Page images

law, and the service of the temple and the promises ; whose are the fathers, and of whom, by natural descent, Christ came. God, who is over all, be blessed forever.”

Wakefield justifies this version of the parenthesis by the use of a similar phrase in Homer. It gives an obvious and a beautiful sense, similar to a sentiment advanced by the apostle upon another occasion, Gal. iv. 12. “Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am ; for I also was as ye are."

On the subject of this text I will quote a passage from a sermon of the Rev. Peter Eaton of Boxford-distinguished for good sense and chaste composition—as in many respects the opinions which he expresses coincide with my own.

“ The doctrine of submission has been carried to a singular length by modern theorists. They have considered it as re. quiring in us a willingness to be forever separated from God and all good, if it may be for his glory. This is made the test of the christian temper.

If you are willing to be miserable forever, that God may be glorified, you have christian submission; if you have not been formed to this temper of mind, you are yet a stranger to the power of religion. This sentiment is maintained, as a requisite for future happiness.

“ In support of the sentiment two passages of scripture, more especially, have been adduced. One is from the writings of Moses, when he was interceding for his countrymen the Hebrews. Yet now if thou wilt, forgive their sin, and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written. By this book is understood by some the book of eternal life. Does not the passage admit an easy and natural solution, if we consider him as speaking of his natural life? This then is the plain import of his language. •If so heinous their offence, that thou must, o God, withdraw thyself from them, I wish no longer to be their guide ! If so aggravated their crime, as to preclude their pardon, permit me not to live to witness their overthrow and utter destruction; or if their pardon can be purchased by my life, I freely resign it up.' We consider this a noble expression of patriotism, wbich does great honour to the Hebrew law-giver.

“ The other passage is from the writings of St. Paul. I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Various opinions bave been expressed on this text, and recourse had to different methods to solve the difficulty. A certain ingenious writer has remarked, that the expression, I wish myself accursed, or separated from Christ,' is an incidental thought, naturally suggested by his subject, and ought to be included in a parenthesis. Then the connected reading will be, I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.' When he speaks of wishing bimself separated from Christ, he alludes to his former state of unbelief, when he was an opposer of Christ; when separated, and he gloried in that separation from him. A willingness to be forever separated from God is rather an evidence of a positively wicked, than of a good temper of mind. For what is the employment of the miserable beings, who are separated from God? Is it not profaning the name of that Being, who has doomed them to sorrow? If then willing to dwell with the forloro inbabitants of darkness, this implies a willingness to unite in their employ, which is a certain proof of a wicked temper of heart. Besides the very supposition is inconsistent. Was not this the expressive language of David, Whom have I in heaven, but thee ? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. Is it possible with this temper of mind, he should be willing to be forever separated from this most beloved and estimable object? The supposition is absurd. It is certainly more reasonable to believe a wicked man should be willing to be separated from God, than the good man, who loves him with all bis heart.”



“ I believe, that as there is one God, so this one God is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

“This I confess, is a mystery which I cannot possibly conceive, yet it is a truth which I can easily believe ; yea, therefore it is so true that I can easily believe it, because it is so high that I cannot possibly conceive it; for it is impossible any thing should be true of the infinite Creator which can be fully expressed to the capacities of a finite creature : and, for this reason, I ever did and ever shall, look upon those 'apprehensions of God to be the truest, whereby we apprehend him to be the most incomprehensible ; and that to be the most true of God, wbich seems most impossible unto us.”

Private Thoughts, Part I. p. 29. The author of this remarkable passage was a dignitary of the episcopal church of Eogland, renowned for his talents and his piety. "We are not disposed to question either bis piety or his talents, but the principles on which he justified his belief in the mysterious doctrine are, we think, incorrect and of dangerous tendency. To erince the fallacy of those principles, let them be applied to other mysterious propositions. Suppose

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

another bishop should publish the following creed: I believe, that in the Lord's supper the bread is changed into the real body of Christ. I believe that God is both divisible and indivisible; that he is the greatest and the least of all intelligen. cies; that he fills heaven and earth and yet exists no where ; that he sees and knows all things, and yet is destitute of knowledge ; that he is absolutely good, and yet destitute of all goodness.

But expecting that others would object to these doctrines as self-contradictory, this bishop justifies his belief in each of them in the following manner:

“ This I confess, is a mystery which I cannot possibly conceive, yet it is a truth which I can easily believe ; yea, therefore it is so true that I can easily believe it, because it is so high that I cannot possibly conceive it; for it is impossible any thing should be true of the infinite Creator which can be fully expressed to the capacities of a finite creature: and for this reason, I ever did and ever shall look upon those apprehensions of God to be the truest, whereby we apprehend him to be the most incomprehensible ; and that to be the most true of God, which seems most impossible unto us.'',

Now admitting this bishop to be both pious and learned, should we not be compelled to believe that his understanding bad been greatly bewildered by the prejudices of education? But to such prejudices all men are liable. How wide then the range for the exercise of candour. By the following extract from the same bishop Beveridge we shall, however, see the consequences of admitting a mysterious doctrine, as an essential article of faith.

“ Hence also it was, that all persons to be baptized were always required, either with their own mouths, if adult, or if infants, by their sureties, to make a public confession of their faith in Three Persons, into whose names they were to be baptized : For this indeed was always looked upon as the sum and substance of the christian religion, to believe in God the Father, in God the Son, and in God the Holy Ghost; and they who believed in these Three Persons were still looked upon as christians, and they who did not were esteemed infidels or heretics." Part II. p. 43.

This paragraph opens the way for many remarks; we shall however, confine ourselves to a few.

1st. What the bishop says was “always required” of per. sons “to be baptised,"'is we think without any foundation in all that is recorded of the practice of the Apostles.

2nd. We do not admit that a belief in the doctrine in ques. tion "was always looked upon as the sum and substance of

the christian religion.” For there was a time when this doctrine was not known in the christian churcb; and there have doubtless been many pious christians, that regarded the doctrine as an important article of faith, who were still far from supposing that a belief in it was the sum and substance of the christian religion." Yet we cannot deny that many professed christians have given too much evidence that, in their view, a belief in this article is the one thing needful, and of far greater importance than conformity of temper to the moral precepts and the example of the Messiah. Hence we may account for much of the unchristian treatment which those have received who have dissented from the doctrine, and yet have made it their care to be followers of Cbrist and to obey his commands.

3d. If a belief in the mysterious doctrine is “the sum and substance of the christian religion” will it not follow, that Christ's sermon on the mount had no respect to the “ sum and substance" of christianity ? and that he was under a mistake in the conclusion of his discourse, in likening him, who “heareth and doeth” the sayings, or commands which be had delivered, to the “ man who built his house upon a rock ?” For he bad not, that we can discern, the least reference to the doctrine of three persons in one God in any part of his sermon.

4th. According to the bishop's account, “the sum and substance of the christian religion” consists in the belief of a doctrine, the meaning of which he could not "possibly conceive.Can it then be wonderful that in past ages the hateful passions of persecution and war, have been deemed consistent with christianity? How different would have been the effects, bad conformity of heart and practice to the temper exemplified by the Saviour been duly regarded as "the sum and substance of the christian religion !"

If any of our readers should say that the articles of faith which we have supposed to be asserted by another bishop, are more inconceivable or more repugnant to reason, tban the one which occasioned these remarks, they are desired to remember, that, according to bishop Beveridge, this very circumstance is to be regarded as evidence of the truth of those articles. For on his hypothesis, we are to regard “that as most true of God, which seems most impossible unto us.” Therefore, if it seems more impossible unto us' that God is the greatest and the least of all intelligencies,' than that he is three distinct persons, then the former of these must be

regarded as most true of God,” or the reasoning of the bishop is fallacious and dangerous.

We have seen what opinions some christians have maintained. May God in his mercy hasten the time, when it shall be more generally understood that a belief in doctrines, the meaning of which we “cannot possibly conceive” is not “the sum and substance of the Christian religion."



No. I. In tracing back the history of religious doctrines, we have a much higher object in view than the mere indulgence of curiosity. We should indeed be compensated for the research, if it afforded nothing else than the satisfaction of knowing how the wise and great have speculated before us; but this gratification is of small value, when compared with the real utility which may be derived from such investigations. They illustrate the necessity of using our own minds in understanding the scriptures, by shewing the various extravagancies, into which men have deviated. They guide us to the manner, in which we should reason, by enlarging our field of view, and lifting us out of many prejudices that had confined our judgment. They will often assist our interpretation of the sacred writings by placing them in new lights, explaining their obscurities, and dispelling the phantasies that we had mistaken for a part of the word of truth. They will show us the gradual, and often not very honourable progress of opinions, that have grown celebrated in the world ; and teach us, of how few and slight mate. rials formidable systems of faith have been erected, by human ingenuity and polemick zeal.

Influenced by these considerations, we propose, in this and a succeeding essay, to take a rapid and general survey of the opinions that have been entertained among christians concerning the Mosaic account of the creation and fall of man. That account has been made of great importance in dogmatical divinity, and lies at the very foundation of most of the prevailing confessions of faith. This circumstance will give interest to our inquiries; and as we shall offer no opinions of our own, but merely relate what others have thought, no class of believers can with justice complain of us. Our design is not necessarily concerned with the theories of different theologians, on the origin of the narratives, which are contained in the three first chapters of Genesis. It will not seem irrelevant, however, just to mention, that some ascribe the intelligence, which they convey, to the inmediate inspiration of God. Others, maintaining that we need not resort to a miracle when natural causes are

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »