« PreviousContinue »
places of a similar description. It passed from the Persians to the Greeks, to the Hebrews, to the Latins. We find it employed in this sense in Nehemiah, ii. 8: in Ecclesiastes ii. 5 : in many profane authors; and the Jews gave this name to the garden of Eden in which Adam was placed. You will find it in the second chapter of the book of Genesis. But enough, and more than enough, has been suggested on this head.
4. There is but one particular more that requires some elucidation. I knew a man, adds the apostle, who heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utler. To see things, and to hear words, are, in the style of the sacred writers, frequently used as phrases of similar import, and it is not on this ground that the difficulty of the present article presses. But, what can be the meaning of the apostle, when he asserts that the words which he heard, or the things which he saw, ure unspeakable, and which it is not lawful for a man to utter? Had he been laid under a prohibition to reveal the particulars of his vision ? Had he lost the ideas of it? Or were the things which he had heard and saw of such a nature as to be absolutely inexpressible by mortal lips? There is some plausible reasoning that may be employed in support of each of the three opinions.
The first has numerous partizans. Their belief is that God had revealed mysteries to St. Paul, but with a prohibition to disclose them to the world. They believe that the apostle, after having been rapt into the third heaven, had received a charge similar to that which was given to St. John, in a like situation, and which is transmitted to us in chap. x. of the Book of Revelation, 4th verse; Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. Thus it was that the
Pagans denominated certain of their mysteries ineffible, because it was forbidden to reveal them. Thus, too, the Jews called the name of Jehovah ineffuble, because it was unlawful to pronounce it.
The second opinion is not destitute of probability. As the soul of St. Paul had no sensible intercourse with his body, during this rapture, it is not unlikely, that the objects which struck him, having left no trace in the brain, he lost the recollection of a great part of what he had seen.
But we are under no obligation to restrict ourselves to either of these senses. The words of the original translated unspeakable, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, frequently denote that which is not of a nature to be explained : thus it is said, that the Spirit maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered, Rom. viii. 26. Thus, too, St. Peter mentions a joy unspeakable and full of glory, chap. i. 8. and we shall presently see that the heavenly felicity is, in this sense, unspeakable.
Again, among those who have pursued researches respecting the things which St. Paul declares to be unspeakable, some have pretended to tell us, that he means the divine essence : others, that it was the Hierarchal order of the celestial Intelligences; others, that it was the beauty and excellency of glorified souls ; others, that it was the mystery of the rejection of the Jewish nation, and of the calling of the Gentiles; others, that it was the destination of the Christian church through its successive periods. But wherefore should we attempt to fix precise limits to the things which our apostle heard and saw. He was rapt up to the very seat of the blessed ; and he there, undoubtedly, partook of the felicity which they enjoy.
Had men employed their imagination only, on the discussion of this question, no great harm could have ensued. But it is impossible to behold without indignation, the inventors of fictitious pieces carrying their insolence so far, as to forge writings, which they ascribed to the Spirit of God himself, and in which they pretended those mysteries were explained. St. Epiphanius relates, that certain ancient heretics, these were Gaianites, or Cainites, bad invented a book, which was afterwards adopted by the Gnostics. They gave it the name of The Ascension of St. Paul, and presume to allege, that this book discovered what those unspeakable things were, which the apostle had heard. St. Augustin speaks of the same work, as a gross imposture. Nicephorus tells us, that a story was current, under the emperor Theodosius, of the discovery, in the house of St. Paul at Tarsus, of a marble chest, buried in the earth, and which contained the Apocalypse of St. Paul. He himself refutes this fiction by the testimony of a man of Tarsus, a member of the Presbytery.
The impostor, who is the author of the work ascribed to Dionysius, the Areopagite, and who gives himself out as that illustrious proselyte of our apostle, boasts of his having heard him relate wonderful things, respecting the nature, the glory, the gifts, the beauty of angels; and upon this testimony it is that he founds the chimerical idea which he has given us of the celestial hierarchy.
But let us have done with all these frivolous conjectures, with all these impious fictions. We are going to propose much nobler objects to your meditation, and to examine, as has been said, this singular, but interesting question: Wherefore is the celestial glory of such a nature as to defy description? Why is it not lawful for a man to ulter them? We are going to avail ourselves of this inability to describe these gloriously unspeakable things, as the means of conveying to you exalted ideas of them, and of kindling in your souls more ardent desires after the possession of them. This shall be the subject of the second part of our dis
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL.
2 Cor. xii. 2, 3, 4.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the
body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth ;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth ;) how that he was caught up into Paradise, and beard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
AVING presented you with some brief elu
cidations of the expressions of the text, namely, 1. respecting the era to which reference is here made; I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago : 2. respecting the manner of his raprure; whether in the body, I cannot tell ; or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth : 3. respecting the place to which St. Paul was caught : Paradise, the third heaven : and 4. respecting what he there saw and heard ; unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter : We proceed to,