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a more definite signification. It is a forensic a term, and applied to such as abandon the side they once advocated. Such, I have no doubt, is the meaning intended to be conveyed here; the allusion being to apostacy, or a deliberate abandonment of the Christian cause.
Little less than such a total dereliction of duty; such thorough and unprincipled forsaking of their Christian profession, as amounted even to hostility; could surely be implied by such very strong expressions as, “ crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, putting Him to open shame ”, “ treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace.”
Now that there would be “a falling away” in those times of peril and persecution, which so sorely oppressed the followers of Christ before the destruction of Jerusalem, was expressly foretold by our Lord. “ All these”; said He, in His prophetic enumeration of the evils that would come upon them at that fearful crisis ; “ all these are the beginning of
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.-And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” b
If any doubt can still exist, whether the sin of apostacy be not the heinous offence against which,
a See Schoettgen's Lexicon in v. b Matt. xxiv. 8-12.
and which alone, the denunciations so often mentioned were pointed, it must be removed, I think, by a careful examination of the context in the 10th chapter. The denunciation there is introduced in the following manner. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works : not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”—That is, as I interpret it, the approach of that awful consummation of the Mosaic ritual, and of the very existence of the Jewish state, which our Lord predicted so many years before. And this allusion to such an event, as still to take place, is not only strong internal evidence to the fact of this Epistle being written before the destruction of Jerusalem; but, coupled with the distinct mention of some who apostatized, reflects light upon the truth and precision of our Saviour's prophetic warnings. The remainder of the same chapter also affords additional proof, that the sin of “ apostacy” was present to the Writer's mind, when he spoke of
crucifying the Son of God afresh ”, and “ treading Him under foot”; for he not only suggests motives for continuing steadfast in the faith by reminding them of the manly and intrepid spirit, with which they had “ endured a great fight of afflictions”; but he concludes the whole with this remarkable contrast between such as resolutely adhered to their Christian profession, and such as shamefully forsook it. “ Now the just shall live by faith : but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But
we are not of them who draw back unto perdition ; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” a
It appears then that the terror, inspired at first sight by the fearful denunciation in the text and by similar passages in Scripture, will admit considerable abatement from the qualified sense, in which we have shewn that the word “impossible” may be used ; from the fact, that not merely wilful, but unrepented, sin, was alluded to; and from the peculiarly heinous nature of that sin.- We may now further inquire, whether all past misconstruction of these passages may not be completely rectified, and all unnecessary alarm to the pious Christian dispelled, by the peculiar circumstances of the time, when these passages were written.
No considerate reader of the New Testament can deny that there are declarations and exhortations ; expressions and arguments throughout its hallowed pages ; entirely confined to the very time, when they were spoken and written, and inapplicable to any other period of Christianity ;—at least, after its triumphant establishment upon the ruins of heathenism. —There may be a doubt about the number of such passages ; yet I believe, and have heretofore shewn, that the principle applies more generally than is usually imagined ; and I further believe that, if it were applied and admitted as it ought to be, it would diminish both the number and asperity of many controversies, which have lately been carried on with
a Hebr. x. 38, 39.
little increase of knowledge, and with great diminution of that, which is better than knowledge, I mean, charity.
Now no one can have a doubt about the restricted application of such passages as these: “Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes : and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say,
Peace be to this house.-And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give; for the labourer is worthy of his hire:-And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. In a subsequent part of our Lord's ministry, He refers to this charge, which He had given previously; but in terms equally incapable of any other than a temporary application. “He said unto them, when I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said He unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garments, and buy one.” b
No one surely can entertain a moments doubt respecting the local allusion and temporary obligation of such injunctions as these. It would indeed be very surprising, if passages of so confined a nature did not abound in the records of a Religion, which was originally taught in conversation, and subsequently explained in letters, full of allusion to controversial topics agitated at the very time. of opinion, that as little hesitation need be felt about the limited sense and peculiar exigency, which dictated such passages as the following ; although I am well aware, that all Christians are by no means agreed so to consider them; and that upon one or two of them in particular, a very amiable, but mistaken, sect has founded some of its remarkable deviations from habits and practices in daily use with other Christians.—“ Let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Again, at the close of the same Discourse from the Mount; “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed ? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek :) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added
a Luke x. 4-9.
b Ib. xxii. 35, 36.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” b
Such directions as these were pertinent and even necessary, in the infancy of the Gospel, when
every semblance of offence was to be most carefully avoided
a Matt. v. 37, sqq.
b Ib. vi. 31, &c.