« AnteriorContinuar »
intent Christians might avoid the errors into which the men of Israel and Judah were betrayed. “ All these things,” says St. Paul, speaking of the national impieties of his countrymen, and their calamitous consequences, “happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, 'upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore,” he adds, “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” “ Thus saith the Lord,” unto us, as well as unto those who worshipped in his courts of old, “ Stand ye in the ways, and see; and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet.”
May the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,—the spirit of a sound mind,—the spirit of truth,—lead us into all truth; and whenever the
enemy shall come in like a flood, lift up a standard against him; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord !
The text suggests to us the consideration of the following particulars :
1. THE UNHALLOWED INNOVATIONS IN MATTERS OF RELIGION, WHICH ARE CONTINUALLY PLYING US WITH TEMPTATIONS TO EMBRACE THEM.
II. OUR DUTY UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES.
IV. THE FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF VENTURING ON A TRIAL OF ANY OF THE NEW AND DEVIOUS TRACKS INTO WHICH WE ARE SO CONSTANTLY INVITED.
I. In the first place, then, let me direct your attention to THE UNHALLOWED INNOVATIONS IN MATTERS OF RELIGION WHICH ARE CONTINUALLY PLYING US
WITH TEMPTATIONS TO EMBRACE THEM.
To such a trial of his faith has every follower of the Redeemer, every heir of salvation, been exposed during every age of the world, and under
modification of the revealed will of God. The device is as old as the dominion of the Prince of the power of the air over the regions of earth; although the means employed are so numerous and diversified as to present the charm of novelty, and every other suitable peculiarity of attraction, to all classes, and each successive generation of men. From the very beginning, how have the revelations of heaven been corrupted and misinterpreted ! (1.) To Adam was the earliest of them made; and before his death, in the days of his third son Seth, so universal was already the prevalence of error, that a reformation had become necessary. “ Then began men,” says Moses, “to call upon the name of the Lord.” To Noah, after the flood, was a second revelation vouchsafed; yet, even while he and his sons were still alive, idolatry again took root, and filled the so lately deluged earth with its branches. Scarcely had the law been given to the children of Israel, --that law which was ushered in by such stupendous miracles, which was attested by such sensible manifestations of the presence of the Deity—when the worship of a molten calf, under the pretence, most probably, of refining on it, threatened, humanly speaking, to supersede it: and the constant propensity of that stubborn and rebellious race, to adopt the religious observances, however absurd, of every nation with which they came in contact; and their systematic perversions of the plainest and best authenticated annunciations of the divine will ; furnish us with a lamentable and incontrovertible proof of the existence in the human heart of a deeply-rooted germ of hatred against the purity and integrity of God's holy law, and of the restless activity of Satan in drawing it into exercise for the accomplishment of his desperate and unswerving purposes.
Nor, since the promulgation of the gospel, has this particular indication of our native depravity been less visible; nor, alas ! have the endeavours of the adversary been less successful to render it the means of extensive and ruinous evil. (2.) How early were the apostles called on to combat with their most strenuous efforts erroneous opinions respecting various fundamental articles of our faith! How many false Christs, and false apostles, and false prophets, arose, even before the truth as it is in Jesus had obtained a firm footing in any one region it was destined most early to pervade! And how many did they succeed in leading astray, to their everlasting ruin! That mystery of iniquity,—which, in its full development, was to reveal “ the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God,—had already begun to work when Paul wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians: and frequent warnings to beware of false teachers, are interspersed through all his epistles, with the single exception of the brief one to Philemon. Peter had to complain of some who had forsaken the right way, and were gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” James has left on record a refutation of the sophistries of some who maintained that a dead faith, a faith without works, could insure the salvation of the soul. Jude found it necessary to exhort those he addressed “to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints;" in consequence of “ certain men having crept in unawares, who,” he tells us, were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.” And the great purport of John's gospel and first epistle was to confute that God-denying heresy, which degrades our Redeemer to the level of a mere man, and which has not ceased to diffuse its baleful influence through every succeeding age. Each separate portion into which the New Testament is distributed, bears testimony to the early spread of dangerous errors in the church of Christ.
Nor, what is still more surprising, and ought to put us still more on our guard, does the progress of heresy and fanaticism appear to have met with any effectual check from the completion of the canon of Scripture, which places the doctrines to which our assent is demanded, in so definite and striking a point of view, that he who runs may read, and the simplest discern them and understand. The succession from the primitive false teachers has been as uninterrupted as that from the true; and such wolves in sheep's clothing have ever been, it is to be feared, more numerous than his faithful pastors in the Redeemer's earthly fold. To enumerate even the most remarkable instances of their expedients in earlier times, and such as are most analogous to the errors which are unsettling the minds of so many at the present day, would far exceed the amplest bounds of a pulpit address. I must refer you for particulars to the records of ecclesiastical history, where you will find them-rank as tares in a field of corn, where they have been intentionally and industriously sown, and invested with almost every imaginable shade of plausibility.
And have modern times been less prolific of such pestilential weeds ? Has our own country been hitherto exempted from their noxious influence ? No, alas ! Did not all France, nay, all Europe, during the last century, ring with the fame of the pretended miracles wrought at the tomb of the Abbè Paris ? (3.) And has not Germany, during the present, produced her sufficiently notorious Prince Hohenlohe ? (4.) The name of Sister Nativity may not be quite so familiar to your ears, notwithstanding the earnest endeavours of the authorities of the Church of Rome to establish her reputation as an inspired personage. She was a French
nun, who, a few years ago, pretended to revelations from heaven; portions of which she could clothe in her native language, including even words and phrases she professed not to understand ; but other parts of which she could only conceive. They presented themselves, as it were, in an unknown tongue. It was the business of her confessor, who must have been gifted for that purpose with the interpretation of tongues, to give them the requisite expression. (5.) The celebrated Emanuel Swedenborg is another instance of the successful propagation of error, under the pretence of inspiration, in modern times, too remarkable to be omitted. (6.)
But to pass at once to such pretensions in our native land, which has certainly not been less infested with them than other parts of Christendom. About the time of our great civil war, what bold claims to a divine mission, and to a new interpretation of the Word of God, were put forth, among others, by Fox, Naylor, and their brethren of the Quaker persuasion ; (7.) by their bitterest opponents, Lodowick Muggleton, and John Reeves ; (8.)—and by the uncompromising enemies of all, the Fifth MONARCHY MEN ? (9.) At a later period, about the commencement of the last century, a Member of Parliament of the name of Asgill, moved thereto, as he professed, by inspiration, published a book, to prove
that, according to the covenant of eternal life revealed in the Scriptures, man may
be translated from hence into that eternal life, without passing through death, although the human nature of Christ himself could not be thus translated till he had passed through death.” (10.) For which piece of unprecedented absurdity he was expelled the House. Within the range of our own observation, or that of our fathers, to mention no others, have we not had a Richard Brothers and a Joanna Southcott ? to neither of whom did the absurd nature of their credentials or creeds occasion any lack of followers or abbettors, and those by no means confined to the ignorant and lowly in station. (11.)
And as to miracles, of precisely the same class as those to which our credence is so peremptorily required at present, they are, with equal confidence, asserted to have been, at a very late period, wrought, even in this heretical realm, by virtue of that power which, it is pretended, is exclusively vested in the Roman Catholic Church for the purpose, and consequently in attestation of tenets as widely as possible at variance with those of their Protestant rivals. The particulars are contained in a pamphlet published in 1806, by an English Catholic Prelate, or Pope's Vicar Apostolical, entitled, “ Authentic Documents, relative to the Miraculous Cure of Winifred White, at St. Winifred's Well.” (12.) Three other English miracles are treated of in these documents by way of episode: (13.) and the Right Reverend author, in another of his works, refers to miracles wrought on the continent, by a celebrated beggar, named Labre, which, he affirms, were so incontestible as to have produced the conversion of Mr. Thayer, a dissenting minister of Boston, who was upon the spot, and examined many of them with the utmost attention. (14.) He appeals also to still more recent miracles, of a different description, at Rome and Ancona, which he declares were witnessed by no fewer than 160,000 persons, for twelve nights and days together. (15.) Nor are these, by many, all the asserted miracles of our own age; nor is this the only quarter from which they have been announced. (16.)
It is no new thing then to find individuals professing, and perhaps fancying, themselves respectively, like Simon Magus, to be “some great one,”_troubling the peace of the church with strange doctrines. What else could we have expected from the express and repeated predictions of Holy Writ? “ Woe unto the world because of offences ! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh !” We ought not to be surprised, that so many. eagerly embrace every novelty of faith thus prescribed. “For the time will come,” says Paul, “ when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Multitudes ripe for delusion are always coincident with those whose misfortune or object it is to delude. (17.) Nor should we be staggered by the plausibility with which many of these deceivers invest their pretensions. We are assured, on the highest authority, that some of the false Christs and false prophets which shall arise, “shall show great signs and wonders; inasmuch, that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” “ Behold,” adds the great Head of the Church, “ I have told you before.” And the apostle of the gentiles, after complaining of some that troubled his Galatian converts, striving to pervert the gospel of Christ, proclaims, with even more than his usual fervour and solemnity: “ But though we, or an angel from heaven, preached any other gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, “ If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” With unwonted sternness he announces, “ But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be:” and deems it no breach of christian charity to add, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you."
I would by no means be understood as condemning, in the aggregate, all devisors of new ways, as wilful impostors. Some of those I have enumerated, were, there is every reason to believe, conscientious and amiable enthusiasts, as much to be pitied, perhaps, as blamed; who, having swerved from that simplicity of spirit which is the Christian's strongest bulwark against the powers of darkness, have been made unhappily the unconscious agents of Satan to create confusion and mischief in the church. The “works” of such, we are told, “ will be burnt up,” with all things that offend in the kingdom of Christ, so that they must “suffer loss ;” but they themselves “shall be saved,-yet so as by fire.” also be understood as considering the same remark applicable to persons concerned in the later theological innovations we have yet to notice: for far be it from a fallible mortal to set himself up as a judge of his fellow men !
With what fear and trembling does it become us to pursue our course amid such manifold temptations, whereat many strong men, many who once appeared to run well, having stumbled, have at length utterly fallen, and “having put away faith and a good conscience, concerning faith have made shipwreck.” How carefully and unremittingly should we guard ourselves against the perils to which we are exposed, by faith, by knowledge, by discretion, by prayer, by purity, and singleness of heart;—by investing ourselves with the whole armour of God ;“that we may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” And how thankful ought we to be that our Heavenly Father,—the Father of lights,—from whom cometh every good and perfect gift,-has furnished us with the means of “ trying the spirits” which would have us believe them, and knowing satisfactorily the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. (18.) This leads me to notice,
II. In the second place, Our DUTY UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES; which is threefold, and consists, 1. In bringing every tenet proposed for our adoption to the test of Reason and Scripture: 2. In ascertaining, by diligent observation and
inquiry, which is the old and the good way: and, 3. Having found it, in walking steadfastly therein, neither turning aside to the right hand nor to the left.
We are required, I observe, to bring every tenet proposed for our adoption to the test of Reason and Scripture. “ Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way.-Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, hearken to the sound of the trumpet.”
Reason and Scripture are not at variance with each other, nor is the exercise of Reason precluded by the entrance of faith into the heart. It is only thereby brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ, and rendered, with all our other faculties, auxiliary to our growth in grace, and our eternal salvation. Reason opens the door for the admission of faith. It is by means of reason, that we are persuaded of the sufficiency of the evidence of that revelation which gives birth to faith, and affords it nutriment. And by the accession of faith, our reason expands to a loftier stature, and is restored to a closer consonance with that Divine Reason from which ours was originally an emanation; becoming thereby comparatively purified from thạt grossness, and those aberrations, which have been indigenous to it since the fall. To reason, then, sublimated by faith, and perfected in proportion to our progress in spiritual knowledge, is the evidence of every claim to inspiration subsequent to those we have, in common with all the true churches of Christ, allowed; of every super-addition to the primary grounds of our belief;--still to be subjected :-by that faculty are their merits still to be weighed. What then says our reason, as believers,—when we consult it with the Bible before us,--to such cases as those which present themselves for its decision under the first head of our discourse ?
When we sit down seriously to such a task, we must surely be struck with the similarity observable in systems of error, as to certain leading features, however at variance with each other in general outline, and minuter details; and the complete contrast all present, in those respects, to the sole system of truth.
To instance this in a few particulars.
But here I must premise, that the Scriptures of truth uniformly represent THE GOSPEL as the final dispensation under which men are to live. Every attempt to introduce another gospel, though a primitive apostle, or an angel from heaven, were to present it for our adoption, we are bound to resist. No evidence, even of miracles, could justify our assent or adherence to it. We cannot therefore compare any individual's claims to a divine mission now, with those of the founders of the Christian religion. The comparison instituted must be between such claimants on our notice as have been enumerated, and those reformers and holy men whom God has at remarkable periods raised up, to dispel the mists of error which lapse of time and growing degeneracy had permitted to accumulate, -to quicken the waning spirituality of believers,—or to diffuse more widely the knowledge of salvation.
Now the chief peculiarities common to all the systems deprecated are these. Their authors severally lay claim to inspiration, or miracles, or both. (19.) They are exclusive, and restrict salvation, or at least vital godliness, to those within their respective precincts. (20.) They have not effected the end ostensibly proposed, and have given rise to evils of alarming magnitude. (21.)
This is strikingly instanced in the heresy of Montanus. Appollinaris of Hierapolis states, that “at Ancyra, in Galatia, he found the chureh throughout filled, not with prophets, as they called them, but with false prophets ; against whom, by the help of the Lord, he disputed in the church for many days; so