keep in mind. Jesus says, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon; "11 where his allusion to the Syrian god of riches is a mere rhetorical embellishment. His drift is, "No man can serve two masters." 12 God, as an object of highest service, and mammon, or the world, as an object of such service, are incompatible. And yet, overlooking this intent, and resting in the letter alone, we have the same evidence in this passage to prove the real existence of the god of riches, as we have to prove the existence of the God of heaven and earth. That is to say, the allusion is not intended as proof of either.
The conflicts between true science and the Bible have grown out of the same method of reasoning. When the truths of the Copernican system of astronomy were announced, the whole class of theologians who were servants of the mere letter, were alarmed. Such doctrines, they alleged, contradict the plain letter of the Bible, and therefore cannot be true. No allowance was made for the adaptations of language to the meagre understanding of men. The then recent scientific disclosures, like the revelations of geology in our own time, were supposed to be atheistic weapons, contrived to discredit the word of God. A distinguished English divine,13 sometime Fellow
10 See Dr. A. Clarke on Job ix. 9 & in loco. 11 Matt. vi. 24. 12 Ibid. 13 Rev. John Edwards.