Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

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. Had 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 literallyyield 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 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

19

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.

VOL. XII.

20

After admitting

that man if he had not been born." 21 that this was a common saying among the Jews to denote the wretchedness of any flagrant transgressor, and even confirming his statement by reference to the learned Schoettgen, Dr. A. Clarke proceeds to press the language and infer from it the final condition of Judas, as though it were a literal statement covering his entire being. "Can this be said of any sinner," says he, "if there be any redemption from hell-torments? If a sinner should suffer millions of millions of years in them, and get out at last to the enjoyment of heaven; then it was well for him. that he had been born, for still he has an eternity of blessedness before him. Can the doctrine of the non-eternity of hell-torments stand in the presence of this saying?" 22 Pleased with his success thus far, the learned Doctor views the passage in another light. "Or can the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked consist with this declaration? It would have been well for that man if he had never been born! then he must be in some state of conscious existence, as non-existence is said to be better than that state in which he is now found." Now let us apply this reasoning to a kindred saying of Christ. "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." 23 The drift of the good here, it will be seen, lies in the other direction. Pressing the words in the style above noticed, we get this proposition: Such a one must be in a happier state in the next world than in this; else it could not be said, it were better for him that he were drowned, &c. Now, whether this proposition is true or not, it is quite certain that the Saviour intended to say nothing on that subject. Christ's words are simply an assertion that an exemplary punishment would overtake such a transgressor. Or, again, turn to Solomon's exclamation in view of the "oppressions that are done under the sun." "Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better than both they is he who hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun." 24 Shall we overlook

21 Matt. xxvi. 24. 23 Matt. xxiii. 6.

22 Comment in loco. 24 Eccl. iv. 2, 3.

the proverbial elements in such an exclamation, and conclude that it should be literally construed. Nothing is here made to depend on the respective characters of the dead and the living. Suppose it is absolutely true that the dead are better off than the living; is that the truth which Solomon means to assert? And what Christian, accustomed to thank God for this life and for the promise of the next, would be willing to press the latter proposition as a literal one, and conclude that non-existence is preferable to the life that now is, and to that which is to come? As, in the former instances, Christ but expressed the wretched state of particular transgressors, so here Solomon but states the terrible woe occasioned by the "oppressions done under the sun." Whoever presses the language further, does not interpret it, but abuses it. Indeed, Dr. Clarke reconsiders his mode of treating the proverb relating to Judas, when he comes to consider the case of that apostate more at length; and relies on its proverbial character to set aside his own argument quoted above. His final conclusion is, that this saying of the Master does not imply the impossibility either of his repentance or salvation.25

The caution we are now considering, has a very wide application both in the Old and in the New Testament. Take the following from the Old Testament: “The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh." "A threefold cord is not easily broken." 26 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" 27 "What is the chaff to the wheat?" 28 "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!" 29 In the New Testament, likewise, proverbs are scattered on every hand. Thus, Christ says to his disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth." 30 "Ye are the light of the world." 31 "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." 32 To the scribes and Pharisees he said, "Ye strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." 33 To Saul of Tarsus he said, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." 34 These examples might be multiplied indefinitely; but as few of them are involved in doctrinal controversy, we need not dwell upon them here.

[ocr errors]

25 See comment at the end of Acts i.

27 Jer. xiii. 23. 31 Matt. iii. 14.

28 Ib. xxiii. 28.

32 Ib. xv. 14.

26 Eccl. iv. 5, 12.

29 Hab. ii. 6. 30 Matt. iii. 13.
33 Ib. xxiii. 24. 34 Acts ix. 5.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »