Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Popery, wherever the power of her subjects prevails, their religion is enforced by weapons not of our warfare. The Portugueze were the first to make conquests; and continued for a while to reign over the sea-coasts without a rival. They built cities and established factories on the eastern and southern coasts of Africa, and made inany converts to their Christianity, such as it was ; of whom no small body remains at Loango, on the one side, and Mosainbique on the other. Even this, with all its superstitions; is highly preferable to the state of brutish ignorance which they found; but when we speak of Christianity in its genuine form and character, we can little hope for a spark of evangelical religion among these half-converts from Paganism.

The other nations of Europe have followed these first conquerors, and dispossessed them of a great part of their coast and factories. The Dutch, the English, the Danes, and the French, have all in succession come in for a share in the trade, formed settlements, and built fortresses on the coast. With the settlers and military, chaplains have indeed been sent, and each nation taught the form of Christianity established in their country; but neither the object of pursuit of the several nations, or the ministers employed, could be supposed to lead to any favourable influence in promoting of vital Christianity among the Heathen. Accordingly, during the long series of years that the coast has been frequented, I have never heard . till of late that any vigorous steps have been taken to introduce the gospel into the nations adjacent to the several factories; but as I have heard a friend say, who once resided there, 'The white men grew black, and became like the Heathen, instead of the natives offering a convert to Christianity.'

By a series of providences in the shifting scenes of the world, the English of late have nearly established their dominion from Senegal to the Cape of Good Hope, and from thence to Caffraria ; and though long involved in equal guilt with other European nations, they have at last, when they might have engrossed the whole of the lucrative trade in slaves to themselves, though after much hesitation and many struggles, nobly and most Christian-like renounced, and, 1 hope for ever, ihe detestable and criminal traffic of human flesh:- a practice not only utterly repugnant to the followers of Him who came to preach deliverance to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who were bound,' but inconsistent with the jealous care of that political liberty, in which every Briton makes his boast. Thus hath the nation rolled away her rcproach, and possessed of territory and influence, may now be justly expected, for its own best interest, to proinoie civilization and commercial improvement of the country; to which nothing will so powerfully and effectually contribute as the introduction of pure religion and holy examples.

One noble attempt was indeed made b 3thropic Society, at the close of the last century, to form a setten.enton principles of true Christianity, and with a view to the instruction of the natives in our arts and sciences; at least, those of the commonest use and most easy attainment. A colony with a Christian governor at its head, faithful ministers his assistants, and some gracious men from England, and black men from Nova Scotia, opened their career with great expectations of success; but the unfavourableness of the climate, an unhappy war, the depredations of an enemy, the foe to humanity, with other unforeseen difficulties, reduced the resources, and disappointed the hopes of the Sierra Leone Directors; and rendered the return of a number of young natives, sent to England for education, less profitable than had been reasonably expected. A succession of faithful missionaries, from different denominations, were sent to promote the great object of this Society; but the sultry and unfavourable climate destroyed some, disabled others, and drove them enfeebled back to the land from whence they came. The efforts of all proved aborlive; and the necessity of their circumstances compelled the company to surrender what remained of the settlement into the hands of governinent, with the total loss of all which had been subscribed ;-yet, hath not the attempt failed or been abandoned: the colony is yet maintained in its original plan by the government, and the lately instituted African Missionary Society hath sent out several faithful ministers, chiefly Germans, to learn the languages of the natives, - to penetrate into the Foulah country, and to maintain and increase the spirit of true religion, which still subsists among the original settlers; and more than one black congregation assembles for the worship of Him who died for them, and rose again. It is indeed a day of sinall things; but a grain or two of wheat, though apparently lost in the surrounding chaff, may still preserve the holy seed, and grow into great increase.

[7o be continued.)

ON SUDDEN CONVERSIONS.

Sir,

To the Editor. Perhaps, you may deem the following Extract of a Letter, which i lately received from a friend, on the subject of • Sudden Conversions,' worthy a place in your Magazine.

Your humble Servant, London

H. F. With your request for my general opinion on the present Bishop of L-'s Primary Charge to the clergy of his diocese, iný numerous engagements do not permit me to com

ply; yet I will offer you a few thoughts on that part of his discourse which has most forcibly struck you,--SUDDEN CON VERSIONS; which his Lordship, with many other modern divines, ranks among the follies of Methodism. Though you are not inclined to adopt, in its full extent, the opinion of his Lordship on this subject, yet you seem willing to concede more than I think Candour demands, or Truth admits.

It is of importance in all cases, to commence with a clear definition and full understanding of the terms in which the subject itself is expressed. What then are we to understand by the terins to convert, or conversion? In the English language it signifies two things: - First, To bring over from idolatry, or avowed infidelity, to a belief and worship of the true God (1 Thess. i. 9); and, secondly, To recover from a state of praca tical unbeliet and actual impenitence to the love and fear of God. The conversions recorded in the New Testament generally include both. There was a change both in opinion and ieinper. This is sometimes the case now; but we commonly understand the latter. Few among the more zealous profes. sors of Christianity confound proselytism with conversion; and, therefore, we take for granted, that the term, in the present instance, means a change froin impenitence to faith and holiness.

I wish you barely to glance at some of the conversions re. corded in the New Testament. Of individuals : Peter, in Matt.iv. 18; Philip and Nathaniel, in John i. 43, 49; the Ethiopian eunuch, in Acts iii. 6; Saul, in Acts ix. Of households : Jailor, Lydia, &c. in Acts xvi. Of inultitudes, in Acts ii. 41. Whether these conversions affect the argument, as it applies to modern cases or not, they clearly prove the possibility of the thing for which we contend, and that it is no ilovelty in the church of Christ. Great and gencral conversions were, it is true, commonly preceded by miracles; but the immediate curse has nothing to do with the inatter of fact, which, if once established by proof, which even his Lordship admits, must, prima facie, have an unfavourable effect on an argument, which considers such a thing as borderng upon, if not actually within, the confives of impossibility.

The divine writers at once pronounce them conversions ; and indeed the converts gave, instantaneously, all the evidences of sincerity which could be given in their circumstances. They forsook Judaism, or fleathenism, for a profession of Christianity: they submitted to its rites, - admitted its great facts, embraced its doctrines, and hazarded the loss of all things : but supposing (what is universally admitted) that conversion meant also a change of disposition and habits, these evidences announted only to a high degree of probability; and it was left for their future conduct to prove, beyond

rational doubt, the truth of that change; now these convers sions were, at most, but the beginning of their Christianity. Tiine only could actually bring out, and give substance, form, and expression to their principles. Had any man objected to these accounts of sudden conversions, and maintained that the characters of good men were gradually formed under the influence of powerful principles, the apostles would have felt no hesitation in admitting the truth of the assertion, without ceasing to maintain the truth of their own accounts; and this argument, if good in their cases, is equally so in ours.

The question between us and our opponepts on this subject, must be kept carefully distinct from another, which has been commonly confounded with it, namely, “ The cause of these supposed conversions. The question is not, Are they effected by the ferment and tumult of the passions, wrought into action, and roazed so powerfully by the unmeaning clamour or terrific representations of some mad enthusiast? - or, by the natural operation of evangelical truth on the understanding and the heart ? - or, by the influence of the Holy Spirit in preparing the mind to receive and act under the influence of truth? These belong to a different part of the subject; on which, it time permit, I may hereafter offer you my opinion, Placing the causes of this supposed change out of view, the whole reverts to a question of fact :

: - Is conversion sudden, or is it not? And if it be a fact, can it be accounted for on any known principles of reason or religion ?

The fuct is not to be decided by idle declamation, - by real or pretended affrights at a doctrine so horrid'y unphilosophical as the admission of the fact would involve. His Lordship has, perhaps, contemplated Man only in books, or in college and high life. He has here met with few, if any, instances of the kind for which we contend: but his ignorance will not, I hope, be admitted as an argument, either in mata ter of speculation or of fact. We know and can produce numerous instances of persons, who have had such a wrench in their intellectual and moral powers,' that there has been a visible, immediate, mighty, and permanent change wrought in their views, tempers, and habits. If these are fucts, they are facts independent on any man's opinion,-and however unable bis Lordship may be, on any principles which he receives, to account for them. Go to Kingswood, to many parts of Cornwall

, and to many estates in the West Indies, and you will find thousands who were once every thing that want of principle, – that ignorance, associated with savage brutality could render them, now the ornaments of their neighbourhood; they deny all ungodliness and woridly lust, and live soberly, righteously, and godly.' So general have been the effects, that the very face of society has in these places been changer!; and this has been accomplished by many sudden and striking

conversions, as well as by the equally powerful, though less striking influence of education, and early habits of industry and sobriety. Let our opponents, with all the liberality for which they are distinguished, exclaim,' These are all the effects of enthusiasm ! Were it even so, it would not affect my argument. I am not now enquiring into a cause, but simply contending for a fact.

Now, admitting the fact of real conversion in any case, which even his Lordship does not affect to deny, the question is, Does it involve any absurdity to maintain that such a conversion may be sudden? We admit, indeed, that the formation of moral character in many men, who have been converted from perfect indifference, or from a state of actual, visible vice, has been gradual, and its progress almost imperceptible; yet it will here be fairly enquired, Must there not have been a moment in their existence, which, in the language of the schools, we may call the terminus a quo, the bound from which their retrograde moral movement commenced? This, though accompanied with no violent commotion of mind, is as really a sudden conversion as any for which we plead. The history of the theatre, amidst the ten thousand victims, whose ruin it does or might record, presents us one solitary instance of moral conversion. A youth, rushing on, through expensive habits and profligate manners, to utter destruction, saw and heard the tragedy of George Barnwell. Anticipating from his present pursuits a fate equally tragical, he was affected with a sense of his guilt, while he beheld the consequences to which it might ultimately lead him. He became, it is said, sober, virtuous, and industrious. If this were a fact, who does not instantly admit that it was a sudden conversion From that night he became a different man. Will his Lordship, will any man who professes the Christian religion, refuse to the sacred eloquence of the gospel a moral agency equally powerful? But in this and similar cases he might, perhaps, even admit our views of the subject.

His objection, I apprehend, is principally, if not exclusively, against a conversion powerful, strong, marked ; and which, with most of its atlendant circumstances, the person actually does, or at least pretends distinctly to remember. That such a thing is neither impossible nor unlikely, is, I think, clearly proveable, both frim reason and revelation. Does Reason maintain that every man who turns from vice to virtue, must retreat in the slow iinperceptible way which his Lordship approves? Does Reason demand an extinction of the passions in religion? - or, Does it forbid a man, who inay have been rouzed by the terrors of the Lord, to remeinber his past feelings? Does Reve ation forbid us to expect it? Ancient converts were 'pricked to the heart;'and, with an anx; iety which a modern bishop night treat as enthusiasın, cried

« AnteriorContinuar »