« AnteriorContinuar »
many passages, where the terms “ to save,” “ saved," and “ salvation,” are applied exclusively, but improperly, to eternal life. They will at once see the real, but mistaken, notion under which a Jew, infected with the prejudices of his countrymen, inquired of our Saviour, “ Lord, are there few that be saved ?” They will also perceive that our own translators in the Acts of the Apostles, with some deviation from their usual correctness, have rendered the concluding verse of the second chapter, “ The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved," instead of, “ the saved,” or “ such as were willing to embrace the Gospel."
I must here recur to that singular production, which has already been cited in this Discourse, the Second Book of Esdras. As upon other topics, so upon this which we are now handling, it bears a strong impress of Jewish opinion; and that opinion is conveyed under a form which could scarcely have been moulded by any hand, except that of a Jew. The book fortunately is apocryphal; so that the erroneous opinions which it sanctions, cannot occasion the mischief, which may flow from misapprehension of the texts, just quoted from Canonical books. The passage alluded to stands at the beginning of the eighth chapter. Esdras is represented as holding a dialogue with an angel, representing the Most High God. This angel then is supposed to say,
" The Most High hath made this world for many, but the world to come for few. I will tell thee a similitude, Esdras; As when thou askest the earth, it shall say unto thee, That it giveth much mould whereof earthen vessels are made, but little dust that gold cometh of; even so is the course of this present world. There be many created; but few shall be saved.”
a See a note in my second Vol. of Sermons, p. 545.
From the whole of what has been now said, additional weight appears to be given to those observations, which have already been forced upon us concerning the acknowledged difficulties, which are to be found in Scripture; and the unhappy consequences, which have followed from the errors, to which they have given occasion.
It should appear then, in the first place, not merely desirable, but even necessary, that an order of men should be set specially apart, as well for the ministration of religious offices, as for the examination and explanation of such difficulties.
Secondly, these ministers cannot employ a portion at least of their time more consistently with the duties of their profession, than in discriminating such passages as relate to conduct, from such as contain the seeds of doubtful disputation; while,
In the last place, the attention of all others should ever be given most devotedly to plain statements of doctrine and peremptory rules of conduct; rather than such, as involve points of angry controversy, or merely supply materials for curious speculation.
THE MEASURE OF FAITH ; AND LIMIT OF VENGEANCE.
ROMANS XII. 3.
FOR I SAY, THROUGH THE GRACE GIVEN UNTO ME, ΤΟ
EVERY MAN THAT IS AMONG YOU, NOT TO THINK OF HIMSELF MORE HIGHLY THAN HE OUGHT TO THINK; BUT TO THINK SOBERLY, ACCORDING AS GOD HATH DEALT TO EVERY MAN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.
In conformity with his practice in other Epistles, St. Paul, having concluded his observations upon those subjects of a doctrinal and controversial nature, which he was anxious to explain for the sake of his brethren the Jews as well as the Gentile converts, devotes the close of his address to the Romans almost wholly to matters of a moral and prudential nature. . A more splendid illustration of the views contemplated by the great Author of our religion for the effectual regulation of the feelings and manners, suited to and enjoined upon the subjects of His spiritual kingdom, cannot surely be exhibited ; except indeed in that mixture of simplicity and wisdom, which at once charms and improves us in the lessons, which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself. Nevertheless ; although there is little in these concluding chapters, but what is of a practical nature, and although, as I have often had occasion to remark, whatever is practical in the Holy Scriptures, is generally plain and intelligible ; yet even in this more perspicuous and, I may add, more useful, part of the Epistle, we must not expect to find every expression, or every passage, equally clear to the apprehension, equally removed from doubt. The peculiar language of the New Testament sometimes affixes a meaning to words, different from what they bear in other Greek writers; and, besides the usual influence of the Hebrew idiom, the new situation, in which the converts to the Gospel were placed; the new relation, which they bore to one another and the God and Father of them all; could not but give additional variety to the ideas previously conveyed in Hellenistic Greek. Both these causes, namely, the particular situation, in which the first Christians were placed ; and the singular idiom, in which the Apostle wrote; will be found to occasion some difficulty in two passages, which I propose to make the subject of the following Discourse. The first of these appears in the concluding part of the verse selected for the text,
According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The other is that apparently more singular and difficult passage at the twentieth verse :-"In so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.”
I. In considering the words of the text, we cannot but remark with what skill as a writer, and what feeling as a man, St. Paul passes from the consideration of doctrine to conduct; and, with what nice gradation of precept, he makes a transition from
general and public duties to particular and private. At the close of the previous matter in this Epistle, he had burst into an exclamation of rapturous wonder at “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” He observed that “all the great dispensations of Providence are, with unsearchable wisdom, designed finally to issue in events of mercy; it is therefore, with great eloquence of affection, that he awakens attention to personal holiness and the practical duties of the Gospel by that particular motive. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Having thus awakened the attention of all, he first enforces upon the Jewish converts at large a consideration of the difference between their late and present profession; next, indirectly, but strongly, he presses upon the Gentiles the necessity of estranging themselves entirely from the errors and vices of their past life. Then we come to the text; in which, and the five following verses, he lays down rules for their public conduct; for the guidance of such, as were in any way distinguished from their converted brethren, by the particular nature of the gift with which they were favoured, or office with which they were entrusted, for the edification or benefit of the community. Having finished his directions as to their conduct in a public character, he commences his advice and instruction to them as individuals.
Such is the natural and easy method, in which the Apostle arranges the topics, upon which he wished to treat. That part of them, which I have now se
a See T. Edwards in D’Oyly and Mant's Bible.