ON the whole, I observe, there are some other things, besides arguments, in Dr. T.’s book, which are calculated to influence the minds, and bias the judgment, of some sorts of readers. Here, not to insist on the profession he makes, in many places, of sincerity, humility, meekness, modesty, charity, etc. in searching after truth; and freely proposing his thoughts, with the reasons of them, to others [See his Preface, and p. 6. 237, 263, 267, 175. S.]; nor on his magisterial assurance, appearing on any occasions, and the high contempt he sometimes expresses of the opinions and arguments of very excellent divines and fathers in the church of God, who have thought differently from him [Page 110, 125, 150, 151, 159, 161, 183, 188. 77. S.] — both of which, it is not unlikely, may have a degree of influence on some of his readers — I would take some notice of another thing, observable in the writings of Dr. T. and many of the late opposers of the more peculiar doctrines of Christianity, tending (especially with juvenile and unwary readers) not a little to abate the force, and prevent the due effect, of the clearest scripture-evidences in favor of those important doctrines; and particularly to make void the arguments taken from the writings of the apostle Paul, in which those doctrines are more plainly and fully revealed, than in any other part of the Bible. What I mean, is this: These gentlemen express a high opinion of this apostle, and that very justly, for his eminent genius, his admirable sagacity, strong powers of reasoning, acquired learning, etc. they speak of him as a writer of masterly address, of extensive reach, and deep design, everywhere in his epistles, among in every word he says. This looks exceedingly specious: it carries a plausible appearance of Christian zeal and attachment to the Holy Scriptures, to bear such a testimony of high veneration for that great apostle, who was not only the principal instrument of propagating Christianity, but with his own had wrote so considerable a part of the New Testament. And I am far from determining, with respect at least to some of these writers, that they are not sincere in their declarations; or, that all is mere artifice, only to make way for the reception of their own peculiar sentiments. However, it tends greatly to subserve such a purpose; as much as if it were designedly contrived, with the utmost subtlety, for that end. Hereby their incautious readers are prepared the more easily to be drawn into a belief, that they, and others in their way of thinking, have not rightly understood many of those things in this apostle’s writings, which before seemed very plain to them. Thus they are prepared, by a prepossession in favor of these new writers, to entertain a favorable thought of the interpretations put by them upon the words and phrases of this apostle; and to admit in many passages a meaning which before lay entirely out of sight; quite foreign to all that in the view of a common reader seems to be their obvious sense; and most remote from the expositions agreed in by those who used to be esteemed the greatest divines, and best commentators. As to this apostle, being a man of no vulgar understanding, it is nothing strange if his meaning lies very deep; and no wonder then, if the superficial observation of vulgar Christians, or indeed of the herd of common divines, such as the Westminster Assembly, etc. falls vastly short of the apostle’s reach, and frequently does not enter into the true spirit and design of his epistles. They must understand, that the first reformers, and indeed preachers and expositors in general, for fifteen or sixteen hundred years past, were too unlearned and short-sighted, to be capable of penetrating into the sense, or fit to make comments on the writings, of so great a man as this apostle; or else had dwelt in a cave of bigotry and superstition, too gloomy to allow them to use their own understandings with freedom, in reading the Scripture. But, at the same time, it must be understood, that there is risen up now at length, in this happy age of light and liberty, a set of men, of a more free and generous turn of mind, of a more inquisitive genius, and of better discernment. By such insinuations, they seek advantage to their cause; and thus the most unreasonable and extravagant interpretations of Scripture are palliated and recommended: so that, if the simple reader is not very much on his guard, if he does not clearly see with his own eyes, or has too much indolence, or too little leisure, thoroughly to examine for himself, he is in danger of being imposed on with delusive appearances.
But I humbly conceive, that their interpretations — particularly of the apostle Paul’s writings, though in some things ingenious — are in many things extremely absurd, and demonstrably disagreeable, in the highest degree, to his real design, to the language he commonly uses, and to the doctrines currently taught in his epistles. Their criticisms, when examined, appear far more subtle, than solid; and it seems as if nothing can possibly be strong enough, nothing perspicuous enough, in any composure whatever, to stand before such liberties these writers indulge. The plainest and most nervous discourse is analyzed and criticized, till it either dissolves into nothing, or becomes a thing of little significance. The Holy Scripture is subtilized into a mere mist; or made to evaporate into a thin cloud, that easily puts on any shape, and is moved in any direction, with a puff of wind, just as the manager pleases. It is not in the nature and power of language, to afford sufficient defense against such an art, so abused; as, I imagine, a due consideration of some things I have had occasion in the preceding discourse to observe, may abundantly convince us.
But this, with the rest of what I have offered on the subject, must be left with every candid reader’s judgment; and the success of the whole must now be left with God, who knows what is agreeable to his own mind, and is able to make his own truths prevail; however mysterious they may seem to the poor, partial, narrow, and extremely imperfect views of mortals, while looking through a cloudy and delusory medium; and however disagreeable they may be to the innumerable prejudices of men’s hearts: — and who has promised, that the gospel of CHRIST, such as is really his, shall finally be victorious; and has assured us, that the word which goes out of his mouth, shall not return to him void, but shall accomplish that which he pleaseth, and shall prosper in the thing whereto he sends it. — Let GOD arise, and plead his own cause, and glorify his own great name. AMEN.
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