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A review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah online

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not in heaven that thou shouldst say, Who shall ascend for us to heaven and
bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it ?"

Our author contends that the succeeding sentence, which in the same
manner affirms that the Israelites needed not to make long journeys or
perilous voyages to acquire the knowledge of the Divine Will, proves that
the words of the former question intend an actual ascent to some celestial

It proves that they believed heaven to be a place to which it was con-
ceivable that men might ascend, and by reaching which the knowledge
which is here unattainable might be supposed to be acquired; but the
expressions in both sentences are evidently figurative. Moses illustrates
the position that the commandment was neither unintelligible, nor kept
from their study, by telling them that they need not inquire after impos-
sible or very difficult means of gaining the knowledge of it ; ascending to
heaven represents the means of obtaining the knowledge of things myste-
rious, the commandment being in heaven signifies being unintelligible,
beyond the reach of human faculties. 2. Prov. xxx. 4 : " That the
ascending and descending are here assumed as undoubted properties of the
Most High, is manifest from the succeeding question." So says Dr. S.,


but we think a proper consideration of the passage will shew that the ma-
jority of commentators who have taken it differently are right. The inten-
tion of the wriier seems to be to represent the knowledge' of God as unat-
tainable by human faculties, and to recommend humility from the consi-
deration of his inconceivable majesty. " Who hath ascended up into
heaven or descended ?" What mortal hath immediately contemplated the
glories of God, and attained to the knowledge of divine things, or hath
brought forth such knowledge and communicated it to others ? You know-
that there is none. " Who hath gathered the wind in his fists ? Who
hath bound the waters in a garment ? Who hath established all the ends
of the earth ?" Is there any man that hath done these things ? Or is it
not known to all that they are such as the Almighty himself alone caa
accomplish ? If there be man who can perform such wonders, *' what is
his name, and what is his son's name?" that they may obtain the admira-
tion and celebrity which they deserve. (Vide Job xxxviii. 4, &c. ; Isa. xl.
12 — 14.) This passage, then, is exactly lo the purpose, ascending up to
heaven and descending being figurative expressions for acquiring and com-
municating divine knowledge. 3. Rom. x. 6: " But the justification by
faith speaketh thus : Say not in thy heart. Who shall ascend into heaven ?
that is, to bring Christ down." The meaning is: Do not entertain any
doubt concerning the divine authority of Christ ; do not say. Who shall go
to heaven to fetch the Christ down ? as if he had not yet been manifested
to the world. Do not ask. Who shall obtain for us the blessings of divine
knowledge ? which you already possess. Lastly, Baruch iii. 29 : *' Who
hath gone up into heaven and taken her, i. e. wisdom, and brought her
down from the clouds ?" Here the form of expression and the sense are
exactly similar to the passage in Exodus. Dr, S. produces other instances
of ascent into heaven being spoken of in Scripture, where a real translation
to heaven as a place seems to be intended, but these are not to the pur-
pose, as it is not denied that such is the original and proper meaning of the
words ; it is only contended that they may also bear the figurative meaning
assigned, which Mr. B.'s examples appear sufficient to prove.
But Dr. S. continues :

*' Tiie Calm Inquirer, on the authority of Dr. Wliitby, affirms that ' the
Jews in the Targum say in honour of Moses, that /le ascended into the high
heavens, by which they could mean no more than his admission to the divine
counsels.' Whitby, perhaps copying from some other author, has not un-
derstood the passage, nor even referred to it rightly. It is evident that
neither he nor the Calm Inquirer, who borrows it from him, took the pains
to consult the Targum, The place is in the paraphrase on Cunt. iii. 3, and
it very plainly refers to Moses's going up to the top of Mount Sinai to inter-
cede for the people on: heir having made the golden calf."

He then makes large quotations from the Targum, of which the follow-
ing specimen is sufficient:

" Moses their leader ascended to the firmament, and made peace between
them and their King— Moses the chief scribe of Israel answered and spoke
thus, / will ascend to the heavens on high, and I will pray before Jul), if per-
haps he may be propitiated on account of your otfences."

No doubt the reference is to ascending the mount, but why is it called
ascending to heaven ? Not, assuredly, as Dr. S. suggests, because the word
for heaven is sometimes applied to a moderate elevation in the atmosphere,



but because God peculiarly manifested himself on the mount, because
Moses was admitted to peculiar intercourse with him, the crreat purpose of
which was that he might learn and communicate his will. We think there-
fore that, notwithstandins: our author's hasty censure of others, and some-
what affected display of his own accurate learning, he has not shewn
Whitby to have been in error ; Moses' ascending certainly meant his going
up into the mount, but its being called the heavens on high, as certainly
meant that it was the immediate presence of Jehovah, admission to his
counsels, the power of learning his will, and addressing him with a pecu-
liar assurance of being attended to. The surprise of our author " that
Schoettgenius and the other learned persons should not have perceived that
they were putting the result for the operation, the consequent for the ante-
cedent, the end for the means to which that end v/as attributed," is also,
we think, much misplaced. To be in heaven is to be where we have the
opportunity of attaining to the wonders of Divine knowled«;e, and is hence
put for the possession of that knowledge by a figure of a kind than which
none can be more common or natural ; and it follows of course that to
ascend into heaven, must mean to be admitted to the means of acquiring
such knowledge. Our Lord in using the phrase most probably had the
application of it to Moses in his thoughts, meaning to affirm that no pro-
phet or messenger of God, not even the great lawgiver, had been admitted
to that complete knowledge of God's purposes and will which he possessed,
and which it was the object of his mission to communicate. The figure
was the less liable to be misunderstood, as the contrast of heavenly and
earthly things, in the preceding verse, for things familiar, which might be
expected to be knov.'n, and those which were new, having hitherto re-
mained mysteries, would almost preclude the possibility of mistake. Ac-
cordingly there is, as Mr. Belsham observes, a remarkable agreement of
commentators of all parties in the interpretation of this first clause, and
we cannot anticipate that Dr. S.'s remarks will interrupt its continuance.

The second clause being correlate to the first, it is very harsh to take,
as many do, the one figuratively, the other literally ; they should certainly
be interpreted in reference to one another, and on the same principle. If
to ascend into heaven is to obtain the complete knowledge of divine things,
to come down from heaven, is to communicate that knowledge by divine
authority, to come forth as an authorized teacher of heavenly truth. Dr.
S.'s statement, that " from a careful examination of the scriptural use of
the expressions from heaven, and being, coming, or descending from
heaven, it appears that the idea intended is A dwine origin, which is,
of course, applied variously according to the nature of the subject," is
nearly coincident with Mr. Belsham's, and is sufficient for our purpose,
since divine origin, the idea being applied according to the nature of the
case under our consideration, must mean divine authority, as Matt. xxi.
25, " The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men f'^ It is ob-
jected that there is no other instance of a person being said to come from
heaven, meaning to bring and communicate truth, or to teach by divine
authority. Prov. xxx. 4, as we have explained it, is an example of this
use of the phrase ; but if there were none, it arises so completely from the
connexion and the sense of the preceding clause, that no difficulty need be

The figurative sense of the third clause, who is in heaven, " who has
received divine communications perfectly qualifying him for his office,"
follows, of course, (allowing its genuineness, which is not certain, as it is


omitted by some important authorities,) from that of the others, and Dr.
S.'s interpretation of it, " who as to his superior nature is in heaven, even
whilst he speaks to you on earth," is far more difficult and strange than any
figurative one. We have now carefully examined our author's remarks on
this very important passage, and we hope it will be perceived that he has
done nothing to weaken the force of the criticisms of Mr. Belsham and
other eminent men, who have contended for its interpretation as figurative
language, but that a full consideration of the subject only confirms and
establishes the justness of their views.

With regret we pass by other portions of Dr. S.'s volume, which cer-
tainly deserve attention. We have preferred the plan of carefully examin-
ing a few articles to that of merely touching upon many, and we venture to
assure the reader (we hope that some such will be found) who is, upon the
whole, satisfied with what we have done, so far as it goes, that we have not
chosen the least difficult portions, and that, should he not possess the re-
quisite knowledge for personal examination, he may judge of the contro-
versial value of the whole from what has been laid before him.

The fourth part of Dr. Smith's work, to which we now proceed, is
devoted to the consideration of " the doctrine taught by the Apostles in their
inspired ministry, concerning the person of the Lord Jesus Christ." The
subjects of the four chapters are, the book of Acts ; the testimony of the
Apostle John ; the testimonies of the Apostles Peter, Jude, and James ; and
the testimony of the Apostle Paul.

The anxiety shewn by Dr. S., lest the book of Acts should be expected
by the reader to contain a body of Christian doctrine^ appears to us a
strong extorted testimony to the impossibility of finding, in this important
portion of Scripture, any thing like a satisfactory expression of his favourite
sentiments, though he does not fail afterwards to adduce passages which he
seems to regard as affording countenance to them.

" The annunciation of his design, which Luke gives in the preface to his
Gospel, seems very jnstly to comprehend both parts of his work : and if
this be admitted, it will supply us with a sufficient reason why the book
called the Acts was drawn up in its particular manner and order; and it will
prevent our disappointment at not meeting with those statements in either
history or doctrine, which an incorrect estimate of its intention might lead
us to expect. Whoever Theophilus, to whom the two hooks are inscribed,
was, it is plain that the writer's design was, not to make him acquainted
with the fundamental truths of Christianity, for in them he had been already
instructed ; hut to furnish him with a selection of facts relative to the actions,
discourses, and sufferings of the Lord Jesus, and the diffusion of his religion
in some particular places, and by some particular persons. Those places
and persons, it is highly probable, had some connexion v/ith Theophilus
more than other places or persons would have had : and thus some specialty
of circumstances was the principle which guided the selection." ......

** As we are not to regard the book of Acts in the light of a regular history,
so this view of its design will prevent our expecting from it a i)ody of Chris-
tian doctrine. It supposes the reader to be, like Theophilus, already ac-
quainted with the great principles of that doctrine, and it is therefore occu-
pied in giving him the facts which formed the i)asis of evidence for those
princii)les, or which were examples of their diffusion and influence among
men."— Script. Test. Vol. IIL p. 6.

The book of Acts can certainly pretend to no more than being a faithful
narrative of some interesting and important particulars respecting the first

K 2


preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles and their companions after their
Lord's resurrection. Our author's conjecture, as to the principle on which
the facts were selected, appears to us arbitrary and fanciful, but it is not
material to the argument whether it he true or false. Whether chosen
from amongst others, on account of some peculiar power they possessed,
from mcidental associations, of interesting Theophilus individually, or, as
seems far more probable, on account of their intrinsic value, and their
suitableness for convincing men's minds, and giving them just views of the
religion of Christ, it seems abundantly certain that the facts and discourses
recorded by the Evangelist must be sufficient means of making known to
any body the fundamental truths of Christianity. It is true, Theophilus
had already acquired some knowledge of the Gospel from other sources,
but the purpose of the Evangelist was to confirm and establish him in the
truth, and to give him a record on which he might rely of authoritative
instructions and remarkable facts, containing the principles and the evidence
of the religion he had received. No book of Scripture contains any thing
which can be called " a body of Christian doctrine."

Our divine religion has been, by the wisdom of God, conveyed to us
historically: we are to collect its principles and their influences from the
study of the discourses and actions of our Lord and his chosen followers.
But that there should he a single narrative of any considerable portion of
*^^ PV^Jic ministry of Christ himself, or of his apostles, which should not
exhibit the leading and essential truths of his religion, seems altogether
incredible and almost inconceivable. All the evangelists wrote their his-
tories for the immediate information of those who had already been con-
vinced of the truth of Christianity and instructed in its doctrines, but it was
necessary to give them an authentic recoid, and it is not to be for a mo-
ment supposed that what were esteemed sufficient, though very imperfect,
memoirs of the words and actions of Christ, could leave untouched any
peculiar and characteristic doctrines of his religion. The same reasoning
applies to the book of Acts. It contains only specimens of apostolic in-
struction, but they are fair and sufficient specimens, and we must expect
them to put us in possession of the substance of Cliristian teaching : not
to re-state all which was adopted from Judaism, and assumed, as known by
Christian preachers, but to give us the peculiarities of the gospel, and to
explain the opinions of its promulgators on those points which, from their
novelty, their extensive influence, or the prevalence of erroneous views,
they deemed it most important to press upon the attention of their hearers.
Are the doctrines respecting the person and work of Christ, which now
assume the name of orthodoxy, to be classed in this number ? If they are,
let the plain fact that they are not made the subjects of instruction in any
part of the book of Acts be accounted for ; if they' are not, then, even
supposing them not to be altogether false and unscrip'tural, why do modern
divmes presume to attach to them an importance which apostles and evan-
gelists evidently did not attribute to them ?

It is chiefly in an indirect manner that Dr. S. supposes the book of Acts
to support his opinions. He has collected its testimony under nine heads.
Some of his statements excite our extreme surprise, but we are under
the necessity of confining our remarks at present to one or two points.
He tells us, first, that the real humanity of Christ is here " stated in the
clearest terms." This, it seems, is perfectly consistent with the reputedly
orthodox doctrine. Yet we certainly feel at a loss to understand how some
of the texts here quoted are to be reconciled with that doctrine. We


know it is held that our Lord was truly man as well as truly God, and,
therefore, we might expect to find him on some occasions called man, but
what is to be thought when he is said to be " a man proved to you to be
from God by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did by him amongst
you ?" ^ man from God — not a God-man— proved to be sent from God
by miracles — which were not his own — were not effected by any part of
his own nature, but which God (plainly spoken of as a distinct beini;) did
through him. To us these words seem absolutely irreconcileahle with the
doctrine of the two natures, as directly opposed to it as if they had been
designed to contradict it. Of this at least we are certain, that if the most
perspicuous and appropriate language for designating a human prophet^
divinely commissioned and attested, were carefully sought out, no words
could ibe found fitter for the purpose than those which the Apostle Peter
has employed in this passage, according to common supposition, with so
very ditterent a meaning.

Were it necessary, we might apply a similar argument to other remark-
able instances in which our Lord is called a man, but it would be useless
to go on ; for those who do not see the force of the reasoninp; in the case we
have been considering, will not be impressed by any thing we might add
respecting other passages. We hope it is clear to every reader that here
and elsewhere our argument is drawn not from Christ being called a man,
but from his being so called under circumstances y and with explanations,
which appear to us inconsistent with the notion of his having been more
than man. It is, therefore, no reply on the part of believers in his deity
to say that they also acknowledge his humanity. They are called upon to
shew, by suitable and consistent explanation, that we have not good
grounds for affirming the incompatibility of the language used with the
admission of any other besides a human 7iatiire. This is what is required,
but what we have seen no attempt to accomplish, and firmly believe that
no ingenuity can accomplisii.

We must now pass to our author's 9th head, which is introduced by the
following general statement :

" This book of Acts represents the first Christians as paying religious w or-
ship to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that this was a known and acknowledged
characteristic of their profession." The particular cases upon which this
general statement is founded are, i. the passages which contain the expres-
sion, calling upon the name of the Lord ; li. the dying words of Stephen ;
iii. the prayer of the eleven apostles, Acts i. 24 ; and, iv. the conduct of
Paul and Barnabas, Acts. xiv. 23. If the book of Acts does plainly represent
the first disciples as paying religious worship to Christ, let its authority have
due weight, but we must frankly declare that it is not by any ambiguous
expressions, or by any circumstances which admit of rational explanation
in other ways, that we are to be induced to believe any thing so extraordi-
nary as that he who, whilst on earth, addressed his own prayers to his
Father in heaven, and directed the prayers of his disciples to the same
great Being, his Father and their Father, his God and their God; he
whom with^ full conviction we believe to be uniformly described in Scrip-
ture as distinct from and inferior to God, and as elevated above men, not by
his nature, but by appointed office and communicated powers, ever accepted
or allowed that worship from his followers, which it is not pretended to
justify by any express injunction of himself or his apostle. We do not
profess to come to this inquiry as if it were to be decided by the exclusive
consideration of the texts now before us ; we openly declare that we shall


avail ourselves, as we feel bound to do, of any uncertainty as to a commonly
received construction, or doubt as to the meaning which has been usually
assigned to a phrase, to vindicate the consistency as well as the reasonable-
ness of what is contained in the Sacred Records, and to avoid placing the
doctrine of a few passages in direct contradiction to the general tenor both
of precept and example in the evangelical narratives.

The passages first offered to our notice in proof that the worship of
Christ is recognized in the book of Acts, are those which contain the
phrase, (according to the common translation) calling upon thy name, or
upon his name, applied to Christ. " The Calm Inquirer," says Dr. S.,
" with the general body of those who hold the same system, besides some
other writers inclined to lax opinions,* affirms that ' these words may
be rendered, who are called, or who call themselves after thy name, i. e.
who profess themselves thy disciples.'"

It is generally agreed that the expression referred to is a periphrasis for
disciples of Christ : the question is, how it comes to convey this meaning }
— how the sense is to be derived from the words ?

If any man, of any sentiments, can honestly declare that after the best
attention he can give to the reasoning, precepts, and narratives, found in
the New Testament, he is prepared to find Christians familiarly spoken of
as those who worship Christ, we can only express our unfeigned astonisli-
ment. We can entertain no doubt that the majority of reflectmg readers
will well understand the feeling which has led many truly pious and learned
men, some of them even believers in the divinity of our Lord's person, to
pause and consider whether a phrase, which is manifestly idiomatical and
of Hebrew origin, must necessarily be understood as implying so startling
a fact as that the disciples addressed religious worship and supplication to
their glorified Master. There is no doubt that the word i7tiKaXeo[Acci,
literally meaning " to call upon," and hence often, very naturally, " to
call for aid," " to implore," is frequently used of religious supplication
to the Supreme Being. To call upon God, or upon his name, frequently
signifies to pray to him — does it thence follow that the notion of religious
supplication is implied in the word, and that to call upon a man is to v.'or-
ship him } Far from it — the peculiar modification of the signification
belongs not to the word, but to the connexion, diud we must be cautious how
we apply it. Now it happens that the Greek word, imitating the Hebrew
J^^^p, which it very often represents in the ancient Greek version of the
Old Testament, has sometimes the sense oi celebrating, praising, honouring,
and thence acknowledging the authority of the person spoken of. It is in these
significations that, joined with {ovoi^a) name, it is, we think, often applied
to the Supreme Being, and in tlie same way it may, with strict propriety,
be applied to an eminent servant of God. This, we are inclined to think,
(agreeing, in the main, with our learned and excellent friend Dr. Carpenter,
though we do not like his translation, who appeal to the name of Christ,]
is the true sense of the passages under consideration. The other way of
taking them, noticed by Dr. S., has, however, strong claims on our atten-
tion, and, whether we look to the great authorities by which it is supported.

* Lax opinions ! Of what sort are they .' or, if the term is meant as a reproach,
where is tlje authoritative rule to which thet^e writers are accused of not strictly
adhering, and how will our author justify his presumption in such a censure whilst
lie affects to encourage freedom of inquiry?


or to the force of the argument adduced in its favour, is not to be lightly-

The verb e7rmaXeV«', though generally used actively to call upon^ i?
also capable of meaning to call oneself, or be caZ/ef/, ' (L^havorinus apud
Schleusner,) which v/ould give an excellent sense to all the passages.
The commonness of the expression, with the verb in the passive form,
applied to persons as well as things, having the name of the Lord called
iipon them, for being distinguished as his property, devoted to his service,
makes it highly probable that persons might be said to call upon themselves
a name, in the sense — not of actually bearing that name, as Dr. S., from
one of his remarks, (Scrip. Test. Vol. III. p. 36,) seems to have under-
stood it, and which is not at all implied in the phrase — but of openly ac-

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Online LibraryBritish and Foreign Unitarian AssociationA review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah → online text (page 12 of 15)