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22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman.

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22. For it is written. No man who has a choice given him will be so mad as to despise freedom, and prefer slavery. But here the apostle teaches us, that they who are under the law are slaves. Unhappy men! who willingly choose this condition, when God desires to make them free. He gives a representation of this in the two sons of Abraham, one of whom, the son of a slave, held by his mother’s condition; 7373     “La servile condition de sa mere.” “His mother’s condition as a slave.” while the other, the son of a free woman, obtained the inheritance. He afterwards applies the whole history to his purpose, and illustrates it in an elegant manner.

In the first place, as the other party armed themselves with the authority of the law, the apostle quotes the law on the other side. The law was the name usually given to the Five Books of Moses. Again, as the history which he quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives to it an allegorical interpretation. But as the apostle declares that these things are allegorized, (ἀλληγορούμενα,) Origen, and many others along with him, have seized the occasion of torturing Scripture, in every possible manner, away from the true sense. They concluded that the literal sense is too mean and poor, and that, under the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories. And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred, by the world to solid doctrine.

With such approbation the licentious system gradually attained such a height, that he who handled Scripture for his own amusement not only was suffered to pass unpunished, but even obtained the highest applause. For many centuries no man was considered to be ingenious, who had not the skill and daring necessary for changing into a variety of curious shapes the sacred word of God. This was undoubtedly a contrivance of Satan to undermine the authority of Scripture, and to take away from the reading of it the true advantage. God visited this profanation by a just judgment, when he suffered the pure meaning of the Scripture to be buried under false interpretations.

Scripture, they say, is fertile, and thus produces a variety of meanings. 7474     “Et pour ceste cause elle engendre plusieurs sens et de diverses sortes.” “And therefore it produces many meanings, and of various kinds.” I acknowledge that Scripture is a most rich and inexhaustible fountain of all wisdom; but I deny that its fertility consists in the various meanings which any man, at his pleasure, may assign. Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and obvious meaning; and let us embrace and abide by it resolutely. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions, those pretended expositions, which lead us away from the natural meaning.

But what reply shall we make to Paul’s assertion, that these things are allegorical? Paul certainly does not mean that Moses wrote the history for the purpose of being turned into an allegory, but points out in what way the history may be made to answer the present subject. This is done by observing a figurative representation of the Church there delineated. And a mystical interpretation of this sort (ἀναγωγή) was not inconsistent with the true and literal meaning, when a comparison was drawn between the Church and the family of Abraham. As the house of Abraham was then a true Church, so it is beyond all doubt that the principal and most memorable events which happened in it are so many types to us. As in circumcision, in sacrifices, in the whole Levitical priesthood, there was an allegory, as there is an allegory at the present day in our sacraments, — so was there likewise in the house of Abraham; but this does not involve a departure from the literal meaning. In a word, Paul adduces the history, as containing a figurative representation of the two covenants in the two wives of Abraham, and of the two nations in his two sons. And Chrysostom, indeed, acknowledges that the word allegory points out the present application to be (κατάχρησις) 7575     “A cataehresis borrows the name of one thing to express another; which thing, though it has a name of its own, yet, under a borrowed name, surprises us with novelty, or infuses into our discourses a bold and daring energy. The Sacred Scriptures will furnish us with many instances of this trope. Leviticus 26:30, — ‘And I will cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols;’ that is, upon the ruins of your idols, which shall be as much destroyed as the body is when it is slain, and become a dead carcase. So Deuteronomy 32:14; Psalm 80:5; Hosea 14:2. But the boldest catachresis, perhaps, in all the Holy Scriptures, is in 1 Corinthians 1:25., Because the foolishness of God,’ says the apostle, ‘is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men;’ that is, what men are apt to account foolishness in God surpasses their wisdom, and what they may be ready to misconstrue as weakness in God, excels all their power. Gibbons’s Rhetoric. different from the natural meaning; which is perfectly true.




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