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SERMON BY THE REV. H. MELVILL.
THURSDAY, MAY 9, 1833.
DELIVERED BY THE REV. H. MELVILL,
AT CAMDEN CHAPEL, CAMBERWELL, JUNE 2, 1833.
Hebrews, ix. 16, 17.-" For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth."
THERE are few portions of Scripture on which men's opinions are more divided, than on that which we have just read. The difficulty lies in the meaning which should be affixed to the word which is here translated "testament." The word is one of frequent occurrence, but bears generally the sense of a covenant; and no other verse can be adduced in which it expressly signifies the last will of a person. We divide the Bible, indeed, into the Old Testament, and the New Testament, deriving the titles from St. Paul's account of the Jewish and Christian dispensations. In the third chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthians, he speaks of himself as "a minister of the New Testament ;" and of the Jew as having "a veil on his heart in reading the Old Testament." From these expressions of the Apostle, the church, in very early times, applied the terms to those sacred writings which belong respectively to the two dispensations; but it is hardly to be ques
tioned, that the English titles "the old covenant," and "the new covenant" would better express it, and such definition would agree more accurately with the things which are defined. If the writings of the Gospel dispensation may be styled a testament, or will, as consigning to the Christian an inheritance procured by the death of the testator, it might be hard to show that those of the Jewish, possessed the nature of a testamentary document. The notion of a covenant accords well with both; the law was strictly the covenant of works, whilst the Gospel is as strictly the covenant of grace; and nothing, therefore, can be more accurate than the defining as "the old covenant," and "the new covenant," the inspired writings which had mainly to do, the one with a legal justification, the other with justification by faith.
But whatever the reasons for using "testament," and not "covenant," in the titles and divisions of the
pendent grounds, which translation
Bible, we must examine, on inde- | time of the party whose document it is. It is certain, indeed, that covenants which are to be ratified by sacrifice, require the slaying of the victim in order to their validity. In this sense it may be possible to maintain that where a covenant is, there must be the death of the covenantor. If the covenant be one which must be ratified by sacrifice, and if that samoreover, must be a covenanting party, then of such covenant it will hold good, that it is of no force at all while the covenantor liveth. But it can hardly, we think, be fair thus to load and limit the idea of a covenant; and where the Apostle is speaking generally, to introduce a particular case requiring such a variety of suppositions. And thus we may be said to have two difficulties between which to choose. If we use the word "testament" in our text, we have a violent transition in sense, because in the foregoing verse the same word means 66 covenant;" but if to avoid this transition we use the word " covenant," we turn our text into a proposition which is not generally true, and which can only be substantiated by the most refined species of reasoning. Of these two difficulties, we are free to own, that we think it least to retain the word "testament" in our text.
We always object, unless the necessity is most urgent, to the adopting any alteration in the established version of the Bible. We are far
rence to this version, as though we considered it in no respect capable of improvement: the marginal read
It is a true, and an allowed pro-enough, indeed, from a blind reveposition, that where a testament is, there must be the death of the testator; we are all aware that from the very nature of the case until the will-ings themselves are a sufficient proof maker is dead the will is not in force. that our translators were not satisfied But it is not an equally true proposi- of its unvarying accuracy, and theretion, that where a covenant is, therefore, they left to the reader's judgmust be the death of the covenantor; ment a choice of the sense which
a covenant, though not a testament, may be quite valid during the life
should, in some cases be attributed. But it is undeniable that for the most
part the translation is wonderfully correct, and that the unlearned reader may with perfect confidence depend on it; and in the present instance, where there is as much in favour of the version as against, we should think it strongly to be deprecated that our text should be preached under any form but that of the authorized translation. In fact, it seems to us that St. Paul took advantage of the double meaning of the Greek word which he uses, and illustrates his subject the more copiously by employing it in one place for a covenant," and in another for a "testament;" and we shall possibly, as we advance, find reason to conclude, that the full sense of the passage is only to be evolved by our attaching to the word its double signification-by bearing in mind that a "covenant" and "testament" are alike designated by the word which the Apostle employs.
We would briefly explain this point before we proceed further. If a covenant be of such a nature that it requires the shedding of blood in order to its ratification, it may be said, in certain respects, to resemble a testament or will. The great peculiarity of a testament is, that there must be death before it can be valid. Hence if the covenant be so constructed, that it is of no effect without a death, such a covenant would possess the great peculiarity of a testament. After all, there is not the wide difference which, at the first sight, we may suppose between a covenant and a testament. If I make a will, I may, in one sense, be said to covenant and agree to give certain things to certain parties upon the condition of my death; so that a testament is virtually a species of covenant. And if, on the other hand, two parties enter into a covenant, and the terms of this covenant require that one of them should die, you all see, that without
any great forcing of language, the covenant may be considered as the testament or will of the sacrificed individual.
Thus it may be, that our text will be best understood if we combine the notion of a covenant and a testament; it is certainly only by such a combination that we can keep up with the idea of a testament under the Jewish, as well as the Christian dispensation. GOD made a covenant with the Israelites, but then this covenant was ratified by the shedding of blood; in other words, there must be death to give the covenant its validity; and the covenant which required death in order to its completeness, might, as we have shown you, without any thing overstrained in language, be designated a "testament." So that under these limitations and under these conditions, we can attach the name of a "testament" to that covenant which GOD made with Israel at Sina. In the verse following our text, it is asserted according to our translation, "whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated with blood;" and then again, Moses having taken the blood of calves and goats is stated to have said, "This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you." On the ordinary notion of a "testament" there is something harsh and almost unintelligible in these phrases; but when you remember, that the thing made was, indeed a covenant, but a covenant not valid without bloodshedding, and that a covenant which requires death for its validity partakes strongly of the nature of a testament or will, the seeming harshness is in a great degree removed, and the language becomes sufficiently explicit.
Now we trust that these remarks, which we have endeavoured to make as simple as the subject would allow,
will help you to the understanding of a portion of Scripture which is confessedly difficult. If you read attentively the verses which have given rise to this discussion you cannot avoid being perplexed with the use of the word "testament," when the notion of a testament or will, seems out of keeping with the argument in hand; but when we inform you that the word translated "testament," | means equally "covenant," and is generally so rendered in our version of the New Testament, you then ask, whether "covenant" ought to be substituted for "testament" in our text and its context? We think not. There are reasons in favour of its substitution, but, as we have shown you, there seem to be stronger against it; but whilst we retain the word "testament" we prove to you that in one case, and that, undoubtedly, a case most prominent in Scrip-removal of this objection. If a man ture, a covenant bears a close ana- is worth 1000l. he may bequeath me logy to a testament. Hence it will that 10007.; and thus his death, conbe well, rather it will be necessary, sidered as the mere separation of his that, in expounding the passage before soul from his body, will make me the us, we lose not sight of either sig- owner of the money. But take the nification, but so combine the notion following case which is perfectly supof a testament and a covenant as to posable-a criminal is sentenced to consider Christ Jesus to have made die, but is allowed, if he can, to find the one in making the other. a substitute. He offers 1000l. for a substitute; and an individual comes forward and agrees on these terms to die in his stead. Now certainly this substitute may will away the 10007., and yet nothing but his death entitles him to the 10007. He might, for example, have long striven in vain to earn a livelihood for his family; he might then, calculating that his family would be more benefitted by his death than his life, determine to sacrifice himself in order to procure for them the proper remuneration; and, without question, he might make a will which would secure to his children the property to which the value of his death would alone give him right. He
We have now sufficiently cleared the way, by a critical examination of the difficulties of the verse, for entering on those glorious truths which they undoubtedly present. The exhibition which we are called upon to survey, is that of our Saviour under the character of a testator; as the maker, that is, of a will, which could only become valid by the death of the party who made it. Now you will see at once, that there is a peculiarity in this exhibition which marks it off from other representations of the scheme and the system of human salvation. If Christ Jesus is displayed as bequeathing to the world legacies,
which legacies could not be paid except after his death, then it may be said, that it was the fact, the simple historical fact of his death, and not any merit which there was in that death, which entailed the large blessings on the race of mankind. It is certain that if a man makes a will in my favour, then the death of this man, his simple death, and not any virtue which there is in his death, will put me into possession of the goods which he bequeaths. And if by parity of reasoning the Redeemer is to be considered as a testator, or will-maker, does not the representation take away from the meritoriousness of his death, and, at least, show that it was not because his sufferings were expiatory and precious, that such and such blessings have been obtained for us?
A few words will suffice for the