Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation: A Book for the Times

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PHILOSOPHY
OF THE
PLAN OF SALVATION.

A Book for the Times.

BY AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.

A NEW EDITION REVISED.

THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY,
56, Paternoster Row; 65, St. Paul’s Churchyard, and
164, Piccadilly.

PREFACE.

I. OCCASION OF THE WORK.

During some of the first years of the writer’s active life he was a sceptic; he had a friend who has since become well known as a lawyer and legislator, who was also sceptical in his opinions. We were both conversant with the common evidences of Christianity. None of them convinced our minds of the Divine origin of the Christian religion, although we both thought ourselves willing to be convinced by sufficient evidence. Circumstances, which need not be named, led the writer to examine the Bible, and to search for other evidence than that which had been commended to his attention by a much-esteemed clerical friend, who presided in one of our colleges. The result of the examination was a thorough conviction in the author’s mind of the truth and Divine authority of Christianity. He supposed at that time that, in his inquiries, he had adopted the only true method to settle the question, in the minds of all intelligent inquirers, in relation to the Divine origin of the Christian religion. Subsequent reflection has confirmed this opinion.

Convinced himself of the Divine origin of the religion of the Bible, the author commenced a series of letters to convey to his friend the evidence which had satisfied his own mind beyond the possibility of doubt. The correspondence was, by the pressure of business engagements, interrupted. The investigation was continued, however, when leisure would permit, for a number of years. The results of this investigation are contained in the following chapters. The epistolary form in which a portion of the book was first written will account for some repetitions, and some varieties in the style, which otherwise might not have been introduced.

II. REASONS FOR PRESENTING THE WORK TO THE PUBLIC.

Book-making is not the author’s profession. But after examining his own private library, and one of the best public libraries in the country, he could find no treatise in which the course of reasoning was pursued which will be found in the following pages. Dr. Chalmers, in closing his Bridgewater Treatise, seems to have had an apprehension of the plan and importance of such an argument; and had he devoted himself to the development of the argument suggested, the effort would have been worth more to the world than all the Bridgewater Treatises put together, including his own work.

Coleridge has somewhere said that the Levitical economy is an enigma yet to be solved. To thousands of intelligent minds it is not only an enigma, but it is an absolute barrier to their belief in the Divine origin of the Bible. The solution of the enigma was the clue which aided the writer to escape from the labyrinth of doubt; and now, standing upon the rock of unshaken faith, he offers the clue that guided him to others.

A work of this kind is called for by the spirit of the age. Although the signs of the times are said to be propitious, yet there are constant developments of undisciplined and unsanctified mind both in Europe and America, which furnishes matter of regret to the philanthropist and the Christian. A struggle has commenced—is going on at present; and the heat of the contest is constantly increasing, in which the vital interests of man, temporal and spiritual, are involved. In relation to man’s spiritual interests, the central point of controversy is the ‘cross of Christ.’ In New England, some of those who have diverged from the doctrine of the fathers have wandered into a wilderness of speculation which, were it not for the evil experienced by themselves and others, ought, perhaps, to be pitied as the erratic aberrations of an unsettled reason, rather than blamed as the manifestations of minds determinately wicked. The most painful indication connected with this subject is, that these guilty dreamers are not waked from their reveries by the rebuke of men whose position and relations in society demand it at their hands.

The west, likewise, is overrun by sects whose teachers, under the name of Reformers, or some other inviting appellation, are using every effort to seduce men from the spiritual doctrines and duties of the gospel, or to organize them into absolute hostility against Christ. These men are not wanting in intellect, or in acquired knowledge, and their labours have prejudiced the minds of great numbers against the spiritual truths of the gospel, and rendered their hearts callous to religious influence. These facts, in the author’s opinion, render such a volume as he has endeavoured to write necessary, in order to meet the exigencies of the times.

*** The present edition has been carefully revised; and has been slightly modified on one or two minor points, to which exception had been taken, or which appeared obscure in expression.—1881.

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER PAGE
I.Man will worship—he will become assimilated to the character of the object that he worships—Character of heathen deities defective and unholy—From this corrupting worship man has no power to extricate himself9
II.The design and necessity of the bondage in Egypt21
III.Miracles—particularly the miracles which accompanied the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt25
IV.What was necessary as the first step in the process of revelation34
V.The necessity of affectionate obedience to God; and the manner of producing that obedience in the hearts of the Israelites36
VI.The design and necessity of the Moral Law41
VII.The development of the idea of holiness, and its transfer to Jehovah as an attribute45
VIII.The origin of the ideas of justice and mercy, and their transfer to the character of Jehovah53
IX.The transition from the material system, by which religious ideas were conveyed through the senses, to the spiritual system, in which abstract ideas were conveyed by words and parables61
X.The medium of conveying to men perfect instruction in doctrine and duty66
XI.Some of the peculiar proofs of the Messiahship of Christ70
XII.The condition in life which it was necessary the Messiah should assume in order to benefit the human family in the greatest degree, by his example and instructions75
XIII.The essential principles which must, according to the nature of things, lie at the foundation of the instruction of Christ81
XIV.Faith, the exercise through which truth reaches and affects the soul82
XV.The manifestations of God which would be necessary, under the new and spiritual dispensation, to produce in the soul of man affectionate obedience89
XVI.The influence of faith in Christ upon the moral disposition and moral powers of the soul117
XVII.The design and the importance of the means of grace—prayer—praise—preaching133
XVIII.The agency of God in carrying on the work of redemption, and the manner in which that agency is exerted146
XIX.The practical effects of the system as exemplified in individual cases150

PHILOSOPHY
OF
THE PLAN OF SALVATION.

CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY.

MAN WILL WORSHIP—HE WILL BECOME ASSIMILATED TO THE CHARACTER OF THE OBJECT THAT HE WORSHIPS—CHARACTER OF HEATHEN DEITIES DEFECTIVE AND UNHOLY—FROM THIS CORRUPTING WORSHIP MAN HAS NO POWER TO EXTRICATE HIMSELF.

There are three facts, each of them fully developed in the experience of the human family, a consideration of which will prepare the mind for the investigation which follows. When considered in their relation to each other, and in their bearing upon the moral interests of mankind, they will be seen to be of exceeding importance. We will adduce these facts, in connection with the statements and principles upon which they rest, and show how vital are the interests which depend upon them.

THE FIRST FACT STATED.

There is in the nature of man, or in the circumstances in which he is conditioned, something which leads him to recognise and worship a superior being. What that something is, is not important in our present inquiry:—whether it be a constitutional instinct inwrought by the Maker—whether it be a deduction of universal reason, inferring a first cause from the things that are made—whether it be the effect of tradition, descending from the first worshippers, through all the tribes of the human family—whether any or all of these be the cause, the fact is the same—Man is a religious being: HE WILL WORSHIP.

In view of this propension of human nature, philosophers, in seeking a generic appellation for man, have denominated him a “religious animal.” The characteristic is true of him in whatever part of the world he may be found, and in whatever condition; and it has been true of him in all ages of which we have any record, either fabulous or authentic.

Navigators have, in a few instances, reported that isolated tribes of men, whom they visited, recognised the existence of no superior being: subsequent researches, however, have generally corrected the error; and, in all cases, when it has been supposed that a tribe of men was found believing in no god, the fact has been stated as an evidence of their degradation below the mass of their species, and of their approximation to the confines of brute nature. Of the whole family of man, existing in all ages, and scattered over the four quarters of the globe, and in the isles of the sea, there is scarcely one well-authenticated exception to the fact, that, moved by an impulse of nature, or the force of circumstances, man worships something which he believes to be endowed with the attributes of a superior being.

THE SECOND FACT STATED.

The second fact, connected as it is, by the nature of things, with the preceding, assumes the highest degree of importance. It may be stated in the following terms:—Man, by worshipping, becomes assimilated to the moral character of the object which he worships. This is an invariable principle, operating with the certainty of cause and effect. The worshipper looks upon the character of the object which he worships as the standard of perfection. He therefore condemns everything in himself which is unlike, and approves of everything which is like that character. The tendency of this is to lead him to abandon everything in himself, and in his course of life, which is condemned by the character and precepts of his god, and to conform himself to that standard which is approved by the same criterion. The worshipper desires the favour of the object worshipped, and this, reason dictates, can be obtained only by conformity to the will and the character of that object. To become assimilated to the image of the object worshipped must be the end of desire with the worshipper. His aspirations, therefore, every time he worships, do, from the nature of the case, assimilate his character more and more to the model of the object that receives his homage.

To this fact the whole history of the idolatrous world bears testimony. Without an exception, the character of every nation and tribe of the human family has been formed and modified, in a great degree, by the character attributed to their gods.

From the history of idolatrous nations we will cite a number of familiar cases, confirmatory of the foregoing statement, that man becomes like the object of his worship.

A most striking instance is that of the Scythians, and other tribes of the Northmen, who subdued and finally annihilated the Roman power. Odin, Thor, and others of their supposed deities, were ideas of hero-kings, bloodthirsty and cruel, clothed with the attributes of deity, and worshipped. Their worship turned the milk of human kindness into gall in the bosoms of their votaries, and they seemed, like bloodhounds, to be possessed of a horrid delight when they were revelling in scenes of blood and slaughter. It being believed that one of their hero-gods, after destroying great numbers of the human race, destroyed himself, it hence became disreputable to die in bed, and those who did not meet death in battle frequently committed suicide, supposing that to die a natural death might exclude them from favour in the hall of Valhalla.

Among the gods of the Greeks and Romans there were some names, in the early ages of their history, to which some virtuous attributes were attached; but the conduct and character generally attributed to their gods were marked deeply with such traits as heroism, vengeance, caprice, and lust. In the later history of these nations, their idolatry degenerated in character, and became a system of most debasing tendency.

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