Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ of the genuine spirit and savour of Christianity, and to “ reduce them to mere moral essays: in which moral “ duties are enforced, not, as indeed they might be to “ good purpose, by scriptural motives, but by such argu*" ments as no where appear to so much advantage as in “ the writings of the heathen moralists, and are quite out “ of their place in a pulpit. The rules delivered may “ be observed to vary according to the temperament of “ the teacher. But the system chiefly in request, with “ those who seem the most in earnest in this strain of “ preaching, is the strict but impracticable, unsocial, “ sullen moral of the Stoics. Thus, under the influence “ of these two pernicious maxims, it too often happens „6 that we lose sight of that which is our proper office, “ to publish the word of reconciliation, to propound the “ terms of peace and pardon to the penitent, and we « make no other use of the high commission that we “ bear, than to come abroad one day in the seven, “dressed in solemn looks, and in the external garb of “ holiness, to be the apes of Epictetus.

“ The first of the two, which excludes the laity from “ all concern with the doctrinal part of religion, and 6 directs the preacher to let the doctrine take its chance, 6 and to turn the whole attention of his hearers to prac“ tice, must tacitly assume for its foundation (for it can “ stand upon no other foundation) this complex propo66 sition: Not only that the practice of religious duties “ is a far more excellent thing in the life of man, far “ more ornamental of the Christian profession, than 6 any knowledge of the doctrine without the practice; “ but, moreover, that men may be brought to the prac“ tice of religion without previous instruction in its doc“ trines; or in other words, that faith and practice are, " in their nature, separable things. Now the former “ branch of this double assumption, that virtue is a more s excellent thing in human life than knowledge, is un

a questionably true, and a truth of great importance, “ which cannot be too frequently or too earnestly incul« cated. But the second branch of the assumption, that “ faith and practice are separable things, is a gross mis“ take, or rather a manifest contradiction. Practical “ holiness is the end; faith is the means: and to suppose “ faith and practice separable, is to suppose the end “ attainable without the use of means. The direct con“ trary is the truth. The practice of religion will “ always thrive, in proportion as its doctrines are gene-" rally understood and firmly received; and the prac“ tice will degenerate and decay, in proportion as the “ doctrine is misunderstood or neglected. It is true, “ therefore, that it is the great duty of a preacher of the “ gospel to press the practice of its precepts upon the “ consciences of men; but then it is equally true, that “ it is his duty to enforce this practice in a particular “ way; namely, by inculcating its doctrines. The mo6 tives which the revealed doctrines furnish, are the only “ motives he has to do with, and the only motives by « which religious duty can be effectually enforced.

“ I am aware, that it has been very much the fashion, “ to suppose a great want of capacity in the common “people, to be carried any great length in religious « knowledge, more than in the abstruse sciences. That « the world and all things in it had a maker; that the “ Maker of the world made man, and gave him the life « which he now enjoys; that he who first gave life, can « at any time restore it; that he can punish, in a future “ life, crimes which he suffers to be committed with im“ punity in this; some of these first principles of religion “ the vulgar, it is supposed, may be brought to compre"hend.' But the peculiar doctrines of revelation, the s6 trinity of persons in the undivided Godhead; the in“ carnation of the second person; the expiation of sin “ by the Redeemer's sufferings and death; the efficacy « of his intercession; THE MYSTERIOUS COMMERCE OF " THE BELIEVER's soul WITH THE DIVINE SPIRIT;. “these things are supposed to be far above their reach. “ If this were really the case, the condition of man would “ indeed be miserable, and the proffer of mercy, in the “ gospel, little better than a mockery of their woe; for “ the consequence would be, that the common people “ could never be carried beyond the first principles of "what is called natural religion. Of the efficacy of “ natural religion, as a rule of action, the world has had « the long experience of 1600 years. For so mạch was “ the interval between the institution of the Mosaic “ church, and the publication of the gospel. During 6 that interval, certainly, if not from an earlier period, “ natural religion was left to try its powers on the “heathen world. The result of the experiment is, thạt “ its powers are of no avail. Among the vulgar, natų“ ral religion never produced any effect at all; among 6 the learned, much of it is to be found in their writings, “ little in their lives. But if this natural religion, a

thing of no practical efficacy, as experiment has de“ monstrated, be the utmost of religion which the com

mon people can receive, then is our preaching vain, “ Christ died in vain, and man must still perish. Blessed “ be God! the case is far otherwise. As we have, on “ the one side, experimental proof of the insignificance 66 of what is called natural religion; so, on the other, in << the success of the first preachers of Christianity we “ have an experimental proof of the sufficiency of re« vealed religion to those very ends in which natural 6 religion failed. In their success we have experimen- · 6 tal proof that there is nothing in the great mystery of “ godliness, which the vulgar, more than the learned; “ want capacity to apprehend, since, upon the first “ preaching of the gospel, the illiterate, the scorn of « pharisaical pride, who knew not the law, and were

dical prides sospel, the illiterate upon the first

« therefore deemed accursed, were the first to under« stand, and to embrace the Christian doctrine.****

“ An OVER-ABUNDANT zeal to check the phrenzy of “ the Methodists, first introduced that unscriptural « language which confounds religion and morality. **** 6. The great crime* and folly of the Methodists consists “ not so much in heterodoxy, as in fanaticism : not. in 6 PERVERSE DOCTRINE, but rather in a disorderly zeal “ for the propagation of the TRUTH.**** Reason, till: « she has been taught by the lively oracles of God, “ knows nothing of the spiritual life, and the food « brought down from heaven for its sustenance."

The Bishop here intimates, that " our sermons are “ often divested of the genuine spirit and savour of “ Christianity.” If so, it is no wonder that our churches are forsaken and our religion despised. It is a fact, to which I have frequently been an eye-witness, that spacious churches in London, capable of containing thousands, are almost empty, notwithstanding the preachers every where inculcate excellent morality. Wherever indeed there appears, what the common people call, ani EVANGELICAL preacher, the churches are so crouded that it is difficult to gain admittance. The multitude hunger and thirst for the spiritual food; yet evangelical preaching is discouraged by many in high places, because it is said to savour of enthusiasm and to delude the vul

* The phraseology and charge, in this place, we understand from a respectable source, is somewhat exceptionable; and that some judicious and candid readers have expressed their regret that so valuable a book, otherwise, should contain a sentiment so calculated to give displeasure to a numerous and respectable body of christians, who, as the author admits, are zealously engaged in the propagation of the TRUTH"--and as a body of people, they consider the charge of fanaticism unjustly applied. •

gar*. But it is this preaching alone which will preserve Christianity among us, and cause it to be considered as any thing better than a state-engine for the depression of the people.

SECTION XXI.

The Church of England teaches the true Doctrine of

Grace.

IN recommending to more general notice the doctrine of grace, I make no pretensions to a new discovery. It is obviously the doctrine of the Gospel; it is obviously the doctrine of the Church; it is fully acknowledged by all who sincerely use that form of prayer, which is established by the authority not only of those who composed it, but of those who ever since its composition, even to the present day, retain it in the divine service.

Bishop Gibson, who was certainly a zealous friend to the Church of England, has collected a number of pas

* ERASMUS was a consummate judge of preaching and preachers. Let us hear him.

Doctos puto quotquot crediderunt EVANGELIO. Cur enim indocti debeant appellari, qui, (ut nihil aliud,) e symbolo apostolorum didicerunt illam ULTRAMUNDANAM PHILOSOPHIAM, quam non P'yo thagoras aut Plato, sed ipse Dei Filius tradidit hominibus ; qui a CHRISTO docti sunt, quâ viâ ad quem felicitatis scopum tendere. Ubicunque est VERA SANCTITAS, ibi est MAGNA PHILOSOPHIA minimeque vulgaris eruditio. Sed tamen inter hos egregiè doctos excellunt, quibus peculiari SPIRITUS munificentiâ datum est, ut ad justitiam erudiant multos ; quibus Dominus dedit labia, non in quio bus illa gentium Ellws flexanima, sed in quibus ex UNCTIONE SPI. RITUS diffusa est GRATIA COLESTIS. ERASM. Eccler.

« PreviousContinue »