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Gospel when the Spirit should be poured out from on high, says (Isa. xxxii. 20), "Blessed are they that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass." Sowing beside all waters, sending forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass, presents a difficulty to those acquainted only with our mode of farming; but this exactly answers to the manner of planting rice, for they sow it upon the waters, and before sowing, while the earth is covered with water, they cause the ground to be trodden by oxen, asses, &c., that go mid-leg deep, and this is the way of preparing the ground for sowing. (See Lowth on Isaiah.)
Matt. xxiv. 41: "Two women shall be grinding at the mill," &c. In those countries, and in that age of the world, the immense advantages from subjecting wind and water to the turning of mills, was unknown; their corn was ground by a hand-mill, turned chiefly by female slaves. This shews the deep degradation imposed on Samson (Judg. xvi. 21), and threatened to Babylon (Isa. xlvii. 1, 2), "Come down, &c,, take the millstones and grind," &c. See Judg. ix. 53. the woman throwing the millstone. They usually ground it at break of day: hence the noise of millstones was a token of a populous and thriving country. See, in reference to this, Jer. xxv. 10: Rev. xviii. 22, "The sound of the millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;" referring to the desolation of new BabylonPapal Rome.
Luke ix. 5: "Shake off the very dust from," &c.; and again, x. 11, even the very dust we do wipe off," &c. We have an instance of their doing so (Acts xiii. 51) at Antioch; thus expressing utter renunciation, so as to have nothing with them in common. If we despise the Gospel, God will despise us (Luke x. 16).
Jer. xxxvi. that which, ver. 18, is called a book, is in ver. 23 called a roll. They being ignorant of the art of printing, which was not discovered till 2000 years after, their books consisted of pieces of parchment rolled upon two sticks. So Luke iv. 17: Our Lord literally "unrolled" the book.
Matt. xx. 6: "And about the eleventh hour he went out, &c., and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?" At eleven o'clock, according to our mode of computing time, not half the day is gone; but the Jews began
their day at six o'clock in the morning. This fact adds to the force of Peter's reasoning (Acts ii. 15), "Seeing it is but the third hour of the day;" that is, nine o'clock in the morning.
Matt. xxvii. 45: "Now there was darkness over all the land, from the sixth hour unto the ninth hour;" i. e. from 12 to 3 o'clock, and the passover being always kept at the full moon, this could not arise in the ordinary course of nature from an eclipse of the sun.
Matt. xiv. 25: “And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them walking on the sea; " i. e. between the hours of 3 and 6 in the morning. The Jews in these later times divided the night into four watches, ending respectively at 9, 12, 3, and 6 o'clock, having learnt this division from the Romans.
In God's awful denunciation against the covetousness of the Jews, shewing how vain is man's effort without God's blessing, it is said (Isa. v. 10), "Ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an -homer shall yield an ephah." A bath was about seven gallons and a half, so that an acre of land would not yield a gallon of wine. An ephah was but one-tenth of an homer; so that, instead of the seed yielding, as it often did in that fruitful country, an hundred-fold (Matt. xiii.), nine-tenths of the seed would be actually lost.
Again, some light is thrown upon the parable of the Debtors (Matt. xviii.), by our knowledge of the fact that a talent is 750 oz. of silver, which, at 5s. per ounce, is 1877. 10s.; and the Roman penny, one-eighth of an ounce, or 7 d. According to Dean Prideaux's computation, the 10,000 talents referred to in this parable, if talents of gold, would amount to 72,000,000l. sterling; an immense sum, shewing the number and weight of our offences against God, and our utter incapacity of making him any satisfaction, and the peculiar aggravation of an unforgiving spirit.
Matt. xxvi. 15: "They covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver." The thirty pieces of silver, or thirty shekels, referred to here, was but 37. 10s. 8d.; and this was the price, as appears from Exod. xxi. 32, that was paid for a slave, or servant, when killed by a beast. What a striking fulfilment of the prophecy, Isa. liii. 3, "He is despised and rejected of men!'" What a motive to us to love him! 2 Cor. viii. 9.
To these topics, as of importance in the interpretation of the Bible, many more might be added; such as a knowledge of the original languages in which the Old and New Testaments were written, &c. But these few hints are sufficient to enforce the duty of diligence and humility; and to shew that, however extensive be our learning, we may, as the bee does, bring the sweets of every flower to this, as .our hive.
xv. On the Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions of the Bible.
From the knowledge thus proved to be necessary to a right understanding of the Bible, surely enough has been said to shew that, whatever difficulties or seeming contradictions may occur to us in reading it, they most probably arise from our ignorance or inattention; and this admits of abundant illustration.
In Judges i. 19, it is said "the Lord was with Judah, and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron." Voltaire scoffs at this, as though implying that the Lord of heaven and earth is represented as being baffled by the chariots of iron, whereas the term "he" refers to Judah, not to the Lord. Judah's faith failed him, and he found that according to his faith so was it unto him. (Matt. ix. 29.) Weak in faith, he was weak in power. Yet Voltaire was one of the most learned and most acute of infidels. But the frivolity of such objections made by such men shews how hatred of the truth blinds the mind to the perception of it, and may well give us repose when assailed by objections from those who cannot pretend to their ability, especially when we can take shelter under the names of Bacon, Boyle, Locke, and Newton.
Acts ix. 7, referring to the circumstance of Paul's miraculous conversion, speaks of the men who journeyed with him hearing a voice, but seeing no man. In Acts xxii. 9, it is said they heard not the voice of him that spoke. little consideration, however, soon reconciles the seeming contradiction. They heard a voice, but not the words spoken; a sound, but did not understand the meaning of it. Just as we are told (Gen. xlviii. 8) that Israel beheld
Joseph's sons, while in the tenth verse it is said his eyes were dim so that he could not see; i. e. he could see, but not distinctly-could not distinguish the features unless they came near.
Acts xvi. 11, 12, where we have the account of the first introduction of Christianity into Europe, it speaks of Philippi in Macedonia as a colony; and verse 21 implies that it was a Roman colony. The silence of contemporary profane history as to this fact rendered it a difficulty, even to learned men, and threw the suspicion of inaccuracy upon Luke's narrative; but some ancient coins have been since discovered, on which Philippi is recorded under this character, particularly one which states that Julius Cæsar himself bestowed the dignity and privileges of a Roman colony on the city Philippi, which were afterwards confirmed and augmented by Augustus.
Sometimes, though comparatively very seldom, the translation may be improved, or the original will admit of another rendering, and thus the difficulty may be removed.
2 Sam. xii. 31. David is said to have put the Ammonites under saws and under harrows of iron, &c.; which gives the impression of great cruelty on his part. Were there no answer to this, we must not shrink from charging him with whatever guilt might properly attach to the act, the Bible itself furnishing the principle by which to do so. But the original Hebrew admits of its being rendered instead of "under" "to" saws, &c., which implies nothing more than employing them as slaves in the most mean and laborious offices. The word translated "harrows of iron" may also be rendered "iron mines." It is, indeed, said (1 Chron. xx. 3), that David cut them with saws; but seven of the Hebrew manuscripts collated by Dr. Kennicott have the word which means, "he put them to saws," &c. See H. Horne, vol. i.
This illustration has been given to shew the value of a knowledge of the learned languages, and of those diligent researches which learned men have made to throw light on Scripture. "Pertness and ignorance," as Bishop Horne remarks," may ask a question in three lines, which it may cost thirty pages to answer. But thus has God sanctified the use of learning, and would teach the unlearned respect
for it. Mystery is only another name for our ignorance, "and those passages,' as Boyle says, "which teach us nothing else, may at least teach us humility." We may also be assured, that while "the scorner seeketh wisdom and findeth it not" (Prov. xiv. 6), and although God hath in his righteous judgment appointed that "the wicked shall not understand" (Dan. xii. 10), "the meek will he teach his way,' "the meek will he beautify with salvation." Ps. cxlix. 4.
S xvi. Quotations illustrating the leading object of this chapter.
Mosheim, speaking of the method of interpreting the Scriptures, and teaching religion in the first century of the Christian church, says, "Those who performed the office of interpreters, studied, above all things, plainness and perspicuity. The great study of those who embraced the Gospel was rather to express its Divine influence in their dispositions and actions, than to examine its doctrines with an excessive curiosity, or to explain them by the rules of human wisdom."
Referring to the period of the Reformation, Melancthon says, "It is necessary in the church, diligently to investigate and adhere to the simple, natural grammatical sense of Scripture. We are to listen to the Divine word, not to corrupt it. We must not play tricks with it, by fanciful interpretations, as many in all ages have done. The plain, natural sense of Scripture always carries with it the richest and most valuable instruction."
Luther says: "The literal meaning of Scripture is the whole foundation of faith, the only thing that stands its ground in distress and temptation."
Hooker says: "I hold it for a most infallible rule in exposition of Sacred Scripture, that where a literal construction will stand, the furthest from the letter is commonly the worst."
The following are given as illustrations of the violations of this rule, in addition to that already given, p. 69. 2 Tim. ii. 17, 18: 66 Hymeneus and Philetus. . . . saying that the resurrection is passed already;" that is, they spiritualized the plain declarations of the Bible on this subject,