Page images

cult to be understood. But for men to suppose a figure in the Bible when they please, and then explain it as they please, with no reference to the rules of language or of criticism, is trifling, and impious. To explain away the Scriptures in this manner, carries every unbiagsed, reflecting mind to the conclusion, that those who do it, profess a veneration for them only for the purpose of the more successfully hurling their poisoned arrows against vital piely and experimental religion. That this is not a groundless charge, is manifest from their endeavors to evade, set aside, or wrest the Scriptures, which teach the doctrine of future and endless punishment.

I. One method by which they evade the testimony of these scriptures is, BY ADOPTING FALSE PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION.

A false principle of interpretation they adopt in relation to the terms everlasting, eternal, forever, and forever and ever. Because these terms are sometimes used in a figurative sense, and applied to things which have an end, they maintain that they invariably have a limited meaning when applied to punishment. The rule of interpretation generally adopted by the great body of them is, “ that where a word is used in relation to different subjects, the subject itself must. determine the meaning of the word.” By this expedient, all those passages of scripture in which the words “everlasting, eternal, forever and ever,'' as applied to future punishment, are found, are set aside. And they require that there be something in the nature of this punishment which necessarily leads us to receive the Greek word aion, and its derivative aionios, in an endless sense; “since it is not the word but the subject which gives the idea of endless duration." As words are sometimes used in a figurative as well as a literal sense, I admit that the subject including the scope of the writer, should be taken into consideration if we would determine in which of these senses the words are used. But for us to determine the meaning of a word by one's limited view of what is right and wrong, is virtually setting reason above revelation, and openly paying to her divine honors. The Bible is altogether superfluous as a standard of faith ; for if our reason is infallible we need no other revelation. But if we can arrive with absolute certainty at the

[ocr errors]

truth of any doctrine of revelation from facts and considerations which do not derive their force from express declaration, or which are altogether independent of the aid of scripture terms, why criticise upon them, and why endeavor to invalidate their testimony?

Is it said, “we ought to be reasonable men ?” I answer, true; = but then only are you reasonable men when you acknowledge that

God's thoughts and ways are infinitely above ours, and that he must be true, though every man is thereby made a liar. The Bible is not contrary to right reason, which is nothing less than the will of God; but it is often contrary to the reason of man, who is a creature of yesterday and knows comparatively nothing. If not, then man's reason is infinite and infallible.

But if this rule of interpretation, plausible as it may appear, be - admitted, it will go to subyert every principle of just reasoning.

On this principle, you may disprove almost any thing that you please, Thus should one attempt to prove the divinity of Christ from his being called Jehovah, this mode of reasoning would render such evidence of no account; because the same appellation is sometimes

given to temporal objects, as an altar, a mountain, or the Church of al God, (Ex. xvii : 15—Gen. xxii : 14—Ezek. xlviii : 35)—"and the

meaning of the word can be determined only by the nature of the subject.” Were Christ frequently called Jehovah, we could not on

this principle believe him to be the true God, because the word is -t applied to other things which are known to be temporal. Again,

should one attempt to prove the omniscience of God from its being said that his understanding is infinite; you might reply, that this

word is sometimes used to express only a very great degree, as is when the strength of Ethiopia and Egypt is said to have been e infinite.–Nahum iii: 9.) Once more ; should one attempt to prove

the endless existence of God from his being called the everlasting God; the endless dominion of Christ from its being said that he

shall reign forever ; and of the endless duration of the heavenly : inheritance from its being called eternal life; these terms you might

reply, are sometimes used to express only a limited duration; thus you might assert that the self-existent Jehovah may be struck


into non-existence ; that the kingdom of Christ may be abolished; and that the happiness of the righteous may come to an end. Nothing will stand before such a rule of interpretation.

To object to the words “everlasting, &c.” as being too weak and indeterminate in their application, for the purpose of conveying the idea of endless duration, is trifling, unless others could be named which are more conclusive. Now what terms could have been used that would have set the matter at rest? Perhaps it may be said that if the word endless had been used, you would believe that future punishment is unlimited in duration. But this word is liable to the same objections, and falls before the same criticisins. God said that there was no end of the store and glory of Egypt-(Nah. ii: 9)-the apostle counselled Timothy not to give heed to endless genealogies—1 Timothy i: 4)—and it is common to speak of a loquacious person as being an endless talker. Hence it might be objected that the term endless is very indeterminate.

Suppose our English translation were the original scriptures, and the words everlasting, eternal, forever, and forever and ever, were used in them as they now are, who of common sense would in this case question whether they expressed the doctrine of endless punishment? And yet our words are used in the same metaphorical sense, while their literal and proper meaning is that of eternal dura- # tion. If these words are properly applied to limited punishments, why are they not currently used in application to such punishments ? But should we call imprisonment for life an everlasting punishment, we should have at least the credit of originality.

Now the only true principle of interpretation, as we have already! remarked,* is to understand words and phrases in their proper primary meaning, unless there be soinething in the subject or connexion which requires them to be understood in a figurative sense. Hence we draw the conclusion, as there is nothing in the subject or connexion to limit the meaning of the terms under consideration, when used to denote the future punishment of the wicked, any more then when used to denote the endless existence of God; that they are to be taken

and i

* Lecture 1.

in their literal and primary sense, which is endless as we have already shown*; and thal thirt principle of interpretation which would set aside the literal and primary ineaning of terms at pleasure, or which would lead us to understand them according to our views of the fitness of things, is false and ought to be rejected.

In the same manner the objectors under consideration, evade the force of those passages in which the word HELL is used to denote a place of future punishment. Because the Greek and Hebrew words translated hell, do not always denote a place of future punishment, they at once assert that they never do. But should it be admitted that these words mean only the grave, or a place of punishment in this world, and have no reference to the future state of men, will it follow that all men will be saved ? By no means. The doctrine of endless punishment rests on other testimony, which would not be in the least invalidated by this eoncession. If it were impossible to show that the Scriptures speak of a place in which the wicked are to be punished, the fact would not make it at all the less evident that they are to be punished. The fact that the laws of the State do not designate the place where persons guilty of capital crimes shall be publicly executed, does not make it the less certain that they are to be executed in some place. God has said that the wicked shall “go away into everlasting punishment,” and “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power.” He who has denounced these threatnings, will be at no loss to find a place for their execution. But if we can show that the Bible not only declares the fact, but designates the place of endless punishment, that involves an additional proof of endless punishment; and shows that it is palpably false to assert, that the words in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, translated hell, do in no case denote the place and the state of future punishment. This, I trust, will be satisfactorily made to appear.

In doing this, I shall first inquire into the meaning of the Hebrew word sheol. This word though frequently used in the Old Testament, is seldom translated hell. It primarily signified the place or

* Lecture 1.


[ocr errors]

for the employments and bliss of the life to come. For it is a decree of Heaven-founded on the moral laws which govern the universe, which, like the law of the Medes and Persians, cannot be changed-i hat, “ Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.The foundation of future felicity. must be laid in “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We must be convinced of our inherent depravity as the descendants of the first Adam; of the guilt and demerit of our offences; of the spotless purity and infinite rectitude of that Being whom we have offended; and of the awful consequences of unrepentant guilt. We must view the extent and purity of the divine law. We must renounce all hope of justification before God, by our works, and must receive with humility and gratitude that full and free salvation which is exhibited in the gospel, and must “ behold” by an eye of faith “ the Lamb of God that taketh

away the sin of the world.” We must depend alone on the aid of the Spirit to enable us to subdue the corrupt propensities of our natures, to renew our souls after the Divine image, and to inspire us to abound in all those fruits of righteousness which are to the praise and glory of God. And you must give all diligence to make your calling and election sure, “by adding to your faith, courage ; and to courage, knowledge ; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, the love of the brethren; and to love of the brethren, love to all men.

1.–And thus there shall be richly ministered to you an entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus · Christ."*

This may the Lord to do; and to his name be all the glory, world without end. Amen.

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »