John Wesley, servant of the Lord in his church which Paul founded, unto the wayfaring pilgrim John Wesley Worthy.
Grace in Our Precious Lord, whose blood was shed by pious men!
I was struck by your remarks to the modern heathen in praise of that ancient heathen. I grant you that certain of the Ancients might yet achieve salvation (father Luther allows that Cicero's belief in the immortal soul might save him), but I have heard no such encomium on Wolfgang Goethe, a notorious unbeliever whom you dare mention in the same breath with Saint Paul!
Indeed, I took strong exception to your lumping the Canon together with other "Great Books" and "classics." I say, I took exception, for now I do begin to wonder. The Canon being defined as a "corpus of authoritative sacred literature," I had to ask myself what precisely delimits the sacred? Saint Paul's definition is as generous as one might care to hear:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Such a careful writer as Paul must be taken at his word. He is a learned man, a Roman well read both in the ancient Hebrew as well as in the ancient Greek. Surely the comprehensive expression "whatsoever things were written aforetime," must be taken seriously. Paul is first of all a consummate Jewish scholar. His purpose here is to demonstrate how Christ's sayings accord with Psalms, the Prophets, and with ancient Jewish heritage as elsewhere attested, viz, the Old Testament.
But you go further. You find a very simple principle in these Pauline words. I have in all humility reflected upon it. Together with so many generations before me, I have been referring Paul's "comfort of the scriptures" to the Old Testament, then by extension to the entire Bible. "Scriptures" has become in English so synonymous with "Bible" that we piously use a majuscle to write the word! But Saint Paul actually uses the word graphe, "writings," from the same stem he has just used for "things written aforetime." In order to replicate Saint Paul's Greek accurately in my English, I would have to say: "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of these writings might have hope." Now obviously Saint Paul is thinking about the Jewish writings, in which Christ himself was so steeped. But both Saint Paul and Jesus Christ are very learned men, able to discuss "comfort of the scriptures" with other learned men, as we observe Paul doing in Athens, for example. Surely this prophet to the heathen is the last man to whom we dare ascribe any parochial sense of sacred writings. When he contends with the Athenians about their tradition, he shows easy familiarity with Greek philosophers in his day already ancient "things written aforetime."
Thus you have caused me to speculate about "Scripture," which I had thought as familiar as the palm of my hand. I now ask whether Paul, apostle to the gentiles, when speaking of "comfort of the scriptures," does not mean all truly learned documents passed down to us from whatever cultural source. For what else does Saint Paul teach, if not that all mankind, whatever their origins (even "simian," as you charge), are God's Creature, and candidates for God's salvation?
Receive, dear namesake, the special blessing of
Postscriptum: Though I must admit that your letter to the self-professed heathen Goethe has raised yet other doubts in my mind, some of them quite dangerous. Do you really mean to suggest that it is Paul who tells us about Jesus? Not the Synoptic Gospels, who do precede Paul, do they not?
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or see the other correspondence with John Wesley.