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REMARKS ON MATTHEW XXVIII. 19.
FOR THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE.
[Few passages of Scripture have been appealed to with more confidence
in support of the doctrine of the trivity than tbe form of baptisın in Matth. xxviij. 19. It has been supposed that here the three divine persons are placed together in a solemn form. But even if we should admit the personality of the Holy Spirit, it could not be proved from this text, that the three persons are equal in power and glory.” The following remarks on this baptismal forın are translated froin Eichhorn's
Repertorium für Biblische und Morgenlandische Litteratur." Theil. x. 278. They will not be found perhaps, to differ essentially from some explanations which have already been given of this text. The principal object of the author seems to be, to show the peculiar appropriateness of this form of baptism to the wants and the state of feeling with respect to religion in the first days of the Gospel. After baving observ. ed, that this passage has scarcely ever been considered in an upbiassed manner-those who explain it having generally set out with the purpose of defending or refuting from it the doctrine of the trinity,—and that he sball investigate its meaning free from any partiality to either side, with a view solely to discover its bearing and signification in its original connexion,ếhe thus proceeds.]
AFTER his resurrection, our divine Saviour, with that dignity which distinguished all his great actions, gave to the first teachers of Christianity a distinct command to spread abroad religion and morality, as they had been taught and practised by him. Till this time, the true and pure worship of the Deity, so far as it is grounded upon divine revelation, bad been confined to the Jews; and with respect to them, it was, conformably to the character of the nation, defective, disfigured, and not efficacious enough for an universal worship designed to bless the world. But now, in conformity with the instructions of Jesus, the genuine worship of God, in all its purity and happy influences, was to be proclaimed, not to the descendants of Abraham only, not merely to Jews, but to all mankind. “Go ye and teach all nations."
John the Baptist had already prepared the way to the hearts of his brethren for this universally animating truth, and had required them to renounce their Jewish feelings and the principles of the old dispensation, for the time of the Messiah was
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Sohn administered the rite of baptism, in order openly to distinguish those who had a true reverence for the Messiah, and to confirm their expectations. This rite Jesus also ratified (but under his religion it had a larger and more elevated meaning,) that by it his true followers might in a solemn manner be New Series_ol. III.
bound to the profession of his religion. It might be expected, that the most perfect Teacher and Founder of Christianity would select a form of baptism entirely answering to the object of the rite, the wants of the world at that time, and the state of mind of those who were to be baptized.
He gave, therefore, to his disciples a command to baptize every convert to bis religion, whether Jew or heathen, into the belief of the three following fundamental articles : let. A God, the Father of all mankind. 2d. His Son. 3d. The spirit of miraculous power. Upon examination, these points will be found to comprise the substance of the religion for its followers at that period; to be characteristic of the dispensation of Jesus, which was in strong contrast equally with the religious principles of Jews and Gentiles; and adapted to promote the general diffusion of the light of truth, by doing away Jewish and heathen prejudices.
When the Jew, exulting in his Jehovah, bade insulting defiance to the heathen, and with all the ardour of exclusive national feeling sung the praises of his God, as the God of Jews and not of Gentiles, and when proud of the imagined benefits conferred by the merits of an Abraham, an Isaac, or a Jacob, he forgot the command of love to man,-surely the effects of cherishing such dispositions must have been hostile to the best interests of man. And when the heathen suffered his imagination to form and set up, now this, and then another, deity, and could serve his passions under the patronage of some divinity, how must the true dignity and the high destination of man have been degraded and debased!
But as a check on this state of things, the baptism instituted by Jesus required a belief in One God, the Father of all mankind. Now the heathen knows, “in whom he believes, and the wall of partition between him and the Jew falls to the ground.
Our God is the God of Jews and Gentiles. This truth is grounded on the divinity of the mission of Jesus. The enquiry, how it is so, belongs not to this place. I must only remark this, that the expressions Messiah and Son of God are synonymous. Every one, to whose mind the idea of the Messiah was present, considered him as that Son of God, for whom the whole nation were looking with high expectation and ardent desire. But the voice of the nation was divided. А large part, whose attention had been awakened by the predictions of the prophets, and yet more by the herald John, maintained that the Messiah was already among them; while others, the most powerful part, denied this fact with such wilful obstinacy, as would have made the best cause suspected.
The political relation in which the Romans stood to Judea, required attention to this dispute. All were full of expectation, when on a sudden the hope of the good appeared to be disappointed. The party of those in power, as is usual in such cases, prevails, and he, who bad been reverenced as the Messiah, dies on the cross. This scene would at once have wiped off all the impressions which the miracles of Jesus had made, would have turned devotedness into hatred, and hope into the shame of disappointed expectation ;-the heathen would have hastened back to his divinities, and the Jew would again have wrapped himself in the robe of Moses, had not Jesus, after rising from the dead, manifested himself as the Messiah, the Son of God.
In this situation of things, how peculiarly necessary, when Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize, was the injunction of belief in the Son of God for Jews and heathens; and how appropriate was the baptism in the name of " the Son," --i. e." the Messiah, the Son of God, is the founder of our religion.”
But what is the meaning of the word “spirit” in this place, where we expect a leading truth of Christianity, such an one as may be fitly connected with the other truths in this form of baptism, and be productive of good effects to those who receive it? This we shall find probably, where the inquirer must seek it, in the history of Jesus.
1. I may be allowed to suppose, though here the proof cannot be attempted, that the miracles of Jesus had an object appropriate to the time. They were adapted to excite astonishment, and thus to keep up the attention of the people,-for their attention could be kept alive only by sensible impressions,—that they might by degrees become better acquainted with the true nature of Christ's mission, and learn to acknowledge in him ne Saviour of the world.
2. Agreeably to this remark, the miraculous power of Christ was for the men of that day the most sure and striking proof of the divinity of his mission. To the messengers, who were sent (Matth. xi. 2.) to ask, whether he was the Messiah, Jesus
[* If by these and subsequent hints the author means, that the miracles of Christ had but a temporary design, it seems to be altogether an arbitrary assumption and without any foundation. The evidence, which they furnisb, is in all ages the same. Perhaps his meaning is, that the impression made by them would be peculiarly efficacious at a time, when the remembrance of them was still fresh in the minds of men. But whatever may be his opinion on this point, his argument stands free from any necessary coppexion with it, being intended to show that, by baptizing into the name * of the holy spirit,” is siguified baptizing into the belief of the miraculous power of our Saviour.]
replies" Go and tell what you do hear and see ; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed,” &c. And the evidence afforded by this fact, in the sacred history, shews that the miracles of Jesus were at that time the strongest testimony to his being the Messiah.
3. This miraculous power, according to the language of the New Testament, is "the holy spirit” (avevua agrov.)
I do not here investigate the use of language in the New Testament, with respect to this word, at a later period. Though we may be induced to think, that after the death of Jesus, this expression, when used on subjects of religious instruction, received a distinct signification, which I should not be authorized to transfer to an earlier period,-- yet certainly the phrase "holy spirit” does also, in entire conformity with the genius of the language, mean, miraculous power.
The history of the life of Jesus furnishes proofs for this signification, and for two positions, viz. 1st, the power of working miracles was in popular language ascribed to the πνευμα αγιον, , " the holy spirit,” and 2d, this power was personified by the Jews.
At the solemn consecration of Jesus to his high office, “ the spirit of God” descended upon the Saviour of the world ; and it rested upon him, and wrought in him, so long as he was in the world. The whole scene vindicates us in assigning to that expression (spirit of God) the signification of miraculous power, and determines the sense to be this: 6 Jesus was endowed with the spirit of miraculous power, and openly proclaimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah."
An unfortunate man, blind and dumb (Matth. xii. 22.) receives from Jesus the full use of his senses. All the people present are astonished,
-such is the first effect of the miracle,-and in this beneficent, superhuman act, they acknowledge the promised deliverer of the nation. But the Pharisees endeavoured to avail themselves of the impression made upon the people, to the prejudice of Jesus, and, as they could not deny the fact, to assign another cause for it, by ascribing it to magical art. The refutation of the charge of the Pharisees is, in the usual manner of Jesus, full of energy, striking, and powerful. The sum of it is-“my miracles wrought by the power of God (“the spirit of God.") are pledges that I am the Messiah ; in such works who can fail to recognize the Messiah.” From this point of view must be explained the phrases“ blasphemy against the spirit," and " to speak a word against the holy spirit;" they mean " to vilify and calumniate the miraculous power of Christ,--to call it magical art.”
And if here " the spirit” being plainly personified, without any thing particular in its connexion, signifies miraculous power, what forbids us to affix to it the same meaning when it stands in connexion with the words “ Father” and “Son," if the course of the writer's ideas requires it ?-Perhaps this signification of the word may be applied in 1 Tim. iii. 16; at least the sense gains something by a comparison with Matth. iii. 16, and xii. 28,for here plainly are sketched the most important circumstances in the life of Jesus. “ He, who was manifest in the flesh, gave proofs of his high office and justified bis claims as the Son of God, by miracles (Edina wln eV HVEULATI—" was justified in the spirit,"')-appeared to bis disciples † (cygadows" messengers," see Matth. xxiv. 31,) was preached unto the Gentiles, was acknowledged as the Messiah by many among his contemporaries (believed on in the world,” roouos, see John i. 10, 11, 12,) and after bis death was raised to his true dignity above (došnglory;" in opposition to dos TX aveway "son of man"--means his elevated and glorious destination.)
For this use of the word the confession of the disciples at Ephesus (Acts xix. 2.)“We have not heard whether there be any holy spirit”—also gives evidence: as does likewise incontestably the expression (Luke iv. 1.). " Jesus being full of the holy spirit,” used in a place where Luke is going on to relate the history of Jesus, thus preparing his readers, as it were, to remember through all the wonderful scenes of the life of Christ, that he was “full of the holy spirit,”-i. e. of superhuman power.
It would be contrary to my plan to accumulate here more passages; these are sufficient to show that the signification miraculous
power, may be affixed to the phrase "holy spirit,” provided its meaning be not in some way otherwise determined.
And this signification I apply to the passage under consideration, with a reference to the state of things at the time, when
[* The author in a note mentions the difficulty attending a choice of readings in this place and the opinions of critics on the subject, and concludes with saying," it seems to me, that here is a case in which the spirit of criticism, history, and the design of the writer must decide, because the usual critical belps cannot decide. I should with Rosenmüller explain the passage according to the reading ós, even if the evidences in favour of os had less critical authority, than those for Jeos."}
If This expression, which our translators have rendered "was seen of angels,” the author appears to interpret in conformity with the opinion of those, who suppose it to refer to Christ's appearing to his disciples after his resurrection, in order that they might be the witnesses of this important fact.]