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But to go on. We may obferve from St. Peter's affertion in the text,
Secondly, What temper of mind, what precautions, what degree of knowledge are requifite, in order to make our enquiries into the obfcure parts of Scripture innocent and ufeful to us. It is plain, that this is an attempt of fome hazard, and that it may happen to cost us dear, as it did thofe in the text, if we do not fitly prepare and guard our minds against the danger of it, Which may be done, if we manage our fearches of this kind by thefe following rules and directions.
1t, We must take care that the end we propofe to ourselves in thefe enquiries be good and laudable. They muft not be entered upon out of mere curiofity and wantonnefs, not out of a vain and fruitlefs defire of knowledge nor out of a defign of being more fkilful and learned than other men, and of appearing to understand every thing; but the end of all our fearches in this cafe ought to be, that we may improve in the fkill of thofe di vine truths which were on purpofe committed to writing, that there might be mattter in holy writ, fit always to employ our repeated meditations, and to exercife our ftricteft attention: That we may, by fuch fearches, gain to ourfelves higher and more enlarged apprehenfions of God, a truer and clearer fenfe of the deep wifdom of all his myfte rious difpenfations; and may thus raife up our minds into greater degrees of holy admiration, reverence, and awe, 1
We muft intend to qualify ourfelyes by thefe fearches for the removing the objections raifed
by thofe who are no friends to Scripture, for the juftifying the darkeft, as well as the brighteft parts of it, and making out to fair unprejudiced men the beautiful harmony of all the different, but agreeing branches of the divine revelation.
2dly, We must come to this work, as with a right intention, fo with a mind rightly difpofed and qualified to purfue that intention; not prefuming on our own ftrength, not with an high opimon and conceit of our particular gifts, abilities, or advantages, as if we alone were able to clear up all difficulties, and to go to the bottom of all myfteries, and that nothing were too hard for us. This is not a temper of mind, either naturally fitted for fuch a work, or which God delights to blefs with fupernatural affistances and difcoveries. No, if ever we hope to make our enquiries of this kind fuccefsful and profitable to us, we must be fure to conduct them with great modefty, with a becoming diffidence and distrust of ourselves, humbly and chiefly relying upon God for his gracious help and affiftance; and in order to it, putting up frequent and fervent petitions to that good Spirit, which indited the Holy Scriptures, that he would please to enlighten us with the knowledge of all the deep myfterics contained there. "Tis humility and devotion that principally qualify us for fuch fearches as these ; and will do more by themfelves towards giving a man a true understanding of scripture, than all the gifts and parts in the world will do, when feparated from them. For it is true in this inftance, as well as in many others, That " God
177 refifteth the proud, and giveth grace to the lowly," James iv. 6.
And as a good way to keep alive and improve this humility of mind in us, let us be fure,
3dly, In our fearches of this kind, ever to carry this truth along with us (a truth I havė largely explained, and proved to you in a former difcourfe), that there is no place of Holy Writ hard to be understood, that is needful to be understood by us. If we maintain this reflexion conftantly upon our minds, it will teach us not to lay too great ftrefs upon thefe difficulties, nor to employ too much of our time upon them, so as to be in the leaft taken off from confidering what is more plain and profitable in fcripture, what can more eafily and ufefully be understood, and is indeed more neceffary to be understood by Some men pore fo much, and fo long, upon paffages of a difputed meaning, as if they thought it indifpenfibly requifite to determine themselves of one fide or other of the queftion; as if the whole of religion were concerned in fuch difficult enquiries; they are fo bufy in opening and explaining hard places, that they forget to meditate upon plain ones, and to govern their lives under a lively and vigorous fenfe of the doctrines con tained in them: Which is doing juft as the Pharifees did; "Tything mint and rue, and al manner of herbs; and paffing over judgment and the love of God" Luke xi. 42. Whereas, (as our Saviour in that cafe decides), "Thefe ought they to have done, and not to have left the other undone." A due reflexion therefore upon this truth, that the underftanding the obfcure places VOL. III. of
of fcripture, is not a thing strictly required of us, or needful for us, will be of use to moderate our too great eagerness in the purfuit of fuch kind of knowledge; to render us lefs impatient and uneafy under what we do not understand of it, and leis pofitive and dogmatical in what we do. And thus the two greatest temptations towards perverting fcripture will be removed, an exceffive curiofity in fearches of this kind, and an over-weening fondness for our own private interpretations and opinions.
4thly, If we would not wreft the hard places in fcripture, we inuft be fure to make that an inviolable rule and law to ourselves, never to expound them fo as to oppose perfpicuous and clear ones; but fo to order our interpretation of doubtful points, as to make them fall in with the clear and intelligible parts of the fame revelation; fo as together with them to make up one complete body of truths, perfectly agreeing with each other.
The best way of knowing whether a line be crooked or not, is to apply it to one, that is confeffedly ftraight; and the fureft way of not erring in obfcure paffages, is to make plain texts the measure and judge of them. The greateft part of the abufes and mifinterpretations of fcripture have arifen from a contrary management; from men's giving obfcure texts a new and particular fenfe of their own first, and then growing fond of that invention afterwards, and refolving to bring all the plaineft paffages in fcripture, whether they will or no, to countenance and comply with it,
That we may carry ourselves after a quite dif
179 ferent manner in our fearches, it is fit for us to obferve,
5thly, and Laftly, That the fafeft and fecureft way of looking into thefe durvonra of St. Paul, and the other holy writers, is, to poftpone the confideration of them, till we have mastered what is fure and eafy in fcripture, till we have rooted and grounded ourselves in thofe points of doctrine that lie obvious and open; and when we have done that, there will be no danger of looking into any thing elfe, let it be never fo hard, and never fo obfcure. For either we fhall hit upon the right interpretation of it; or, if we do not, the wrong one fhall not hurt us. A man that holds all that is plainly contained in fcripture, and all that is neceffary to be held by him, may in that which is not plain, and not neceffary, innocently abound in his own fenfe. For though he fhould in thefe matters miftake in his opinions, and mistake the fenfe of fcripture, upon which he grounds thofe opinions; yet thofe mittakes cannot be fatal, because not fundamental. He can never maintain any thing directly repugnant to the catholic faith, and evidently deftructive of it; and while he does not, he may maintain what elfe he pleases; and fo he does it with fobriety and modefty, and a due deference to the opinion of thofe, who have a right to be liftened to in thefe things, his error (if it be one) fhall never prove dangerous, or be imputed to him. And this remark is what is plainly fuggefted to us by the words of the text, where St. Peter tells us, that those which wrefted the hard places in St. Paul's writings, and the other fcriptures, were the unZ 2