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sonally, but only of his doctrine, of the christian religion. Wherever the name of Christ occurs in the New Testament, therefore, the question fairly rises whether the passage will not bear this construction; and the question can only be determined by the connexion, and by what we know of the subject from other sources. As a general rule, however, I am convinced that we are too much inclined to adopt the literal interpretation in such cases; and that by doing so we sometimes depart from the sense really intended, and fall into serious errors.
It will be proper for me to illustrate what I mean by a few examples.
Mystics and enthusiasts in all ages have laid hold of a few passages in the New Testament as countenancing the idea of a supposed personal union with Christ; but when properly understood, these passages will be found to bear a different and more probable construction. Paul says to the Galatians; Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me;' that is, I am wholly actuated by christian principles. And again; 'My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you;' that is, until you become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and principles of Christ. The same apostle says to the Ephesians; 'That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith;' that is, that you may become sincere, firm, and practical believers in the christian doctrine. Once more, in his second letter to the Corinthians; "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature ;' that is, on embracing the christ
ian doctrine, his principles are so entirely changed, that he be considered another man.
Other texts are sometimes adduced as implying that Christ occasionally enlightens and assists his followers by an immediate and personal agency; but it is probable that these texts refer to the influence of his doctrine. Thus Paul writes to the Ephesians; 'Wherefore he saith, awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ,' that is, the Gospel, 'shall give thee light.' He is comparing the darkness and death of the gentile state with the light and life enjoyed under the christian dispensation. Again, he writes to the Philippians; 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me; that is, I can do all things through the energy which christian principles inspire. Much is also said about knowing Christ, and preaching Christ, and him crucified, and these expressions have been thought by some to relate to his person only, and particularly to his last sufferings; but they probably relate to his doctrines generally. Paul writes to the Corinthians; But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;' that is, we are not ashamed to preach the doctrines of one who suffered an ignominious death, though we are aware that this circumstance will offend the prejudices of some, and provoke the contempt of others. In the language of scripture, preaching Christ is neither more nor less than giving a full and faithful exposition of his doctrines.
Further, Christ, it is said, will raise the dead; but it
is not necessary to infer from this that the dead are to be raised by the immediate and personal agency of Christ; for it is perfectly consistent with the usage of the sacred writers to represent one as actually doing what he only reveals, or foretells. For instance, in Ezekiel; According to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city;' that is, when I came to predict the destruction of the city. So also in Jeremiah; And the Lord said unto me, behold I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant;' that is, to foretell these events. Again, in Isaiah; Go make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes,' &c.; that is, declare that so their condition will be. In these, as in many other places, the prophets are represented as actually to do what they were only inspired to announce or threaten.
Again, we are told that Christ will judge the world. On the strength of this and similar expressions, however, we are not to presume, that he will do it in person; but only that the world will be judged by the principles, which he has set forth in the gospel. He will judge the world, because every individual's future condition will be determined according to the principles which he has set forth in the gospel. Indeed our Lord's own language seems to require us to put this construction on the doctrine; for he says; 'If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge
not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the WORD that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.'
Lastly, Christ is said to save the world; but we are to understand this, too, as referring to the influence of his doctrine. He saves just so many as are reclaimed from vice by his instructions, and formed to a love and practice of virtue and piety. That he does not save men at his own will and discretion, without reference to a higher power, is clear from his reply to the mother of Zebedee's children. To sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.'*
The rule of interpretation which I have been establishing will be seen, by those who are capable of appreciating it, to cut deep. It requires us to understand a multitude of passages, as referring to the christian doctrine, which seem at first sight to speak of our Saviour himself, of his presence and personal agency. We must understand what is asserted in these passages as asserted not of our Saviour personally, but of his doctrine, or
*If any should think that, after all, there is not much in this distinction between the personal agency of Christ, and the influence of the gospel, because Christ can be said to do whatever the gospel does,as he is the author of the gospel, the answer is ready. It is true that Christ can be said to do whatever the gospel does; but it is only in the same sense in which a philosopher can be said to enlighten every mind that is enlightened by the perusal of his writings; it is only in the same sense in which a physician can be said to heal every malady, that is healed by a medicine which he has provided and taught the world how to use.
his spirit, or of the influence of the christian religion generally. Let me guard against misapprehension. We do not object to the expressions which I have been explaining as improper expressions; we do not doubt their being strictly true, in the sense intended by the sacred writers; nay, we do not object to the use of the same or similar expressions in devotional compositions at the present day, as being more lively, expressive, and affecting. But when used, let them be used understandingly. Let us remember that, by a common figure, they make the name of Christ stand for his doctrine, for the christian dispensation.
A regard to this rule of interpretation is necessary to a right understanding of the passage; 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.' We do not suppose the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to mean in this place, the immutability of Christ himself, either in his person or office; for this would be to contradict the express declaration of Paul. And when all things shall be subdued unto him (Christ,) then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.' 'Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father.' Here certainly is change. We are not at liberty to believe, therefore, that Christ himself is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the immutability asserted is only true of his doctrine. His name in this place stands for his doctrine; it is his doctrine only that is the same yesterday, today, and forever.