« AnteriorContinuar »
Jesus, by the solemn expression—" baptizing them into the name of the holy spirit”-placed arnong the distinguishing articles of his religion, a belief in his miracles.
Even during the life of Jesus, much, very much, depended on belief in his miracles. They were, so to speak, the credentials of his mission ;-to acknowledge these credentials was called, receiving him, and its effect must necessarily have been attachment to him and to his instructions. Hence the peculiar iniquity of the crime of contemptuously opposing and wickedly misrepresenting the miracles of Jesus, since they must bave been at that time such powerful means of producing a clear conviction of the truth, that this was “he who should come.”—Yet while Jesus lived, the most strenuous opposition could not destroy all the impressions produced by his wonderful works: new admirers would constantly be found, and new events would continually occur to excite admiration. But after his death, the peculiar, indispensable necessity of faith in “ the holy spirit, which wrought in him, would become still more manifest. To see him, who it was hoped would be the deliverer of a nation in which “ all the families of the earth were to be blessed,"--who in the whole course of his beneficent life laboured to enlighten men, and by the most striking operations of a superhuman power encouraged the hopes of the multitudes who reverenced him as the great Messiah, the promised of God,--to see him suddenly extended on the cross,--to hear that cutting reproach," he saved others, bimself he cannot save," echoed around with loud mockery,--and to be the witnesses of the last gasp, by which he breathed out his spirit,--in all this, who does not feel how sig. nal was the triumph for the enemies of the religion of Jesus? How could the most ardent among his followers fortify his own private conviction against these facts, and require his brethren still to maintain in their minds, in this condition of things, the impressions at first produced by the miracles of Jesus? Such reproachful objections, as that he casteth out demons through Beelzebub, the prince of demons"--which had already been current with the first men among the people, would now have had all their weight, and would have entirely prevented the extension of a religion so subversive of Judaism, --had not the resurrection of Jesus opened a new scene.
But who is so ignorant of the nature of the thoughts and feel. ings of mankind, as to suppose that at that time this great event of Christ's appearing again alive, after having died, would have been believed to have been the effect of a divine miraculous power so generally, as it would have been attributed to some deception on the part of the disciples, to some magical art ? Hence
the propriety and necessity of bringing to view, in the form of Christian faith, “ the holy spirit,” i. e. the power of God, which wrought in Jesus and raised him from the dead.
I shall here pursue this thought no further. From what has been already advanced in this sketch, he who reflects in an unbiassed manner, will feel, that such a state of things as I have described, required a belief in the aveva aylov “ the holy spirit,”! 1. e. a divine miraculous power, as a fundamental article--because upon that depends the truth of the religion.* And according to this plan, which I here give merely in brief, not in detail, the form of baptism in this passage of St. Matthew contains three fundamental truths, which were in contrast with the religious systems of that period, and which operated efficaciously against every odious representation, that malice and superstition might bave made dangerous to the first teachers of christianity.
Each one of these fundamental religious truths appears, even when viewed independently, and from its own nature, to be highly salutary and important: but when viewed with reference to the prevailing ideas of the Jews and Gentiles, they acquire a more appropriate meaning, and add new force to the sense of this baptismal form, since they were rendered so highly neces. sary by the wants of that age. Contrast makes things more
(* To the same purpose are the judicious remarks of an English writer : ** It may be asked, if the spirit is not a proper person, but only the power or effective energy of God, what can be intended by being baptized in its Dame? To this it may be replied, that as the being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son, is a public profession of faith in them, as they are revealed in the Gospel (for baptism is a gospel ordinance,) so the being baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit is to be considered as a public profession of faith in it, as revealed in the word of God :--or, in other words, * baptism is a profession of faith in the Gospel of God, as published by Jesus Christ, and confirmed by the Holy Spirit ;"—and the necessity and propriety of such a profession of faith will appear by observing, that the miracles which Jesus wrought by the power, the finger, or the spirit of God, by which he inanifested that he was the Messiah, and that his doctrine was divine, were by many imputed to a diabolical influence, or to the power of Satan :-it was therefore highly requisite, that bis disciples should publicly profess to believe, that the gospel, which they had res ceived, was of divine original, and that the mighty works of Jesus, by which it was confirmed, were performed, not by the influence of Satan, but by the power of God. How well adapted then was the commandment, that they should be baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, as well as of the Father and of the Son ! And how natural is it to infer that a profession of faith in this important event, i. e. the confirmation of the gospel by the Holy Spirit, which the Lord Jesus received from God the Father and shed forth on his apostles, was intended by baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit, and not the belief of its personality !"--Marsom.]
plain : and I will just glance at a parallel to show, that we have here a form of baptism peculiarly appropriate to those times.
Belief of the disciples of Jesus.
Belief of the Jews. 1. God is the Father of all 1. Jehovah is the God of the mankind.
Jews, and not of the Gentiles. 2. His Son Jesus Christ must 2. Moses is the only founder be revered and honoured; he is of religion ; the Messiah, the Son the Founder of a perfect reli- of God, has not yet appeared. gion.
3. No holy spirit inspired Je3. The πνευμα άγιον
“the sus; he deceived the people by holy spirit," wrought in Jesus magic arts; his miracles were and demonstrated him to be the not wrought by the spirit of God; Son of God.
they were not the miracles of the Messiah.
In this parallel I make no allusion to the theology of the heathen world. It is sufficiently manifest, that their multitude of deities and sons of deities, and the superstitions concerning the agency
æons, are in direct and open contradiction to what is contained in the form of baptism. It is true, with respect to the heathens, the contrast as to the third point,—the belief in the holy spirit,-is not so striking. Still it was necessary to them also, from this consideration, that the history of Jesus is grounded upon a conviction of his miraculous power. And with how many pretences might the religion of the heathens have supplied them, for not acknowledging Jesus to be the Messenger of God on account of his miracles, had not the Founder of Christianity appealed to the Tveurd agion—" the holy spirit," to sanction his miracles and his resurrection, as acts of divine power. In general, however, it seems to me, this baptismal form has a more particular reference to the religious notions of the Jews.
But it will be objected, that a form of baptism for all nations, could not be confined, in its application, to the Jews,-could not be intended merely to oppose their errours. This objection is not unexpected. I cannot here entirely obviate it, because it would take more room than I have to spare.
I will make but two remarks.
1. The extension of Christianity depended upon the abrogation of the Jewish system. As long as attachment to the law prevented the instructions of Jesus from making their impres. sion on the hearts of the Jews, so long little could be gained for the cause of a religion intended for the good of the whole world. It could put forth its full power, only where attachment to the law of Moses was weakened. The first principles of the
religion must, then, have been adapted to meet the first obstacles, and Jewish prejudices must have been thrown down, in order to be able to expel the errours of the heathen world.
2. Even the last point,--the belief in the holy spirit, (and of this I have spoken above) if its immediate object were to beat down Jewish errours, still has a meaning and force in a general form of baptisrn, because the Gentile as well as the Jew might deny the miraculous power of Jesus.
These principles, and their more precise application, which cannot here be attempted, satisfactorily remove this objection. But the illustration I have given is a sketch, not a treatise ; and it would be of no service anxiously to seek and set forth all objections or doubts. Let others examine the subject as free from bias as I have done,—without any covert wish to speak an unseasonable word in behalf of orthodoxy, or any inclination to weaken the love of truth by suspicion of heresy. I submit the following paraphrase to the judgment of the reader.
Matth. xxviii. 18. &c.-"All power in heaven and earth is committed to me. Receive, then, to any religion, not only Jews, but by my command receive all nations ; and bind them to the profession of it by a form of baptism into the reception of these articles :
“A belief in the One Supreme Father, not like Jehovah of the old dispensation, the God of the Jews only.
“A belief in his Son, the Messiah, who was not acknowledge ed by the Jews.
“ A belief in the spirit of miraculous thren vilify, though it wrought powerfully to proclaim Jesus to be the Messiah."
“UNDERSTANDEST THOU WHAT THOU READEST ?"
[FOR THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE.]
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle !..So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken ? for ye shall speak unto the air.” 1 Cor. xiv.
We cite this passage to shew by scripture as well as reasonto demonstrate by the unequivocal authority of the inspired apostle, that there is not, as many seem to imagine, a divorce between christianity and common sense ; but that God is just in all things : and as he will not require from us greater bodily New Seriesvol, Ill.
tasks than he has given us physical ability to perform, so also he will proportion his demands upon our moral and intellectual natures, to the capacities which he has bestowed upon us.
It is important that every christian be thoroughly persuaded of the reasonableness of his religion. Cowards will bend to power, and slaves and flatterers crouch to sovereignty, whatever be the character of him who wields it. But such is not the love, obedience, or fear, which our Father who is in heaven, just and merciful, requires from his children. If our affections and our understandings do not unite in our religion, it is but an idle profession-a mere waste of words,—" sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.”
The application of this doctrine of the Apostle will be designed to show, that the popular doctrine of the trinity--that is, of three persons in one God, as it is expressed in the creeds-is either contradictory and impossible, and therefore untrue; or if true, it is so, in some such sense, or in some such manner, as that the human understanding can take no cognizance of its truth or falsehood. It is all important upon this subject, to be clearly and precisely understood. To this object we shall sacrifice every other, and we shall rejoice if it be attained at the expence of some homeliness of phrase and coarseness of illustration.
We shall undertake to demonstrate, that our assent to the doctrine in question can be asked only on principles which are entirely at war with common sense ; or, in other words, with those fundamental principles of the human understanding, which are recognised in relation to every other subject of human knowledge or enquiry.
Let it be remembered in all this discussion, that neither the word “ Trinity," nor any equivalent expression, is to be found in the Holy Scriptures. The whole doctrine is confessedly an inference of reason, of human reason, from passages in which it is not pretended to be expressed in terms; and therefore it seems but fair that reason should be left free to combat it.
The general proposition, that no person is bound or even able to believe what he cannot understand, is one to which every mind assents as self-evident. But when it is applied to matters of religion, there is an immediate start of doubt, which theological system and habits of thought, or at least of speech, soon ripen to denial.
If I state a proposition in Greek to a person ignorant of that language, and ask him whether he believes it, he will say that he does not understand me. I tell him that it is taken from Euclid, the bible of Mathematicians, and is susceptible of perfect demonstration. Still he says that he does not understand me.