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It is not, of course, the design of this work, prepared as it has been for general readers, to present the processes and details, so much as the results, of Biblical criticism, in a plain and direct manner; to exhibit, if possible, the kernel of the wheat, rather than the stalks and husks in which it grew and ripened, though the one may have been often mistaken for the other. This method, however, gives an abruptness and baldness in some instances to the work, which are only excusable on account of the restricted limits of a popular exposition.
The same cause has led to the blending of several distinct elements, which in most commentaries have been more or less distinguished from each other by difference of location or type, but which are here compounded, or, as some may think, confounded together. It may be observed, in passing, that later expositors have generally shown an inclination to this mode. In accordance with it, a verbal criticism upon the text, and occasional corrections of the English translation and paraphrases, - details of history, biography, manners, and customs, accounts of ancient opinions, popular and philosophical, - evidences of the genuineness and veracity of the Gospel records, and of the divine authority of Christianity, — doctrines and duties inferred from the text, — poetical illustrations, - and general remarks of a practical and devotional character, interspersed as the spirit of composition dictated, - are combined upon the same page. To have separated these component parts, more or less formally, and to have arranged them respectively under the heads of Paraphrase, - Notes, - Comments, - Practical Observations, - Illustrations, --- would have increased the work to a disproportionate size, and given it a stiff and cumbrous character, by no means desirable. The living frame is formed by the harmonious union of seemingly discordant substances, liquid and solid, -flowing blood, and tremulous nerve, and rock-like bone. So to have mingled the needful qualities and materials of a commentary, as to secure unity amid variety, and spiritual life and impulse among criticisms and calculations, dates and facts, will undoubtedly prove
to have been rather the ideal excellence aimed at, than the result actually attained. The general spirit manifested, in any work whatever, affects us more deeply than single sentences or precepts. Hence practical remarks and inferences are of less real effect, probably, when summed up by themselves, than when diffused throughout the exposition ; for, coming as moral at the end of a fable, they are likely to be passed over either with formality or neglect. We are most profited by them when they are of a suggestive rather than a preceptive nature ; when they point the way to a field where we may ourselves reap or glean, rather than reap or glean for us.
The marginal references, commonly embraced in a work of this kind, are excluded on the simple ground that they are so little consulted as to be nearly useless, and also because they are liable, unless most judiciously selected, to foster erroneous associations and interpretations, and make analogies and connexions between portions of Scripture, where none really exist. The author has endeavored to shun this evil, but cannot hope to have done so entirely, for it is ingrained into a great part of the theology of the past. The few references which he has made in the body of the Notes he earnestly begs may be always consulted without exception, for they are designed to corroborate his arguments, or illustrate and enforce his conclusions, and may often shed an unexpected light upon a dark spot. If a Bible is constantly at hand, passages may be referred to without delay, and Scripture made to act in some degree as a self-interpreter.
The Introductions, and Calendar of our Lord's Ministry, are inserted to aid the general reader in his Scriptural inquiries.
The invaluable Harmony of the late lamented Dr. Lant Carpenter, of Bristol, England, has been mainly followed in this work. According to his theory, which was the earliest one received by the Christian church, the period of our Lord's active ministry extended over one year and a few months. Besides the support of antiquity, he finds reasons for this view in the facts of the case, as detailed by the evangelists, and
maintains his opinion in a cogent and well-reasoned dissertation, contained in the abovementioned work.
The doctrinal sentiments of the following commentary will be identified as Unitarian ; but let it be understood, that no church, creed, society, sect, or name, only the writer, is responsible for them. They may agree with others or not; they should be adjudged according to their own merits, or demerits, at the bar of truth. If erroneous, they will perish, and the sooner the better ; but if true, they must eventually prevail, however slowly they make headway against the general current. What is asked is, that they may not be condemned without a hearing, nor examined without candor, nor admitted without reason and discrimination.
In the preparation of these Notes, the aid of critics and commentators has been as extensively sought as circumstances would allow. The words of Jesus might be applied: "Other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors.” Some of the authors mentioned in the note* have been consulted, some read, some studied, and several quoted; while others have been used incidentally, or at second hand, which are omitted.
Lord Bacon, in his work on the Advancement of Learning, where he speaks of the theology of his day, remarks, "that if the choice and best of those observations upon texts of Scriptures, which have been made dispersedly in sermons, within
* The Versions and Editions of Luther, Griesbach, Bloomfield, Tyndale by Dabney, Beza, Sacy, Wakefield, Campbell, Thompson, Cappe, Palfrey, Bradford, and the Improved Version ; the Commentaries of Poole, Fratres Poloni, Pearce, Hammond, Le Clerc, Lightfoot, Henry, Whitby, Goadby, Paulus, Rosenmüller, Kuinoel, Olshausen, Doddridge, Scott, Priestley, Cappe, Clarke, Kenrick, Dabney, Townsend, Trollope, Barnes, and Ripley; MS. Notes of the excellent Lectures of Norton and Palfrey; Calmet's Dictionary; the Pictorial Bible; Robinson's Lexicon; the Septuagint; Josephus, Eusebius; the Works of Haynes, Gerard, Symonds, Knapp, Winer, Hug, Horne, Bishop Hall, Watson, West, Newcome, Burder, Hannah Adams, Abbott, Greenwood, Ware, Furness, Cellerier, Bulfinch, Allen, W.J. Fox, Schleiermacher, Ballou, Farmer, Milman, T. B. Fox, Robinson, Spear; the Trial of Jesus, by Dupin; the Scriptural Interpreter, and other valuable periodicals.
this your Majesty's island of Britain, by the space of these forty years and more, leaving out the largeness of exhortations and applications thereupon, had been set down in a continuance, it had been the best book in divinity which had been written since the Apostles' times.” Agreeably to this suggestion, it has been the object of the following work to draw remarks from other sources than set commentators ; to resort for this purpose to sermons, essays, poems, and stories. Books not specially intended for expositions often contain most valuable hints ; in particular, the periodicals of the day embody some incomparable dissertations and comments on the sacred writings; in proof of which, among many instances, we need but refer to an article in the (English) “ Christian Teacher" for January, 1841, on Matt. xi., John's message to Jesus; which was copied into the “Christian Register” of February 13, 1841. The remarks of Dr. Channing on this point are worthy of attention. " Commentators have their use, but not the highest use. They explain the letter of Christianity, give the meaning of words, remove obscurities from the sense, and so far they do great good; but the life, the power, the spirit of Christianity, they do not unfold. They do not lay open to us the heart of Christ. · I remember that a short time ago reading a book, not intended to be a religious one, in which some remarks were offered on the conduct of Jesus, as, just before his death, he descended from the Mount of Olives, and amidst a crowd of shouting disciples looked on Jerusalem, the city of his murderers, which in a few hours was to be stained with his innocent blood. The conscious greatness with which he announced the ruin of that proud metropolis and its venerated temple, and his deep sympathy with its approaching woes, bursting forth in tears, and making him forget for a moment his own near agonies and the shouts of the surrounding multitude, were brought to my mind more distinctly than ever before ; and I felt that this more vivid apprehension of Jesus was worth more than much of the learning in which commentators abound.”
The Text used in this work is the Received Text, printed in paragraphs, according to the arrangement of Griesbach, and chiefly with his punctuation.
The occasional repetition of the same explanations and remarks is partly attributable to the interrupted method of composition unavoidable in a case where many authorities are consulted, and partly to the advantage of repeating what has been before said, rather than of occupying quite as large a space in making a reference to a previous passage.
Touching the general difficulties of forming a true and earnest commentary on the sacred writings, the author has become fully apprized in the progress of his labors. If, as some have contended, the interpretation of the Bible were a matter to be decided simply by the rules of philology, by the grammar and lexicon, the liabilities to error would be very much diminished. But it is far otherwise. All our philosophical and theological views, all our habits, principles, and sentiments, our constitutional and acquired peculiarities, have a bearing upon our apprehension and explanation of each sentence. Biblical criticism puts under levy the whole existing amount of our knowledge and experience. Our views of the nature of God, his Providence, his Son Jesus Christ, of Man, of Life, of Futurity, will tinge with their own hues every verse. Our theories and practices sway us hither and thither, like grass in the wind, however determined our resolution to forget ourselves and yield with unprejudiced hearts to the pure impressions of Truth. Hence it is questionable whether creeds do not often exert more influence to dispose men to certain interpretations of the Bible, than does the Bible to modify creeds. Petrifactions are wont to gather around the fount of life, and to shape and impede the free jet and course of the waters, and therefore do the storms and overflowings of reformations come to break down and wash away these incrustations, that the streams may run in their native channels, pure, refreshing, and fertilizing.
The expositor is in constant danger of marring the high and