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THE RIGHT REVEREND
LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE,
WITH SENTIMENTS OF GREAT RESPECT AND GRATITUDE,
BY HIS LORDSHIP'S MOST DUTIFUL AND MOST
OBLIGED SERVANT AND CHAPLAIN,
CAUTION RECOMMENDED IN - THE USE AND APPLICA
TION OF SCRIPTURE LANGUAGE.
2 PETER, iii. 15, 16.
Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to
the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things ; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their
own destruction. It must not be dissembled that there are many real difficulties in the Christian Scriptures : whilst, at the same time, more, I believe, and greater may justly be imputed to certain maxims of interpretation, which have obtained authority without reason, and are received without inquiry. One of these, as I apprehend, is the expecting to find, in the present circumstances of Christianity, a meaning for, or something
answering to, every appellation and expression which occurs in Scripture; or, in other words, the applying to the personal condition of Christians at this day those titles, phrases, propositions, and arguments, which belong solely to the situation of Christianity at its first institution.
I am aware of an objection which weighs much with many serious tempers, namely, that to suppose any part of Scripture to be inapplicable to us is to suppose a part of Scripture to be useless which seems to detract from the perfection we attribute to these oracles of our salvation. To this I can only answer, that it would have been one of the strangest things in the world, if the writings of the New Testament' had not, like all other books, been composed for the apprehension, and consequently adapted to the circumstances, of the persons they were addressed to; and that it would have been equally strange, if the great, and in many respects the inevitable, alterations which have taken place in those circumstances did not vary the application of Scripture language.
I design, in the following discourse, to propose some examples of this variation, from which you will judge, as I proceed, of the truth and importance of our general observation.
First; at the time the Scriptures were written, none were baptized but converts, and none were converted but from conviction ; and conviction produced, for the most part, corresponding reformation of life and manners. Hence baptism was only another name for conversion, and conversion was supposed to be sincere : in this sense was our Saviour's promise, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved” (Mark, xvi. 16); and, in the same, his command to Saint Paul, “ Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts, xxii. 16); this was that baptism, “for the
remission of sins," to which Saint Peter invited the Jews upon the day of Pentecost (Acts, ii. 38); that “washing of regeneration,” by which, as Saint Paul writes to Titus, " he saved us.” (Titus, iii. 5.) Now when we come to speak of the baptism which obtains in most Christian churches at present, where no conversion is supposed, or possible, it is manifest that, if these expressions be applied at all, they must be applied with extreme qualification and reserve.
Secondly; the community of Christians were at first a handful of men connected amongst themselves by the strictest union, and divided from the rest of the world by a real difference of principle and persuasion, and, what was more observable, by many outward peculiarities of worship and behaviour. This society, considered collectively, and as a body, were set apart from the rest of mankind for a more gracious dispensation, as well as actually distinguished by a superior purity of life and conversation. In this view, and in opposition to the unbelieving world, they were denominated in Scripture by titles of great seeming dignity and import; they were “elect," “called," "saints (Rom. viii. 33. i. 6,7); they were “in Christ” (Rom. viii. 1); they were “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.” (1 Pet. ii. 9.) That is, these terms were employed to distinguish the professors of Christianity from the rest of mankind, in the same manner as the names of Greek and Barbarian, Jew and Gentile, distinguished the people of Greece and Israel from other nations. The application of such phrases to the whole body of Christians is become now obscure ; partly because it is not easy to conceive of Christians as a body at all, by reason of the extent of their name and numbers, and the little visible union that subsists among them; and partly because the heathen world with whom they