Page images
PDF
EPUB

But before closing with them, or rather meeting their aggression on this subject, I deem it right first to give you one or two specimens of the easy way in which it would appear popular preachers and writers imagine that their hearers or readers can be reasoned into an opinion; and what a mean idea they must have of the logical powers of those who willingly drink in declamations against our faith. I will take a specimen of a sermon from one of a series, expressly delivered on our doctrines, by select preachers at Tavistock-place Chapel, not many years ago.

“ We contend that we must understand the words (of institution) figuratively; because, first, there is no necessity to understand them literally; and because it is morally impossible that the disciples should have so understood them. ..... For, let me ask, what is more common in all languages than to give to the sign the name of the thing signified ? If you saw a picture would you not call it by the name of the person it represents; or if you looked on a map, at a particular country, , would you not describe it by the name of that country?"*

This is truly the logic of determined prepossession. What beautifully original canons of hermeneutics is it not based upon ? Canon the first: A

*“On the Administration of the Lord's Supper," by the Rev. D. Ruell, p. 15.

passage of Scripture must be taken figuratively, unless we can demonstrate a necessity for taking it literally. Canon the second : It is morally impossible that the apostles should have understood certain words literally, because it is the custom in all languages (sometimes) to call signs by the name of things signified. Canon the third : There is no difference between one sign and another. Bread is as natural, obvious and intelligible a representation of a person's body, as a portrait is of a person's countenance, or a map is of a country; so that I should be no more unintelligible if I took a morsel of bread and said, “this is my body," than, if pointing to a portrait, I said “this is my father," but both would be understood with equal facility. On this point I shall have occasion to speak more at length hereafter.

We have a similar departure from all the plainest principles of interpretation in another popular author, whom I have so often quoted to you, and shall have to quote still oftener in this and the following lectures, Mr. Hartwell Horne. He writes that the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation is “ erected upon a forced and literal construction of our Lord's declaration.''* I much doubt whether on any other occasion an interpretation was honoured with such incompatible epithets as these two. The same meaning, at once forced and literal! It is as though you said in morals that an action was spontaneous and compulsory: the one annihilates the other. Who ever heard in law such an application of contradictory terms to the same object? Who ever heard that the litera, construction of a statute could be considered forced. Surely into no argument except a controversial one, would such logical errors and such flagrant inconsistencies be allowed to enter.

*" Introduction," vol. ii. p. 373, 6th ed. In the 7th ed. p. 448.

But, while popular preachers and writers may thus set at defiance the rules of logic and hermeneutics, calculating, perhaps, on the veil of blindness which prepossession may cast over their hearer's or readers' eyes, more learned and sensible Protes. tant writers, are far from considering their figurative interpretation of these texts a matter of such easy and simple demonstration. Listen to the following observations of Dr. Paley; “I think also that the difficulty arising from the conciseness of Christ's expression, “This is my body,' would have been avoided in a made-up story." Why so, if it be as natural as calling a picture by the name of him it represents ? What difficulty is there in this proceeding. “I allow," he continues," that the explanation of these words, given by Protestants, is satisfactory; but it is deduced from a diligent comparison of the words in question, with forms of expression used in Scripture, and especially by Christ on other occasions. No writer would have arbitrarily and unnecessarily cast in his reader's

way a difficulty, which, to say the least, it required research and erudition to clear up."*

This candid admission of a learned man throws the strength of the argument completely into our hands. It follows that ours is the simple and obvious mode of interpreting, and that Protestants have to prove theirs, by research and erudition, and by the allegation of other passages in its justification. Later I shall have occasion to show you one or two specimens of the strange erudition by which some of them have thought necessary to establish their interpretation.

But, on the other hand, if we prove all this erudition and research to have been fruitless, if we show that not one of the arguments brought by them to uphold their explanation is valid and sound, then, upon Dr. Paley's showing, I say it follows no less, that their explanation is not satisfactory, and that they can make out no case against us.

Hitherto we have been occupied in taking up our position. We have entrenched ourselves in the letter of the text, and our more sensible adversaries have acknowledged that the offensive warfare must be undertaken by them. I must now point out to you their strongest plan of attack, and our most certain means of repelling it. The most plausible, or rather the only satisfactory course which our

*“Evidences of Christianity," part. ii. chap. iij. vol. ii. p. 90. Edinb. 1817.

adversaries can take is the following : First, to prove that the words of institution may be taken figuratively; secondly, to demonstrate that, to avoid absurdities or falsehoods, or at least great difficulties, we are compelled to adopt this figurative interpretation. This, I conceive, is the only line of argument by which a Protestant theologian could make good his explanation. It is followed by most, though not always in the exact order I have given. Thus, the controversial orator, whom I quoted, goes on to give a well known passage from Dr. A. Clarke, which will be presently examined, in order to prove that our Saviour's expressions may be taken figuratively, and then demonstrates the necessity of doing so, in the following terms :-"But we are compelled to understand these words figuratively, secondly, because the literal meaning leads to direct contradictions and gross absurdities."* You will be pleased to remember that the first of his compulsory arguments for taking the words figuratively, was, that there was no necessity for taking them literally. The same plan is followed by others.

Such, then, is likewise our twofold task. First, we must examine the arguments whereby our opponents endeavour to prove that the words of institution will bear a metaphorical interpretation, and this will occupy our attention this evening. In my next lecture I will proceed to discuss the question whether we are compelled by philosophical or

• Sermon, &c. p. 17,

« PreviousContinue »