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In presenting observations on any part of heb. Chap. I. Scripture, a modern writer is in this dilemma: are his opinions new or old ? If novel, it is presumptive, that they are erroneous; if not original, why venture to bring them forward?
There is, perhaps, no part of Scripture, to which this observation applies with greater force, than the Epistle to the Hebrews; for the commentators on it have not only been very numerous, but very various in their manner of treating the subject.
Is it to be expected, that we should surpass the venerable piety and simplicity of Deering; the patient and laborious investigation of Gouge; the learned research, orthodoxy, or religious feeling of Owen? Shall we be more original or concise than Lawson;
CHAP. I. 1. rival the popular method of Jones; or equal
the profound and masterly sketch of Vaughan? can we with Stewart pass this Epistle through the alembic of learning; or with Maclean shall we evangelize the critical Macknight?
It might, perhaps, be fairly answered, that a writer would have sufficient excuse for attempting to combine and incorporate their various scattered beauties and excellencies into one convenient work; but that would require a style, luminous as well as concise; which the author is conscious he does not possess.
There appear, however, to be assignable causes, why none of the above mentioned writers, except Vaughan, could have entered fully into the argument and reasoning of the Apostle. In order to perceive the force and drift of an author's reasoning, we must, as far as possible, make ourselves masters of the sentiments of those, to whom he wrote, or of the opinions he desires to controvert. But, with the exception of Dr. Owen, all the English commentators have considered the language of the Epistle as referring to the ideas, which they themselves entertained, rather than to the notions of the Jews: whereas, that alone can be morally true, which is the sense inevitably conveyed to those addressed in the inspired Word.
Dr. Owen also may be considered as combating the views of the Socinians, rather than as fairly examining the opinions of the He
CHAP. I. 1.
brews; for he treated their notion of Messiah's kingdom as “ one of the Jewish fables, which are not worthy of a serious refutation.”
It is true, that Mr. Vaughan's judgment was not diverted from a candid, and, I think, a profound view of this Epistle, by fear either of the Socinian or Millenarian errors; but what he has written is such a brief outline, that, if correct, it seems absolutely necessary, that some one should attempt to fill it up.
The only excuse, which the writer of these observations can offer, is a hope, that he may
have been “instructed in the kingdom,” and may thus have been enabled to “ bring forth things both new and old.”
Should, however, the interpretation of some parts have the appearance of novelty, yet, in these places, the ideas are not the creation of the writer's own mind, but were rather generated by bringing into contact the views of others, and discriminating and combining, according to the following rules:
1. The argument of the Epistle is com- Rules of Interpreplete in itself, though increased light may be obtained by concentrating what is mentioned in other parts of Holy Writ, on the subjects handled. The sense of a letter sent to some in Judea, is not to be eked out by what is written to the Christians at Rome; though, on the other hand, use must be made of the Scriptures possessed and believed by those, to whom the Apostle wrote.
CHAP. I. 1.
II. Where the literal acceptation of the words accords with the opinions of those addressed, the plain meaning must be received as the true interpretation ;* or we should charge the writer with laying a stumblingblock in the way of the enquiring Hebrews.
This canon of interpretation appears selfevident; yet, nevertheless, when applied, it materially alters the explanation commonly given of many passages.
III. As a consequence of the foregoing rule, it seems to follow, that the evidence of the Talmudists should be used, as far as that of discredited witnesses: viz. we should attend to their testimony, when it is disinterested, respecting Christianity, and either when it illustrates, or is in any measure supported by Scripture.
This Epistle could not have been written before A.D. 62, because Timothy had gone through his imprisonment; nor could it have been long after that period, for the Hebrews had not yet resisted unto blood.
It was not sent to the dispersion generally, because the writer
he would come with Timothy to see those, to whom he wrote, but it appears primarily to have been addressed
Date abont 4. D. 62.
Heb. xiij. v. 23.
Addressed to those who dwell in Judea.
Heb. xiii. 23.
* “I hold it (says Hooker) for a most infallible rule in exposition of sacred Scripture, that where a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst. There is nothing more dangerous than this licentious and deluding art, which changeth the meaning of words as alchemy dotlı, or would do, the substance of metals; making of any thing what it listeth, and bringing, in the end, all truth to nothing."