« AnteriorContinuar »
cated in the same religion, to speak of their new faith in terms which had been familiar to them from their childhood. Admiring, as they did, the virtues of their Lord, and deeply affected, as they must have been, by the sufferings by which those virtues were called forth and proved; their feelings must have been excited, whenever he was the subject of their thoughts or their discourse, to more than their ordinary warmth, and to a neglect of the cold and studied correctness of the careful rhetorician. When they considered that their master had fallen a victim to his own fidelity, and to the envy of others, what was more natural than that they should speak of him as a sacrifice?-a sacrifice, now of one kind and now of another, according to their own circumstances at the time they were speaking, or to the other subjects of their discourse, or to the particular benefit which had resulted to the world from what he had done or suffered? When, either in prophetic vision, or in a rational anticipation of what must be effected by the religion of Jesus, they looked forward to the ultimate reformation of mankind-to the dispelling of the darkness of ignorance and sin from the face of the earth, what more natural than that they should call him "the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." If the new covenant is sealed or ratified by his death, his is "the blood of the covenant," and the gospel itself is "the new covenant in his blood." If an apostle is comparing the new converts to a mass of unleavened bread, this bread, being eaten at the passover, brings that festival to his mind; but Christ was crucified on the eve of the feast of unleavened bread; and then "Christ is himself our passover who was sacrificed for us.'
The same kind of construction will guide us in other similar passages, and enable us to preserve, unimpeached, the best faculties of our nature, our reverence for the sacred oracles, and, above all, the adorable excellence of the divine character. It will enable us more correctly to understand the documents of our religion, more gratefully to rejoice in the light which they shed upon our path here, and upon our prospects hereafter, and more readily to convert to our spiritual nourishment and strength, the bread of life which came down from heaven in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
REMARKS ON 1 CORINTHIANS ii. 14.
[The following remarks from an esteemed correspondent may serve to illustrate a difficult and frequently misinterpreted passage of scripture.]
"BUT THE NAtural man receiveth not THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD; FOR THEY ARE FOOLISHNESS UNTO HIM; NEITHER CAN HE KNOW THEM, BECAUSE THEY ARE SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED."--1 Cor. ii. 14.
THESE words have been frequently understood as denoting the natural inaptitude or incapacity of man to receive and discern the truths of religion; and they have been regarded by many christians as an evidence of the corrupt and disordered nature of man before it is regenerated by the special influences of the spirit of God. A candid examination of the passage, however, may show that this is not its meaning, and point out the important instruction it really conveys.
The word natural in this passage, has no relation to the condition or character of men by nature, or as they are formed by the hand of their Creator. If we consider simply the nature of man, we shall find in him nothing worthy of blame or deserving of punishment; nothing, which violates any law, or is opposed to goodness; for that nature is the work of God, and the works of his hand are good. But rational beings, who are formed aright, may become sinful by the voluntary perversion of those powers, which were originally pure. This is admitted by all to have been the case with the angels, who sinned, and with our first parents. The single fact then, that mankind betray an inclination to sin, when they become capable of moral action, is no proof of any thing wrong in their nature, or in their original constitution. If temptation could operate on angels in heaven, and on Adam and Eve in Paradise, without a sinful nature, then it may operate on mankind in the early period of their existence, without indicating, that they are sinners by birth, or are born with depraved hearts.
Our first inquiry is, what is meant by the natural man? The answer, which most readily suggests itself to many, and with which they rest contented, is, that it denotes man, as he comes from his Creator, as he is born, or created. And at this answer from one, who confines himself wholly to the import of the word as it stands in our translation, and has no other means of understanding its sense, we should not have occasion to be much surprised. But he, who undertakes to be a teacher, and should quote this passage as a proof of what man is in his natural state, convicts himself of ignorance, or of something worse, for which he has no excuse. The truth is, the word here translated natural,
(agreeably to the interpretation of Doddridge, Macknight and many judicious critics) has no relation to the character or condition of men, as they are formed, or as they come into the world. It denotes not what they are by nature, nor any part of their original constitution, but what they are by the perversion or abuse of their nature, or a character, which is strictly unnatural. The word should have been rendered sensual, vicious, corrupt ; and it denotes the character of those, who are under the do. minion of base and depraved passions, who have rendered themselves slaves to their animal propensities, and who have no higher or holier object than the gratification of their animal appetites. We have the same word twice, at least, rendered in this manner in our common translation. It is said in James, "This wisdom descendeth not from above; but is earthly, sensual, (or natural Luxxos) devilish." Jude, speaking of those whom he terms ungodly sinners, declares, "These be they, who separate themselves, sensual, not having the spirit." No intimation is given, that this term is applicable to mankind in a state of infancy, or that it describes their natural state or character. On the other hand, the period of childhood and youth is peculiarly favourable for receiving the things of the spirit of God; the instructions and precepts he has given in his word. Then is the mind most susceptible of those impressions, which the truths of the gospel are designed and fitted to produce. Then is there the least opposition to the genuine influence of Christianity. As yet those evil habits are not formed, which are subdued with so much difficulty, that the change is compared to the "Ethiopian changing his skin, and the leopard his spots." But when men have corrupted their ways, voluntarily abused or perverted their nature and faculties; when they have indulged their vicious inclinations, and by indulgence converted them into habits; it becomes exceedingly difficult for them to return to the right way: their aversion to the gospel acquires strength; and they become more and more insensible to the influence of religion and virtue. The course, which they pursue, marks their dislike to the gospel; they undervalue its instructions, promises, and rewards; the consolations it yields here, and the everlasting honors, which it encourages the righteous to expect hereafter. While this is their disposition, they cannot perceive the value, beauty, or excellence of those truths, which the scriptures unfold.
This leads to a second inquiry, very important to a correct interpretation of this passage. In what respects is the sensual, or vicious man incapable of knowing the things of the spirit of God? i. e. as we may understand it, of apprehending the truths and objects of religion? Has he any want of capacity of know
ing all, that it is required of him to know? Is there any natural blindness of understanding, which in the use of appointed means he is unable to remove? The reason of things and the plain declarations or deductions of scripture show, that there is not. He has all the powers of a moral agent, and is capable of performing all his duty. The text, and other similar passages imply no more, than that men, while they remain sensual, or vicious, cannot relish the things of religion, cannot love God, and cheerfully perform the duties of piety and morality. There is a strong distaste, or indisposition of mind towards these duties. No man can at the same time pursue two courses; or cherish two states of affection, so opposite as those of vice and virtue, of sin and holiness. To choose one of them is to abandon the other. To have a taste for one implies a dislike of the other. He therefore, who prefers to gratify his sinful propensities, cannot, while this is his character, cordially receive the doctrines, cultivate the spirit, or perform the duties of Christianity. This, it may be presumed, will be admitted by all, who consider the subject. But does the text, or any similar passage denote that wicked men have no control over their hearts, dispositions, characters, or actions? Does it imply the least necessity, that they remain as they are till some supernatural influence takes place within them? Does it imply, that they are dependent on God for the dispositions of their hearts and the obtaining of their salvation in any different sense from that, in which they are dependent on him for other blessings? This were virtually to deny the moral agency and accountability of man. If it were said the idle man cannot procure the comforts of life for himself or his family, nor can he know the pleasures and advantages of industry, would any one understand from this, that the idle man cannot become diligent, or that he has no control over his own actions? What is said of him relates to him only as an idle man. Whatever may have been his indisposition to labor, whatever difficulties may attend a change of his habits, who can question, that it is still in his power to cease from his idleness, and to acquire the taste and habit of virtuous industry. If we did not believe, that all this was possible, we could not blame his indolence. We never blame a man for a particular course, or action, if we know there is an insuperable obtacle to his doing otherwise. The same principle in its utmost extent is to be applied to this subject. The sensual, or wicked man cannot receive or know, the things, that are revealed by the spirit of God. But does he necessarily remain a vicious man? Has he no power to reform? Is he endued with no capacity to form within himself a different disposition and character? He is not bound with fetters, which he cannot break;
and then commanded to walk. The commands of God are reasonable, and require no more than we can perform; they all imply the possession and exercise of our moral powers. His commands are, "Wash you make you clean: put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes: cease to do evil; learn to do well." "Make you a new heart, and a new spirit, for why will you die?" "Awake thou, that sleepest, and arise from the dead; and Christ shall give you light.""Repent and be converted. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts." Now in view of these commands, let me ask, does God require what man can perform, or what he cannot perform? In other words, are his commands just or unjust? It is not to be supposed, that there can be a moment's doubt upon this subject. The commands of God show with perfect plainness what men ought to do, and what they can do. There is a certainty upon this subject, which resembles the consciousness we have of our own existence, and which by no sophistry or metaphysical reasoning can be diminished.
But perhaps it is asked, are we not dependent on God for a new heart? Undoubtedly we are; but in the same manner, as we are dependent on him for the common blessings of life. Are not all the comforts we enjoy, the fruits of his unmerited goodness? Is there any thing, which we possess, derived from any source, but his rich and exhaustless bounty? Do we breathe his air, do we walk his earth, do we exert a thought but by the breath, and strength, and understanding he has given us? Does any one imagine, that we can procure our sustenance without his agency? There is nothing more absolute and entire than our dependence upon Him; but we are not to separate the gifts of his grace from the bounties of his providence; and let our dependence for the one illustrate our dependence for the other. Our dependence in temporal things does not interfere with the discharge of our whole duty in relation to them. We are able to provide for ourselves in every sense, in which this is required. If we pursue the course which is pointed out, God will prosper our efforts. We are not able to command a crop of corn into existence-nor is this our duty; but we are able to pursue the method, which divine wisdom has appointed for the attainment of this and other comforts of life. There is a course equally plain with regard to our spiritual interests. We are not able without divine grace to form ourselves to holy dispositions and virtuous habits. But that grace is uniformly granted to them, that seek it, and who use the established means of moral and religious improvement,