Hercules Collins on “Interpreting Scripture”

The following excerpt is from Hercules Collins, The Temple Repair’d: or, An Essay to Revive the Long-Neglected Ordinances, of Exercising the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy for the Edification of the Churches; and of Ordaining Ministers Duly Qualified (London: 1702), 26-28. This selection is due to be published along with approximately 40 others in July in a volume on the piety of Hercules Collins by Reformation Heritage Books.

1st Know ye that the Scriptures are the best expositors of themselves.  No man, nor no church can explain God’s Word better than it doth itself.  As for instance, the Psalmist saith, There is a “God that judgeth in the earth.” Now if you would know what God is, another Scripture tells you that “God is a Spirit.” One text saith, “Stand in awe, and sin not.” If you would know what sin is, another Scripture saith, “Sin is the transgression of the law.”

2nd Give yourselves to reading, above all, the Holy Scriptures.  This counsel Paul gave to his son Timothy, Give thy self to reading. It is Christ’s counsel to the Jews, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of [Christ],” who hath brought salvation; “of which salvation the prophets [of old] enquired and searched diligently.” It was by books that Daniel understood the end of the seventy years captivity in Babylon.  And always make conscience to pray with Solomon, for a wise and understanding heart, to understand the mind and will of God in his Word, and also beg for great humility.  Pride and conceit hath overthrown many a young preacher.  Two things will make us truly humble, a true knowledge of ourselves, our own foolishness, ignorance and impotency, with our vileness by nature and act; and a true knowledge of God in his glorious perfections, his wisdom, power, holiness, and truth.  I remember Luther saith in some place, three things make a preacher:  meditation, temptation and prayer.  A good man told me that he had been ten times upon his knees for one sermon.  Sometimes we have sermons easier, and sometimes with more difficulty.  But this is our comfort, that we have always a God upon the throne of grace, who will help us in a time of need that humbly lie before him.

3rd Let all you deliver be according to the analogy of faith.  Never interpret one text so as to thwart another.  Abandon all private opinions, though they are never so taking.  Peter saith, no Scripture is of any private interpretation. That is, no particular Scripture differs from the whole, or any part of it.  No man, nor no company of men, no church or public officers are to interpret the Scriptures of their own heads, according to their own minds, so as to make their private sense the sense of the Scripture, but to seek the understanding of it from God, who shows the meaning of the Word by the Word itself, as we said before, the more obscure places being expounded by the more clear.

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