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This I thought my duty and interest, in a matter of so great concernment to me. If I must believe for myself, it is unavoidable, that I must understand for myself. For if I blindly, and with an implicit faith, take the pope's interpretation of the sacred scripture, without examining whether it be Christ's meaning; it is the pope I believe in, and not in Christ; it is his authority I rest upon; it is what he says, I embrace: for what it is Christ says, I neither know nor concern myself. It is the same thing, when I set up any other man in Christ's place, and make him the authentic interpreter of sacred scripture to myself. He may possibly understand the sacred scripture as right as any man: but I shall do well to examine myself, whether that, which I do not know, nay, which (in the way I take) I can never know, can justify me, in making myself his disciple, instead of Jesus Christ's, who of right is alone, and ought to be, my only Lord and Master: and it will be no less sacrilege in me, to substitute to myself any other in his room, to be a prophet to me, than to be my king, or priest.
The same reasons that put me upon doing what I have in these papers done, will exempt me from all suspicion of imposing my interpretation on others. The reasons that led me into the meaning, which prevailed on my mind, are set down with it: as far as they carry light and conviction to any other man's understanding, so far, I hope, my labour may be of some use to him; beyond the evidence it carries with it, I advise him not to follow mine, nor any man's interpretation. We are all men, liable to errours, and infected with them; but have this sure way to preserve ourselves, every one, from danger by them, if, laying aside sloth, carelessness, prejudice, party, and a reverence of men, we betake ourselves, in earnest, to the study of the way to salvation, in those holy writings, wherein God has revealed it from heaven, and proposed it to the world, seeking our religion, where we are sure it is in truth to be found, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things.
PUBLISHER TO THE READER.
THERE is nothing, certainly, of greater encouragement to the peace of the church in general, nor to the direction and edification of all christians in particular, than a right understanding of the holy scripture. This consideration has set so many learned and pious men amongst us, of late years, upon expositions, paraphrases, and notes on the sacred writings, that the author of these hopes the fashion may excuse him from endeavouring to add his mite; believing, that after all that has been done by those great labourers in the harvest, there may be some gleanings left, whereof he presumes he has an instance, chap. iii. ver. 20, and some other places of this epistle to the Galatians, which he looks upon not to be the hardest of St. Paul's. If he has given a light to any obscure passage, he shall think his pains well employed; if there be nothing else worth notice in him, accept of his good intention.
EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL
WRIT FROM EPHESUS, THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 57, OF NERO III.
THE subject and design of this epistle of St. Paul is much the same with that of his epistle to the Romans, but treated in somewhat a different manner. The business of it is to dehort and hinder the Galatians from bringing themselves under the bondage of the Mosaical law.
St. Paul himself had planted the churches of Galatia, and therefore referring (as he does, chap. i. 8, 9,) to what he had before taught them, does not, in this epistle lay down at large to them the doctrine of the gospel, as he does in that to the Romans, who having been converted to the christian faith by others, he did not know how far they were instructed in all those particulars, which, on the occasion whereon he writ to them, it might be necessary for them to understand and therefore, writing to the Romans, he sets before them a large and comprehensive view of the chief heads of the christian religion.
He also deals more roundly with his disciples the Galatians than, we may observe, he does with the Romans, to whom he, being a stranger, writes not in so familiar a style, nor in his reproofs and exhortations uses so much the tone of a master, as he does to the Galatians.
St. Paul had converted the Galatians to the faith, and erected several churches among them in the year of our Lord 51; between which, and the year 57, wherein this epistle was writ, the disorders following were got into those churches:
First, Some zealots for the jewish constitution had very near persuaded them out of their christian liberty, and made them willing to submit to circumcision, and all the ritual observances of the jewish church, as necessary under the gospel, chap. i. 7; iii. 3; iv. 9, 10, 21; v. 1, 2, 6, 9, 10.
Secondly, Their dissensions and disputes in this matter had raised great animosities amongst them, to the disturbance of their peace, and the setting them at strife with one another, chap. v. 6, 13-15.
The reforming them in these two points, seems to be the main business of this epistle, wherein he endeavours to establish them in a resolution to stand firm in the freedom of the gospel, which exempts them from the bondage of the Mosaical law and labours to reduce them to a sincere love and affection one to another; which he concludes with an exhortation to liberality, and general beneficence, especially to their teachers, chap. vi. 6, 10. These being the matters he had in his mind to write to them about, he seems here as if he had done. But, upon mentioning ver. 11, what a long letter he had writ to them with his own hand, the former argument concerning circumcision, which filled and warmed his mind, broke out again into what we find, ver. 12-17, of the sixth chapter.