5. Another indispensable qualification of scriptural interpretation is sympathy with divine truth; in other words, that harmony of spirit with the truths of revelation which comes from a hearty reception of them, and a subjection of the whole life, inward and outward, to their control. "If any man," said our Saviour, "will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." John 7:17. In these words our Lord proposed to the unbelieving Jews the true remedy for their ignorance and error respecting his person and office, which had their ground not in the want of evidence, but in their perverse and guilty rejection of evidence. Their moral state was one of habitual rebellion against the truth of God; and they could not, therefore, have sympathy with the Saviour's doctrine. They hated the light, and would not come to the light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:20. What they needed was not more light, but that obedient spirit which loves the light, and allows it to shine through the soul. The man who would be a successful interpreter of God's word must begin where the Saviour directed these Jews to begin. So far as he knows the truth, he must give it a hearty reception not in theory alone, but in daily practice. Then he will be prepared to make further progress in the knowledge of it, and to unfold its heavenly treasures to his fellow-men. But if he comes to the study of God's word with a heart habitually at variance with its holy precepts, and an understanding darkened by the power of sinful affections, no amount of scholarship or critical sagacity will avail to make him a true expositor of its contents. Having no sympathy with the great foundation doctrines of the gospel, but regarding them with positive aversion, he will neither be able to apprehend them in their true light, nor to explain them aright to his fellow-men. In the work of interpretation, a good heart -- good in the scriptural sense -- is not less important than a clear understanding and well-furnished mind.
6. How extensive and varied should be the acquirements of the able interpreter will be manifest to any one who considers the extent and variety of the fields of knowledge covered by the Holy Scriptures.
The languages in which they are written are no longer spoken. The knowledge of them, like that of all dead languages, is locked up in books -- grammars, lexicons, ancient versions, and various subsidiary helps -- and can be mastered only by severe and protracted study. It is not indeed necessary that the great body of Christians, or even all preachers of the gospel, should be able to read the Bible in the original languages. But it is a principle of Protestantism, the soundness of which has been confirmed by the experience of centuries, that there should always be in the churches a body of men able to go behind the current versions of Scripture to the original tongues from which these versions were executed. The commentator, at least, must not take his expositions at second hand; and a healthy tone of feeling in regard to the sacredness and supreme authority of the inspired word will always demand that there should be a goodly number of scholars scattered through the churches who can judge from the primitive sources of the correctness of his interpretations.
The Scriptures are crowded with references to the cities, mountains, plains, deserts, rivers, and seas of Palestine and the surrounding regions; to their climate, soil, animals, and plants; to their agricultural products and mineral treasures; to the course of travel and commerce between the different nations; in a word, to those numerous particulars which come under the head of geography and natural history. The extended investigations of modern times in these departments of knowledge have shed a great light over the pages of inspiration, which no expositor who is worthy of the name will venture to neglect.
And if one collect and illustrate the various allusions of Scripture to the manners and customs of the ancient Hebrews, to their civil institutions and their religious rites and ceremonies, he will compose a volume on biblical antiquities.
The connection, moreover, which the covenant people had with the surrounding nations, especially the great monarchies which successively held sway over the civilized world -- Egypt, Assyria, Chaldea, Greece, Rome -- requires an extended knowledge of ancient history, and, as inseparably connected with this, of ancient chronology. Biblical chronology constitutes, indeed, a science of itself, embracing some very perplexed and difficult questions, the solution of which has an important bearing upon the passages of Scripture to which they have reference.
7. We do not affirm that all the above-named qualifications are necessary to a saving knowledge of God's word. Its great essential doctrines and precepts are so plain that the unlettered reader, who brings to the work an honest heart, cannot fail to understand them. In this respect God has made the vision so plain "that he may run that readeth it;" and the road to heaven so direct that "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." But the interpreter of Scripture is expected to unfold the meaning of the difficult passages also, as far as human investigation will enable him to do so. They are a part of "all Scripture given by inspiration of God," which the apostle affirms to be "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." He should spare no effort, therefore, to ascertain their exact sense, and to expound this sense to others with all possible fidelity and clearness.
8. There is a human and a divine side to biblical interpretation -- a human side, because the Scriptures address men in human language, and according to human modes of thinking and speaking; a divine side, because they contain a true revelation from God to men, and differ in this respect from all other writings. The neglect of the human side leads to visionary schemes of interpretation, in which the writer's fancy is substituted for the sober rules of criticism, and the word of God accommodated to his preconceived opinions. The rejection, open or covert, of the divine side, manifests itself in a cold, skeptical criticism, which denies or explains away all that is supernatural in the Bible; which, instead of seeking to discover and unfold that unity of plan and harmony of parts which belong to every work of God, delights rather in exaggerating the supposed inconsistencies and contradictions of the sacred writers, and in arraying one part of Scripture against another; and which, having no faith itself in the Bible as containing a revelation from God, infuses doubts respecting its divine origin into the mind of the reader. It is only by keeping steadily in view these two sides of revelation, which mutually supplement each other, that we can attain to a true knowledge of the inspired word.