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stood their language better than we do. After remarking, that a very long period had elapsed before this construction was attempted to be put upon them, or any endeavour was made to shew from them that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a contradiction, I shall observe, that even contemporaries—which none of these fathers were do not always correctly interpret works written in their vernacular tongue; but on the contrary are frequently mistaken, and often advance arguments for their respective opinions, which so nearly balance each other, that it is very difficult to determine on which side the scale preponderates.
We lawyers can furnish hundreds of instances of this kind in the construction of modern acts of
parljament, which are usually drawn by professional characters, men of learning and experience, well acquainted with their own language, and whose object it is to render the acts they draw as clear, and their meaning as certain, as possible: yet when it is necessary to reduce them into practice, and to decide upon their construction, we have often not only one counsel and one judge against another, but even different courts differing in opinion from each other upon the construction of the same sentence. You would be astonished to hear how many hundreds of judicial determinations there have been—how many conflicting, and clashing, opinions and authorities, to determine the meaning of three acts of parliament, passed in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James the First,
relative to bankrupts, and to the relief of the poor; some of them in the very reigns in which these acts were passed, and others in our own times, though we do not live at a more remote period since their enactment, than the fathers you allude to did after the publication of the Gospel of St. John. Is it any wonder then, that the meaning of one of the fishermen of Galilee, writing in a language which was not his mothertongue, should have been sometimes doubted, and sometimes misunderstood, by writers following him at the distance of two or three centuries ? that learned and ingenious persons, many of them recently converted from paganism, and eager to introduce their preconceived notions and opinions into Christianity,— the simplicity of which they had begun to corrupt in the
very days of the apostles, as the latter themselves lament,-should by degrees, in the course of two or three centuries, have succeeded in the opinions of a considerable part of their readers, many of them similarly circumstanced with themselves, in putting constructions upon several passages in the sacred writings, which the apostolic writers themselves never intended ? Is it not rather matter of surprise that these writers should have expressed themselves with so much simplicity and clearness, frequently upon subjects in themselves abstruse and difficult, that by comparing one part of their writings with another, and applying to them the same rules of fair, and just, criticism, which we do to other ancient writings, we should be able to
ascertain their meaning so well, as in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred we find we do,—and in so many instances to detect, and repudiate, the false glosses, and erroneous opinions, which these fathers had fastened
In the profession of the law we have a rule, which appears to me to be a very sensible and judicious one, namely, To interpret, whenever it is in our power, one part of an act of parliament by another; and when we can ascertain, by the context or otherwise, the sense in which any given words are made use of by the legislature in one part of an act, to conclude, un. less the contrary appears, that they intended to make use of them in the same sense in other parts of it; or, if the words do not occur in any other parts of the same act, we endeavour to discover in what sense they are used in other acts made in pari materia. Pursuing this course, which is not only sanctioned by legal experience, but by the principles of sound criticism, it appeared to me, that we could not do better than to interpret the Scriptures by the Scriptures, and particularly each Scripture writer, and teacher, by himself, where it was in our power; as this would enable us to arrive at their meaning with quite as much certainty, as any of the fathers, who happened to live two or three hundred years after their publication.
Granting that some of these fathers, to support their own opinions, should have interpreted šv, as meaning one being or deity, though not so expressed,
and that it would bear this construction; yet this would be a mere conjecture of their own, not depending upon any particular knowledge of the Greek language: and there being no doubt at all, that it will also bear the construction of one thing, because it is actually used in that sense continually, and it is the most obvious and natural sense,—the question will immediately arise, in which of these senses our Saviour used it, or, which is the same thing, the corresponding term in the language he spoke in. You state, that
You state, that my rendering (meaning the latter) cannot at all be admitted as proper for a creature like ourselves, as Jesus is supposed to be, to say “I and the Deity are one thing : and
if we turn to the seventeenth chapter of the samegospel, ver, 11, we find our Saviour, not only using the very same words again, but alluding to his former use of them, and applying them as perfectly proper to creatures like ourselves : Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one (év), as we are.” Now it is so manifest, that it is impossible to doubt it, that our Saviour could not by źv here mean one being, but one thing; inasmuch as all his disciples could not constitute one being; for which reason it is obvious, that he could only design to use the word, meaning one thing, in a figurative sense in both places, as we speak of very intimate friends, or of man and wife, or principal and agent, whose interests, sentiments, and pursuits are the same; that they are one, or one
and the same thing, denoting unity of design and sentiment, though not of person or of being : and he prays that his disciples may
one, or one and the same thing, as he and his Father were one, or one and the same thing; shewing that he used the word in the same sense as applied to both ; from which it follows, that he and his Father were one and the same thing in the same sense that he prayed that his disciples might be one; and consequently were not one in being or in deity, but one in design and
purpose. This is so extremely plain, and depends so little upon any niceties of language, but upon
the obvious nature, and tendency of the expressions themselves, in whatever language they are proposed to us, that the conjectures of these good fathers--that the design of the speakers was different-will have but little weight with any
one who will be at the trouble of forming a judgement for himself. Nor must it be supposed that there were not in their times persons as conversant in the language as themselves, who put quite a different construction upon the words, as will be shewn hereafter.
But to return to the words of our Saviour,—which, whether for the explanation of his meaning, or for any other purpose, are of more importance than the opinions of all the fathers put together;-we find at ver. 20 : “ Neither
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; that they all may be one (év), as thou, Father,