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applied to it. If it is found in one it ought to be found in both. Is it rational to suppose, that a doctrine of so much importance should be concealed for so many years? How can this be reconciled with the divine character? Was this the mystery which was kept hid from ages, and from generations, but is now revealed to us by the apostles? No New Testament writer intimates, that punishment under the old dispensation was only temporary in its duration, but under the new, was endless in its duration. All the Scripture writers speak of punishment in the same way, express its duration in similar language, nor would their readers suppose that the New Testament writers were believers in endless misery, and those of the Old not. It is generally allowed that the punishments threatened under the Old Testament were all of a temporal nature. The question may then be asked, whether this is not a mistaken view of the Old Testament punishments? That it is not, seems obvious from all the instances mentioned, and also from no other kind of punishment being recognized in the New, when the punishments under that dispensation are referred to. The New Testament, like the Old, speaks frequently of punishment. It will then be necessary to examine with care, all the texts in the New, where aion and aionios are rendered eternal, everlasting, or forever, and applied to punishment. Is it not possible that men may have been mistaken in affirming, that the punishments under the Christian dispensation are carried beyond death, and are of endless duration? May they not be temporal, as under the Mosaic dispensation, and why cannot the words eternal, everlasting, or forever, be applied to them, yet not endless in duration, just as well as to those under that dispensation? Christians do not seem to think of any punishment in this life for disobedience to God. No; it is all carried into a future state
of existence, and considered to be endless. But surely the New Testament writers speak of punishments, and very awful punishments in this life. Nor do they say, that under the new dispensation an eternal punishment awaited any in a future state of existence, but did not under the old dispensation. The places in the New Testament, where the words eternal, everlasting; or forever, are applied to punishment, are few in number. If they were even frequent, what could this certainly prove, for we have seen such words applied to things, and even to punishment of persons, under the former dispensation, where all allow endless duration was not expressed by them?
It has been asserted, that the truth or falsehood of the doctrine of endless misery, depends on the meaning of aion and aionios in the New Testament, and that this subject was reduced to a matter of verbal criticism. But why ought not its truth to depend as much on the meaning of olim in the Old Testament, which is rendered everlasting and forever, as those words are in the New? It is a capricious mode of interpretation, to give this language a limited signification in the one case and not in the other also. truth is, something besides the mere application of the word everlasting to punishment, must appear, to prove it of endless duration, for no man can deny, that it is applied to punishment when no one thinks endless duration was meant. Besides, the word everlasting being so frequently applied to temporary things, shows, that no great dependence is to be placed on such an argument.
One of the most plausible arguments arising from everlasting being applied to punishment in the New Testament is, that in Matth. 25: 46. the same original word is applied both to life and punishment, and that if the one is not endless neither is the other. But permit me here only to remark-Why does not this
equally apply to Dan. 12: 3. where a case of the same kind is found? We have there shown that everlasting does not refer to endless duration of either happiness or punishment, or to any thing beyond this state of existence. When we come to consider Matth. 25: 46. we shall show that this is a comment on Dan. 12: 3. and that both refer to the same everlasting punishment and happiness.
When people end the Old Testament they seem to forget that the New is the revelation of the same God addressed originally to the Jews; that it was written by Jews, and that its ideas and language are borrowed from Moses and the prophets. The writers adopt the words, phrases, and idioms used in the Old Testament, as well as quote formally from it. Dr. Campbell assures us that our Lord and his apostles spoke to the Jews in the dialect of their own Scriptures, and used words and phrases with which they were familiar. And Mr. Stuart calls their writings the Hebrew Greek of the New Testament. If we would understand this book, we must not sit down to it as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists or Universalists, but as Jews. The question is not, what sense do any of these sects put on the words, phrases, and idioms which are found in it, but in what sense were they understood among Jews from their own Scriptures.
Is it asked-How are we to know this? I answer, from the Old Testament, from whence the New Testament writers borrowed them. The Old Testament is our dictionary of the language of the New, for the writers spake, not in the words which man teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth. While the New Testament is interpreted by sectarian dictionaries, how can Christians ever come to be agreed? Can any thing else be expected but bitter contentions among them? The meaning and extent of the words
and phrases to come before us were well understood among the Jews. It is to be no concern of mine, how any sect now understands them, nor how I have firmly understood them myself, but how were they understood by the Jews, or what is their current sense in their sacred books. I am to consider myself, and the reader ought to consider himself, as living eighteen hundred years ago, as being born and brought up a Jew; as familiar with the Old Testament; habituated to words, phrases, and idioms of language common among the Jews; and in fact, as far as possible, to enter into the feelings, habits of thinking, and even the prejudices of that wonderful people.
New Testament usage of a word or phrase, is another very important rule of which we shall avail ourselves in interpreting the passages which shall be brought before us. For example, in Matth. 24: 3. we have the phrase the end of the world. Now, if this phrase does not mean here the end of this natural world, but the end of the Jewish age, we think it ought to have the same meaning in other places, unless the subject and scope of the writer entirely forbids it. When I therefore come to this phrase, or others in the course of this investigation, all the places in which such phrases are found, will be brought forward at once and considered. This will save repetition of remark, and will enable the reader to form a more correct judgment of the true Scripture meaning of such phrases. Besides, if any inspired writer uses a word or phrase, and its sense is ascertained, if he uses it again, or repeatedly, it ought to be understood in the same sense, unless he by some way shows us he is to be differently understood. This is nothing more than every writer or speaker is entitled to, whom we wish to treat with common civility. If he uses it in another book, or if
it is used by other sacred writers, our means of ascertaining its true sense are increased.
Much misunderstanding of the Scriptures has arisen from our overlooking what some may think but trifling circumstances. For example, some seldom take into view the writer, the time when he wrote, or the circumstances in which he was placed. They also overlook the persons to whom he addressed himself, the circumstances in which they were placed, and the subject on which he discourses to them. The scope and drift of his discourse from the context, is seldom considered. Hence words, phrases, and verses are quoted, to prove what was never thought of by him. His words are quoted, and a sense affixed to them agreeable to the religious creeds of the persons, which, if the context was but consulted, would show them their mistake, and that, though unintentionally, they were perverting the Scriptures. We also may err, and fail in what we propose, but we shall at least make the attempt. Infallibility is no article of our creed; we would only do all in our power to produce a correct understanding of the Scriptures, without which, endless division and debate must exist among Christians.