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Of the first of the above named Commentaries, we have before us the two volumes containing from Genesis to Judges, and from Matthew to John, inclusive; and have examined them with emotions of constantly increasing disappointment. When we first saw the prospectus sanctioned by the venerable name of Dr. Jenks as editor, we cherished a confident expectation that the work would bear at least some faint marks of the philological learning for which he is famed. But he appears simply as the rédacteur of prescribed materials, and seems hardly to have exercised the prerogative of a free agent or an independent thinker throughout these volumes. Even the introductions, which are brief treatises on the genuineness, authenticity, and inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, are made up entirely of quotations, with the occasional insertion of a connecting clause by the Editor. Yet, wherever he overcomes his characteristic modesty, and favors us with an annotation of his own, we perceive so many traces of the scholar and the candid critic, that we are constrained to inquire: “To what purpose is this waste?” Why might not the dusty work of compilation have been committed to some mere journeyman, and he, who is engaged in it, have been left at leisure to give to the world the fruits of his own indefatigable studies ?
The work was designed to be a digest”; but we are sorry to say,
it is the most crude, undigested mass of heterogeneous materials that ever came under our critical cognizance. The work can hardly be criticized as a whole. The only way in which we can discharge the office we have undertaken, is to present a view of the general aspect of the volumes, and then to consider separately the worth of the several commentaries from which they are compiled.
There is much about the work which has the air of pecuniary speculation. The title-page, with its pompous array of names, its reference to the wants of families, sabbath school teachers, and bible classes, its enumeration of the various signs and wonders to be seen within, - to wit, "a neatly engraved family record,* five portraits, other elegant engravings
* Of this record we have a specimen in the prospectus, surmounted by doves, Cupid, arrows, and all the paraphernalia of Pagan love-scenes. This is probably the first instance, in which Cupid has found his way into the Bible,
from steel plates, and many wood-cuts," was evidently designed to captivate the illiterate and unwary purchaser. Then there is an obtrusive thrusting in of notices and advertisements by the publishers, who take repeated opportunities to assure the readers of the unprecedented expensiveness, cheapness, and popularity of the work. Nor can we forbear in this connexion taking notice of the numerous pictures, which cannot but render these volumes attractive to the vulgar gaze. The minute wood-cuts, with which the notes are frequently interspersed, are for the most part valuable as illustrative of ancient customs and monuments, and reflect great credit on the Editor's learning and taste. The same may be said of the numerous maps. But we must be permitted to express our unfeigned disgust at most of the elegant engravings,” which, scattered at convenient distances, on leaves of pink, straw-colored, and dingy white paper, give the “Comprehensive Commentary” a no less grotesque, though a less sombre aspect, than the family bibles of our grandfathers bore.
Never have we seen in print so apt a type of chaos as the page of the “Comprehensive Commentary” presents. The text of the common version, printed in small pica, is crowded into a column about an inch broad and often not more than two inches long, in the upper left-hand corner, and there it stands, like “a lodge in a garden of cucumbers,” completely overgrown and hidden by the luxuriance of verbose commentary. Beneath it, in the most minute type visible, are the marginal references. Beside and beneath, in two finely printed columns of very unequal width, is Henry's Commentary; beneath this Scott's Practical Observations in two equal columns; and under all, separated by a black line, in a yet more obscure type, stands, in two equal columns, a miscellaneous collection of short and often imperfect extracts, from the annotations of Scott, Doddridge, Gill, Clarke, and others too numerous to be specified.
But let us pass from outward appearances to the respective merits of component parts of this compilation. First of all, we have Scott's Marginal References, which are vastly inferior in utility and critical worth to Canne's, inasmuch as the latter are founded on generally recognised grounds of resemblance and laws of association, while the former often refer the reader to texts, which bear kindred to the text referred from, only by the fanciful theories and modes of interpretation connected with modern Calvinism.
Next we have “Matthew Henry's Commentary, condensed, but retaining every useful thought,” together with hundreds that are irrelevant and useless. We find it hard to account for Henry's popularity as a commentator, unless it be that he took the field early and retains it by right of precedence. The very quantity of matter in his original work, (and it is very slightly abridged in this,) five volumes folio, is truly appalling; and yet Dr. Doddridge advised his theological pupils to read it entirely and attentively through. In justice we can hardly assign Henry a place on the list of commentators ; he may with more propriety be reckoned as the last and most vapid of the race of allegorical paraphrasts. His object, with regard to a sentence, is not to ascertain the one idea which the writer intended to convey in it, but to show how many senses every word in the sentence may bear, and how complete a systern of theology may be built up by its dismemberment. His principles, or, to speak more properly, his mode of interpretation is, like Procrustes’ bed, a changeless standard for adjusting the dimensions of whatever falls into his hands. The historical books are interpreted as if their every sentence had been penned with reference to the five points of Calvinism; while every poetical image in the Psalms or the Prophets is regarded, either as inculcating one of the doctrines of grace, relating a historical fact, or definitely foretelling some future event. Thus the sacred text, in Henry's hands, like charity, " beareth all things, endureth all things.” One consequence of this mode of interpretation is the grossest and most ludicrous inconsistency in representations of the divine character, sometimes portraying the attributes of God in their full spirituality and perfection, and then again degenerating into the lowest forms of anthropomorphism. Thus we could multiply passages in which he depicts all things past, present, and future, as constantly present to the divine mind; but yet, in order to draw a spiritual meaning from the Lord's “coming down" to see the tower of Babel, our author favors us with a comment, well worthy of those priests of Baal, whose god might bé “ pursuing, or in a journey, or asleep."
6 Before God gave judgment on their cause,” says he," he inquired into it; for God is incontestably just and fair in all his pro- 3D s. VOL. II. NO. I.
ceedings against sin and sinners, and condemns none unheard." We may quote also from the annotations on this chapter a few specimens of what Professor Stuart styles Henry's “ quaintness,” that is, his skill in eliciting a moral meaning where none exists. On the words, “Go to, let us build,” we have the following godly exhortation : “Let us learn to provoke one another to love and to good works, as sinners stir up and encourage each other to wicked works. See Ps. cxxii. 1. Isa. ii. 3,5. Jer. 1. 5.” On the use of brick and pitch by the builders of Babel, we are requested to observe, “What a difference there is between man's building and God's; when God builds his Jerusalem, he lays even the foundations of it with sapphires, and all its borders with pleasant stones, Isa. liv. 11, 12. Rev. xxi. 19." Again our author gives the following lucid and edifying exposition of perhaps the most unemphatic phrase in the chapter :
“It is said to be the tower which the children of men built ; intimating, (1.) Their weakness and frailty as men: it was a foolish thing for worms of the earth to defy heaven and to provoke the Lord to jealousy: Are they stronger than He? (2.) Their sinfulness and obnoxiousness : they were the sons of Adam; so the Hebrew; nay, of that sinful, disobedient Adam, whose children are by nature children of disobedience, children that are corrupters. (3.) Their distinction from the children of God, the professors of religion; from whom these daring builders had separated themselves, and built this tower to perpetuate the separation. Pious Eber* is not found among this ungodly crew; for he and his are called the children of God, and therefore their souls come not into the secret, nor unite themselves to the assembly, of these children of men.”
This, we suppose, will aptly illustrate what Dr. Alexander (as quoted by Dr. Jenks) terms Henry's “ubiquity in the Scriptures." His ubiquity doubtless consists in his being everywhere the same, in his distilling every word of the Bible, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, in that one identical, comprehensive alembic, his own mind. To illustrate Henry's tedious prolixity and labyrinthal complexity, we will mention in passing, that our last quotation is but a subdivision of a single note on Genesis xi. 5-9, which comprises three general heads, eight principal subdivisions, twenty-four divisions of the third order, nine of the fourth, and even two of the fifth, and all these indicated by figures. Nor is this a singular or a carefully chosen case; but one taken at hazard, in the belief that similar instances may be found in every chapter. To sum up in brief our verdict upon Henry, we will say, that, had the Bible been written by one man, and that man an Englishman and a Calvinist, we would not ask a better commentator than Henry ; but that for ancient, Oriental writings, varying in style, in sentiment, and in spirit, we could not have had a more unapt interpreter.
* The fact of Eber's piety the sacred historian does not relate ; but it was needed to “point the moral”; ergo, it is a fact.
The next ingredient in the “Cornprehensive Commentary” is Scott's Practical Observations. These are in general ingenious, safe, and good; and constitute the redeeming property of his Family Bible. They breathe the spirit of ardent piety, and are particularly valuable as inculcating, on every convenient occasion, the obligations of domestic and social duty. They diffuse over the books of the Old Covenant the evangelical spirit of the New; and point us to the substance, where the prophets held forth only the shadow of good things to come. And this, though it would destroy the value of a purely critical work, is the way in which every well-informed biblical scholar will endeavour to make the Old Testament practically useful to himself and others. We have often admired the skill, with which Scott extracts spiritual nutriment from that which at first sight seems utterly barren and unprofitable, so as literally to verify the words of the prophet : “ The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.' Thus on those chapters of hard names, with which the first book of Chronicles commences, he entertains us with the most just and eminently Christian reflections on the lapse of time, the vanity of life, the worth of a good name, the levelling power of the grave, and the certainty of a resurrection and judgment to all the successive generations of men; and has thus demonstrated by successful experiment, that all scripture is “profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.” But we must say, (and have already implied as much,) that, had Scott, after the custom of many old divines, denominated these Observations,