« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
right emotion of the affections, and every just determination of the will; and the folly and impotency of human reason in matters of religion without his constant influences. This commanding truth is just as much adapted to meet the evils of a reasoning age, as the doctrine of justification was to correct those of a superstitious one. As Luther overthrew the whole edifice of human merits and traditions, by the one great principle of free pardon through the blood of Christ; so must we "cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," by the mighty principle of subjection to the, teaching and grace of the Holy Spirit.
Independently of this argument, drawn from the peculiar current of evil in a day like the present, there is a further reason for calling attention to this doctrine. A peculiar effusion of the influences of the Spirit of God is the blessing promised, under the New Testament dispensation, as the promise of the Messiah was that of the old. At the Reformation, the doctrine of free justification by faith in Christ, which had been lost for ages, was recovered. We now need to recover that appropriate blessing of our dispensation, the doctrine of the operations of the Holy Ghost. It requires to be developed fully, to be enforced in connexion with the responsibility and the efforts of man, tried by the written standard of the Bible and the Bible only, and evidenced by the solid virtues of the Christian temper and life. Our parishes will never be roused, our congregations never converted, the objections of human reason never silenced, the souls of men never brought to the Saviour, ministers never clothed with the panoply of righteousness, societies for Bibles and missions never vigorous and united, and their efforts never adequately blessed, till the need of our dependence upon the
influences of the Holy Ghost is more proclaimed, and his presence more ardently and constantly implored by fervent prayer.
It occurs to us, also, that perhaps more remains to be done as to the further illustration of the Scripture doctrine respecting the Holy Ghost, than as to any other great topic. The blessing of justification, obscured or unknown for eleven or twelve centuries, was regained to the church by the immense and reiterated labours of Luther. Perhaps the full doctrine of the Holy Ghost, after three centuries more, is now to be developed by the joint efforts of those who at all imbibe his Spirit. The baptismal controversy has opened the subject, and shed much light upon many parts of it. Still the language of the Reformation, on the sacrament of baptism and the kindred topics, has not yet perhaps been completely and satisfactorily examined, and the clergy of our church are far from feeling entirely convinced of the manner in which all the different statements of the Scriptures on this wide subject may best be understood and reconciled. Is it too much to hope that more light may be soon shed on this question, and that human authorities may be held of less moment and the Divine record be more simply allowed to sway in the arbitration of it? Perhaps it was reserved for this late age, when the glory of the Spirit of God is to be manifested, to vindicate this mystery of grace in the eyes and to the hearts of the universal church. A great step to such a success would be feeling our need of his blessed influences more deeply, and more earnestly uniting in prayer for the actual increase of them amongst us. Luther was the better prepared to receive the doctrine of justification by his own acute feelings, by a conscience agitated with a sense of sin, by the necessities of his religious state before God. He never speaks of it but as a man whose entire hope
reposed on this free remission. In like manner, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost will never be scripturally brought out and made prominent but by deep and awful convictions of our own ignorance and weakness, of the evil of sin, of the impotency of nature, of the power of temptation, of the hourly necessity, to our own right perception of truth and our own comfort and holiness, of the gracious influences of the Spirit. 4. But a fourth inference from the volume of ecclesiastical history before us, and one connected with the preceding, is, a conviction of the decline of the Protestant Churches generally since the period of the Reformation, and of their languid progress in the course which was then opened. The great revivers of Divine truth set before the Protestant nations, whom they were the instruments of illuminating, an open door. The progress of the Reformed doctrines was only begun by themselves. Popery remained to be assailed and overthrown, by the succeeding age, in large portions of Christendom, and the dawn of grace in various lands was left to be brought on to the meridian day. The heathens were to be illuminated and the Mohammedan states reduced to the obedience of the faith. The truth of Christ was to be extended also throughout the mass of those countries where it had been adopted by the established authorities and incorporated into the public creed. Unity, peace, holiness, and spirituality were to be permanently established, so far at least as the efforts of human agents could secure this blessed result. All things courted the Protestant communities to pursue their noble career. But what has been the history of the three centuries which have since elapsed? What have been the advances and conquests of truth? What the measure of zeal in missions? What the labours for converting the world? What the care to preserve peace and truth in the Protestant countries? What the
purity and zeal which have burnt in the sanctuary of their temple? What the jealous watchfulness over the deposit of the Gospel? What the diligence in educating children, catechising youth, and diffusing in the several subdivisions of Protestant lands the holy truths consigned in their public formularies? The anwer to such inquiries will, unhappily, disclose a decline in the Reformed Churches. We cannot extend our remarks, as regards this inquiry, to any length; but we may select, as a specimen, the system of Rationalism, so called, in Germany. Let the reader compare the Saxon Churches in 1826, with the same bodies in 1526-Luther, with the present theological professors-the Confession of Augsburg, or the comment on the Galatians by him, with the wretched and almost blasphemous things called comments of the last fifty years-the humble faith in the authoritative word of Christ of the Reformed age, with the levity and unbelief of the present. But why do we say compare? Let the reader contrast the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, and the reverence of interpretation flowing from it, and the holy subjection to its plain meaning, which elevated and sanctified the first Reformed teachers, with the denial of all inspiration, the flippant presumption of criticism, and the wresting of the sacred text to the destruction of souls, which disgrace the present,— the Trinity, the incarnation, and the descent of the Spirit denied; the doctrine of the Fall set aside; heathen philosophers raised almost to a level with Christ-the gift of prophecy explained away-the miracles enervated, and overthrown as proofs of a Divine mission; in short, every law of thought, of sense, of language outraged; and such improbable reasonings, and false and misapplied philology, introduced, as no church, no nation, no age can furnish, except the philosophical school of divinity erected in the Protestant Church of Germany in the eighteenth century:
(see Rev. H. J. Rose of Horsham's,
But let us look at home: what
made in the body of our own church; of the Church of Christ. how faint is the prevalent notion, in the educated and higher classes, of what a clergyman should really and dignity of the episcopal funcbe, and what are the true character tion! Even in our houses of parliament, where is the meek but firm voice of Christianity to be heard, where the sacred principles on which revelation proceeds admitted, where the foundations of the Christian faith fairly laid under the superstructure of our policy? We are reminded indeed of the errors and enthusiasm of the Puritans. Allowing this, the faults of others are no excuse for our own revolt from God. Religion is the stability of states. Obedience to God is the way to national prosperity. The true philosophy of a Christian government is to act upon the great principles of the Gospel. We thank God for what amendment has taken place of late years; and we make these reflections, that, knowing from whence may be more entire and immediate. we have fallen, our return to God
which the review of the times of 5. The next deduction, therefore, Luther suggests, is, the importance of using all means, individually and collectively, for the further revival of religion in our own circle, and throughout the universal church, especially by prayer to God for the influence of his Holy Spirit to raise his truth and carry on his cause. up men in church and state to assert The history before us proclaims, that a general revival of religion can only be reasonably expected in the that the glorious brightness of the use of suitable means. It was thus Reformation was introduced. Efforts were made by each person in his own circle; devout men were raised up, in answer to the prayers of the faithful; the churches were filled with holy and enlightened pastors; governments lent their aid; princes and counsellors of state felt the influence of religion, and obeyed that influence; the doctrine of Christ was diffused by means of schools
amongst the poor; a bold and con-
In like manner we cannot, from reason or Scripture, expect the wide diffusion of the Gospel now without means being employed, and suitable instruments being formed by the great Head of the church. These will vary in their particular characters, according to the circumstances for which they are to be adapted. We cannot expect a Luther, or Melancthon, or Pontanus, or Frederick to reappear, any more than their individual proceedings or writings to be repeated. We might almost as well look for the wonders of Pentecost, and of the miraculous propagation of the Gospel, to revisit the church; and yet in a proper sense, both the prodigies of the one, and the amazing labour and success of the other, shall bless and are blessing these later ages. We have not the gift of tongues, but we have a far greater variety of languages acquired by ordinary exertion. We have not apostolic preaching and miracles, but we have multiplied copies of the Holy Scriptures, which reproduce that preaching and those miracles in every tongue. We have not a pacified world united under one sceptre, but we have the same world accessible by the relations of commerce and the art of navigation. We have not that extraordinary machinery of Providence which accompanied the first establishment of Christianity, but we have similar aids in the progress of ordinary events. Nor are the means
afforded to Luther and his comrades, fifteen centuries after the death of the Apostles, such as to discourage us under the aspect of things around us in the present day. Whatever that great reformer effected, in shaking to its foundation the anti-Christian corruption, and proclaiming the heavenly doctrine of Christ, was in a way rather to enliven our hopes of a similar success three centuries after his labours. The exertions of individual Christians are as open to us as to him and his contemporaries. The extraordinary simplicity and efficacy of the Bible Societies place us on an elevation which the progress of the arts, connected with the power of the press, the wide diffusion of general education, and the resources and commerce of Christian countries, enable us to employ to an extent far beyond any thing known by the Reformed leaders. We have only to labour at the diffusion of this one fundamental blessing, in order to prepare for the reception of every other. Missions again are far more within the reach of the present age, than they were of the newly reformed one. The powers, quite unparalleled, of small individual contributions and efforts, united by voluntary and recog nized principles of association, are the offspring of our own times, and have only yet begun to produce their astonishing effects. Again, the free constitution and moral energy of our own land, and the diffusion of similar blessings in other Protestant countries, prepare a way for the piety and decision of rulers, and nobles, and statesmen, and scholars, and merchants, and artists to evince themselves. Further, the disposition to inquire into the Christian records, manifested by the chief heathen nations, especially in India, encourages our expectations of a vast diffusion of the religion of Christ. The spirit of discovery and commercial enterprize also needs only to be consecrated to religion, to open new channels
for communicating the blessings of the Gospel. The horrors of WestIndia slavery cannot be separated in our minds from that total want of religious feeling which has occasioned them, and that increase of the extent of the spiritual church which we trust will accompany their suppression. And, in our national establishment, the rapidly augmenting number of devoted and enlightened ministers is an omen of untold blessings. Each faithful clergyman is a pastor to the truly pious, and an evangelist to the formal and unrighteous; whilst the Bible and missionary institutions afford, to a considerable extent, the means of exciting every part of the country from occasional languor, and propagating a higher tone of religious charity and love. These advantages in our English Church, aided by the effects of a full toleration, and the labours of the various bodies of sincere Christians which that toleration nourishes, only require to be more adequately employed, to raise our own population to the true Christian character; and, in doing this, to promote the temper and propagate the zeal which will extend Christian missions on every side. To all these means there must, however, be added a fervent perseverance in prayer for the blessed influences of the Holy Spirit of God, with a deep practical conviction that all depends, in a ruined, lost world, on his supreme grace and benediction, not only to give efficacy to the labours used for the illumination of the world, but also to preserve clearly and strongly at home, the holy fire of love and truth by which all foreign missions ought to be animated.
6. And this thought immediately leads to a further inference from the volume of church history now before us; the danger of false candour and undue concessions, whilst we aim at sinking subordinate points and cultivating a spirit of union and love. For to cherish a temper of benevolence and Christian love is
of essential importance. Nothing can be expected without it. The joint labours of the various religious bodies by which the work of the conversion of the world must be carried on, can only be held together by a deep and genuine Christian benevolence. Subordinate matters must be left to their subordinate importance. Secondary or doubtful truths must not be elevated into the exclusive tests of a party. Novelties in religion must be diligently avoided; and the plain, old, acknowledged doctrines and precepts of Christianity must be strongly insisted on, and insisted on in the temper of love. The different divisions of Christians must pursue each its own course of interior discipline and external benevolence, with mutual good-will, mutual prayers, mutual sympathy; neither wasting time in controversies or mere circumstantials, nor confounding all order by a vain attempt at amalgamating in one uniform body the heterogeneous mass of Christendom. The scheme-the vain, the narrow-minded schemeof promoting union by a forced uniformity, must not again be obtruded on the Christian Church. It is inconsistent with the infirmity of man, and tends to irritate the divisions which it may succeed for a time in concealing. The plan of the reformers, which for twenty years seemed to promise a ground of concord-the convoking of a general and freely elected council -was not more visionary than the enterprise of reducing all the modes of Christian profession to one uniform standard. We thank God that considerable advances have been made towards a substantial and scriptural union, wholesome, enlightened, and pure. The present day is distinguished for a more noble and catholic temper than was prevalent in former times, partaking less of the acrimony of party, and more of the inspiration of truth and love. There is far less disposition than formerly to confound