Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and made by the Son of God a duty. But this is not all. It is a waste of breath, it is a loss of time, and strength, and love, it is to invite abuse and cause further sin, to solicit favors which “a perverted conscience” will not allow to be given. Where there is such a sense of infallibility, or such ignorance of Christianity, that any number of human beings can suppose themselves alone called, or alone able, to carry on the work of the gospel, it is better that others should remain by themselves, and do their own duty independently. Nothing can be gained by bringing together those whose consciences live in opposite hemispheres, while their hands and feet attempt to move in union. The difficulty is with the conscience, or rather with what men imagine to be conscience; and until that difficulty is removed, the conscience enlightened, and the soul enlarged, coöperation will be but a name. "It is inevitable,” as Mr. Abbott says, “that each party will be watchful and jealous. If they mean to take a bigh-minded and honorable course, they will be anxious and watchful, lest they should themselves do something to offend their allies; and if, on the other hand, they are narrow-minded and envious, they will be on the watch, lest the others should do something unjust towards them. The very nature of the case shows, what all experience confirms, that such alliances between the denominations, while each one considers itself the only true church, will always be of the nature, not of a peace among friends, but a temporary and jealous truce between foes.”

Mr. Abbott's way to do good, in relation to this state of the church, is that of learning the real place which forms and modes occupy in the view of reason and revelation, making them subordinate to the power of faith and the spirit of benevolence, and while we leave each of the several sections of the Christian family in quiet possession of its own ground, and use of its own means, endeavouring “to diminish, and ultimately to destroy, the walls of jealousy and dislike which separate them.” His own view of forms may be seen in the following propositions which be lays down as fundamental. They are far in advance of some that we have seen, and not entirely unlike some for which we have ourselves suffered reproach. We commend them to the ruling powers of those churches, which glory in Apostolical authority and infallible standards.

“1. Forms of ecclesiastical organization, while they were under the special direction of God, in ancient days, were not fixed and permanent, but were changed continually, according to the exigencies of the times. These changes continued down to the close of the scripture history.

"2. The forms that were in use at the close of the scripture history, were only usages incidentally introduced, from time to time, and not adopted as a system deliberately arranged and established, once for all.

“3. The description of these usages is very indistinct and incomplete.

“4. The Apostles were not strict and uniform in their observance of them.

“5. Their present authority rests on the mere practice of good men, in early times, which is nowhere in the Scriptures made binding.

“6. The most complete system which can be drawn from these records of early practice, is not at all sufficient for the present wants of the church.

7. The union of Christians, under any one consolidated ecclesiastical government, must be highly dangerous if not fatal to the cause of true piety.

“8. God sanctions, by the influence of his Holy Spirit, the existence and operations of all those denominations of Christians, whatever may be their forms, whose faith and practice correspond with his word.”

On each of these propositions, the author enlarges, sometimes with effect, sometimes profusely and unprofitably. The principle, however, and the spirit are good throughout. We cannot follow him, nor do we think it right to take room for quotations, though there are many passages worthy of notice. One, in illustration of the fifth position, involves truths and distinctions which are so seldom avowed by certain Christians, if held, that we ask a place for them, so far as they are here expressed.

The disposition thus to exalt the measures and administration adopted by the Apostles, into precedents as binding upon our forms of organization, as their writings are upon our belief and moral conduct, though it is thus utterly baseless and defenceless in theory, steals insensibly over our minds, and exerts a powerful influence. In fact, we could not attach infallibility to A postolic practice as an avowed theory. Such a doctrine could not be maintained for an hour; but it insensibly creeps into our minds, and we find ourselves tacitly admitting, and silently acting upon that, which, as a distinctly stated proposition, we should immediately reject. I repeat it, that Apostolic example is of immense value and impor.

tance to us, - but it is not authoritative precedent, so that we are to reduce it to system, and force it upon every company of Christians on the globe, upon pain of excommunication. And yet this is the true secret of the divisions and jealousies which prevail in the Christian world. The incidental, scattered, and imperfect allusions which the Apostles made, to the measures they thought called for in their days, in which there is no evidence whatever that they were infallibly guided, and which they probably never thought would be looked back upon as infallible precedents,

these allusions we search out and bring together, we build up a great deal of meaning upon expressions very brief and few, and we mingle with the natural import of the record, the recollections and associations with which our own peculiar religious history has stored our minds, and the complicated system which we thus form, we insist is essential to Christianity." — pp. 211, 212.

It is one of the recommendations of this book, that it exposes the fallacy of many of those puerile modes of thinking and speaking, which, with not a sew Christians among us, have passed into axioms, and are habitually given out as truth and orthodoxy. Some instances of this have been partially shown in the extracts we have inade. We will notice one other more directly. There is a silly saying which has reached our ears in various forms, amounting to this, - that a merely moral man is in greater danger, if not a greater sinner, than a grossly immor

Mr. Abbott admits that it is a common opinion, and rebukes it. He acknowledges the disposition of many to regard with more dislike, and condemn more violently, those who differ least from them, than those who differ most, and shows the inconsistency of such a disposition. “Instead of looking with a jealous and malignant eye, upon those who differ least from us, we should be glad to have them as near as they are.” Their holding half the truth is not to be treated as a sin. Their condition is not worse, but far better than that of those who reject all truth. “ Persons embracing a corrupted or defective form of Christianity, are more accessible, conscience is more easily awakened, conviction of sin and penitence are more readily felt than under the deadening influence of paganism. Many of my readers may have been accustomed to think differently. ” That is a singular system, and those are singular teachers, both in a mental and moral view, who lead any to think differently. It would seem to be clear enough for most children's comprehension, that he who has travelled half the distance that separates hin from home, is nearer that home, and can more easily reach it, than the man who has not begun the journey and has no disposition, perhaps no ability, to begin. We are pleased to see also, in another place, as a part of the same discrimination and candor in Mr. Abbott, that he considers “sympathy" the only avenue by which the unbeliever is to be reached; and that he admits, what we have heard more than one public teacher deny, that a deist may be honest. As in other cases, we do not quote this as a great admission, in itself, but only in comparison. It is unusual and encouraging, - though Christianity has been some time prevalent, and we live in an enlightened age and a favored country,- it is encouraging to find any one willing to advise those who would convert men from error and unbelief, to approach them with such feelings as the following words express ;-—“I do not think it surprising that such a man should be a Deist. Considering his education, his associates, and the position he occupies, I can see easily how the subject of revealed religion should present itself in such a way to his mind, as to lead him to disbelieve it." If unbelievers were always regarded and approached in such a spirit, so far at least as their peculiar case admitted, if it were even allowed that there may be peculiarities in the case of different unbelievers, degrees of virtue and vice, a possible exemption from all that God would condemn, there would be ground for a thankful and a most cheering hope. How much have Christians yet to learn, as to their duty toward those whom they regard as not Christians, - be they near or distant, half or wholly infidel. How much have they to learn, and how much to do! May God open the heart, and hasten the work !

al man.

We have spoken of Mr. Abbott's book throughout with approbation. We are not disposed to retract or even qualify this opinion, on account of a few faults and errors. A few there are, decided faults and errors, and we had marked some of them as calling for notice. But they are so few, and so evidently the defects of a system more than of an individual mind, that we leave them with this passing allusion. They do not injure the work materially, and would not prevent our putting it into any library or any bands. The space that would be taken by a more particular notice of them, we prefer to occupy, if we may, by a few remarks of our own on the great subject of the book itself, — the Way to do Good. And that we may be both definite and brief, we confine ourselves to one view of that subject; namely, want of faith in moral influences, as the most serious obstacle, now prevalent among us, in the way of doing good ; an obstacle and evil, as chargeable upon us, as Liberal Christians, as upon any portion of the community, and with glaring inconsistency.

By moral influences, we understand the power of mind upon mind, the influence of thought freely pursued and freely expressed, the influence of knowledge, reflection, inquiry, discussion, the influence of right principle acting itself out, the influence of Truth. Take any of the great evils or good enterprises of the world, and see what a lamentable want of faith in these influences everywhere prevails. Take war, intemperance, slavery, infidelity. The number is small, comparatively, of those who hold wrong views of these evils, and are prevented from acting upon them only by wrong views. At least the number is large of those who hold right views, who have sufficient knowledge, who do not need to be convinced of the horrors or expenses of war and intemperance, the wrong of slavery or the danger of infidelity, - but who see no way, in which they can do any thing to relieve these enormous evils. They seem to regard them as, in some sense, a part of the course of nature, if not the order of Providence, which it were wrong to suppose we can change. Thus they settle down into that short-sighted and fatal feeling, that these are among the “necessary evils,” which God may arrest, and will in his own time, but over which man has no power.

This sentiment is particularly important, because it prevails among the better portions of society, among decided Christians. It pervades all classes, and bears upon all relations and interests. It affects legislators, statesmen, rulers, reformers, ministers, and churches. It binders inquiry. It restrains expression. It forbids discussion. It prevents knowledge, action, and even reflection. For that which men do not speak of freely, nor ever act upon, they seldom think of, or think to no purpose, ask for no information, hearken to no argument, feel no obligation. In this way many who would feel and act are discouraged, those who have no desire to feel or act, are excused, and the few who are so weak as to feel unduly, or so bold as to express their feeling in decided action, are ridiculed, if not condemned and opposed. Sad, that this spirit should prevail among Christians, on any subject. Particularly sad, , that it should stand in the path of causes eminently Christian, and reforms confessedly practicable. Sad beyond expression,

- 30 8. VOL. III. NO. III. 41

VOL. XXI.

« AnteriorContinuar »