Изображения страниц

measured language in which the Founder of the system indulged, even against characters the most venerable for rank and station. The answers, 'It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs,' and 'Let the dead bury the dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God,' would be converted into proofs of inso

lence and imperiousness: while the sentences, I am not come to send peace upon earth, but a sword;' I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I if it be already kindled;' would be considered as avowals, that the Author of the doctrine cared not what consequences followed from his attempts to establish it. The Epistles to the Galatians and the Corin

thians would be eminently serviceable to the composer of such a work. They would detect the same disagreements occurring among some principal agents in the cause (Gal. ii. 11-14), as are objected to the Protestants; the same divisions and concontentions among their converts; and abuses of sacred ordinances not less gross. Nay, the foulest charge of all, that men became more immoral and vile after embracing the reformed doctrine than ever before, would

not be without its parallel from the very words of an apostle-such fornication among you as is not so much as named among the gentiles.' Yet who does not see that all would be perversion and misrepresentation, and of no real weight? As it would be in the one case, so is it in the other." pp. 554, 555.

The other passage is of a different order: it is simple and natural, but elevated. It refers to the death of Luther. "Thus died in peace the man, who, bearing no higher office than that of an Augustinian monk, and afterwards of a Protestant professor of divinity, had shaken to its centre one of the most firmlyseated systems of despotism and delusion that the world ever beheld; who had provoked, and for nearly thirty years together defied, the utmost malice of those mighty powers, which had a little time before made the proudest monarchs to tremble on their thrones; while, for the suppression of his principles, diet after diet of the German empire, aided by the representatives of the papal authority, met in vain. His hand had been against every man that was engaged on the side of reigning error, and every such man's hand was against him; yet not one of them could touch a hair of his head to his hurt: he lived and died unharmed, not only in the presence of all his brethren,' but in despite of all his enemies. So marvellous is the providence of God; so inexhaustible is his store of means for accomplishing 'all his pleasure; and so secure, under all circumstances, is the man over whom the shield of his protection is extended." p. 478.

We proposed, as the last general

division of this article, to make such practical deductions with regard to the duty of Protestant Christians in the present day, as may naturally be drawn from the whole subject.

1. Thankfulness to Almighty God for the blessings of the Reformation, is the first practical duty suggested by the volume before us. What do we not owe, as Englishmen, as Protestants, as Christians, to the heroic constancy and evangelical labours of the reformers! But for their efforts, who knows but some scourge similar to that of the Mohammedan imposture might have been sent into the West, as it was into the East, unless, indeed, which is more probable considering the development of European intellect, scepticism or deism had preoccupied its place? The anti-Christian corruptions of the one division of Christendom in the sixteenth century were as gross, and nearly as fundamental, as those of the other division of it in the seventh. But the mercy of God raised up Luther and his fellow-labourers to reform, instruct, and illuminate the European churches, instead of permitting some second Mohammed (or, shall we rather say some apostle of infidelity?) to enslave and to destroy them: and amongst all the nations of Europe, there is not one which has such peculiar reasons for gratitude to God as our own. Where are now the churches of France? Where the awakened cities and states of Austria? Where the inquiring provinces of Italy? Where the evangelical aspirations of Spain? And even if we compare our church with those which still retain the Protestant name, how superior our grounds for praising God! For what has been, and is, the state of the Swiss reformed churches; of the Genevese, the German, the Swedish, the Danish, the Norwegian, the Dutch? Where is there so pure and scriptural a national creed in effective operation as in our own country? Where so bright an effulgence of evangelical light? Where, notwithstanding any remaining civil

disabilities, is toleration granted so amply to the varying modes of Christian worship, or of religious effort resorted to by tender or mis informed consciences? Where, with many deplorable exceptions, especially in our cities, is education more widely diffused? Where is there a system of doctrine and discipline more freely admitting the practical revival of pure and undefiled re ligion? Where are the Scriptures more studied, or more purely expounded? We are aware, that large, very large, deductions, must be made from these statements; but still our present point, the duty of gratitude to God, is not weakened by the consideration of our failing to make a due use of the vast advantages we enjoy. Let the reader consider only the position of this country in the present day with respect to the conversion of the heathen nations, our civil and religious freedom, our wealth and resources, our extended commerce opening to us an intercourse with every part of the world, our influence, the principles of improvement which are fermenting on all sides, the reawakened spirit of religious inquiry, the establishment and progress of so many great societies for the diffusion of the Gospel, and the attention which is fixed upon us by other nations, and he will discover abundant testimonies of the Divine mercy, and corresponding reasons for grateful acknowledgment.

There are two points however, relative to our own country, which occur to us as peculiarly demanding our thanksgivings, when we look forward to the conversion of mankind-OUR LIBERTY, RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL; AND THE EXTENT OF OUR EMPIRE. Let the considerate reader reflect how, three centuries back, every such attempt at good by individuals would have been crushed by the rude hand of power; let him remember the tyranny by which the popedom secured its usurpation over the understandings and consciences of mankind; let him recollect

that, for the first half of his career, Luther could only gain a connivance limited by great hesitation and indecision; and then let him compare this state of things with the almost unlimited range for every Christian and benevolent effort which our national freedom presents to us. Let him consider also the actual resources and extent of the British empire; let him cast his eye on the States of North America, planted by the hand of Britons, speaking their language, and propagating their religion; then let him turn his view to the crowded population of the Eastern world, and behold half a continent brought under the sceptre, or open to the predominant influence of this country; next, let him enumerate, as he passes over the map of the world, the colonies and possessions of the British crown scattered on the borders of the chief Pagan and Mohammedan nations; and when he has compared all this with the diminutive power and circumscribed limits of our empire, three, or two, or even one century back, he will be able to ascertain what causes we have for exuberant praise to Him who thus has singularly enlarged our opportunities of good beyond those of other nations.

We admit most fully that this liberty and this power are not, after all, the leading blessings of the Reformation itself: nor do we present them in this view. We admit, and expressly maintain, that the main benefits of that signal revolution were the emancipation of the human mind, the spiritual illumination and instruction of man, the overthrow of religious ignorance and idolatry, and the development of the peculiar and vital doctrines of the grace and satisfaction of Christ; and we strongly approve of Mr. Scott's remonstrances on this subject: we agree with him in protesting against those statements which would represent the chief blessings of the Reformation to be the mere principles of Christian liberty and toleration. Unquestionably, its chief blessings

consisted in the assertion of the exclusive and paramount authority of Scripture, and in the knowledge and diffusion of its pure and holy doctrines. But we still think that, in subordination to these primary benefits, the liberty and the power granted to this country are subjects of peculiar gratitude to God, because, among many other reasons, they afford us the means of extending and propagating the saving truths of His word to the ends of the earth. If abused indeed, these privileges must turn to our deeper condemnation; and England, like Nineveh, and Tyre, and Babylon, may become a monument of power and greatness overthrown. But, if rightly employed, they are most important means of blessing mankind with the light of evangelical truth-so important, that England seems at this moment only to want the will, successfully to lead on the conquests of the Redeemer in every land. No considerable external obstacles present themselves. Obstacles did we say? every external circumstance appears to admit and invite us to the holy effort. And this is the very reason which leads us to hope, that the honour may be granted to our country of conducting the blind and wandering nations of the earth to the light and rest of the Gospel.

2. But, to this end, it will be essential that a right direction should be given to our endeavours and our prayers; and therefore we proceed to deduce, as a second practical conclusion from the history before us, the importance of keeping ever alive in our minds, the great principle of all the reformed communities. The experience of the whole church of Christ for eighteen centuries loudly proclaims, that all essential error, leading to the ruin of the souls of men, and of the prosperity and even existence of Christian communities, has had its rise in the neglect of the Holy Scriptures. Here then the reformers took their ground. Their grand

principle was, that the Scriptures contain all things necessary to eternal salvation; whilst the Papists rested on human authority, the commandments of men, the dictates of fallible tradition, Popery had closed, and still closes, the Scriptures to the mass of mankind; Protestantism has spread them wide as the sun. Popery appeals to fathers, and councils, and decrees of the church; Protestantism appeals to the one supreme rule of faith and duty. Popery works by the arts of the schoolmen, and the concealment or perversion of Holy Scripture; Protestantism by the simple exposition of the unadulterated word of God. We have but to look through the volume we have been reviewing, to see that the Scriptures were the chart of the reformers. The book of God was ever in their hands. Their submission to it was unconditional. They daily read it, and meditated upon its contents. It was wrought. into their whole system. A sacred awe filled their minds, when treating of the matters which the eternal God had revealed for the salvation of mankind. They did not indeed reject the testimony of tradition, the opinion of the fathers, the dictates of experience, or the aids of sound sense and learned criticism when humbly applied to aid, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the just interpretation of the sacred volume. But they assigned to none of these an authority over the book which they were intended to illustrate. They gave to none of them equal or similar force to the inspired text; much less did they, in practice, reject that text, and preach the decrees of fathers and councils. It is almost impossible to conceive, now that the impresssion of the past has so nearly spent itself, how generally the holy writings were unknown, neglected, perverted, almost lost, when Luther first arose. If we cast a view at the Romish preachers of the last century, or even at their discourses in the present, what ignorance of the Scrip

tures, what distortion of facts, what mere follies do we see imposed upon their hearers; the great argument of each portion of the sermon is not the word of Christ, but the word of Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, or Bernard. All intelligent use of the oracles of God seems neglected as if by common consent. And here we cannot but observe, that the Protestants have not been free from this defect, though in a different manner; that is to say, from at times perverting, as well as neglecting, the blessed Scriptures. The Church of Rome may be said, in practice, virtually to have denied them all authority; the Protestant Church has occasionally weakened the simplicity of their testimony, by over-straining particular passages, by carrying its simple practical theology to metaphysical refinement, by magnifying the doctrine of a few texts to the disparagement .of the fair bearing of the whole record, by neglecting the proportion, the scope, the spirit of the different parts of Divine truth. Probably no class of Protestants is wholly free from this error. We speak not now of the Socinians in our own country, or of those who are termed Rationalists, or Neologists, in Germany: (we shall advert to this last fatal corruption presently) but we are speaking of the vast body of Protestants who build on the great foundation of the sacrifice of Christ, and who yet, for want of a more adequate submission of the whole heart to every part of the holy volume, are at times guilty of taking away from its genuine efficacy. Let Protestants, then, return more and more to Scriptural divinity. Let the fair and simple meaning of all the words of the Holy Ghost, be more entirely admitted and reverenced. While they condemn, and avoid, the systematic dereliction of Scriptural truth in the Church of Rome, let not the authority of names, and the fashionable tenets of the day, and the current sentiments of their own

circles, and the technical phraseology of a party, take them off from the broad, unsophisticated tenor of the Divine word, which will not be cramped by human schemes; and which will not stoop to petty definitions, or flow in the confined channels men may prepare for it; but which, rising above and beyond all mortal minds, bears the impress of its Divine Author, and can only be adequately expounded in its general spirit, its mighty principles, and its undisputed doctrines of pardon, justification, and holiness, after the model of the Apostles and primitive teachers of the Gospel. The Bible is a book of principles and of motives; and all our subsequent advances in knowledge are not to supersede that book, but to be referred to it as alone containing the elements of Divine truth, and to be kept subordinate to its unerring decisions.

3. But besides the great principle of the reformed bodies, these historical records teach us the importance of insisting strongly on those doctrines of the Scripture which appear peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of the times in which we live. No one portion of revealed truth indeed is to be inculcated to the omission of the rest; all must be in unity and symmetry; and we trust that none of our readers will misunderstand our remarks on this subject. But there may be some particular doctrine or precept of revelation, which, being more directly opposed to the prevailing notions, has been lost sight of, and yet may be peculiarly adapted to correct the predominant errors and evils of the day. At the time of the Reformation, the remedial doctrine demanded was that which went directly to counteract superstition, the fond notion of the merit of works, the inventions of purgatory, the intercession of saints, the invo cation of angels, the obligation of pilgrimages, mortifications, scourgings, in short, all the false refuges and satisfactions which were accu

mulated for appeasing conscience, and acquiring the favour of God. Under the superincumbent load of these human contrivances, the true doctrine of pardon was buried; the very idea of what justification meant bad vanished; an infused habit of grace was the tenet substituted for it, from the days of St. Augustine to the time of Luther; and in this notion the Council of Trent reposed. In like manner the doctrine of good works, as the fruit of faith, and following after justification, had not only been perverted, but the very notion of what good works really were had perished. Works of moral duty to God, according to the tenor of his holy law, were superseded by superstitious performances, by penances, ringing of bells, oblations, attendance at mass, or abstinence from certain foods. On this false foundation was reared all the superstructure of tyrannical impositions on the conscience, excessive claims of ecclesiatical power, and blind submission to the dominant church. Luther opposed to this fabric the one simple, scriptural tenet of justification by faith only in the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The vast building fell before the force of truth, and on its ruins the essential doctrine of gratuitous forgiveness was once more raised, to the glory of the Saviour, and for the salvation and consolation of the souls of men.

In the present day, and indeed in every period, an unrelaxed jealousy over this mighty truth must be exercised. It is only within the last thirty years that, in our own church, we have recovered the ground lost on the subject of justification, by the gradual defection of 80 many of our clergy from the purity of our reformed articles, which the school of Archbishop Laud began, and the prevailing iniquity and vice of the court of the Second Charles consummated. We thank God that the meritorious death of the Son of God is, gene


rally speaking, now again admitted to be the foundation of all hope; though we agree with Mr Scott (p. 37) in the fear that mere indifference and carelessness of mind, as well as a real understanding of the doctrine of pardon, have their share in producing that admission. Still the admission is made, and the truth is proclaimed; and we are therefore called to push on to the next spiritual conquest. A very important struggle in the present day is respecting the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. At the Reformation this was less contested. The press of the conflict in a superstitious age was on justification; but the prevalent disease of our own times is selfsufficiency in matters of religion, presumptuous inquiry, scepticism, reliance on the powers of human reason, learning abused to the perversion of Divine truth, a rage for criticism and refinement, and the pride of intellect. We condemn the ancients in a mass without giving them a hearing. We fancy ourselves to be enlightened, and without any parallel in attainments. We are amazed that our ancestors should have been so long deluded, and are little aware that our own follies, though of another character, may be quite as gross and more fatal. With an admixture of superstition, vital piety could consist→ debased indeed and fettered, but still living, and uniting the soul with Christ, by the influence of his Spirit; but with pride, and selfconceit, and a mind puffed up with vain knowledge, the power of religion is at once extinguished and lost.

Now, the specific for this infectious moral malady seems to be the Scripture doctrine respecting the operations of the Holy Ghost; the necessity of an entire submission of the understanding to his teaching; the effects of his influences in the regeneration and progressive sanctification of all the powers of the soul; our dependence upon him for every Р

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »