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to translate literally serves only to perplex and obscure; but which presented to the ancient reader, as they do to the modern imbued with his taste and perceptions, a beautiful, and, in spite of its complexity, a sweetly harmonizing system of thoughts. I have already alluded to the exertion of mind required to perceive all the bearings of such a sentence, as to an exercise well fitted for sharpening the faculties; and this view of the ancient tongues--considered as instruments of thought widely differing from, and in most respects superior to, our own—is one which recommends them to be used also as instruments of education."
When we consider that to these authorities may be added the names of Leibnitz, of Newton, of Milton, of Pitt, and a host of others no less distinguished for genius and learning, we own it confounds us, that men of immeasurably inferior capacities and humbler attainments should be so forward to gainsay these pursuits and decry their importance; and, especially, that men who neither understand, nor can appreciate them, should join in the proscription! Surely the cause of classical literature and liberal learning rests on too secure a foundation to be seriously affected by such an opposition. Its own intrinsic merit is sufficient to sustain it; and while it has, in addition, the concurrent testimony of the wisest and greatest men in its favor, it cannot suffer much from the fact, that some persons either cannot or will not perceive its advantages.
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
Art. VI.-CALM REVIEW OF THE ARTICLE ON THE “EXISTENCE
AND FALL OF SATAN,” &c.
BY REV. S. COMFORT.
The last number of the Review contains an article on existence and fall of Satan and his angels,” in which the writer advances a theory on that dark and mysterious, though vastly important subject, which is in some respects entirely new. He claims, however, nothing more for the distinctive parts of his proposed system than that “the reader will receive with patience, and weigh with candor, his remarks ;” and surely the subject is one of too much gravity, and involves considerations and bearings of too serious moment, to be disposed of in any other way. The author of the “propositions” has unquestionably bestowed much both of thought and labor on the subject on which he has projected his new theory; and he will probably have the satisfaction of gaining some proselytes to his doctrine. But however it may be regarded by others, for my own part I cannot but consider this new theory as being open not only to criticism, and encumbered by what, to my understanding, amounts, if not to an insuperable objection, at least to a difficulty of considerable magnitude. I have waited since I first read the article in the Review to see the subject taken up by some abler and more experienced pen; but, so far as I have seen, nothing has yet appeared. The silence of others, and, as I conceive, the importance of the subject, have induced me to submit the subjoined remarks to your disposal.
For all our actual information on this subject, and all others of a kindred nature, we are indebted exclusively to divine revelation. It is impossible to trace the lines of unrevealed truth while aided only by the dim light of mere reason, philosophy, and speculation; commencing in uncertainty, we shall be almost certain to end in error and disappointment. Indeed, what else must be the inevitable result of all speculative theories, in whole or in part, just so far as they are based upon any foundation which is not clearly authorized by a sober and consistent construction of the doctrines taught in the “lively oracles ?" The most ingenious speculations and the most nicely adjusted theories generally leave the honest inquirer after truth precisely where they found him, if indeed they do not overcast his mind with an impervious haze which only serves to obstruct and intercept the diffusive rays of revealed truth. The moment we advance a step beyond the clear and well defined precincts of revelation, we exchange actual terra firma for the restless, tossing waves of the ever troubled sea of bold and boundless speculation; or we mount the aerial regions, where dazzling fancy and unchastened and restive imagination may play and wander in their unrestrained excursions until they reach the distant point beyond the utmost orbit known and traversed in the great revolutions of the system of revealed truth, and, in the conception of the poet,
“Where gravitation turns the other way.” But of all the subjects within the most expanded grasp of the human intellect, from the nature and tendency of most, if not all of those doctrines which are properly comprehended in the system of divine revelation, none are so unsuitable to be treated as subjects of speculation. And for two reasons: some subjects included in politics, metaphysics, and philosophy, after all the light which science and the researches of ages have shed upon them, are but floating and chimerical speculations still; and as such they seem destined to remain, since the theory which has been built up into a well arranged system by the labor and skill of an author of one age is exploded, the superstructure prostrated, and the materials scattered by those who succeed him in the next; and because the practical consequences of the most erroneous and absurd speculations on such subjects, even the most deleterious in their nature and tendency, are not to be compared with those consequences which may be the result of the same cause when applied to subjects connected with divine revelation. On all such subjects our highest wisdom, our greatest dignity, our only safety from error, consist in knowing when and where to stop, and in meekly receiving what the great Master has condescended to teach, while we humbly submit cheerfully to remain ignorant respecting those things of which he has not seen fit to give us more definite and extensive information. While all must acknowledge that in the Scriptures every thing requisite to life and godliness, truth and duty, faith and practice, is made so plain that he who runs may read, yet to a thousand speculative questions which we might be disposed to ask, we shall search the inspired records in vain for the desired answer. To an infinite number of inquiries of this sort God has not been pleased to give us a response by Urim nor Thummim, by prophet nor apostle. His only reply is, “ The secret things belong to God." And as Mr. Watson says in substance
(for I do not undertake to give his express words) revelation must necessarily contain mysteries from the very nature of our minds and the limited capacity of our intellectual powers; so that were every thing revealed to the utmost extent of the ability of the human understanding to comprehend, there would still be heights and depths in the divine Mind, and mysteries in the administration of his moral government, infinitely surpassing the greatest capacity of finite minds. This must be perfectly obvious—it may be considered in the light of an ultimate truth, therefore, incapable of support by argument, because nothing can be adduced in evidence plainer to the understanding than the thing to be proved. Moreover, the remark of the late Bishop Hobart, in regard to the doctrine of the
Trinity, that, respecting the manner of the unity of the three persons in one God, one man knows as much as another, because no man knows any thing at all about it, may be applied to the new theory set forth in the article under consideration. This remark holds good in two respects: with regard to those things which, from their very natures, must constitute matters of divine revelation, but on which revelation preserves profound silence; and those things, whatsoever they are, provided they are within the grasp of the human understanding, which have been clearly revealed. With regard to the latter, the principle admits of but one exception--want of natural capacity and opportunity to learn and to understand the teachings of the divine oracles. With the same quantum of intellect I do not see why one man may not arrive at an equal degree of knowledge of the simple facts contained in revelation with another, both considered aside, of course, from personal divine inspiration.
Speculations and theories on religious subjects are liable to be worse than useless from their adaptation to gratify and cherish our native love of novelty. There is probably no one principle more deeply rooted in our intellectual constitutions, nor one the unresisted indulgence of which on religious subjects is attended with greater jeopardy to our steadfastness in that "faith which was once delivered to the saints.” It is true, there may be instances in which, to the well balanced, clear, and strong mind of him who invents a new theory on a given subject of religion-a theory which does not sap the foundation of some cardinal truth in the system of Scriptural doctrine--and also to other minds distinguished by the same characteristic features, such theory in its results may be perfectly harmless. But who will be surety for every person into whose hands such speculations may chance to fall, against its injurious tendency upon their orthodoxy? As all men have not faith, so the minds of all are not well stored with knowledge, at least on some subjects, and those perhaps involving matters of the last importance to their great moral interests. They may be not only children but infants in the school of Christ; and allowing them to possess the ability, they may not be in the practice of making those nice discriminations which are necessary to distinguish between mere speculations and those cardinal truths which are essential to the perfection of the gospel system. Hence they will naturally either receive such new theories with blind avidity, or reject them with alarm for the soli. dity of the foundation of truth in general. Their liability to injury may not consist so much in a diminution of their confidence in the peculiar doctrines which they may have subscribed to, though it
VOL. IX.-July, 1838. 39
were merely in accordance with the popular sentiment on that pars ticular subject, as in unsettling their minds with regard to other doctrines which are essential to their salvation. It were better not to break up our fastenings, and not to relinquish our moorings, on points involving questions of mere speculation, when at most we can only exchange one uncertainty for another, without the remotest probability of conclusively settling the question at issue for want of clear and definite divine authority. But this is not all. The tendency of religious speculation is most of all to be dreaded with that class of persons who are already either professedly infidel, or actually skeptical in heart on important Scriptural doctrines. What is more likely to confirm them in their disregard to important traths than new theories professedly drawn from the same source with those doctrines declared to be essential to salvation? Will they not be disposed to class them all together, and thus neutralize the settled and cardinal doctrines of the gospel by associating with them the mere speculations of ingenious divines? We must go still farther. Nothing, we conceive, is hazarded in saying that a majority of the errors and heresies which have afflicted the church in every period of her history, have more frequently had their birth in the speculations of the brain than in the malice and corruption of the heart. According to Dr. Clarke, to this source we may trace the Arian heresy in the fourth century, which not only rent the church, but rekindled the torch of persecution, and added a long list to the number of martyrs to evangelical doctrine. In modern times we have but too many examples sufficiently well known without nominal and definite designation. But let us proceed to a more particular examination of the distinctive features of the theory contained in the “.
What is essential to the new theory respecting the "existence and fall of Satan and his angels,” may be summed up in a very few words. 1. Their place of residence-"one or more of the many worlds which move in the regions of space, and compose the vast empire of God.”
2. As a rule of action, and as a test of their loya alty," they were commanded by their Creator to remain a certain length of time in this 'habitation." 3. Their sin consisted in " not keeping their first estate,” and in “leaving their own habitation.”
In regard to the first two distinctive features of this new theory, all we can say respecting them is, that they simply involve mere circumstances, which may or may not have attended the occurrence of the grand fact which alone is clearly revealed. The fact is evidently all that it is important for us to know on this subject. And were I called upon to decide whether these circumstances did or did not stand around this revealed fact, my only reply should be, I cannot tell; I do not know; it is not revealed; the divine oracles are to me silent on the question. And ought I not to be content to let the question rest where the great Author of divine revelation, doubtless for reasons infinitely important and sufficient, as I am bound to believe, has seen fit to leave it! And, moreover, what shall I gain by a vain attempt to decide on a question which cannot be decided without intruding into those things over which the veil of impenetrable obscurity has been spread by the hand of inscrutable, infinite Wisdom? Is it not abundantly more in keeping with the humble and distant stations assigned to creatures of such finite attributes as
those manifestly are which have been bestowed upon man, frankly to leave such untangible, because they are unrevealed subjects, sealed up in the unfathomable recesses of the divine Mind, than to attempt to draw them forth to the scrutiny and decision of mere human judgment ?-an investigation conducted under the dim light radiating from the glimmering taper of feeble and erring human
In regard to the fact which alone has been revealed, in whatever terms we choose to express it, it amounts substantially, as I conceive, to this, that some angels have forfeited their original standing and character of holiness and happiness; have ever since that event been hostile to the virtue and happiness of man, against whom they are engaged in constant and inveterate warfare; and that, together with wicked men, they shall be finally judged and punished.
These principles seem to me to constitute the only sober and fair deductions from the three following passages which contain all, as far as I have observed, that is written in the Scriptures expressly on this subject: "He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth; because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it,” John viii, 44. “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment," 2 Pet. ii, 4. "The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day,” Jude 6. From the expressions, “ kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,” in the last quotation, the third distinctive feature in the theory in question has been deduced. This is done by taking them in a literal sense, making the sin of the fallen angels to consist, as I understand the author of the “propositions," exclusively in "leaving their own habitation.” But why may we not as well explain Jude by what our Saviour and Peter have said on the same subject, as to explain them by him? The former says that he (Satan)" abode not in the truth;" the latter, that“God spared them not, but cast them down to hell;" and are we not as amply sustained in the conclusion that the moral reason for God's doing so was because they "abode not in the truth,” as we are in regarding the term,“ left their own habitation,” as an historical account of the sin and circumstances of their defection from God? Is there not as much reason for considering them consequential as causal of their sin and forfeiture of the divine favor? Which conclusion is sustained by the stronger probability that the three quotations taken together give us a simple statement of the moral fact of the volun. tary sin and fall of such of the angels as have forfeited their Maker's favor, together with the change of their relation to God as subjects of his moral government from that of innocent, obedient, and happy, to that of disobedient, guilty, and miserable beings, held in durance until the full penalty of the broken law shall be eternally executed upon them; or that the form of expression in the last-quoted passage, taken separately, describes both the occasion and the manner in which the transaction occurred, involving such vastly important moral consequences both to themselves and other moral beings? While I would not undertake to deny the possibility of the latter conclusion, but leave every one to think and decide for him.