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Barrigw, it is said, will not always agree with the idea of immersion. It is applied to the effusion of the Holy Spirit, and to some other things wherein immersion is inadmissible. Be it so still it amounts to no more than this, That the term Barrigw, like almost every other term, has its secondary and figurative sense. Its proper and primary meaning is allowed by the most learned pædobaptists in all ages to be, that which the antipædobaptists contend for; and this is the only meaning which ought to be called in to settle the dispute. By the contrary method, it were easy to prove that the English word immersion does not mean dipping or plunging: for if a person be very wet by rain, it is common to say he is immersed, merely because he is as wet as if he had been immersed.
To generalise the meaning of a term, in order to include its secondary or figurative senses, is the way to lose its true and proper sense; and if applied universally, might go to undermine all the great doctrines of christianity.
The rule of fair and just reasoning, with respect to the use of terms, as I have always understood it, is, That every word be taken in its literal and primary sense, unless there be any thing in the connection which requires it to be taken otherwise. Now apply this rule to the foregoing examples, and the result will be this
The Universalist must either deny, that the proper or primary meaning of awv and awvios is always being and eternal; or else prove that when these terms are applied to the duration of future punishment, there is something in the subject which requires them to be taken, not in a proper, but improper sense.
The adversaries of the atonement also must either set aside the proof, that the proper and primary notion of a sacrifice includes in it the idea of expiation; or show cause why this meaning should not attach to it, when applied to the sacrifice of Christ.
Thus also those who object to immersion, as being the only proper mode of baptism, should either disprove what has been acknowledged by more than eighty of their most
learned writers, that the native and proper signification of the word is to dip or plunge ;* or show cause why it should not be taken in this sense, when applied to the ordinance in question.
PROPER AND IMPROPER USE OF TERMS.
In Reply to the objections of the Rev. Samuel Greatheed.
THE animadversions of your correspondent require a reply, not so much on account of what relates to baptism, as to the general principle which he attempts to overturn. Mr. Greatheed+ will give me credit, that I had no unkind design against my pædobaptist brethren; but he must excuse me in saying, if pædobaptism will keep bad company, it must take the consequences.
By measuring the secondary and figurative application of a term by that which is proper or primary," I did not mean to suggest that the primary sense is to be invariably retained; but merely that it ought to be so, unless there be any thing in the connection which requires the contrary. The primary, literal, or proper sense of a word, is its true sense, and the standard of all others which it may bear by way of figure or allusion. My mind is sufficiently expressed by Dr. Williams. "The improper or figurative use of terms, says he, does not alter the literal sense: otherwise the very foundation of figures and allusions would be destroyed." The rule also which I have laid down is the same as his: "It is not fair nor agreeable to the just rules of criticism, he says, to interpret the words
*Booth's "Pædobaptism Examined,' vol. i. chap. 2.
This elegant writer had, in this correspondence, assumed the name of Diereunetes, which it is no longer necessary to retain.
of an author allusively, improperly, and metaphorically, except when plain necessity urges."
to the literal one.
I do not deny that the figurative sense of a term may, in many cases, be equal, and even of superior importance If, for instance, we were to understand 'he shall bruise thy head,' of a descendant of Eve occasionally killing a serpent; the meaning would be puerile, in comparison of what it is generally,
the first promise,
and no doubt justly applied to. But here the connection requires a departure from the literal meaning. Let the same be proved of any other term, and I acquiesce.
Your correspondent does not wish to set aside the primary meaning of a term, in favour of one that is figurative, "when it can be clearly ascertained;" but in various cases he thinks it is "very difficult to decide, of two senses, which is its primary, and which its figurative meaning." I suppose he intends to say, that words in a long course of time change their meaning; and that the original sense, or that which was attached to a term in the earliest usage, may be lost. There may, for ought I know, be some truth in this remark; but it does not appear to me to affect the argument. Allowing it to be so, and that what was at first only an allusive or figurative sense, may have become the earliest sense with which we are acquainted; yet as all words are mere arbitrary signs of ideas, that which is the secondary sense of a term, might have been its primary sense, provided it had been so applied; and if the primary sense be lost, the secondary of course may become primary. In other words, it may become by general consent the obvious sense of the term, there being no anterior idea excited in the mind when it is expressed. If then we can ascertain what was the obvious meaning of the word, at the time when the author wrote, we thereby ascertain, to every purpose of just reasoning, what is its primary or proper meaning, and ought to abide by it, unless the connection requires a different one.
*Antipædobaptism Examined,” vol. ii. p. 146.
If this cannot be ascertained, there is no certain conclusion to be drawn from the word, any more than from 'selah' in the psalms, and we ought to rest no argument upon it.
With respect to the notion of the universalists, which is chiefly founded upon the supposed ambiguity of the terms, awv and awvios, your correspondent half concedes to them, that these terms might originally express only a limited duration. He cannot decide, as it would seem, whether they were "primarily used of visible or invisible objects." At least, he does not choose to rest his opposition to that system upon such a ground. Yet every lexicographer that I have seen, makes no scruple of asserting, that the proper meaning of awv is always being, or eternity; and of alwvios everlasting, or endless. It is an opinion, I am aware, which has been advanced by great authorities, that terms which now signify spiritual and invisible objects, were originally applied to those which are sensible and visible. But however true this may be in many cases, it will not hold good in all.
Mr. Locke, in what he says on this subject,* argues as if he thought language to have been a human invention, and that men learned it by slow degrees: whereas it was manifestly concreated with man from the beginning. We might as well argue from the gradual progress of strength and knowledge in an infant, that Adam must have been created a child, and have grown in wisdom and stature as we do, as that all the names by which he expressed spiritual and invisible objects were first applied to those which are sensible and visible. On this principle we must either suppose him to have had no ideas of his Creator, of his own immortality, or of endless life; or if he had, that he had no terms by which to express them. But neither of these suppositions will consist with the important station which he occupied, or the account which is given of his communion with JEHOVAH ELOHIM. TO
* Essay on Understanding, book iii, chap. 1.
what visible or sensible object, I ask, could the names of the everlasting God be applied, before they were applied to him?
Mr. Greatheed thinks the meaning of a word "may be made perfectly clear and certain, by the connection in which it stands. For example: when the word everlasting is applied to God, it always signifies without end: when applied to a hill, it can only mean of long duration." To the same purpose says the Universalist, "Where a word is used in relation to different things, the subject itself must determine the meaning of the word." Whether the absurdity of this position has not been proved beyond all reasonable contradiction, in my sixth letter to Mr. Vidler, and in the seventh and eleventh letters of Mr. Jerram's Review, the readers of those pamphlets will easily determine.
If awv and alwvios, with their corresponding words in hebrew, be allowed to have been originally applied to limited duration, and this to be their proper meaning, I acknowledge myself unable to prove, from the use of these terms, the doctrine of eternal punishment, or of eternal happiness, or even of the eternal existence of God. I might conclude indeed, with Mr. Greatheed, that everlasting, as applied to God, plainly signifies, without end. This however would not be proving the eternity of God, from the word everlasting being applied to him; but merely that everlasting in this case means endless, because of its being applied to God, whom we know, from other sources of evidence, to be eternal. Thus the terms by which endless duration is commonly expressed in the scriptures, are reduced to silence, proving nothing but what can be proved by the subject without them.
Your correspondent thinks that, "when the term everlasting is applied both to the states of the righteous and the wicked, after the day of judgment, nothing but the most inveterate prejudice can interpret it in different senses." Allowing this to be a solid argument, it only