Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

ceptions. And of religious truths, there is nothing new to be revealed, but what is already communicated is to be better understood.

From the evidences we might pass to the cause of this obscurity in our notions of religion. One without doubt, is to be found in the nature of the subject,-it being spiritual, abstract, and removed from our ordinary and sensible apprehensions of things. Another cause, however, and still greater, exists in our indifference to the subject. Men are not troubled with vague ideas about commerce, politics, &c.; and it needs but the same intense interest to give them far more clear and impressive ideas of religion also.

But there is, yet, another cause of this obscurity, which has suggested to me the leading object of this Essay. It is found in the circumstance, that much of our religious phraseology, is drawn from an ancient book,from writings characterized by a style so different from our ordinary modes of expression, that the adoption of it in common discourse woud appear extremely singular and inappropriate; from writings, tco, marked by circumstances, customs, and habits of thought, which have long since passed away, and which are now, either unknown or disregarded. This antiquated style of the sacred scriptures, has also conspired with other causes, to produce in many minds the feeling that religion is itself, something strange, unintelligible, mystical, and above all, and worse than all, that it is something to be kept quite distinct and separate from the ordinary courses of thought and the ordinary conduct of life. The style of the New Testament does not more differ from our 1*

VOL. I.

common modes of expression, than religion, the subject of the New Testament, is apprehended to differ, or to be distinct from the ordinary actions of life.

What is proposod in this tract, therefore, is to enter a little more particularly than we are accustomed to do perhaps, into the meaning of some of the most common terms and expressions, by which, in the New Testament, religion and the subjects of religion are described; and after that, to review some of those religious terms and phrases, which are in the most frequent use at the present day. Concerning many of these expressions of both kinds, and especially those of scripture, there may be not a few individuals of whom the inquiry, once addressed to the Ethiopian nobleman, might be properly made; "Understandest thou what thou readest?" This question was, indeed, addressed to a Pagan, who had been in his early life, ignorant of the Scriptures, but it is possible that our very familiarity with them, may have rendered us dull of apprehension; or may have made us less attentive to the particular meaning and force of what we read. And all this will be so much the worse, as it comes under the guise of knowledge. If we were read. ing for the first time, we might ask, with the Ethiopian, for some man to guide us, but we have read often, and long,--we have read till we imagine there is nothing more to learn.

I shall endeavour to range the SCRIPTURAL PHRASES to be noticed, under several heads; such as, principally, the following, viz.; the appellations given to our religion; the good or benefit which it was designed to communicate; the way in which this benefit is to be obtained, and the method of God's bestowing it.

1. First, the appellations given to Christianity. These are such as covenant, testament, kingdom of God, mystery. Covenant and Testament are a translation of the same word, which signified originally to arrange; and God's dealings with men, have, in the scriptures, taken a form, or arrangement, or agreement. There is something fixed and established; a plan by which God promises certain blessings on certain conditions. This is God's covenant. The word which signified an arrangement or disposition of things, came very naturally to apply to a testament, and was commonly so used by the classical Greek writers. As the word testament indicates an arrangement, to take place after the death of him who makes it, it is with additional propriety applied to christianity, because it was left as a plan or direction, to be executed after the death of its founder. A testament cannot be published nor take effect till the death of the testator; and christianity could not be proclaimed nor established, till it was confirmed by the patient and meritorious suffering and the triumphant resurrection of its great teacher. "For a testament is of force after men are dead." Thus we hear of the "blood of the covenant or testament; and our Saviour says to his disciples, "this cup is the new testament in my blood;" that is, this cup represents my blood; in other words, my death, by which my religion is sealed, my work is consummated; my directions take the character of a testament, and are ready to be executed.

39

The phrase kingdom of God, conveys to many minds, I believe, the idea of some outward establishment or form; or at least, of some cause or object that is extraneous to piety itself. But, says our Saviour, the kingdom of heaven is within you; and Paul teaches us that the

kingdom of God consisteth not in meats and drinks,—that is, not in outward services and ceremonial offerings, but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. In other words, the kingdom of God is the prevalence of goodness. In the mind that is imbued with religion, God reigns; it is subject to his will. Christianity in its holy influences on the heart, is very naturally denominated the kingdom or reign of God.

The christian religion is also called a mystery; and by common, though it must be allowed, careless readers, this word is understood to import something which is incomprehensible. I say, careless readers, for out of the twenty seven times in which this word is used in the New Testament, it evidently means, in every instance but one, and that doubtful, not something unintelligible, but something revealed. The case excepted is in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians," for though I understand all mysteries;" where it is probable enough, as the supposition gives intensity to the comparison, which the Apostle uses, that the word mystery means something beyond the reach of human powers to comprehend. In two instances, only, it relates to something future, which was already revealed, but which might be considered as in some obscurity, since it was yet to be accomplished. The principle of these is in the 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians; where Paul is speaking of the great anti-christian apostacy, which had already begun to manifest itself. And he does it in these terms; "and now we know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth, (that is, hindereth,) will let until he be taken out of the way; then shall that wicked be revealed," &c. In two

instances only, the word mystery means something obscurely revealed-shadowed forth, by allegory and metaphor. These are the mystery of the seven stars in Revelation; that is, what was illustrated or represented by the seven stars; and the passage in Ephesians, where Paul says, "this is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church." The connexion between our Lord and his followers he had illustrated from our natural affections; and as they did but illustrate it,— as they failed fully to exhibit it, he still calls it a mystery. There is one passage indeed, (the 14th of the 1st Cor.) where the word relates to things not understood ;-not however because they were unintelligible, but because they were spoken in an unknown tongue. In all other instances, mystery in the New Testament is something, not obscurely shadowed forth, much less, unintelligible, but clearly manifested; as in the following language, "the mystery which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed," &c. :-" to us it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven :" "I would not that ye should be ignorant of this mystery :" and again in a passage commonly thought to be a striking declaration of the mysteriousness of the Gospel: "great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest,"—or as it should be rendered, by the correction of better manuscripts" he who was manifest in the flesh was justified in the spirit, seen of angels," &c.-where the mystery is something manifest, and declared, not unintelligible.

I have not gone through this examination for the sake of showing that there are no mysteries in religion. On the contrary there are mysteries in every thing. But it would be very strange, indeed, if they should especially

« ForrigeFortsæt »