« ZurückWeiter »
ble argument in support of the principle is the early and considerate adoption of it in practice, by the first Congress, composed of the original makers and ratifiers of the Constitution, and the continued and uniform approbation of it in the administration, by the whole nation, from that day to the present time.
The provisions of the Constitution are the measure of the powers of the Government, and adequate to all the purposes for which it was made. Our fathers made it and put it into successful operation, under circumstances vastly more discouraging than those in which we are now called upon to defend it. If we fail of performing worthily the part devolving upon us, as our fathers did not the part devolving upon them, we shall prove ourselves unworthy of them, and unworthy of the rich inheritance they have left us.
ARTICLE VI.-THE JUSTICE OF GOD AS A THEME FOR
THERE is an impression in the minds of many, who are apparently conscientious and pious, that the sanctions of the divine law should be gently and sparingly pronounced. They doubt the wisdom or propriety of proclaiming with vividness and force the facts of retribution, and question whether it is not better to allure men without alarming them, to win rather than to warn them.
Others, without denying the severe truths of revelation, recoil from the emotions which they awaken. They dare not silence the preacher who declares them, but secretly indulge the feeling which Ahab expressed respecting Micaiah. I hate him, for he never prophesieth good unto me, but always evil.
Others boldly condemn all representations of God's judicial nature as libels on his goodness. They regard a God who punishes as worse than a fiend, and recognize in the God of the Old Testament only the attributes of "power, selfishness, and destructiveness.” They characterize the worshipers of such a being as "insane or insincere," and denounce the preacher of righteousness as if he were the malignant author of that wrath which he warns them to escape.
What, then, is the preacher's duty in relation to the doctrine of divine justice? Should he aim to recommend Christianity to the regard of men by softening its harsher features, or must he reaffirm the stern doctrines of that “old Theology," which still lives and will live, although its obsequies have been often solemnized, and its obituary often written?
In considering the position which the truth of God's justice should hold in the preaching of the Christian minister, we refer exclusively to retributive justice, the disposition to punish the wicked and reward the good; or, in other words, to treat moral beings as they deserve ;—at the same time recognizing the fact that God's justice is based upon and limited by his benevolent choice to promote the highest welfare of the universe.
We now propose to urge some reasons why the justice of God should be a prominent theme with the Christian preacher.
The first reason is derived from the prominence given to divine justice in the Scriptures. The Old Testament has usually been regarded as a revelation of law, designed to establish and enforce God's claims upon men.
The first recorded address of God to men pronounced a penalty upon disobedience. In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die, and these words are representative of a truth which pervades the entire Old Testament. God did not reveal himself to Israel as a mere power or abstraction, but as a personal being, loving righteousness and hating iniquity. When he removed them from heathen influences, the first lesson to be impressed upon them was that of his own existence as the only living and true God, the only sovereign, the only object of divine worship; and so effectively was this truth reiterated by precepts, by religious rites, by visible manifestations, and by disciplinary chastisements, that every vestige of polytheism was banished from the Jewish mind, and the name of a false God has become an abomination to the Jew.
In this process of revelation God is not represented simply as the creator and preserver, nor was attention mainly directed to his natural attributes. He manifested himself rather as a moral ruler, and appealed for the most convincing sanction of his supremacy to the moral natures of men. He who discomforted the king of Egypt that his name might be declared throughout all the earth, who led Israel like a flock, who blessed them when they obeyed, and visited them in judgment when they sinned, who appeared to them in the Shekinah, and commanded them from the burning mount, was a just as well as a great God. The whole course of his providence was adapted to impress upon their minds the truth of his immaculate holiness and his undeviating righteousness. They were made to feel in all their history that his eye was fastened upon them, and that by their deeds they were securing his approbation, or incurring his disapproval. They murmured and he smote them. They rebelled and he slew them. The blessings which gladdened them when they obeyed, and the curses which blasted them when they disobeyed, were so many manifestations of his justice, as well as so many proofs of his existence.
The Jewish rites and ceremonies of worship were all illustrative of the same truths. Although frequently pronounced trivial and heathenish by superficial or captious observers, they speak with great significance to him who perceives their deeper meaning-of the spotless holiness of Jehovah. Before his presence none might thoughtlessly appear. That destruction which fell like a thunderbolt on Korah and the sons of Aaron, when they profaned the ordinances of God, was well adapted to impress upon a people, easily affected by visible manifestations, the truth that Jehovah was a God who would not hold the transgressor guiltless.
It may be important in this connection to guard against the common error of contrasting the spirit and end of the Old Testament with that of the New. The comprehensive and true ew is that which makes the two Testaments one, one in plan, one in doctrine, one in spirit, Christ the key note, and each necessary to the harmony of the whole. The Messiah is the theme of both Testaments. They differ in the fact that one is prophetical and typical, while the other is historical. In both mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other.
And yet each dispensation had a specific mission to fulfill. One was preparatory to the other. By the law the world was convinced of the need of the gospel, and fitted to receive it. The direct lesson of the Old Testament was, therefore, that of man's accountability to God, and the truths of Divine Justice and human guilt are stamped on every page. God appears as the lawgiver and the judge, and by a revelation of his own moral nature establishes his claim upon the human conscience. Mount Sinai, exhibiting the judicial nature of God, is the representative of the first dispensation. In every manifestation and in every utterance, it brands sin as the thing which God hates. Moses, in all his meekness, even in his dying appeal, with its wealth of tenderness and pathos, pronounced with terrible intensity the threatenings of Jehovah. David utters the most fearful imprecations against the enemies of God's kingdom. And the denunciations of the prophets are like the surging of the sea. These expressions are not outbreaks of passion, or utterances of malignity. They were in spired by the mind of infinite benevolence, and declare the sentence of him who so loves holiness that he cannot but hate iniquity, and who so desires the welfare of his domain that he will overthrow those who oppose it.
It is often said that the Old Testament and the New stand in direct opposition to each other; that one represents him as the awful Jehovah, while, in the other, he appears as an affectionate Father. The Old Testament is therefore rejected as obsolete, and the New received as its rival rather than its counterpart.
But is it not evident, if the immutable God has ever revealed himself as just, that he is just, and that he wishes men to know that he is just? It is not conceivable that after employing four thousand years of instruction and discipline to impress the lesson upon the race, he intended that it should so soon be lost. The teachings of the Old Testament must have been designed to be of permanent value, and to produce a permanent impression upon men.
It may not be inappropriate, at this point, to suggest the inquiry whether the Old Testament representations of God are made sufficiently prominent in the preaching of the present day, and whether a deficiency in this particular may not be one reason why the personality of God is so little realized, and personal guilt so little felt?
Turning to the New Testament we find the doctrine of divine justice no less prominent than in the Old.
We obtain here not only a sanction of all which is written in the Law and Prophets respecting the character of God, but also a fuller and clearer development of his unchangeable righteousness. The doctrine of endless retribution is indeed declared in the New Testament far more directly and forcibly than in the Old, and in it are found those descriptions of the