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It has been stated, that few, if any, instances occur in which conversion takes place by means of the reading of our evangelical liturgy and the scriptures in the places of worship: and I would be far from considering this, apart from faithful preaching, as adequate to the religious instruction of any congregation or parish, in the manner which many do. Yet I have met with instances, in which, as far as I could judge, conversion had been effected, through God's grace, by means of the church service exclusively: but especially I have known several individuals, conscientious, dissatisfied with themselves, yet ignorant, and even prejudiced against the preachers of the gospel, but greatly attached to the church; who, when the gospel was brought to them on their own ground, soon found it was precisely the thing which they wanted, and embraced it in some respects after the same manner as Cornelius did the message of Peter, only by a more gradual progress. Among these some instances have occurred under my own ministry, of persons of seventy or eighty years of age, who ended their lives usefully and happily.
The situation of a parish minister has also the following advantage. It is conceded that his parishioners are his proper charge; and he is supposed to be doing nothing but what may be reasonably expected from him, when by kind and lenient, yet firm measures, he urges each individual to attend on the worship of God, and uses other means, by private exhortation, admonition, and persuasion, of influencing them to mind the one thing needful; or puts tracts into the hands of each parishioner, for this purpose; and when, even uncalled, he visits the house of sickness and mourning, with his instructions and prayers. In this licensed preachers are not confined to the form of visitation, as many imagine, but left in great measure to their own discretion; as indeed they are in many respects far beyond what is generally supposed. In these, and various other ways, the parish minister has access to those whom he could not by other means readily approach: and, even when unwelcome, he stands on ground on which, if he act properly, he cannot be censured; but will have a testimony in the consciences even of those who dislike his intrusion. He has, in respect of others, very many opportunities of attempting good: but here he cultivates as it were his own land, and is blameable if he do not improve his advantages to the utmost.
As to the fact; I have seldom heard even the strictest dissenters deny, that very numerous conversions have taken place under the ministry of those who have laboured, and do labour, in the established church; while the members, and not very unfrequently the ministers, of the dissenting churches were first brought to the knowledge of the gospel by their labours, or rather by the blessing of God on those labours:—for " this hath "God wrought." The conduct, however, of the apostles, who saw one "casting out devils in "Christ's name, and forbade him, because he "followed not with them," has been more imitated, among all parties, than the admonition of our Lord on the occasion has been duly regarded; else so many methods would not have been used, of weakening the hands, and drawing off the congregations, of pious clergymen.
I once conversed with a dissenter, who observed, that he had heard one of his brethren express a wish that there were no pious ministers in the establishment. On further inquiry I found that he, who thus expressed himself, did not doubt that God converted many sinners by the ministry of such pious clergymen: but he added, The person who informed me said, that, if there had been no pious clergy, God would have brought those sinners to the meeting, and there have converted them. The answer which I gave to this was obvious: Your friend supposes, then, that the only wise God has formed a plan for the accomplishing of his gracious purposes, and is carrying it into effect by his special grace; but that, if God would have consulted him, he could have suggested a better plan!
The persons concerned may indeed take wrong steps, and be left under some mistakes and prejudices. But can we suppose that God evidently prospered what he entirely and totally disapproved? and that he crowned, and still crowns, with success the labours of those in the establishment, who are in duty bound to come out from it; nay, would be so if the establishment were ever so unexceptionable? If " he that winneth "souls be wise;" he who continues, as far as he can conscientiously, where he has peculiar opportunities of winning souls, and where God crowns his labour, and that of his brethren, with much success, cannot be very unwise. But verily Ithink he would be unwise, who, without any very urgent reason should quit a situation in which he possesses advantages for this most important of all objects, such as he probably could not soon meet with elsewhere.
RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT OF ISRAEL.
It is generally admitted by all parties, in controversies about establishments, that the religion of the Old Testament, or rather the religion of Israel under the Mosaic dispensation, was an establishment, whatever conclusions they may attempt to deduce from the acknowledged fact. It may, however, be worth while to inquire, in what sense this was really the case.
The circumstance, indeed, that from Adam to Moses (above 2500 years) true religion was found on earth, without an establishment, or any thing resembling one; and yet that at the end of that period God himself formed an establishment; shews that true piety may subsist either without an establishment or under one; that an external change in the situation of those who profess true religion may render an establishment highly expedient and beneficial, when before that change it could hardly have been admissible; and that the case of the Old Testament church, from the first promise to the coming of the Messiah, was not in this respect totally dissimilar to that of the New