« PreviousContinue »
ARTICLE V.-THE PROBLEM OF SALVATION.
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, WHICH ARE ABLE TO MAKE THEE WISE UNTO SALVATION THROUGH
FAITI WHICH IS IN Christ Jesus.”—2 Tim, iii, 17.
The great pervading and uniting thought of the Bible is, in a word, SALVATION.
With a few pencil dashes, at the opening of the Book of Genesis, the history of all things is brought down from “the beginning” to the creation of man, and man is set forth greater than all other creatures, greater than the whole universe beside, a living soul in the image and likeness of God. For a moment we behold him in his native godlikeness, enjoying the love and favor of his Maker, in a state of perfect holiness and happiness. Then comes the fall. Temptation, serpent-like, steals into Paradise. Man hearkens to its voice, and with godlike freedom and strength of will breaks the divine command. Thus sin has entered: holiness has fled. Shame and confusion of face are left to man. Earth is no longer a garden of delights. The very ground seems cursed. Cain follows his father's footsteps, murders his brother for very jealousy of goodness, then lies about it, and finally runs away from home a fugitive and a vagabond. As the race increases, eo does its corruption. Violence and lust run riot. Every kind of wickedness abounds. Deeper and deeper in sin sinks the fallen creature until, in the expressive language of the Bible, "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
The record of these events occupies but a few chapters; but it serves to introduce the problem of Salvation. We behold the hopes and purposes of God, apparently dashed to earth, his will despised, his fellowship and love rejected, his image defiled, his very name forgotten, and rebellious man degraded lower than the brutes. How sublime the picture that the Bible draws—God sorrowing over the ruin of his crownirg work: “And it repented
the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them." Is creation, then, a failure? Was it for this that man was made in the image of God and exalted above all other creatures-only that he might plunge the deeper in fathomless degradation? Is there no salvation ?
Thus the grand problem is brought before the mind. At the first transgression the promise was darkly given that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head; and, although the race is on the brink of destruction, God's wisdom is not yet at fault, his love is not exhausted, his power, self-limited, is not exceeded. Not in wrath will God destroy his creatures-rather in sorrow and for love. To save the race, God will destroy a single generation. The deluge is the first great epoch in the work of salvation.
From this point the Bible is, substantially, but a record of the successive steps by which mankind are led from the degradation into which they have fallen by sin, up to their native exaltation, each step being, in logical as well as chronological sequence, essential to the solution of the problem, and all reach
, ing forward to the end, in which the soul is seen restored to holiness and happiness, and again presenting in itself the image of God.
Some advantage may be gained for the Biblical student by stating this pervading thought of the Bible in an abstract form, and by working out inductively its leading features. The whole book will thus be put on independent, rational ground; and the sources of many objections which are urged against its authority may be removed. For example, the presumptive objections urged against the historic credibility of the Bible as asserting a miraculous revelation can only be met in this way. Further, in order to perceive the philosophic development of the thought and the intimate relation of the different parts of the Bible, it is necessary to possess our minds of the nature and conditions of the problem which it undertakes to solve. Indeed, this is essential to its correct interpretation,-Salvation being the key which unlocks all the doors through which the soul must enter to a knowledge of its superhuman truths.
It should be premised that the distinctively superhuman elements that enter into the work of salvation cannot be anticipated by any such induction. The mind may realize its need of salvation, and feel that salvation must come from God. It may even, with Plato, deduce by speculation the purpose of God to save the soul. But it can go no further. It cannot determine through what agencies, by what means, salvation shall be wrought. It stands, as it were, at the very boundaries of human thought, looking beyond, longing for light; but God must lift the vail from his eternal purposes, or man can never know the full provision made for his salvation through the life and intercession of a divine Redeemer. The grand doctrine of the Atonement is a truth of revelation, not of induction. We may mark the adaptation of its provisions, when revealed, to the nature of God's kingdom and to the wants of man, but we cannot anticipate them. We may apprehend the doctrine as rational, but we cannot conceive it. Such truths are born of God.
And here is seen the value of the divine authority of the Bible, not as dictating microscopic points of history and science, or any facts which lie within the sphere of human cognition, but as securing our faith in superhuman provisions and truths such as are calculated to enlighten the soul with regard to its destiny, or to give it guidance and encouragement along its pilgrimage.
It is the object of the present Article to investigate the nature and conditions of the problem of salvation, and to see, so far as may be, what reason demands for its solution. If the Bible satisfies the demands of reason, shall we not accept its superhuman provisions and truths as sacred and authoritative?
NATURE OF THE PROBLEM OF SALVATION.
The Bible introduces man as by creation godlike. By sin he falls from this position. The problem is to restore him to
it again. The first point then for us to settle is what is god. likeness?
Evidently the resemblance is purely spiritual. As such it may subsist in two respects, in nature and in character. . Man is made in the image of God, in that he is a self-conscious soul, having within his allotted sphere perfect individuality and liberty of action. This fact lies in man's nature; that is, it is
, determined by the will of God, and is fixed and unalterable, like the natures of animal, vegetable, and mineral existences. This fact is that distinctive feature of spiritual life which lifts it above the lower planes of created being, which lies at the foundation of moral action and character, and on which, therefore, all other points of likeness between the soul and God must rest.
But there is also a further resemblance possible: We speak of one man being like another when the aims or purposes of both lie in the same direction, when their affections, feelings and tastes are similar, when they are agreed in their opinions; in short, when their lives are determined by the same ruling purpose. Indeed, so close may be this resemblance that we speak of individuals being united or being one in these respects, thus recognizing a spiritual likeness approaching to identity. So the soul may be like God when its will is identical with that of God, or, what is the same thing, when its will is obedient to the will of God; when the affections are centered upon holiness, in which God delights; when the intellect is candid to discern the truth-in short, when the whole spiritual life is determined by the ruling purpose to do right. And this likeness may be so intimate and so exact as to be truly, as Christ called it, a oneness with God.
But this oneness with God, although grounded on the willingness of God himself, is conditioned on the will of man. From it man may fall; to it, when fallen, he may be restored.
Next, let us see how by sin the soul may fall from Godlikeness.
So long as the ruling purpose of the soul to act rightly remains in force, sin is, of course, impossible. Nor can there be any inducement or occasion to sin until some object comes in
competition with holiness, being presented to the soul as an object of desire. This is called temptation. At first temptation must be weak. The power of the soul is seen in yielding to it, rather than in resisting it. As yet the affections are fixed on holiness and on the happiness which holiness creates; the mind clearly discerns the excellence and desirableness of right conduct; the soul has no experimental knowledge of sin and its fruit. The forbidden object is at first only an object of curiosity. Deliberation follows. The soul weighs its desire to experiment with the forbidden object against its sense of duty, its imagination of the good to be derived from sin against its convictions of holiness. The process is slow and intelligent. The advantage would seem to be altogether on the side of holi
But here comes in the power and freedom of the soul. Right against its convictions of duty and happiness, in full view of the excellence of holiness and of the threatened penalty of sin, the soul of its own free will determines to satisfy its curiosity, to taste the forbidden fruit, and to abide the consequences. Accordingly the ruling purpose to do right is suspended. The wrong act is committed; the will is no longer subordinate, but opposed to that of God. The pleasures of sin are tasted and loved; the affections are no longer centered upon holiness, but are divided between holiness and sin. The eye of the mind is shut against the truth, while the mind is occupied with trying to excuse, palliate, or justify the sinful act. moral feature in which the soul resembles God has been defaced.
And notice the falling. The first act is slow, deliberative, reluctant. The first oath almost chokes one who has been brought up in strict morality. But by this act the soul has been brought down to a lower level: its strength of purpose is gone: its affections are divided : its moral sense is blunted: its practical ideas are vitiated : what once was regarded as sin seems so no longer. And now from this level the soul is ready to fall to a lower, and so on with ever accelerating velocity, until its ruling purpose is altogether selfish and depraved, its affections are wholly centered upon sin, its moral sense seems utterly lost, and the image of God is blotted out.