« PreviousContinue »
sage, Where there is no law, there is no transgression,' must be that, where there has been no intelligible revelation of the law of God, there can be no criminal transgression of it. Its requisitions cannot be morally binding, till their authority is understood. Sin then, is any known and wilful violation of the law of God. Hence, with respect to our first topic of inquiry, viz. the nature of sin, we arrive at this result: it is intentional opposition to the known authority of God's law.
I pass to an examination of sin with respect to its magnitude. On this point, as I have already remarked, there is a wider difference of opinion, than on the one we have just conșidered. Many christians, and indeed all, who believe in what are popularly termed the doctrines of grace, hold that sin is an evil of infinite magnitude. They contend that as it is an act of rebellion against the Almighty, the sovereign majesty of the universe, it must be infinite. This they consider a necessary conclusion. But is it so? We think it is not. If, however, its legitimacy be admitted, it will lead to other conclusions the truth of which its abertors will not be very ready to allow. If sin be infinite because committed against an infinite Being, human holiness is infinite, because exercised in obedience to an infinite Being. On this parity of reasoning every christian virtue will assume the attribute of infinity. They all have reference to the infinite God. They are all exercised in obedience to bis sovereign command. Our faith relates to him; but is it therefore necessarily infinite ? Our christian love has God for its object; and must therefore, according to this hypothesis, be infinite. Our love surely has as rational claims to infinity as our hatred. From false conceptions of his character and government, we may, I admit, hate God; and by a correct conception of them, we may love him. But though we love him with all our heart and mind and strength, is our love infinite? Our prayers also relate to the Almighty. We pray to God in faith. But can infinite prayers proceed from finite hearts and lips? Can feeble, dependent, erring creatures offer infinite supplications to the ear of Jehovah? Yes, this they can do, if it be true that an act is infinite because it relates to the infinite God. But enough of these absurdities. The argument on which the greatest reliance has been placed, proves, as we have seen, infinitely too much, and therefore, according to one of the soundest maxims of logic, proves nothing at all.
But reason is often decried as an uncertain criterion. The Scriptures, it is said, are the only infallible test of religious truth. This we admit. Let us then appeal to the Scriptures. What do they teach with respect to the magnitude of sin ? Do they inculcate the doctrine of its infinity? There is a passage often adduced as containing explicit testimony to the truth of this doctrine, but on due examinatiou it will be found to afford it not a particle of support. The passage to which I allude is Job xxii. 5. Is not thy wickedness great and thine iniquities infinite?' Here, it is said, sin is expressly declared by the word of God to be infinite. But is this true ? No, it is not. The text is the language of Eliphaz the Temanite, not of God. In the heat and extravagance of debate, he declared Job's wickedness to be great; but it might have been, for aught that appears, much greater. In the effervescence of his feelings he also accused Job of a multiplicity of misdemeanors : 'Are not thine iniquities infinite?'
A slight attention to the context will convince any candid mind that the word infinite here is applied by Eliphaz to the number of Job's supposed defections, not to the magnitude of any one of them, nor even of all of them.
He proceeds immediately to explain his meaning: 'For,' says he, in the very next verse, thou has taken a pledge from thy brother for nought; thou hast stripped the naked of their clothing. Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink; and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry. Thou hast sent widows away empty; and the arms of the fatherless have been broken. And thou sayest, How doth God know? Can he judge through the dark clouds ?' These are groundless charges, the mere ebullitions of passion; but they prove decisively that the term infinite is applied to the number, not the magnitude of Job's alleged offences.
But were the term infinite applied to the magnitude, instead of the number of transgressions, it would not necessarily prove their proper infinity. In the Scriptures this word, like almost every other, is sometimes used in a qualified acceptation. It signifies what is uncommonly great, though not, in strict propriety of language, infinite. It is used in this sense by the prophet Nahum : Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold, for there is none end of the store.' Chap. ii. 9. The Hebrew word, here translated none end, is elsewhere rendered by the term infinite, and it might have been so rendered in the above text. It would then have stood, the store is infinite. But would any one in this case have seriously contended that the quantity of silver and gold in Nineveh was, strictly speaking, infioite, that it was absolutely boundless and admitted of no addition ? Surely not. But in the 3d chap. of Nahum, and 9th verse, the same original word occurs again, and is translated infinite : Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength, and it was infinite. Here it is explicitly asserted that the strength of Ethiopia and Egypt was infinite. Can anything like this be found with respect to the magnitnde of sin ? No, there cannot. But will any one gravely insist that the strength of some ancient nations was, in strict propriety of speech, infinite, and then quote the prophet Nahum to prove his position? Surely not. All ihe passage can inean, is, that the power of Ethiopia and Egypt was very great when compared with that of contemporary neighboring kingdoms.
The doctrine of its proper infinity, therefore, could have derived no certain support from the use of the word infinite, even had the sacred writers applied this term to the magnitude of sin. This, however, they have nowhere done. But
But enough has been said upon this branch of the subject. It is needful only to remark further, that the inspired penmen settle the point at issue with sufficient plainness. The testimony of St. Paul is emphatic and decisive: Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Rom. v. 20. Now we are morally certain, that which is exceeded by something else, cannot itself be strictly infinite, But grace exceeds sin; therefore sin is not infinite,
We come now to our third and last topic, viz. the duration of sin. On this head a few remarks must suffice. The simple question involved in it, is, will sin exist interminably, or will it come to an end ? The majority of the christian world contend for the former; but the foregoing arguments prove decisively, it is believed, that the latter is the truth. I have shown, both from reason and revelation, that sin, with respect to magnitude, is finite. It cannot, therefore, perpetuate its own existence. If it continue interminably, it must be by the will and
power of God. He only can preserve the existence of any being or object to eternity, But he is infinitely opposed to sin, and therefore will not thus preserve it. It would be an act of rebellion against the laws of his own nature. It follows then, without the possibility of mistake, that the duration of sin, at the longest, can be but temporary. This is also the plain doctrine of revelation on this subject. Nothing can be more unequivocally proved by the Bible, than that sin will not exist interminably. It declares in the most explicit terms, that it shall be taken away,' that it shall be finished,' that an end shall be made of it.' Can a thing which is finished, taken away, and of which an end is made, exist to eternity? If it cannot, sin is not an interminable evil. But if the duration of sin be not endless, the condemnation and misery which are the consequences of sin, cannot be endless. The time therefore, may come, and must come, when there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.
Public Attacks on Universalism.
1. Lectures on Universalism : By Joel Parker, Pastor of the Third Presby
terian Church, Rochester. . .Rochester, N. Y. 1830.18 mo. pp. 126. [Sec
ond Edition, New York and Boston, 1832.] 2. Sermons in vindication of Universalism, By Pitt Morse, Pastor of the First
Universalian Church and Society in Watertown, N. Y...In reply to Lectures on Universalism, by Joel Parker, &c. &c. Watertown, 1831. 18 mo. pp. 135.
It will be readily understood from the titles here given, that Mr. Parker's Lectures are one of the attacks on Universalism which have so frequently appeared of late years. have been republished by respectable booksellers in this city and in New York, so far from the place of their first appearance, we may infer that they are in considerable repute, and that they are thought by their patrons to have some force against the doctrine in question. On this account we make them the subject, or rather the occasion, of a few remarks that we wish to offer. We do not mean to bring them under a very minute examination, since this has already been done by Mr. Morse, to whose sermons we refer for a reply : a work which neither our limits nor our present object allow. tiently taken up all the positions and arguments, one by one, in the order in which they were stated. This refutation in de
He has pa
tail, this following of the objector step by step to every individual point he advances, requires great clearness in the method and much vigor in the execution. When both of these are united, it is no doubt the course best calculated for popular effect, since people feel themselves more intimately acquainted with a subject on minute dissection than on a general survey. But advantageous as the method is in this respect, it may
be doubted whether it answers so well for exhibiting the broad features and leading principles of a case. There are certain traits running through Mr. Parker's work, of which we wish to take notice; not so much indeed on account of their being found in this particular book, as from their relation to the prevailing character of the late attacks on Universalism.
Like several others who have engaged in these attacks, Mr. Parker professes to have entered on the work for the sake chiefly of the wavering and inconsiderate ; but at the same time he avows it his aim to persuade Universalists also.
With regard to this latter object we give his words, overlooking the indignity that lurks in his apologetic tone. There is a numerous class of people,' says he, who hold the doctrine of universal salvation, and we wish to lead them to a careful revision of the subject. We are aware that it is common to represent this class of persons as beyond the reach of the Gospel ; as so attached to their peculiar doctrines that all reasoning with them will be vain. With this sentiment, however, I cannot agree. If they be treated with kindness, and if sound argument be
presented, we may rationally expect that they will be induced to review the subject, and decide the question with some degree of candor and impartiality. Here then Universalists are at length to be treated with kindness, and the course of argument is to be adapted to their conviction. In other passages of his introductory remarks, the author insists on the importance of a full and thorough investigation,' an ample discussion,' and hopes to present such an array of evidence as shall set the mind at rest.'
Accordingly he proceeds to the undertaking, and proposes, first, to prove the doctrine of endless punishment by Scripture testimony. Under this head, where the essential merits of the case are to be decided, what does he adduce? Why, nothing but the same texts, that have been almost invariably quoted for the purpose by his numberless predecessors for the last twenty or thirty years, and as invariably explained with much