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Julian Period, 4753. Valgar Era, about 40.
36 The word which God sent unto the children of Cæsarea.
Some Freethinkers have grafted a dangerous error upon this declaration of St. Peter to Cornelius. Rejecting the Gospel dispensation, they endeavour to undervalue or exclude Christianity, maintaining, that to fear God, and to work righteousness, are the only duties essentially necessary to salvation; and that these were as "old as the creation," inculcated by natural religion, and adopted by the Patriarchal, Heb. xi. 6. Job xix. 25. and by the Mosaical, Matt. xxii. 40.
This may be refuted, and it should seem fully and satisfactorily,
1. By the case of Cornelius himself, who, though he possessed these requisites, was further, by a special revelation, required to embrace Christianity.
2. By the general commission to the apostles, to publish the Gospel throughout the whole world, upon the further terms of faith and baptism in the name of the Trinity.
3. Upon both accounts therefore Peter required Cornelius to be baptized or admitted into the Christian Church, and entitled thereby to its higher benefits and privileges.
4. Paul has clearly stated the higher privileges of Jews above the Gentiles, and of Christians above both, in his doctrinal epistles to the Romans and to the Hebrews.
5. Natural religion, if opposed to revealed, is a mere fiction of false philosophy. That "the world by human wisdom knew not God," is a fact asserted by St. Paul, in his address to the philosophers of Greece. Such knowledge being too wonderful and excellent for the attainment of mankind, by the confession of the patriarchs and prophets, (Job xi. 7. xxxvii. 23. Psa. cxxxix. 6.) and of the wisest of the heathen philosophers.
6. The Patriarchal and Mosaical dispensations were only schoolmasters to the Christian, designed to train the world gradually for its reception in the fulness of time; as subordinate parts of one grand scheme of redemption, embracing all mankind, instituted at the creation, Gen. iii. 15. and gradually unfolding to the end of the world, John iii. 16. Rev. i. 18.
It must, however, be acknowledged, that in their zeal to defend this essential article of the Christian faith, that there is but one name under heaven, by which man can be saved, many have considered the inference unavoidable; that if none can be saved but by the atonement of Christ, all who are ignorant of that atonement cannot hope for salvation; and consequently unbaptized infants and heathens are alike condemned to everlasting destruction.
It will not be difficult to prove that this doctrine, which revolts our feelings, and staggers our reason, is not sanctioned by Revelation. Is it doubted whether this opinion has been maintained? I have repeatedly met with many who have received it. Some of the fathers, implicitly believed it. The Church of Rome inculcated and enforced it, and it is an inference by no means unnaturally deducible from Scripture, if its sacred pages are not rightly understood.
Fulgentius, a nobleman, and a bishop, uses the following language." Receive it implicitly, and by no means hesitate to believe, not only that men who use their reason, but even little infants who pass from this life, without the sacrament of baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; whether they only begin to live in the womb of their mother, and there die, or whether they are actually born, and then die,
Julian Pe- Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ, (he is Lord of Cæsarea. riod, 4753. Vulgar Era, about 40.
shall be punished with the unending torment of eternal fire:
When the king of the Frisons was on the point of receiving
Tillemont, in his History of the Emperors, says the learned Jortin, (see his remarks on Ecc. History) takes all opportunities of inculcating the dreadful doctrine, that the best of the Pagans are condemned to suffer eternal tortures. Speaking of young Tiberius, who was murdered by order of the Emperor Caius, and compelled by the soldiers to thrust a sword into his own body, he concludes the melancholy tale with this reflection: "Thus by his own hand he ended his miserable life, to begin another, the misery of which will never end." The unhappy youth, (says Jortin) was then but nineteen years of age, and had probably never heard Christianity even mentioned. So zealous are the best writers of the Romish Church to enforce this point, that the Benedictine editors of Justin Martyr labour very hard to justify the good man, from the crime of believing in the possible salvation of Socrates, and the virtuous heathen. Bellarmine even rejects a book of St. Augustine from the catalogue of works imputed to that father, because the author has the impiety to believe, that the souls of the children who were destroyed in the burning of Sodom and Gomorrha were not sent to hell with their parents.
I could quote Perkins, the celebrated Calvinistic writer, who talks of reprobate infants; that is, infants who are damned, I shudder to say, as if for the amusement of the Deity: Calvin, too, (b. iii. chap. 22.) has some sentiments on reprobation, which have excited much prejudice against Christianity. Many others might be quoted, but instances of the adoption of such opinions must be familiar to all who have read or conversed much on such topics.
I seem to be defending the honour of God our Saviour from a foul and scandalous libel, when I attempt to investigate this subject. Though I would not permit the conclusions of my reason to clash for one moment with the truths of Scripture, I think, on a careful survey of the doctrine of revelation, the eternal damnation of innumerable millions of mankind, for involuntary misfortune and ignorance, is not revealed in Scripture.
None, it is most true, can be admitted into that state of happiness, which is represented in Scripture as the abode of the pa. triarchs, the prophets, and the martyrs, but the Church of God, which is taken into covenant with him by the administration of the sacraments, obedience, repentance, and faith. The world itself is but preserved in existence till the Church of God be completed, and the top-stone of the building raised. From the promise in Eden, till the sounding of the archangel's trumpet, Omnipotence has been building up the Catholic Church, which shall one day be presented, without spot or blemish, to the Father. This Church is reserved for a happiness which the most virtuous among the heathen could not appreciate; it would not, it could not, be suitable to their temper
lian Pe- and habits of mind. Eye hath not seen, nor the imagination Caesarea. d, 4753. conjectured, what the divine wisdom and benevolence has prelgar Era, pared for his elect Church. We shall not know it, till we be
admitted by his mercy among the number.
But are we required to believe, because the Church of God is thus admitted to the highest glory, that the rest of the world will be therefore consigned to everlasting agony? Are there no gradations of knowledge, none of virtue? none of hap piness? We know it was the custom of our Saviour to derive his lessons from surrounding objects: is it improbable, that when he assured his disciples," in my Father's house are many mansions," that the temple might be in view from the room in which they were then partaking of the last supper? The temple has ever been considered a type both of the Christian Church and of heaven. As in the temple there was the court of the Gentiles, the apartments of the Levites, the Nazarites, and the Priests; the division where Jews alone might go; the hall of the Sanhedrim, and the Holy of Holies: so in the great temple of God are there many mansions for all divisions of the great family of mankind, excepting those who wilfully exclude themselves from the proffered benefit. There, in the heaven of glory, will be the Holy of Holies, into which, by the mercy of God, every Christian may enter; there also may be the court of the Gentiles, where the virtuous heathen may rejoice in the Providence which preserves them in every stage of their being.
Arguments may undoubtedly be found against this hypothesis: but I see no reason for believing, that the God of all flesh will consign unoffending infants, ignorant and half savage men, without a wilful crime, or an intention to offend him, to misery without end. This is not the doctrine of Scripture. If it be said, that infants have been destroyed by the sword, or swallowed by earthquakes, or drowned in the deluge; it is most true:-but there is an essential difference between the decree which inflicts, for wise purposes, a momentary pain, and that which condemns the sufferer to endless and dreadful agony.
Arguments might be deduced, from the inequalities of the present life, the nature of man, and other sources, but it is not necessary. The difference between the heathen and the Christian must, and will be, eternal and infinite; but it does not from thence follow that the heathen will be unavoidably miserable. In every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted. Though no man will be saved by the sect to which he belongs, he may be saved by the mercy of God through the merits and atonement of his Son, in that sect. I shall merely consider an objection, which will be urged, "if the heathen can be delivered from eternal misery, without Christianity, why should Christians, of every description, be so anxious to convert them ?"
Christ and his apostles desired the conversion of the whole world, for two reasons, which will ever possess considerable influence with all their followers: Christianity promotes the temporal, and secures the future happiness of mankind; it reconciles both worlds, and gives permanent felicity on earth and in heaven, in a degree infinitely higher than could have been otherwise obtained.
It secures their present happiness, or wonderfully increases it. The very leaves of this tree of life are for the healing of the nations. Christianity promotes the refinement, the civilization, and the morality of the world. Even where it does not sufficiently influence the motives of conduct, it produces exter
Julian Period, 4753. Vulgar Æra, about 40.
37 That word', I say, ye know, which was published Cæsarea.
nal decorum, by abolishing at once the cruelties, the impurities,
To the Hindoo, the Polynesian, and the savage, wherever they
Many arguments in favour of the opinion of the probability of the non-condemnation of the virtuous heathen might be adduced from several passages of Scripture, chiefly from the reasoning of St. Paul in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, and the declaration of St. Peter to Cornelius. Many testimonies might be selected from Origen, Justin Martyr, Clemens Alexandrinus, and others. Though of the latter authority, it is but right to observe, he has grounded his opinion on a mistaken interpretation of the celebrated text in St. Peter's general Epistle: "By which he went and preached to the spirits in prison.' A text, of which Calvin is now generally supposed to have given the best explanation. Bishop Horsley's opinions on that subject being esteemed rather curious than probable.
The construction of this passage is difficult, and it has con-
Τὸν λόγον ὅν ἀπέσειλε τοῖς υἱοῖς Ισραήλ, are the words.
Piscator (ap. Bowyer) would read τὸν λόγον for κατὰ τὸν
Doddridge renders it, "the message
Julian Pe- throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the Casarea. baptism which John preached:
riod, 4753. Vulgar Era, about 40.
38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil: for God was with him.
39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem: whom they slew and hanged on a tree.
40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly:
41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
43 To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
Cornelius and his Friends receive the Holy Ghost, and are
ACTS X. 44. to the end.
44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
Boisius supposes, that áróvoare ¿v, or some similar phrase, is to be understood before τὸν λόγον (α).
(a) See Bowyer's Crit. Conjectures, Wolfius's Curæ Philologicæ in loc. and Doddridge's Family Expositor.
To the question, why was not Christ after his resurrection shewn to all the people? it has been answered, 1. Because it was impossible that such a thing could be done without mob and tumult. Let it only be announced, "Here is the man who was dead three days, and who is risen from the dead!" what confusion would be the consequence of such an exposure! Some would say, This is he; others, He is like him, and so on; and the valid testimony must be lost in the confusion and multitude. 2. God chose such witnesses, whose testimony should be unimpeachable; the men who knew him best, and who, by their depositions in proof of the fact, should evidently risk their lives; and, 3. As multitudes are never called to witness any fact, but a few selected from the rest, whose knowledge is most accurate, and whose veracity is unquestionable; therefore God shewed not Christ risen from the dead to all the people, but to witnesses chosen by himself, and they were such as perfectly knew him before, and who ate and drank with him after his resurrection; and consequently had the fullest proof and conviction of the truth of this fact (a).
(a) Clarke in loc. and see Paley, and the writers on the resurrection.