« AnteriorContinuar »
For JULY. 1817.
Art. I. Christian Fssa*s.- By the Reverend Samuel Charles Willcs, A. M. of St. Edmund Hail, Oxford. 2 vols. Price l*s. Baldwin and Co. 1817.
^T^Hlil Church of Christ has passed through successive agos * under widely different circumstances. Would it be going te-o far to say, that the condition most natural to her, in tins 'evil world,' is as that of the 'bush burning iiut not con'sumed?' that her appropriate dwelling is the shelter of ' dens 'and caves of the earth;' and that she is then the most suitably vested, when 'sheep skins and goats' skins' are her clothing? It is at least under these circumstances, that Christianity has produced all its ' twelve manner of fruit,' and shewn most unquestionably that it is a plant from above.
But for a long period, the Church, no where visible as a collected body, but like the seven thousand of Israel, reserved by sovereign grace amid surrounding corruption, has consisted of scattered individuals whose piety, appearing where it did, has been the most striking illustration of the truth, that " with "God nothing is impossible." Lights they were, indeed, but so obscured were their own minds by ignorance and prejudice, that, had it beeu at once presented to them without extraordinary teachings from above, they would probably have shrunk back with horror at the aspect of Christianity itself, such as it was left to the world by the Apostles.
In our own country, for a considerable length of time, and up to a date not very distant, the knowledge and consistent profession of true religion were, as we will venture lo^assert, almost confined within the enclosures of two or three reviled sects, an I every expedient was resorted to,—outrage according to law, anil outrage according to no law,—which might hedge the hated contagion within the spots already incurably contaminated.
But in these days, ail bounds !>ave been overpast, all partitions have been thrown down, religion, the religion of the Bible, has abounded under dividing names; it has appeared with a frequency that attracts attention in every ran!; among us: " The "sign of the Son of Man" ha* been seen in the He<irens: and
Vol. VIII. N.S B
the many, who can see goodness only when it is well dressed, have been brought to do an homage to the very thing upon which they have long been accustomed to trample. We question indeed if the truth has not at present a greater chance of being listened to with respect, or, at least, whether it has not a wider opportunity of being heard, than at any time since the early clays of the Reformation, when princes, and nobles, and great captains, were heard to quote the Bible, and to defer to its authority, and when many of them seemed to think the Gospel worthy even of their acceptation. Compared with times that are past, an unusual number of circumstances appear tending at present to bring the unthinking or little-thinking mass within the reach of a vivifying influence. The kingdom of darkness stands exposed on many sides to the beams of day. But as a concomitant effect of these circumstances, those eternally distinct parties, the World and the Church, are undergoing a kind of amalgamation in which the peculiar and stronger features of both are somewhat softened down. The world is civil, conceding, complimentary, and professing. The Church is please4 with the concession, and willing to hope well of the profession, but grieved, (and the more as she has the opportunity of knowing more,) at the' evil manners' ofher hew acquaintance, and often perplexed with the difficulty of drawing the line Between zeal and prudence, in improving the golden moments of the world's good will.
A question therefore of the first moment is pressed upon the attention of serious Christians, by the peculiar circumstances of the times. Under what impression, and by what plan of address, shall they be most likely, as far as the means are concerned, to improve the concessions towards religion, of a large i;lass of persons, who, while they acknowledge a form of words, are essentially erroneous in principle'^ and far removed in spirit and temper from any thing that would allow the hope that they arc 'Christians? It will not for a moment be imagined that we are here putting in question the means of bringing men to repentance, with those who are not convinced that the proclamation of peace with God, through the sacrifice of his Son, is the ouly thing that will ever turn a sinner from the error of his way; —with such persons we have not now to do;—but those who are agreed upon this essential article, and who are equally anxious for the result, may differ materiajly in the point they fix upon, in that space that separates worldly prudence froin unwise zeal/ To treat such a question would obviously lead'us out far beyond our limits, and we shall content ourselves at' present with directing the attention of those persons whoj like Mr. Wilks, are expressly aiming at the conviction of nominal Christians,
towards a subject, in their views of which we thitik there is an
. .*•.», f.' /