by John Brown
Edited by Thomas and Colleen Witte (996 pages)
The work now laid before the public is substantially a Commentary, though in a form somewhat peculiar. It is not a continuous comment on words and clauses nor does it consist of scholia or annotations, nor of lectures in the sense in which that word is ordinarily employed in this country, nor of sermons, either on select passages, or on the successive verses of the sacred book which is its subject. The Epistle is divided into paragraphs, according to the sense — of course varying very considerably in length. Each of these paragraphs, embodying one leading thought, forms the subject of a separate discourse, in which an attempt is made to explain whatever is difficult in the phraseology, and to illustrate the doctrinal or practical principles which it contains; the object being not to discuss, in a general and abstract manner, the subjects which the texts may suggest, but to bring clearly out the Apostle's statements, and their design; and to show how the statements are fitted to gain the objects for which they are made. If the Author has been able, in any good measure, to realize his own idea, grammatical and logical interpretation have been combined, and the exposition will be found at once exegetical, doctrinal, and practical.
Whatever can be interesting and intelligible only to the scholar has been thrown into the notes. Had the Author yielded to his own tastes, these notes would probably have been more numerous and elaborate than they are. But the recollection of the primary design of the work checked the inclination to indulge in philological remark; though he trusts that in almost every instance, where the exegesis is difficult or doubtful, the foundation of the interpretation adopted has been indicated with sufficient clearness.
The translation of the Epistle, though prefixed to the Expository Discourses, was written after them, and indeed contains a condensed statement of the result of the Author's investigations. This accounts for the fact that, in an instance or two, the sense given in the translation slightly differs from that commented on in the Exposition.
To prevent disappointment it is right to state that the object of the Author has been to produce not so much an original work, as a satisfactory exposition. In his estimate of the duties of an interpreter of Scripture, next to the careful study of the original text, ranks the attentive reading of what has been published for the illustration of it. Under this conviction he has studied the Epistle, not only without note or comment, but with all the notes and comments within his reach; and the book he now respectfully lays before the church contains the substance of all that in his thoughts and reading seemed best fitted to illustrate the meaning and promote the objects of the inspired writer. Of the helps of which he has availed himself, a list is furnished at the close of these prefatory remarks. He has distinguished by an asterisk those to which he has been chiefly indebted.
There is one author to whom his obligations are peculiarly great — ARCHBISHOP LEIGHTON. The index bears witness to the number of references to “The Practical Commentary upon the First Epistle General of St. Peter; and, in perusing the Discourses, the reader will find many quotations from its pages. That very remarkable work teaches a singularly pure and complete theology — a theology thoroughly evangelical, in the true sense of that often abused epithet, being equally free from Legalism on the one hand, and Antinomianism on the other; in the spirit of enlightened and affectionate devotion, love to the brotherhood, and charity to all men; and in a style which, though very unequal, indicates in its general structure a familiarity with the classic models of antiquity, and, in occasional expressions, is in the highest degree felicitous and beautiful. As a biblical expositor, LEIGHTON was above his own age; and, as a theologian and an experimental and practical writer, few have equalled, still fewer surpassed him, either before or since his time.
For these quotations the Author expects thanks from his readers, most of whom are not likely to be very familiar with the Archbishop's writings; and, though not unaware of the hazard to which he has exposed his own homely manufacture, by inserting into it — it may be, often somewhat inartificially— portions from a web of such rich material and exquisite workmanship, he will greatly rejoice if these specimens induce his readers to cultivate a more extensive acquaintance with those truly precious remains; which, though laboring under more than the ordinary disadvantages of posthumous publications, through the extreme slovenliness with which they, with but few exceptions, were in the first instance edited, are eminently fitted to form the Student of Theology to sound views and a right spirit, and to minister to the instruction and delight of the private Christian: possessing, in large measure and rare union, those qualities which must endear them to every Christian mind, however uncultured; and those which are fitted to afford high gratification to them in whom the knowledge and love of evangelical truth are connected with literary attainment and polished taste. The experience of Dr. Doddridge's correspondent is not singular: “There is a spirit in ARCHBISHOP LEIGHTON I never met with in any human writings, nor can I read many lines in them without being moved.” COLERIDGE borrowed his texts from him, in his “Aids to Reflection;” and it is readily acknowledged, that these volumes owe to him their most attractive ornaments.
The Author would probably never have thought of offering these illustrations to the world, had not a number of much respected members of his congregation earnestly solicited him, before increasing age should make it difficult, or approaching death impossible, to furnish them with a permanent memorial of a ministry of considerable length, full of satisfaction to him, and, he trusts, not unproductive of advantage to them. Such an application could not be treated lightly; and on weighing the subject, he found that he durst not refuse to comply with it.
Having arrived at this conviction, it did not appear to him that the object in view could be better gained, than by presenting them with the substance of those illustrations of a very precious portion of the inspired volume, which had already been delivered to them in the ordinary course of pastoral instruction. That this offering, intended for their spiritual improvement and their children's, will be accepted in the spirit in which it is made, he knows them too well to entertain a doubt; and if to them it serve its great objects, he will have an abundant reward. If beyond these limits it should find a favorable reception, and produce salutary effects, this will be an additional subject of agreeable reflection and grateful acknowledgment.
10, Gayfield Square, May, 1848.
Dr. Henry Miles.