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In a majority of instances, probably, where the grand object is not kept conscientiously in view, and steadily pursued according to the rules of candor and logical argumentation, the result of both discussion and controversy is more likely to prove unfriendly, not only to the cordiality of good feeling between the parties at issue, and the interests of Christianity generally, but also to the cause of truth itself, than promotive of either. This, however, cannot be regarded as a necessary result. For, should the scales of truth be still held in doubtful equiponderance, the question remains unsettled, and the advocates on both sides maintain their respective views and opinions with unyielding firmness. Why, it may be demanded, may not all this be done without the sacrifice of kindly feeling on either side, or injury to the cause of truth and our common Christianity? It is firmly believed it may, provided the subjects themselves are proper, and they are discussed in a right spirit, and the discussion is not continued too long nor carried too far. But, in handling all controvertible questions, these are vastly important considerations.
2. These remarks are made by way of introduction to a few thoughts which are subjoined on an article in No. 4, Vol. ix, of the Methodist Quarterly, entitled a “ Defense of the Existence and Fall of Satan and his Angels.” And the writer would here observe, once for all, that, whatever may be the apparent spirit of the following strictures, he is not conscious of being actuated by any sentiments other than those of the warmest Christian regard, and the highest esteem for the reverend brother, who, as far as he knows, has the undisputed honor of having originated the theory, of which the article under consideration is a “defense.” Our business is not with him, but with his theory, and the arguments by which he attempts to sustain it; and as far as we are able to judge of our own motives and principles of action, in throwing ourselves thus before the reader, on a subject where we must reason almost from a single datum, they are a desire for the defense and support of that system of revealed truth which to every genuine disciple of Christ is dearer than life. If we thought any other result would follow what we have written, or may write, against the distinctive features of the new system maintained in the “twelve propositions,” we should most sincerely wish the stroke of oblivion were drawn on every line. With these remarks let us hasten to a review of the “ Defense" in question.
3. As we have no knowledge of the "editor of a religious journal," whose strictures are associated in the “Defense" with the Calm Review, nor of what he has written on the “propositions," this part of the “ Defense” is passed over without an observation, except with regard to the objection which was made to the length of the introduction of the original article containing the new theory; which objection the respected author of the “ Defense” has echoed back on the Calm Review! But why is this done? Look at the principle. Is it proper and consistent, in meeting an objection made by one man, which is proved to be groundless, immediately to retort the same objection upon another! Besides, the proportion between the length of the introduction, and other parts of an article, essay, or any other written or spoken production, involves a rhetorical, rather than a theological question. Hence, how important soever such proportion may be when viewed according to the rules of the former, we cannot see what bearing it can have on the orthodoxy of the latter. Moreover, the writer of the Calm Review regarded the first paragraph alone as being properly its introduction; with how much propriety he leaves others to determine. In the succeeding paragraphs he enlarges on the nature and tendency of that sort of speculation which he considers to constitute the proper and only distinctive features of the new theory, as set forth in the "propositions." He then comes to a particular examination of these features of this new system, which he sums up in three particulars, and to which he directs his remarks throughout the rest of the article.
4. It is not denied that the “Review esteems” the peculiar doctrines of the “propositions” as a “speculative theory; nor that the writer is seriously concerned for those who deal in such matters.” And while he sees no reason, from any thing contained in the “ Defense,” for changing his opinion, he earnestly hopes his apprehensions in the final result will be found to be groundless. But, leaving this question where it must be left, both with regard to the general principle involved in all religious speculation, and its ultimate influence on individuals when applied to any given doctrine of the gospel, it would seem that the author of the “ Defense” has been at considerable pains to give us the derivation and definition of the term speculate. But we can hardly repress the inquiry, how it came to pass that he should differ from his author, Dr. Webster, whose definition he quotes respecting its etymology ? This lexicographer derives the verb speculate from the Latin deponent verb speculor; the author of the “ Defense” makes it come from specio.
He quotes the doctor's definition in these words :-“1. To meditate, to contemplate, to consider a subject, by turning it in the mind, and viewing it in all its different aspects and relations.” Now who will question that the respected author of the new system has done this? But, had he saved himself the trouble of defining the verb speculate, and given us Dr. Webster's definition, No. 4, of the substantive speculation, we should have had the very sense in which that term is used in the Calm Review. Nor have we the least objection to his maintaining, that the term thus defined applies with equal propriety to the old theory, which goes on the supposition that heaven was the original habitation of the fallen angels, as it does to the new system, which makes their place of residence to have been some" planetary world.” Because, we conceive, it must be admitted, that the proof in support of both is principally, if not entirely, inferential; the mere construction of certain texts of Scripture. But, let it be remembered, that the Calm Review has not undertaken to sustain the old theory, nor, indeed, to disprove the new. The substance of what it does maintain is this : that, inasmuch as the simple fact of the fall of some of the angels, their present character, employment, and ultimate destiny, is all that is clearly revealed, and all that it is important for us to know, we should be content to possess a knowledge of this alone; not making a vain attempt to determine what the circumstances were which attended its occurrence. These, we conceive, both as to time and place, are not made subjects of divine revelation; but must remain matters of mere hypothesis and
conjecture. Nor can we perceive what will be gained to the cause of our common Christianity, against the various forms and objections of infidelity, by adopting the new theory over the old ; if, indeed, one or the other must be adopted. Will not the captious find objections against both? Does not the new theory involve mystery, allowing it to be true, as well as the old? We think it cannot be denied. For our own part, we subscribe to neither; nor can we, until we are convinced that the history of that event is made a matter of divine revelation.
5. This view of the question appears entirely to have escaped the attention of the author of the “ Defense.” He seems to regard all who decline adopting his new theory, as having espoused the old. But if the subject of necessity involve this dilemma, we have not been able to discover it. Nor can we see why it is not both more becoming us as creatures limited in the compass and strength of our intellectual powers—dark and imperfect as we are in our understandings—as well as more befitting our moral relations to the great Author of our being, who has said,“ the secret things belong to himself,"—to leave all such questions where he, in the revelation which he has given us, has seen fit to leave them.
6. But we hasten to consider the comment and application which the “ Defense” has given of John viii, 44. The design which the Calm Review proposed to accomplish by collating this text with 2 Peter ii, 4, and Jude 6, was to show that the last, which constitutes the main pillar of the new system, when thus collated, speaks but a doubtful language in its favor. This design is met in the “ Defense,” not by an examination of both Peter and John, but, making no reference to the former except in a quotation, by an attempt to show that the latter has no allusion to the defection of Satan from his original standing and character ; but that it refers exclusively to the fall of man. We are not prepared, however, to surrender this declaration of our Saviour to the author of the “ Defense,” without first giving our reasons for applying it as we have done, and examining the arguments by which this reverend brother endeavors to sustain the interpretation given it in the" Defense."
7. He commences his comment and criticism by holding the following language: “If the Saviour in this verse speaks of Satan's downfall, why may we not understand him to teach that he was cast out of heaven for committing murder, as well as that he was punished for not abiding in the truth? To give the verse this interpretation, then, and if the allusion is to his own fall, it is as rational as any other.” He then comes to the conclusion contained in the next sentence, which was evidently uttered for no other reason than to show the absurdity, if not the contradiction, also involved, where this text receives the interpretation given it in the Calm Review. T'he sentence shall speak for itself: “Satan first was guilty of murder, and then of leaving the truth, and for this he had to leave his own habitation!" But does this follow from the application of this text to Satan's own downfall? It is doubtful. Is it not possible that the seeming incongruity arising from the application of this text to the original defection of Satan—not, however, in the manner this is done in the “ Defense"—may have arisen rather in the imagination of the writer than of necessity from the mere application itselí? We sometimes seem to see difficulties where in reality none exist. Is it true, that we must always regard the order of events with respect to time, of necessity, precisely the same with that which has been adopted in the bare statement of such transaction? We con. ceive not in every instance. Is it not perfectly in keeping with the strictest rules of sober criticism, the candid and correct interpreta. tion of Scripture, to change the collocation of the members of a period, in order to render the sense more clear and obvious ? Let this be done with the text in question. Then the reason why Satan " abode not in the truth” is brought first under consideration ; next the act which is here predicated of him—his not abiding in the truth; lastly, his character, which he has uniformly sustained since that event. We cannot see what violence is done the text by this arrangement, whether it is applied to the fall of man, as is done in the " Defense,” or, with the Calm Review, to Satan's own transgression. The question, as to which event it must be applied, still remains to be settled.
8. The “Defense" seems to regard the literal meaning of the original word avopóroktóvs, as the key to the passage. That this word, which is derived from avāpuros, man, and kreivo, to stretch, to kill, literally means, according to Henry," homocida, a man-slayer," there can be no question. But is it true that the appellative, murderer, can consistently be applied to none but an actual “man-killer ?; May not a man as really possess the character and disposition of a murderer, though he has never literally committed the act, as one who has ? Fortunately, on this question we shall not appeal in vain "to the law and to the testimony:"_" Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer," 1 John iii, 15; see also Matt. v, 22 and 28. What, then, we inquire, are the criteria of moral character in man? Are not the motives, and principles of action, from which his conduct springs? May we not say with the Rev. Mr. Jay, that “man judges of motives by actions ; God judges of actions by motives." These motives or principles of action—for we use the terms synonymously-must determine his moral character ; or, on the contrary, the moral quality of his character depends entirely on his actions or manners, and not on his motives or principles. This, it is presumed, no man, possessing a sound cultivated mind, will undertake to maintain. Now, let the same principle be applied to Satan, and we at once see that he might, with the utmost propriety, be denominated a murderer before he instigated our original ancestors to that act which brought into the world both moral and physical death; and this from the mere malignity of his nature.
9. The correctness of this view of the subject also depends upon the ground on which another question is settled —a question of vital importance in determining the correct application of the text in question. Indeed, for any thing we can see to the contrary, as this question is decided, the main question must be. The question is this: Where are we to date the “ beginning," from which era or juncture our Saviour declares Satan was a murderer? The“ Defense" says, from the fall of man. It can fix on no point anterior; because it makes the epithet "man-killer” applicable to Satan on no other consideration than his actually having been the cause of death to man-in what sense, we need not stop here to inquire in order to constitute him, in a proper sense, a murderer. Another fact, as we conceive, must be admitted on the interpretation of this text according to the showing of the “ Defense;" that the transgression of Satan and the fall of man were coetaneous events ; because, according to the “ Defense,” as Satan till now had not become a murderer, so neither had he ceased to “abide in the truth;" or, as Dr. Clarke renders it, “stand" in the truth. For the “ Defense” manifestly assigns his becoming a murderer, and his forsaking the truth, to the same period, and to the same transaction; and we think with the utmost propriety. And as it considers the term murderer predicable only of an actual “man-killer," so it is also bound to fix Satan's departure from the truth to the same event, both as to time and act; or it surrenders the argument, and gives up the text. For if the “ Defense” admit that a creature, actuated by motives the most malevolent, and of a disposition the most depraved, can be entitled to the appellation of murderer, without committing the deed, or something equivalent to it, it at once admits the possibility that Satan may have been called a murderer by our Saviour in view of his malignant disposition; which is the same as to admit the possibility, to say the least, that this text may refer to some other event than the fall of man.
10. In other words; the author of the “ Defense” does, or does not, admit that motives and disposition, as well as vicious actions, constitute the criteria by which we must estimate moral character. Let him take which side he chooses. If he does admit it, then it follows as a consequence, that this disputed text may be applicable to Satan before he actually became the agent in the temptation and fall of man. If he does not, then he not only makes the fall of angels and man cotemporaneous, but also, and in despite of his own theory, he makes the part which Satan took in the fall of man the occasion of his own sin and fall. Because, according to the " Defense," Satan till now "abode” or “stood” in the truth, which, it is most obvious, he could not be said to have done, if the reason assigned in the text for his not abiding in it—"because there is no truth in him"-must not be predicated of him at any time prior to the fall of man. To suppose his character bad, his disposition toward man envious and malicious, as his insidious conduct toward the woman clearly indicates they were, and then apply the words “he abode not in the truth,” to his falsehood respecting the consequence of disobeying the divine prohibition; and we are unavoidably brought to the conclusion, that Satan, all depraved, malignant, and false as he is, was in no proper sense a murderer before the fall of man; and that, with all these reigning attributes of his nature, had he not acted the part he did in that event, or had not the woman yielded to his temptation, he might be said to have “ abode in the truth!” And this too when, at the same time, “there is no truth in him !"
11. We are therefore held to the conclusion, in view of all the consequences which the application of this text to the fall of man must of necessity involve, that the reasons greatly preponderate in favor of its application to the original transgression of Satan. Thus interpreted, "the beginning," from which period he was a murderer, refers, not to the beginning of his own existence, but to the