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"Knowing that I am set for the defence of the Gospel." Phil. i. 17.
SEPTEMBER, 1822. [No. 9. Vol. II.
To the Editor of the Gospel Advocate. CRITICISM ON ROMANS viii. 19-22.
THE following verses are involved in great obscurity in our version. They read thus: "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope; because the creature itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." The original word ris, the key to the whole clause, is variously translated. Rosenmuller renders it, 66 the nature of things;" Macknight, "every human creature;" Doddridge supposes, it has a reference to the whole unevangelized world, and that the apostle, "by a bold prosopopia, represents it as looking out with anxious, eager expectation, for such a relief and remedy as the gospel brings; by which human nature would be finally rescued from vanity and corruption, and inferiour creatures from tyranny and abuse."
To this interpretation there is an important, and, I apprehend, serious objection that it is not true, that the heathen world were impatiently desir. ing, according to the import of the word aroxagadoxia, that the misery and wretchedness, to which man was subjected, by the power and dominion of sin, should be removed, and that the glorious change should take place,
ADVOCATE, VOL. II.
which the gospel was intended to introduce. There is no evidence to show that the gentiles, previous to the publication of Christianity, were sensible of their extreme ignorance of God and the only way of salvation. They knew that the Jews were earnestly expecting a messenger from heaven, who, they fondly believed, would deliver their nation from servitude and oppression, and not only restore their pristine prosperity and grandeur, but give them an unrivalled superiority over all the kingdoms of the world. Suetonius informs us, there was an ancient and constant tradition over all the eastern countries, that a great prince should spring out of Judea. But that the coming of this great personage should be the means of" opening their eyes, of bringing them from darkness to light, and from the power of satan unto God," was an idea that had never entered into their philosophy, or vain deceit, and consequently could not be the object of their ardent hopes or anticipations.
The verses, in their present form, are deficient both in perspicuity and punctuation. The explanation I would suggest, is approved by Schleusner, and, indeed, it is the only one that is coincident with the whole scope and tenor of the apostle's argument.
By rendering TITIS, the new creation, the simple sense of the whole will be this: "Christians oppressed with various and heavy afflictions, are impa-,
tiently awaiting the time when it shall appear, who the sons of God are, (for Christians have been subjected to this oppression, not willingly, but by God, who, for the disobedience of Adam, has rendered them liable to such persecutions and troubles,) in hope that they themselves shall be set free from the bondage of corruption, and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
This interpretation is strongly corroborated by the subsequent verses. For of whom, but the new creation, can it be said, that they were groaning and travailing under the pressure of the miseries of life? Not of the gentiles or of animated nature. Of whom, if not of Christians, does Paul speak, when he says, not only they, but even we also, though we have received the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within our selves, waiting for a deliverance from death, as our adoption? Such an assertion could not be predicated of the unevangelized world, and therefore must be understood in the sense I have proposed.
Should this exposition be not satisfactory to the readers of the Gospel Advocate, I shall be happy to learn the rea
A STUDENT OF THEOLOGY.
To the Editor of the Gospel Advocate.
SOME time since a gentleman observed to me, that he had thought much on the subject of the divine foreknowledge, in connexion with that of human freedom and accountableness, and that his "cogitations much troubled him." He could not see, he said, why God's foreknowledge of actions or events, did not impose upon them a necessity, equally irresistible and irremoveable with that which would be imposed by a positive order or decree. I asked him, if he had any doubts about the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-holy Deity, the Creator and Governour of the universe? Never
the least, said he. Do you, I inquired further, believe, that Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the prophets, lived and taught and verified their teachings, in all respects as related in the bible? All that I most fully believe, was the reply. Very well, said I, then I trust you will acknowledge, that those teachings, or revelations, as I prefer to call them, exhibit your duty-the rule of faith and practice, by which you "ought to walk, and to please God." I acknowledge it. Now, sir, I continued, do you not feel free to keep or to violate that rule? Are you not conscious, that it is a question to be decided in your breast, by your own faculties, whether you shall keep it or not? Are you sensible of any want of freedom or liberty in thinking, willing, or acting? I confess, he answered, I feel perfectly free to do my duty, or to leave it undone. What more would you have? said I, and what do you expect to gain by engaging in the dif ficulties and perplexities of a metaphysical theology, to solve which, requires, perhaps, less knowledge of truth, than of logick? That kind of theology is built more on words, than on things.
However, if this does not satisfy you, I will try another method. The difficulty you propose, being a metaphysical one, you must allow me to treat it metaphysically. If, while I admit that the scriptures assert the doctrine of divine foreknowledge, you also will admit, that they assert the doctrine of human freedom, and there let the mat ter rest, I will be content. But if not, since your objection excludes the tes timony of scripture, I shall deny that there is, properly speaking, foreknowledge with God."
Returning to my lodgings after the interview, I threw the argument, which was introduced by this last observation, into form in my common place book; whence I now transcribe it.
To ascribe to God foreknowledge, what is it but to assert, that change, or the succession of one thing to another,
takes place in the divine mind? It surely cannot be said, that at one period he knows, that a certain deed will be executed, and at a subsequent period sees the actual execution. If he is omniscient, omnipresent, and unchangeable, attributes granted by all, then all events, that, according to our way of speaking, have taken place, and all events that will take place, are eternally before him, in one concentrated view. To know an event is, with him, to see it transpiring; he does not first discover it at a distance, and after an interval behold it present; it is always present. Hence with Deity all is present knowledge and present perception.
It has been asserted, that God's knowledge of events, that are future to us, is properly called foreknowledge. In relation to men, they say, it is foreknowledge. Now no one pretends, that the knowledge of God, considered absolutely, imposes on human actions a necessity, which affects either their freedom or their accountableness. Hence it is difficult to see how that knowledge, when considered in a relation, that is purely hypothetical, should impose such necessity. Does a necessity grow out of the relation? I am sure it will not be asserted. It is evident, that no proposition can place the divine Being in a relation, which is inconsistent with his attributes, and which conducts to erroneous views of his nature, his character, or his government; or to erroneous views of the nature and obligations of men.
The objector asks, If God certainly foreknew, that an event would take place, how was it in the power of man to prevent it, that is, to frustrate the divine prescience, and on what principle can be be made to answer for that,
which he could not control? But if all the knowledge of God is present knowledge, and if, strictly speaking, it is improper to ascribe foreknowledge to him, then his knowledge of an event or action, no more makes it necessary,
than the knowledge of a human individual, who is present at and witnesses an action, makes that action necessary. As was observed above, God's knowledge of an action, and his seeing the performance of it, are perfectly contemporaneous, and I may almost say, identical; he does not at one period know and subsequently see; he always knows and he always sees. Hence that, which he knows and sees, cannot but be an existing object, because, to appeal to an old axiom, a thing cannot be, and not be at the same time. I can have no idea of any necessity in the case but this; and this, most evidently, is not an exculpating necessity. In short, the divine Being may, perhaps, be said to know an action, because he sees it performing; and his seeing the performance, creates no more necessity, than any other being's seeing it.
Notwithstanding the reasoning, which I attempted in this case, and which, upon more mature reflection, I cannot see to be entirely destitute of justness, I seriously question whether there is not much better reason for letting such topicks rest, without discussion, precisely where revelation has left them, than for employing ourselves in curious endeavours to clear them of difficulties. The frequent discussion of them evidently tends to embarrass the mind of the unlearned; and I am not certain, that it does not tend to vitiate the mind of the learned. Whether 1 have " betrayed myself to my own reproof," is a question of which I shall say nothing.
in the beginning of the last century; I was particularly struck with some ob. servations upon the nature of conversion, and have copied them for publication in the Advocate, as confirming the sentiments which were sometime since expressed in a letter that was presented to your readers upon the same subject. I think, moreover, that the extracts are well calculated to quiet the fears and apprehensions of those humble and pious persons, who are in a great measure deprived of the consolations of religion, from the circumstance that they have never experienced that sudden and extraordinary change, which has taken place in some of their acquaintance, and which has been represented to them as essential, in all cases, to spiritual welfare and acceptance with God.
"Some Christians are greatly disquieted and discouraged, because they do not know the particular time of their conversion. Possibly, the Christian will say, so far as I know my own heart, I hate the ways of sin, I desire firmly to rely on Christ alone for salvation, and to lead a holy life, yet I fear all is not right and sound at bottom; I doubt I was never truly converted. For conversion is a very great change; it is a person's coming out of the kingdom of satan into the kingdom of Christ; 'tis a changing of masters; a turning from sin to God; a rising from death to life; 'tis, indeed, a great change; and who can experience this change, but that he must needs know the time of it? Nay, I can discourse with, or hear of some, who can tell the time of their conversion. They can say, that at such a time they were first convinced and wrought upon; that such a particular text, or such a particular ser mon, or such a remarkable providence, was peculiarly instrumental of their conversion; but as for my part, I know nothing of the particular time of my turning from sin to God, and, therefore, I doubt I was never truly converted.' Now, to this case, I would say, first,
that there are but some, and, probably, but few sincere Christians that can tell the particular time of their conversion. Some can tell it, but pro
bably there are but few that can. Paul could tell the very day when he was converted; it was on such a day when he was going to Damascus to persecute the saints. But we do not know that Peter, or James, or John, knew the particular day of their conversion. There are many whom we cannot but charitably hope are truly pious, who know nothing of the particular time of their new birth. Mr. Baxter, in his book upon infant baptism, says, 'For my own part, I aver it from my heart, that I neither know the day nor the year when I began to be sincere. I was once, he continues, in a meeting of very many Christians, most eminent for zeal and holiness of most in the land, of whom divers were ministers, and some at this day as famous, and as much followed as any I know in England, and it was there desired, that every one should give in the manner of their conversion, that it might be observed what was God's ordinary way; and there was but one that I remember of them all, that could conjecture at the time of their first conversion.'
"Secondly, 'Tis commonly thought that those ordinarily know least of the particular time of their conversion, who have been best furnished with the means of grace, and been kept from scandalous sins. They have had convictions, doubts, fears, and hopes from their childhood. Nor can they say, whether parental instruction, reading God's word, or hearing it preached, was, first. ly, instrumental of saving good to their souls. 'So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and his seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
"Thirdly, If thou art converted, thou shalt go safe to heaven, though thou knowest not the time of thy conversion. If thou dost heartily hate and loathe all
thy sins, dost heartily trust in Christ for pardon and salvation, heartily desiring and endeavouring to be truly holy, then thou art certainly converted, though thou dost not know the particular time when. These things are the fruits, and so the proofs, of converting grace. If they are in thee thou mayest take comfort, rejoice, and be thankful. In many persons, God often times begins and carries on the work of grace insensibly, so that they come to good growth and maturity, before they know that they are alive. How our eyes were opened we know not, only one thing we know, whereas we were blind, now we see."-Wadsworth's Guide, Boston edition, 1720. pp. 88-92.
JAMES iii. 1.-My brethren, be not many masters; knowing that ye shall receive the greater condemnation. THERE is scarcely any of the epistles, which have been received into the canon of the new testament, in the perusal of which, there is necessary so careful a reference to the circumstances of the character and condition of those immediately addressed, as that of which these words are part. Almost every thing which St. James, in a manner so interesting, and so peculiarly his own, inculcates upon those, to whom he is writing, (whom we find to be the twelve tribes scattered abroad,) bespeaks the existence of a corrupt character of sentiment and manners, at this time prevalent, as well among those who had embraced, in general, the profession of the gospel, as among the nation of the Jews at large and there is a solicitude manifest in the mind of the writer, for the removal of errours which are wholly inconsistent with the true faith of Jesus, and the genuine design and tendency of his religion; and abuses and perversions of the law itself, and its principles, which covered the nation, even when its condition was
the best and most enlightened, with the foulest disgrace, and rendered it, as it were, a carcase, ready, (according to the figurative language of our Lord,) for the eagles of vengeance to gather over, and consume.
We see this feeling of the sacred writer's mind, when we read, as in the first chapter, "lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, (the word engrafted upon the religion, in which, as Jews, you have confided) which is able to save your souls." "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." The influence of the same strong solicitude for the correction of gross and shameful errour, appears, when, as in the second chapter, St. James says, "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, (whosoever shall keep all the law besides, with exact and rigid conformity,) and yet (under the sanction of the corrupt notion which prevails among you, wilfully and consciously) offend in one favourite point of sin, he is guilty of all"—and in the end of the chapter, "as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Here also, in the text, with which the third chapter of the epistle is introduced, St. James with ardent concern for the honour of their religion, and their own happiness and good, directs his admonition against peculiar characteristick offences of the people whom he addresses. Not in Judea only, but in the places of their dispersion, the Jews had among them, their doctors of the law, who, by an imposition of hands, were authorized to be teachers and expounders of the law to others.* This distinction became much an object of inordinate and ill-judged ambition; and there were doubtless not a few among them, who were justly subject to the animadversion of St. Paul in the introduction to