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St. Peter, on the necessity and use of force, already repeatedly referred to, are as irreconcileable with the most extensive sense of the command, “ Resist not evil," as any language of those apostles is with a like interpretation of other precepts in the Gospels; except they be evaded by affirming, that neither rulers, (although “ ordained of God,” and “ ministers of God,") nor persons “sent by them for the punishment of evil-doers,” can, as such, be consistent Christians; that, accordingly, those declarations have nothing to do with Christians, and therefore cannot affect the sense of Christ's precepts to his followers. If it was shown in my former Letter, that this opinion is as untenable as it evidently is hypothetical, then the declarations of St.Paul and St. Peter cannot be laid out of the question, and must always preclude the assertion, that the unlimited sense of the precepts concerning non-resistance is consistent with other parts of the New Testament.
Thus, I think, we have found, that the interpretation contended for rests upon no general reason, but is insulated and arbitrary. For, so it must be accounted, till a solid reason be given for it, inapplicable to those precepts which its supporters join us in interpreting differently, or else till a solid reason be given for the different inter
pretation of those other precepts, inapplicable to this. Till then, I must regard our Christian friends who so interpret the passages we are examining, as inconsistent with themselves. It is an inconsistency of the most benevolent and honourable origin; but, however the feelings and wishes which lead to an error of judgment may claim our esteem and respect, they form no reason at all for our assent to the error itself.
Remarks on some characteristics of our Saviour's teachings,
which warrant and confirm the more usual interpretation of the precepts in question.-No command or distinct permission requisite to justify the use of force.
It will, I doubt not, be said by those who maintain the absolute unlawfulness of war; “ If you reject our interpretation of the precepts of nonresistance, it behoves you, instead of telling us, vaguely, that they require limitation, to assign to them some other consistent practical sense ; and the difficulty of doing so, without a most unchristian compromise of pacific principles, will perhaps convince you of your error.” I admit, that it is my duty to attempt this; and, so long as we consider the scripture "profitable for instruction in righteousness," it cannot be doubted, that a sincere inquirer may judge, by attending to the spirit and objects, style and occasion, of our Lord's teachings, what was their primary import, and what is their
proper application to ourselves. In order to this judgment, two leading characteristics must be borne in mind, which are clearly apparent, on the
view of Christ's discourses. One of these is, that he often used, especially in his preceptive teachings, not only the figurative or parabolical, but also what we may term the abbreviative * style, which is the most forcible and comprebensive, but must frequently appear paradoxical, if taken literally, because it omits limitations which the hearer or reader is to supply. No one, for example, can rationally doubt, that the precepts.-" If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off,” and, “ Let a man take up his cross daily,” are figurative; and it is equally certain, that the declaration,-" He that believeth on me shall never die," and the combined precept and promise, “ Ask, and it shall be given you,” are abbreviative : into the former we must introduce some such limitation as follows; “ He shall never die : (as to the life and happiness of - the soul :") into the latter, “ Ask (what is consistent with the will of God, and your ultimate advantage.") I may here remark, in passing, that this style was not only conducive to the peculiarity and impressiveness of our Lord's preceptive discourses, but also necessary to their brevity. The contrary manner demands much more space; and, when it becomes casuistical, (which is its tendency,) no bounds can be set to details and distinctions. It was, therefore, manifestly suitable, that those discourses of our Saviour, which were to be recorded, should be in such a style as would compress them within narrow bounds, in order that the record might be easily obtained and studied by all men.
* In an age when words are coined with so much boldness, I know not that the practice, in a comparatively cautious way, (as the framing of an adjective from a verb,) requires apology. Dr. Paley's example, however, may be pleaded, who thought he had occasion for several new adjectives in his theological writings, and used them, I think, with adyantage to the clearness of his argument
A second characteristic, which cannot escape us in reviewing our Lord's general precepts and declarations, is, that a part of them were, in their moreliteral sense, temporary; designed for the then existing circumstances of his followers, or for such circumstances as should in after times resemble them; while others appear to be intended in one and the same sense for Christians through every period of the church. There is no doubt, but that the former are applicable in a very important manner to our instruction and guidance, and may become literally so; but they must usually be received
I use the expression “ more literal," because some of them, even at first, could not, it is evident, be understood quite literally. As, for example, the passage above referred to, (Luke xiv, 26.,)“ If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, &c., where no one Joubts, that the term “hate was meant only to express renouncing ; or preferring the service of Christ to the approbation and society of relatives.