« AnteriorContinuar »
The likeliest way, it is said, to sever the connexion between church and state, and, indeed, to overturn every form of antichrist, is to preach the gospel. Granted-but it remains to be seen and herein we believe the fallacious application of the remark will be discovered-what that term 'gospel' is designed to comprehend. Is it a single doctrine of revealed truth, or does it embrace all? If the best method of extirpating from society every prevailing or possible modification of human depravity, be to confine ourselves to the exhibition of select portions of the embodied mind of God, how came it to pass that the remainder was disclosed to us? Surely it must have something to do in the great work allotted to divine truth--something introductory, or corroborative, or supplemental-something, wanting, whose agency the moral remedy would not be to the whole extent of its capability, efficacious—or our attention would never have been distracted by it. We confess, we tremble at the bare idea of characterising any truth which God has vouchsafed to communicate to us, as unimportant, whether absolutely or comparatively. Looked at per se, it may seem to our judgment to be little more than an ornament of the edifice-but we are not justified in looking at it thus. Remove it from its place, and the consequence is ever found to be that you not only render the building unsightly, but you break in also upon some exquisite but unappreciated law of proportion and adjustment, so much as to endanger the very stability of the building.
When it is urged that the simple and faithful proclamation of the gospel will eventually undermine every form of secular ecclesiasticism, we apprehend that reference is made to certain truths, which, in consequence of their connexion with personal salvation, are described by the epithet 'essential.' Whatever they be, and prominent as may be the position they occupy in the christian system, it becomes us to be careful with a pious jealousy, lest, by tearing them out of their connexions and relationships, we injure their beauty, destroy their significance, and greatly enervate that moral power which they would else exert over the hearts and lives of men. They may together constitute the barb and the shaft of the arrow which is to cleave the conscience of the sinner; but is the feather which steadies its flight to be regarded as an useless appendage? The individuality of religious responsibility, in reference both to faith and practicethe outward and visible form, so to speak, in which God approaches human minds and hearts-the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ-His exclusive headship over his own churchdo these and kindred doctrines throw no light upon that of redemption by the cross? Can the full purport of the latter be
understood without some knowledge of the former? Can what is regarded as fundamental be severed without serious injury from that which is held to be merely subsidiary? Who can tell in what instances, and in how many, erroneous views of the nature of Christ's church have choked up the avenues to the souls of men, and have hindered the entrance into them of those other doctrines whereby they would have been made wise unto salvation? Which of us, knowing as we do the endlessly various angles at which spiritual light is darted into the mind, and the ten thousand seeming accidents which give a new direction to its rays-which of us will undertake to show that scriptural views of the question under notice could never, in any instance, have so deflected the beams of the Sun of righteousness as to turn them into the only chink by which 'Christ and him crucified' could find access to the heart? In how many cases may the cardinal doctrine of our faith have been unnoticed, like some glorious but distant mountain, the very charm of the landscape, merely on account of the thin haze which, almost imperceptibly to us, all but destroys the translucency of the atmosphere through which we must look? Many a man has lived amongst the sublimities of nature for successive years, a stranger to the spirit of the scene around him, until some casual play of sunlight upon a mountain's top, some huge shadow cast athwart its bosom, some little variation of aerial perspective, has waked up in him that inner life by which, and which alone, communion can be held with nature. And it is more than possible for human minds to dwell within sight of the stupendous mysteries of the gospel, and yet for want of seeing them at the right moment, and under the peculiar aspect which will best harmonise with individual temperament, to remain through life as profoundly unacquainted with the spirit of those mysteries, as if their outline had never been once discerned. Who can say with certainty that the result would not have been different, had all the features been displayed? These controversial topics, as they are somewhat irreverently called, might not a due knowledge of them have been in too many examples just the lucidity of the air, just the break in the clouds, the pencil of light, or the passing shadow, the morning blush, or the evening purple, necessary to the true spiritual impression of divine beauty? Since God has constituted them elements of his revelation, has man the smallest right to fancy that they have not their appointed use? Can that be considered an exhibition of the gospel from which these things are purposely excluded? Nay, more, is there not some reason to apprehend that one amongst the numerous causes to be assigned for the comparative inefficiency of preaching in the present day, especially in our own
land, and that, too, by no means an insignificant one, is the wide-spread ignorance of our people, in relation to the exclusively spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom.
The force of these remarks may perhaps be met by the admission that the distinctive principles of dissent may be preached as a part of christianity, and by the declaration that they are so preached, without involving the necessity of showing their specific application to existing national institutions. Be it so, we reply. Then the specific application is either understood or it is not. If it be generally understood, which, however, we are not apt to believe, then there can be no valid objection to clothe it in language, for their sakes at least, who are unskilled in drawing inferences. If not understood, which slight observation, we think, will show to be the real state of the case, then whatever may be the range of truths formally exhibited, that gospel which is to overturn antichrist, cannot be said to be preached. Practically, the difference is small between the deliberate suppression of truth and the studied display of it in such a form as may prevent its bearings from being clearly seen. Every doctrine has its correspondent duty. Every new instruction which lays hold upon the mind sends it upon some special errand. It is of small use to enlighten men upon the subject of the spirituality of our Lord's kingdom, unless with that light there go forth also a power which shall bind the conscience to maintain that spirituality against all gainsayers. Otherwise, how is the simple preaching of the gospel, insisted upon by many as the most prompt and powerful agency by which to sever the union between church and state, to work out the accomplishment of the anticipated end? There stands the ancient fortress of nominalism in all its pride and glory. How is it to be shaken to the ground, so that not a single vestige of it shall remain ? No one can expect that it will fall without hands, or that preaching alone will preach it away. Surely the end of preaching in reference to this matter is to convince the whole body of Christ's disciples in the land that it is a fatal obstacle to the success of divine truth, and that it is their duty to combine against it as such, and by the zealous use of all legitimate means, to raze it even to its foundations. And if this be the result which, is looked for and intended, then that method of exhibiting truth which, designedly adopted, falls short of the end, is not what it assumes to be-and, in reality, is but a vain show which
keeps the word of promise to the ear,
But breaks it to the hope.'
To those who advocate this esoteric method of proclaiming God's
truth, this leaving others to draw inferences which we are nevertheless convinced are never drawn, this exposition of abstract truth, the particular point and bearing of which are carefully concealed, and who dignify it by the name of preaching the gospel,' we commend the study of apostolic language-Even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.'
In our view, moreover, that preaching of the gospel which will prove mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds,' must be not only full and unreserved, plain and specific in its application, but proportional also, and with a frequency and zeal in the handling of particular topics, correspondent with the urgency of any present and pressing evil. And here it may be well to explain once for all, that we use the term 'preaching' in its widest sense-comprehending within itself not merely the delivery of formal pulpit harangues, but the use of all those means, private and public, the living voice and the press, by which truth may be put in contact with the minds and hearts of our fellow-men. Every disease has its own allotted remedyevery poison its antidote. In natural matters we regulate effort by the occasion which calls it forth. In a climate visited by many and terrific thunderstorms, prudence and benevolence will urge again and again on its inhabitants the importance of securing their habitations by metal conductors. When the smallpox rages, we incessantly recommend an immediate resort to vaccination. Should not the same law govern us in reference to higher and more sacred duties? Have we not examples enough that the church of Christ, in the periods of its greatest activity, aimed the heaviest and most frequent blows against that form of error which happened to be most prevalent and fatal. In the days of the apostle of the gentiles, at least if we may gather up our conclusion from his own practice, the 'preaching of the gospel' which God honoured with triumphant success, struck directly, repeatedly, and with uncompromising hostility, at the then popular perversion of it-judaism. When Martin Luther, moved unquestionably by divine impulse, entered the lists, single-handed, against the power of Antichrist, such a proclamation of truth by his followers as shirked all allusion to the deadly errors, and blasphemous pretensions of Rome, would have been held, and justly held, to be indicative, not of the superior spirituality of the preacher, but of his desire
to avoid 'the offence of the cross.' Look at that strange combination of learning and puerility, of conscientiousness and impiety, which, in our own day, goes under the name of Puseyism. How were its appearance and its rapid growth treated by the very class of objectors to whom we are now addressing our remarks? They assailed it with every weapon with which the armoury of revelation could furnish them. They resorted to every method of staying the plague which wit could invent, earnestness employ, and christianity sanction. They saw a special danger, and they betook themselves to special means. Grave argument and laughing raillery-profound research, happy quotation, and scriptural reproof-analogy, common sense, logic, eloquence, genius-all were instantly brought into play against the novel form of popery. The pulpit resounded with admonitions and exhortations. The press panted beneath its burden of pamphlets, sermons, treatises, and volumes. Periodical literature was saturated with the subject. Lectures were delivered in all parts of the empire. Men felt themselves to be contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.' This zeal, this energy, this adaptation of the means to the end, they looked upon as included in their obligation to 'preach the gospel.' And, substantially, they were right. Whether it had not been wiser in them to have struck at the root of the evil, is another question, one upon the discussion of which we do not feel ourselves called to enter. It is sufficient for our purpose to remark, that in the presence of a danger really felt to be appalling, there is no great difference of opinion as to what constitutes an efficient and faithful ministration of divine truth, and that the kind of warfare we are anxious to wage against the secularization of christianity by the civil power, is one which is sanctioned by the practice even of those who denounce it.
By the leave of our readers, we will look at the subject in another light. God who gave us truth, gave us also an instituted system for the promulgation of it. He made known to us not only what to teach, but how to teach it-and, for aught we can tell, the last is not less important than the first. At all events, humble piety, we think, will make light of nothing which the Father of mercies has seen fit to reveal. His perfect knowledge of man's heart-his familiarity (if we may be pardoned the use of language in reference to Him which necessarily shows a tinge of our imperfections) with every principle of his own moral administration-the clear view which he has of all the contingent results of human tendencies-the openness to his eye of the most secret and subtle springs of action-his exact measurement and appreciation of all the influences which can operate upon the will, and of all the modifications of power