« PreviousContinue »
that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Here it is supposed, that St. Paul declares himself desirous, or at least capable of being desirous, to suffer final perdition for the sake of rescuing his brethren, the Israelites, from their ruinous condition. But, I apprehend, the Apostle says no such thing. For,
In the first place, the declaration in the Greek is not I could wish, but I wished: not nuxorpen, in the optative mode, but muxoumu, in the indicative. The Apostle, therefore, here declares a fact, which had taken place ; not the state of his mind at the time present ; nor a fact, which might take place at that, or any future time. I do not deny, that the indicative is sometimes used for the optative, or, as it ought to be here understood, in the potential, sense; to denote what could be done, instead of what has been done. But no case of this kind is to be presumed: nor is such a meaning to be admitted, unless the general construction of a passage renders the admission necessary:
Secondly. The admission of it here ruins the meaning of the passage altogether. It is introduced in this manner: I say the truth in Christ; I lie not; my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost. Now what is the assertion, to gain credit to which, these three declarations, two of them attended with all the solemnity of an oath, were made ? It is found in the following verse. I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart. Can it be imagined, that St. Paul would think it necessary, or proper, to preface this assertion in so solemn a manner? Was it a matter even of surprise, that a person, afflicted and persecuted as he was, should be the subject of such sorrow ? Could the Apostle need the aid of a triple declaration, and a double oath, to make this as. sertion believed ? And, if these were not necessary, can he be supposed to have used them for such a purpose; or for any purAs this cannot have been the Apostle's meaning of this
passage; so, happily, that meaning is sufficiently obvious. St. Paul, it is well known, was considered by the Jews as their bitter enemy; as hating their temple, worship, and nation; and as conspiring with the Gentiles to subvert all those, which they esteemed their best interests. This prejudice of theirs against him was an immense, evil : for it not only obstructed powerfully, and often fatally, the success of his evangelical labours among the Gentiles; but, in almost all instances, prevented the Jews from receiving the Gospel. This evil the Apostle felt in its full force; as he teaches us on many occasions, by endeavouring earnestly to clear himself of the imputation. The present is one of those instances : and the meaning of the passage is rendered perfectly clear, and highly important, when it is considered in this manner; and the propriety of the solemn preface, with which it commences, fully evinced. The
pose whatever ?
words, rendered, For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, ought to be included, as they plainly were intended to be, in a parenthesis. The passage, truly translated in this manner, will run thus : I say the truth in Christ; I lie not; my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost; that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart, (for I also wished myself separated from Christ) for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh. That the Apostle had really this sorrow and heaviness for his nation he knew would be doubted by some, and disbelieved by others. He therefore naturally, and properly, appeals to God for the reality of his love to them, and for the truth of the declaration, in which it is asserted. To show his sympathy with them in their ruined state, he reminds them, that he was once the subject of the same violent unbelief, and alienation from Christ; and that then he earnestly chose to be what he here calls anathema, justly rendered in the margin separated, from Christ, just as they now chose it. A person, once in this condition, would naturally be believed to feel deeply the concerns of such, as were now in the same condition; and would, therefore, allege this consideration with the utmost force and propriety.
It will, I am aware, be here said, that this interpretation derogates exceedingly from the nobleness, and expansiveness, of the Apostle's benevolence, as exhibited in the construction which I am opposing. It seems to me, that St. Paul's own meaning is as really valuable, as any, which is devised for him by his commentators. There can be no more dangerous mode of interpreting the Scriptures, than to drop their obvious sense; and to substitute for it one, which happens to be more agreeable to ourselves. Were I to comment in this manner on the
us, that the meaning, to which I object, is absurd and monstrous; and that, which I adopt, becoming the Apostle's character. At the same time, I would lay no stress on this remark. My concern is with the real sense of the words. St. Paul must be allowed to have spoken good sense : and this the obvious and grammatical construction, here given to his language, makes him speak. Whereas, the construction, which I oppose, makes him speak little less than absolute nonsense.
These two passages therefore, although relied on to support the doctrine which I oppose, do not affect the question at all; and the Scriptures are equally destitue of examples, as of precepts, to warrant the doctrine.
5thly. There is no motide to induce the Mind to this Resignation.
By this I do not intend, that no motive is alleged, but that there is none, by which the mind of a rational being can be supposed to be influenced. The motives, by which Christians are induced to be unwilling to suffer perdition, are: 1st, the loss of endless and perfect happiness in heaven; 2dly, the loss of endless and perfect virtue, or holiness ; 3dly, the suffering of endless and perfect sia ; Vol. ID.
I should say,
4thly, the suffering of endless and perfect misery; and 5thly, the glory of God in the salvation of a sinner. The motive, which must produce the willingness, in question, must be of sufficient magnitude to overbalance all these : each of them infinite. Now what is the motive alleged? It is the delight experienced by the Christian in seeing the glory of his Maker promoted by his perdition. Without questioning the possibility of being influenced by this motive, as far as the nature of the case, merely, is concerned, I observe, that the willingness to glorify God in this manner, and the pleasure experienced in glorifying him, (which is the same thing) is to endure but for a moment: that is, during this transient life. The pain, through which this momentary pleasure is gained, is, on the contrary, infinite, or endless, in each of the methods, specified above. Will it be believed, that, if every dolition of man is as the greatest apparent good, there can be in this case a volition, nay, a series of volitions, contrary to the greatest apparent good : a good, infinitely outweighing that, by which these volitions are supposed to be excited ? say this good is momentary, because the subjects of perdition, immediately after entering upon their sufferings, hate, and oppose, the glory of God throughout eternity Whatever good, therefore, the Christian can enjoy in glorifying his Creator, he can enjoy only during the present life.
It ought to be observed, that the Resignation, here required of the Christian, extends infinitely beyond that, which was required of Christ himself. He was required to undergo only finite and temporary sufferings. The Christian is here required to be willing to undergo infinite sufferings. The sufferings of Christ were, and he knew they were, to be rewarded with infinite glory and happiness. Those of the Christian are only to terminate, daily, in increasing shame, sin, and wo, for ever. Christ for the joy set before him, endured the cross and despised the shame. There is no joy set before the Christian.
As a rule of determining whether we are Christians, or not, it would seem, that hardly any supposable one could be more unhappy. If we should allow the doctrine to be sound, and scriptural; it will not be pretended, that any, unless very eminent, saints arrive at the possession of this spirit in such a degree, as to be satisfied, that they are thus resigned. None but these, therefore, will be able to avail themselves of the evidence derived from this source. To all others, the rule will be not only useless, but in a high degree perplexing, and filled with discouragement. To be thus resigned will, to say the least, demand a vigour and energy of piety, not often found. Rules of self-examination, incomparably plainer, and more easy of application, are given us in the Scriptures, fitted for all persons, and for all cases. Why, with
, those in our possession, we should resort to this, especially when it is no where found in the Sacred Volume, it would be difficult to
explain. Yet, if this is not the practical use, to be made of this doctrine, it would not be easy to assign to it any use at all.
The Resignation of the Scriptures, as I have before observed, is either a cheerful submission to the evils, which we actually suffer, or a general, undefinable preparation of mind to suffer such others, as God may choose to inflict. In the Bible this spirit is, I believe, never referred to any evils, which exist beyond the grave. If this remark be just, as I think it will be found, there can be no benefit in extending the subject farther than it has been extended by Revelation. If I mistake not, every good consequence, ex. pected from the doctrine, which I have opposed, will be derived from the Resignation here described: while the mind will be disembarrassed of the very numerous, and very serious, difficulties, which are inseparable from the doctrine in question.
2dly. Resignation, as here described, is an indispensable duty of mankind.
The Government of God, even in this melancholy world, is the result of his perfect wisdom, power, and goodness. Now nothing is more evident, than that the government, which flows from such a source, must be absolutely right; or in other words, must be what perfect wisdom and virtue, in us, would certainly'and entirely approve. To be resigned to such a government, therefore, would be a thing of course, were we perfectly wise and virtuous. But what this character would prompt us to do, it is, now, our indispensable duty to do.
This, however, is not the only, nor the most affecting, view, which we are able to take of the subject. The Government of God in this world is a scheme of Mercy; the most glorious exhibition, which can exist, of Infinite Goodness. Unless our own perverseness prevent, the most untoward, the most afflicting, dispensations, however painful in themselves, are really fitted in the best manner to promote our best interests. We know, says St. Paul, that all things do work, or, as in the Greek, labour together for good to them that love God. “Good,” says Mr. Hervey,
" Good, when He gives, supremely good,
Are blessings in disguise." Surely in such a state of things it must be the natural, the instinctive, conduct of Piety to acquiesce in dispensations of this nature. Under the afflictions which it demands, and which of course it cannot but involve, we may, and must, at times smart ; as a child under the rod, when administered by the most affectionate Parental hand: but like children, influenced by filial piety, we shall receive the chastening with resignation and love.
3dly. Resignation is also a most profitable duty.
The profit of this spirit
is the increase, which it always brings, of virtue and happiness. Our pride and passion, by which we are naturally, and of choice, governed, conduct us only to guilt and suffering. So long as their dominion over us continues, we daily become more sinful, and more miserable, as children become during the continuance of their rebellion against their parents. The first step towards peace, comfort, or hope, in this case, is to attain a quiet, submissive spirit
. That God will order the things of the world as we wish, ignorant and sinful as we are, cannot be for a moment believed. The only resort, which remains for us, therefore, is to be satisfied with what he actually does ; and to believe, that what he does is wise and good, and, if we will permit it, wise and good for us. To be able to say, Thy will be done, says Dr. Young, “will lay the loudest storm; whether of passion within, or affliction without.
Children, when they have been punished, are often, and, if dutiful children, always more affectionate, and dutiful, and amiable, than before. Just such is the character of the children of God, when they exercise Evangelical Resignation under his chastening hand. Every one of them, like David, finds it good for himself, that he has been afflicted; an increase of his comfort; an increase of his virtue and loveliness.
As this disposition regards events not yet come to pass, its effects are of the same desirable nature. For the wisdom and goodness, the fitness and beneficial tendency, of all that is future, the pious mind will rely with a steady confidence on the perfect character of God. With this reliance it will regularly believe, that there is good interwoven with all the real, as well as apparent, evil, which from time to time may take place. With this habitual disposition in exercise, the resigned man will be quiet and satisfied, or at least supported, when others are borne down; and filled with hope and comfort, when worldly men sink in despair. All that dreadful train of fears, distresses, and hostilities, which, like a host of besiegers, assault the unresigned, and sack their peace, he will have finally put to flight. Safety and serenity have entered the soul: and the Spirit of truth has there found a permanent mansion. Whatever evils still remain in it, his delightful influence gradually removes, as cold, and frost, and snow, vanish before the beams of the vernal sun. He will yield God his own place and province, and rejoice that his throne is prepared in the heavens, and that his kingdom is over all.
His own station he will at the same time cheerfully take with the spirit of a dutiful and faithful subject, or an obedient child; and confide in the divine Wisdom for such'allotments as are best suited to make him virtuous, useful, and happy. In this manner he will disarm afflictions of their sting, and deprive temptations of their danger, and his spiritual enemies of their success, by quietly committing himself and his interests to the disposal of his