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done.' They drew a broad distinction between the practice of virtue and that of religion. The latter was with them something far more holy than mere justice, mercy and integrity, those common moralities of life: it was the observance of sacred services, rites and traditions. And for this fatal perversion, they were serpents, a generation of vipers, and could not escape the damnation of hell. Wo unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!' says he, in conclusion, ' for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Wo unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore, ye be witnesses unto yourselves that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell!52 From these minute descriptions, so incapable of being misunderstood, we see at once what were the characters, and what the peculiar corruptions, to which this withering rebuke belongs. And a little further examination will discover that it was to the same class of people that all the noted threatenings of a similar kind were appropriated. Will our complainants now insist, as eagerly as hitherto, on our urging home these terrible denunciations without any reserve?
It is edifying, no doubt, to sit at a distance and see the lightnings flash and hear the thunders roar, so long as we think the bolt is to fall otherwhere. But let people discover that, if the tempest rise, they themselves must be its victims, and there are few who will not consent that it should delay on the verge of the horizon. The rage for the preaching of terror subsists only through want of such foresight. How often has the deep and fearful rebuke which John the Baptist uttered, been made a favorite theme with those who little surmised its application : "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" It is customary to level this against the unpretending and irreligious; but so did not John. He had
'See verses 13, 14, 15, 23, 27 -33.
already preached to the undistinguished multitudes, until he had baptized all Judea and all the region round about Jordan;' and we do not discover that, during the whole of this period, he ever let fall a single harsh or even censorious expression. But no sooner did he see before him, many of the Pharisees and Sadducees,' those bigoted and zealous professors, than he broke forth in an unwonted strain, and amazed his audience by the exclamation, 'O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ! '3 For these did he reserve his severity. No wonder that they said, 'He hath a devil,' when he hurled his only execration on this privileged class, but spared the profane multitude; and the same would probably be said of us, should we at the present day, follow his example. To do this, however, is very far from what is now meant, by preaching the threatenings.
We have observed that all the noted threatenings of this extreme kind, belong to the same characters, to the same description of men. Ye are of your father, the devil,' said Christ; and again, Ye shall die in your sins; whither I go ye cannot come.' Who were these? The context gives us for answer, the Pharisees; and we find that they, astonished at his daring, retorted, by demanding of him, 'Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?' The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, so often adduced,-whom did this concern?' All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men; and whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.' Who were they that committed this impiety? The scribes and Pharisees, as we discover from the context and parallel passages. O generation of vipers,' added Christ, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?' It was to them his solemn. warning was addressed; and it is to similar characters it must now be applied, if applied at all. Few passages are more vehement in themselves, or greater favorites with the unsuspecting lovers of terror, than the declaration of the angel in the
3 Matt. iii. 7, compare preceding verses. 4 John viii. 21, 44, comp. whole chapter, particularly verses 3, 13, 48, 52, 57. 5 Matt. xii. 31, 32, comp. 22-38; Mark iii. 22 - 30.
Apocalypse: 'If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest, day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.' 6 It is surprising that this denunciation has been so habitually misdirected against the openly profane, since its language, its very terms, fix it in the most explicit manner upon a body of worshippers, the devotees of a religion, false, of course, but, as we learn from the preceding chapter, generally prevalent.
The several examples already given are, perhaps, sufficient to point out that class in community among which we should be obliged to seek the proper objects of terrific preaching, or as it is often called, searching, pungent address, did we adopt that style to the extent that is proposed. If compelled at this day to repeat the heaviest reproaches and denunciations of the New Testament, in their native unmitigated tone, we must say, ( there is no alternative, harsh as it may seem, -) we must say plainly to the sanctimonious, rigid, prayer-boasting, proselytizing professors of religion themselves, and to none others, Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, ye children of your father the devil, ye worshippers of the beast, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? how can ye escape the damnation of hell? ye shall die in your sins; ye shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation!' But though it may appear they have a sort of right to demand the application, and though it would be hard to deny them if importunate in their challenge, yet we hope the reasons we have assigned for abating somewhat from this extreme severity, will, on consideration, prove satisfactory.
We ought not to overlook the most noted threatening in all the Bible, the parable of the sheep and goats. Our Saviour declares that When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory; and..... then shall he say unto them on
6 Rev. xiv. 9-11.
the left hand,Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels; ... and these shall go away into everlasting punishment.' This is language, it is said, which a Universalist dares not repeat unguardedly, and leave it to work its own effect. He must stop to explain it. True, we do think this course often necessary, on account of certain prepossessions which have been industriously cherished for ages; nor can we conceive what impropriety there is in pointing out the connexion of our Saviour's discourse, or in bringing forward the whole of it, instead of making a partial, and under the existing prejudices of the public, a deceptive selection. But these important considerations, it seems, we are not to take into the account. The text is in the language of terror; and as such we must press it to the utmost. We must warn people simply of everlasting fire, and declaim on everlasting punishment. Spare not, is the cry. Where, it is asked, where will those miserable wretches appear, in the awful day of judgment, who have lived without a blessed witness in their own hearts that they were on the Lord's side, engaged in his cause? - Where will they appear! why, if this passage relates, as is contended, to that eternal scene, they will stand, unexpectedly, on the right hand; while those who so complacently flatter themselves that they are serving God, will be arraigned, to their confusion, on the left, and hear the voice of the Judge, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' The subject has been totally reversed in the common usage. We say, If this passage relates to that eternal scene. For, granting this, what can be more explicit than the following representation: Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? or when saw we thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee?' So unconscious were they that they had been serving the Lord. Unprepared for the praise bestowed upon them, they ingenuously confess their
surprise; and the king, in his answer, implicitly admits that they had never indeed served him directly, and that his commendation was founded merely on the charity they had extended to his brethren: And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' But far different was it with those on the left hand. When the king sentenced them to everlasting fire, and stated, as the reason of their doom, that he was an hungered, and they gave him no meat, &c., they were astonished at the charge, and in their sudden amazement, actually questioned its truth: Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?' So confident were these, that they had waited on the Lord. They were of that description of people who said, Lord, Lord, who had done many wonderful things in his name, who had a zeal of God, though not according to knowledge; who said to others, Stand by thyself, come not near unto me, for I am holier than thou, and who were constantly exclaiming, Let the Lord be glorified, little suspecting that when he should actually appear, it would be to their shame. It is remarkable that the king, in his reply to their plea, did not attempt to support his charge against them in its direct bearing, nor pretend that they had been deficient in zeal and attentions immediately to himself: Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me. 97 Such were the characters who stood on the left hand; and if we must, at the present day, warn people in the language of this parable, or if the doom it represents, must be held up as belonging to eternity, there is no question where the thunderbolt must fall, though it would produce an astonishment as great as was signified in the description itself.
It will be wished, perhaps, that we should not dismiss the subject, without adverting to the proper interpretation of the threatenings now adduced. Thus far, nothing has been done, it may be said, except to fix their reference to another class of people than has been usually implicated, and to show that such as are most eager to hear them denounced, belong themselves to the very description of characters against whom they were
7 Matt. xxv. 31-46.