« IndietroContinua »
For the Christian Spectator.
Is the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments taught in the Old Testament *
The Old Testament is distinguished from all the works of Pagan authors, by a full recognition of the existence of one God, and a superintending Providence. The immortality of the soul, and future rewards and punishments, the knowledge of which is perhaps equally important to man, seem to be much less clearly revealed. By many,the passages usually adduced from the Old Testament in support of these doctrines, are thought to be of doubtful interpretation—by some, they are utterly rejected, as containing no important evidence. The inquiry, how far a just view of the suture is revealed in the Old Testament, is interesting; and may well demand a few moments attention. I. It may aidus in prosecuting this inquiry,to consider, as distinctly as possible, the light which was communicated to the Hebrews in successive revelations; and to inquire, whether, as has been supposed, it was gradual in its developement; till, at length, in the New Testament, the “darkness” was scattered, and the “true light shone.” 1. Evidence from the Pentateuch. The celebrated argument of Warburton, for “the Divine Legation of Moses,” rests wholly on the “omission,” in the Pentateuch, “of a future state of rewards and punishments.” For “under the common dispensations of Providence, a religion with
out a future state cannot be supported.” Moses knowing this, and yet “instituting such a religion, must have believed that it was supported by an extraordinary Providence;” and his success in establishing it, shews that it was thus supported. “This,” says the learned writer, “is the argument of the Divine Legation, plain, simple and convincing, in the opinion of its author”—he has well added, “a paradox in the view of others. It is certain, that in the time of Moses, there prevailed a belief of the soul’s existence after death. This is evident from the distinction made between oxw (sheol, hades, or the abyss—rendered in our translation, “grave,” “pit,” “hell,”) and the sepulchre. Jacob, when he supposed Joseph had been “devoured by evil beasts,” says, “I will go down into sheol unto my son, mourning.” (Gen. xxxvii. 35.) Korah and his companions “went down alive into sheol.” (Num. xvi. 30–33.) This was the expected place of residence after death. There the ancient Hebrews hoped to meet each other. (Gen. xxxvii. 35.) The phrase “gathered to his fathers,” or “to his people,” is the current language in which the death of the patriarchs is related. This is said of the departure of Abraham, (Gen. xv. 15, and xxv. 8) of Isaac, (xxxv. 29) Jacob, (xlix. 33) Aaron, (Num. xx. 24) Moses, (Deut. xxxii. 50) and others. The use of the phrase shews, that it had a meaning distinct from being “buried.” Abraham was buried in the field which he bought of Ephron, (Gen. xxiii.) where no one but Sarah had been buried before him. Jacob was “gathered to his people” in Egypt; and “buried” long after, in the cave of Machpelah, (xlix. 33, and l. 13.) A belief of the soul's existence aster death is farther evident from the practice of necromancy; against which it was found necessary to enact very severe laws, (Deut. xviii. 10–12. Lev. xx. 6.) No man, however superstitious, would be so inconsistent with himself, as to think of raising the dead, and enquiring of them concerning secret things; while he did not believe them to exist. Whether the future was supposed to be a state of retribution, is less clearly revealed in the Pentateuch. No account of the place of residence of the dead is given, from which this can be inferred. A few passages, which favour the opinion that the righteous will be happy, are worthy of observation. “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him, (Gen. v. 24.) The accounts of all the others contained in the chapter, end uniformly with no"). They are a simple story of their birth, their children, and their death. The historian had told the years of Enoch’s life—and turns aside to give his moral character; tells us, “he walked with God, 132n, and was not”—“he was gone” (I. Kings, xx. 40)—“for God took him.” This mode of his departure is represented as a consequence of his piety. But longevity was esteemed a precious blessing, and a token of the special favour of God, (Gen. xxv. 8. Ex. xx. 12. Lev. xix. 32.) Hence, God’s “taking away” the pious Enoch, before he had “attained to” half “the years of his fathers,” strongly implies, that he removed him to a more happy state of being. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Ex. iii. 6.) I am their God—their father and friend—implying that they still existed; and that the kindness of God was still extended to them.
“Let me die the death of the righteous”—that is of the Israelites, “and let my last end be like his,” (Num. xxiii. 10.) Balaam had been called by Balak to curse Israel. But in speaking “the word put into his mouth” by God, he pronounced upon them a blessing; and says, that their death will be such, as he wishes his own to be othat is, as some interpret the passage, “The Israelites will die after lives of prosperity and happiness—So let me die.” It must beacknowled, that the series of the discourse favours this interpretation. It must also be acknowledged, that the language of Balaam is not the obvious mode of expressing temporal prosperity; and that the expressions—Let me die the death, and let my last end, argue forcibly, that the good derived was beyond the boundary of human life. “Ye shall not cut yourselves, not make any baldness between your eyes for the dead; for the Lord hath chosen you to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth,” (Deut. xiv. 1–2.) If the favour of God were not extended to the dead, this would be a reason why, by his “peculiar people,” death should the more be deprecated. We have seen from the Pentateuch, that the ancient Hebrews hoped to exist after death; and have gained some evidence, that they hoped the righteous would be happy. Whether their prevailing ideas of the future were in any good degree definite, it is not easy to determine. Future happiness is not represented as a solace in affliction; nor future punishment, as a ter. rour to evil doers. Paul, in the midst of trial, desired to “depart and be with Christ.” Jacob, “rent his clothes and put sackcloth on his loins—refused to be comforted; and said, I will go down intosheolunto my son mourning.” 2. From the Pentateuch to the book of Job. As the book of Job is probably very ancient, it may be well to deviate from the arrangement of our translation, so far as to notice it next in order to the Pentateuch. From this book, some passages have been adduced as affirming, and others, as denying, a future state of retribution. Of the former class, the most conspicuous passage is Job xix. 25–26. “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin [worms] destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” The passage seems to many not only to indicate a hope of future happiness; but of the resurrection of the body; and of redemption through the mediation of Christ. “I know that I have a Redeemer, the Messiah; and that he will appear at the day of judgment. And though this body be utterly consumed, yet in that flesh with which I shall be clothed at the resurrection,I shall see God.” But to this interpretation there are objections. The words rendered “Redeemer,” and “latter day,” have no certain reference to the Messiah, or day of judgment. And that spiritual body, (I. Cor. xv. 44) which will be raised,can hardly be called va(flesh.) Or will it be said, that “latter day” refers to the time of Christ's advent; and that "nven should be translated “without my flesh?” Thatis, “through
the mediation of Christ, my spirit, af. .
ter the dissolution of the body, will enjoy God.” This interpretation, if the original admitted it, gives indeed a delightful view of the future. But must not such a flood of light, bursting on a sudden from a book which is perhaps more dark in relation to the future, than any other in the Old Testament, diminish our confidence in this interpretation? The bright avenue is soon closed. The next verse falls heavily upon the ear. “Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” The following interpretation renders the parts of the whole passage more consistent; and agrees better who hthe original, and theseries ofthe discourse. “I know that God is my bru, my avenger, my vindicator, (See Num.
xxxv. 12, 21, and Job xvi. 19) and that he will at length “arise from the dust—appear as my deliverer. And though my body be now wasted by disease, it will revive—my flesh will be restored—and God will appear for me and not for you;--he will decide this controversy in my favour, (compare chap. xlii. 7–17.) Wherefore refrain from persecuting me, lest God be angry and ye be punished.” The intermediate books from the Pentateuch to Job, contain few passages which throw important light on our subject. David laments over Saul, and Jonathan, and Absalom, without saying a word of their condition after death; (II. Sam. i. 17–27, and xviii. 33) and when the child of Bathsheba died, his submissive language gives but an uncertain view of the future—“Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me, (II. Sam. xii. 23.) The raising of Samuel confirms the argument already drawn from necromancy; (I. Sam. xxvii. 11–19.) and the translation of Elijah, (II. Kings ii. 1–18,) while it supports the common view of Enoch's departure, gives new force to the argument thence derived, by the peculiar definiteness of the narration. The sceptic may reject the story of Elijah; but the attending circumstances are so numerous, and so explicitly related; that it is impossible to question what view the sacred historian intended to convey. 3. The Psalms. Ps. xvi. 8–11. “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, my flesh also shall rest in hope; for thou wilt not leave me in sheol, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy One to . see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” This vivid and accumulated description of happiness in the presence of God can hardly be accounted for on the ground ta
ken by some reputable critics, that the passage is spoken by David concerning himself; and that its whole meaning is this: “Thou wilt prolong my temporal life, and make me happy in the enjoyment of it!”—Is it the genius of Hebrew poetry to paint the events of this life by imagery drawn from the invisible world 2–Since then the passage is inapplicable to David, for he “saw corruption”—are we not compelled to suppose it a prediction of the Messiah 2 and a description of the pleasures which are really to be enjoyed in the presence of God, beyond the grave. Ps. Xvii. 13–15. “Deliver me from the wicked, O Lord, from men of the world, who have their portion in this life—they are full of children, and” leave to them their inheritance. But “as for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake, with thy likeness.” Parallel to this passage is Psalm xlix. 14, 15. In both passages, the Psalmist is contrasting the state of the wicked with that of the righteous. After showing the folly of those who trust in riches; and the vanity of wealth, which cannot “redeem a brother” from death; he says, (xlix. 14,) “Like sheep the are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning—their beauty shall consume in the grave: but God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me.” Can we here discover no hope of happiness beyond the grave? But according to some interpreters, the whole meaning of the passages is only this, “God will distinguish me from the wicked by bestowing upon me blessings in this life!” With what then is the “portion” enjoyed “ in this life” by “men of the world” contrasted * They, says the Psalmist, have their wealth—their numerous households—but I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness. Must not this awaking be after death P When it is that, the wealth of this
world proving worthless, and the wicked laid like sheep in the grave; the upright shall have dominion over them It is the wicked, who are here said to prosper “in this life;” and it is the obvious design of the writer to shew that, notwithstanding this, their portion is unenviable, for they must soon die—while the righteous have a better hope, that will not be disappointed. We cannot admit, that future happiness is no where else accknowledged by the Psalmist; and that hence, the passages to which we have referred must be interpreted, as relating solely to this world. We must believe, that they throw such light on the future, as we have been unable to discover in the books, to which we have above directed our attention. 4. The books attributed to Solonon. Prov. xiv. 32. “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death.” Several passages in Ecclesiastes clearly indicates a notion of a future state of rewards and punishments. “Know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whetherit be good, or whether it be evil.” (xi. 9, and xii. 7, 13. See also viii. 12, 13.) The obscurity of many parts of this book is acknowledged. But how accurately are death and the events which follow it, described ' Who would have written thus, that had no idea of a future state of retribution' 5. The Prophets. Isa. xxvi. 14, 19. The Jews restored from captivity, sing this song to Jehovah; Our enemies “are dead, they shall not live; they are deceas. ed, they shall not rise.” But “thy dead,” [the Jews] shall live; [their] dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew [Jehovah] is as the dew of herbs”—divine influence shall raise them to life—“ and the earth shall cast out the dead.” In this passage, says Lowth, “the deliverance of the people of God from a state of the lowest depression, is explained by images, plainly taken from the resurrection of the dead: hence, the doctrine of the resurrection was at that time a common and popular doctrine; for an image, assumed to represent another, must be an image commonly known and understood; otherwise it will not answer the purpose for which it is assumed.” But the doctrine of the resurrection is so intimately connected with that of a future state of retribution, that, if a people were familiar with the former, they must have been with the latter. A similar argument may be drawn from the illustrious description of the restoration of the Jews from utter desolation, in the vision of Ezekiel ; (chap. xxxvii. 1, &c.) in which the dry bones that overspread the valley, are clothed with flesh, and raised to life. The same remarks are applicable in a peculiar manner, to Daniel xii. 1—3. “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation;–and at that time, thy people shall be delivered,” even “every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine, as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousnes, as the stars forever and ever.” The book of Daniel doubtless contains many things, “hard to be understood;” and a free interpretation of it has perhaps never yet been satisfactorily given. But we cannot turn from the passage now cited, by merely saying, that it contains an image taken from the resurrection of the dead. It seems impossible, that such language, found at the end of a book, abounding with sublime descriptions of God, and of his wonderful works,
refers only to “victory or defeat in battle.” What Christian writer has used language more exalted, or more impressive, concerning the future world ! In the Prophets, the events of the future are evidently more clearly revealed, than in the earlier books of the Old Testament. And the Hebrew writings of a later period exhibit ideas still more definite. (See II. Macc. vii. 9, &c. and xii. 40–45. Wisdom iii. 1–11, and iv. 7, &c.) II. There are passages in the Old Testament, supposed to be inconsis#ent with a belief in a future state of retribution. Job xiv. 7–12. “There is hope of a tree, that, if it be cut down, it will sprout again. But as the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up, so man lieth down and riseth not ; till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” Ps. vi. 5. “In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave, who shall give thee thanks P’’ Ps. lxxxviii. 10. “Shall the dead arise and praise thee?” Eccl. iii. 9. “That which befalleth man, befalleth beasts—as one dieth so dieth the other, yea they have all one breath—All go to one place. All are of the dust; and all turn to dust again.” If other passages affirm the doctrine in question, do not these, as explicitly, deny it? It is an obvious reply, that in respect to man's temporal existence, they are literally true; and it is more than probable, they were uttered with a view of the destruction of the body, and the closing of all our concerns with this world at death. Christians use similar language. We say a man dies, and that is the end of him. Even the pious Watts declares, that in the grave are neither “work, nor device,” “nor faith, nor hope.” III. Light is thrown on the Old Testament by the writers of the New. It is impossible now to inquire, what were the principles, by which