« PreviousContinue »
'ferent translations at the same time. If it should, I can perceive no absurdity in such a sanction ; no evil consequence that would follow from it. In fact, would it be any more, with respect to the whole Bible, than that which has long obtained in England, with regard to one considerable book, the Psalms, of which two very different versions, one in the Bible, the other in the Common Prayer, have equally the sanction of the higher powers? Are the people ignorant of this difference? Those who know any thing of the religion of the country, who read their Bible at home, and attend the service of the church, know it perfectly. Yet I have not heard that any private Christian was scandalized at it; much less, that any one pretended to deduce, from this cause, the liberti. nism and infidelity of the times. Yet, in no part of Scripture would the people have so many opportunities of remarking the variations, as in that book, which they hear in church not seldomer than twelve times a year. So much cannot be said of any other part of the sacred volume, the New Testament being read over only thrice a year, and the Old Testament but once. If the people were so easily alarmed, as some seem to imagine, how has it happened, that the striking difference between the two authorized translations above mentioned, have not, long ere now, raised a clamour, either against the common translation, or against the Common Prayer?
I should not have thought it necessary to say any thing on this head, if the subject had not been started, of late, and warmly agitated (I believe with
the best intentions on both sides), by some learned and worthy men. As my sentiments, on the subject, do not entirely coincide with those of either party, I thought it incumbent to add the explanation now given. The publishing of a new translation is not to be considered as implying a condemnation of any that preceded. This was objected to those employed by James the First, in preparing the translation used at present; and the reply which those translators made to their opponents in this business, as it had served Jerom before them, and served them, will equally serve me, or any translator, who shall afterwards bestow his time and labour in the same way. “ We answer them,” say they, “ with St.
Hierom, Do we condemn the ancient ? In no “case ; but, after the endeavours of them that were " before us, we take the best pains we can in the “house of God. As if he said, Being provoked, by “ the example of the learned, that lived before my “ time, I have thought it my duty to assay whether
my talent, in the knowledge of the tongues, may “ be profitable, in any measure, to God's church, “ lest I should seem to have laboured in them in
vain, and lest I should be thought to glory in men
(although ancient) above that which was in them.” So said those worthy men, who, as they did not think themselves precluded from making improvements on the valuable labours of their predecessors, show, sufficiently, that they did not consider their own labours as superseding all attempts at still far
ther improvements, by those who should come after them.
The due consideration of the progressive state of all human knowledge and art, will ever be unfriendly to the adoption of any measure which seems to fix a barrier against improvement, and to say to science, Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther. And if, in matters merely of science, such measures would prove hurtful, how much more in any thing wherein religion is concerned ? My opinion, therefore, on this question, I freely acknowledge, favours the removal of all legal restraints, as much as possible, and not barely the change of the object. Indeed, this will be found the natural result of the argument, as it has heretofore been conducted. There is not a topic, which the present adversaries of an improved translation in English employ now, which was not, with the same plausibility, employed against Jerom's Latin translation, called the Vulgate, at present in universal use in the Latin church, and which was not also employed against the English translation of James the First, that very version for which our adversaries, on this article, now so strenuously contend. On the other hand, there was not any plea, which Jerom urged in support of his attempt, or which the English translators urged in support of theirs, that will not equally serve the purpose of any present or future well-meant attempt of the like kind, and, consequently, that does not strike against every measure which might effectually preclude any such attempt in time to come.
There are only two differences, in point of circumstances, between us and the inhabitants of this island, in the beginning of the last century, which impartiality obliges me to mention, and which (as they render more delicacy requisite in these days, than was necessary in those), if attended to, may prevent men from concluding too hastily, that those measures cannot fail of success now, which have succeeded formerly. Though some versions had been publicly authorized before that of James the First, none of them had been of near so long standing as that which is in use at present ; and, consequently, the people's attachment to any one of them, was not so much strengthened by habit, as the present attachment to the English Bible may be supposed to be. An alteration, therefore, in respect of the public use, might be a much more difficult attempt now than it was then. The other difference arises from the consideration, that the spirit of liberty is much higher, at present, in the nation, than it was at that period; the rights of conscience are better understood, and the absurdity, as well as tyranny, of employing coercion, in matters of religion, are almost universally acknowledged.
All these considerations, whilst they give the utmost encouragement to the study of biblical criticism, show sufficiently, in a matter which so nearly affects the rights of conscience, the danger of all measures that can be justly accounted compulsory. For my own part, it is enough for me, that common sense assures me, that, if God condescends to speak
to us mortals, it is our duty to attend to what he says ; and if, in any writing, he has revealed his will to us, it is our duty carefully to read that writing, and do our utmost rightly to understand it. The language of the Christian revelation, we quickly see, concurs with that of reason, in enjoining this practice; nay, it excites us still more strongly, by the example it sets before us, of those who have found much comfort and improvement in it. Can I require stronger motives to induce me to make God's word the subject of my study and meditation, day and night ? And if I have reason to think that, by the blessing of Heaven, I have been, in some measure, successful in this application of my time, does not our common Christianity, one of the great commandments of which is, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, oblige me, for the benefit of others, to communicate any lights I may have received from this exercise ? When they are communicated, I have discharged a Christian duty. The reception will be such as it pleases Providence to give them.
Though, in these volumes, I have not affirmed any thing, as my opinion, which did not at the time, and does not still, appear to me probable; and though many things, in them, appear certain, I desire nothing to be admitted, by the reader, upon my affirmation : my wish is, that every thing may be candidly and deliberately examined ; that my reasons, which I commonly give, where the subject requires it, may be impartially weighed, and the opinion adopted, or rejected, as the reader, on due reflection, shall find