« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
'While, with due feelings of awe and reverence, we turn our thoughts to this wonderful act of grace in the Son of God, thus taking our nature upon Him, and shedding His innocent blood upon the cross for our redemption, we must not fail to remember that the expressions, here used by St. Paul, were intended to signify the unhappy condition of Gentiles in their unconverted state; as other expressions of sorrow and reproach denoted the sinfulness of the Jews and their loss of the Divine favour, at the particular time, when the Apostle wrote. We cannot therefore be too cautious how we misinterpret the language of Holy Writ, and apply to our own cases or to the case of any fellow Christians, words and phrases, which were expressly levelled against the conduct and condition of Jews or Gentiles, before their conversion to Christianity. We and our forefathers for many generations have happily been received into the church of Christ; and therefore neither we nor they can be considered as "without strength," "ungodly," "sinners," or "enemies," in the sense, in which these expressions were applied by St. Paul to the Gentile converts of his own day.
'Thus are we provided with a seasonable caution against groundless fear, if at any time, from want of a clear conception of the Apostle's meaning, we should imagine that such expressions refer to our own spiritual condition; as also against presumptuous judgement respecting the state of any other man, to whom we might erroneously apply epithets, which are shewn to belong exclusively to the unregenerate Heathen. And thus does a clear insight into the sense of scripture enable us to draw a line of just distinction between cases, which are really dissimilar; while it proves a safeguard against the misery of despondency on the one hand, and the sin of uncharitableness on the other.
'But a further caution may be induced from a correct apprehension of the terms employed by the Apostle, and perhaps it is the most necessary caution of all. And that is a caution lest we so interpret St. Paul, as to invalidate in the smallest degree the strength of the foundation, upon which Christian purity and Christian morality rest. If we apply to the case of all Christians at all times, the language which is applied to Heathens upon their first embracing the Gospel; or if we apply even to their final and complete justification what is said of their primary justification, or admission into the kingdom of God and his Son, we shall sanction the worst heresies of the Antinomians; we shall give a further currency to the mistakes of enthusiasts in our own days, who uphold a distinction between faith and good works, which is as injurious to the salutary effect of the Gospel, as it is opposed to its plainest declarations. Now there is not any clear-sighted man whatsoever, who does not at once perceive that all interpretations which lead to such consequences, must be at variance with the real intention of the word of God; although there may be many, who, from want of close attention to the different parts of Scripture, which are placed in seeming opposition to each other, may not be able to point out in what the fallacy consists, nor how it may be best refuted.' pp. 172—174.
This theory of interpretation, our readers are aware, has the support of Locke, Taylor, and Belsham. It is one of the desperate shifts to which heresy has had recourse, in order to make the plain declarations of God of no effect. We may justly style it desperate, first, because it is purely hypothetical and gratuitous, displaying little ingenuity, and requiring no scholarship; and secondly, because it is palpably at variance with the numerous declarations in the apostolic writings. We need only refer to Col. i. 21; Rom. viii. j; Gal. iii. 21, 2; Rom. iii. 7; 1 Tim. i. 15. Of the glaring opposition of such interpretations to the language of the IXth and Xth articles of the Church of England, and to the whole spirit of the Liturgy, we say nothing: our object is not to enter into any discussion. But we must be allowed to ask, if the expressions applied by St. Paul to the Gentile converts of his own day are not to be considered as applicable to the case of our fellow Christians in the same sense, was it not incumbent upon the Preacher to explain in what sense they are applicable? It is true, we are not the persons specifically addressed, who, formed part of the existing population at the time of Our Lord's crucifixion. But would Dr. Maltby maintain, that, when the Apostle says, "God commendeth his love towards us," he spoke not of the human race, but of the sinners of that day? Will he maintain, that no persons received into the Church of Christ, (that is, the Establishment,) are ungodly or hostile to the law of God? Could he imagine, that the learned auditory which he had the honour to address, stood in peculiar danger of falling into 'the misery of despondency' from a too severe estimate of their spiritual condition? Is this the side upon which his cautions were most needed? Alas! what is the wisdom of the wise, where the heavenly light is wanting? A man who should so blunder in the affairs of this life,—as a lawyer, a physician, or a classical scholar, would incur disgrace, while bad theology is a passport to a mitre. But what is justification by faith? Dr. Maltby's account of the matter is as follows. After referring to the language of the Xlth article, he adds:
'Nevertheless, some distinction must be made in applying the words of the text to the respective cases of the primitive Christians and of ourselves. Converts from Paganism and even Judaism were said to be "justified by faith "—faith denoting the acceptance of a new religion, in contrast with the old. But when these expressions are applied to such as are sprung from a long continued series of Christian ancestors, and who have neither held the doctrines nor been infested with the habits of any other religion, the proposition must be understood in a different sense, or at least explained in a different manner. The doctrine applicable now, is this. We are put into a state to obtain final salvation upon the terms propounded in the Gospel. While we believe all that Christ and his Apostles have declared, we must obey all that
he has commanded.' 'The meaning which we should affix to
the " New Covenant" is this. If we so believe in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, as to live in conformity with the rules which He has laid down for our guidance, the Almighty is pleased, in such a case, to declare on His part, that he will bestow upon us everlasting happiness in the life which is to come.' pp. 168, 9.
This is Bishop Maltby's doctrine: is it St. Paul's? As much as it is the doctrine of the Reformers and Martyrs, of Hooker and Barrow, of Beveridge and Hall.
It is of no use to mince the matter. Dr. Maltby does not mean to set up his scheme of religion against St. Paul's, but he does not understand the New Testament, and has consequently no clear notion of Christianity. He sets out wrong, adopting the most dangerous principle of interpretation possible; viz. that all interpretations which lead to certain consequences, (that is, which are thought to lead to such consequences,) 'must be at 'variance with the real intention of the word of God';—as if the intention of the word of God was not to be gathered from the plain language of Scripture! No one was ever driven to adopt so preposterous a principle, who did not feel the natural and obvious import of the Scriptures to be against him? Dr. Maltby may be an expert critic; his ' airo; l<pa upon a disputed 'text' would carry with it far more weight than ours; but, in the line of argument he has adopted, he has descended from his vantage-ground, and laid aside his proper character as a scholar, and, instead of honestly applying his best faculties and high attainments to the faithful interpretation of the inspired document, has set himself to prove its doctrines to be inapplicable, and its obvious meaning to be dangerous and pernicious. A man who acts thus, stultifies himself, while he casts the greatest dishonour imaginable upon the word of God. Bishop Maltby quotes with high satisfaction the 'shrewd observation of Grotius' upon the answer of the Eunuch to Philip: 'He did not imagine the 'meaning of Holy Scripture to be so clear, as now-a-days it is 'thought by artisans and females.' But, if every artisan and female now-a-days is not able to answer the Eunuch's question, " Of whom does the Prophet speak?" the fault must lie with their instructors. The meaning of the Prophet must be acknowledged to be clear enough now, to every Christian who has the New Testament in his hand. The comment was unworthy of Grotius, or of any Protestant divine. Strange indeed, that artisans and females should imagine the meaning of Scripture to be clearer than it is, and that the learned should be contending for its ambiguity and obscurity! In any other case, we should expect to find the reverse,—the unlearned complaining of the obscurity of a work, the learned defending the clearness of its meaning. So strange a phenomenon, we leave philosophers to explain. Should it be said, however, that the meaning of Holy Scripture is mistaken by the unlearned vulgar, who suppose it to be so clear, and that scholars like Dr. Maltby are alone able to arrive at the true interpretation, we beg leave to remark, that the evangelical doctrines, as held by the vulgar pious, the illiterate but devout believer, on the faith of the obvious import of the inspired writings, —the doctrines which Dr. Maltby rejects and opposes,—have been firmly held and ably defended by men as learned as Grotius, Le Clerc, and himself. The clear meaning of the sacred text has been established by the soundest criticism, so that, were the Scriptures never so obscure, the immense mass of expository religious instruction which is in the hands of the common people, would supply ample means of arriving at a competent knowledge of their meaning. We detest, as well as Dr. Maltby, the ' contemptuous dogmatism that is too often the fruit of scanty 'information and superficial views'; but there is such a thing as a man's being learned in the Scriptures without scholarship, profound in the doctrines of Christ without philosophy, bold and decided in his views without dogmatism; and there is such a thing, on the other hand, as what the apostle calls ' carnal wisdom' and learned ignorance.
Nothing can be more repugnant to our feelings, than to join in a cry of heresy against any public character, more especially when that cry has obviously been raised by political feeling. It would have been highly agreeable to us, to be able to report favourably of these Sermons as establishing the orthodoxy of the learned Whig Bishop. Far be it from us to impute to Dr. Maltby any opinions which he does not specifically maintain or avow. We must, however, frankly confess that, were his views of Christianity consonant with Revelation, the Deity of the Saviour would be reduced to an abstract question of so little practical importance, that the controversy with the Socinian would be scarcely worth keeping up.
Where the theology is false, the morality is never right; and therefore it will excite no surprise, that the learned Preacher should be found cautioning the lawyers of Lincoln's Inn against being 'righteous over much', (Ser. X.) that is, 'carrying re'ligious feeling to an unwise extreme',—' undue zeal in making 'proselytes',—'a demeanour bordering on sanctimonious',—as well as against thinking too ill of their spiritual condition, and giving way to religious despondency, or denying themselves innocent amusements (Ser. XII. and III.) ;—instead of addressing to them such hard sayings as, ' Be ye holy, for I am holy'. This will excite no astonishment; although the evil tendency must be obvious, of cautioning a class of persons against evils and errors which they are in no danger of falling into, from which their very prejudices would tend to preserve them, without warning them of the opposite precipice on the brink of which they are standing. When the standard of Christian morals within the circle of professional society is considered, the want of discretion or of fidelity exhibited in this line of exhortation, must appear still more deplorable than the Preacher's theological deficiencies.
That we may not be charged with exaggerating those deficiencies, we shall close this article with an extract containing the clearest statement we have met with of the Author's religious belief.
'By religion then, I do not mean merely a system of thinking, but a habit of acting; not merely correct opinions, but a virtuous and useful life. Religion, properly understood, implies unfeigned belief in Almighty God, as revealed to us in the Bible; reverence for His perfections, with an ardent desire to imitate them; implicit reliance upon His promises, with an unceasing endeavour to deserve them. Religion also implies faith in the Son of God, with a grateful sense of all we owe to Him, in that He descended from the bosom of His Father, quitted the glories of heaven, and took upon Him our flesh, to save us from the dreadful effects of sin, even from everlasting death. It implies a disavowal of all claim from our own merit to the happiness of eternity, but a profession of dependence on the effectual atonement of the Saviour; it implies also a hearty reliance upon the proffered aid of God's Holy Spirit, to strengthen our feeble resolutions, to elevate our devout affections, to guide us to every good word and work. If these notions of religion be duly planted in our minds and deeply rooted in our hearts, they cannot fail to bring forth the goodly fruits of a pious and temperate, an industrious and charitable, life. "If these things be in you and abound," said St. Peter to those of his own time, "they make you that ye shall neither be barren, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." "Wherefore", he rightly concludes his exhortation, "the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'", pp. 323-4.
This passage may, perhaps, be admitted as proof that Dr. Maltby's notions, though far enough from evangelical, are as passably orthodox as those of many of his Tory brethren.
Art. VII. An Humble Attempt to answer the important Question, "What think ye of Christ," or, Twelve Lectures on the Person of Christ, and his Mission into the World. By Nun Morgan Harry, 12mo. pp. 224. Banbury, 1832.
The importance of acquiring correct views of the person of Jesus Christ cannot be doubted by any intelligent Christian. Without this knowledge, we are not only exposed to the seductions of error, but vOL. Viii.—N.s. x