Matthew Poole's Commentary
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION of COMMENTARY
by MATTHEW POOLE
The same reason which teacheth us to conclude that there is a First Being, and must be a First Cause and Mover, (whom we call God,)" that it is he who hath made us, and not we ourselves," and that "we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture," will also oblige us "to enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise," and to "be thankful unto him" by fulfilling his will; which we cannot do without seme revelation of it to us. God therefore having ceased to speak to men face to face, as to Abraham, and Moses, &c., (which he never ordinarily did but to some particular favourites,) we are by reason enforced to conclude that there are some books in the world in which this revelation is to be found. The church of God (the mother of us all) hath constantly held forth the books of the Old and New Testament (which we have in our Bibles) for this sacred revelation, which hath justly obliged all her children to look upon them as hung out to them for that use upon that noble pillar, the church, looking into them upon the church's notice, (as the child does upon the mother's telling it, That is the sun,) every reasonable man finds them of so venerable antiquity, and discerneth in them such stamps of divinity, in the majesty of their style, the purity of the matter, the sublimeness and spirituality of the propositions contained in them, the self-denial of the penmen, the heavenliness of the scope and end of those sacred writings, the harmony of the parts, the seal of miracles, and principally in the mighty power and efficacy of them upon the souls and consciences of multitudes, both for conviction, and for support and consolation, that he easily concludes, This is the voice of God, and not of man; and looks back upon his mother the church, (as a child upon his nurse,) thanking her for showing him such a treasure, and saying, as the Samaritans to their countrywomen, Joh 4:42, Now we believe these books are the word of God, not because of thy saying so, but because we have looked upon them ourselves, and find them of a different style, nature and matter, to have a different scope, end, power and efficacy of them upon the souls of men, from what any other writings in the world have. Though the truth is, that until a man comes to be fully persuaded of the truth of them from the same Spirit that dictated them, every soul will be as apt to waver in his faith, concerning their being the word of God, as he in Tully, who only believed in the immortality of the soul from the reading of Plato's book, which (if I remember right) the Roman orator expresseth in words to this sense: I have read over Plato's book again and again; but I know not how it comes to pass, so long as I am reading I agree with it; but no sooner is the book out of my hands but de immortalitate animae dubitare caepi, I begin to doubt whether the soul be immortal, yea or no. But, however, in one degree or other every Christian makes that the principle of his religion, that the Holy Scripyures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God. Some believe it more faintly and uncertainly, some more fixedly and firmly; and accordingly the faith of persons, as to them, is more or less operative.
This revelation of the Divine will was made perfect gradually, (as it pleased God in succeeding times to reveal what was his secret will before, but hid from ages,) so as (if chronologers compute right) there were more than fifteen hundred years passed betwixt the writing of the first book of Genesis by Moses, and the Revelation (which was the last) by John; and divines generally judge that he sealed up the book by those words, Rev 22:18-19. So that, as to things to be believed or done, we are to expect no further revelation.
When "the mighty God, even the Lord," had thus spoken, and God had thus "shined out of Zion, the perfection of beauty," it was but reasonable that his people should come to the knowledge of what he had said, that they might answer the end of the revelation both by believing and obeying.
The Old Testament being written in the Hebrew tongue, when great numbers of the Hebrews or Jews, by their captivity in Babylon, had much forgotten or corrupted their own language, it was thought reasonable there should be a Chaldaic paraphrase; and the wisdom of Divine Providence provided a Septuagint version, as for the benefit of others, so possibly of the Jews themselves, the most of whom, before Christ's time, were more Grecians than Hebricians; and it is generally thought that all the books of the New Testament were written in the Grecian language.
When it pleased God that the gospel should be preached to all nations, and the sound of it go to the ends of the earth, he so ordered it also, that soon after true religion came into any place, some were stirred up to translate those holy books into the language of that country; and he so far assisted them, that though in many lesser things they failed through want of a knowledge of the just propriety of some words in Hebrew or Greek, or the use of particle in those languages, yet they faile not in anything whereby the reader might be led into any pernicious error touching his salvation. And we shall observe the penmen of the New Testament giving such a deference to the commonly received version in their times, that although the Septuagint version which we have appears to us more dissonant fromt he Hebrew than any other, yet most of the quotations of the Old Testament which we have in the New are apparently from that version; which teacheth us, that it is not every private minister's work to make a new version of the Scripture, but he ought to acquiesce in the version which God hath provided for the church wherein he lives, and not ordinarily, or upon light grounds, to enter into a dissent to it; and if in any thing he sees it necessary to do it, yet not to do it (as to a particular text) without great modesty, and a preface of reverence.
This translation of the Scriptures into a language understood by all people in that country into which the church came was looked upon so reasonable and necessary, as it was opposed by none till the papists had patched up a religion, for the upholding of which it was necessary for them to maintain, that ignorance was the mother of devotion; after which it was very difficult in any places where these spiritual tyrants had a dominion to get the Scriptures translated into the language of that country. Not to instance in other places, we shall give some short account of England. Our records tell us of a translation of some part of them into the Saxon language (which was then a great part of ours) within seven hundred years after Christ, and of the translation of the whole into the same language by Beda within forty years after. Beda was himself a papist, but the mystery of iniquity grew up gradually to its height. Soon after, bibles which the people could understand were very scarce commodities in England, and thus it continued for six hundred years. Wickliff, who lived in the time of Richard II., and died in 1384, being the first we know of afterward who translated the Scriptures into a language understood by any who were not skilled in some or other of three learned languages. That great man easily understood, that without the Scriptures in their own language the people must take all for the will of God that their priests told them was so, and that the popish priests were generally persons of ignorance, and impudence enough to entitle God to any of their own blasphemies and supestitions. But within thirty years after the death of Wickliff, viz. anno 1414, the council (of conventicle rather) of Constance decreed all Wickliff's books to the fire; and though some were spared, yet the battle was so hard that there were very few that escaped. This was out state till the year 1527, (in all which year the poor people of the land of our nativity were without a teaching Bible, (as to the common people,) and indeed without a teaching priest,) yea, and for some time after this, as we shall hear.
In the year 1527 God put it into the heart of Mr. Tindall to translate the New Testament into English; as also the five books of Moses (he bing then an exile in Germany for his religion). Be he lost all his papers by a shipwreck in his passage to Hamburgh, and had his work to begin again; which yet that faithful and most unwearied servant of God did accomplish, adding some prefaces to the several books, and some notes to the particular chapters and verses; the publishing of which much nettled the popish bishops in England, and all means were then used to supress it. Amongst others, the then bishop of London advised with one Packington a merchant of that city concerning the most accommodte mean to that design. The merchant could think of none so probable, as with a sum of money to buy up the whole impression. The bishop approving it, furnished him with a round sum for that purpose; which the merchant (being more a friend to Mr. Tindall that the bishop knew) sent to Mr. Tindal, and had the impression sent him (some few copies being (as we must imagine) first sold off). With this money Mr. Tindall supported himself in his exile, and was also enabled togo on with his translation of the other part of the Bible, and to prepare a perfect English Bible. Sculteri Annales in anno 1532. In the meantime, a passage happened so pleasant, that I shall think it worth the while here to relate it: Sir Thomas More being lord chancellor, and having several persons accused for heresy, and ready for execution, offered to compound with one of them for his life, upon the easy terms of his discovery to him who they were in London that maintained Tindall beyond sea. After that the poor man had got as good a security for his life as the honour and truth of the chancellor could give him, he told him it was the bishop of London maintained him, by sending him a sum of money to buy up the impression of his Testaments. The chancellor smiled, saying that he believed he said true. George Constantine. Thus was the poor confessor's life saved. But to return to our story. In the year 1536 Mr. Tindall was martyred at Villefort in Flanders, for translating into English the New Testament and part of the Old (saith Sir Richrd Baker). But his great adversary, Sir Thomas More, was the year before gone to his own place, being executed for treason. Mr. Tindall and Mr. Coverdale, (as Mr. Fox telleth us,) before Mr. Tindall's death, had translated the whole Bible. Baker's Chronicle, p. 282. But it came not out till after his death, under the name of Thomas Matthews (with the addition of the Apocrypha, translated by John Rogers). The Lord Cromwell, with Archbishop Crammer, presented it to the king, and obtained an order from his majesty for leave for any of his subjects to read it; but this was not with the great regret of the bishops.
1540 About thirteen years after this (or not so much) the Lord Cromwell obtained letters from King Henry VIII for a subject of his reprint at Paris the Bible in English; the king also wrote a letter to Bonner (at that time his ambassador in France) to further it. Frafton and Whitchurch undertook the work, upon what seeming encouragement from Bonner may be read in Mr. Fox's 2nd vol of his Martyrology, pref. 1641, p. 515, 516. But how it came to pass I cannot tell, (though Bonner's treachery was suspected in the case,) when it was upon the point finished, the copies were seized, and ordered to be burnt, and the work had wholly ceased but for the covetousness of the officer, who sold four great dry fats filled with them to a haberdasher to lay caps in. By this means having recovered some copies, they came to London, and there made a new impression.
But after this, my Lord Cromwell being put to death, the bishops and popish party made so great complaint to the king, (whose warmth for the Reformation much abated in the latter part of his life,) that the sale of the English bible was again prohibited, and the printer imprisoned; and although the bishops promised the king they would make a more correct translation, yet it was never done during that king's reign.
But in the year of our Lord 1577, which was the nineteenth or twentieth of the reign of Queen Elzabeth, some bishops published a new translation; but till that time the bibles used in churches were Tindall's and Coverdale's, being allowed by the public authority of King Edward VI., 1549-1552. And to this day the Psalms in our Service Book are according to Tindall's and Coverdales's Bibles; which should make us wary in our censures of that translation, though we see reason in many things to dissent from it. Only we having a more correct translation established by authority, why (for the avoiding the offence of the less knowing people) we have not made use of that, but retained a tranlation not undertaken by any public authority, and confessed to be more imperfect, is what I cannot, nor count myself obliged to account for. Possibly God for the honour of his martyr hath so ordered it.
After this, King James coming to the crwon, being a prince of great learning and judgment, and observing the different usage of some words in his age from the usage of then In King Henry VIII or in Queen Elizabeth's time, and also the several mistakes (though of a minute nature) in those more ancient versions, was pleased to employ divers learned men in making a new translation, which is that which at this day is generally used. With what reverence to former translators, what labor, and care, and pains they accomplished their work, the reader may see at large in their preface prefixed to those copies that are printed in folio, and in their epistle to King James in our Bibles of a lesser form; of which translation (though it may not be with its more minute error) yet I think it may be said that it is hardly exceeded by that of any other church.
By this history (reader) thou mayst understand the mighty workings of Divide Providence, and wonderful goodness of God to this nation in the plenty we have of Bible, and that of a very correct translation (though possibly not in every little thing perfect). Mr. Fox (if we remember right) tells us a story of two maids in Lincolnshire, that in Queen Mary's time parted with a considerable part of their estate for a few leaves of the bible. How good is God to us, that we for a few shillings can have the whole revelation of the Divine will! upon which account we offer it to the consideration of any thinking English man or woman, what he or she will answer for his or her ignorance in the Holy Scriptures, or for the ignorance of his or her children, if (having so much means as we have to learn to read) and shall neglect the teaching of their children to read it, or learning themselves, in case their parents have neglected then; or, being able to read, shall neglect the practice of it, in excercising himself in the law of the Lord day and night, and living up to the rule of it. The English bible is come to us at the price of the blood of one martyr, and the unwearied labour of a multitude of holy and learned men, succeeding one another for more than sixty years, before we had the translation so perfect as now it is in all hands.
Poor Christians in popish countries either have not this pot of spiritual food, or must cry out, "Death is in the pot." Our English translators in their preface observe, that of late the church or Rome would seem to bear something of a monthly affection to her children, and allow them the Scriptures in the mother tongue, but it is indeed a gift not worthy of its name. They must first get a licence in writing before they use them, and, to get that, they must approve themselves to their confessors to be such as are, if not frozen in dregs, yet soured with the leaven, of their superstition. Yet this seemed toom much to Clement the Eighth, who therefore frustrated the grant of Pius the Fourth. They will allow none to be read but the Doway bibles, and the Rhemish Testaments, (the corruptions of which have been sufficiently manifested by many learned men,) now will they trust their people with these without the licence of their own bishops and inquistors. This is the liberty they boast of giving to any of their religion to read the Scriptures in English; what it is worth let any man judge.
In the mean time, those who are not affected with the mercy of God to us in this particular, must declare themselves neither to have any just valaue for God in the mighty workings of his providence to bring this about; nor yet for the blood of holy Mr. Tindall, who died in his testimony to this truth, that no people ought to be deprived of so great a good; nor for the labours and pains of those many servants of God who travailed in this great work, and thought no labour in it too much; nor indeed for their own souls, to the slavation ow which, if the Holy Scriptures in our language doth not highly contribute, we must lay the blame upon ourselves.
But although we have the Bible in a language we understand, yet we may see reason to cry out as Bernard does with reference to the Song of Solomon, Here is an excellent nut, but who shall crack it? heavenly bread, but who shall break it? For though the papists and such as have ill will to the good of souls make too great an improvement of the difficulties in holy writ, in making them an argument against the people's having them in a language which they can understand; (for Augustine said true when he said, There are fords in them wherein lambs may wade, as well as depths in which elephants may swim;) and what others observe is as true, that things necessary to be believed or done in order to salvation, lied plain and obvious in holy writ: yet it is as true, that there is much of holy writ of which the generality of people must say as the eunuch, "How can I understand, except some man should guide me!" Act 8:31; hard to say what book of Scripture is so plain that every one who runneth can read it with understanding (such a vast difference there is betwixt the capacities of those who yet have the same honest hearts). This hath made wise and learned men not only see a need of larger commentaries, but also of shorter notes, annotations, and paraphrses, &c. Nor is this a late discovery. It is upward of three hundred years since Lyra wrote his short notes upon the whole Bible. What Vatablus and Erasmus (though all of them papists) have done since is sufficiently known, to say nothing of many others of that religion. Amongst the Reformed churches, there hath been a learned Piscator in Germany, Junius and Tremellius elsewhere, who did the same things; but all these wrote their notes in Latin, not in the peculiar language of any country. The ancientest notes we have in English were those ordinarily known by the name of the Geneva Notes, after two years labour finished 1560, by those good men who, flying from Queen Mary's persecution, took sanctuary there. A work so acceptable to protestants in the beginning of our Reformation, that their Bible with with those Notes annexed was (as is observed by the authors of our Late English Annotations) printed above thirty times over by Queen Elizabeth's printers and their heirs and successors. There wanted not one indeed who fifty years after boldly reflected on that excellent work in the most public pulpit of our University of Oxford; but how grateful his reflections were to the University at that time may be read in the preface to the English Annotations: he was in the same pulpit checked and confuted by the doctor of the chair, and suspended by the governors of the University. The labours of Erasmus in his Paraphrase on the New Testament were so acceptable, that by public order they were to be in every church exposed to public view and use, and (if we mistake not) ought to be so still. After these, were published Diodate's Notes written in Italian, since translated into English. About the year 1640 some deliberations were taken for the composing and printing other English notes (the old Geneva Notes not so well fitting our new and more correct translation of the bible). These were at first intended to be so short, that they might be printed together with our bibles in folio or quarto. But those divines who were engaged in it found this would not answer their end; it being not possible by so short notes to give people any tolerable light into the whole text; yet we cannot say it gave so general a satisfaction (by reason of the shortness of it) as was desired and expected. So as upon the second edition it came forth quite a new thing, making just two just volumes. This was so acceptable to the world, that within sixteen years it was ready for a third edition, with some further enlargements; before which also were published the Dutch Annotations translated into our language.
So that at this day (besides the shorter Geneva Notes) we have three sorts of annotations in our own language; those of famous Diodate, the Dutch Annotations, and those of our own divines (originally so wrote). After which, new annotations may seem superfluous. It seems therefore reasonable that we should give our readers some short account of our undertaking. We dare say nothing could be farther from the thoughts of our reverend brother (now at rest with God) who at first began this work, than to reflect any dishonour upon those eminent persons who laboured before in works of this nature, nor is any thing further from our thoughts. (They all of them did famously in their generations.) And if it should appear to any of our readers that any of us have seen further into any particular texts than those did who went before us, yet we hope all our readers will understand there is little honour due to us upon that account, because we had all their shoulders to stand upon.
The pains which our reverend brother (o makapithv) took in his Synopsis Critocorum is such, as not only will make his name live in the churches of Christ, but also eminently fitted him for giving the sense of the whole Scripture in Annotations of this nature, which he undertook and carried on by his own hand to the 58th of Isaiah, designing that two volumes should comprehend the whole, and that the first should determine with his notes upon the Song of Solomon. What occasioned his first thoughts and undertaking himself tells us in his paper of proposals published with reference tot hat work, in these words: "But although there are many excellent comments upon divers parts of the Scripture, and some entire comments, or large annotations, upon the whole, in the English tonguel yet because of the too much brevity of some, and the unequal composure of others, as being done by divers hands, and the prolixity of those that have been written upon particular books, it hath been often and earnestly wished that there were some short and full comment, wherein all those passages which need the help of an interpretoer might be sufficiently cleared," &c. As the first edition of our English Annotations, after which followed the translation of those of the learned Diodate into our language, and then those of the Low Country divines of Holland, (though all of them deservedly valuable,) seemed much too short to satisfy the thirst of many pious souls after the fuller knowledge of the Scriptures; so the larger edition of our English Annotations seems capable of some amendments, by which they might be made more serviceable to those that use them, especially in these particulars.
1. The whole text is not printed in them, so as those who will use then must make use of a Bible also for the understanding of them. Our reverend brother (with whom also we concur) rightly judged that it would be of more advantage to have the entire text in the reader's eye while he is seeking the sense of any particular place, and while he reads a chapter to have a commentary under his eyes in which he might find the sense of any part or it, and satisfy himself as to any difficulty occurring it it.
2. As some (very eminently learned men) had been too large in those Annotations, (saying almost all that hath been said by any upon the texts they handled,) so others had been as much too short, and that expecially in the New Testament (which seems to Christians to need the fullest explication); and others, from their variety of learning, had mixed several quotations out of the fathers, and critical and philogical notions, possibly not so proper for the end for which such annotations are designed, which is to give the unlearned Christians the true sense of the Holy Scriptures, that those who can, might read and understand the will of God.
That our reader may not mistake our design or undertaking, we desire that he should know, that we do not pretend (as some have vainly fancied) to translate Mr. Pool's Synopsis Criticorum; that would have asked six volumes instead of two; and when it had been done, would have signified very little, unless for thos who (being learned men) needed no such translation: possibly in a whole leaf of that book six lines would not serve our purpose. Nor have we had any ambition either to say something that none had said before us, (we have observed that those who have had such an itch have for the most part happened to say what those who came after then would not subscribe,) nor yet to say all that we hinted the senses which in our judgment have seemed fairest, and least constrained, and shortly showed the consonancy of them to other scriptures. We have avoided all polemical discourses, as no way proper to our design, and very rarely hinted those practical conclusions which have arose from the text when opened (the most we have done of that nature is in our discourses upon the parables).
Our reverend brother (designing but two volumes, and the first to end with the Song of Solomon, though since it hath been determined to conclude it with the prophet Isaiah, that all which he lived to finish might be comprehended in one volume) had a hard task to contract his discourses so as to bring them within that compass, and thereby was necessistated not to give the entire sense of each verse in his notes, but only of those words or terms in the verse which he conceived to stand in need of explication, referring by letters in the text to the parts of the commentary. This was not neccessary in such parts of the Scripture where the entire sense of the whole text is given; nor indeed as to some parts is it possible (such we mean as are opened harmonically); of which nature are the three first evangelists. It is confessed by all, that the evangelists make up but one entire history, though some of them have some things which the others have not, and they seldom agree in the phrases and circumstances of any one piece of history. This made it reasonable that, with the interpretation of one evangelist, should be joined what the others had with reference to the same piece of history; which method hath been accordingly pursued (being the same in which the most judicious Mr. Calvin and others have gone before us); not indeed could any other course have been taken without a needless writing the same things over and over again; so as that in our notes upon Mark we have only enlarged in the explication of what he hath which we did not meet with before in Matthew; and in the explication of Luke, we have only opened what he hath which was not in Matthew or Mark. Where they all three concurred, or but two of them concurred, in any story, we have opened what they all or both say in our notes upon the first of them; and when we have come to it again in one or both the other, we have only referred to our former notes. John (having little which the other evangelists have) we have considered by himself mostly, yet sometimes taking in something from him, where we found it completory of any thing related by the other evangelists.
In magnis voluisse sat est. We cannot say that we have left no room for others to come after us, and add to or correct what we have said. But this we can say in truth, that we have not willingly balked any obvious difficulty, and have designed a just satisfaction to all our readers; and if any knot remain yet untied, we have told our readers what hath been most probably said for their satisfaction in the untying of it.
If it had pleased God to have lent a little longer life to our reverend brother, the work had very probably been done to greater advantage, and more general satisfaction. We are but entered upon his harvest, and have wanted his sickle; we cannot pretend to any double portion of his spirit. His mantle dropped from him before he was translated (we mean his Synopsis). We have taken that up; out of that great work of his we have taken so much as we judged proper for his design in this work, and made use of great number of other authors, some of which he left out, or very little considered, in his Synopsis, upon design to make a further use of them in this English work, as thinking their labours more proper for this than his other work.
Our design, good reader, was not to tell thee how the fathers interpreted texts, (Aquinas, Justinianus, and others have done that work,) nor yet to tell thee any grammatical niceties, or what learned men have critically noted upon terms or phrases, (that is done in the Synopsis Criticorum,) nor yet to tell thee what conclusions of truth may be raised from the verses, (that hath been done profitably upon many books of Scripture by Mr. Dickson, Hutchinson, Fergusson, Guild, Durham, and some others,) much less to handle the controversies that have risen from any portion of Scripture. Our work hath been only to give thee the plain sense of the Scripture, and to reconcile seeming contradictions where they occurred, and as far as we were able to open scripture by scriptue, which is its own best interpreter, comparing things spiritual with spiritual, "that thy faith might not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the wisdom and power of God." If we have reached this end, it is all we aimed at; if thous gettest any good by what we have done, remember thy sacrifice is due at another altar, even His who "ministreth seed to the sower," who both watereth the furrows of the field, and blesseth the springing of the corn; let Him have the praise, and we only thy prayers, that we may live a useful life, and die a happy death, and "attain to the resurrection of the dead," in which we shall all see and understand more perfectly than we yet do.