« PreviousContinue »
conmon writings of men, and even the holy book of God sufficiently manifest.
2dly, Equivocal words are usually distinguished, according to their original, into such whose various senses arise from mere chance or accident, and such as are made equivocal by design; as the word bear signifies a shaggy beast, and it signifies also to bear or carry a burden: this seems to be the mere effect of chance: but if I call my dog, bear, because he is shaggy, or call one of the northern constellations by that name, from a fancied situation of the stars in the shape of that animal, then it is by design that the word is made yet farther equivocal.
But because I think this common account of the spring or origin of equivocal words is too slight and imperfect, I shall reserve this subject to be treated of by itself, and proceed to the third division.
3dly, Ambiguous, or equivocal words, are such as are sometimes taken in a large and general sense, and sometimes in a sense more strict and limited, and have different ideas affixed to them accordingly. Religion, or virtue, taken in a large sense, includes both our duty to God and our neighbour; but in a most strict, limited, and proper sense, virtue signifies our duty towards men, and religion our duty to God. Virtue may yet be taken in the strictest sense, and then it signifies power or courage, which is the sense of it in some places in the New Testament. grace, taken in a large sense, means the favour of God, and all the spiritual blessings that proceed from it, (which is a frequent sense of it in the Bible) but in a limited sense it significs the habit of holiness wrought in us by divine favour, or a complex idea of the Christian virtues. It may be also taken in the strictest sense; and thus it signifies any single Christian virtue, as in 2 Cor. viii. 6, 7, where it is used for liberality. So a city, in a strict and proper sense, means the houses inclosed within the walls : in a larger sense it reaches to all the suburbs.
This larger and stricter sense of a word is used in almost all the sciences, as well as in theology, and in common life. The word geography, taken in a strict
sense, signifies the knowledge of the circles of the earthly globe, and the situation of the varions parts of the earth; when it is taken in a little larger sense, it includes the knowledge of the seas also; and in the largest sense of all, it extends to the various customs, habits, and governments of nations. When an astronomer uses the word star in its proper and strict sense, it is applied only to the fixed stars, but in a large sense, it includes the planets also.
This equivocal sense of words belongs also to many proper vanes; so Asja, taken in the largest sense, is. one quarter of the world; in a more limited sense it signifies Natolia, or the lesser Asia; but in the strictest sense it means no more than one little province of Natolia, where stood the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, &c.
And this is the most frequent sense of it in the New Testameut. Blanders and Holland, in a strict sense, are but two single proviac s among the seventeen; but, in a large sense, Holland includes seven of them, and Flanders ten.
There are also some very common and little words in all languages, that are used in a more extensive or more limited sense; such as all, every, whatsoever, &c. When the apostle says, all men have sinned, and all men must die, all is taken in its most universal and extensive sense, including all mankind, Rom. v. 12. When he appoints prayer to be made for all men, it appears by the following verses, that he restrains the word all to signify chiefly all ranks and degrees of men, 1 Tim, ii. 1. But when St. Paul says, I please all men in all things, 1 Cor. x. 33. the word all is exceedingly limited, for it reaches no farther than that he pleased all those men whom he conversed with, in all things that were lawful.
4tbly, Equivocal words are in the fourth place distinguished by their literal or figurative sense. Words are used in a proper or literal sense when they are de signed to signify those ideas for which they were originally made, or to which they are primarily and generally annexed; but they are used in a figurative or tropical sense, when they are made to signify some things, which only bear either a reference or a resem, blance to the primary ideas of them. So when two princes contend by their armies, we say they are at war in a proper sense; but when we say there is a war betwixt the winds and the waves in a storm, this is called figurative, and the peculiar figure is a metaphor. So when the scriptures say, riches make themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle toward heaven, the wings and the flight of the eagle are proper expressions; but when flight and wings are applied to riches, it is only by way of figure and metaphor. So when man is said to repent, or laugh, or grieve, it is literally taken; but when God is said to be grieved, to repent, or laugh, &c. these are all figurative expressions, borrowed from a resemblance to mankind. And when the words Job or Esther are used to signify those very persons, it is the literal sense of them; but when they signify those two books of scripture, this is a figurative sense. The names of Horace, Juvenal, and Milton, are used in the same manner, either for books or men.
When a word, which originally signifies any particular idea or object, is attributed to several other objects, not so much by way of resemblance, but rather on the account of some evident reference or relation to the original idea, this is sometimes peculiarly called an analogical word; so a sound or healthy pulse, a sound digestion, sound sleep, are so called, with reference to a sound and healthy constitution; but if you speak of sound doctrine, or sound speech, this is by way of resemblance to health, and the words are metaphorical; yet many times analogy and metaphor are used promiscuously in the same sense and not distinguished.
Here note, that the design of metaphorical language and figures of speech is not merely to represent our ideas, but represent them with vivacity, spirit, affection, and power; and though they often make a deeper impression on the mind of the hearer, yet they do as often lead him into a mistake, if they are used at improper times and places. Therefore, where the desigu of the speaker or writer, is merely to explain, to instruct, and to lead into the knowledge of naked
truth, he ought for the most part, to use plain and proper words, if the language affords them, and vot to deal much in figurative speech. But this sort of terms is used very profitably by poets and orators, whose business is to move, and persuade, and work on tbe passions as well as on the understanding. Figures are also bappily employed in proverbial moral sayings by the wisest and the best of men, to impress them deeper on the memory by sensible images ; and tliey are often used for other valuable purposes in the sacred writings.
5thly, I might adjoin another sort of equivocal words; as there are some which have a different meaning in common langnage, from what they have in the sciences; the word passion signifies the receiving any action in a large philosophical sense; iu a more limited philosophical sense, it signifies any of the affections of human nature, as love, fear, joy, sorrow, &c. But the common people confiue it only to anger. So the word simple philosophically signifies single, but vulgarly it is used for foolish.
6thly, Other equivocal words are used sometimes in an absolute sense, as when God is called perfect, wbich allows of no defect: and sometimes in a coinparative sense, as good men are oftentimes calied perfect in scripture, in comparison of those who are much inferior to them in kuowledge or holiness : but I have dwelt rather too long upon this subject already, therefore I add no more. Sect. VIII.-- The Origin or Causes of equivocal Words.
Now, that we may become more skilful in guarding ourselves and others against the dangers of mistake which may arise from equivocal words, it may not be amiss to conclude this chapter with a short account of the various ways or means whereby a word changes its siguification, or acquires any new sense, and thus becomes equivocal, especially if it keeps its old sense also.
1. Mere chance sometimes gives the same word different senses; as the word light signifies a body that is not heavy; and it also signifies the effect of sunbeams, or the medium whereby we see objects; this is merely accidental, for there seems to be no connexion between these two senses, nor any reason for them.
2. Error and mistake is another occasion of giving various senses to the same word : as when different persons read the name of priest, bishop, church, Easter, &c. in the New Testament, they affix different ideas to them, for want of acquaintance with the true meaning of the sacred writer; though it must be confessed, these various senses, which might arise at first from honest mistake, may be culpably supported and propagated by interest, ambition, prejudice, and a party-spirit on any side.
3. Time and custom alters the meaning of words, Knave heretofore signified a diligent servant (Gnavus); and a villain was a nearer tenant to the lord of the manor (Villicus); but now both these words carry an idea of wickedness and reproach with them. A bal. lad once signified a solemn and sacred song, as well as one that is trivial, when Solomon's Song was called the ballad of ballads; but now it is applied to nothing but trifling verse, or comical subjects.
4. Words change their sense by figures and meta. phors, which are derived from some real analogy or resemblance between several things: as when wings and flight are applied to riches, it signifies only, that the owner may as easily lose them, as he would lose a bird who flew away with wings.
And I think under this head, we may rank those words which signify different ideas, by a sort of an unaccountable far-fetched analogy, or distant resem. blance that fancy has introduced between one thing and another; as when we say, the meat is green, when it is half-roasted: we speak of airing linen by the fire, when we mean drying or warming it: we call for round coals for the chimney, when we mean large square ones : and we talk of the wing of a rabbit when we mean the fore-leg: the true reason of these appellations we leave to the critics.
5. Words also change their sepse by the special occasion of using them, the peculiar manner of pronun