Изображения страниц

of St. John's College, Cambridge, published a book in London, near the close of the seventeenth century, at sixty years of age, in which, after showing that the revolution of the larger bodies around the smaller is the more philosophical, since, unlike bulky persons who move with difficulty, it is the very nature of the heavenly bodies to move; and therefore the greater they are the more easy their motion, he goes on to say that the Copernican theory confronts a higher principle than reason. "If we will speak like men of religion, and such as own the Bible, we must acknowledge that their assertion is against the plain history of the Holy Book; for there we read that the sun stood still in Joshua's time,14 and went back in King Hezekiah's.15 This relation must be true or false.

If it be the latter, then the inspired Scripture is false, which I take to be as great an absurdity as any man can be reduced to. If the relation be really true, then the sun hath a diurnal motion about the earth; for the sun's standing still could not be a strange and wonderful thing, as it is here represented, unless its general course was to move. This, any man of sense will grant. And so likewise the sun's going backward doth necessarily imply that it went forward before; and if it did so, surely it moved. This, I think no man can deny, and, consequently, it is evident that the sun hath a progressive motion, and goes from one part of the heavens to the other. If it be said, as suggested by some, that the sun only seemed to stand, or to go backward, then farewell all miracles, for they may be only seeming ones." 16 Such is the logic of this divine, who so strongly commended himself to the University of Cambridge,-whether by means of this publication or not, does not appear, that three years after its appearance he received therefrom the very honorable degree of Doctor of Divinity. And yet, I suppose, not an intelligent man in all Christendom can now be found to reaffirm his argument. However great the miracle recorded, the language is popular. Like popular language everywhere, it conforms to appearances rather than to reality. And when we remember that the very purpose of the record was to give an idea of the miracle, 14 Josh. x. 13. 15 2 Kings xx. 11.

16 Quoted from the Puritan Recorder.

it will be seen that such adaptation was a necessity. A description of the events in the terms of absolute philosophy, would have been unintelligible. The drift of the sense, therefore, must rule the mere letter.

Obvious as this principle is, and readily as it will be conceded while applied to Scriptures which lie beyond the scope of partizan prejudices, it nevertheless demands not a little resolution to follow it into the domain of controversy. Perhaps the largest class of Scriptures, in the înterpretation of which it finds application, is that pertaining to demoniacal possessions. The state of the facts in regard to these Scriptures appears to be as follows: The belief was nearly or quite universal in the time of Christ, excepting of course among the Sadducees, who believed in neither angels nor spirits,17 that various diseases then prevalent were occasioned by demons. The Saviour neither affirmed nor denied the common faith. He did, however, often speak to the sick in language entirely conformed to that faith. The Evangelists have adopted the same language in their records of his healing power. From these facts the inference is supposed to be inevitable that Christ himself believed in demoniacal possessions, and that they must therefore have really existed. Now the question arises, as in former cases, What is the drift in such Scriptures? Do they undertake, at any time, to teach the philosophy of these phenomena? Do they ever raise the question, whether these possessions are real? Is the solution of that problem ever the object of labor, either with Christ or his historians? Is there a single deed performed, event recorded, or word uttered by them, for the purpose of showing that demons were, or were not, present? No, this is not pretended. The reality of possessions is simply a matter of inference. Christ spake as though they were real; therefore they must have been real. But Christ alluded to the Syrian god of riches as though he were a real personage; is mammon, therefore, a real god? Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, as though it were previously in motion; was it, therefore, previously in motion? The Lord spake to Job as though Orion ruled the winter and Pleiades the spring; do these constellations, therefore, rule the seasons? The apostle 17 Acts xxiii. 8.

James alludes to moths and rust as though they were the scourges of God upon rich men; are they, therefore, instruments of the divine vengeance? Such questions may be extended at pleasure; and they show such a mode of reasoning to be most unsafe.

If we would interpret correctly the New Testament references to demoniacal possessions, we must not lose sight of their main drift. Christ stood before the people claiming to be a messenger from God. In attestation of this claim, as well as for purposes of general benevolence, he wrought miracles, not the least numerous among which were his healing the sick. The diseased of all classes, the lepers and the lunatics, the deaf and the dumb, the fevered and the phrensied, were alike the subjects of his power. From whatever causes their maladies arose, they yielded with equal facility to his word. His disciples and the multitudes were astonished, not that he cast out devils in contradistinction from healing simple diseases, but that he healed all manner of sicknesses and all manner of diseases among the people. In doing this, his disciples believed, in harmony with the thought of the time, that he often cast out devils, and they so recorded it. But the end at which both the miracle and the record aim, is the attestation of divine power in Christ; and this end is equally attained, to whichever cause the maladies are attributed. To have entered into any discussion of their origin, therefore, would in no wise have furthered the general aim. But, on the contrary, it would have at least partially frustrated that aim. The very perplexities which would have been created by a denial of demoniac agency in the production of disease, would have called off attention from the leading object of Christ's miracles, if they had not destroyed, in the common mind, the very foundation and necessity for the miracles themselves. To speak in accordance with the common thought, therefore, if he would be understood, was unavoidable. Joshua bidden the earth cease her revolutions on her axis, adapting his language to absolute philosophy, he would have been thought mad. Had Christ declared to his followers that there were no demoniacal possessions, they would have understood him to deny the reality of the diseases they saw before them. A little reflection


will show that a peculiar language grows out of such peculiar ideas; and though a speaker or writer utterly reject the ideas themselves, he is compelled to adopt, to some extent, the language which has grown out of them, in dealing with the phenomena to which they refer. His use of the language, therefore, can by no means be adduced as conclusive evidence of his adoption of the philosophy from which it has sprung. The general aim, or main drift of the place, is abundantly competent to overrule any such inferential evidence.

II. Without multiplying instances which might serve still further to illustrate the importance of the caution already named, I pass to remark, in the second place, that we may save ourselves from drawing erroneous inferences from another large class of Scriptures, by attending to their proverbial character. A proverb, I scarcely need say, is a short sentence embodying some important truth. Sometimes this truth is directly and plainly stated; and sometimes indirectly or enigmatically. Proverbs of the latter class, when construed by the aid of the grammar and dictionary-when analyzed and interpreted literally— yield a sense quite foreign to that which belongs to them as proverbs. Their proverbial sense is a wholesale sense. It pertains to the proverb in the aggregate, and not to its parts when analyzed. The dialect of every-day life, not less than that of the Scriptures, abounds with examples of such proverbs. Thus we say, "It is always darkest just before day." Literally construed, this saying would not be true. Nor do we use it to express the sense involved in its mere letter. On the contrary, it is a condensed form of administering comfort to the man who is in great trouble; of assuring him that light will soon shine upon his pathway; of bidding him be of good cheer, for deliverance is at hand. We currently say, also, that "Every bitter has its sweet, and every sweet its bitter;" not intending, by any means, to affirm this as a literal proposition. On the contrary, it is a simple declaration that every human condition has its alloy; that none is so blest as to be free from ills, and none so wretched as to be deprived of all good. "The rolling stone gathers no moss," is another proverb, true in its letter, but not used to express that truth. It signifies that

the unstable man does not get on in the world. Of a like character are a variety of phrases which have grown into a proverbial use, the sense of which depends upon that use, and must be gathered from the connexion, Thus a man unsuccessful in business, is said to have "failed," "run through," "broken down," and the like; expressions of which the literal contrariety does not mar the harmonious signification.

Suppose, now, that a philologist, ignorant of its proverbial use, should take up the phrase last mentioned, and attempt to infer from its mere letter the nature of the calamity it expresses. He would probably reason after this fashion: "Broken down!" To break is to part any thing by violence, as a bone, muscle, or tendon of the body. The phrase "broken down," then, must indicate the violent rupture of some portion of the living organism. Nor can it well be any single or unimportant portion, as an arm or a leg; because the injury, in that case, would have been specifically stated. Besides, such an injury would have been too partial to warrant the general declaration, "broken down." It is more reasonable to suppose that the man was crushed, by some heavy body falling upon him, perhaps; and was, therefore, killed outright. Having thus annihilated his victim by the inexorable rules of logic, the philologist would undoubtedly be surprised, on meeting him the next day, to learn that the extent of his disaster consisted in his inability to pay his note at the bank. Absurd as such an argument would be, it has been often paralleled by reasonings from the letter of the Bible. The phrase "son of perdition,' "18 proverbially used by the Jews for any miserable outcast 19 without reference to his future condition, has been made the basis of an argument for the endless wretchedness of Judas. Overlooking the proverbial character of the phrase, the darker shades of meaning in the word " perdition are seized upon, and, since the phrase is general, the inference is drawn that it is expressive, not of his condition in time, but in eternity.20

[ocr errors]

Kindred to this is the abuse of another proverb which the Saviour applies to Judas: "It had been good for

18 John xvii. 12.

19 Wakefield in loco.

20 See Cruden's Concordance, on the word perdition.



« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »