« PreviousContinue »
ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost-teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold! I am with you all days, even unto the end of the world.”
I am with you all days, even unto the end of the world ! what, my brethren, is the meaning of these expressions ? There are two ways of reading the word of God. Nothing is easier than, upon perusing a passage, to attach unto it that sense which best accords with our pre-conceived system, and seems best suited to confirm the doctrines we have embraced. Now in this way, if we, or those who differ from us, read these words, it is evident that there will be different meanings attached to them. For the Catholic will say, that here a promise is clearly given by our blessed Redeemer, that he would assist his Church even to the end of time, so as to prevent the possibility of her falling into error, or allowing any admixture thereof with the truths committed to her charge. While we draw this important conclusion, others will say that the words imply nothing more than a mere protection and superintendence, a sort of security that the general system of doctrines and belief comprehended in Christianity, should never be lost upon earth. Others will perhaps understand a promise to be here given to each individual member of the Church, that our Saviour will assist him unto faith.
Now it is evident that these different interpretations cannot be all correct, except so far as one includes the other. For that which we hold, does indeed comprehend that which the others propose, inasmuch as we believe that it secures that providential care and watchfulness, but with the addition of something more important, which the other interpretations exclude. For these reject the truth of our explanation, otherwise they who hold them must adopt our opinions. It is plain that there must be a certain criterion—a sure way to arrive at a correct knowledge of our Saviour's meaning; and I know not what rule can be better proposed, than the obvious
one on every other occasion; that is to analyse and weigh the signification of each portion of the sentence, to arrive at the meaning of the words; and thus, by reconstructing the sentence, with the intelligence of all its parts, see what is the meaning intended by him who spoke. And, for this purpose, we can have no better guide than the Holy Scriptures themselves. For, if we discover what is the meaning of any word, by perusing the various passages in which it occurs, so as to be in any way applicable to the interpretation of the one under examination, every one will agree that we have chosen the most satisfactory, and plainly true, method of settling the sense intended by our Lord.
We have a two-fold investigation to make; first, with the aid of other passages, to ascertain the exact meaning of the phrases in themselves ; and then to see, in what relation they stand together, or, in other words, what is the extent of the commission which they imply.
In the first place, our Saviour says, that he “will be with his disciples, all days even unto the consummation or end of the world." Now, what is the meaning in Scripture of God's being with any person? It signifies a more especial providence in regard of that individual than is manifested towards others—a particular watchfulness on the part of God over his interests, in such a way, that what he undertakes shall infallibly succeed. This is the signification it always bears in Scripture. For instance, (Genesis xxi. 22,) Abimelech says to Abraham, “ God is with thee in all that thou doest.” It is manifest, that here was meant that the Patriarch had special assistance and succour from God. In the 26th chapter, (v. 3) God said to Isaac,
Sojourn in the land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee.” And in the 24th verse, the same assurance is repeated, “ Fear not, I am with thee." Later, we hear the Almighty address Jacob in the same words,—“ Return into the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred, and I will be with thee ;” (xxxi. 3); and Jacob expresses himself in the very same terms,
“The God of my father hath been with me,” (v. 5); words which he himself explains of a special protection and defence, two verses later,—“ God hath not suffered him (Laban) to hurt me.” The peculiar providential care, which watched over the innocent Joseph, and made him ever successful, is recorded in the same phrase, with a sufficient explanation. Thus, (Genesis xxxix. 33,) we read,—“ And the Lord was with him, and he was a prosperous man in all things, and he dwelt in his master's house, who saw that the Lord was with him, and made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” And in the 23d verse, we read again, “ The Lord wus with him, and made all that he did to prosper.” In the New Testament, the phrase is used in the same sense. “ Master,” says Nicodemus to our Saviour,“ we know that thou art come a teacher from God; for no man can do these signs which thou doest, unless God be with him."*
To most of these texts, we have a paraphrase or explanation attached, so as clearly to intimate that any one with whom God was, he blessed and made to prosper in all things. Such, therefore, in the first place, is the definite meaning of that phrase in our text. In the Greek version of Scripture, that commonly called the Septuagint, precisely the same form of expression, and the same words, are used in rendering all the passages I have quoted, as occurs in the passage of St. Matthew.
Christ then was to watch over his Apostles, and use towards them an especial providence, “ all days to the consummation or end of the world.” Here, again, a controversy arises regarding the meaning of the expression ; the word translated “world”+ has also another signification; as it may mean the term of a person's natural Rfe. Why not, therefore, adopt this meaning; and then it will signify that Christ would be with his Apostles so long as they remained upon earth? This proposal must be judged precisely by the same rule as I laid down just now. True, that the word has sometimes the proposed meaning, but only in profane authors, and not in any single * Jo. iii. 2.
passage of the New Testament; and in this, wherever it occurs, it can be no other way translated but by “ the world.”
The only passage that can be brought to give plausibility to the other meaning, is Matt. xii. 32; where our Saviour, speaking of the sin against the Holy Ghost, says, “ It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the next." Here it may be said, that “this world” clearly means the term of a person's natural life, during which his sin might be forgiven him under ordinary circumstances; and therefore, the same meaning may be attached to the same word in the text under disquisition. But a slight reflection will satisfy you that even in that passage the word has not the supposed meaning. For, as the sentence is antithetic, having yet that same substantive for both members, this must have the same meaning in both. Now, the “next world” cannot signify the term or duration of a natural life, but clearly signifies a future order or state of things. And therefore, “ this world,” which is opposed to it, must mean the present or existing order.
But, even this reasoning is unnecessary; for, allowing that in the alleged passage it had that meaning, it could not by any analogy, have it in Christ's promise. For, it is acknowledged by all the best commentators, that in every instance where the word is used in conjunction with the word “ consummation,” * it unquestionably and invariably means “the world;" that is, the duration of the present state of things. In this sense it occurs, Heb. i. 2, and ii. 5, also 1 Tim. i. 17. In Matthew xiii. 39, 40, and 49 verses, we have it used in the compound form I before alluded to, so as to leave no alternative in determining its meaning. “ The harvest is the end of the world. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just.” The same expression is used by the disciples when they ask their master, what should be the sign of his coming, " and of the end of the world.”+ For, according to a Jewish notion, they confounded the destruction of the Temple, which * Luvrélela.
Matt. xxiv. 3.
it was supposed the Messiah would render imperishable, with the end of all things.
Thus, therefore, we have gained the meaning, and the only meaning, as given in Scripture, to another of our expressions. But it may be asked, is not this signification necessarily modified and restricted to the Apostles, by the use of the pronoun “you ?" Can we suppose it to be addressed to the successors of the persons then present? Most undoubtedly; and first, because similar expressions occur in other parts of the New Testament. For example, when St. Paul speaks of those Christians who were to live at the end of the world, he uses the pronoun of the first person, which, in extent of application, corresponds to the second. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chap.xv. v. 52, he writes, “We shall be changed." And so again, writing to the Thessolonians, (1. iv. 16) he says, « Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.”
This pronoun, therefore, is applied to those Christians who shall be living at the distance of many ages; and consequently, there is no reason why the other should be thought to restrict that only meaning which the phrase discussed has throughout the Holy Scriptures.
But you must be aware, that in the giving of all commissions, a similar form of expression is necessarily used ;-only the person present is invested with the authority, which has to descend to his successors; so that, if we admit the limita-' tion in this instance, it will apply to every authority, jurisdiction, command, or power, assumed by any Church. For, on the dispensation or orders given in the Gospel to the Apostles, their successors, whether real or not, in every Church, ground their claim to authority, much of it perhaps upon the terms. of this text. The Church of England demands obedience to her Bishops, on the strength of passages clearly addressed to the Apostles ; those societies which dedicate themselves to the preaching of the Gospel, and to its propagation in distant parts of the world, pretend to rest their right and commission upon the very words, “ Go preach the gospel to all nations.” It is