« AnteriorContinuar »
have too often to lament how greatly they are themselves influenced by those things against which they .warn their people. Christ alone possessing the fulness of original and inherent powers, united in himself all diversities of gifts, and combined all excellences in a character of faultless perfection. He enjoyed unlimited grace and wisdom. He exercised unlimited power. : He imparts from his fulness grace, wisdom, and power, to all who follow him in faith and meekness; advancing them to higher and still higher degrees of divine knowledge, without other limitation than man's capacity for its reception. And, as the power of God, and the wisdom of God, were in him when he taught, he spoke with authority; as a sovereign, whose word none could dispute, and whose law must be reverenced and obeyed.
Yet, from the height of this pre-eminence, he deigns to give to christian ministers, in all succeeding ages, an example of that spirit of prayer, in which all their labours for the cure of souls, if they would expect success, must be conducted. Prayer was the habitual language of our Lord. Nothing of importance was done by him without it. Prayer, marked with intense earnestness, it might be almost said' with importunity, as if he would give an illustration of the moral of his own parable--that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. If such, then, was his conduct, who in the power and nature of the Godhead was one with the Father, still more needful is it that on the ministers and stewards of Christ's mysteries the praying spirit of their Master should rest. They must wrestle earnestly for the desired grace ; not putting up faint and languid prayers, but lifting up holy hands, without doubting, like those who really believe that the promise will be fulfilled : “ If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Receiving from his fulness, it is their encouragement and comfort to know that he can impart life and spirit, unction and power, to their ministrations ; speaking to the heart what they speak to the ear, and breathing upon the dry bones to which they prophesy.
IV. The ministry of our Lord derived some peculiarities from the circumstances under which it was exercised. The rooted attachment of the Jews to their law, which had existed for fifteen centuries; which was identified with all the feelings and babits of the people, and with all the history and polity of the nation ; whose records formed their principal written learning, and whose study was the stated employment of their wisest men; in which, finally, they made their boast, as the ground of an exclusive claim to be the heirs of salvation, in right of their descent from Abraham, and their federal covenant with God, was calculated to rouse an immediate and determined hostility against a teacher who came to supersede that in which they trusted and gloried. The Jews had much to unlearn as well as to learn before they could receive Jesus in the character of a prophet; and the necessity of contending with their jealousy and prejudices would necessarily influence the character of his ministry. For it was requisite to convince them of their error before they could receive the truth; and thus it became our Lord's object, not so much to expound fully the doctrines and duties of the gospel,--an office which he left for his apostles and disciples to execute, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, after his ascension,-as to correct their false notions of the law, and their misconceptions of the character and office of the Messiah. Hence he generally made the refutation of the prominent errors of his hearers the channel for communicating a knowledge of the truth, modifying the subject of his discourses according as they were addressed to the Pharisees, Saddụcees, or Gentiles.
Greatly as circumstances are changed, the principle remains in full force. The christian minister, like our Saviour, must destroy the bulwarks of Satan before he can set up the ensign of Christ. If he have not to contend with the prejudices and hostility of Judaism, the enmity and corruption of the unrenewed heart remain, and oppose to the gospel a resistance not less inveterate ; and the mind must be dispossessed of whatever is opposed to the fundamental truths of religion, before the doctrines of Christianity can make an effectual lodgment in the heart.
The style of our Lord's preaching was influenced, not only by the errors of the Jews, but also by their prior religious belief, which made it necessary for him to adapt his instructions to their knowledge and opinions. Thus he continually appealed to the law and the prophets; establishing what they would be prone to dispute, by showing its connexion with what they received and reverenced. After the same example, the Evangelists adapted their Gospels in their selection of the subjects upon which they particularly dwelt, and in the nature of their illustrations to the knowledge and requirements of the classes for whom they respectively wrote. The first preachers of the gospel exercised the same discretion, by presenting the truth in a manner the most likely to be intelligible and acceptable to their hearers. This discretion is equally required in ministers at the present day. They must declare the truth without suppression or compromise ; but they ought to apply it with judgment; in laying peculiar stress upon such evidences as may derive more especial importance from present circumstances ; in being careful not to misapply scripture terms, or to confound remote analogies, by overlooking the peculiar state of the Jewish and Gentile world when the gospel was promulgated; and in labouring more particularly against those sins whose actual prevalence claims for them more particular notice.
V. St. Paul, in his Epistles, repeatedly alludes to his practice of first teaching the principles of the gospel of Christ before he led his disciples on to perfection ; or, to use his own expression, of feeding them as babes with milk, until they should be able to bear strong meat. The same plan of gradual teaching prevails in every part of the Scriptures. We find it in the development of prophecy, which becomes more distinct and specific as it approaches the time of our Lord's appearing; and in the appearance of the predicted messenger, John the Baptist, to prepare the people for his coming. We trace it in the plan of our Saviour's teaching; beginning at the most simple truths and duties, and advancing, as the disciples were able to bear, to more sublime and difficult doc trines, the sufferings and death, the spiritual kingdom, and priesthood of Messiah: while other truths, such as the calling of the Gentiles, and the abolition of the ceremonial law, which they could not receive, because of their prejudices, while the Lord was with them, were reserved to be revealed by the Holy Ghost after his ascension. We find it again in the fulness of our Lord's private instructions to the disciples, as compared with his general style of teaching the people, who were not yet able to bear what those who were always with him might well receive. Christian truth, taught first in its simplest elements, repentance, is gradually unfolded through the Gospels, as the character of our Lord and of his ministry became understood; till at length, redemption being complete, its plan made known, and life and immortality brought to light by the resurrection and ascension of the Saviour, the Holy Ghost is given to guide the apostles into all truth, and the glorious mystery is fully displayed in the Epistles. The truths themselves were not imparted abruptly. Sayings and predictions, which the disciples did not understand at the time, were made plain by succeeding events ; and occasional obscure hints, calculated to awaken curiosity, and exercise their thought, prepared them to receive in due season the hard truths which they indicated. The towns and districts in which the gospel was to be preached were first prepared to receive it. Christ sent his disciples to the places which he himself should afterwards visit; he was in the habit of returning to the towns where he had performed his miracles ; and while he commonly enjoined secrecy on the subject of his miraculous cures, when they were natives of Judea, he directed Gentiles to go into their own country and show how great things had been done for them; thus awakening the attention of the people, and disposing them to receive the truth which should soon be preached among them.
..:7TTA If so great caution was necessary when our Lord and his inspired apostles were the teachers, how much more now. After their example, ministers should be careful rightly to divide the word, distributing to little children, to young men, and to fathers in Christ, their respective portions, as their need may require, and their minds may receive. While they speak the truth plainly, and without qualification, they. should temper their zeal with prudence, wisely considering the manner and the season of imparting it, lest they defeat their object by precipitation. Copying the benevolence and condescension of our Lord, they should foster the small beginnings of grace, and encourage the weak believer, instead of harshly condemning whatever may not accord with their views, or come up to their own arbitrary standard. The example of Christ and his apostles condemns the rash presumption of the enthusiast, who expects the help and blessing of the Holy Ghost for proceedings conducted in ignorance and imprudence, by showing that every step in the propagation of the gospel was dictated by a wise and considerate policy. It equally condemns the violence of the bigot, by the contrast of His example, who gathered the lambs in his arms, and Carried them in his bosom, and gently led those that were with young: Prudence and gentleness should always be conspicuous in the character and conduct of ministers : they should be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Two practical applications arise out of this part of the subject, which the author has not alluded to. The first is the importance of grounding the young well in the elements of Christian truth. If this duty were properly performed by parents and teachers, who ought to be quite equal to it, the labour and anxiety of ministers would be much lessened; for then they would be enabled to accommodate their instructions from the pulpit to advanced stages of christian attainment more generally than they can now venture to do. The other refers to the subject and style of a very important class of publications-tracts.
These are designed entirely for the instruction of the ignorant. They cannot, therefore, be too simple ; and they ought to be confined to conveying elementary truths in the plainest style, and the most engaging manner. It is due to the venerable Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, to declare that this is the general character of the tracts put forth under its sanction. But a large class of these publications are of a very different nature, and offer to the young and the ignorant, for whom alone they are intended, the most abstruse and even controverted questions in divinity.
(To be continued.) hr:
Art. II.-The History of the Church of Christ, as first established by i his Apostles, among the Jews and Heathens ; in a Course of Sermons, preached by the Rev. RICHARD Povah, LL.D., late of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; Rector of St. James's, Duke's Place, in the City of London, &c. London: Seeleys ; Wix. 1836. 8vo. Pp. xx. 485.
The origin of preaching, as a christian institution, may be traced to the practice both of our Lord himself and his apostles. To the Sermon
of Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth, may be referred the custom of selecting an isolated text as the subject of discourse; and the addresses of St. Stephen, St. Peter, and St. Paul, as recorded in the Acts, are examples of preaching, with reference to a continuous history, and involving a variety of topics for debate. Both these methods have their peculiar advantages; and while the former is admirably adapted to the elucidation of some detached doctrine, or the inculcation of some specific precept, the latter takes a wider range of discussion, and considers the whole scheme of revealed religion, both in doctrine and discipline, as exemplified in some connected portion of holy writ. For this latter purpose, the history of some patriarch, prophet, or apostle, or the whole or part of one or other of the books of the Old and New Testament, have been occasionally selected ; and, within these few years, the Acts of the Apostles have furnished the matter for several volumes of more than ordinary value and importance. Among these may be noticed the Hulsean Lectures of Mr. Franks, elucidating the gradual progress of the gospel, during the apostolic age, among the Jews, the Gentile proselytes, and the Heathen, respectively ;'-and the admirable Lectures of the Bishop of London, reviewed in our Number for October, 1828. Though of a character totally distinct from either of the above publications, we are disposed to think that the volume before us will prove no useless addition to others of the same class; and we trust that the excellent author will meet with every encouragement to proceed with the entire course of sermons, of which the present volume can be regarded only as a commencement. He promises, indeed, no more than another volume; but surely two or three will scarcely suffice to complete his projected undertaking.
In twenty sermons, Dr. Povah has pursued the history of the christian church, as related in the Acts of the Apostles, as far as the cure of the cripple by St. Peter and St. John, related in the opening of the third chapter. Even the most trivial incident is turned to account for the purpose of illustrating some doctrine, enforcing some precept, or tracing some point of discipline to the usage of the early church, and the sanction of the first teachers of Christianity. Although the matter is evidently drawn from a great variety of sources, there is no parade of learning, no pretension, no display; the style is simple in the extreme, and the mode of illustration adapted to the most ordinary comprehension. We could, indeed, have wished that the Doctor's periods were sometimes a little more elevated ; and we can with difficulty persuade ourselves a simplicity of language so studied, and a familiarity of expression so marked, would be altogether suited to the taste and perceptions of a London congregation. At the same time, there is something peculiar in the Doctor's manner, which is not only very pleasing, but fixes the attention by its striking naiveté