« PreviousContinue »
Whatever may be our discoveries of the government of God, or whatever our loftier or more devotional feelings, on the perusal of Scripture; yet another point remainst ò be considered, before we can thoroughly understand the primary meaning of the sacred writings. We must never forget that they were addressed to the ancestors of that wandering people ; whose dispersion among the nations is one perpetual, visible demonstration of the accomplishment of prophecy, and of the truth of Christianity. Jesus, and his Apostles were Jews. They conversed with, and lived among, and appealed to, Jews. To have been understood by the people to whom they spoke; they must have adopted the idioms, language, proverbs, and modes of speaking then in use. Their conversations would have been filled with allusions to the events, circumstances, manners, modes, customs, &c. of their day. To understand the New Testament thoroughly, therefore, we must endeavour to comprehend the sense in which the language of the Evangelists was understood by the people of their own age; and the requisite explanations can only be afforded by the Jewish writers. The classical writers, in many respects, are of little service. Though the works of Raphelius, and of innumerable others, who have illustrated the New Testament from these beautiful sources of criticism, are abundantly useful; they have not rendered that peculiar and more essential service to sacred literature which has been effected by the students of the Talmudical writings. The learned Baptist Dr. Gill, whose style is as ponderous as his materials are useful; Schoetgen, Wetstein, Lightfoot, Drusius, and others, have contributed much more effectual aid to our right interpretation of Scripture (z). Though the Talmuds abound with fables and absurdities-though the follies and conceits with which the Jews, who refused to embrace Christianity, began to crowd their books, at the very time, when the beautiful day-spring of the New Tes. tament Scriptures began to scatter the darkness of man
kind,-may be considered as the beginning of their predicted judicial blindness: these books still illustrate the language of the Old Testament. They contain many vestiges of the ancient spiritual interpretations (aa). They explain the antiquities, allegories, mysteries, traditions, &c. of the Jews, which are alluded to in Scripture. Though they were written at a later period than the books of the New Testament, as I have shewn in my concluding note to this work ; they were compiled in the apostolic age, or in those which immediately succeeded it, when the traditions of their ancestors were most venerated ; and when the storms which desolated the country attached the compilers most fondly, to the very words and phrases of their learned Rabbis (bb).
Impressed with such considerations, I have sometimes availed myself of these sources of illustration. Though I may appear to have wandered too far from the strict performance of the task which I had assigned myself—the arrangement of the New Testament; I would not refuse myself the pleasure of perusing, and incorporating in my notes, many of the principal remarks of the learned and laborious Schoetgen. It is indeed to be regretted, that the works of this divine are not sufficiently appreciated. He was imbued with the true spirit of theological criticism. Undertaking his work in the fear of God, and with a sincere desire to serve the Church; he never commenced his diligent reading without fervent prayer that his exertions might be useful. Firmly convinced of the inspiration of the New Testament, he had no hypothesis to serve-no theory to defend-no novel nor ingenious paradox to assert. Knowing that some degree of reputation would follow his diligent researches, he guarded himself carefully from vanity and self-conceit; and rejected much of which the benefit was equivocal, lest the reader should imagine he desired only to display his learning. He apologises for the very appearance of affectation: when his discussions might be thought unnecessarily prolix. Every where acknowledging
his obligations to Selden, Wagenseil, Braun, Witsius, Vi. tringa, Edzard, Lightfoot, and others; he still confesses the possibility of erroneous conclusions, and his utmost care to avoid them. His language is perspicuous, rather than elegant; and his great work will ever be esteemed by all who desire to understand fully, and satisfactorily, the peculiarities of the New Testament. I trust that some theological labourer will soon devote himself to the task of explaining the whole of the sacred volume ; from the same sources, which so much amused and delighted Schoetgen, Selden, Lightfoot, Drusius, and Gill. Never let it be supposed that we are too late for additional instruction. The study of the Revelation of God, is as infinite as the world of science. The discovery of truth in Scripture, is as gratifying as the demonstrations of geometry.
In selecting notes from these sources, an additional interest was unavoidably excited for the wonderful people, to whom so much of our Scriptures was addressed. Το them many notes are exclusively written. Though various circumstances persuade me, that the mass of the Jewish people is altogether indifferent to the exertions which many benevolent and good men are daily making on their behalf,—though they at present despise, for the most part, the idea of a spiritual Messiah-we who are Christians well know that Palestine is the land of the Emanuel. We know that the most High so continues to govern the nations of the world ; that their power, and wealth, and greatness, whether they arise from good polity, from war, or from commerce; shall all tend to the accomplishment of his prophecies. Of the unfulfilled prophecies of God, the most splendid, the most numerous, and apparently the most easy of execution, are those which relate to the Jews. They will again plant the vine and the olive upon their native hills, and reap their harvests in the valleys of their fathers. The history of the future age, must develope the means by which this great event will be effected. We know not
whether they will be borne back to Palestine in triumph in the ships of a powerful maritime nation: (and if so, may God grant that England, and not America, nor Russia, nor any other power, may be so honoured by the Almighty) or whether in their behalf the age of miracles will return, and a great simultaneous effort be, therefore made in their favour, on the part of the sovereigns of Europe-or whether, by the exertions of pious individuals, the mass of the community will be so leavened, that all people shall unite to restore them to the Holy Land. We know not, whether they shall obtain their political re-establishment from the confederated rulers of the great Republic of Europe-or by an easier devotion of that wealth which is daily making them the principal agents of the commerce of nations, purchase the right of the soil from its present feeble and divided possessors or whether the future agitations and contentions of sovereigns, may render it desirable that an important boundary power should be re-established in Palestine; and a formal surrender of their territory should be therefore made to their nation; as in times past the policy of Persia restored their ancestors to Jerusalem, in consequence of its defeat by the Greeks; and of the treaty which forbade the Persians to come within a certain distance of the coast or whether they will be restored to their own now unoccupied, uncultivated, unregarded land, the central spot on earth, where the metropolitical Church of God may be most suitably established (cc), and which seems to be waiting till the heir shall resume his claims, by some other way, which is known only to the God of their fathers--all this must be left to that history, which is the only right interpreter of our faith-preserving prophecy. The experience of the past ages may teach us the manner in which the pride and ambition of man pursues their own plans ; and are successful, or are defeated, as the God of Christianity máy please to appoint, for the accompl shment of his own designs.
Greece boasted of Marathon, and Thermopylæ--Greece was triumphant, and Persia was repulsed. Neither Themistocles nor Miltiades, nor his son, who completed their victories; nor Darius, nor Xerxes, nor his successor, could have believed, that their opposite continents were in commotion, and the whole world was agitated, that the poor and despised prophets of Judea might be proved to have spoken truth ; and the walls of Jerusalem be re built after the predicted period of the Babylonish captivity (dd). When Cyrus the younger advanced into the plains of Babylon, from the frontiers of Persia, with a well-appointed army of veteran Greeks, who returned to their own country after his unexpected fall, by a retreat which is still commemorated as the most renowned in history ; neither Cyrus, Clearchus, nor Xenophon, could have imagined that they were preparing the way for the accomplishment of the prophecies of God; by pointing out to the Greeks of a subsequent generation, that when their forces should be united under one head, the kingdom of Persia was at their disposal ; as an obscure Jew had predicted. They could not tell that one reason, why Cyrus could not conquer Persia, with an army of the same people who should hereafter subdue it, might be the prophecy of Daniel, that a Greek alone should become its conqueror.
Rome did not know that its gradual conquests should overspread the world, and the nations should imperceptibly conform to its government; and then that its factions should be extinguished; and compelled, whatever their republican indignation might be, to submit to one imperial Ruler: that the words of the Jewish prophets might be fulfilled, and the world be at peace, when the Messiah should be born. But as we now look back upon these events, and see how the God of Christianity rides upon the whirlwinds of war, and directs all the storms of human passions ; so shall the generations which are yet to come, look upon the changes in England, which established that Protestantism which is the