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culiarities so abundantly supplied them ? And may we not justly wonder that any persons submitting their faith to the Scriptures, should make the literal (and then inconsistent and even false) interpretation of such expressions, the foundation of their doctrines, without any adequate regard to the plain declarations of the Scriptures fully according with our best and most exalted ideas of the divine perfections and government ?
While meditating upon the lengths to which human wisdom has carried men from the simple teachings of the Word, I feel strongly impressed with the opinion, that if Christians had uniformly endeavoured to place themselves as much as possible in the situation of the Apostles, and had considered the death of Jesus in all its circumstances and tendencies, they would not have resorted to notions which, gradually arising out of a misinterpretation of scriptural language, have by degrees obscured the mercy of God, and thrown a more than Egyptian darkness around the proceedings of His gracious providence. Agreeably to this opinion I have directed my own inquiries; and I have thereby gained ideas respecting the efficacy of the death of Christ, in accomplishing the gracious purposes for which he came forth from God, which in my own apprehension fully account for the strength of the apostolical language on the subject, and at the same time fully accord with the evangelical narratives, and with the more general representations of the Apostles as to the source and objects of Gospel blessings, and the means of
their diffusion,-and I consequently feel satisfied that I have obtained scriptural truth on this point. I therefore beg leave to recommend the same process to others who also may have been somewhat perplexed, as to the means of spiritual deliverance, by the language of what is termed orthodoxy; and I have no better wish, as to the speculative result of their examination, than that they may gain the same strength of conviction as I have done that such language is founded in error, -that as far as its plain meaning and necessary inferences are imbibed, they tend deplorably to pervert our ideas of God and affections towards Him, that if it be not intended to convey that meaning and lead to these inferences, the language itself ought to be abandoned as unsafe and unscriptural, and, lastly, that the substance of the Gospel scheme of redemption is, that Jesus Christ was authorized by God to offer His free mercy, to reveal everlasting life, and to declare the terms of acceptance,-that he died to assure and diffuse the blessed truths which he heard from God, and was raised from the dead as a pledge of his divine authority, (and consequently of the truth of his doctrines,) and of the resurrection of mankind to a state of righteous retribution.
Consideration of the chief Scriplural Expressions
respecting the Death of Jesus.
It is no uncommon mode of proving the doctrine of atonement as usually received, to make the reasonings and expressions in the Epistle to the Hebrews the basis of argument, and to explain other passages by them. This, however, is precisely the way to obscure the truth. If the Go. spels, the Acts, and the undisputed Epistles of Paul, Peter, and John, do not contain this doctrine, the metaphors and allusions of the Epistle to the Hebrews cannot be admitted in proof of it, while so much uncertainty remains as to the genuineness of the Epistle; its evidence may be employed as a corroborative, but never as an independent ground of argument. What I conceive to be the true method in this state of doubt, is, first to consider the doctrine of Paul as contained in his undisputed writings, and then examine the amount of the expressions in the Hebrews; and it is my opinion, that if we do the Writer the justice fully to consider the purpose for which he was writing, to take into account the nature of the figures and imagery which he employs, and to allow it to be highly probable that he did not propose to teach any other doctrines than those which Jesus and his Apostles had taught, we shall find that all his expressions admit of a satisfactory explanation agreeably to them,
1.] The most important point is, in what light our Saviour himself represents the purposes of his sufferings and death. He must have been fully acquainted with the ends which they would answer, in effecting the salvation which he brought; and he expressly declares, “All things which I have heard from my Father, I have made known unto you.'
And however much some ill-understood passages in the Gospel of John (ch. xiv. xv. xvi.) may seem to justify the supposition, that by the miraculous communications of the spirit some new knowledge was imparted, to myself it appears clear, that Jesus had declared to the Apostles the whole round of Christian truth, and that the real efficacy of the spirit, in this point of view, was to remove the darkness of Jewish prejudice, and thereby to enable them to comprehend and recollect those truths.. -Respecting the ends of his death, he speaks generally in John X. 11, 15, I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. I lay down my life for the sheep.' No one, I presume, can infer hence, that Jesus died for those who might believe in him, with a purpose different from that for which a good shepherd would lay down his life for his flock. The passage clearly means no more, than that he was about to lay down his life for the good of his disciples, to rescue them from spiritual danger: and if we turn to vs. 10, we shall
I See note (1) p. 271.
gain some idea as to the way in which his death would benefit them: I am come,' says he, that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly.' In vs. 17, we find a specific purpose for which he laid down his life,-that he inight receive it again. And though he does not in this discourse say that his death would be the means of diffusing Gospel-blessings among the Gentiles, he clearly declares, vs. 16, that other sheep, besides those of Israel, would be brought into his fold.
2.] In John xii. 32, our Saviour states distinctly one important consequence of his public death, that mankind at large would be led to attend to his religion, and great numbers, both Jews and Gentiles, to embrace it. A similar mode of expression occurs in ch. iii. 14; “As Moses lifted
up pent in the wilderness, the Son of Man must, in like manner, be lifted up; so that every one who helieveth in him [may not perish, but] may have everlasting life.” That by the last clause our Saviour here means, 'may possess the hope, may become the heir, of everlasting life,' is probable from ch. 24, where he says; • He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life,'-not surely hath it in actual possession, but in prospect, in hope m. How the death of Jesus gave that hope to every believer must be obvious to every one: it was itself the strongest confirmation he could himself give of the doctrine of life, and his consequent resurrection
m This mode of expression illustrates the language of our Lord in John xvii. 5. See page 247.