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Von Dr. A.
ART. II. Commentar zum Evangelio Johannis.
A Commentary on the Gospel of St. John. By A. THOLUCK, D. D. Professor of Theology in the University of Halle. Translated from the German by Rev. A. KAUFMAN. Boston and Philadelphia, 1836.
The history of universal literature is the history of the human mind, putting forth its energies and revealing its inward workings, under the different influences which have been brought to act upon it in different ages. The productions of the pen are but the visible manifestation of the invisible spirit, which, at different periods and in different countries, pervades the higher classes of human society; and they may be taken in the general, as a comprehensive index to the predominant character of the age or nation, in which they make their appearance. The study of literature is therefore the study of humanity, which, though always the same in itself, is perpetually changing its complexion and presenting to the eye of philosophic observation some new or modified aspect.
Regarded in this light, literary productions are far more valuable to the historian and the philosopher, than they have usually been considered. They are a most important medium, through which to examine the nice, distinctive shades of character, peculiar to an age or nation. For ourselves, were we to attempt a history of any particular period in the past, we should first of all seek an acquaintance with the writers who in that period were most read and most admired, and then pass to an examination of the principal authors whose talents were called into exercise by the taste and exigencies of the times. And were we to assume the responsibilities of a prophet, and modestly attempt a sketch of the future, we should go back at least a century, and follow the general track of cultivated intellect up to the impassable point of the present. Here we should of course find ourselves at the Ultima Thule of certain knowledge-we could tread upon terra firma no longer-but as the past and future are parts of one accordant whole, and, like the opposite hemispheres of our globe, arched by one continuous firmanent, we should be able to lay our course upon the unexplored ocean before us, with some good degree of confidence. The stars and constellations which we had left behind, and those shining from the zenith, would continue to guide us for many a league, until a storm had overspread the heavens, or distance had caused them to sink below the horizon.
Casting our eyes back to the reformation, and taking in at a single view the general course of the human mind from that time to the present, we find that there has been a constant and manifest tendency towards the practical. Imagination has yielded much of her ancient domain to reason; the spirits which once peopled the air and held the world in awe, have been put to flight by a larger acquaintance with science; and the metaphysical subtilties which so long usurped attention and wasted the mental energies, have given place to profitable investigation and available knowledge. Intellectual trifling, such as was once the highest object of ambition, has come to be held in so low esteem, that we have no one at the present day gravely enquiring, whether angels can see in the dark, or what would be the consequence in nature, should a fierce irresistible chance to encounter an obstinate immoveable. Could the celebrated doctors of the schools appear again upon earth, they might well be astonished at the wide departure of the general mind from the period at which they left it. We doubt whether they would find docility enough in the present generation, on their favourite subjects, to attempt a reformation. They would regard the task as hopeless.
The idea of such a progress of mind from the visionary to the practical, as has distinguished the last five centuries, harmonizes well with the common figure of speech which we are wont to apply to the thousand years preceding the reformation. This period we significantly denominate the dark ages, implying that it was then night; and speak of the close of the fifteenth and opening of the sixteenth century, as the dawn of a new day whose sun is now marching through the heavens. Now night is the time of visions; men are then expected to dream; but when the day-star has led on the morning, we expect them to arise, collect their vagrant thoughts, and apply their powers to some profitable pursuit. We must, however, allow them time to rub their eyes, talk of their dreams, form their purposes, and put themselves in readiness for the appropriate work of the day. We do not ordinarily expect to find men actively engaged in their more important business, turning every moment and all their energies to account, till the sun has advanced well nigh to his meridian.
For the last half century, the thoughts of men have been more than ever before employed on matters of general utility. The principles of government have been discussed and applied; science has been made not only the handmaid but the mother of a thousand useful arts; and philosophy, in all her multiform varieties, has been rendered subservient to the natural and artificial wants of man. There is at this moment a spirit at work throughout the world, which it is hoped will not depart till
society shall have disburthened herself of the evils which have hitherto repressed her energies, or diverted them from their proper channels. We do not wish to commend, at least in wholesale, what is vauntingly termed the "Spirit of the Age;" we have little sympathy with the ultraism and fanaticism in which multitudes so much glory; but believing in the benevolent purposes of an overruling Providence, we are sanguine in the hope, that the volcanic fires which are now agitating the foundations of society from beneath, and the hurricanes which are lashing its surface into such fearful surges, will ere long be succeeded by a better state of the waters and more serene heavens, than the world has heretofore beheld. Agitation, fearful though it may be for the time, is often the most effectual means of purification. The sun never shines more brightly, nor does the bosom of ocean ever present a more beautiful, cheering prospect, than after the raging of a storm in which the warring elements have spent their violence.
If observation has not deceived us, the intellectual tendency of the present day is especially towards palpable and practical truth. Mind, in all its present movements, is arriving at some end. Men are not willing to spend their strength in pursuing shadows, but seek some substantial good as the permanent reward of their exertions.
In connection with this general tendency of mind towards palpable and practical truth, our readers have doubtless observed a growing fondness for the study of nature and lation. Natural science and biblical theology are now receiving a larger share of attention than they have received at any former period. Never before, were so many well trained and industrious minds applied to the patient examination of the works and word of God. The mineralogist, chemist, geologist, and astronomer, are daily enriching the temple of science with some new and important discoveries; and the indefatigable student of the sacred text is almost as frequently bringing out something in illustration or confirmation of the eternal truths of scripture.
In contemplating this subject, we have been struck with the fact, that the thoughts of men are now turned simultaneously to these two great sources of substantial knowledge. We might, perhaps, at first expect, that an increased attention to science would be followed by a diminished interest in the study of the scriptures, since the mind of communities as well as of individuals, is prone to be engrossed with a single topic at a time. The history of past ages shows us, that when the public appetite has been eager for philosophy, there has frequently, if not generally, been little attention to revelation. Nor is it untrue that those who have given their days and their nights to the
Bible, have often cast a contempt upon nature, by neglecting to observe her works and listen to her instructions. The followers of Aristotle, in the early ages of the Christian church, though they might have the Christian name, cared little for the meaning of the divine word: thus philosophy was their all; while not a few of the reformers, who were devout students of scripture, seem to have thought, that there was nothing worthy of study in the material creation. Some divines of later times have regarded the Bible as a complete encyclopedia of all kinds of knowledge, and therefore considered it a waste of time and talent to attempt to learn any theory from nature. But this state of things has passed away. The present fondness for the study of nature, is attended with an equal fondness for the study of revelation. The natural philosopher cultivates an acquaintance with the sacred records, and the divine with the wonders of creation.
The fact that the volumes of nature and revelation have at length begun to be perused with so deep and concurrent an interest, is an encouraging omen of the future progress of truth! So long as the mind is held to fact, or kept conversant with the real, it will continue to enlarge its funds of useful knowledge, and strengthen its powers of original investigation; but the moment it escapes into the region of the purely imaginary, it is wholly uncertain, whether it will return laden with new riches and prepared for more vigorous effort in the direction of the useful, or impoverished and debilitated by the excursion.
We would not be understood to condemn all speculation, for we believe the mind of man was intended at times to venture far beyond the limits of absolute certainty; but we mean to say, that as the works and word of the Almighty are the two principal sources of human knowledge, so the mind, when extending its acquaintance with these, is advancing towards the goal of universal truth.
Regarding the progress of natural science as most intimately connected with the general improvement of society, we are always glad to meet with any competent author, whose object it is to help us to a more enlarged and intelligent acquaintance with the facts and laws of the physical universe. For this reason, we never take up a volume of a La Place, or a Lyell, or contemplate the unfinished labours of an Audubon, without a feeling of gratitude to a directing Providence, that such men are so arduously devoting their distinguished powers, each in his own way, in accordance with his own taste, to the advancement of human happiness. Such men are constantly unfolding to the world some new phenomena or facts, a knowledge of which expands the mind and fills it with more elevated and
awful conceptions of the invisible, but ever-present Power, by which all things are girt.
Nor are we less gratified to meet with a volume, the object of which is to throw light on the facts and principles of the Bible. To those who devote their powers to the investigation and exposition of the truths of scripture, the world is, at the present day, under great and increasing obligations. This class of writers has for some time been increasing both in numbers and ability, until, it is believed, it may claim to itself as much talent and erudition as any other class of literary men. In no department of modern literature has there been, for the last few years, a greater or more perceptible progress, than in the interpretation of scripture. Formerly, the interpretation of the inspired writings was conducted much on the same principles with the interpretation of nature before the time of Bacon. As in the investigation of the laws of the material universe, well known facts were disregarded and imaginary ones made the bases of the most important conclusions-so, in expounding scripture, the usual laws of language and the ordinary meaning of words were set at nought, and new laws and new significations invented, to meet the supposed exigency of the case in hand. The imagination scorned the restraints of sound philology; the words, if interpreted literally, or according to their usual acceptation, would not so readily carry the mind into the elysian regions of mysticism; and it was therefore found more agreeable to adopt a method of interpretation, which should find hidden mysteries, where the writers intended nothing but plain and common matter of fact. Thus breaking away from all the laws of ordinary exposition, it required no uncommon genius to discover mountains of sense mystically wrapped up in many a little word, or to give to a train of Hebrew accents, strange and marvellous significations. The proper names, Adam, Sheth, and Enosh, with which the first book of the Chronicles opens, would easily furnish matter for long and laborious investigation, and the interjection O, as was once actually the case, might be a pregnant text for a series of eleven discourses!
Our readers may be aware that the Jews put what they termed a mystical interpretation upon many parts of the Old Testament. They had, for instance, three synagogue days in each week, Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. The reason of this they found in the mystical meaning of the passage in the fif teenth chapter of Exodus, which declares, that the Israelites were in great distress on their travelling three days in the wilderness without water. By water, they tell us, is there mystically meant the law; and therefore three days ought not to be suffered to pass without their hearing it. This is but a specimen of the