« AnteriorContinua »
An Essay on the Nature and Design of Sacrifices under the Mosaic Law, and the Influence which Jewish Ideas and Language concerning them had upon the Language of the New Testament. By the late Rev. Henry Turner.
(Concluded from p. 378.)
sacrifice is derived, whereas, in fact, by this all former sacrifices are to be explained, and in reference to it only, are they to be understood. From an error so fundamental," &c.
E come now to the last part of our undertaking, namely, after the view that has been given of the subject of Jewish sacrifices, to account for the language of the New Testament concerning them. We do not intend-it is no part of our object in the present essay, to take a general view of the design of Christ's death, or of the arguments which are brought from a variety of sources to prove what are called orthodox views respecting it. Our intention is, on the supposition that other evidence is inconclusive, or at least not forcibly and undeniably leading to the adoption of these views, to examine what is urged in further proof of them from comparisons made in the New Testament between the death of Christ and the sacrifices and ceremonies under the Mosaic law. And we think that having first shewn that there are no indications in the original records of the Mosaic institutions, or in any of the language of holy Jewish writers respecting them by which we could discover that they were appointed with "a principal intention to prefigure the death of Christ," we may fairly demand a proportionably stronger case to be made out, in proof of the literal sense of such expressions occurring in the New Testament; and may conclude that there is considerable previous probability in a scheme of figurative interpretation with respect to them. This, however, is a course of argument which Dr. Magee charges with artifice and sophistry. (See No. 38.) And in his second sermon (near the beginning) he protests against the use of it in the following words: "In the mode of inquiry which has usually been adopted on this subject, one pre vailing error deserves to be noticed. The nature of sacrifices, as generally understood and practised antecedent to the coming of Christ, has been first examined, and from that, as a ground of explanation, the notion of Christ's
Now, is it possible for Dr. Magee to be blind to the futility of such an argument? Is it not, in the most glaring manner, to beg the question in dispute? If the notion of Christ's sacrifice is already determined, as Dr. Magee would have it, why inquire further into the matter? But if confirmation be sought for, from the ancient sacrifices; then, let them speak for themselves, and shew us what their real and original import was.
If Dr. Magee would avoid arguing in a circle, he must take the course of the argument he condemns.
The question of the proper sacrifice of Christ is at issue argued in the affirmative, by shewing that the death of Christ is compared to sacrifices under the law; we should now expect that a distinct inquiry should be made into the nature and purport of sacrifices under the law; and that it should be proved that they represented the doctrine of the satisfaction of sin by vicarious punishment, and whatever else is essential to the popular notion of the sacrifice of Christ; and this is attempted to a certain point; (indeed, the older writers would have been ashamed to confess failure in it ;) but when it is found, or at least vehe mently suspected to be untenable, (see Dr. Magee's first sermon, passim, and No. 13, 17, and especially 39,) then the advocate for modern orthodoxy turns round upon us, and tells us that it is unnecessary to inquire further into the Mosaic sacrifices, for they are compared in the New Testa ment to the great sacrifice of Christ, and "from this alone derive their meaning, by this alone can be explained."
And the next time that the sacrifice of Christ is questioned, he will run the same round; shifting from one to the other, and escaping confutation by assuming alternately, the vicarious import of the death of Christ, and that of the Mosaic ceremonies-so that we may well adopt an expression pronounced on a somewhat different occasion, and say, that "so long as" the first of Dr. Magee's discourses on
Atonement and Sacrifice "shall be extant, the masters of the dialectic art will be at no loss for an example of the circulating syllogism."
Indeed, the older writers, in defence of the proper sacrifice of Christ, give such a view of the meanness and imperfection of its types under the Mosaic institution, as are but indifferently calculated to increase our respect for that ancient dispensation, or to bestow a greater dignity upon its ordinances. Thus Dr. Outram: "Id inter antitypum et typum interest, quod quæ revera in antitypo vis inest ea nonnisi specie tenus, aut gradu longè exiliori in typo extiterit. Enimverò quamvis typus nonnunquam rem aliquam cum antitypo suo communem habuerit, ea tamen res multo minus in typo, quam in antitypo, semper valet; quemadmodum mors earum victimarum, quibus mors Christi adumbrabatur, longè minorem apud Deum hominesque vim habuit quam quæ ad mortem Christi pertinet. Ita ut vis rei adumbrantis virtutis in adumbratâ repertæ nihil nisi symbolica quædam species, aut tam exilis gradus fuerit, ut pro umbrâ quâdam haberi posset." Lib. i. c. 18, § 2.
And Dr. Magee, speaking of the Mosaic institutions at large, has the following remarks: "Since the law itself, with its accompanying sanctions, seems to have been principally temporary; so the worship it enjoins appears to have been, for the most part, rather a public and solemn declaration of allegiance to the true God in opposition to the Gentile idolatries, than a pure and spiritual obedience in moral and religious matters, which was reserved for that more perfect system appointed to succeed in due time, when the state of mankind would permit."
This remark, though wise and philosophical, is not very consistent with the supposition of there being an inherent and universal reference to the most important of Christian doctrines in the whole system of Mosaic worship.
The whole question, then, is brought to this point; Can a method be discovered of accounting for the application in the New Testament of sacrificial language to the case of Christ, supposing that no real original correspondence was intended, and such a
method as shall leave unimpeached the credit and authority of the Christian Scriptures as the only appointed rule and standard of faith?
We think that such a method may be discovered, provided men are not perversely determined to charge the errors which are the effect of their own want of caution, and of their precipitate and headlong prejudices, upon the uncertainty and obscurity of scripture. We have little hope, however, of producing any change of opinion in such as set out with a declaration like the following: "If the death of Christ was not an atonement for sin," (i. e. in the popular sense,) "the law and the prophets, Jesus himself, his forerunner, and his apostles, all spoke a language which is to wholly unintelligible; and which could not have more effectually deceived had it been framed for the express purpose of deception." (Wardlaw on the Socinian Controversy, p. 206.) Is not this too much like the obstinacy condemned by the prophet, where he describes the Jews as "hardening the neck that they might not hear God's word"?
Suppose the case of men born Jews, and brought up in the pious profession of the Jewish religion; attending with devout assiduity upon the temple-worship, and "in all the ordinances of the law blameless." Suppose them to have arrived at mature age, with their religious habits, sentiments and expressions fixed in the model of a ritual and ceremonial dispensation; and at that time let them be introduced to the knowledge of a more spiritual, purer system of religion; and let them become inspired apostles and writers in this new dispensation; let them have occasion to write to separate communities of believers, composed of men brought up like themselves in an attachment to the ancient institutions of Moses: what will naturally be the style of their religious writings? Surely, without the exercise of an extraordinary, and, as it seems to us a needless miracle, it will be Jewish; and where religious expressions already in frequent devout use appear in any degree applicable to new topics, they will be used in preference to others, of which no definitions are at hand, or which must be made on purpose. And it may be
said, (without irreverence,) that as Augustus Cæsar is reported to have declared that, Emperor as he was, he could not introduce a new word among the Romans; so the Author of a dispensation of revealed truth can sooner introduce a new system of religious ideas, than cause it to be expressed by an underived and original frame of language. And it is well it is so; for the more familiar the language, the better it is understood; and an abstract method of expressing truths relating to religion would be an uninteresting jargon, quite foreign from all practicable use or benefit.
Again, according to the supposition we have made, what impression might naturally be felt by these writers and by those to whom they wrote, which it would be necessary to provide against? Surely the following; that although the understanding fully admitted the superior excellence of the new dispensation, yet there was experienced a blank in their feelings, a loss of some of the habitual pleasures and tastes of a religious kind, to which they had been accustomed, and a consequent tendency towards apathy, and alienation of mind from religious pursuits. As this exposed believers to the temptation of going back to Judaism, and was a stumbling-block for those who remained in unbelief, it was highly important to provide against it. And it was natural to take the method of providing against it, which is employed in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The design of which is well described in the following sentence: "The Christian Hebrews had been charged with the want of an altar, a priest and a sacrifice. In answer, the apostle shews that they were in want of none of these."
Let us make one further supposi tion. Let us suppose that the author and principal person of this new spiritual kingdom, after leading a blameless and holy life, in continual obedience to God, and pursuit of the best interests of man, was persecuted on account of his goodness, and the sublime objects he had in view, and (rather than give up those objects, and adopt the worldly and wicked schemes of the priests and people of Israel) did voluntarily submit himself to the effects of their rage, and suffer death upon the cross; after which, being
raised far above all principality and power, and no longer subject to their controul, he had power given him from heaven to send forth his apostles upon the ministry of reconciliation to the whole world; delivering from the power of death by the evidence of his resurrection, and from the power of sin by a proclamation of forgiveness for sins past, and a future righteous judgment, can it be said to be unnatural, absurd for persons educated in the ancient religion to describe so wonderful, so glorious a series of events, by all the images that had formerly been devoted to express their most sacred, exalted and delightful conceptions? Can we wonder that Christ should be termed a sacrifice, a priest, an altar, a mercyseat; that he should be compared to the high priest entering into the holy of holies; and that his ascending to heaven should be described as an entering within the veil, offering up himself as a sacrifice once for all, now to appear in the presence of God for us, putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself?
Thus we see that both by habit and by design it was natural for the apostles of Jesus Christ to express themselves on this animating and delightful subject with a figurativeness, such as our theory of sacrifices, under the Jewish law, requires.
Nor can we see any harm in their being suffered to follow the natural bent of their feelings and course of their expressions, in this instance. It conciliated without misleading the Jews, who were accustomed to such allusions; and it would neither mislead nor revolt those of the present day, if they duly reflected on the necessary influence of previous circumstances on the minds of the apostles. In the judgment, however, of the amiable and plausible writer lately mentioned, (Wardlaw in loc.,) "This is at once to deprive their language of its meaning, and the rites alluded to, of theirs. It is, besides," says he, "to charge the writers with singular folly. No idea could well be simpler, or more easily expressed, than that of a prophet's dying to confirm his testimony, or even to afford, in his own rising from the grave, he evidence and pledge of a future resurrection. Why such language as that which has been quoted should be so constantly used to
express such ideas as these, if these were indeed the ideas intended to be conveyed, is a question," says he, "which can hardly be answered, on any principle consistent with the inspiration, or even the common sense of the writers."
Here we have occasion again to complain (in behalf, not of our own system, but of the reverence and honour due to Holy Scripture) of the very rash and unseemly manner in which men are wont to express the consequence of the rejection of their own interpretations. What! must holy men be charged with singular folly and a total want of common sense, unless they can be shewn to the satisfaction of every polemic to have meant precisely what he thinks they ought to have meant!
If there be any foundation for what we have said respecting the natural and necessary habits, feelings and sentiments of the Christian apostles, it will appear that the simplicity of the doctrine they had to teach was precisely their difficulty; and that they were permitted to represent it in such a manner as might conciliate, but ought not to have misled mankind; and that so far the Almighty was pleased to provide against an objection which was sure to be taken up against Christianity, on account of that very circumstance which was, in fact, the surest proof of its divine origin, its simplicity!
But who can justly demand it of God, that he should have wrought a stupendous and perpetual miracle upon the minds of those whom he chose to the office of providing the written records of the New Testament, for the confirmation of the faith of Christendom, and have compelled them to reject the expressions and images which had a peculiar beauty, force and propriety, when addressed to the Christians of that day, merely that men in all subsequent ages might have no chance of mistaking them? Must Paul throw away his fervent, eloquent and glowing style, and write as if he were penning an act of parliament, or a conveyance of an estate, merely to save posterity the trouble of thought, criticism and reflection?
We are not to expect that we should be able to understand scripture, with
out making due allowance for the situation and circumstances of the writers. Happily, indeed, the New Testament was, for the most part, written by plain men, whose humble rank and want of learning preserved them from the obscurity which arises from the affectation of science, and qualified them for writing works which were intended for the use of all mankind. But that they should be perfectly free from modes of expression peculiar to one country, and derived from the circumstances of their own times, was not to be expected; and if practicable, would probably have been productive of no real benefit; since it would have deprived their works of those features which furnish a powerful argument for their genuineness. We should soon find ourselves involved in the most palpable errors, if we always adopted that which appeared the most obvious and natural interpretation of every passage. The most natural interpretation of the words of Christ, "This is my body," is that which the Roman Catholic gives to them; but we are not for that reason bound to subscribe to the absurd doctrine of Transubstantiation. We must make use of common sense, and consider the general strain and purport of scripture, or we shall make both heresy and nonsense of various parts of it. It is an obvious rule in perusing any work, to interpret that which is obscure consistently with that which is plain, and where language is used which is evidently figurative, that is, borrowed from some other subject, and applied by way of illustration or ornament, to allow a greater latitude of interpretation than where the terms are simple and strictly appropriate to the subject in hand.
To enter upon a particular examination of the texts connected with this subject, would be inconsistent with the limits of this essay. One general observation may be inade, which, if properly pursued, will be found to amount to full proof of the figurative intention of all such passages of the New Testament.
That these writers did not intend to represent Christ as a sacrifice in the most literal sense, appears from this; that they have applied the same language to a variety of other subjects,
which they certainly would not have done if they had conceived that Christ was a real sacrifice, and his death the great original of this religious rite. Thus St. Paul exhorts Christians to "present their bodies a living sacrifice" St. Peter describes them as "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." We are exhorted in the Epistle to the Hebrews," to offer up the sacrifice of praise continually," "to do good and communicate, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." St. Paul says, "If I be offered up on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice in you all." And in the fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans he speaks of himself as the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Thus it appears that the writers of the New Testament were in the habit of applying this language to a great variety of subjects, which makes it less likely that, when they applied it to the death of Jesus Christ, they meant that we should understand them literally.
And, on the other hand, although it is under this image of a sacrifice that they frequently speak of the death of Christ, it is by no means the only representation which they give of it. He is described as a good shepherd, laying down his life for his sheep. He speaks of himself as a grain of corn, which, unless it die, abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He is described as a captain, leading his followers to salvation. By a variety of images, he is described as a priest, an altar, a mercy-seat, a high-priest entering within the veil, a sacrifice.
Thus it appears that whatever comparisons are made between the death of Christ and the sacrifices, and other ceremonies of the law, are all capable of being explained in the same way as expressions having great beauty and propriety, when considered as figurative, but destitute of both, if we attempt to explain them by a literal mode of interpretation. What has now been said may, perhaps, be suffi
cient to shew on what principle the passages in question may be explained consistently with the general sense of scripture; and so as not to contradict our established belief in the wisdom, goodness and mercifulness of God. And shall we despise the riches and long-suffering of God, as displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, because the means which he has adopted do not exactly accord with our preconceived opinions? The simplicity of the means employed is surely one of the greatest proofs of the divine origin of the Christian institution. The raising of one from amongst our brethren to be our prince and Saviourthe endowing him with heavenly graces and extraordinary powers, delivering him from the dominion of death, and raising him to an immortal state of glory in the heavens-is surely a more convincing proof of divine goodness, wisdom and power, than if a being of the highest order had been sent invested with authority, to proclaim the tidings of salvation.
When we consider what important things are revealed to us, what more can we desire ? We are told of the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body and life eternal; the providence of God ever exercised over us for our protection; the ascension and immortality of Christ; the perpetual love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What is there incomplete for correction and instruction in righteousness? What is there that could have a happier tendency to inspire us with the most fervent love and veneration of God, and to fill us with the most sincere gratitude towards our Lord Jesus Christ? We look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith-who, having overcome death, is become the author of eternal salvation to all them
that believe in him. He that was dead is alive; he is present to intercede for his church, and he will come again to receive his faithful followers to himself. May we earnestly strive to prepare ourselves for his glorious appearance, that we may not be ashamed before him at his coming, but may be received unto glory and honour and praise, through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!