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LETTER No. VII.
Baltimore, Jan. 4, 1835.
To Rev. Joseph McKee:
Dear Sir,-Before examining your twelve objections against Universalism, I wish to observe, that in every instance you have assumed, that your proof texts refer to the future world; and on these assumptions you have founded your arguments. What aid you could expect from such assumptions, I am unable to conceive. Did you suppose, that our readers could not distinguish between assumption and argument? Did you imagine, that the anxious inquirer after truth, would be satisfied with such a superficial method of investigating subjects? In this letter, you have brought forward, twelve passages of scripture, on which, in a very grave manner, you have given your opinion, and which, you have pronounced extremely hostile to Universalism. On some of these, you speak with positiveness, and on others, with doubt. Thus we are told one text has this meaning, and another may have that. Now it would certainly be sufficient, in reply to all you have said, to go through with your twelve texts, and say, this does not signify as you have said, and that may not signify as you have supposed. And I pursue a different course, not because what you have said merits a reply, but because popular prejudice refers your proof texts to the future world.
1. Matt, iii: 12; (Luke iii: 16.) After giving your opinion, respecting what is intended by wheat and chaff; you assume, that the disposition made of these, shows the disposition, which will be made of mankind, at the day of judgment. Have you no argument against universalism, but popular opinion? As Pearce, Hammond, Lightfoot, Cappe, Kenrick, and every commentator, with which I have met, are against you; I will reply to your assumption by giving Clarke's exposition of the text:
Whose fan is in his hand: The Romans are here termed God's fan, as in ver 10, they were termed his axe; and in chap. xxii. 7, they are termed his troops or armies. His floor-Does not this mean the land of Judea, which has been long, as it were, the threshing floor of the Lord? God says he will now, by the winnowing fan, [viz, the Romans,] thoroughly cleanse this floor; the wheat; those who believe in the Lord Jesus, he will gather into his garner, either take to heaven from the evil to come, or put in a place of safety, as he did the christians, by sending them to Pella, in Colosyria, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem. But he will burn up the chaffthe disobedient and rebellious Jews, who would not come unto Christ that they might have life. Unquenchable fire:-that cannot be extinguished by man.' Com, in loc.
Referring this to the Jewish nation, removes your supposed difficulty, about the restoration of the wicked to life; for the judgment which they experienced was in this world.
2. Matt. iii. 10 (Luke iii. 9.) Here you assume that the cutting down of the trees repre
sents the destruction, which will come on a part of mankind at a future judgment. The commentators referred to, in the other text, are against you on this. Clarke says: It was customary with the prophets, to represent the kingdoms, nations, and individuals, whose ruin they predicted, under the notion of forests and trees, doomed to be cut down. See Jer. xlvi. 22, 23. Ezek. xxxi. 3, 11, 12. The Baptist follows the same metaphor; the Jewish nation is the tree, and the Romans the axe, which, by the just judgment of God, was speedily to cut it down. It has been well observed, that there is an allusiou here to a woodman, who, having marked a tree for excision, lays his axe at its root, and strips off his outer garment, that he may wield his blows more powerfully; and that his work may be quickly performed. For about sixty years before the coming of Christ, this axe had been lying at the root of the Jewish tree, Judea having been made a province to the Roman empire, from the time that Pompey took the city of Jerusalem, during the contentions of the two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, which was about sixty three years before the coming of Christ. See Josephus Antiq. 1. xiv. c. 1-5. But the country might be still considered as in the hands of the Jews, though subject to the Romans, and God had waited on them now, nearly ninety years from the above time, expecting them to bring forth fruit, and none was yet produced; but he kept the Romans, as an axe, lying at the root of this tree, who were ready to cut it down the moment God gave them the commission.' Com. in loc.
Under this figure of cutting down trees, the prophets frequently represent
ments. See Isa. x: 33, 34. Jer. xlvi: 22, 23. Eze. xxxi: 1, 3, 10—12. As cutting down and burning trees represents a national judgment, your argument drawn from the impossibility of a burned tree returning to its verdure, has no force. I pretend not that the Jewish nation will return to its former state.
3. Matt. v: 13. (Luke xiv: 34, 35.) Here you assume that to be trodden under foot of men, represents endless suffering. But what is there in the figure which justifies such an assumption? Theophylact says, it signifies to be despised. Macknight explains it thus: "If ye, whose business it is to reform mankind, be wicked yourselves, ye cannot be reclaimed, but will be the most useless and contemptible of men." The words were addressed by our Lord to his disciples, who were the light of the world, but if they had lost their light, or become like unsavory salt, they would be cast out of the church. Nothing is said of another world. This is certain. How then can it prove endless misery?
4. Matt. xii. 43-45. (Luke xi. 24-26.) Here you assume that the state of the man with seven spirits was his final state. But the text says nothing of this. That represents him in two states-one with one evil spirit-the other with seven. When it says the last state of that man is worse than the first, it means, his state with seven evil spirits, is worse than with one. No allusion is made to death or eternity. This man was a figure of the Jewish nation. Grotius, I believe has given the sense of the text in the following words:
'Christ appears to have had reference to the character of the Jewish people, at the two pe
riods of their captivity in Babylon, and their destruction by Titus. Before their captivity, the people were exceedingly wicked, as may be seen in the Prophets; during their exile many began. to reform, and under a superintending Providence, returned to their native land. But in the days of the Asmoneans, having again plunged into excessive wickedness, they added to their other crimes, a contempt of the Messiah, who came to them with a message of mercy, and exercising miraculous power. Having done this, they were abandoned by God, and became the most wicked of all men, as Josephus has described them in his history of their last days.' Annot. in loc.
5. Matt. xiii. 47. Here you assume, that the end of the world (aion) is the end of the material universe. By turning to Matt. xxiv. we shall see the falsity of this. There the disciples ask what shall be the sign of the end of the world (aion)? In answer to this, Jesus enumerates several signs, but says the end is not yet. He then mentions other signs, and says after these, the end (end of the world or age) shall come. In the same chapter he teaches, that that generation should not pass away, till all these things were fulfilled. The parable then, represents the effects of the Gospel before, and the separation which took place at, the destruction of Jerusalem. Furnace of fire-weeping and gnashing of teeth, are figures to represent the doom of the Jews. This is evident from the time to which the text refers, and from the use of the figures.
This explanation accords with the opinion of Dr. Clarke. He says: "It is probable, that this parable in its primary meaning, refers to the