« PreviousContinue »
be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John iii. 14, 15.) Here Christ tells how men should be drawn to him, viz., by believing on him; and all that do not believe on him are represented as certainly perishing.
2. The words all and all men are used when every individu. al is not intended, but many, or all in general, or a great multitude. There are the following instances of this, and many more that might be mentioned : “ All Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, went out to John, and were baptized of him in Jordan.” (Matt. iii. 5, 6.) “ All men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed." (Mark xi. 32.) It is said all men came to Christ. (John ii. 26.) The disciples say to Christ, “ All men seek after thee.” (Mark i. 37.) They do not mean every man, without exception, for that was not true.
The words all men are sometimes used for the Gentile nations in general, in opposition to the Jews only; and to sig. nify that the gospel and salvation were not confined to the latter, but equally extended to the former, though every man be not included. Our Savior speaks the words under consideration at an interview which he had with a number of Greeks, proselytes to the worship of the true God from among the Gentiles, who had come up to Jerusalem to worship at the feast; and, upon their desire, were introduced to him by his disciples. These words are spoken with reference to them, and are suited to convey this idea to them, viz., that after his death, of which he speaks in the preceding verses, salvation by him should be extended to the Gentile nations, as well as to the Jews, and they should be drawn unto him, and not that he would actually save every one of the human race; for such a thought could not be suggested to them by these words. Nor have we now any warrant to put such a forced meaning on them, when another, consistent with all that Christ has said of everlasting punishment, is so natural and easy.
3. Salvation by Christ is not only extended to all nations, but the influence of the gospel will continue and spread, till all men in general, if not every individual person then living, shall be drawn to Christ, and become his friends and servants. This event is so much and so often predicted in the Scriptures, that none who attend to thern properly can be ignorant of it. Christ represents this by a woman putting leaven into three measures of meal, which continues there till the whole is leavened, and by many other similitudes, all importing that the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached and spread in the world, till
, by the divine influence attending it, all nations, the whole world, or all men, shall be brought into subjection to bim, and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of Christ. “ The Lord will make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.” (Isa. lii. 10.) “ And they shall all know the Lord, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.” (Jer. xxxi. 34.) In the twenty-second Psalm, where the death of Christ is predicted, the consequence of this is expressed in the following words : “ All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” These words, and those of our Savior under consideration, express the same event, and illustrate each other. Who, then, can think they imply the actual salvation of all the human race?
Another passage of Scripture which has been produced as favoring the doctrine of universal salvation is 1 Pet. iii. 18-20. Speaking of Christ, he says, “ 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, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing."
A few observations on these words will be sufficient to show that there is nothing in them favorable to the salvation of all men, but directly the contrary.
1. Granting that Christ did go and preach to the spirits when they were in prison, either before or after his resurrection, though it is not asserted in these words, — for this was done by the spirit, and they might be preached to before they were spirits in prison, - yet, granting as above, we are not told what he preached. He might preach no glad tidings, and nothing but terror and eternal damnation to them, consistent with all that is said here.
2. If it be granted that he preached the gospel to them, we are not told what was the effect, or that so much as one of them repented and believed, and was delivered out of prison. They may all be in prison yet, notwithstanding any thing that is said here, and, consequently, be more miserable forever than if they had not heard this preaching.
3. Granting, not only that Christ did preach to them when in prison, and that he preached the gospel to them, and offered to deliver and save all of them, but that they all accepted the offer and are gone to heaven, - all which is only matter of mere conjecture, as neither of these is asserted or implied in this passage, - but granting them all, it does not follow from hence that all the rest of mankind who die in their sins, or that so much as one, except those who lived in the days of Noah, will be saved, but the contrary may be very strongly inferred; for if all that had died in their sins, from the beginning of the world to the death of Christ, were to be saved, why are those who perished by the flood singled out from all the rest, and the preaching of Christ confined to them? This looks as if they were to be distinguished from all others, who are left in prison, without hope of deliverance.
This text, therefore, appears to be a poor, sandy foundation for a man to build his hopes of salvation upon, or of the salvation of others; yea, he must be infatuated to a great degree, who has the least dependence on this for his deliverance from hell, and obtaining eternal salvation.
4. When the most easy, plain meaning of these words is fixed, it will very clearly appear that they have no reference to the salvation of any one that ever did or shall die in his sins, but imply the contrary to this.
It is not here said that these spirits were in prison when Christ went, and, by the spirit, preached unto them. They were spirits in prison when this epistle was written, but were once embodied spirits, the spirits of those long since disobedient men who lived in the days of Noah; to whom he, inspired by Christ to foretell the flood, and warn and exhort them to prepare for it, was a preacher of righteousness for one hundred and twenty years; through which space the spirit of Christ did strive with them, and the long suffering of God waited upon them. All this is exactly agreeable to the history of the flood and its attendants. Noah was inspired to warn that generation in words, by foretelling the flood; and by actions, in building the ark; and the Spirit of God did strive with them during this time. But they were disobedient to all his warning and preaching, and consequently perished in their sins, and their spirits are confined in the prison of hell, where Christ fixeth the rich man when he died, and are kept in custody, as the fallen angels are, unto the judgment of the great day.
And that this is the true sense of this passage, is confirmed by the apostle's evident design. It is introduced to encourage and animate Christians to faithfulness, patience, constancy, and cheerful resolution, in following Christ, under all opposition and suffering from wicked men. He mentions the suffer. ings of Christ, and his triumphant resurrection and deliverance; and then introduces this instance of Noah, and those with whom he lived before the flood, who opposed him, and the spirit of Christ, preaching to them by him. God waited on them with long suffering, and Noah went through his suffering and work with patience and resolution, till at length the time of vengeance came, when Noah and his family were saved; but the disobedient were destroyed, not by ceasing to exist, for though their bodies perished, their souls were shut up in
the prison of hell, where they now were and had been above two thousand years; not as prisoners of hope, but of justice, reserved unto judgment, and final, eternal condemnation. This representation is suited to support and encourage Christians, while they were ridiculed and opposed and suffering by wicked men, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, and to excite them, with patience and meekness, to wait the expected end. St. Peter makes use of this instance to the like purpose, in his second epistle, in the following words: For if God spared not the old world, but saved Noah, the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment, to be punished.” And by the way, if the ungodly men who perished by the flood were delivered and carried to heaven by Christ so long before the day of judgment, they could not be a fit instance of God's reserving wicked men unto the day of judgment to be punished, and it was not to the apostle's purpose; but if they were then in the prison of hell, reserved in confinement unto judgment, to be punished with a severity becoming their guilt and wickedness, this example is mentioned agreeable to truth, and is suited to answer his end.
On the whole, therefore, there is not the least evidence from these words of St. Peter that any one man that has died, or shall die in his sins, ever was, or ever will be, delivered from a state of punishment, to all eternity; but the whole that he says has a different and contrary complexion, viz., that men who are disobedient to Christ while they live in this world are cast into the prison of hell when they die, and are kept there in custody, unto the day of judgment, when they shall receive of Christ, the Judge, according to what they have done in the body, and be doomed to a more severe and everlasting punishment.
“ And every creature which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I, saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto bim that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.” (Rev. v. 13.) These words have been produced by some as a proof that all men and devils will be happy, and praise God and Christ forever and ever. How far they are from proving any such thing, will appear, if it be considered,
1. John saw this take place, and heard this universal song of praise, when Christ took the government of the world into his hands, being made head over all things to the church; represented by his taking the book out of the right hand of him who sat upon the throne, in order to open the seals of it, and accomplish the divine decrees contained in it, in the administration of providence to the end of the world. This, therefore, can have no reference to the winding up and issue of things at the day of judgment, or in any after period; and, consequently, can have no respect to the final salvation of all
, or of any. And long after this scene, when all the seals of the book were opened, John saw all the devils, and all the men who died in their sins, cast into a lake of fire, where they were to be tormented forever and ever; and he certainly had no vision before or after, which is contrary to this, or looks beyond it.
2. If these words are any proof of the salvation of all men, they are an equal proof that every creature on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, and all that are in them, both beasts, serpents, worms, and fishes, will actively sing praise to God, becoming reasonable creatures, and having the faculty of speech, and will be happy in this employ forever. But there are very few, if any, who will believe all this to be asserted here; therefore, a more natural, consistent meaning offers itself, and must be the only true one.
3. This is only a figurative representation, to express the universal subjection of all things to the power and government of Christ, to be improved to answer his ends, and to promote his blessedness, honor, and glory, and the happiness of this desirable, joyful event, and his worthiness to receive all this. This is parallel to the frequent representations in the prophets and in the Psalms, where mountains, hills and trees, beasts and cattle, fire and hail, stormy wind, dragons, and all the works of creation, are represented as praising God. How absurd would it be to infer from this that all things were rational, and capable of praising God in an active way, or ever will be! All the creation praises God, as the divine glory and character are exhibited by every creature; but in this all creatures and things are passive, except those which are rational, and the friends of God. They are the priests who actively offer up this praise to God, for which all his works of creation and providence afford the most ample matter. In this sense, “the wrath of man shall praise God.” (Ps. Ixxvi. 10.) All the rebellion of creatures he will turn to his own highest honor and praise; and if it be necessary, in order to this, that there should be endless punishment, which may be true, and the evidence that it is so is to be exhibited hereafter, then this punishment, and those that shall be punished forever, shall render an eternal tribute of praise to God, which otherwise could not have been obtained. In this view, the words under examina