« PreviousContinue »
LIBERTY OF PROPHESYING.
Of the Difficulty of expounding Scripture.
1. THESE Considerations are taken from the nature of Scripture itself; but then if we consider that we have no certain ways of determining places of difficulty and question, infallibly and certainly, but that we must hope to be saved in the belief of things plain, necessary, and fundamental, and our pious endeavour to find out God's meaning in such places, which he hath left under a cloud for other great ends reserved to his own knowledge, we shall see a very great necessity in allowing a liberty in prophesying, without prescribing authoritatively to other men's consciences, and becoming lords and masters of their faith. Now the means of expounding Scripture are either external or internal. For the external, as church-authority, tradition, fathers, councils and decrees of bishops, they are of a distinct consideration, and follow after in their order. But here we will first consider the invalidity and uncertainty of all those means of expounding Scripture; which are more proper and internal to the nature of the thing. The great masters of commentaries, some whereof have undertaken to know all mysteries, have propounded many ways to expound Scripture, which indeed are excellent helps, but not infallible assistances, both because themselves are but moral instruments, which force not truth 'ex abscondito,' as also because they are not infallibly used and applied. 1. Sometime the sense is drawn forth by
the context and connexion of parts: it is well, when it can be so. But when there are two or three antecedents, and subjects spoken of, what man or what rule shall ascertain me, that I make my reference true by drawing the relation to such an antecedent; to which I have a mind to apply it, another hath not? For in a contexture, where one part does not always depend upon another, where things of differing natures intervene and interrupt the first intentions, there it is not always very probable to expound Scripture, and take its meaning by its proportion to the neighbouring words. But who desires satisfaction in this, may read the observation verified in St. Gregory's morals upon Job; and the instances he there brings, are excellent proof, that this way of interpretation does not warrant any man to impose his expositions upon. the belief and understanding of other men too confidently and magisterially.
2. Secondly another great pretence or medium is the conference of places, which Illyricus calls "ingens remedium et felicissimam expositionem sanctæ scripturæ ;" and indeed so it is, if well and temperately used; but then we are beholden to them that do so; for there is no rule that can constrain them to it; for comparing of places is of so indefinite capacity, that if there be ambiguity of words, variety of sense, alteration of circumstances, or difference of style amongst divine writers, then there is nothing that may be more abused by wilful people, or may more easily deceive the unwary, or that may more amuse the most intelligent observer. The anabaptists take advantage enough in this proceeding; and indeed so may any one that list; and when we pretend against them the necessity of baptizing all, by authority of nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua et Spiritu," they have a parallel for it, and tell us, that Christ will" baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire," and that one place expounds the other; and because by fire is not meant an element, or any thing that is natural, but an allegory and figurative expression of the same thing; so also by water may be meant the figure signifying the effect or manner of operation of the Holy Spirit. Fire in one place, and water in the other, do but represent to us that Christ's baptism is nothing else but the cleansing and purifying us by the Holy
a Lib. 5. c. 22.
Ghost. But that which I here note, as of greatest concernment, and which in all reason ought to be an utter overthrow to this topic, is a universal abuse of it among those that use it most; and when two places seem to have the same expression, or if a word have a double signification,—because in this place it may have such a sense, therefore it must; because in one of the places the sense is to their purpose, they conclude that therefore it must be so in the other too. An instance I give in the great question between the Socinians and the Catholics. If any place be urged in which our blessed Saviour is called God, they shew you two or three where the word God is taken in a depressed sense, for a 'quasi-Deus,' as when God said to Moses, Constitui te Deum Pharaonis;' and hence they argue, because I can shew the word is used for a Deus factus,' therefore no argument is sufficient to prove Christ to be Deus verus' from the appellative of Deus.' And might not another argue to the exact contrary, and as well urge that Moses is' Deus verus,' because in some places the word Deus' is used pro Deo æterno:' both ways the argument concludes impiously and unreasonably. It is a fallacy a posse ad esse affirmative;' because breaking of bread is sometimes used for a eucharistical manducation in Scripture; therefore I shall not, from any testimony of Scripture affirming the first Christians to have broken bread together, conclude that they lived hospitably and in common society. Because it may possibly be eluded, therefore it does not signify any thing. And this is the great way of answering all the arguments that can be brought against any thing, that any man hath a mind to defend; and any man that reads any controversies of any side, shall find as many instances of this vanity almost as he finds arguments from Scripture; this fault was of old noted by St. Austin, for then they had got the trick, and he is angry at it; "neque enim putare debemus esse præscriptum, ut quod in aliquo loco res aliqua per similitudinem significaverit, hoc etiam semper significare credamus "."
3. Thirdly: oftentimes scriptures are pretended to be expounded by a proportion and analogy of reason. And this is as the other; if it be well, it is well. But unless there were some intellectus universalis' furnished with infallible pro
b De Doctrin. Christian, lib. 3.
positions, by referring to which every man might argue infallibly, this logic may deceive as well as any of the rest. For it is with reason as with men's tastes; although there are some general principles, which are reasonable to all men, yet every man is not able to draw out all its consequences, nor to understand them when they are drawn forth, nor to believe when he does understand them. There is a precept of St. Paul directed to the Thessalonians before they were gathered into a body of a church, "To withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly." But if this precept were now observed, I would fain know whether we should not fall into that inconvenience, which St. Paul sought to avoid in giving same commandment to the church of Corinth; " I wrote to you that ye should not company with fornicators;" and "yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, for then ye must go out of the world." And therefore, he restrains it to a quitting the society of Christians living ill lives. But now, that all the world hath been Christians, if we should sin in keeping company with vicious Christians, must we not also go out of this world? Is not the precept made null, because the reason is altered, and things are come about, and that the oi wooì are the brethren,' adeλpoì ¿voμalóμɛvoi, called brethren,' as St. Paul's phrase is? And yet either this never was considered, or not yet believed; for it is generally taken to be obligatory, though, I think, seldom practised. But when we come to expound scriptures to a certain sense by arguments drawn from prudential motives, then we are in a vast plain without any sufficient guide, and we shall have so many senses, as there are human prudences. But that which goes farther than this, is a parity of reason from a plain place of Scripture to an obscure, from that which is plainly set down in a text to another that is more remote from it. And thus is that place in St. Matthew forced, "If thy brother refuse to be amended, ' dic ecclesiæ.'" Hence some of the Roman doctors argue, if Christ commands to tell the church' in case of adultery or private injury, then much more in case of heresy. Well, suppose this to be a good interpretation: why must I stay here? why may I not also add, by a parity of reason, if the church must be told of heresy, much more of treason: and why may
с 2 Thess. iii. 6.
d 1 Cer. v. 9.