« AnteriorContinuar »
We must think, and pray, and labour for the young and for the aged, for the stable and for the unsettled, for the novice and for the matured, for wanderers who have backslidden, and for rebels who have surrendered, for the peaceful, happy church, and for a restless, groaning world. Are we in the advance, or in the ear of our times? Our people are looking to us for instruction, for counsel, for encouragement, for consolation. We are their leaders ; but are we “ followers of God as dear children ?” Are we diligent tillers of the ground, faithful stewards of the kingdom, kind shepherds of the flock, intelligent expounders of the word of our Great Master? We exhort our people to examine themselves ; let us take the advice we give. Ours is indeed an awfully responsible post. Who is sufficient for it? If we fail, we lead others astray. If we become cold and callous, we freeze and harden those to whom we minister. If we are carnal and worldly, light and trifling, every prayer we offer, every sermon we preach, every pastoral visit we make, will be a record of our personal delinquency, and of our official failure and guilt. The vows of God are upon us. Angels, devils, men, all know that we are the avowed ministers of the cross, — Christ's ambassadors to the camp and court of his foes. If it be right for our people to prepare for the cares and conflicts of another year, and to walk worthy of their vocation throughout it, is it not our duty to instruct and encourage them as well by example as by precept? We must observe the rules by which we expect them to walk, and converse with those realities which we are anxious they should be familiarly acquainted with. We must be the first, not the last to do and suffer our Lord's will. This year may be the closing one of our labour, and even of life. Shall it not be the most active, the most self-denying, the most spiritual of all the years of our ministry, whether they have been many or few? God grant that it may be so. He may chastise, he may dishonour us for the unrepented failures and mistakes of the past year; and should he do it, we must be dumb. But let the first step of the new year be taken in the right direction, let the standard of our hopes and efforts be elevated. Brethren, are we girded for the battle, are we emulous of the prize ?
TRAVELS AMONG THE CHURCHES.
BY THE AUTHOR OF “DECAPOLIS.”
At the autumnal meeting of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, holden at Nottingham, in 1841, a resolution was unanimously carried, recommending the appointment of a travelling agent, in connexion with the Home Missionary Society, to visit the stations, meet the various associations with which those stations are united, and preach collection sermons, on behalf of the parent institution, wherever arrangements could be made for that purpose.
At the request of the directors, and with the advice of various brethren whom I consulted on the subject, on the last sabbath of the December following, I resigned my charge, at Lymington, to enter on this service. My engagement extended only to two years; and, therefore, would have expired at Christmas, 1843. A short time previously the hand of Providence, as I trust, directed me to the charge which I have recently accepted ; and now, in the comparative retirement of a stated ministry, I can calmly review the course through which I have passed, and the various scenes which I have witnessed, during my arduous and, as I trust, not wholly unsuccessful occupation.
At the request of the Editor of the Congregational Magazine, I have engaged to prepare a series of papers of which this is the commencement: but I wish it to be distinctly understood, that for any opinions which I may express, neither he nor the directors of the society for which my travels were undertaken, can be held in the slightest degree accountable. For every statement which, in the course of these articles, I may lay before the public, I am alone responsible. For this reason, I have preferred writing in the first person singular, and making no secret as to authorship.
The opportunities which I have had of forming my opinions, have been such as are possessed by few; but, nevertheless, infallibility is a claim to which I make no pretension. It may
conclusions are hasty, although, for the most part, I have been more than two years in forming them; and that my observations are superficial, although, with two or three exceptions, my inquiries have, more or less, extended to all the counties of England.
In the reminiscences which will follow, I intend to give no places, to mention no names, to violate no confidence. I shall merely report, as an impartial witness, that which I have heard and seen ; and if, in any case, my statements should prove unwelcome, let it be remembered that “ faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
Throughout my travels, one thing has struck me very forcibly, and that is, the connexion between the pulpit and the pew—the pastor and the flock. Superficial observers of the voluntary system, as it is now the fashion to call it,) have often contended that the people form the minister ; but a more intimate acquaintance with facts, would convince them that the minister forms the people. As our churches, happily, have not to contend with the evils of patronage, the pastor must, in the first instance, obtain his appointment from the suffrages of the flock; and, therefore, a man who is obviously deficient, as to character, talent, or piety, has little chance of obtaining a charge, at least where a moderate share of prudence and caution is manifested on the part of the deacons; but when once the candidate has established himself in the pastorate, his peculiar characteristics for good or ill, will gradually, though perhaps insensibly, mould the character of the great mass of his hearers. Undoubtedly, exceptions may occur : I have known some men of zeal and piety, whose ministry has made but little satisfactory impression ; but in cases of an opposite order, the result is almost invariable. A preacher of indolent or trifling habits will assuredly inoculate those who consent to hear him. If the minister is contented to let things take their ordinary course, the people in general, will love to have it so; and the few who may mourn in secret over the general decay of piety, will be regarded by the rest with suspicion and mistrust, or to say the least of it, will be left to weep alone.
Another fact, analogous to this, has occurred to me in relation to ministerial association. The influence of a man of extraordinary devotedness is seldom restricted to the flock which has the happiness to enjoy his ministrations. His brethren, in the neighbourhood, catch his spirit, and communicate it to their people. In the course of my travels, I have met with some devoted ministers, who are thus centres of holy influence in the districts where they dwell. Without the slightest attempt to lord it over God's heritage, or even to interfere with "another man's line of things made ready to their hands,” they diffuse a leaven of piety in all directions. It is by no means improbable that to this circumstance is mainly traceable the well-known fact that, in religious revivals, certain localities have been remarkably blest; while others, not far distant, have seen nothing of the gracious visitation. The truth has been, that the preliminary bestowment of a revived condition of piety in connexion with the ministry, has led to new and prayerful effort on the part of the people, and that God, ever faithful to his promise, has poured down his blessing, just as soon as his weary heritage was prepared to receive it.
If these views are correct, how important is it, that both ministers and people should deeply feel the responsibility connected with their individual trusts !—that the former should ponder continually the solemn fact, that under God, the piety of their people will depend on the character of their own; and that when the latter are called, either in their individual or collective capacity, to select a pastor, their choice should be guided by the most sacred considerations; since respectability, and talent, and literary standing, afford little compensation for the absence of those qualifications which are best adapted to lead sinners to repentance, and saints to heaven!
ON CHRISTIAN PERFECTION.
There are few of the less essential doctrines of the Gospel respecting which there is so much reciprocal misunderstanding as there is about that of Christian perfection. With the exception of Antinomians, all
, who acknowledge the authority of the New Testament, profess to believe that something thus designated ought to be sought by every one who bears the Christian name; but the respective parties so variously define this perfection, that it may seem to the young Christian only deserving of a name, like the ancient manna, significant of our ignorance of what it is. It is, however, of great importance to take a clear view of an object which should ever be vividly before our eyes, and to reach which we are to make the most vigorous and untiring efforts.
The Greek scholar needs not to be told that although the lexicographers out of classical writers, and Suicer and others out of the Christian fathers, help to determine the meaning of Telos, various forms of which are chiefly employed to express the subject before us; yet, that we must rather seek out its meaning by comparing its use in different parts of the New Testament, and in the Greek versions of the Old, than from any etymological investigation, or from any conventional interpretation in the earlier, though uninspired, Christian authors. *
There is however a passage in the Cyropædia of Xenophon, giving an account of the education and classification of public men in ancient Persia, which appears to throw considerable light on the subject. “This place, near the public courts, is divided into four parts; one is allotted to the boys, one to the youths, one to the full-grown men— Témetor—and one to those who exceed the years of military service.” The age of the té ecol extended from about the twenty-sixth to the fifty-first or fifty-second year, the most mature and perfect state of human life.
* Suicer will, indeed, well repay those who consult him. The English reader will be interested in the following passages from Clement of Alexandria :—"Any one is perfect even as he is pious, as he is patient, as he is temperate, as he is laborious, as he is a martyr, and as he is instructed. But one in every respect, and, at the same time, perfect, I know not that there is any such among men, he yet being a man; He only excepted who, according to the naked law, clothed himself in humanity for us. Who, then, may be perfect ? He who prosesses abstinence from sins."
Macarius is still more pertinent. “Never yet have I seen any Christian perfect or exempt from (sin); for although any one may repose on grace (of the Gospel,) and attain to mysteries and revelations, and have great enjoyment of this grace; his sin, nevertheless, still exists together with himself."
Our chief inquiry then is, in what sense do the New Testament writers apply this term to the followers of Jesus Christ ? I pass over the word kataprious as used in 2 Cor. xiii. 9, and in other parts in some of its forms, rendered 'perfect in our translation, only reminding the reader, that this term expresses the idea of fitness or completeness in the parts, the integrity of an individual or of a community. Applied therefore to the understanding, it means a comprehensive knowledge of Divine things; and morally, an equal respect to all God's commandments. It seems also to imply the completing of the saints both in their number, and in their qualifications for various offices in the church. See Heb. xiii. 21; 1 Pet. v. 10; Eph. iv. 12, &c.
A few of the different forms of témos as they present themselves in the New Testament, may now be examined. Matt. v. 48: “Be ye therefore perfect,” rédeloi. This is an exhortation to the exercise of universal benevolence, in imitation of our heavenly Father, who “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” 1 Cor. ii. 6: “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” év tois teleious, who are initiated into the Christian mysteries, who have spiritual perspicacity and judgment. I Cor. xiv. 20 : “ Howbeit, in malice be ye children, but in understanding be ye men,” tais de ppeol té elol yiveobe, be ye mature, adults in judgment, and not children, ill informed and undecided.
In the Epistle to the Philippians the word is employed in the senses most to our purpose. Chap. iii. 12 : “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect," ñ 118n teteleiwpa referring to the state of sinless perfection which shall be enjoyed at “the resurrection of the dead :" in the 15th verse of the same chapter the apostle adds, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded," "Oool oův TEMELOL, exhorting Christians who have already attained to maturity of grace and knowledge; as if he should say, Let as many as have, through grace, made considerable proficiency in religious profession, be agreed to press on, with all energy, to the highest possible attainments.
Dr. A. Clarke, I must be allowed to think, appears to have failed in his attempt to affix the idea of martyrdom to teteleiwuar in the 12th verse. His quotations indeed from the Greek Fathers are apposite, and TEdelwois may properly express martyrdom, both as such a death is the consummation of the martyr's toils and sufferings, and as it affords the strongest witness he can give to the truth of the Gospel; but certainly it was not the great aim and desire of Paul to die a martyr! If indeed bonds and afflictions and even death obstructed his apostolic course, there was that confidence, that fortitude, that calm heroism in his breast, which so raised him above the fear of suffering, that none of these things moved him : but where does he display that weak and unscriptural impatience for martyrdom, which so early appeared in