« PreviousContinue »
11. John i. 3.." All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."
Upon this authority, I presume that my friend regards Jesus Christ“ as the grand agent emploved by the Supreme Being in creating and governing the world.” p. 128. My objection to this interpretation is that though the word nivouci occurs upwards of 700 times in the New Testament, there is not one instance in which it signifies to create. Mr. Cappe, (Remarks on Scripture, v. I. p. 39.) observes that it signifies to be, to come to pass, to be done, as well as to be made. His translation is, “ all things were by him,”i.e. done by him," and without him was not any that has been.” His explanation is, “ all things have been by his authority, and according to his direction : and of their own mere motives, and without his warrant nothing has been done by his ministers," Cappe ibid. p. 7,8. This I have little doubt is the true meaning of the text.
111. John iii. 13. “ No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the son of man who is in heaven,"
This is one of the texts which my friend leaves to speak for itself: let us impartially listen to its voice.
"No man bath ascended up into heaven, but he that came down from heaven.” The son of man had not at that time locally ascended. thither, consequently, this expression must be understood figuratively, q. d. No man is acquainted with the counsels and purposes of God to man, but, &c. And now methinks I hear my worthy friend indignantly exclain, this is the way in which the plainest texts of scripture are perverted from their obvious meaning, and tortured into a sense the most remote from their true signitication. Andthusitis,thaimen who have hypotheses to defend will not believe the challitst and most unequivocal language which contradicts their favouritesystems--Softly, my good friend. The interpreiation I have set down is not the frigid and far-fetched gloss of naughty Unitarians. It is the approved exposition of the orthodox Buza, the learned Raphelius, and the evangelical Doddridge, who have supported their interpretation by arguments which will not easily be confuted. For my own part I adopt it with the greatest satisfaction, and only plead in behalf of the Unitarians that the liberty of interpretation which they allow to others, may be conceded to them.
“ No man hath ascended up into heaven, but he that came down from heaven.” Now as the expression, “ascended up into heaven," is allowed to signify becoming acquainted with the mind and will of God, we humbly conceive that the correlate phrase to come down from heaven, may without violence be understood as expressing a commission to communicate the will of God to mankind. Had the first clause of the sentence expressed a local assent, it would have been natural to have interpreted the second, of a local descent. But if the first clause is to be taken figuratively, as all allow, it is surely most reasonable to understand the second figuratively likewise. To descend from heaven therefore in the language of the apostle John is to be honoured with a divine commission to instruct mankind. In this sense it agrees with the analogous phrases, of being sent from God, or coming from God, which are also applied to Jesus and to John the baptist, and to other prophets, and which are universally understood as expressing, not a local mission, but a divine credential.
Let this then be considered as an established fact, and in reading the writings of John let it be constantly borne in mind that this evangelist by the phrase coming down from heaven, means nothing more than a divine commission to communicate the counsels and the will of God. And if this fact, which I conceive to be established beyond all contradiction, be properly attended to, it will soon appear that the fourth evangelist, whatever may be pretended to the contrary, has done as little to establish the pre-existence of Christ as the other three, and that all are unanimous in their testimony to Jesus, not as a super-angelic being, but as a teacher sent from God. This I regard as a palmary argument, and as affording a complete solution of every text which represents Jesus as having descended from heaven. Of these therefore any further notice is unnecessary.
iv. John vi. 62. “What, and if ye shall see the son of man ascend
where he was before?" “ To ascend up where he was before,” in the connexion in which it stands signifies 10 ascend up into heaven. But this phrase, as Beza, Raphelius, Doddridge and many others have well observed, signifies to be instructed in the mind and will of God, to search into divine truth. To see the Son of man ascend to heaven, must therefore mean to perceive and discern that he is informed of these difficult and remote truths. And this I conceive to bethe meaning which is best suited to the cccasion and to the counexion, in which the words are introduced. Our Lord's intention was to resel from his society the multitude that fola lowed him from selfish and ambitious motives, and in answer to their request that he would shew them, like Moses, some sign from heaven, he tells them, v. 32, “That his Father was then giving them the true bread from hcaven, wbich was far superior to the manna given from heaven by Moses to their fathers, for it would make them immortal.” This they understood in a literal sense, which error our Lord did not vouchsafe to rectify, but proceeds to tell them that he, meaning, his doctrine, was the true bread froin heaven, v. 35. The Jews being still at a loss to understand his meaning, v. 4!, our Lord, without waiting to explain himself, goes on to assure them thut his person was the living bread, and that they must eat his flesh, and drink his blood, in order to obtain eternal lite, meaning, that they must receive and digest his heavenly doctrine. They, still taking his words in a literal sense, complain, v. 60, that such a requisition was unintelligible and impracticable. Our Lord's reply is natural and pertinent, though still couched in terms which they could not comprehen “ Does this offend you? What if you should see the son of man ascend up where he was before.” 9. d. What if I should disclose to you trutis sill more remote from your apprehension, and more offensive to your prejudices? But to his stupid and prejudiced hearers our Lord's question sounded as if he had asked what they would think if they saw him ascend to heaven after they had been eating his fiesh and blood, which excited their disgust to such a degree, that they forsook his society, probably believing him to be insane. X. 20. This was what our Lord intended; though at the same time he explained to them that what he had said was to be understood, not in a literal but in a spiritual and figurative sense: that if ther were actually to eat his flesh it would be of no use to them, but that the doctrine which he taught was that spiritual and vivilying food, of which he had been speaking. v. 63. 66 It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing : the words which I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life.”
This then appears to me to be the true meaning of our Lord's enigmatical discourse; and in the connexion in which the ozd verse is introduced it admits of a sense perfectly consistent with our Lord's proper humanity: though when considered as a detached sentence the words seem to imply a pre-exisient state in heaven. But the whole discourse is highly higurative. And it any argue from our Lord's expressions in it, that he literally descended from heaven, they ought, like the Jews, to interpret literally the precept to eat his flesh and drink his blood. But if this precept is to be understood figuratively, as relating to his doctrine, then by parity of reason it was bis doctrine and not his person which descended from heaven.
And here I cannot but suspect that my friend will be ready to accuse me, if not of great ingenuity,” at least, of “ laboured criticism,” in my explanation of this difficult text, in order to force upon it a sense contrary to its “ plain and obvious" meaning. But what would be his own reply to an honest papist, who should press him with the plain obvious meaning of the words, “ except ye eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” I presume that he would urge, that common sense required that these expressions should be interpreted figuratively, of receiving our Lord's doctrine. This I suspect would give no more satisfaction to the catholic, who had been accustomed to the literal interpretation, than my explanation of the other text satisfies him. But, at any rate, let him please to recollect, that in whatever sense the expressions “flesh and blood," are to be understood, whether literal or figurative, that it is in that sense only, that this flesh and blood is described as coming down from bearen. See v. 51. We cannot allow our Arian brethren to interpret this phrase of the doctrine of Christ when they are arguing with the papists, and of the person of Christ when they are contending with the Unitarians. It is too much for them to insist upon, having “ both strinys to their bow."
v. John viii. 58. Jesus said unto them," Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.”
It may not be amiss to notice, en passcent, the absurdity of the argument which is commonly drawn from this text in favour of what is called, the divinity of Christ.
The text in Exodus, iii. 4, is mistranslated in our English bible, “ I AM THAT I AM, and thou shalt say to the children of Israel, i am, hath sent me unto you.” The text in John is also mistranslated, “ before Abraham was LAM.” And from these two crrors combined, that greatest of all errors is deduced, that Jesus Christ is the “ I AM, or the self-existent Jehovah. Upon such foundations rests that doctrine, which, according to a well-kuown symbol of faith, " whosoever believeth not, shall, without doubt, perish everlastingly."
My friend does not carry his argument quite so far. He says no more than that he argues the pre-existence of Christ, froin his declaring," before Abraham was I am." And he leaves it to his Unitarian opponents by their “ ingenuity and laboured criticism'to explain it away in the best manner they can. And it will not require much of either to gire it a different, and most unquestionably the true interpretation.
i he word to be supplied after the verh, “ I am," in order to make the sentence complete is he, or, the Christ. So our trans
lators themselves supply the ellipsis in two passages in this very discourse, v. 24. 28, and in other texts where they were not misled by their prepossessions. See John, iv. 25, 26. xiii. 19. Our Lord in his discourse had declared to the Jews, v. 56. “ Your father Abraham rejoiced to see, (that is, eagerly desired to foresee) my day, he saw (foresaw) it, and was glad." He does not give the least hint, either that he in person had seen Abraham or that Abraham had seen him. He only affirms, that Abraham had been gratified with a foresight of the advent of the Messiah. The Jews grossly misunderstanding, or, wilfully perverting his meaning, replied to him. “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham ?" Our Lord, as in the former discussion, chap. vi. not deigning to notice or to rectify this absurd misrepresentation of his meaning malo " a reply, perfectly relevant to, and which completely vindicates his former assertion, viz. that the patriarch might foresee his advent, because he had been, in the divine, mind, constituted the Mies siah, before Abraham existed..." Before Abraham was, I am he," or, “ I was the Messiah :" q.d. it was fixed in the divine councils, that I should in due time appear under this character, It was no uncommon thing among the Jews, to speak of things as actually existing, which only existed in the divine determi. nation. See Luke, xx. 37, 38. And the blessings of the Christian dispensation are often represented in the New Testament as the object of God's eternal purpose and decree. Eph. i. 4. 2 Tim. i. 9. 1 Pet. i. 20.
If my worthy friend is unwilling to take this interpretation upon the credit of Lindsey, Priestley and Lardner, he may consult the commentary of Hammond, Grotius and Beza: they will not be suspected of giving partial evidence in the case.
vi. John xvii. 5. “ And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thme own self, with the glory which I had with thee before th.. world was.”
This is the last text which my friend produces in favour of the Arian hypothesis from the evangelist John, and which he leaves without a comment, as being primâ facie, “strong and conclusive evidence of the pre-existence of Christ." It is hardly fair that my friend should leave all the labour of searching and explaining the scriptures to the Unitarians ; it seems but reasonable, and he would certainly find it to his own advantage, though not to that of his hypothesis, if he would take his share in this honourable task. However, the Unitarians are well content to bear the burthen which he casts upon them. Labor ipse voluptas. And they can assure my friend that the