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THIS Commentary chiefly consists of a Series of Extracts from the practical and devotional writings of our most eminent Divines, together with a selection of appropriate Hymns, adapted to successive portions of the Holy Gospels, distinctly marked by division into sections.
The plan which I at first proposed was somewhat different, as may appear upon reference to the comments on the first few chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel; but I speedily gave a preference to the form in which the bulk of the Commentary now exists, partly in compliance with the suggestions of friends who objected to the form of dialogue, and partly from my conviction that many portions of our sacred literature could be applied, in the way of a continuous comment, with far better effect than any remarks of mine. The selections which have been thus adapted and arranged constitute a compendium of practical British Divinity, as well as a comment on different portions of the sacred text; and I believe it will be found that this volume contains the sentiments and reflections of our leading divines upon every subject of importance in matters of personal religion.
May all the readers of this Volume be enabled effectually to comply with that injunction of our Saviour, "Search the
Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life and they are they which testify of me." John v. 39.
I take this opportunity of producing the sentiments of some of our most devout and enlightened writers on two subjects, at all times of deep importance, and well deserving of peculiar attention in the present day.
I. The sufficiency of Holy Scripture as a rule of faith and duty.
We ought to have the Holy Scriptures for the only rule of faith. When Paul made allegation for himself before Felix, the high deputy, he did not extend his faith beyond the Word of God written: "Believing all things," saith he, "which are written in the law and the prophets;" making no mention of the rabbins. Moreover, "they have Moses and the prophets," saith Abraham in the parable; not their persons, but their writings. Also "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." And again, "Blessed are they which hear the Word of God." "The things which have not their authority of the Scriptures, may as easily be despised as allowed," saith Jerome.
"Therefore, whether it be of Christ, or of his Church, or of any other manner of thing which belongeth to our faith and life, I will not say if we," saith Augustine, (" who are not worthy to be compared to him that said if we,') but (that which also forthwith he addeth) if an angel from heaven shall teach anything besides that which ye have received in the Scriptures of the law and gospel, accursed be he."
But how are the Scriptures to be understanded? Augustine answereth, giving this rule, "The circumstances of the Scrip
tures," saith he, "lighten the Scriptures; and so one Scripture doth expound another, to a man that is studious, well willing, and often calling upon God in continued prayer, who giveth his Holy Spirit to them that desire it of him." So that the Scripture is not of any private interpretation at any time. For such a one, though he be a layman, fearing God, is much more fit to understand Holy Scripture, than any arrogant and proud priest, yea, than the bishop himself, be he never so great and glistering in all his pontificals.-But what is to be said of the Fathers? How are they to be esteemed? Augustine answereth, (Epist. xix. ad Hieron.), giving this rule also; that we should not therefore think it true because they say so, do they never so much excel in holiness or learning; but if they be able to prove their saying by the canonical Scriptures, or by good probable reason; meaning that to be a probable reason, as I think, which doth orderly follow upon a right collection and gathering out of the Scriptures.
Let the Papists go with their long faith; be you contented with the short faith of the saints, which is revealed unto us in the word of God written. Adieu to all Popish fantasies. Amen. For, one man, having the Scripture and good reason for him, is more to be esteemed himself alone, than a thousand such as they, either gathered together, or succeeding one another. The Fathers have both herbs and weeds; and Papists commonly gather the weeds, and leave the herbs. - HUGH LATIMER.
There is nothing laudable, nothing righteous, nothing honest or acceptable in God's sight, nothing to be done, for the which he hath not left in his Scriptures either some commandment, or some promise of reward, or some example. By his promises, by his threatenings, by his precepts, and through
the examples of godly men and women, we know good from evil; we know what is to be done, and what is to be left undone; what is to be praised, and what is to be dispraised; what delighteth and pleaseth, and what discontenteth and displeaseth, the Divine Majesty. God's book is no imperfect work, but a perfect book, containing all things to be done, the whole duty of a Christian man, and sufficient doctrine to instruct a God's-man in all good works, and to make him perfect as St. Paul witnesseth, writing to Timothy. And he must needs accuse God either of ignorancy, or of folly, or of negligence, which saith that he hath left anything untouched and undeclared which concerneth a Christian man's office, and is needful and necessary unto salvation. All such things be expressed in God's book. For in the writing of the prophets he requireth the observation of his law only concerning religion; and he threateneth great plagues and grievous punishments to those that do add anything to his Word, that is, to those which teach any other doctrine, or any work to be necessary unto salvation, which is not commanded in his Word.-HUTCHINSON.
II. The Word of God in Holy Scripture is the means or instrument of spiritual regeneration, and of the growth and increase of grace.
The natural state of the soul is darkness, and the word, as a Divine light shining into it, transforms the soul into its own nature; so that as the word is called light, so is the soul that is renewed by it. "Ye were darkness, but now are ye," not only enlightened, but "light in the Lord," Eph. v. 8. All the evils of the natural mind are often comprised under the names of darkness and error; and therefore is the whole work of