Page images
PDF
EPUB

the age, were constantly haunting their imaginations. — It did not belong to our Lord's department, as a religious instructor, to correct the physical errors of the Jews, and therefore he used the common phraseology on the subject of demonincs." See also Paley's Evidences, vol. iii. part 3, c. 2. p. 110. · Quere. Does not this very learned writer, by these words, virtually deny the real possession of evil spirits ? — Is not this more properly a religious than a physical error ? And therefore was it fit for him, (i. e. Christ,) as a religious Instructor, to let the!n remain deceived in so important a point? .

· The excellent Abbé. Pluche reduces the whole gods (i. e. HEATJIEN DEITIES) of antiquity to certain statues, or emblematical figures, set up in public places in Egypt, by way of almanac, to warn the people of seed-time and harvest, or like heralds to proclaim peace and war. Our learned and unwearied traveller, Dr Pocock, circumscribes them to a few of the first Egyptian kings; the Abbé Banier to real historical persons, or dead men deified; and the greater part, Vossius, Bochart, Ilzet, and of late M. Fourmont, will have the gods to be Scripture-worthies, and their legends to be Hebrew tales misunderstood. But mythology is a vast and curious compound, a labyrinth through whose windings no one thread can conduct us. The primary great gods represent its principal parts, (i. e. the universe,) the numerous inferior train exhibit either the under-parts of the world and their influences, or they belong to human passions and transactions as connected with them. The rest are men, adopted into the number of gods and frequently blended with the original deities. To imagine all these can be reduced to one class, and their infinite relations, explications, applications, and misapplications, through succeeding ages of different taste, and distant nations of different manners, can be traced and laid open by any one, however ingenious, system, is believing an impossibility. We may observe a certain progression from purity to star-worship, from star-worship to polytheism, and thence to the grossest Idolatry. Blackwell's Mythology,

The best explanation of Christ's descent into hell is this, that our blessed Saviour's reasonable soul, the better and immortal part of his humanity after a true and proper separation by death, went into a place appointed for the common mansion of departed souls, and there continued until the time of its reunion with the body, which was then in the grave, and hereupon underwent a proper resurrection. This informs us of the real existence of our Saviour's human soul, in opposition to the Arians and Apollinarians, who denied the full perfection of Christ's humanity, and asserted that there was no occasion for a rational soul, since the office of that was abundantly supplied by the powerful inhabitution of the Dii'y. And what became of it after its dissolution? for, since the creed has told us so much concerning the disposal of his body, it is but reasonable to suppose that some notice should be given us of his rational and immortal U 2

part; part; and, consequently, that his descending into hell, which are the only words that can have any relation to it, can properly admit of no other construction. Stackhouse on Creed.

The place called hell, to which it is said in our creed our Lord descended, must be some place below the surface of the earth. For it is said that he descended, that is, he went down to it. But, although the hell to which our Lord descended was indeed below, it is by no means to be understood of the place of torment. The word, in its natural import, signifies only that invisible place which is the appointed habitation of departed souls, in the interval between death and the general resurrection. (See Hogea, p. 46, note n.) That such a place must be is indisputable. That he should go to this place was a necessary branch of the general scheme and project of redemption, which required that the divine Word should take our nature upon him, and fulfil the entire condition of humanity in every period and stage of man's existence. The same wonderful scheme of humiliation, which required that the Son should be coneeived, and born, and put to death, made it equally necessary that his soul, in its intermediate state, should be gathered to the souls of the departed saints. That the invisible place of their residence is the hell to which our Lord descended is evident from the terms of his own promise to the repentant thief upon the cross. «Verily, I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” It was not heaven; for to heaven our Lord ascended not till after his resurrection. It was no place of torment; for to any such place the name of Paradise never was applied. It could be no other than the region of repose and rest, where the souls of the righteous abide in joyful hope of the consummation of their bliss, -- I will offer only this general observation, that the interpretation, which I have given of this article of our creed, is the only literal interpretation that the words will bear, unless we would admit the extravagant assertion, as to me it seems, of the venerable Calvin, that our blessed Lord actually went down to the place of torment; and there sustained, horrible to think or mention! the pains of a reprobate soul in punishment.

In those very remarkable words, 1 Pet. iii. 18, 19, 20, taken in their most literal and obvious meaning, we find not only a distinct assertion of the fact that " Christ descended into hell” in his disembodied spirit, but moreover a declaration of the business upon which he went thither, “ being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit.” “ By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient.” It is hardly necessary to mention that “ spirits.” here can signify no other spirits than the souls of men. The apostle's assertion, there fore, is this; that Christ “went and preached to souls of men in prison.” The invisible mansion of departed spirits, though certainly not a place of penal confinement to the good, is nevertheless, in some respects, a prison. (See Hosea, 13.) The original word, however, in this text of the apostle, imports not of necessity so much as this, but merely a place of safe-keeping; for so this passage might be ren

dered

dered with great exactness: “ He went and preached to the spirits in safe-keeping." Now if Christ went and preached to souls of men thus in prison or safe-keeping, surely he went to the prison of those souls, or to the place of their custody? And what place that should be but the hell of the apostle's creed, to which our Lord descended, I have not yet met with the critic that could explain. "Quickened by the spirit.” The spirit, in these English words, seems to be put, not for the soul of Christ but for the divine spirit. But this is certainly not the sense of the apostle's words. If the word “ flesh” denotęs, as it most evidently does, the part in which death took effect upon him, “spirit" must denote the part in which life was preserved in him, i.e. his own soul. And the word “ quickened” is often applied to signify, not the resuscitation of life extinguished, but the preservation and continuance of life subsisting. The exact rendering, therefore, of the apostle's words, would be, “ being put to death in the flesh, but quick in the spirit;” i. e. surviving in his soul the stroke of death which his body had sustained, “ by which, or rather “ in which," that is, in which surviving soul, he went and preached to the souls of men in prison, or in safe-keeping. The souls in custody, to whom our Saviour went in his disembo. died state and preached, were those “ which sometime were disobedient." The. expression, “ sometime were,” or “onę while had been, disobedient,” implies that they were recovered from that disobedience; and, before their death, had been brought to repentence and faith in the Redeemer to come. To such souls he preached neither repentance, nor fạith, but the glad tidings that he had actually offered the sacrifice of their redemption, and was about to appear before the Father as their in tercessor, in the merit of his own blood. But for what reason should the proclamation of the finishing of the great work of redemption be addressed exclusively to the souls of these ante-diluvian penitents? I think I have observed, in some parts of Scripture, an anxiety of the sacred writers to convey distinct intimations that the ante-diluvian race is not uninterested in the redemption and final retribution. And a, particular conference with one class might be the means, and certainly could be no obstruction, to a general communication with all. Bishop Horsley's Sermon on 1, Pet. iii. p. 18, 19, 20.

It is observable that there is surprising analogy between the DAYS of the original week and the system then created. The sic primary planets, for the moon is the satellite of the earth, move round the sun, which is fixed or at rest, and together they are in number seven. This answers exactly to the six days of work and of rest, of which, the original week consisted. Thus the Mosaic account of the creation of the world is a symbolical deseription of the world or system created. This analogy occasioned, it is most probable, the custom of calling the days of the week by the names of the planets; a custom so, antient that the beginning of it cannot be discovered. It is undoubtedly as. antient as the division of the day into twenty-four hours, since the

great

great regard paid to the planets, from a notion of their influence over all terrestrial bodies, was the cause of that division. Univ. Hist. vol. xvii. p. 270.

The method in which Oliver Cromwell distributed and conducted the elECTIONS, being so favourable to liberty, forms an inconsistency which is not easily accounted for. He deprived of their right of election all the small boroughs, places the most exposed to influence and corruption. Of 400 members, which represented England, 270 were chosen by the counties. The rest were elected by London and the more considerable corporations. The lower populace, too, so easily guided or deceived, were excluded from the elections. An estate of £200 value was requisite to entitle any one to a vote. The elections of this parliament were conducted with perfect freedom. Hume's Hist. vol. vii. p. 238.

How happy would it be were a similar method adopted again!

• An objection to God's goodness is raised from the doctrine of absolute reprobation; that is, of a decree by which the greater part of mankind are doomed first to sin and then to eternal misery, while a few ELECTED persons are as unavoidably impelled to righteousness, or have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and shall be crowned with glory and happiness. So the former are delivered up to cruel fate and unrelenting necessity; the latter are favourites of heaven, and God hath fixed on their very persons without any regard to their moral qualities. Now this strange doctrine, fathered upon Christianity, stands upon no other foundation than a few misinterpreted texts of Scripture, and they who believe it ought also to believe that goodness in God is an unknown and incomprehensible quality; for, such a method of government differs from our notions of goodness as much as darkness from light. Such a system as this seems calculated to produce a religion narrow, contracted, gloomy, sour, and unbenevolent; a religion from which reason is discarded to make room for enthusiasm ; 'a religion which fills the mind either with a bold security, or with cruel despondence and despair, according to the different tempers that it meets with. Jortin's Sermons, vol. i. p. 181.

If any one pretends divine revelation for this doctrine, that God hath from all eternity absolutely decreed the eternal ruin of the greatest part of mankind, without any respect to the sins and demerits of men, I am as certain that this doctrine cannot be of God, as I am sure that God is good and just, because this grates upon the notions that mankind have of goodness and justice. This is that which no good man would do, and therefore cannot be believed of infinite goodness: and, therefore, if an apostle or angel from heaven tcach any doctrine which plainly overthrows the goodness and justice of God, let him be accursed. Tillotson's Serm. vol. viii. 15.

Sorne have, from several passages of Scripture, attempted to deduce the doctrine. of wbsolute paredestination; that, because the decrees and purposes of God are un

changeable, changeable, therefore men's salvation or condemnation does not at all depend on any works in their own power. And, indeed, were there any such decree, it could not be denied but it would be unchangeable, and consequently that all religion were vain. But, the truth is, that the Scripture mentions no such decree at all, and, therefore, men need not be concerned about the unchangeableness of that which has no being. The decree of God is not that this or that particular person shall necessarily be saved or perish, (for then what need or what use would there be of a day of judgement ?) but his decree is, that faith and obedience, in whomsoever it is found, shall lead to salvation, and disobedience, on the contrary, to destruction; and this decree is, indeed, like all his other purposes, absolutely unalterable. Clarke's Sermons, vol, i.

151,

131.

- The doctrines of absolute predestination and unconditionate decrees, the doctrines which subject men to unavoidable fatality and represent God capable of the greatest cruelty, must of necessity be false. And the Scriptures, upon which they are built though to the careful reader they have plainly enough another meaning, yet, even if we could not tell how to interpret them otherwise, we might, nevertheless, be certain that their sense' was mistaken; because, we are before-hand sure, from the nature of God, that it is altogether as impossible for him to do what is evil.or unjust as to be able to work even contradictions themselves. Clarke's Sermons, vol. i. 235. , ; : Decretum prædestinationis esse decretum finis et mediorum, nego; sed dico esse decretum, quo decernitur hisce talibus salus per modum præmii, istis vero non talibus mors, per modum pænæ. Et hoc decretum fit cum respectu ad qualitatem sive condia tionem personarum. Hoc decreto conditionali posito, sic ut Deus præsciverit e vestigio, qui conditionem sibi oblatam libera voluntate accepturi et præstituri essent. Et sic omnes et singuli, qui vel ad vitam electi sunt, vel ad mortem reprobati, recte ab æterno prædestinatos dici possunt ac debent. Episcopias de Redempt. lib. iv..c. 6. See Knowledge.

Hæc consequentia radio solis scripta est Lantgravii de absoluta prædestinatione. ! Si prædestinatus sum, nulla peccata mihi poterunt auferre regnum cælorum, si reprobatus, nulla opera valebunt conferre. Episcop. de Redemp. lib. iv. sect. 5, c.7...

By the called are to be understood those of the Jews who were called by Christ and his apostles to the marriage-feast and supper of the Gospel, offered to them with all its benefits and yet slighted and refused by them: Lu. xiv. 18: “ The elect, those among the Jews who embraced this call, and so are called by St Paul the election and a rema nant, xalexrogno, and, by St Peter, the elect.” Whitby. .! .

Election, in Romans xi. generally signifies the remnant of the Jeros which were to remain the people of God, and incorporate with the convert Gentiles into one body of Christians, owning the dominion of the one true God in the kingdom he had set up under his Son, and owned by God for his people. This he calls the election. Locke, .

« PreviousContinue »