« ÎnapoiContinuă »
from the afflictions and miseries of this present life; but yet not possessed of perfect blessedness in God's immediate presence. Therefore they conclude, that there was some room for prayer, that the degree of happiness which they were possessed of, might be continued, or rather, that it might in the end, be perfected, when they are raised from the dead, and admitted to partake of the heavenly blessedness.
Others thought, that at death, the sentence was not peremptorily past either on the righteous or the wicked, so that there was room left for them to pray for the increase of the happiness of the one, or of the mitigation of the torment of the other; and therefore, in different respects, they prayed for all, both good and bad, especially for those who were within the pale or inclosure of the church; and above all, for such as were useful to, and highly esteemed by it.
The principal thing that is said in vindication of this practice (for what has been but now mentioned, as the ground and reason thereof, will by no means justify it) is, that though the souls of believers are in heaven; yet their happiness will not be, in all respects, complete, till the day of judgment: Therefore, in their prayers, they chiefly had regard to the consummation of their blessedness at Christ's second coming, together with the continuance thereof, till then; without supposing that they received any other advantage thereby. And, inasmuch as this is not a matter of uncertainty, they farther observe, that many things are to be prayed for, which shall certainly come to pass, whether we pray for them or no; e. g. the gathering of the whole number of the elect, and the coming of Christ's kingdom of glory: Therefore they suppose, that the advantage principally redounds to those who put up prayers to God for them, as hereby they express their faith in the doc trine of the resurrection, and the future blessedness of the saints, and the communion that there is between the church militant and triumphant.
This is the fairest colour that can be put upon that ancient practice of the church, and the many instances that we meet with, in the writings of the Fathers, concerning their prayers for the dead *.
• That several of the Fathers practised and pleaded for praying for the dead, ie evident from what Cyprian says, Epist. xxxix. concerning the church's offering sa crifices, by which he means prayers for the martyrs; among whom, he particularly, mentions Laurentius and Ignatius, on the yearly return of those days, on which the memorial of their martyrdom was celebrated. And Eusebius, in the life of Constantine, Lib. iv. Cap. lxxi. when speaking concerning the funeral obsequies performed for that monarch, says, that a great number of people, with tears and lamentations poured forth prayers to God for the emperor's soul. And Gregory Nazianzen, prayed for his brother Cæsarius after his death. Vid. Ejusd in Fun. Cæsar, Orat.
Also Ambrose prayed for the religious emperors, Valentinian and Gratian, and,
Thus concerning the practice of the church, before we read of the fictitious place which the Papists call purgatory; where they fancy, that separate souls endure some degrees of torment, and are relieved by the prayers of their surviving friends; which was not known to the church before the seventh century; and is without any foundation from scripture, as has been before observed under a foregoing answer *. Now since this was formerly defended, and is now practised by the Papists, the contrary doctrine is asserted in this answer, viz. that we are not to pray for the dead; and that this may farther ap pear, let it be considered,
That the state of every man is unalterably fixed, at death; so that nothing remains which can be called an addition to the happiness of the one, or the misery of the other, but what is the result of the re-union of the soul and body at the resurrection; and therefore to pray that the saints may have greater degrees of glory conferred upon them, or sinners a release from that state of misery in which they are, is altogether ungrounded; and therefore such prayers must be concluded to be unlawful. That the state of man is fixed at death is sufficiently evident from scripture: Thus our Saviour, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, speaks of the one as immediately carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom, Luke xvi. 22, &'c. (by which, notwithstanding what some ancient writers have asserted to the contrary, we are to understand heaven;) and the other as being in a place of torments, without any hope or probability of the least mitigation thereof; whereby hell, not purgatory is intended: And the apostle says, It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment, Heb. ix. 27, by which he intends, that all men must leave the world; and when they are parted from it, their state is determined by Christ; though this is not done in so public and visible a manner, as it will be in the general judgment: If therefore the state of men be unalterably fixed at death; it may be justly inferred from thence, that there is no room for any one to put up prayers to God on their behalf: Prayer must have some proof on which it relies, otherwise it cannot be addressed to God by faith; or, as the apostle expresses it, nothing wavering, James i. 6. Now, if we have no ground to conclude that our prayers shall be heard and answered; or have any doubt in our spi
for Theodosius, and for his brother Satyrus. Vid. Ejusd. de obit. Valentin. Theodos. & Satyr. And Augustin speaks of his praying for his mother Monica, after her decease, in Confess. Lib. ix. Cap. xiii. And Epiphanius defends this practice with so much warmth, that he can hardly forbear charging the denial hereof, as one of Aerius's heresies. Vid. Epiphan. hæres. lxxv. And some Popish writers, when defending their praying for the dead, have, with more malice than reason, sharged the Protestants with being Aerians, upon this account.
• See Quest. lxxxvi. page 313.
vits whether the thing prayed for be agreeable to the will of God; such a prayer cannot be put up in faith, and therefore is not lawful.
Obj. 1. The Papists, in defence of the contrary doctrine, are very much at a loss for scriptures to support it: However, there is one, taken from a passage in the apocryphal writings, in which Judas Maccabeus, and his company, are represented as praying and offering a sin-offering, and thereby making reconciliation for the dead, i. e. some that had been slain in battle, 2 Maccab. xii. 43,-45.
Answ. The reply that some make to this, is, that the prayers for the dead here spoken of, are of a different nature from those which the Papists make use of in the behalf of those whom they pretend to be in purgatory, or, that they prayed for nothing but what some of the Fathers, as before-mentioned did, viz. that they might be raised from the dead, whereby they expressed their faith in the doctrine of the resurrection: But, I think there is a better reply may be given to it, namely, that the argument is not taken from any inspired writing; and therefore no more credit is to be given to it than any other hu man composure, in which some things are true, and others false: And as for this book in particular, the author himself plainly intimates that he did not receive it by divine inspiration; for he says, If I have done well, and as it is fitting the story, it is that which I desired; but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto, chap. xv. 38. which is very honestly said; but not like an inspired writer, and therefore nothing that is said therein is a sufficient proof of any important article of faith or practice, such as that is, which we are now defending.
Obj. 2. It is farther objected, that the apostle Paul puts up a short and affectionate prayer for Onesiphorus, in 2 Tim. i. The Lord grant unto him, that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day; whereas, it is concluded by some, that, at the time the apostle wrote this epistle, Onesiphorus was dead, since there are two petitions put up, one in this verse for him, and another in ver. 16. for his house; and in chap. iv. 19. when he salutes some of his friends, according to his custom, he makes mention of the household of Onesiphorus, not of him, This turn Grotius himself gives of this scripture *. And the Papists greedily embrace it, as it gives countenance to their practice of praying for the dead.
Answ. It is but a weak foundation that this argument is built on; for though Paul salutes his household, and not himself, in the close of this epistle, it does not follow from hence,
* Vid. Grat. in loc.
that he was dead; for he might be absent from his family at this time, as he often was, when engaged in public service, as being sent by the church, as their messenger, to enquire concerning the progress and success of the gospel in other parts; or to carry relief to those who were suffering in Christ's cause : It may be, the apostle might be informed that he was then in his way to Rome, where he was himself a prisoner when he wrote this epistle; and if so, it would not have been proper to send salutations to him, whom he expected shortly to see, while, at the same time, he testified the great love he bore to him and all his family, as being a man of uncommon zeal for the interest of Christ and religion.
(2.) They are not to be prayed for who have sinned the sin unto death. This sin we read of, as what excludes persons from forgiveness, in scripture, Matt. xii. 32. in which such things are said concerning it, as should make us fear and tremble, not only lest we should be left to commit it, but give way to those sins which border upon it; and there is enough expressed therein to encourage us to hope that we have not committed it; which is the principal thing to be insisted on, when we treat on this subject in our public discourses, or any are tempted to fear, lest they are guilty of it. Here let it be observed, that though it be called the sin unto death, we are not to suppose that it is one particular act of sin, but rather a course or complication of sins, wherein there are many ingredients of the most heinous nature. And,
[1.] That it cannot be committed by any but those who have been favoured with gospel light; for it always contains in it a rejection of the gospel, which supposes the revelation or preaching thereof.
[2.] It is not merely a rejecting the gospel, though attended with sufficient objective evidence, in those who have not had an inward conviction of the truth thereof, or whose opposition to it proceeds principally from ignorance, as the apostle says concerning himself, that though he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious; yet he obtained mercy, because he did it ignorantly, in unbelief, 1 Tim. i. 13.
[3.] It is a rejecting the gospel which we once professed to embrace, and therefore carries in it the nature of apostacy: Thus the Scribes and Pharisees, when they attended on John's ministry, professed their willingness to adhere to Christ, and afterwards, when he first appeared publicly in the world, they were convinced in their consciences, by the miracles which he wrought, that he was the Messiah; though, after this they were offended in him, and ashamed to own him, because of the humbled state and condition in which he appeared in the world;
for which reason, they, in particular, were charged with this sin in the scripture before-mentioned.
[4.] It also contains in it a rejecting of Christ and the known truth, out of envy, and this attended with reviling, persecuting, and using their utmost endeavours to extirpate and banish it out of the world, and beget in the minds of men the greatest detestation of it: Thus the Jews are said to deliver Christ out of envy, Matt. xxvii, 18. and with the same spirit they persecuted the gospel.
[5.] Such as are guilty of this sin, have no conviction in their consciences of any crime committed herein; but stop their ears against all reproof, and set themselves, with the greatest hatred and malice, against those, who, with faithfulness, admonish them to the contrary.
[6.] They go out of the way of God's ordinances, and wilfully exclude themselves from the means of grace, which they treat with the utmost contempt, and use all those endeavours that are in their power, that others may be deprived of them. [7.] This condition they not only live but die in; so that their apostacy is not only total, but final.
However, I cannot but observe, that some are of opinion. that this sin cannot be now committed, because we have not the dispensation of miracles, whereby the Christian religion was incontestibly proved, in our Saviour's and the apostles' time: And the main thing in which it consisted in the scripture before-mentioned, in Matt. xii. was, in that the Pharisees were charged with saying, that Christ cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils; whereby they intimate that those miracles, which they had before been convinced of the truth of, as being wrought by the finger of God, were wrought by the devil: which supposes that they were eye-witnesses to such-like miracles wrought, which we cannot be: Therefore it is concluded by some, that this sin cannot now be committed; inasmuch as the dispensation of miracles is ceased. But this method of reasoning will not appear so strong and conclusive, if we consider, that though, it is true, the gospel is not now confirmed to us by miracles; yet we have no less ground to believe that the christian religion was confirmed by this means, than if we had been present at the working of these miracles. Nevertheless, though it should be alleged, that this ingredient cannot, in every circumstance, be contained in the sin against the Holy Ghost, in our day; yet there are other things included in the description of it, before-mentioned, in which it principally consists, that bear a very great resemblance to that sin which we have been considering: As for instance, if persons have formerly believed Christ to be the Messiah, and been persuaded that this was incontestibly proved by the mi