« AnteriorContinuar »
calamity, to misapprehend a revelation from the Eternal ? Whatever necessity there was for revealing a matter, exists for our understanding it. And in what way
is truth to affect us, but through our apprehension and belief of it? It does not act magically or mystically. Its agency is purely rational, and it will influence us in the manner and in the degree answering to our views of its reality and meaning. This is true of what are technically, but too exclusively, termed the doctrines of revelation. We might therefore expect that it would be even more readily conceded to the great practical principles of christian character as unfolded in the word of God.
By principles, not so much what is primary and elementary is intended, as what is mainly characteristical and distinctive—the predominant dispositions—the grand aims—the leading motives and the prevailing habits of mind and conduct, by which real christians are distinguished, both in scriptural requirement and in fact and exemplification. As specimens of the things intended might be mentioned, Spirituality, including the care of the soul and taste for spiritual objects-Humility-Faith-Love to God-Sincerity-Christian benevolence to menand, DOING ALL THINGS TO THE GLORY OF GOD.
It is but to name (these in order to see at once that there ought to be no mistake about them—that they should be clearly understood—that it is desirable to entertain and to impart correct, clear, and welldefined views of them. Not indeed that it is advisable to trace differences which are doubtful and abs use,
r to draw distinctions which are scholastic and metaphysical. These not only needlessly bewilder and distress the humble christian, and also lie beyond the reach of common capacities, and, by requiring an unaccustomed effort and stretch of mind, deepen the disgust too ofter felt against such enquiries; but by their elaboration and overnicety are calculated to awaken the very suspicion the christian teacher is most anxious to prevent, which is, that after all, these distinctions are but the subtilties of the schools and the mere creations of theology, and thus tend to raise scepticism, where he wished to effect conviction. Nor is it desirable to exhibit these things in a light so refined, transcendental, impracticable, and so unaccordant with the laws of sentient and intelligent being, as to confound the reason, to discourage the aims, and to urge to despondency the minds, of the lowly and sincere. Overwrought efforts of this description fail in spite of the pure and lofty motives which prompt them; of which, perhaps a more memorable example does not exist, than the case of Jonathan Edwards, in his discussions on disinterested love to God. Laying hold of an important truthtruth most destructive of self-delusion and false religion—the deficiency of mere interested love to Godhe overstrained it. It snapped in his hand, and hangs, like the broken bow of a giant, in the theological hall, a useful memento for all future combatants in this hallowed war. Nor ought the order of affections, the degree of emotions, the system of religious exercises, wrought by these principles, to be so strenuously insisted on, as to set the spirit for ever brooding over its feelings instead of looking at the objects which excite them; and watching with endless and enfeebling alternations of hope and fear, of agony and
joy, the ever changeful weather of the soul, instead of marking its more settled features and habitual tendencies. It should be kept in mind that whilst there is in religion an identity of principle, there is in its developements, a freedom, a multifariousness, an endless variety, resembling the wonderful and beautiful diversity of the appearances of nature. Nor is it well-judged to practise and school the mind in the endless minutiæ and perplexing intricacies of a subtle and interminable casuistry. Sound principles and sound minds working together, will naturally and readily adapt themselves to every thing needful, every thing important, every thing practical and useful. In matters of casuistry we need no surer guide than
the wisdom that cometh from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."
Steering clear of these dangers we have hinted at, it is incumbent upon us to present those broad, prominent, and characteristical features of the excellence we would describe, which shall commend themselves as much to the conscience of the plain and unlettered, as to the intelligence of the acute and casuistical. And whilst in the presentation of these distinctive marks of character, we are not to despise help drawn from any quarter, yet we shall principally prize the word of God, as the safe guide and sole arbiter in these vital matters. We cannot doubt that he who has enjoined our duties, has correctly described them; and that the Spirit who forms the character of the christian has perfectly delineated it. We go therefore to the word of God, relieved from the un
certainties of conjecture and hypothesis, and to that, confident of its infallibility, we make our calm, unhesitating and fearless appeal.
Such an exposition of the more remarkable features of christian character, is recommended by strong and numerous reasons. What valuable ends are answered !
The presentation of clear and forcible views upon these great points, has an awakening effect upon the irreligious. When the leading excellencies of christian character are put in their own clear, convincing, impressive light, they are fitted to make the ungodly man feel his distance, his deficiency, his degradation, and bis danger. If he see them in their distinctness, their simple truth, their artless working, their strength and majesty, their stern 'necessity; how calculated to raise uneasiness, to excite enquiry, to induce salutary conclusions and alarming forebodings respecting himself. “Qualities,” he is apt to say, “so distinct, so rational, so effective, so commanding, so undeniable, and withal so beautiful and admirable, it is impossible not to believe are real, and as impossible not to see, are beyond, not in degree simply, but in kind, any thing which I possess. And if they only are acceptable to God, who are thus marked and thus influenced, then how disapproved must I be. If they only are safe with these qualities, then I must be unsafe without them. If they only are meet for felicity who are thus minded, I have no title, “no qualification. My fitness is for perdition. Mine truly is a wretched case.” The sus-, picion that we do not possess these requisites, is dis
composing. The restlessness and alarm rise as the apprehension becomes more formed and decisive. But who shall tell the bitterness and terror of the soul when the certainty of utter destitution is forced upon it by a happy, powerful and scriptural demonstration of spiritual worth ! Confused, feeble, superficial representations of spiritual character, leave the sinner uncertain and vacillating between these halfformed views and his own faint semblances of goodness, unconvinced of his own want, and consequently untroubled and slumbering. But let views more lucid, more bold, more uncompromising, more selfevidential and self-commending be put forth, and they form a strong light piercing the darkness which shrouds the unhappy sleeper, and striking through the closed eyelids of the mind, suffer him to repose no longer. He is roused and looks around him. He sees in all this blaze of light, the divine requirements and his own responsibilities. What thought so likely to visit him at this moment, as the strange, the startling, the awful distance between the divine claims and his own character--between what he is and what he ought to be,--what he is and what he must be in order to be safe and happy? He is astonished and terrified when he looks across the great gulf which stretches between him and what is most needful for him. To produce this salutary feeling, it is not necessary to overstate the fact, or overdraw the picture. Truth, clearness, reality, and certainty, are all that are required. It is enough that a man see things as they are. Happy, when by manifestation of the truth, in these things, we commend ourselves to every man'sconscience in the sightof God!