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called the first is a maxim, the second a fact. Here we have falsehood employed to establish error. Hear the maxim : Now," says our author, "the rule for understanding words is this; what must be the meaning of the word" (a", &c.) “in many places, and what may be the meaning in all, is the true sense of the same."
The second is a fact: that in many places of the Old and New Testaments, the original words translated forever, forever and ever, and eternal, have, and from the nature of the subject must have, a limited signification.
(1.) By the help of such a rule, you may establish any system of doctrine, or science, however preposterous. Like every other principal argument used by that writer, it is a petitio principii, a begging of the question, a mere assertion of the thing to be proved, and then proving his point by his assertion. He takes it for granted, that the words à, avis, &c. may, in all places of the sacred volume where they are used, signify a limited duration; and then affirms, that because they may, they must. Supposing the premises true, the conclusion could not follow; but they are false; otherwise the words Пveμatos aviov, Eternal Spirit, Heb. ix. 14, must signify a being of limited duration : and avios Can, must signify a life that will certainly come to an end. Taking that rule then as our guide in interpreting the words which we render eternal, &c. we are compelled to give them always a limited meaning: consequently, we should have no warrant for believing the Deity to be eternal in his existence, nor any ground of hope that the life of the blessed in glory would not at some period come to an end.
Further: beside the strong negative terms before cited, in which the Lord Jesus solemnly denounces the endless doom of the wicked, he and his apostles employ the very same terms to express the eternity of future misery, as to set forth the eternity of God and the eternity of the heavenly glory.* It is, therefore, a false assertion of Mr. W. " that the felicity of the righteous is promised in much stronger language than the misery of the wicked is threatened in the scriptures." Stronger expressions cannot be found in the compass of the Greek language, to describe eternal duration, than those applied frequently to the perpetuity of future punishments.
(2.) With regard to the fact, that the words forever, forever and ever, eternal, &c. are often applied to things in their own nature perishable, or destined to come to an end, we grant it; but the meaning is always easily determined by the subject.
* See the whole of Matt. xxv. 46; also, Matt xviii. 8; Mark iii. 29; 2 Thes. i. 9; Jude, verse 6th, where the punishment of sinning angels is described by their being bound with depoio didio, eternal chains; and see Luke xvi. 26, and Rev. xiv. 10, 11.
449 Sometimes eternity is attributed to those beings which are as old as the world ; thus we read of everlasting hills, or mountains of eternity. Sometimes it is put for a duration as long as the nature of the thing in question can permit; thus it is said that a servant who would not accept his liberty in the seventh year of his servitude, should serve his master forever, (Exod. xxi. 6,) that is until the time of the jubilee, for then the Jewish republic was new-modelled, and all slaves were set free. Sometimes it expresses any thing perfect in its kind and which hath no succession; thus the priesthood of Melchizedek, and that of Christ,
h of which the first was a shadow, abide continually, or forever ; Heb. vii. 3. This term then must be taken in a metaphorical
. . sense in the three following cases :
“ 1. When that which is called eternal in one place, is said in another to come to an end ; thus it was said that the ceremonial law was to endure forever. This expression must not be taken literally, for all the prophets informed their countrymen that the ceremonial economy was to end, and to give up to a better. Now the holy scripture does not restrain in any one passage what it establisheth in others, concerning the eternity of future punishments.
“ 2. A metaphorical sense must be given to the term, when the sacred history assures us that what it calls eternal has actually come to an end; thus it is plain the fire of Sodom was not eternal, for sacred history informs us it was extinguished after it had consumed that wicked city; and it is called eternal, only because it burned till Sodom was all reduced to ashes; Jude 7. But what history can engage us to understand in this sense the eternity attributed to the torments of the wicked ?
“ 3. The term must be taken metaphorically, when the subject spoken of is not capable of a proper eternal duration, as in the case just now mentioned, that a mortal servant should eternally serve a mortal master. But the eternity of future punishment, in a strict literal sense, implies no contradiction, and perfectly agrees with the objects of our contemplation."*
The sentence pronounced by our Lord against Judas, Matt. xxvi. 24, “ It had been good for that man if he had not been born,” has occasioned the advocates of universal salvation inextricable difficulties. The evident meaning of that sentence, and the wo that preceded it, is, that the betrayer would suffer eternal pains ; for no punishment of finite duration could justify the assertion that his being would be worse than non-existence. On the supposition that that traitor shall suffer the wrath of God for many millions of ages, and after this period ascend to eternal glory and felicity, his existence will be, in the aggregate,
* Saurin's Sermon on Rev. xiv, 11. Vol. II.-Presb. Mag.
an infinite blessing; as much to be preferred before non-existence, as eternity exceeds a limited number of ages. In that case the “ Faithful and True” spoke that which was contrary to truth concerning his enemy.
To avoid this horrid consequence, Mr. W. runs into an absurdity that proclaims at once the laxity of its author's principles, and the ruinous state of his cause. “I am of opinion (says he) that even worldly troubles, short as they are, may sufficiently justify the expression. There are a thousand circumstances, into which the children of Adam fall, that make their case infinitely worse than though they had never been born, even without supposing a state of future punishment at all."
Does not the common sense of mankind save us the trouble of refuting an assertion like this? Does not so bold a misrepresentation of truth discredit the doctrine it is designed to support? Can any believer in Divine revelation receive an error which drives its followers to these profane quibbles on the sacred word ? Let the Universalist choose which side he will of the following alternative, and he must renounce his error or remain in wilful delusion: Either the words of Christ are false or the doctrine of universal salvation is false. For, if the sentence of our Lord on his betrayer is true, Judas will suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
6. Having disposed of the leading topics of defence, taken by our adversaries from the scriptures, we proceed to consider one remaining objection to eternal punishment grounded on the supposition of its injustice. It is affirmed that endless misery is beyond all proportion to the sins committed in the short period of human life. Plausible as this objection appears, it is founded on a principle that few consciences are blind enough to allow correct, viz. that the wickedness of a sinful action is proportional to the time occupied in committing it. Such a rule for estimating the evil of sin, had never been conceived, if reason had not first been perverted to the service of falsehood. The most horrid crimes have been perpetrated within the compass of a few moments. One hour perhaps sealed the doom of Judas. A day only was required for the commission of a crime which involved the whole Jewish people in calamities the most direful and durable that ever fell upon any nation.
To estimate the evil of sin and its consequent desert of punishment, we must take into view not only the time consumed in the perpetration, but two other considerations of unspeakably greater weight:
1st, The authority opposed; and 2d, the obligations violated. The authority opposed in every instance of sin, whether in act or principle, is the authority of the King of kings. Who but God shall estimate the evil of this opposition? Who but the Judge of all the earth shall ascertain the degree or the duration of the punishment due to the rebellious ?
The obligations which sin always violates, are infinitely higher than any that can subsist between man and man. The sovereign Creator, the kind Preserver, the gracious Redeemer of man, has claims upon our obedience which our most elevated conceptions in this state of our being will never reach.
G. W. J.
LECTURES ON BIBLICAL HISTORY.
“Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee : be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee." GENESTS, xxvii. 28, 29.
Isaac, though a man of eminent piety, was a man of affliction. It must have been matter of grief to him that Esau, his favourite son, discovered strong symptoms of profaneness, not only by selling his birthright, but by marrying into an idolatrous family. On one occasion we find him driven from Canaan by famine, and obliged to take up his abode for a season in the land of Philistia. There, by the good hand of the Lord, his wants were liberally supplied ; but his prosperity soon drew upon him the envy of the Philistines; and, for many years, in the latter part of his life, he appears to have been entirely blind. Finding himself unable, in this condition, to superintend the affairs of his family, and the concerns of religion, he wished to resign the care of those weighty matters to Esau; but, by the overruling providence of God, the solemn charge was devolved on Jacob, in the words of our text, “ God give thee of the dew of heaven,” &c. One design of the present lecture is to inquire into the import of this blessing. But, before we proceed, two or three questions, arising out of the history of the affair, seem to demand some notice. Why was Jacob preferred to Esau, in the divine purpose ? How came Isaac to be under a mistake respecting the decree of heaven in that matter; or, if he understood it, why did he aim to frustrate it? What are we to think of the imposition practised, by Rebekah and Jacob, on Isaac, in correcting his mistake? And how can we justify the conduct of Providence in permitting its design to be carried into effect, by such means as were used in this case ?
The first question we cannot solve except by referring the choice of Jacob, in preference to Esau, to the good pleasure of God. Jehovah is free and independent in all his designs and in all his dispensations; all creatures are his, and he has a right to dispose of them as he sees fit. On this obvious principle, had the preference in question respected the eternal and immutable condition of Isaac's sons, in a future state, we know of no good ground on which we could find fault with it: but, in our opinion, the preference was not so extensive in its design as to determine the everlasting destiny of either Jacob or Esau. No such inference can be fairly deduced from the divine declaration respecting them, while yet in their mother's womb : “The one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.' God designed that Jacob, and not Esau, should form the next link after Isaac in the chain of our Lord's lineage, according to the flesh; and that the younger, instead of the elder, should succeed the father in the chief management of religious and ecclesiastical matters. But this design no more determined that Esau should perish eternally, than the calling of Abraham determined the everlasting destruction of all the rest of mankind then living. It is true that Esau, so far as we are made acquainted with his character, appears to have been a wicked man; and if he served sin in the lusts thereof, he no doubt received its wages, which is death ; but Jacob's being preferred, and destined to rule over him, in the family and in the church, imposed on him no necessity to be profane and do wickedly.
As to the second question which presents us with this alternative, viz. That Isaac was either ignorant of the divine purpose, assigning the paternal blessing to Jacob; or, knowing the decree, he aimed to frustrate it; we think it would be unjust and uncharitable to impute to him a wish to defeat or oppose the will of God in that matter, had he rightly understood it. We suppose, therefore, that he was in an error—that he verily believed Esau, as the first-born, was entitled by custom to the blessing; and, accordingly, would have conferred it upon him had not Providence interposed. That Isaac's error was altogether blameless, in this instance, we do not assert; he may not have been as attentive as he should have been to the indications of the divine will; and, as he was evidently partial to Esau, his passionate fondness for a favourite son may have darkened his views of duty, and led him to mistake his own wishes for the will of his Maker. He seems to have been convinced ultimately of his error, and to have acquiesced in the divine disposal of the blessing, without murmuring: for upon Esau's application for the benediction, which had just been given to Jacob, the father says firmly, yet feelingly, as if sensible that he had heretofore been fighting against God, “ I have blessed him, i. e. Jacob, yea, and he shall be blessed.”
As to the intrigue and falsehood employed by Rebekah and Jacob, in this affair, we have no apology to make for them: