Page images
PDF
EPUB

by Christ. It has been contended by them, that what the Apostles expected is still future; that Christ is hereafter to judge all men in person; that, in order to this, he must be acquainted with every thought and action of every individual; that such knowledge supposes omniscience; that omniscience is the attribute of God alone; and that Christ, therefore, is God. Without examining any of the other steps in this argument, one need only remark upon the very limited notion which it implies of omniscience on the one hand, and of the power of God on the other. The knowledge of all thoughts and deeds which have taken place in this world from its creation would be, compared with OMNISCIENCE, less than the acquaintance that a child may have with its nursery, compared with the apprehensions of an archangel. Would it,

then, be an act transcending the power of God to communicate that knowledge? Could he not give to one man a perfect acquaintance with one other? And if this be possible, is his power still so bounded, that he could not give to one who had been a man, a perfect knowledge of the thoughts and deeds of all other men who have lived?

In urging such obvious arguments as these, there is a humiliating consciousness of the weakness of the cause we are opposing. One may feel as if he were wasting reasoning upon a subject unworthy of it; as if his remarks implied a want of common intelligence in his readers; as if he were exposed to the same ridicule, as he who should gravely and earnestly labor the proof of an undeniable propo

sition. But the same is the case with all direct reasoning against the doctrine of the Trinity; and one can reconcile himself to the discussion of it only by considering, not what that doctrine is in itself, but how widely and how long it has prevailed, how obstinately it is still professed, and the manifold mischiefs which have flowed and are still flowing from it.

CLASS VI.

Passages misinterpreted through inattention to the peculiar characteristics of the modes of expression in the New Testament.

CORRESPONDING to what has been already said, the modes of expression in the books of the New Testament are often different from those which we should use at the present day to express the same essential meaning. All our habits of life, all the habits of our minds, our conceptions, our modes of apprehension, our associations of thought, are more or less unlike those of their writers, or of the individuals for whom the books were primarily intended. Our imaginations are familiar with different objects; our feelings are excited by other causes; our minds are occupied by other subjects. While the essential truths of religion, as taught by Christ and his Apostles, have remained unchanged

and unchangeable, the sphere of human knowledge has widened, and philosophy has made great advances. A gradual change has been taking place in the character of men's ideas; they are combined in different aggregates, they are embodied in other forms of language, they are better defined, they stand in different relations to each other. Let any one recollect and bring together what he may know of the half-civilized inhabitants of Galilee, of the bigoted Jews of Jerusalem, or of the Christian converts from heathenism at Corinth or Ephesus; and he will perceive that they were men, who, in their ways of thinking and feeling, in their opinions and prejudices, in their degree of information, in their power of comprehending truth, in the influences to which they had been subject, and in the circumstances in which they were placed, were very unlike an intelligent reader of the New Testament at the present day. The writers of the New Testament partook of the character of their age and nation. Their circumstances, likewise, were in the highest degree peculiar, and produced corresponding feelings, which we cannot fully apprehend without an effort of thought and imagination. They were Jews, accustomed to strong Oriental modes of speech, and to figurative language of a kind not familiar to us, and the force of which, therefore, we are liable to misapprehend. All these circumstances contributed to produce a style of expression in the New Testament which is not to be judged of by the standard of our own. We may satisfy ourselves that we have ascertained the true

meaning of a writer, even when his language varies much from that which the habits of our time might lead us to adopt in conveying the same ideas.

Of passages that bear the stamp of what, in a wide sense of the term, one may call the Oriental style of the New Testament, we have already had many examples under the preceding heads, particularly under the last. I now propose to explain a few passages in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians; two epistles written probably at the same time, having a striking likeness, and serving to illustrate each other. That which goes under the name of the Epistle to the Ephesians was probably a circular

epistle sent to different

They were written from

churches in Asia Minor. Rome late in the life of the Apostle, just about the termination of his first imprisonment in that city. They were addressed to Christians who were principally converts from heathenism. One main object of the Apostle was to impress them with a deep sense of the blessings they had received solely through the favor of God, of the value of their religion, and of the relations in which its teacher stood to God and to his followers; and thus to prevent them from confounding it with any human doctrine, and modifying it, or adding to it, from heathen philosophy or the super, stitions of the Jews. He was earnest to make them feel how intimately they were connected with Christ, and to direct their thoughts to him as, under God, the only source of their knowledge, blessings, and hopes.

There was danger that, after the first excitement produced by the promulgation of Christianity had passed away, it would be regarded by many Gentile converts only as a new speculation upon topics which had long engaged the attention of their philosophers, a system of opinions having its origin in a nation whom they regarded as barbarous (in the ancient sense of the word), which they might adopt in part only, reject, or modify, like other speculations, in their view similar. It was with a feeling of this danger, that St. Paul told the Corinthians that he was sent "to preach, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should become of no account";* and that he was "determined to know nothing among them, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified."† In the two Epistles we are considering, he teaches those addressed, that it was through Christ alone that they who were formerly Gentiles had attained to a knowledge of God, and of the truths and hopes of religion. To raise and strengthen their sense of the value of Christianity, he describes its blessings, especially in reference to themselves who had been Gentiles, in the strongest terms; and, to fix their attention on Christ as their great and sole Master, he uses language equally strong in speaking of his relation to God, of the importance and dignity of his office, and of the dependence of all his followers upon him.

To the Colossians he says (i. 9-20):

"So then we also, since we first heard of your † 1 Cor. ii. 2.

* 1 Cor. i. 17.

« EelmineJätka »