« AnteriorContinuar »
sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts :" and the persons, to whom the epistle is addressed, are not the learned exclusively, or the rulers of the church, but those " that have obtained like precious faith.” From the prophetic books themselves also confirmations may be adduced : -56 Seek ye out of the book of the Lord and read,” says the prophet Isaiah (c. xxxiv.) in an address which opens in the most comprehensive terms, -" Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people : let the earth hear, and all that is therein ; the world, and all things that come forth of it.” And even the Apocalypse is introduced with a blessing upon him “ that readeth.” Shall we then listen to the alarms of prejudice in opposition to the authority of the word itself, and not rather rejoice in the extension of a spirit of sober and humble enquiry-even among peasants ? If we do not, we shall little resemble the maxims and temper of the inspired historian, who praises the Jews of Berea, as more noble than those of Thessalonica ; because they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." 66 Therefore,” it is added, so many of them believed.” And this account is given without any respect of persons; for Paul and Silas are described as going into the synagogue, which no doubt contained all classes of people. (Acts xvii.) ..$ 5. But let us follow our author to what he brings .forward as historical evidences of the danger to be anprehended from circulating the Scriptures without note or comment- the seditions in Germany of the sixteenth century, and the rebellion in England of the next. Now is it possible to charge these things upon the circulation of the Scriptures? In my opinion (so far as they were connected with religious extravagance) they are truly chargeable upon the long mental slavery, which preceded the age of free inquiry. In the sudden bursting of such bonds, it is not to be expected that all things should immediately proceed in a moderate and peaceful course, or that all should know how at once to use those privileges discreetly, to which they had been wholly unaccustomed, Excesses are natural under such circumstances; but they are only to be regarded as a temporary effervescence, and when this has subsided, there is by no means equal reason to dread its repetition.
We should remember too that, at the period in question, although the Bible was much read, it is impossible it could have been generally read by all classes of the people. Yet Mr. O'C. asserts, (p. 10) that “at this time, prayer, and preaching, and reading the Scriptures were at their height: -every man prayed; every man preached; every man read; and no man listened.” But no Bible Societies then existed for circulating the Scriptures without note or comment. No school societies for enabling the poor to read them. The probability therefore is, that the want of those Institutions left room for those very evils, which it is attempted to associate with them, for the purposes of jealously and fear. Whatever might have been the number of preachers and of hearers, it is evident that readers must have been comparatively few,- for the plainest of all reasons; because few could read. Many therefore had an opportunity of becoming partially acquainted with the Scriptures, without being competently learned or instructed in them, with abundance at least of oral comments, which is a situation directly opposed to our author's argument, and from which conclusions completely subversive of it may be fairly inferred.
In addition to this general reasoning, we must also take into account with respect to England, that the lamentable confusions of the reign of Charles the First did not originate in religious controversy, or among the lower orders. The dispute began politically, between the King and the Parliament, sectarian mischiefs were incidentally drawn in, and could never have produced such direful consequences, if the principles of toleration had been understood and acted upon as at present,-if the constitution had attained its present freedom, and above all, if the bulk of the people had been taught to read, and employed the acquisition in the study of the Bible. A slight attention to dates will shew how little this study could have been cultivated in the vulgar tongue, at the time of the civil war, in which Munzer became a ring-leader. It began and ended in the year 1525:-- Luther was engaged in the translation of the New Testament into the German language in the retreat which he called his Patmos; but did not complete it there:-He. left that retreat in the month of March 1522, after a confinement of ten months; and the leaders of a furious complexion had already commenced their operations in the year 1521 *. But I shall lay before the reader the real nature of this insurrection, in the following extract from Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History t.
In the year 1525, a prodigious multitude of seditious fanatics arose like a whirlwind, allof a sudden in different parts of Germany, tookarms, united their forces, waged waragainst the laws, the magistrates, and the empire in general, laid waste the country with fire and sword, and exhibited daily the most 'horrid spectacles of unrelenting barbarity. The greatest part of this furious and formidable mob was composed of peasants and vassals, who groaned under heavy burdens, and declared they were no longer able to bear the despotic severity of their chiefs; and hence this sedition was called the Rustic war, or the war of the peasants. But it is also certain, that this motley crowd was intermixed with numbers, who joined in this sedition from different motives, some impelled by the suggestions of enthusiasm, and others, by the profligate and odious view of rapine and plunder, of mending fortunes ruined by extravagant and dissolute living. At the first breaking out of this war, it seemed to have been kindled only by civil and political views, and agreeable to this is the general tenor of the Declarations and Manifestos that were published by these rioters. The claims they made in these papers, related to nothing farther than the diminution of the tasks imposed upon the peasants, and to their obtaining a greater measure of liberty than they had hitherto enjoyed. Religion seemed to be out of the question ; at least, it was not the object of deliberation or debate. But no sooner had the enthusiast Munzer put himself at the head of this outrageous rabble, than the face of things changed entirely, and by the instigation of this man, who had deceived numbers before this time, by his pretended visions and inspirations, the civil commotions in Saxony and Thuringia were soon directed towards a new object, and were turned into a religious war."
To this account is annexed a note which it is material also to transcribe.
* Section 3. Part 2. Ch. III. S iv. Mosh. Ec. Hist. Maclaine's Translation.
+ Cent. xvi. Section 1. Ch. II. $ xxii. Ibid.
“ These kinds of wars or commotions, arising from the impatience of the peasants, under the heavy burdens that were laid on them, were very common long before the time of Luther. Hence the author of the Danish Chronicle (published by the learned LUDEWIG, in the ninth volume of his Reliq. M. Storum, p. 59.) calls these insurrections a common evil. This will not appear surprising to such as consider, that in most places, the condition of the peasants was much more intolerable and grievous before the Reformation, than it is in our times ; and that the tyranny and cruelty of the nobility, before that happy period, were excessive and insupportable." I
From these documents it is evident, that the troubles of those times admit of ample explanation, upon principles which are very far from militating against Bible Societies. And the frantic enthusiasm of John Brockhold, which followed at the short interval of eight years, is just as much discreditable to the circulation of the Scriptures, as the cry of the Pythoness at Philippi to the ministry of Paul and Silas. (Acts xvi.) Both are alike to be traced to the “ devices of Satan,” who labours to associate scandals of his own creating, with those causes which he knows to be subversive of his kingdom. To this source are to be attributed the pretended visions, and revelations by which multitudes were deluded in the infancy of the Reformation. But, " no sooner were the workings of enthusiasm suppressed among the Mennonites, than all the different sects, into which they had been divided, unanimously agreed to draw the whole system of their religious doctrine from the Scriptures alone *.”
Henceforward we meet no more of their monstrous extravagancies and seditions.
$ 6. Having thus endeavoured to dissipate what appear to me vain terrors, derived from inapposite examples, I beg indulgence in returning to what I conceive to be one of the chief points at issue, namely, the capacity of the lower orders of the people to understand the Bible. As to the natural powers of intellect, I suppose it will hardly be maintained, that they are limited to any class of society. Place the children of the peasantry in equally favourable circumstances with the children of the gentry, and they will be found equally capable of acquiring a
* Mosheim, Cent. xvi. Sect. 3. Part 2 Ch. III. $ xii. Maclaine's Translation,
knowledge of languages, of science, and of every department of literature. This assertion is a matter of fact and experience, so far as the trial has been made; and such experiments are by no means unfrequent, considering the external difficulties which must be surmounted in their progress. Under this conviction, I am astonished at the position, that the peasantry or their fellows are incapable of understanding the Holy Scriptures ! But when it reminds me of similar positions concerning the incapacity of the negro race, which have been obstinately maintained in opposition to fact--my wonder ceases :-I recollect the cause--It is only another proof of the power of prejudice to exclude the force of truth. If I should hear a man refuse to class the negros among rational beings, I appeal to St. Domingo-If I should acquiesce in a like stigma upon my own countrymen, I must renounce my observation. . . .
. . Let us beware, however, of being hurried by indignant feelings. Let us endeavour to view the matter with the light of sober discrimination. What then does the incapacity of the peasant really amount to ? It is admitted, that he is not competent to a critical study of the Bible. And, by the way, how few that are thus competent can be found in any class ! But, for this reason, he is saved from the obstruction and perplexity of critical difficulties, and notwithstanding his inability to encounter these, he is capable, through that divine grace which is promised to all that ask, it, to read every part of the Bible for edification and for comfort. He is capable of embracing that “ faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation,' that 66 Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”— He is capable of believing that “God is love”--that He is “ about his path, and about his bed,” and “ understands his thoughts afar off.” And, if he is obliged to confess, that « such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for him,” that he “ cannot attain unto it,” the royal Psalmist himself confessed the same. He is as capable of understanding the doctrine of regeneration, as one educated in a university, or born in Judea, even though it should be clothed in an oriental metaphor—" Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We find Nicodemus indeed asking, “ How can these things be?” But he was " a master of Israel.” I will proceed a step further, and affirm, that the doctrines of the In
ther, and a master"