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CHRIST THE MEDIATOR OF THE NEW COVENANT.
HEB. IX. 15.-" And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
The Bible is a book very imperfectly understood by the great body of those who profess to receive it as a divine revelation. In many cases, this is very easy to be accounted for. Multitudes who profess to receive the Bible as a divine revelation, seldom or never read it; and it would be a strange thing, indeed, if a book could be understood without being read. Multitudes more read the Bible more or less regularly and frequently; but they read it with such an almost entire absence of everything like intellectual effort, that understanding it is quite out of the question. Indeed, understanding it is not the object they have in view. Where there is any design, where it is not the mere result of early education and confirmed habit, it is not to find out the meaning of the Bible: it is to be able to quiet an ill-informed, but still not entirely benụmbed conscience, by telling it, I have not only said my prayers, but read my chapter.
But there are instances in which it is not so easy to account for the fact of the Bible being but very imperfectly understood. There are persons who read the Bible with an honest, ay, with an anxious, desire to understand it, who are painfully conscious, that while there is in it much that is plain to them, there is not a little also that is obscure; that there are many passages to which they can attach only very indistinct and unsatisfactory ideas, and not a few to which they can attach no idea at all. In many cases, they cannot see what it is that the inspired writer
is illustrating or proving; or they cannot see the appositeness of his illustrations, or the conclusiveness of his arguments. It is not my purpose just now to make a full enumeration of the causes why such persons so imperfectly understand the Holy Scriptures. These causes are of very various kinds in different individuals, and even in the same individual. But I have no hesitation in saying, that the imperfection of the translations, through the medium of which the great body of Scripture readers must derive their acquaintance with the inspired writers, is one of these causes. All translations of the Scriptures are the work of uninspired men, and therefore they are necessarily imperfect. This is true of all versions from the inspired originals, and of our own very excellent translation among the rest. There are some worthy men who are exceedingly indisposed that such a statement as I have just made should even go forth among Christians at large, lest it should shake their confidence in the infallibility of the Holy Scripture as the rule of faith and duty. But surely he must be very ignorant who needs to be told, that translations are the work of uninspired men, and therefore must bear the traces of the imperfections of their authors; and if any man among us is so deplorably ignorant as not to know this, it is surely desirable that without loss of time he should be better informed. And I cannot satisfy myself that a Christian teacher acts an honest part, who, though he is persuaded the translation he, in common with his audience, is using, does not in a particular place accurately express the mind of the inspiring Spirit, yet conceals this from them, and leaves them uninformed, or misinformed, about the mind or will of God in that particular passage, for the purpose of preserving unbroken their undue veneration for the work of great and good, learned and pious, but still fallible men. He acts a part worse than foolish who finds fault with our translation merely for the sake of finding fault, and thus figuring, in the estimation of the thoughtless and superficial, as an acute or learned man, or who indeed suggests changes that are not absolutely required to bring out clearly and fully the meaning of the inspired writer ; but, on the other hand, he surely does not deserve the praise of wisdom, who, from reverence for man, or fear of possible bad consequences, does neither more nor less than “shun to declare the whole counsel of God.” Here, I believe, as in every other similar case, the safest as well as the most dutiful course, is to tell the truth—all the truth—nothing but the truth. Indeed, every Christian minister, when expounding Scripture, should speak as warily and as explicitly as if he were on oath. An intelligent hearer, if he find his minister always treating the English version of the Scriptures as if it were immaculately correct, must arrive at one of three conclusions : that his teacher is very imperfectly acquainted with the original Scriptures; or that he does not use the knowledge of this kind he may possess as an instrument of interpretation; or that, for some reason, he is afraid to tell what he knows respecting the occasional mistranslations, which are universally admitted to exist, in that, as in all other versions of the sacred writings. While, on the other hand, when by a well-informed teacher the whole truth is unostentatiously told, an enlightened impression of the general accuracy and excellence of our translation is deeply lodged in the mind, when it is seen how comparatively few are the passages in which one who has devoted himself, as every minister should, to the study of the original text, and who is obviously fettered by no superstitious veneration for the translators, and no fear of the bad consequences of telling all the truth, if it be but the truth, finds it necessary to represent it as exhibiting an imperfect or mistaken representation of the divine original.
The paragraph of which the text is the commencement, must undoubtedly be numbered among those which mistranslation has rendered obscure, and indeed unintelligible. I say it considerately, that no mere English reader can make a consistent, satisfactory sense out of the paragraph, beginning at the 15th verse of this chapter and ending with the 23d. What meaning can he attach to the phrase, “ mediator of a testament,” or last will? In a testament, we have a testator, and legatees, and executors; but a mediator of a testament is as incongruous an expression as the testator of a league or bargain. It is difficult, not to say impossible, to see how the new covenant, whether in its formation—the purpose of mercy, or in its execution—the plan of salvation, can be represented as a testament or latter will. The only point of resemblance is, that death in it, as in the case of a testament, was necessary to the enjoyment of its blessings ; though, even in this case, this leading idea is not accurately expressed, the death of a testator not being the procuring cause of the blessings to the legatees, as the death of Christ is to those who enjoy the blessings of the new covenant, but merely a conditional occasion of the obtaining the legacies. Besides, if the new covenant were figuratively represented as a testament, the testator would not be Jesus Christ, but God the Father; for it is God who blesses us with all heavenly and spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, and He never dies. And even supposing that Jesus Christ was considered as the testator, it is plain that His resurrection destroys the congruity of the figure. It is, if possible, still more difficult to attach any consistent idea to the term “testament,” as descriptive of the “first covenant," or the order of things established at Sinai. Who was the testator here, and how was the testament confirmed by death? It was a law imperatively enjoined : and what is the meaning of transgressions under the first will, which the maker of the second will dies to redeem? Besides, it is impossible to make out the force of the Apostle's reasoning, on the supposition that the word rendered testament means a latter will. He is obviously accounting for the death of Christ, dignified and exalted as He was, by showing that it was absolutely necessary to the gaining of the great object for which He was constituted the High Priest and Mediator of the new covenant. Now, it requires but little perspicacity to see that there is absolutely no force in such an argument as the following : The new covenant may be considered as a testament, inasmuch as its blessings cannot be enjoyed without the death of Christ, who in that case is viewed as testator. Now a testament, in order to be valid, requires that the testator should be dead; therefore it was necessary that Christ should die.' That is the argument as it stands in our English translation,—an argument which, taking for granted what it professes to prove, proves nothing. Setting his inspiration out of the question altogether, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was obviously a person of too clear a mind to argue in this way. Now, all this perplexity, in which an intelligent English reader of this paragraph, determined, if possible, to understand it, must feel himself involved,—and the more intelligent and inquisitive he is, he will be but the more perplexed,-arises out of a mistranslation of a very few words, in which our excellent translators have paid less regard than they