صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

were compared, and to which comparison these phrases relate, is now ceased, or is removed from our observation. Supposing, therefore, these expressions to have a perpetual meaning, and either forgetting the ori. ginal use of them, or finding that, at this time, in a great measure exhausted and insignificant, we resort to a sense and an application of them, easier, it may be, to our comprehension, but extremely foreign from the design of their authors, namely, to distinguish individuals amongst us, the professors of Christianity, from one another : agreeably to which idea the most flatteringofthese names, the “elect," "called,” “saints," have, by bold and unlearned men, been appropriated to themselves and their own party, with a presumption and conceit injurious to the reputation of our religion amongst “them that are without," and extremely disgusting to the sober part of its professors; whereas, that such titles were intended in a sense common to all Christian converts is well argued from many places in which they occur, in which places you may plainly substitute the terms convert, or converted, for the strongest of these phrases, without any alteration of the author's meaning, e. g.



of law before the unjust and not before the saints » (1 Cor. vi. 1.) “Is any man called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised” (1 Cor. vii. 18): “ The church that is at Babylon elected together with you saluteth you ” (1 Pet. v. 13): “Salute Andronicus and Junia, who were in Christ before me.” (Rom. xvi. 7.)

Thirdly; in opposition to the Jews, who were so much offended by the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, Saint Paul maintains, with great industry, that it was God Almighty's intention, from the first, to substitute at a fit season into the place of the rejected Israelites a society of men taken indifferently out of all

you go to

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

nations under heaven, and admitted to be the people of God upon easier and more comprehensive terms : this is expressed in the ` Epistle to the Ephesians,' as follows :—“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself, that, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ.” (Eph. i. 9, 10; also see Eph. iii. 5, 6.) This scheme of collecting such a society was what God foreknew before the foundation of the world; was what he did predestinate ; was the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus ; and, by consequence, this society, in their collective capacity, were the objects of this foreknowledge, predestination, and purpose; that is, in the language of the apostles, they were they “whom he did foreknow," they “whom he did predestinate” (Rom. viii. 29); they were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of

“ the world” (Eph. i. 4); they were “elect according

. to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” (1 Pet. i. 2.) This doctrine has nothing in it harsh or obscure. But what have we made of it? The rejection of the Jews, and the adopting another community into their place, composed, whilst it was carrying on, an object of great magnitude in the attention of the inspired writers who understood and observed it. This event, which engaged so much the thoughts of the apostle, is now only read of, and hardly that—the reality and the importance of it are little known or attended to. Losing sight, therefore, of the proper occasion of these expressions, yet willing, after our fashion, to adapt them to ourselves, and finding nothing else in our circumstances that suited with them, we have learnt at length to apply them to the final destiny of individuals at the day of judgment; and upon this foundation has been erected a doctrine which lays the axe at once to the root of all religion, that of an absolute appointment to salvation or perdition, independent of ourselves or anything we can do; and, what is extraordinary, those very arguments and expressions (Rom. chap. ix. x. xi.), which the apostle employed to vindicate the impartial mercies of God, against the narrow and excluding claims of Jewish prejudice, have been interpreted to establish a dispensation the most arbitrary and partial that could be devised.

Fourthly; the conversion of a grown person from Heathenism to Christianity, which is the case of conversion commonly intended in the epistles, was a change of which we have now no just conception : it was a new name, a new language, a new society; a new faith, a new hope; a new object of worship; a new rule of life; a history was disclosed full of discovery and surprise; a prospect of futurity was unfolded, beyond imagination awful and august; the same description applies in a great part, though not entirely, to the conversion of a Jew. This, accompanied as it was with the pardon of every former sin (Romans, iii. 25), was such an era in a man's life, so remarkable a period in his recollection, such a revolution of everything that was most important to him, as might well admit of those strong figures and significant allusions by which it is described in Scripture; it was a “regeneration” (Tit. iii. 5), or a new birth : it was to be “born again of God and of the Spirit” (John, i. 13. iii. 5); it was to be “dead to sin,” and “ alive from the dead” (Rom. vi. 2, 13); it was to be “buried

; with Christ in baptism, and raised together with him” (Col. ii. 12); it was “a new creature” (2 Cor. v. 17), and “ a new creation” (Eph. iv. 24): it was a translation from the condition of “slaves to that of sons :" (Gal. iv. 7); from “strangers and foreigners, to be fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of

[ocr errors]

God.” (Eph. ii. 19.) It is manifest that no change equal or similar to the conversion of a heathen can be experienced by us, or by any one educated in a Christian country, and to whom the facts, precepts, and hopes of Christianity have been from his infancy familiar: yet we will retain the same language ; and what has been the consequence ? One sort of men, observing nothing in the lives of Christians corresponding to the magnificence, if I may so say, of these

I expressions, have been tempted to conclude that the expressions themselves had no foundation in truth and nature, or in anything but the enthusiasm of their authors. Others, again, understand these phrases to signify nothing more than that gradual amendment of life and conversation, which reason and religion sometimes produce in particular Christians : of which interpretation it is truly said, that it degrades too much the proper force of language to apply expressions of such energy and import to an event so ordinary in its own nature, and which is common to Christianity with every other moral institution. Lastly : a third sort, in order to satisfy these expressions to their full extent, have imagined to themselves certain perceptible impulses of the Holy Ghost, by which, in an instant, and in a manner, no doubt, sufficiently extraordinary, they are “regenerate and born of the Spirit ;" they become “new creatures ;" they are made the

sons of God,” who were before the “ children of wrath ;" they are “ freed from sin,” and “ from death :” they are chosen, that is, and sealed, without a possibility of fall, under final salvation. Whilst the patrons of a more sober exposition have been often challenged, and sometimes confounded with the question-If such expressions of Scripture do not mean this, what do they mean? To which we answer, Nothing: nothing,



that is to us : nothing to be found, or sought for, in the present circumstances of Christianity.

More examples might be produced, in which the unwary use of Scripture language has been the occasion of difficulties and mistakes--but I forbear-the present are sufficient to show that it behoves every one who undertakes to explain the Scriptures, before he determine to whom or what 'an expression is nowadays to be applied, to consider diligently whether it admit of any such application at all, or whether it is not rather to be restrained to the precise circumstances and occasion for which it was originally composed.

I make no apology for addressing this subject to this audience; because whatever relates to the interpretation of Scripture relates, as I conceive, to us; for if, by any light we may cast upon these ancient books, we can enable and invite the people to read the Bible for themselves, we discharge, in my judgment, the first duty of our function ; ever bearing in mind, that we are the ministers not of our own fame or fancies, but of the sincere gospel of Jesus Christ.

« السابقةمتابعة »