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WHATEVER fears may have been entertained respecting the application of the principles of criticism to the Sacred Text, and whatever doubts may have led some to decry the cultivation of that species of knowledge which has for its object the grammatical and philological interpretation of that text, it is now almost universally admitted, that such operations are indispensable to the attainment of a solid and satisfactory acquaintance with its contents. The peculiar exigencies of the times call for a more than ordinary attention to such subjects, and a richer stock of materials specially adapted to facilitate their study. For, with all the progress which has been made in matters of general Biblical research, and all the diligence which has been applied to the exposition of the Scriptures, the want of strictly philological and exegetical commentary has been severely felt, both by divines and theological students, and by a very considerable portion of intelligent and well-educated Christians, whose habits of reading bring them into constant contact with difficulties which only such commentary can remove.
To engage in labours of this description, few were better qualified than Professor Stuart. Intimately acquainted with the minutiae of Hebrew and Greek Grammar; familiar with the diversities which characterize the style of the Sacred Writers; trained by long study of the laws of Biblical exegesis to a matured and refined tact in seizing the point, the bearing, the various shades and ramifications of meaning which are couched under the sacred phraseology; versed in the theological learning of Germany; imbued with a sincere love of Divine truth, and a profound reverence for its dictates;
and, withal, endowed with a manly and richly cultivated intellecthis talents and acquirements peculiarly fitted him for translating and commenting upon the Epistle to the Hebrews :—a task replete with difficulties, but which he has here performed with so much credit to himself, and so much advantage to the church of God.
The ordeal to which this important portion of Scripture has been subjected by the wild and extravagant hypotheses of some of the master-spirits of Germany, rendered it a matter of imperious necessity that it should be submitted to a fresh and full investigation. This, the perusal of the introductory part of the volume will prove that the author has successfully done. Questions respecting style, authorship, and interpretation, which men of such celebrity as Eichhorn, Bertholdt, De Wette, and others, were considered to have completely set at rest, have received the most patient and rigid consideration; and, in most instances triumphantly, in all more or less satisfactorily, the very reverse of their conclusions has been shewn to be in accordance with the real facts of the case.
The very favourable reception which the former edition of the work has met with in this country, and the continued and increasing demand which there has been for copies since it was exhausted, have induced the present publishers to bring out a new and correct impression. May the Divine blessing accompany its more extended circulation, that a more general taste for the close and accurate study of the Sacred Oracles may be created, and a more intimate acquaintance with this important Epistle promoted!
LONDON, September 24, 1833.
THE origin of the following work must be ascribed to the duties which my present occupation calls upon me to perform. As the time spent in the study of the Scriptures, at this seminary, has not allowed me to lecture upon all the Epistles of Paul, it has been my custom to select those which appeared to be the most difficult, and, in some respects, the most instructive and important. These are, the epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews. In respect to the latter epistle, many serious exegetical difficulties occur, to remove which much time and extensive study are necessary. But the greatest difficulty of all arises from the fact, that this epistle is anonymous, and that the Pauline origin of it has been more or less doubted or disputed, ever since the latter part of the second century, if not still earlier. This subject I have deemed to be very interesting and important; and I have endeavoured, while discharging my duty of lecturing upon the epistle, to throw what light I could upon the dark places of its literature.
Experience, however, has taught me, that lectures could communicate to students but a very limited and incompetent view of the disputed ground, in regard to the origin of the epistle to the Hebrews. The exceedingly numerous quotations, and appeals to
writers ancient and modern, which it was necessary to make, and the almost endless references to the Scriptures, which apposite illustration and argument required, rendered it impossible that a mere lecturer should communicate, or his hearer acquire and retain, any thing like an adequate view of the whole subject.
What was true of the literary introduction to the epistle, was also found to be true in respect to many of the most important exegetical difficulties connected with the interpretation of it. The young student, by the mere repetition or delivery of any lecture upon them, (however particular or plain it might be in the view of an experienced interpreter,) was not able to acquire such a knowledge as would avail thoroughly to free him from his embarrassments, or to render him capable of explaining such matters to others.
The knowledge of these facts, resulting from repeated experience, first led me to the design of publishing, in extenso, on the epistle to the Hebrews. The repeated solicitations which have been made, that I would engage in this undertaking, might, perhaps, constitute some apology for embarking in it, if such an apology were necessary. But the time has come, when, in our country, no apology is necessary for an effort to promote the knowledge of the holy Scriptures, or to cast any light upon them. There is an apprehension, at present, somewhat extensive and continually increasing, that no age, nor any body of men pertaining to it, have done all which the human faculties, with the blessing of God, are capable of accomplishing. Christians, in this country, are coming more and more to believe, that as the church advances nearer to that state, in which "the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the seas," a better understanding of the Scriptures may be confidently hoped for and expected. It cannot be rationally supposed, that this will be communicated by a miraculous interposition. It must result from candid, patient, long-continued, and radical investigation of the language and idiom of the sacred writers. Interpretations a priori have long enough had their sway in the church; and it is very manifest, that a more judicious and truly Protestant mode of thinking and reasoning, in respect to the interpretation of the Scriptures, has commenced, and bids fair to be extensively adopted.
Whether the following sheets will contribute to aid this great object, must be left to the readers of them to decide. I can only