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DIFFICULTIES AND DISCOURAGEMENTS,
WHICH ATTEND THE
STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
SIR, I do not wonder at the surprise with which you received, when we were last together, the advice I ventured to give you in relation to the study of the Scriptures. For one, who is a clergyman himself, to seem to dissuade those of his own order from a study that has so many arguments to recommend it ; and which, in the opinion of all good men, ought to be their chief business, has, I confess, the appearance of a strange paradox, and that of the worst sort. It looks like popery and priestcraft; and therefore young and tender minds may easily be forgiven, if they startle at the first proposal of it; those, especially, who have a just sense of the excellency and inspiration of the Scriptures, and are eagerly bent on the pursuit of such truths, as more immediately tend to the advancement of virtue and religion. As you are of that number, and went into
orders with no other view, but that you might the better study the Scriptures yourself, and advance the knowledge of them in the world ; it was not to be expected you should presently come into other sentiments. Which I am so far from taking amiss, that I think it to your commendation, that neither the affection nor esteem you so often express for an old friend, could prevail with you to act a part that might have the appearance of levity in a matter of so much consequence. Nor is it less for your credit, that you can retain your opinion, without losing your temper, or showing a backwardness to hear what is to be said against it. Most tempers run into extremes; they are either too volatile to be fixed, or else so fixed, that no force of argument can move them. But it is your happiness, that you can adhere without obstinacy, and change without levity; and therefore I shall think it no trouble to resume the subject, and lay before you, in the best manner I
the reasons that seem to make against the study of the Scriptures in the way of private judgment; which I hope will not, upon cooler thoughts, appear so strange to you. You will consider they come from one, who is not more a friend to you, than he is to the church ; and, if examples be of any weight, I can assure you this side of the question is by no means destitute of proselytes ; and that, when you come to know the world more, you will find this study neglected to a degree you little imagined; but it is reasons, not examples, will determine you. To come therefore to them;
I. Let me, in the first place, observe to you, that the study of the Scriptures, such a thorough study of them I mean, as you aim at, is extremely difficult, and not to be successfully pursued, without a very great and constant application, and a previous knowledge of many other parts of useful learning. The New Testament cannot be understood without the Old ; the truths, revealed in one, are grounded on the prophecies contained in the other; which makes the study of the whole Scriptures necessary to him, that would understand thoroughly a part of them. Nor can the Apocryphal books, how much soever they are generally slighted, be safely neglected ; there being a great chasm of five hundred years between the end of the Prophets and the beginning of the Gospel; which period is of the greatest use for the understanding of the New Testament, and yet is the least known. But now, if the Old Testament must be well studied, a good knowledge of the oriental tongues is absolutely necessary. No man can be ignorant, who knows any thing of letters, that no versions of old books can be thoroughly depended on ; the mistakes are so many, and sometimes of great moment; especially the versions of books writ in a language little understood, and many parts of it in a style extremely figurative, and those figures such as these parts of the world are almost wholly strangers to. But, put the case these difficulties were less than they are, it is no easy matter to add to Greek and Latin the knowledge of so many other languages. Do not they two alone find work enough for most scholars ? What pains then must a man take, if he will study so many others besides ? And, if the knowledge of the Old Testament could be dispensed with, give me leave to tell you, that the language even of the New Testament is not to be understood with so little pains, as is commonly imagined. It is learned indeed in schools, and from hence thought to be the easiest Greek that can be read; but they, who have read it in another manner than school boys, know it to be quite otherwise. Not to mention the difficulties peculiar to St Paul, whose Epistles are a very great part of the New Testament; Plato and Demosthenes are in many respects not so hard, as even the easier books. The style indeed, in the historical books, is plain and simple ; but, for all that, even those parts have their difficulty ; and the whole is writ in a language peculiar to the Jews ; the idiom is Hebrew or Syriac, though the words be Greek; which makes some knowledge of those languages still necessary.