INTRODUCTORY REMARKS TO HENRY'S COMMENTARY,
BY ARCHIBALD ALEXANDER, D.D.
Commentaries on the Bible may be conveniently divided into two kinds, the critical and practical. The first, by a grammatical analysis of the words and phrases of the original text, endeavor to ascertain the literal meaning of each passage; and to enable others to judge of the correctness of the interpretation, the whole critical process is spread before the reader. Helps of this sort are very important to the learned; for, in all cases, the literal sense must be determined before any proper use can be made of the text, or any other interpretation founded on it. The propriety, force, and meaning of a metaphor, or an allegory, can only be known by first understanding the literal meaning of the words employed; and the same is true in regard to what may be called the mystical, or spiritual meaning of any passage of Scripture. But, however necessary this critical analysis may be, it can be useful to none but the learned. Commentaries of another kind, therefore, are required for common readers, who have as deep an interest involved in the truths of the Bible as the critical scholar; and who are as much bound in duty to search the Scriptures: for as every man must give account of himself, both of his faith and practice, he must have the right to judge for himself. The best helps ought, therefore, to be provided, to enable all classes of men to form correct opinions on the all-important subject of religion. For this reason, many practical expositions, not only of detached passages and single books, but of the whole Bible, have been composed, and have been extensively useful in elucidating the Scriptures, and in teaching how the truths of Revelation may be applied to regulate the hearts, and direct the lives of men. In this class, Henry's Exposition holds a distinguished place. This work has now been before the Christian community for more than a hundred years, and has, from its first publication, been so well received, and is so generally approved, that all recommendation of the work itself seems to be now superfluous. It has, indeed, become a standard work in theology; not with the people of one denomination only, but with the friends of sound piety and evangelical religion, of every name. Many other valuable commentaries, it is true, have been given to the public since this work was first edited, and have deservedly gained for themselves a high estimation and extensive circulation. But it may be safely said that Henry's Exposition of the Bible has not been superseded by any of these publications; and in those points in which its peculiar excellence consists, remains unrivaled. For some particular purposes, and in some particular respects, other Commentaries may be preferable; but, taking it as a whole, and as adapted to every class of readers, this Commentary may be said to combine more excellences than any work of the kind which was ever written, in any language. And this is not the opinion of one, or a few persons, but thousands of judicious theologians have been of the same mind; and it may be predicted, that as long as the English language shall remain unchanged, Henry's Exposition will be highly appreciated by the lovers of true religion.
Our object in this Preface is, to endeavor to point out some of the more distinguishing characteristics of this great work, and to offer some motives to induce Christians of our country to study it. Before I proceed further, however, I would remark, that the principal excellence of this Exposition does not consist in solving difficulties which may be found in Scripture. On this ground, complaint is sometimes heard from those who consult this Commentary, that they may obtain light on obscure and perplexed passages, of being disappointed in their expectations; and that, while plain passages are largely expounded, those which are difficult are briefly touched, or passed over without notice. To this objection it may be answered, that to exhibit the use and application of those parts of Scripture which are not involved in difficulty, is far more important for practical purposes, than the elucidation of obscure passages. It is a general, and surely it is a comfortable fact, that those parts of Scripture which are most obscure are least important. But the same objection might be made, and indeed has been made, to all Commentaries, that they leave the difficult texts as obscure as they found them; from which the only legitimate inference is that in regard to a large portion of texts of difficult interpretation, the learned and unlearned stand very much on the same level; yet, doubtless, much light has been shed on many things in the Scriptures by the labors of the learned. And although we do not claim for this Commentator the highest place among Biblical critics, yet we have a right to say that Henry was a sound and ripe scholar; and especially, is said by his biographers, to have been an excellent Hebrew scholar. We are not to suppose, because no parade of critical learning is exhibited in these volumes, that the Author did not critically examine every text. As the Orator is said to practice the art of eloquence most perfectly when all appearance of art is concealed; so we may say that he makes the best use of the critical art in the instruction of the people, who furnishes them with the results, without bringing at all into view the learned process by which they were arrived at. One fact is certain from internal evidence, that Mr. Henry wrote his Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, with the learned compilation of Pool, called Criticorum Synopsis, open before him; as, in all difficult passages, he has judiciously selected that opinion from the many presented in this work, which, upon the whole, seems to be most probable.
But, while we contend that our Author is a sound and ingenious Expositor, as it relates to the literal interpretation of Scripture; yet we do not found his claim to preëminence on his critical acumen, or profound erudition, but on qualities which shall now be distinctly brought into view.