« ElőzőTovább »
bow an institution so dismal and big with absurdity could prevail through the world. And is it a cause of wonder that men of enlightened and contemplative minds, believing the whole plan of Christian salvation to be predicated on this principle, should be led to doubt, and finally to reject, Christianity itself?
We have already seen that the doctrine denies the persect and impartial justice of God, and substitutes in its stead an unfeeling cruelty, which could be satisfied with nothing short of the endless punishment of all men ; or, as an equivalent, the infinite and unmerited sufferings of a divine Being. As the doctrine also represents God as a changeable being, satisfied at one time with his creatures, and dissatisfied at another, how can a person embracing it be assured that he may not again become equally dissatisfied, and require again the same amount of suffering? In fact, the advocates of this doctrine, without exception, believe that, notwithstanding Christ has once suffered the penalty of the divine law, and made perfect satisfaction to the demands of justice, the same penalty will be again inflicted on countless millions of the human family. Now we ask, are such sentiments calculated to inspire the soul with unshaken confidence in God, and to diffuse his love in the heart? But further : as a resemblance of the moral perfections of Deity, which is a natural consequence of loving him supremely, is a constituent and essential part of piety, man, in order to be truly pious, must imitate his Maker. Suppose then an individual, in his conduct towards his own family, should act on those principles which this doctrine ascribes to God; suppose he should refuse to show any kindness to his disobedient children, until they had endured all the misery he could inflict on them, or until an equal amount of suffering should have been endured by an innocent substitute ; and suppose this substitute to be a peculiarly favorite son, who had never disobeyed nor offended him; and that this parent, after having poured out his wrath on his innocent son, because some of his other children did not, or could not, trust entirely in the sufferings of their unoffending brother, as the only means of their justification, should proceed to inflict on them an unmerciful punishment, without any design of bringing them to obedience, or doing them or any one else the least possible good—would such conduct be thought consonant with genuine piety? Would not the individual be rather branded with deserved infamy, and considered a disgrace to human nature ? And yet, wherein
would such conduct differ from that which this doctrine ascribes to God?
Another natural tendency of such views of the divine economy, in the salvation of sinners, is to draw away the affections of the heart from God, and to fix them on a subordinate being,-on that compassionate substitute who bore our guilt and punishment, and turned away his Father's wrath. The mind instinctively shrinks from the contemplation of those objects which are calculated to fill it with gloom and terror; and seeks relief by fixing on some object more congenial with its feelings. We are fully aware that the advocates of this doctrine boast of the more exalted views of divine mercy which their system of atonement presents to the mind; and of the superior gratitude it awakens in the heart. As all mankind had forfeited the favor of the Most High, and were utterly unable, of themselves, to regain it, God, they tell us, condescended to take upon himself frail, sinful human nature; and, by doing what no man could accomplish, and suffering what no mere mortal could endure, to satisfy his own justice, secure the honor of his own government, and open a way whereby his mercy could flow consistently with his other attributes to dying mortals, to make an atonement for sin, and render salvation possible to his children. But when we ask them if God has really suffered the penalty of his own law, if the Self-Existent actually died on the cross to atone for the sins of his own creatures, they are compelled to acknowledge that it was only the human nature of Christ which suffered and died for the sins of mankind; so that after all wbich has been said, of an incarnate Deity, a crucified God, and an infinite sacrifice, which none but Jehovah could offer, it is only the man Christ Jesus who has suffered and died for our sins, brought down the mercy of his Father to guilty rebels, and purchased salvation for sinners. Whenever we attempt to think seriously of a God-Man-Mediator, who is, in himself, both parties between whom he mediates, our minds become bewildered ; and we naturally turn our thoughts to something we can comprehend. Nor can we find a resting place for our imagination until we fix it on a comprehepsible being; and fixing our minds on the Mediator between God and men, in Christ the Son we behold goodness and mercy; in God the Father, none. Far be it from us to condemn, or even to speak lightly, of love to Christ. We would ever desire, ourselves, and wish all others, to love and honor him as the representation of the Father, as the medium through whom we receive free, unpurchased mercy and redeeming grace, as the · Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world;' and as a teacher of truth and righteousness, in whom God is reconciling the world unto himself.' But as Jesus ascribed all goodness to the Father, and as his mission, death and resurrection were the fruits of divine mercy, the assurances of God's impartial goodness, and commendations of his love to the whole world, we would offer to our Father in heaven our highest praise, and yield to him our most fervent gratitude, and ardent love. Nor can we admit; as true, any principle of doctrine, which, by directing the best and purest affections of our hearts to any other being, is calculated to weaken sincere and ardent piety towards the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, or to impair our confidence in the 'Rock of our salvation.'
In conclusion, we would express our sincere hope and confident belief, that the time is not far distant, when a doctrine, originating from heathen superstition, founded on such gross misapprehension of the divine character, so detrimental to genuine piety, and so replete with absurdity, will form no part of the Christian faith.
Commentators on the Sin unto death."
• If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death : I do not say that he shall pray for it.'—1 John, v, 16.
This text, it will be perceived, recognizes some peculiar catastrophe, under the name of death, as the result, not of sins in general, but of a certain sin; without specifying, however, what kind of death is meant, nor of course what is the precise nature of that catastrophe. In this respect it is indefinite, and leaves room for conjecture. But for the very reason of its ambiguity, people have referred it, as they have nearly all the indefinite threatenings in the Scriptures, to the most fearful idea which their creed embraced,—to endless torment,-though it really contains no trace of such an allusion. So strong is the predisposition of the human mind to suspect the worst possible in what is obscure! To us, however, there appears, on the face of the passage, an exclusive reference to the state of things that existed while the Christians were endowed with miraculous gifts. Those whom St. John addresses, are here supposed capable of distinguishing between such sins of their brethren as were unto death, and such as were not unto death, and of procuring, by their prayers, the grant of life to the transgressors in certain cases. Now these are gifts which were confined to believers of the apostolic age; and of course, whatev er explanation we give the text, it should be such as comports with the peculiar circumstances of that period. Our readers will perhaps find some useful suggestions in the following notes and paraphrases of Orthodox commentators on the passage. They will at least discover that it cannot be very easily applied to the doctrine of endless misery, whether that doctrine be true or false ; and that the more careful and considerate of its believers themselves have long been aware of the fact.
MACKNIGHT paraphrases the text thus: If any one endowed with spiritual gifts is sensible that his brother has committed a sin which is not to be punished with bodily death, because he hath repented or is in a disposition to repent, let him pray to God, and he will grant at his request recovery to those who have not sinned to death. There is a sin which will be punished with death, because the sinner is impenitent. I do not say concerning it that the spiritual man should ask God to recover such a person by miracle. To vindicate this representation he subjoins a note, too long to be inserted entire, the substance of which, however, is embraced in the following abstract and quotations: In the apostolic age, great and scandalous misdemeanors of Christians were sometimes punished in an extraordinary manner by the visible judgment of God, as in the case of the Corinthians, who had been guilty of great irregularities in the administration of the Lord's supper: For this cause,' said St. Paul, many of you are sick, and some are dead.'' (1 Cor. xi. 30.) Macknight might here have added the instance of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts v. 5.) On the other hand, continues he, there were certain persons endowed with the gift of healing diseases miraculously; as St. Paul observes: "To one is given by the spirit the word of wisdom; .... to another, the gifts of healing by the same spirit.' (1 Cor. xii. 8, 9.) And to these peculiar circumstances we may suppose that St. John refers. 'According to this view of matters, John, in the passage before us, is treating briefly of the subject concerning which James had treated more at large, ch. v. 14–16. Is
among you? Let him send for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, having anointed him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up, and so although he hath committed sins they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another that ye may be healed. The inwrought prayer of the righteous man availeth much.' Now if John, in the passage before us is treating of the subject which James hath handled in the above verses, the any one who seeth his brother sinning a sin not unto death, of whom John speaks, was any elder of the church endowed with the gift of healing diseases miraculously; and the asking, prescribed by John, is what James calls the prayer of faith; and the life to be obtained by such asking, was a miraculous recovery of the sick sinner from the mortal disease under which he was laboring: called also the raising him up, namely to health, as is plain from James v. 16.. The life which was to be asked for those who sinned not unto death, and which God was to grant, could not be eternal life, because nowhere in Scripture is eternal life promised to be given to any sinner at the asking of another. Besides, right reason teaches that eternal life should not be granted to any sinner merely because another asks it for him; nay, that the prayers of the whole world united will not procure eternal life for an impenitent sinner. On the other hand, if a sinner truly repents of his sin, he will assuredly obtain eternal life through the intercession of Christ, whether any of his fellow men ask it for him or not. Since then, one person's asking God to grant eternal life to another, hath no influence to procure that favor, the life which was to be asked for the person who had not sinned unto death, and which God promised to grant, must have been temporal life only; consequently, John's direction, 'let him ask God, and he will grant to him life,' is equivalent to that of James, “Let them pray over them, and the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and so, although he hath committed sins, they will be forgiven him:' that is, although he hath committed sins which have occasioned him to be punished with a mortal disease, he shall be delivered from that punishment. In calling a miraculous recovery from a mortal disease, which had been inflicted as a punishment for sins, the forgiving of ins, James hath followed his Master, who called the recove