THE METHOD OF SCRIPTURAL PROOF
- CLASSIFICATION AND EXAMINATION OF TEXTS
USUALLY ALLEGED AGAINST THE CALVINISTIC DOCTRINE.
I do not intend to discuss in detail the Scriptural
evidence of the doctrine of the atonement, or to attempt anything like a
direct, full, and formal exposition of all that Scripture teaches regarding its
nature and extent, or regarding the saving faith of which it is the ground and
object. Enough of this will, as I trust, be brought out, in dealing with the
practical difficulties of the question, whether viewed on the side of God and
his free gift of salvation, on the one hand, or viewed on the side of man and
his acceptance of that free gift, on the other hand. The statements and
indications of the divine word may thus be best understood when contemplated in
their application to the facts and necessities of human experience. But it is
desirable to clear the way, by The Bible indicating at this stage, however
imperfectly, the right method of using the Bible as an authority in this whole
inquiry. This, accordingly, I shall endeavour to do in the remaining chapters
of this first part of my treatise ; - not by any means so as to exhaust the
subject, but rather with a view to offer hints and suggestive specimens for its
further discussion. For it demands some sense and intelligence to handle the
divine word, as an umpire in controversy, with the reverence and deference to
which its infallibility entitles it. The mere citing of texts on this side, or
on that, is but a poor and doubtful compliment. Too often has Holy Writ been
treated like a stammering or prevaricating rustic in the witness-box, whose
sentences and half sentences unscrupulous, brow-beating advocates on either
side delight to twist and torture at their pleasure. It is chiefly as a protest
against such a mode of dealing, with reference to the questions raised about
the atonement, and about faith, that my observations are Division of offered.
These observations will be directed to the following points.
In the first place, To indicate the proper classification of texts commonly quoted in this controversy as decisive against the Calvinistic view, and the proper principles of their interpretation when classified.
Secondly, To state generally the method of proof on the other side, as illustrating the fair and legitimate way of gathering intelligently, from various incidental notices and references, as well as from express declarations and formal arguments, what is to be received as, upon the whole, the teaching of Scripture on the subject; and,
Thirdly, To give a particular instance of the direct teaching of Scripture, by the exposition of one passage, in which the harmony of the Old and New Testament in asserting the efficacy of an atoning sacrifice, conspicuously appears.
Under the first of these three heads, I shall deal in the present chapter with the texts - most, if not all of them - which are usually alleged in support of the universality of the atonement, or the doctrine that the efficacy of Christ's atoning work, his obedience and death, is co - extensive with the human race ; my object being to show that, when rightly classified and interpreted, according to their several contexts, they do not really touch the question at issue, or decide anything the one way or the other, in regard to it.
Under the second head, I propose in chapter fourth to show how, not mere isolated texts, but unequivocal dectrinal statements and arguments, require or favour the opposite view of the atonement, making it clear that some of the most important positions of Scripture, relative to the life of God in the soul of man, cannot otherwise be maitained.
The third head I devote to giving a specimen, as it were, in chapters fifth and sixth, of what the Old and the New Testaments alike teach as the actual effect of an atonemert, or of an atoning sacrifice offered, accepted, and applied. I do so, because, to my mind, the whole stress of the controversy lies in that direction. I am chiefly anxious to fix attention on the inquiry - What is it that the atonement really does, or effects? To this inquiry I regard every other question as subordinate. And, therefore, I would attempt to indicate the line of Scriptural testimony regarding it, before I proceed, in the second part of the treatise, to grapple with the subject in some of its practical bearings, and in the view of some of its practical difficulties.
The word of God is the sole and supreme authority upon all religious questions. "To the law, and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. viii. 20) ; - that is the universally applicable watchword of sound theological study. It ought especially to be held sacred in its application to topics which, from their very nature, admit and invite a considerable amount of philosophical argument into the discussion of them. The risk of "philosophy, falsely so called," being suffered to mar the simplicity of a purely Biblical faith, cannot be too scrupulously kept in mind and guarded against.
Psychology and metaphysics, as neighbours at least, if not handmaids of divinity, need to be carefully watched. But the jealous dread of human reasoning may become itself an unreasoning prejudice, when it shrinks from anything like a clear and comprehensive view of the logical bearings of such a controversy as that relating to the extent of the atonement; and the appeal to the Bible may come to be according to the sound rather than the sense, and may degenerate into little more than a sort of lip homage, if particular expressions are seized upon, isolated, and appropriated by disputants, apart from those general considerations, of a Scriptural as well as rational authority and weight, on which it may be found, after all, to be the settlement of the meaning of these very expressions themselves must, for the most part, largely depend. For it is a great mistake to imagine that to treat a subject scripturally means merely to string together a catalogue or concordance of quotations; or that the mind of the Spirit is to he ascertained, on any matter, by a bare enumeration of some of his sayings with regard to it. His meaning is to be known, as the meaning of any other author is to be known. In the case of an ordinary writer of books, especially if he is a man of diversified tastes and talents, - a voluminous writer also, and one of vast compass and variety, - having many different styles for different uses and occasions, and personating by turns many different characters, real or imaginary, whom he makes the vehicles for conveying his sentiments, - we gather his real and ultimate mind on any particular subject, not so much from separate sentences and phrases, culled and collected, perhaps, to serve a purpose, as from an intelligent and comprehensive study of his leading train of thought, with special reference to the scope and tenor of his reasoning on those large and wide views of truth which from time to time occupy and fill his soul.
Surely when the Divine Spirit is the author with whose very miscellaneous works we. have to deal, the same rule of simple justice and fair play ought to be observed. This seems to be what is meant by "the analogy of the faith;" to which, as a rule or canon of Scriptural interpretation, sound and judicious divines are accustomed to attach considerable value. It is substantially the principle sanctioned by the Apostle Peter when he wishes, as it would seem, to guard against a garbled, disjointed, and piecemeal mode of quoting the words of revelation: "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation; for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter i. 20, 21). He, not they, is virtually the author. And it is not as detached utterances of different persons, but as, in all its varied parts and fragments, the manifold and multifarious work of one person, the Divine Spirit, that the "sure word of prophecy" is to be read and understood.
Unquestionably, the rule, as I have stated it, is a right one. At the same time, it must be frankly admitted that there is danger of excess or of error in the use and application of the rule. It may lead to a habit of dogmatical theorizing, and vague, presumptuous generalizing, on the one hand; or, on the other hand, to a loose exegesis and a careless way of handling and examining texts; or to both of these evils together. The appeal must uniformly be sustained as relevant and legitimate when it is demanded that particular passages shall be consulted, as being the real tests or touch-stones by which all general views must be tried. Nor may the natural import and literal force of such passages, taken simply as they stand in the places where they occur, be sacrificed or evaded, out of deference to any system, however apparently Scriptural, or to any foregone conclusion of any sort. All that any one is entitled to insist upon is, that general views of truth, if they seem to have a bearing on the interpretation of particular passages, shall not necessarily be kept out of sight in the examination of them; and above all, that when particular passages are alleged as having a bearing upon general views of truth, care shall be taken to ascertain how far the Great Author meant them to be authoritative for the end alleged or how far he may not rather, on the contrary, have intended them to serve quite another purpose altogether.
It is in strict accordance with these notions, safe enough, surely, and sufficiently honouring to the Bible, that I wish now to enter upon the consideration of those texts, of which there is a considerable number, that are very often brought forward as asserting the universality of the redemption purchased by Christ; and asserting it so expressly and explicitly, in words the most unequivocal, as to preclude all arguments on the other side; as when it is said that Christ is "the propitiation" for "the sins of the whole world" (1 John ii. 2); or that he "died for all" (2 Cor. v. 1 4); or that by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom. v. 18); or that Christ must needs "taste death for every man" (Heb. ii. 9); - all of which, together with other similar statements, are continually urged as if they were in terms decisive of the question, and as if nothing but a reckless tampering with the language of inspiration could blunt the edge of their testimony. Against so summary a procedure, and on behalf of a more cautious and humble style of criticism, I venture to protest; and in support of my protest, I ask the attention of common readers of time Bible, first to what may be said of the statements now referred to collectively, and then to what may be said of some of them more in detail.
Considering the entire series of texts collectively, or in the mass, I may in the outset avail myself, in a general way, of the judicious observations of Professor Moses Stuart, who, as the closing sentence of the very paragraph I am about to quote sufficiently proves; can scarcely be suspected of any undue leaning to the strict Calvinistic doctrine. I refer to the passage for the sake of the general principle it contains. As to the particular text in connection with which he introduces it, I shall presently give my own view of its interpretation; a view which seems to me to exhaust its meaning more fully than that suggested by this eminent commentator. In his Commentary on Heb. ii. 9, he thus writes: "(Hebrew) means, all men without distinction - i.e., both Jew and Gentile. The same view is often given of the death of Christ. (See John iii. 14 - 17 ; iv. 42; xii. 32. 1 John ii. 2; iv. 14. 1 Tim. ii. 3, 4. Tit. ii. 11. 2 Pet. iii. 9. Compare Rom.iii. 29,30; x. 11 - 13.) In all these, and the like cases, the words all, and all men, evidently mean Jew and Gentile. They are opposed to the Jewish idea, that the Messiah was connected appropriately and exclusively with the Jews, and that the blessings of the kingdom were appropriately, if not exclusively, theirs. The sacred writers mean to declare, by such expressions, that Christ died really and truly as well, and as much, for the Gentiles as for the Jews; that there is no difference at all in regard to the privileges of any one who may belong to his kingdom; and that all men, without exception, have equal and free access to it. But the considerate interpreter, who understands the nature of this idiom, will never think of seeking, in expressions of this kind, proof of the final salvation of every individual of the human race. Nor do they, when strictly scanned by the usus loquendi of the New Testament, decide directly against the views of those who advocate what is called a particular redemption. The question, in all these phrases, evidently respects the offer of salvation, the opportunity to acquire it through a Redeemer; not the actual application of promises, the fulfilment of which is connected only with repentance and faith. But whether such an offer can be made with sincerity to those who are reprobates (and whom the Saviour knows are and will be such), consistently with the grounds which the advocates for particular redemption maintain, is a question for the theologian, rather than the commentator, to discuss."
With this high authority we who hold the Calvinistic doctrine might be satisfied. And when, in the face of it, we find men still reiterating these particular texts, as if the mere sound of the words were to be conclusive, and they had nothing to do but to accumulate "ails" and "everys," taken indiscriminately out of the Bible, very much as children heap up at random a pile of loose stones, without regard to context, or connection, or arialogy, - the usus loquendi of the New Testament, as Professor Stuart calls it, - we might simply appeal to this testimony of an adversary, as proving, at time very least, that our opponents are not entitled to make such short work of this argument as they are so very much inclined to do.
But, for sake of further illustration, I shall take up several of these passages separately. In doing so, I shall make it my first inquiry, in each case, what is the precise point under discussion. For I must here advert to another maxim or principle of interpretation, quite as important as the one which I have been insisting on. It is a good rule, well known, though, alas! not so well observed, among controversialists, as a rule which ought to regulate their discussions of one anothers views, and their citations of other parties to bear them witness : That a writers authority, in any given passage, does not extend beyond the particular topic which he has on hand. You may appeal to him as pronouncing a judgment on the matter before him, but not as deciding another question which may not, at the time, have been in his mind at all. Nothing can be fairer, or more necessary, than this maxim; which may be regarded as a fair extension or explanation of the general canon of interpretation already indicated.
An earnest and simple-minded man offers his opinion frankly on what is submitted to him, without being careful always to guard and fence himself round on every side, lest some incidental remark or phrase he may happen to let fall, in the warmth and energy of his feeling, on a subject, perhaps, in which he takes a deep interest, should be laid hold of and brought up as the expression of his deliberate judgment on some collateral topic, which, all the while, may have been miles away from his thoughts. He relies on your intelligence and honesty - on your good sense and your good faith. If he did not, - if he felt himself bound to be ever qualifying and defining his terms and statemerits and arguments, lest what he gives you as his mind on one point should be used by you as authority on another, - all the freshness and fairness, the generosity and cordiality, of friendship and friendly converse or correspondence, would be at an end; and stiff and strait-laced ceremony would rule the day.
This remark pre-eminently applies to the style and manner of Holy Scripture. For there is no one feature of the Spirits communications to us more signally conspicuous than this, that he always gives himself to one thing at a time. Using as his instruments earnest and simple-minded men, who speak as they are moved by him, the Holy Ghost, identifying himself with each, in turn of thought and style of writing, and entering into the very mind of the individual whom he inspires, gives forth, through him, a frank and full utterance on each subject as. he takes it up, with the same unstudied ease and unsuspicious freedom - often even with the same impetuous rapidity of involved grammar and abrupt rhetoric - with which the writer himself, if left alone, would have poured out his whole soul. Hence the ease with which anomalies and inconistencies may be raked together, for the use, or abuse, of minute critics who have no mind, and subtle cavillers who have no heart, to understand what the Spirit says, through honest men, to their fellow-men. But "Wisdom is justified of her children." "He that hath ears, let him hear."
The separate passages which I mean to notice may be conveniently brought together in five distinct classes
I. Take, in the first place, these two texts, namely, first, that in the Epistle to the Romans: "Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men to justification of life" (v. 18) ; - and, secondly, that in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (v. 14, 15).
In the first of these passages (Rom. v. 18) the sole object of the apostle is to explain, or assert, the principle of irnputation, - the principle upon which God deals with many as represented by one, or with one as representing many. For this end, he draws a parallel between the imputation of Adams sin and the imputation of Christs righteousness. Evidently, however, the whole value of the comparison turns upon the nature of the transaction on either side, not upon its extent. The identity, or agreement, or correspondence, intended to be pointed out, is an identity in respect of principle. To stretch the language used, so as to make it decide the question of extent, is to represent the apostle as inconsistent with himself in the very matter which he is formally and expressly discussing. For what is the principle of imputation, as he lays it down? It implies these two things:
First, That a vicarious headship be constituted in one person; and,
secondly, That the whole result or consequence of the trial upon which that one person is placed, whether it be success or failure, be actually and in fact communicated and conveyed to all whom he represents.
Of this last condition, he is most careful to prove that it was realized in the imputation of Adams sin; and for this purpose he insists very specially on the universality of death, - its having reigned "even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adams transgression" But it is a condition which, if insisted on at the other side of the antithesis, - and without it the parallel wholly fails and the doctrine of imputation is gone, - is positively irreconcilable with the notion of a general or universal redemption, except upon the hypothesis of universal salvation. For it is of the very essence of the principle of imputation, according to this parallel, that precisely in the same manner in which the guilt of Adams sin, with the death which it entailed, did, in point of fact, as well as in law, pass from him to those who were represented by him and identified with him; so, the righteousness of Christ, with the life and salvation which it involves, must be really and actually, in its consequences as well as in its merit, made over to all the parties interested. Hence, if the parallel is pressed, in regard to the extent as well as the nature of the two transactions, life amid salvation by Christ must actually be as universal as death by Adam. Thus, if this text be unwisely pressed beyond the purpose which the writer, at the time of writing, had in his view, - in a manner contrary to the rule of sound criticism and sound sense, - it is really not the limitation of Christ's work to his people that will come to be called in question, but the fact of the final condemnation of any of the wicked.
An observation nearly similar may be made in reference to the second of the two passages in this class (2 Cor. v. 14, 1 5). There, the apostles theme is the union and identification of believers with Christ in his death and in his life. His object is, to remind them that as Christs death has become theirs, so also has his life. Hence it is to his purpose to argue thus: First, If one died for all, then were all dead ;" all became dead, or literally, died, - namely, in and with him, through participation in his death. And, secondly, "He died for all, that they which live" - the living - those who through participation of his death become partakers also of his life - " should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again" Such reasoning is relevant and conclusive for the apostles object. He thus brings out the principle of imputation, - that whatever befalls the Head must be held to pass, and must actually pass, efficaciously, to all whom he represents; and he connects with it the principle of vital union, - that all thus represented are partakers in all things, in his death and in his life, with the Head. The whole argument in the context depends on these two principles. The question of the extent of the atonement is not once before the writer throughout the whole of his fervid practical appeal, in which he is not dogmatising, but simply enforcing the high standard of spiritual privilege and duty.
The bearing of Christ's death on the unregenerate is not within the scope of his reasoning; and to regard him as giving a decision on that point, instead of urging home its bearing upon believers, is to introduce an element altogether heterogeneous. Not only is the argument thus hopelessly perplexed, but, as in the former case, it is found to tell in favour of the notion of universal salvation rather than anything else; making actual salvation, through the death and life of Christ, co-extensive with death through the sin of Adam. For in that case we must interpret the expression "then were all dead," as referring to this death of all men through Adams sin. Such, however, is not really in the apostles view. What he has before him is the death which the "all" for whom Christ died do themselves die, in and with him, when, in virtue of their being united to him, they are "crucified with him" (Gal. ii. 20).
II. A second class of texts may embrace the following, namely, first, that in the First Epistle to Timothy: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and. men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to he testified in due time" (ii. 5, 6) ; - secondly, that in the Epistle to Titus: "For the .grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" "The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men, hath appeared" (ii. 1 1, marginal reading); - and thirdly, that in the First Epistle of John: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" cii. 1, 2).
Of these and the like passages it may be confidently affirmed that the universality asserted in them is plainly a universality of classes, conditions, and characters of men, not of individuals. Thus, in the first of these three passages (1 Tim. ii. 1 - 6), the apostle is exhorting that prayer be made for all men, kings and rulers as well as subjects. This was a very necessary specification at a time when those in authority, being too often oppressors, might seem to have little claim on Christians for such kindness. Notwithstanding that consideration, the apostle would have intercession offered for kings and rulers; and, in short, for men of all ranks, and all situations and circumstances in the world. It is to enforce this universality of intercessory prayer, in opposition to the idea of excluding or omitting any set of men, even the most undeserving, that he introduces as an argument, first, the universality of the Fathers love, who has no respect of persons, but "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (ver. 4); and, secondly, the universality of the Sons mediation, which has regard to men, as such, without excepting any portion of the race; for he "gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (ver. 6).
In the second passage, also (Tit. 1-1 1), admitting the marginal reading of the eleventh verse to be preferable - " The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared" - the design of the apostle evidently is to gather and collect together, in one company, those whom he has been distributing into detachments, according to age, sex, office, and station. Aged men; aged women; young women; young men; Titus, the pastor; servants ; - these he has been, in the preceding part of the chapter, directing severally as to their several duties (ver. 2 - 10). And now, at the eleventh verse, having adverted to the things wherein they are separated from one another, he closes with an appeal to that wherein they agree. For he would have them to remember, and deeply feel, that though their relations in society, with their corresponding trials and obligations, may be, and must be, diversified, calling for different modes of applying the principles and maxims of the Gospel to the practical details of the everyday business of life, - still their positions, as believers, is one, and the motive to obedience is one and the same "the appearing of the grace of God." For that grace "bringeth salvation to all men" alike - however in age, sex, office, or station, they may- differ from one another. And it teaches and binds them all alike to a sober, righteous, and godly life, in the hope of the glorious appearing of Him whose saving grace has appeared already;. - "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared; teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (ver. 11-13).
Such is the argument. The very force and beauty of it as an appeal to the intermediate place, or middle stage, which all believers in common occupy, between the two "appearings," the gracious and the glorious, must be admitted to turn upon these being, as to extent, commensurate. The universality, therefore, of the former, or gracious appealing, must be measured by that of the latter, or glorious appearing: as to which there can be no room for question, since it is "unto them that look for him that he is to appear time second time, without sin, unto salvation" (Heb. ix. 28).
In the third text cited as falling under the second class (1 John ii. 2), the matter is, if possible, still more plain and certain. Let it be noted that in his first chapter, of which the beginning of the second chapter should form a part, - for there is no pause in the sense till the close of the second verse of the second chapter at the soonest, - the apostles discrimination of the persons - " we," "you," " they" - is very accurate and exact. In the beginning of the first chapter, he speaks of what he and his fellow-apostles witnessed of the manifestation of THE LIFE; and at the third verse he takes in those whom he is immediately addressing: " That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us" that is, may have the same fellowship which we have, or be partakers with us in "our fellowship," which "truly is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (i. 1-3). Thereafter, the apostle associates those to whom he thus writes with himself and his fellow-apostles - the taught with the teachers - and speaks in the first person, as now comprehending both: "If we walk in the light," you and we together, "as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" - we with him and He with us, or you and we together with him"- and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (ver. 7). Twice, indeed, he briefly keeps up the distinction, when, as a master, he tells them, as his disciples, what he would have them to learn, and what is the great object of his testimony and teaching. First, he says, "These things write I unto you, that your joy may be full" (i. 4); and again he adds, "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not" (ii. 1). As their teacher, he would have them, as his scholars, to apprehend more amid more that these two attainments constitute the twofold end of all Christian doctrine and Christian influence ;- fulness of joy, on time one hand; and on the other hand, freedom from sin.
But the "you" and the " I" or "we," are soon again merged in one, "we." The apostle puts, as, alas! he must put, the possible case of those to whom he writes, with all their knowledge of Christian doctrine and subjection to Christian influence, being tempted to sin. Even you, my little children, notwithstanding your holy faith and heavenly fellowship, are in danger of contracting new guilt, and needing new and fresh forgiveness continually. I cannot, therefore, but make the supposition that you may sin, so long as you are in this present body, and in this present evil world. I dare not hope that you will be altogether sinless. I cannot but anticipate that you may fall into sin. For though you have in you that divine seed of the new life, which, in so far as it abides in you, makes sin impossible (iii. 9), you are still liable to the lusting of the flesh against the Spirit. I must remind you, therefore, that you are still apt to sin: not as if I would make allowances or grant indulgences beforehand for sin; but that I may tell you of your constant need of that cleansing blood which has been shed, and exhort you, on the very first instant of your being overtaken in a fault, to flee anew to that fountain, and to flee to it hastily, "lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. iii. 13).
Therefore, "if any man sin," - any one of you. - But stay. We as well as you may be, and indeed are, in the same predicament. "If any one sin" - any of you, shall I say? Nay, let me correct my phraseology. Let me make common cause with you. Let us apostles and you disciples together own our continual liability to sin. "If any man" - any one - " sin" - any of us - " we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins." Is this merely a plausible paraphrase? Is it not rather really the sense and meaning of the apostle, affectionately pouring out his heart to his "little children?" Then, if so, what can be the meaning of the short, abrupt, hut most emphatic allusion to a third party - " and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world?" For the apostle instantly returns to the " we" and the "you," and throughout all the chapter, and indeed throughout all the epistle, keeps to that style and manner of warm epistolary familiarity. What, therefore, can the passing introduction of this seemingly extraneous reference to others imply? What, but that the apostle, with his truly catholic love to all brethren in Christ, calls to mind that others, besides himself and those to whom he writes, may be in the same sad case for which he has been making provision? If any of us sin, we have an advocate with the Father - we know where to find relief - we know how we may be restored, and have our backslidings healed.
But this is too good news to be kept to ourselves. Many, too many, of the Lords people, in all successive ages, may and must need the same comfort and revival. For the admonition, therefore, of all, everywhere, and to the end of time, who may be situated as we - says the apostle of himself, his fellow-apostles, and his little children, all alike, - as we, some of us, or all of us, may be situated - overtaken, that is, in a fault, fallen from their first love, lapsed into sin - the universal efficacy of this remedy is to be asserted, as available, in such circumstances, not for us only, but for all.
Who does not see that, when the text is thus interpreted according to its connection, it cannot possibly be any general or universal reference of the atonement to all mankind, whether believers or not, that is meant? The whole propriety, sense, and force of the passage are gone, and all its sanctifying and comforting unction is evaporated, if it be held to denote anything whatever beyond that special efficacy of Christs blood and intercession which cleanses the believers conscience anew from the defilement of backsliding, and delivers his heart afresh from the baseness and bondage of corruption. I bring together, in a third class, the following texts.
First, that prophecy or warning in the Second Epistle of Peter cii. 1): " There shall be false teachers among you, who shall bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them."
Secondly, that solemn appeal which Paul makes to the Hebrews (x. 28, 29): "He that despised Moses law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Thirdly, Pauls tender cxpostulation in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (viii. 10, 11): "For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idols temple, shall riot the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" And
Fourthly, a similar expostulation in his Epistle to the Romans (xiv. 1 5): "But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died."
We have here a class of texts in which, being "bought by the Lord ;" being "sanctified," or cleansed, "with the blood of the covenant ;" being interested in Christ as "dying for them," - wouid seem to be represented as consistent with men bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. ii. 1); "dying without mercy," and "falling into the hands of the living God" (Heb. x. 28-31); perishing," and "being, destroyed," through the liberty of others becoming to them a stumblingblock (1 Cor. viii. 11, and Rom. xiv. 15).
Now, it is remarkable that in all these passages, the strong amid awful appeals made turn on the interest which God has in the parties referred to, rather than on the interest which they have in. him. They assert Gods prerogative, rather than their privilege. They proceed on the consideration, not of any claim which they have upon God, but of the claim which God has upon them. In this view, what gives to these texts, rightly apprehended, their peculiar point, emphasis, and solemnity, is not the assertion, as a matter of fact (de facto), on the part of the persons referred to, of the tie, or the relationship, or the obligation, indicated by the expressions used; but rather the assumption of it, as a matter of right (de jure), on the part of God.
Thus, the first two of these texts (2 Peter ii. 1, Heb. x. 28, 29) bring out, in stern relief, on a background of bright profession and promise, the black guilt of apostasy, and of the bringing in of damnable heresies. The latter of the two, the solemn warning of Paul, is applicable chiefly to the case of private members of the Church, who, beginning with "forsaking the assembling of themselves together" - growing weary of godly fellowship and society - lapse gradually into "wilful sin," and are in imminent hazard of being finally and fatally hardened. The former, again, the prophetic intimation of Peter, has respect to "teachers" in the Church, whose insidious poison of false doctrine tends to eat away as a canker, first. the religion of the people, and then their own. For, alas! how often have ingenious innovators in the faith of the gospel, or in the form of sound words which embodies and expresses it, almost unwittingly unsettled and undermined the principles of others, before they have begun to feel in their own souls the destructive tendency of their speculations. In both of these instances, the object of the Spirit is to paint, as with a lightning-flash across the thunder-cloud, the perilous position of the individuals who are to be warned; to startle them with a vivid insight into the view which God is entitled to take, and in fact cannot but take, of their aggravated sin; to fill them with salutary alarm, by opening their eyes to a clear foresight of the inevitable ruin which their sin, if persevered in, must entail on them. For everywhere throughout Scripture it is intimated that, whatever assurance believers may have of their final salvation, they are to be as sensitively alive to whatever has even the most remote tendency to a separation from Christ, as if they were every instant in danger of perishing. Assurance, indeed, on any other footing, would be a carnal, and not a spiritual boon; it would be disastrous, instead of being helpful and beneficial to the soul. Hence the apostles language in that remarkable passage in which he intimates, that he was as jealous over himself, in the article of bodily indulgence, as if he had always in his eye the possibility of intemperance becoming, after all, his snare, and its bitter fruit his fate (1 Cor. ix. 27). It is on the same principle that the two texts in question are to be understood. They indicate, on the one hand, what true Christians, whether private members or office-bearers in the Church, must always keep before them, as the inevitable issue of an unsteadfast walk, or of false teaching, should they be seduced into either of these snares. And they indicate also, on the other hand, in what light God must regard their sin and danger, and in what character, considering their profession to him and his right over them, he cannot fail to view and visit them, when he comes to judge. Their sin must fall to be estimated, and their judgment must fall to be determined, by the standard of their Christian name. It is as Christians that they are to be considered as sinning. It is on that footing, as reprobate and apostate Christians, that they are to be condemned.
The other two passages in this class (1 Cor. viii. 10, 11, and Rom. xiv. 15) are warnings to those who, on the strength of their own. clearer light and more robust conscience, may be tempted to despise or offend the weaker members of the Church. Evidently, therefore, these texts point out the light in which the parties addressed are to regard those whom they are in danger of vexing or misleading. They are to regard them as brethren; weak, perhaps, but still brethren; interested in the same Saviour with themselves, but yet, notwithstanding that, not so secure as to be beyond the reach of serious and fatal injury, at the hands of their fellow-Christians. The lesson to time strong is twofold. In the first place, do not look on the weak with contempt, as if their scruples were undeserving of your attention and consideration. They are your brethren still, relying, as you do, on Christ as their only surety; and if they lose their hold of him, having ito other reliance on which to fall back.
And therefore, secondly, beware lest you should be inclined to plead, in excuse for any use of your liberty that may wound or insnare their consciences, that this is no concern of yours, since, if they are Christs, he will keep them safe from harm. So far as your conduct toward them is concerned, you are to treat them, even as you are to treat yourselves, with all that delicacy and tenderness which the most precarious and uncertain tenure of grace might prompt. To you, the humble believer, on whose unnecessary fastidiousness you are tempted to look down, - and with whose minute cases and questions of casuistry you are provoked to trifle or to be angry, - is still, with all his weakness, a brother. He is to be treated by you as a brother, for whom, as well as for you, Christ died. Whatever may be his security in the Saviour whom he trusts, that can be no reason for your taking liberties and tampering with the eternal interests of his soul. Beware how you deal with him, lest you should have his blood to answer for. Fix deep in your minds and hearts this solemn thought, - if ever, at any moment, you are inclined to follow your own more liberal opinions, without respect to their influence on him, - that at that very moment, whatever God may think of him, he is to you simply a brother, who, through your knowledge, and by your eating, is placed in extreme danger of perishing and being destroyed for ever.
IV. The fourth class of texts to which I have to advert, consists of such as the following: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" (John i. 29); - " God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John iii. 16); - the Samaritans "said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (John iv. 42); - " I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John xii. 32); - "We have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John iv. 1 4).
In regard to this series of texts, I am disposed most gladly to admit that in them, as in sundry other places, the universal bearing on mankind at large of the exhibition of the cross and the proclamation of the gospel, is graciously and gloriously attested. I might observe, indeed, that General in strict accordance with the context arid the connection, each of these passages might be shown to coincide, in substance, with those of the class first cited, which assert the indiscrimninate applicability of Christs work, without respect of persons, or distinction of "Jew or Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free." They all, therefore, equally with those of that first class, fall under the general remarks of Professor Moses Stuart, already quoted, as to the right and fair exegetical canon for interpreting such indefinite statements. I cannot but think and feel, however, that they go a little further, or rather, that they touch upon a somewhat different topic. They seem to me to have respect, not to the design and efficacy of the atonement, in its accomplishment and application; nor even, strictly speaking, to its sufficiency; but solely to the discovery which, as a historical transaction, or fact in providence, it is fitted to make of the Divine character generally, and especially of the Divine compassion and benevolence. In that aspect, or point of view, they are to be regarded as giving intimation of the widest possible universality.
This is particularly the case in that most blessed statement: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not. perish, but have everlasting life." For I confess I am but little inclined to qualify or explain away the term "world," as here employed. I rather rejoice in this text, as asserting that time gospel has a gracious aspect to the world, or to mankind as such. "God so loved the world" - that is, the world of mankind, in opposition or contradistinction to angels; he so loved mankind as such, without reference to elect or non-elect, that "he gave his only-begotten Son." The giving of his Son was, and is, a display of good-will towards men, towards men as such, towards the human race. Let it be observed, however, that even here nothing is said about God giving his Son for all. On the contrary, the very terms on which the gift of his Son is described imply a limitation of it to them that believe. On that limitation, indeed, depends the fulness of the blessing conveyed by it. The design of Christs death is, in fact, in express terms, and very pointedly, restricted to them that believe, - to "whosoever believeth in him."
And on that very account, this gift by God of his own Son is amplified, intensified, and stretched out, in regard to the amount of benefit intended to be communicated, so as to make it take in not only escape from perishing, but the possession of everlasting life. It is the gift of his Son with this limited design - namely, that "whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life " - which is represented as being an index and measure of his love to the world at large, or to mankind as such. And it is so, through the manifestation which the cross gives, to all alike and indiscriminately, of what it is in the mind amid heart of God to do for a race of guilty sinners. As to any further meaning in that text, it can only be this: that it is a testimony to the priority or precedency of Gods love toward man, as going before, and not following from, the mediation and work of Christ. I speak, of course, of the order and nature of causation, not of the order of time; for in the counsels of eternity there can be no comparing of dates. But it is important to adjust the connection of sequence or dependence between the love of God to man and the work of Christ for man, as cause and effect respectively. And one main object of this statement of our Lord undoubtedly is, to represent the Fathers good-will to men as the source and origin of the whole scheme of salvation; in opposition to the false and superstitious idea of Gods kindness being, as it were, purchased and reluctantly extorted by the interposition of one more favourable and friendly than himself to our guilty and perishing world.
V. Apart from the four different classes of of texts, texts which I have been considering, there is a single passage which seems to stand isolated and alone, and which I take by itself, as forming, in a sense, a fifth class. It is that passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews in which Christ is spoken of as "tasting death for every man" (ii. 9).
Now, as to this text, one thing, at least, is very clear. The apostles train of reasoning in the passage in which it occurs has no reference whatever to the question of the extent of Christs work, but only to the depth of that humiliation on his part which it implied, and the height of glory for which it prepared the way. In other portions of this very chapter Paul distinctly limits to the elect the whole of our Lords mediatonal character, office, and ministry; as when he is spoken of as standing in the relation of "captain of their salvation" to the "many sons" whom he is "bringing to glory" (ver. 10); and when he is represented as discharging a brothers office, in his incarnation, suffering, and death, and by his sympathy and saving help, to the "children," the little ones, "whom God has given him" to be "his brethren" (ver. 1 3 - I 7). In the verses now in question, the apostle is expounding the eighth Psalm, in connection with that high argument for the superiority of Christ over the angels which occupies the first two chapters of his epistle. He regards that psalm as a prediction of the Messiahs exaltation, in human nature, far above the visible glory of time moon-lit and starry heavens; and in particular, he interprets it as announcing also his previous and preliminary abasement. He thus turns the lowly appearance of Jesus in the flesh, which might have been urged as an objection against his divine and heavenly rank, into an article of evidence in its favour. It was in accordance with prophecy that the Messiah should be thus humbled, in the first instance, and should thereafter and thereupon be exalted to glory.
But the apostle does not rest merely on the word of prophecy. He appeals to the very nature and necessity of the case, as requiring that the Messiahs exaltation should be reached through humiliation, - and through humiliation, moreover, in human nature. If he is to be "crowned with glory and honour," it must, in all propriety, be on account of some previous work, or warfare, or suffering of some sort. It is, in fact, on account of, or "for the suffering of death." In order to such "suffering of death," for which he is to be "crowned with glory and honour," he must "be made" in a low estate; low in comparison with his original dignity and rank. In point of fact., he "is made a little lower than the angels." But why lower than the angels? Because, for the carrying out of the purposes of the grace of God, he is "to taste death for every man."
It is quite manifest that the number of those for whom he is to taste death is an element altogether irrelevant to the scope of the apostles discourse. It is their nature alone that it is in point and to time purpose to notice. Any reference to the universality of the atonement would, therefore, be here entirely out of place. But this is not all. A. reference, so to speak, to the individuality of the atonement will be found to be most significant. And such a reference this text contains. The assertion is, that Christ must taste death for men; one by one, as it were; individually and personally; bearing the sins of each. This is opposed to the notion of his death, or his work of atonement, having a reference merely to mankind collectively and in the mass. Had it been a work of that sort - a method of vindicating the divine justice, and opening a door of pardon, common to all - it does not appear how it might not have been accomplished by him without his becoming lower than the angels. In the angelic nature itself, it might be conceived possible for him to have effected the adjustment required; and that, too, even by some sort of "suffering of death," leading to his being "crowned with glory and honour." But the work being one of substitution, representation, suretiship, and, in fact, identification - in which he is not to sustain a general relation to the race as a whole, but a very special, particular, and personal relation to men one by one - taking the place of each, and meeting all the obligations, responsibilities, and liabilities of each - the necessity of his manhood becomes apparent had it been a general measure for upholding the divine government, and introducing an indiscriminate amnesty for all, there might have been other ways. But when it was to be "the tasting of death for each,." there could be but one way. He must take upon him the very nature of the individuals whom, one by one, - or each one of whom, - he is personally to represent. There is much meaning to believers, and much ground for mourning on the one hand (Zech. xii. 10), and for comfort on the other (Gal. ii. 20), in this view of the efficacy of Christs death being distributed among them; and that not in the way of division, as if each got a part, but, as it were, in the way of multiplication, so that each gets all; and every man of them may as truly realize Christs tasting death specially and personally for him, as if he had been the only sinner, in whose stead, and on whose behalf, Jesus was nailed to the cross.
It will be admitted, I think, that I have selected for classification and examination the strongest rather than the weakest of the texts on examined. . . . which opponents of the Calvimstic system are accustomed to rely. And it can scarcely be said that I have dealt with them in a perfunctory or evasive manner. I have simply sought to ascertain in each case what it is that the inspired writer is really speaking about, or aiming at; giving him the benefit of the fair and reasonable presumption, that he is not so illogical as gratuitously to introduce extraneous matter into the very heart of his reasoning or discourse. My exegetical skill may fail me in endeavouring to apply a sound general principle of interpretation to particular passages; but I am entitled, on behalf of Calvinism, to demand that whoever calls that system or its apologists to account, on the ground of these passages, shall intelligently apply to them some sound principle himself.
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