MISUSE OF THE TERM JUST OR RIGHTEOUS.
PLAINER words can hardly be found than those -*- of Scripture itself, to express the doctrine I have been insisting on. Christ, who is the 'Well-beloved, All-powerful Son of God, is possessed by every Christian as a Saviour in the full meaning of that title, or becomes to us righteousness; and in and after so becoming, really communicates a measure, and a continually increasing, measure, of what He is Himself. In the words of the Apostle, "We are complete in Him," and again, of the Evangelist, "Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace" He makes us gradually and eventually to be in our own persons, what He has been from eternity in Himself, what He is from our Baptism towards us, righteous. That acceptableness, which He has ever had in the Father's sight, as being the reflection of the Father's perfections, He first imputes, then imparts to us.
This especially St. Paul lays down, when he says in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Eomans, "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." He says that by Christ's righteousness we are made righteous; made, not accounted merely. Christ, who is the Son by birth, makes us sons by adoption; Christ, ,who is "the righteous" in Himself, makes us righteous by communication, giving us first the name, then causing the name to change into the substance.
Now, over and above what is so plain that the phrase "made righteous," in this passage of St. Paul, is something beyond being accounted righteous, two circumstances may be mentioned as making it still plainer. In the original Greek the word means not merely made, but brought into a state of righteousness. It is the same word as is used by St. Peter, when he says, "If these things," faith, charity, and other graces, "be in you and abound, they make you," that is, constitute you as being "neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is the word used also by St. James, when he says that "so is the tongue," has such a place, " among our members, that it defileth the whole body;" and again, when he says that "whosoever will be a friend of the world, is," or is constituted "the enemy of God." Is the world's friend but accounted God's enemy? or is the tongue accounted a defilement? or are mature Christians but accounted fruitful in the knowledge of Christ? When, then, St. Paul says that we "become righteous" by Christ's obedience, he is speaking of our actual state through Christ, of that internal nature, frame, or character, which Christ gives us, nor gives only, but constitutes ours. He speaks of our new nature as really righteousness.
But, again, he parallels our privilege in Christ to our loss in Adam; "as by one man's disobedience," he says, "many were made sinners; so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." Now, who will deny that Adam's sin is both imputed and imparted to us? If any one did, we should call him a Pelagian. So indeed we should consider him, and justly; but how shall we argue with him if we deal with the latter half of the verse, as he disposes of the former? We cannot take just so much as we will of a free interpretation; we may open the door to heresy, we cannot close it.
Though these words of St. Paul, then, were the only passage of Scripture adducible, it would be clear, I think, that Christ's obedience, which is All-righteousness, does also work righteousness in us, according to our measure.
But here another line of argument is commonly taken, which will furnish matter for the present Lecture. It is said that, though it be true that our Lord not only is our righteousness by imputation, but works righteousness in us, still there two distinct and unconnected senses in which the word "righteous" may be taken, one of which belongs to Him, the other to us. It is owned that Christians really are righteous, but then not righteous in the sense in which Christ is righteous, but in another sense. Now if by this is merely meant that He has an incommunicable righteousness, as He has an incommunicable wisdom, holiness, and bountifulness, it is of course most true. None but He has infinite perfection in any respect. Yet He does impart to us a measure of these latter excellences notwithstanding, and in like manner He may impart to us a measure of His righteousness. There is no controversy what righteousness means; and certainly it is an attribute which admits of being imparted. All parties seem to allow that the word denotes, as I have already intimated, what is intrinsically good, what admits of being contemplated and accepted as such by Almighty God. In this sense Christ is Eighteousness in God's sight; He is the Well-beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased, as being "the Brightness of His glory, and the express Image of His Person," "the unspotted Mirror of the power of God, and the Image of His goodness." Nothing can He absolutely delight in, but what is like Himself; hence he is said to "put no trust even in His servants, and to charge His Angels with folly." None but the Eternal Son, who is incommunicably like the Father, can be infinitely acceptable to Him or simply righteous. Yet in proportion as rational beings are like the Son, or partake of His excellence, so are they really righteous; in proportion as God sees His Son in them, He is well pleased with them. Eighteousness is nothing else than moral goodness regarded in its intrinsic worth or acceptableness, just as love, truth, and peace, are other names for the same moral goodness, according as it is viewed in different aspects. It is love, or truth, or goodness, viewed relatively to God's judgment or approval of it; or, in words already used, it is the quality in love, truth, or goodness, of being intrinsically pleasing to Him. And, being acceptableness, it is surely as capable of being imparted to man, as love, truth, or goodness; and that in fact it is so imparted, and imparted from and through the Eternal Son, is the literal and uniform declaration of Scripture. Not only is the word "righteous" applied to Christians in Scripture, but the idea is again and again, in various ways, forced upon us. We read, for instance, of "God working in us that which is wellpleasing in His sight;" of our being " holy and without blame before Him in love;" of Christ, "who is His image," "shining" and "living" in our hearts; of His "making us accepted" or gracious "in the Beloved ;" and of His "knowing what is the mind of the Spirit" in our hearts, because " He maketh intercession for the saints in God's way."1
Such passages, I say, make it clear that acceptableness or graciousness is imparted to us as really as any other excellence belonging to Christ; and if acceptableness be what is meant by righteousness, it follows that the thing as well as the word righteousness is ours in the sense in which it is Christ's. Christ's righteousness, which is given us, makes us righteous, because it is righteousness; it imparts itself, and not something else. In other words, such texts as the above show that the word has not two different senses, according as it is applied to Christ or to us, but one; as St. John expressly declares, if we will listen to him, "He that doeth righteousness, is righteous, even as He is righteous." This, however, is denied by the majority of Protestant divines, who grant indeed that we are made righteous, yet, not righteous, as He is righteous, but in an entirely different sense, as distinct from what is meant by His righteousness, as foresight or ingenuity, as possessed by brute animals, differs from the same properties when belonging to rational beings; Christ's righteousness having intrinsic excellence, ours, though the work of the Spirit, being supposed to have none. This they maintain; and as if
1 Heb. xiii. 21. 2 Cor. iv. i. Eph. i 4, 6. Rom. viii. 27.
distinctions would serve instead of proof, they lay down, as a principle to start with, that there are two kinds of righteousness, the righteousness of justification, or intrinsic acceptableness, which Christ alone has, and the righteousness of sanctification, which is the Christian's.1 Now, then, let us consider the principle of interpretation which such a distinction involves.
Considering, then, that St. Paul all through the chapter in his Epistle to the Eomans, to which I have referred, has been speaking of justification and righteousness simply in its higher sense, as sustaining God's judgment, as involving pardon, favour, acceptableness, praise, worth, a title to heaven, and the like, I do not see on what plea it can be urged, that all at once he changes the meaning of the word, and makes it stand for an obedience which is not thus intrinsically approvable. He has spoken of our "being justified by faith," "justified by His blood," of " the free gift being of many offences unto justification," of " the gift of righteousness," of "the righteousness of One," and of "justification of life ;" and at the end of the chapter, he speaks of "grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life;" can we suppose that just in one place, in this continuous argument, he should without notice use the word in a sense perfectly distinct? He says that Christ is our righteousness, and that thereby we are made righteous; why is this not to mean "Christ stands for our acceptableness before we have it, and then imparts it to us"? An intelligible argument, indeed, may be raised, whether justification means making or imputing righteous, but there can be none, one would think, what just or righteous means in itself. In short, what reason is there for this change of meaning, except the exigences of the theory making it?
1 Justitia, alia justificationis, sanctificationis alia.—Chamier, de Justif. xxi. 17, § 5. It is deeply to be regretted that a work like Davenant's de Just. Habit, should have been written under the influence of the same theology. Yet with him it is in a great measure a matter of words. He lays it down as an axiom, that the words righteousness and just cannot be used except in that sense in which they belong to God, (i.e. to denote the highest possible perfection), and therefore when applied to us they must have a different sense. He allows that in Christians righteousness is begun, but says it cannot be called righteousness till it is perfected, which it is not while on earth.
Yet, in spite of this fundamental objection, the supposed distinction between the two senses of the word is laid down as a great and observable canon of interpretation by one divine after another. In vain does St. Paul declare again and again, that we are righteous; the Protestant Masters have ruled that we are not really so. They have argued that, if we were really made righteous, Christ would cease to be our righteousness, and therefore we certainly are not really made righteous; which is much the same as arguing, that Christ must cease to be our " sanctification," because we are made holy, or that we are not made holy because He is our " sanctification ;" in a word, that He in his infinite fulness cannot give without a loss, and we in our utter nothingness cannot be in the continual receipt of benefits without thereby ceasing to be dependent.
It is, perhaps, not too much to say that the whole structure of this modern system is made up of reasonings such as these, and interpretations in conformity; and that it dare not trust itself freely to any text of Scripture,—dare not, without the protection of some antecedent principle, and that an assumed one. For instance, St. Paul bids us "yield our members as instruments of righteousness unto God;" he tells us we are "servants" or slaves "of righteousness," that "the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost;" he speaks of " the fruits of our righteousness," of "ministers of righteousness," of "the new man being created in righteousness and true holiness," of " the fruit of the Spirit being in all goodness, righteousness, and truth ;" * yet all these testimonies, and many more, whether found in him or in the other Apostles, in behalf of the doctrine of God's really giving us in due season and measure what He begins by imputing to us, are, I say, put aside summarily by the gratuitous position, that righteousness cannot in such texts mean what (if so be) it means in the verse before and the verse after.
Again: we read of "righteous Abel;" we are told that "Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations;" that Job was "perfect and upright," that Lot was " righteous," that Moses was "faithful in all God's house," that Elias was "a righteous man," that Daniel was "righteous" and "greatly beloved," that Zacharias and Elizabeth were "both righteous," that Joseph was "a just man," that Simeon was "just and devout," that Joseph of Arimathea was " a good man and a just," that St. John the Baptist was "a just man and an holy," that Cornelius was " a just man, and one that feareth God," that "the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father," that "the righteous" shall go "into life eternal," that there shall be "a resurrection of the just," that "the Law lieth not against a just man," that a "Bishop must be sober, just, holy, temperate." We read of the "spirits of the just made perfect," of "the righteous scarcely being saved," and of "him who is just becoming more just ;"1 but when we would apply these statements to the great evangelical canon, "The just shall live by faith," as explaining who are the "just" there spoken of, we are forbidden, on the arbitrary assumption that such texts speak of a sort of Jewish righteousness, even though some of them relate to times before the giving of the Law; or that they mean Christ's imputed righteousness, even though containing in them other epithets which undeniably are personal to us.
1 Horn. vi. 13, 18; xiv. 17. 2 Cor. ix. 10 ; xi. 15. Eph. iv. 24.
Again: when our Lord says to the scribe who had rehearsed to Him the commandments, "This do and thou shalt live," it is replied that He spoke in a sort of irony.
Again, when He says, that unless our righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven ;1 and pronounces them blessed "who hunger and thirst after righteousness," and who "are persecuted for righteousness' sake," and bids us "seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness;" it is sometimes openly, often by implication, answered, that all this was spoken by our Lord before St. Paul wrote.
1 Matt, xxiii. 35. Heb. xi. 4. Gen. vi. 9. Job. i. 1. 2 Pet. ii. 7, 8. Num. xii. 7. James v. 16. Ezek. xiv. 14. Dan. ix. 23. Luke i. 6. Matt. i. 19. Luke ii. 25. Mark vi. 20. Acts x. 22. Matt. xiii. 43; xxv. 46. Luke xiv. 14. 1 Tim. i. 9. Tit. i. 8. Heb. xii. 23. 1 Pet. iv. 18. Eev. xxii. 11.
Again : when St. Paul, who is thus appealed to, says expressly, that "the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us," then Luther is summoned to lay it down as a first principle, that the doctrine of our justification without any inherent righteousness is the criterion of a standing or falling church; or an appeal is made to our Articles, as if they too (which is quite otherwise) were committed to so artificial a theory.
Again: when St. Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," this is supposed to mean all things except fulfilling the Law; and when he says, in another place, that "love is the fulfilling of the Law," and that love is not only attainable, but a duty, we are arbitrarily answered by a distinction, that such love as suffices for the fulfilling of the Law is one thing, and such love as is enjoined as a Christian grace is another.
Again: when we urge what Hezekiah says, "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight;" or Nehemiah, "Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the
1 Matt. v. 20.
house of my God, and for the offices thereof;"1 all the answer we obtain is, that, whatever comes of Hezekiah and Nehemiah,it is evidently self-righteous and a denial of the merits of Christ, and shocking to the feelings of the serious mind, to say that we can do anything really good in God's sight, even with the grace of Christ, anything in consideration of which God will look mercifully upon us.
Again: St. Paul speaks of things "just," of "virtue" and of " praise," of providing "things honest in the sight of the Lord," of being "acceptable to God;"2 but in vain does he thus vary his expressions, as if by way of commenting on the word "righteous," and imprinting upon our minds this one idea of inherent acceptableness; —no, this has become a forbidden notion; it must not even enter the thoughts, though an Evangelist plead and a Prophet threaten ever so earnestly.
Again: "Work" must have two senses; for though we are bid to work out our salvation, God working in us, this cannot really mean "Work out your salvation through God's working in you ;" else justification would be, not of grace, nor of faith, but of works of the Law.
And "reward" too, it seems, has two senses; for the reward which Scripture bids us labour for, cannot, it is said, be a reward in the real and ordinary sense of the word; it is not really a reward, but is merely called such, by way of animating our exertions and consoling us in despondency.8
1 Isaiah xxxviii. 3. Neh. xiii. 14.
2 Phil. iv. 8. 2 Cor. viii. 21. Eom. xiv. 18.
3 Calvin. Instit. iii. 18, § 3.
Many other reasons are offered by the Protestant school in behalf of "righteous" and kindred words having two senses in Scripture, but without being more conclusive than those which I have already given. For instance, "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justified the ungodly, his faith is counted to him for righteousness:" from these words it is argued, that, since God justifies those who are as yet ungodly when justified, therefore they cannot be righteous after justification, nay, not even really godly, but only accounted godly.1
Again: the "righteousness," which justifies, though spoken of as a quality of our souls in Scripture, cannot mean anything in us, because the Jews sought a justifying righteousness, not "through Christ, but by the" external "works of the Law;" and therefore if we seek justifying righteousness solely from Christ, and not at all from works done in our own strength, in inward renovation not external profession, we shall stumble and fall as the Jews did.
1 "All they whom God justifies," says Mr. Scott, "are considered as ungodly. True faith is indeed the effect of regeneration, an important part of true godliness, and inseparable from all other holy exercises of the soul towards God ; yet the believer, considered as he is in himself, according to the Holy Law, is liable to condemnation as ungodly, and is justified solely and entirely, as viewed in Christ according to the Gospel."—Essays, On Justif. That is, not only are we to believe that Christ accounts us just without making us just, but that He accounts us ungodly when He has made us godly. When are these conventional representations to end? When are we to escape from the city of Shadows, in which Luther would bewilder the citizens of the Holy Jerusalem t
Another argument is drawn from St. Paul's saying that "righteousness" is "without the Law;" for it is argued, since our righteousness is without the Law, therefore it is without the Law for justification, and with the Law for sanctification.
Again: "Eighteous" cannot be applicable to us in the sense of justifying, because St. Paul had " counted all things but dung,".that he might "win Christ, and be found in Him, not having his own righteousness which is of the Law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." If, then, the Apostle rejects the righteousness of works done in his own strength, before faith, and without grace, as worthless, and desires a righteousness of God, it is supposed to follow that that new righteousness cannot consist in works, though done in consciousness of their manifold imperfections, and in faith, and by the grace of Christ.
Again: it is argued that justifying righteousness cannot be of the Law, because if a man " offend in one point, he is guilty of all;" that is, since St. James says, that, when love is away, we offend the Law in many points, therefore when love is present, we cannot fulfil it consistently, however imperfectly, like Zacharias.
Lastly: "Righteousness " is said to have two senses, because St. Paul declares, that as " Christ was made sin for us who had known no sin," so "we are made the righteousness of God in Him;" for, it is argued, since when we were unrighteous, Christ was imputed to us for righteousness; therefore, now that Christ has been imputed to us for righteousness, we shall ever be unrighteous still.
Such is the nature of the arguments on which it is maintained that two perfectly separate senses must be given to the word "righteousness;" that justification is one gift, sanctification another; that deliverance from guilt is one work of God, deliverance from sin another; —that reward does not mean really reward, praise not really praise, availableness not really availableness, worth not really worth, acceptableness not really acceptableness; —that none but St. Paul may allowably speak of " working out our salvation;" none but St. Peter, of "Baptism saving us ;" none but St. John, of " doers of righteousness being righteous;"—that when St . Paul speaks of "all faith," he means all but true faith; and when St. James says, not by faith only,"1 he means nothing but true faith ;—that it is not rash to argue, that justification cannot be by works, because it is by faith, though it is rash to conclude that Christ is not God, because He is man; and that, though it is a sin, as it surely is, to infer that Christ is not God, because Scripture calls the Father the only God, yet it is no sin to argue that works cannot justify, because Luther, not Scripture, says that faith only justifies.
Surely, all this is very arbitrary; and though not so intended by the multitude of persons who give in to it, yet in itself very disrespectful (to say the least) to the sacred text. It goes in fact far beyond what is claimed by the most strenuous advocate of the right of private judgment; being nothing less than the attempt to subject Scripture to a previously-formed system; for no one can maintain that such a system is really gained 1 1 Cor. xiii. 2. James ii. 24.
from Scripture. It is to make Scripture not a volume of instruction to which we must reverently draw near, but at best a magazine of texts in behalf of our own opinions; and no maintainer of private judgment has gone these lengths. Let any candid person decide why, in the passages just now quoted, two distinct senses are assigned to the word "righteousness;" whether because Scripture intimates it, or because a particular human system requires it. Such modes of interpretation then call for a very serious protest from all who are jealous of the pure and unmutilated sense, as well as the letter of the Bible. It is but a Jewish blindness to count syllables, while we are heedless about their import; to guard the text from addition or diminution, yet not from glosses; to be busy in versions, yet helpless in interpretation; to be keepers of a treasure, yet not to use it. Except to those who know its meaning, Scripture is as a sealed book, though translated into every language under heaven; and its words surely have their own particular and absolute meaning over and above the accident of their being in Greek, or Latin, or English;— and as all this, it seems to me, is forgotten in the scheme of doctrine under review, I shall endeavour in the rest of this Lecture to enforce it.
7. I say, then, that the words of Scripture, as of every other book, have their own meaning, which must be sought in order to be found. St. Paul does not use his words indiscriminately; he does not mean by " righteous" at one time really, at another nominally righteous, at random and without a reason. If it be as great a peril as it is often now thought, to confuse these supposed two distinct senses of the word, it is an equal improbability that St. Paul should have given it two senses so distinct. Words stand for one idea, not two; if the same word seems to have several, these are really connected together. The words of Scripture were appropriated to their respective senses by their writers; they had a meaning before we approached them, and they will have that same meaning, whether we find it out or not. And our business is to find the real meaning, not to impose what will serve for a meaning. Abstract antecedent reasonings will never help us to the real meaning; systems of the schools are not comments on the text. The minds and the meaning of the inspired writers were deeper than ours are. Such remarks will be called truisms, yet they almost immediately apply to the subject in hand; for what but neglect of them can account for the common interpretation of such verses, for instance, as that with which this Lecture began? When St. Paul says that we are made righteous, what but antecedent and established theories could be strong enough to persuade men either that "righteous" does not imply "acceptableness," or else that "made" means nothing but accounted? We must not then interpret the terms used in Scripture by our scholastic theories ; but again, neither can we always interpret them by some one or other particular passage of Scripture in which they are found. Of course, to consult the context in which a word occurs is a great advance towards the true interpretation, but it is not enough. In Scripture, as elsewhere, words stand for certain objects, and are used with reference to those objects, and must be explained by them. They may severally have many shades of meaning, but these, though manifold, are of one family, and but varieties of one meaning, if we could find it. In this or that passage where the word occurs, it may disclose its one full sense more or less; but the degree in which it is brought out by the context depends on the accident of those other words with which it there stands conneoted Therefore, I say, we shall never arrive at its real and complete meaning, by its particular context; which generally comes in contact with but two or three points, or one aspect of it. What would be thought of the commentator (to recur to a former illustration) who decided that Psalmist meant father, because the Psalmist wept over his son; or meant shepherd, because he rescued a lamb from the lion and bear; or meant king, because he was a type of the Messiah? Yet, in this way are the sacred terms of the Apostles treated; and not only by those who interpret on a theory, of whom I have been hitherto speaking, but by others also who are clear-sighted enough to disown the bondage of modern systems, or too heedless or self-willed to learn them. The words of Scripture are robbed of their hidden treasures, and frittered away among a multitude of meanings as uncertain, meagre, and discordant, as the one true sense, like a great luminary, is clear and gracious. Righteousness sometimes is to mean God's strict justice, sometimes His merciful acceptance, sometimes superhuman obedience, sometimes man's holiness, without any attempt at harmonizing these distinct notions; faith is interpreted by
trust, or obedience, or conscience, or unconditional assent; justifying is said to be used by St. Paul for declaring righteous, by St. James for evidencing that God has declared us righteous; the Law is sometimes the moral law, sometimes the ceremonial, sometimes the Christian. What account is to be given of such changes? none is attempted. Yet I repeat, surely if a word has so many senses at once, this is because those senses are but modifications of one and the same idea, according as it is viewed: and our business is to find out, as far as may be, what it is which admits of such diversified application. Our business is, if so be, to fix that one real sense before our mind's eye, not to loiter or lose our way in the outward text of Scripture, but to get through and beyond the letter into the spirit. Our duty is to be intent on things, not on names and terms; to associate words with their objects, instead of measuring them by their definitions; to speak as having eyes, and as if to those who have eyes, not as groping our way in the dark by intellectual conceptions, acts of memory, and efforts of reason—in short, when we speak of justification or faith, to have a meaning and grasp an idea, though at different times it may be variously developed, or variously presented, as the profile or full face in a picture.
Here is the especial use of the Fathers as expositors of Scripture; they do what no examination of the particular context can do satisfactorily, acquaint us with the things Scripture speaks of. They tell us not what words mean in their etymological, or philosophical, or classical, or scholastic sense, but what they do mean actually, what they do mean in the Christian Church and in theology. It is an objection frequently made to the orthodox interpretation of certain passages, that they need not mean what they are said to mean, as far as the wording goes ; that there is nothing in the passage itself to force such a meaning upon it. For instance, when Christ is called the Son of God, this (it is objected) does not prove His divinity, because we are sons also; and when He declares that "He and the Father are one," this need only refer to unity of will, as Paul and Apollos were " one;" and when He says, "I am with you always," He may mean the Apostles only, or at least only those, and all those, who have living faith ; and when He says, that He gives us " His flesh to eat," this admits of being figuratively taken for the benefits of His death generally ; and when St. Paul says, that "in Adam all die," it is enough to suppose he means "after the pattern of Adam," as Pelagius thought; and when he says, that we are "justified by faith," the abstract word "justified" only means, and therefore St. Paul need only take it to mean, juridically justified or acquitted. Let us grant all this for argument's sake;—certainly such objections would tell against our proof, if we professed to argue merely from the context; they might prove we were bad reasoners ;—but is there not also a further question, and one more to the point, not what the sacred text may mean, but what it does mean? Does the word Psalmist necessarily involve father, shepherd, and king? Yet, I suppose, the most minute measurer of terms will grant "the sweet Psalmist of Israel" was all three ; and in like manner, if it so happen, other words too may mean more than they need mean grammatically or logically; and •what they do mean may be determinable historically, that is, by the records of antiquity, as we do explain ,words and statements when they relate to matters of this world. If no word is to be taken to mean more than its logical definition, we shall never get beyond abstract knowledge, for it cannot possibly carry its own explanation with it . They who wish to dispense with Antiquity, should, in consistency, go further, and attempt to learn a language without a dictionary. This, then, is the use of the Fathers in interpreting Scripture;—those who always go by the particular context, proceed argumentatively, but come to no conclusion; those who go by scholastic systems come to a conclusion, but without sure premisses; but those who consult Antiquity, gain at once an authority and a guide.
8. I will go further ; not only is the context insufficient for the interpretation of the Scripture terms and phrases, but a right knowledge of these is necessary for interpreting that context. Acquaintance with the subject spoken of can alone give meaning to the connective particles, the turn of the sentence, and the cast of the argument. What can St. Paul be supposed to mean by his contrasts, arguments a fortiori, or climaxes, by those who have no clear understanding what he is speaking of? What does he mean by " like as," and " much more," and "not only," and "even," in the judgment of those who have dim and partial notions of what justification means, or the law, or righteousness, or the spirit, or faith, or works? It must, I should think, come home to most thoughtful persons, if not from their own experience, at least on consulting commentaries, that we very little enter into the course and substance of the Apostle's teaching. The utmost attempt commonly made is to comprehend an isolated sentence here and there, and we make the most of such success in interpreting, whatever it be, from its rarity. What do the average of those readers, who profess they see into Scripture with a certainty which the mass of men have not,—what do they understand by "Who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification''? or "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him"? or "The Spirit is life, because of righteousness "? or "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ"?
There are, doubtless, difficulties in Scripture in proportion to its depth; but I am speaking of a mode of interpretation which does not feel depth nor suspect difficulty. And this contented ignorance not only implies a very superficial state of mind, because it is contented, but great indifference towards the sacred writers. Surely, it is not only shallow, but profane, thus to treat the argumentative structure of an inspired volume. If "much more," and "not only," and the like, be what this exegetical method supposes them to be, then the Apostles give less force and meaning to words than ordinary reasoners. On this explanation, St. Paul must be supposed to use his contrasts and analogies as rhetorical ornaments, rather than as matters of fact and serious reasoning. This is in fact the conclusion which is forced on those who are more consecutive and daring thinkers than the generality of men. They seem to allow that St. Paul does abound in mere oratory or poetry; and having so decided, no wonder they go on to look upon the science of Catholic doctrine also as a great system of words for things, a vast labyrinth of dogmas without meaning, of reasonings without conclusions, of maxims without point, of logical compensations for logical difficulties, of shadow opposed to shadow, one against another. I am sure a large part of Hooker's teaching, for instance, about the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Sacraments, appears to acute reasoners of the Protestant school to be a mere arbitrary and artificial arrangement of notions. Nay, that they do in like manner so regard St. Paul's inspired pages is plain from the remarks of some of them, who have been desirous to relieve Christianity of the burden thence, as they suppose, attaching to it. This they have done, as they think, by surrendering his arguments, on the ground that these did not fall under the province of inspiration, and were fair subjects for criticism in this searching and sifting age, as it is called ;—searching and sifting, because it shuts out the sun, gropes about in the dark, and has the fitting fruit of its wilfulness in never grasping what it professes to be searching after. But supposing, for argument's sake, the Apostle's reasonings are separable from his conclusions, and he is only inspired in the latter, yet, is it indeed come to this, that, in order to defend the Gospel, an Apostle must be supposed to indulge in words and arguments which mean nothing? Is one who is greater than man so far forth as he is inspired, less than man so far as he is not? Are his antitheses, and amplifications, and similitudes, are his words of emphasis and weight, are "light," "power," "glory," "riches." "height and depth," "inward working," "spirit," " mystery," and "Christ indwelling," to stand for nothing 1 Are they random words uttered for effect, or from a sort of habit, as sacred names are now habitually used by sinners to make their language tell? Are his expressions glowing, not because his subject is great, but because his temperament was sanguine? Is he antithetical, not because he treats of things in real contrast, but because he was taught in the schools of Tarsus? or does he repeat his words, not from the poverty of human language, but from the slenderness of his vocabulary? Yet this age is disposed, out of mere consideration for St. Paul, to adopt the latter alternative, choosing rather that he should speak beyond or beside his own meaning than beyond its comprehension ; so that it has become a fashion almost to give over searching for any particular meaning in discourses, which the Angels desire to look into. To acquiesce in a confined idea of them, has been thought a sign of deference rather than of neglect; as if to seek more were unfair to the great Apostle,—I had almost said, ungenerous.
Thus a popular writer protects the inspired Teacher of the Nations, by the following considerations :—" St. Paul, I am apt to believe, has been sometimes accused of inconclusive reasoning, by our mistaking that for reasoning which was only intended for illustration. He is not to be read as a man, whose own persuasion of the truth of what he taught always or solely depended upon the views under which he represents it in his writings;" otherwise, of course, his faith would have been illogical. The writer continues : " Taking for granted the certainty of his doctrine, as resting upon the revelation that had been imparted to him, he exhibits it frequently to the conception of his readers, under images and allegories, in which, if an analogy may be perceived, or even sometimes a poetic resemblance be found, it is all perhaps that is required."1 This able writer is evidently afraid lest Christianity, as it stands integrally in the Bible, should fail under the ordeal of this educated age.
Again : "There is such a thing as a peculiar word or phrase cleaving, as it were, to the memory of a writer or speaker, and presenting itself to his utterance at every turn. When we observe this, we call it a cant word, or a cant phrase. It is a natural effect of habit; and would appear more frequently than it does, had not the rules of good writing taught the ear to be offended with the iteration of the same sound, and oftentimes caused us to reject, on that account, the word which offered itself first to our recollection. With a writer who, like St. Paul, either knew not these rules, or disregarded them, such words will not be avoided. The truth is, an example of this kind runs through several of his Epistles, and in the Epistle before us," to the Ephesians, "abounds; and that is in the word riches, used metaphorically as an augmentative of the idea to which it happens to be subjoined." 1
1 Paley's Hora Paul. vi. 1.
Elsewhere,he thus remarks:—"Their doctrines," those of the Apostles, "came to them by revelation, properly so called; yet in propounding these doctrines in their writings or discourses, they were wont to illustrate, support, and enforce them by such analogies, arguments, and considerations as their own thoughts suggested. . . . The doctrine" [of the call of the Gentiles] "must be received; but it is not necessary, in order to defend Christianity, to defend the propriety of every comparison, or the validity of every argument, which the Apostle has brought into the discussion."2
These conclusions, I doubt not, will be painful to many a man who adopts the principles from which they follow. For we have all been detained by circumstances or, as I may say, are frozen, in an intermediate state between Protestant premisses and their rightful inferences. Those circumstances are now, after several centuries, dissolving, and we are gradually gaining a free course, and must choose our haven for ourselves. We must either go forward on a voyage where we can discover only barrenness, or return home to our ancient country, and the sepulchres of the prophets. To see where we shall end, if we go forward, may, through God's mercy, persuade us to go back.
To conclude; what has been said concerning the interpretation of the sacred terms of Scripture comes to this; that we must not distort the sense of those terms by our own antecedent theories and systems; that we must not so interpret them, as to make Scripture inconsistent with itself; that we must not think of determining their meaning by one or two particular passages, in which they occur, instead of seeking it in a large survey of the inspired text.
1 Paley's Hone Paul. vi. 2. 5 Evidences, Part iii. ch. 2, fin.
These are the cautions with which I pass on from considering the word "righteousness," to consider the thing which the word denotes.