« AnteriorContinuar »
and illumination of the Spirit, which were evidently requisite among the primitive Christians."
As the mistaken Jews, perfectly satisfied with the law of Moses, inscribed upon tables of stone, rejected, with obstinacy, the promised Messiah: so these carnal Christians, contented with the letter of the New Testament, perversely reject the " Holy Spirit of promise," Eph. i, 13. "Search the Scriptures; for they testify of me," John v, 39, was our Lord's exhortation to these deluded formalists. And the true minister continues to press the same exhortation upon those who blindly oppose the coming of Christ's spiritual kingdom. He is anxious, with his hea\ enly Master, to put the matter upon this issue; fully conscious, that they who peruse those sacred pages with an unprejudiced mind, must readily observe, that, instead of superseding the necessity of a spiritual baptism, they give ample testimony that such baptism is to be considered as a privilege freely offered to the whole multitude of believers.
When Christians affirm that the manifestation of the Spirit is no longer to be sought after, except in that mysterious volume which promises this manifestation to the Church; modern Jews might as well declare that they look for no other manifestation of their Messiah, than that which is to be found in those books of Moses and the prophets, where the coming of that Messiah is repeatedly promised. But if it be said, "The Spirit of Christ was fully given to his first disciples, and that is sufficient for us;" this argument has in it as great absurdity as the following method of reasoning: "Moses instructs us, that God created the sun, and that the patriarchs were happily enlightened by it: but the supreme illumination of that sun is no longer to be discovered, except in the writings of Moses; and those labourers are downright enthusiasts, who imagine they need any other rays from that luminary, except such as are reflected upon them from the book of Genesis. The Scripture informs us, that God commanded the earth to produce a variety of fruits and plants for the nourishment of its inhabitants; covenanting, on his part, to send refreshing rains and convenient seasons. "But we do not live," exclaims a rational farmer, "in the season of miracles, nor am I enthusiastic enough to expect that rain shall be sent upon the earth. Mention indeed is made, in ancient history, of the former and the latter rain; and the books which speak of these fructifying showers, and promise a continuance of them to the latest posterity, are undoubtedly authentic: nevertheless, all the rain we can now reasonably expect, must flow from these books alone, and from those speculations which our reason can make upon the truths they contain." Who will not smile at such a method of reasoning as this?
In those things which respect our temporal interests, we are not stupid enough to be deluded by such wretched sophisms, though we frequently deceive both ourselves and others, with regard to spiritual things, by arguments no less palpably absurd. "God," says the orthodox professor, " undoubtedly caused the Sun of righteousness so effectually to shine upon believers, on the day of pentecost, that they were instantaneously baptized "with the Holy Ghost and with fire." A celestial shower, at that time, refreshed the Church; and the mystic vine, matured on a sudden, by the direct rays of so glorious a luminary, was assisted to produce, internally, all the graces, and, externally, all the fruits of the Spirit. But such extraordinary phenomena, which accompanied tliat dazzling sun, and those gracious showers, have long ago disappeared. Nay, that sun itself is totally eclipsed, with respect to us; and the book, which bears testimony to the constant influence of that sun, and the endless duration of those showers, now absolutely stands in the place of both." Ridiculous divinity! And shall they be called enthusiasts who oppose such absurdities as these? Then fanaticism may be said to consist in making a rational distinction between the pearl of great price and the testament that bequeaths it; between that sacred volume, in which the Comforter is merely promised, and the actual presence of that Comforter in the heart. To pretend that we have no longer any need of the Spirit of Christ, because we are in possession of an incomparable book, which declares, that " if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," Rom. viii, 9, is not this to destroy, at once, both the letter and spirit of the Gospel? And when we see those Christians who profess the utmost respect for revelation, deriding, without fear, the manifestation of that Spirit, by which alone "the love of God [can be] shed abroad in our hearts," Rom. v, 5, what judgment can we form of such persons, but that they are disposed to treat the Gospel of our glorified Master as Judas once treated its persecuted Author? Whatever air of devotion they may assume, while they salute the exterior of it, their secret intention is to betray the very life of the Gospel to derision and infamy. By arguments of this nature it is that Christian ministers are frequently obliged to defend the dispensation of the Spirit from the outrageous attacks of carnally-minded Christians.
But there are times in which the faithful pastor finds it equally necessary to defend this part of his doctrine against high and fanatical professors. In every Christian country there are not wanting such as have rendered the dispensation of that Spirit contemptible, by their ridiculous and impious pretensions. Protestants have blushed for the prophets of Cevennes, and Catholics for the Convulsionaries of Paris. In order successfully to oppose the progress of enthusiasm, he publicly contrasts the two different characters of a presumptuous fanatic and an enlightened Christian, in some such terms as follow. The one extinguishes the torch of reason, that he may have opportunity to display, in its room, the vain flashes of his own pretended inspirations; the other entertains a just respect for reason, following it as the surest guide, so far as it is able to direct him in the search of truth; and whenever he implores a superior light, it is merely to supply the defects of reason. The one destroys the clear sense of Scripture language, that a way may be made for his own particular manifestations: the other refers every thing "to the law, and to the testimony," fully satisfied, that if high pretenders to sanctity " speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them," Isa. viii, 20. The former flatters himself, that while the means are neglected, the end may be obtained, presuming that God will illuminate him in a miraculous manner, without the help of prayer, study, meditations, sermons, or sacraments. The latter unpresumingly expects the succours of grace, in a constant use of the appointed means; and, conscious that "the Holy Scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation," 2 Tim. iii, 15, he takes them for the subject of his frequent meditation, the ground of his prayers, and the grand rule of his conduct. The fanatic imagines himself independent of superior powers both in Church and state. The real Christian, a constant friend to truth and order, looking upon himself as the servant of all, not only acknowledges the respect due to his superiors, but is ready to give them an account either of his faith or his conduct, with meekness and submission; and anxious to have his principles supported by appeals to the reason and conscience of his adversaries, as well as by the testimony of revelation. The fanatic pays but little regard to the inestimable grace of charity. Like Simon, the sorcerer, he aspires after the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and, seduced by a vain imagination, forsakes the substance that he may pursue the shadow. The true Christian, without despising the most inconsiderable spiritual gifts, implores only those which may assist him in the discharge of his several duties, and peculiarly that of charity, which is to be ranked as high above the performance of miracles, as miracles are to be esteemed above the tricks of jugglers. The fanatic conceives himself to be animated by the Spirit of God, when his body is agitated by a rapid motion of the animal spirits, excited by the sallies of an overheated imagination and augmented by hysterical or hypochondriacal vapours. The judicious Christian detests this enthusiasm, which, covering religion with a veil of delusion and frenzy, renders it contemptible in the eyes of those who are ever ready to treat devotion as fanaticism.
When the true minister unhappily falls among persons who evidence a disposition to enthusiasm, carrying mortification to an unwarrantable excess, publicly uttering long and passionate prayers, produced with the most violent efforts, he calls their attention to that beautiful passage in the history of Elijah, where God is represented as manifesting himself, neither in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire; but in a still small voice. To inspire them with a just horror for this kind of fanaticism, he points them to those contemptible characters whose conduct they are unwittingly copying, and exhorts them to leave the horrible custom of " crying with a loud voice," together with every other species of religious extravagance, to the superstitious priests of Baal. If it be necessary, he even applies those sarcastic expressions of Elijah, "Cry aloud," &c. In performing this part of his duty, he is anxious, however, to act with the utmost discretion; not ridiculing the fanatical with an irreverent lightoess, but exhorting them with all possible affection and solemnity. It appears, from the writings of St. Paul, that enthusiasm had once risen to so great a height in the Corinthian Church, that the communion was polluted by the members of that Church, and its public ordinances thrown into the utmost disorder. Now, if the apostle had himself been an enthusiast, he would have seen these disorders without regret; or had he been like the ministers of the present day, he would have rejoiced at the pre. text afforded him by the fanatical Corinthians, for turning into ridicule devotion and zeal, the power of prayer, and the gift of exhortation. But, equally attached both to order and zeal, he wrote to them in the following terms: "I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for he that prophesieth edifieth the Church. Forasmuch, then, as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church. Brethren, be not children in understanding, but men. Ye may all prophesy, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." And observe this, that "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets: for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. Let all things be done decently, and in order," 1 Cor. xiv. It is by adopting the admirable method of this apostle, that the good pastor endeavours to root up the tares of enthusiasm, without injuring the invaluable grain of devotion.
Here it may, perhaps, be inquired, "If particular manifestations of the Spirit are admitted, how is it possible to shut the door against dangerous illusions? Would it not be wiser entirely to reject the dispensation of the Spirit, while it is confessedly attended with so many difficulties? And would it not make for the happiness of the Church, were every member of it to rest contented with having all the Holy Scriptures explained according to the best rules of reason and criticism 1" We answer, By no means. Bad money, indeed, is frequently put into our hands; but is it necessary, on this account, to obstruct the free course of that which is intrinsically good? And would it be reasonable to refuse a sovereign prince the right of coining for the state, lest that coin should be counterfeited or defaced? As, in society, after warning the public of their danger, we content ourselves with apprehending the man who attempts to impose upon us in this way; so we may rest fully satisfied with adopting the same mode of conduct in regard to the Church of God. Let it be here observed, that the operations of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of believers are to be distinguished from the effects of enthusiasm in the imagination of visionaries, just as readily as we distinguish health from sickness, wisdom from folly, and truth from falsehood. The believers of Rome could say, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God," Rom. viii, 16. "By one Spirit are we all baptized," say the Corinthians, "and have been all made to drink into one Spirit," 1 Cor. xii, 13. And St. Paul could testify, that many of the Ephesians were "sealed by the Holy Spirit of God, unto the day of redemption," Eph. iv, 30. "These were all enthusiasts," says a modern doctor, "unless they could restore sight to the blind, raise the dead from their graves, and fluently converse in a variety of languages, which they had never taken the trouble to study." No, insinuates the apostle, you forget the essential for the accessory, and found your system upon false suppositions. "Are all workers of miracles 1 Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?" There must, then, be some more indubitable method of distinguishing those whose bodies are become temples of the Holy Ghost; and " I show unto you this more excellent way," 1 Cor. xii, 29-31. What was meant by this excellent way, may be satisfactorily discovered by an attentive perusal of the following chapter, in which the apostle would have the examination to turn, not upon the gift of prophecy, and much less that of languages, but essentially upon all the characters of charity. This was the reasoning of Augustine, as well as of St. Paul, when he made use of the following expression: "You then speak from the Spirit of God, when you speak from a heart glowing with love."* This also was the method in which Christ himself was accustomed to argue on this point. "Beware," said
* De Spiritu diets, «i dicit ardent igne caritatis.—Augustine.
he, "of false prophets. Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them," Matt, vii, 15,20. And "the fruit of the Spirit," continues St. Paul, "is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," Gal. v, 22, 23. Now fanaticism was never known to bear such fruits as these. On the contrary, it produces divisions, foolish joy, or stupid melancholy, trouble, impatience, and excess of different kinds. Nay, it is frequently observed to produce assertions diametrically opposite both to Scripture and reason, together with absurd pretensions to new revelations.
It may be asked, in this place, with a show of reason, "If Christ still continues to reveal himself by his Spirit to every true believer, are not such manifestations to be considered as so many new revelations V To this we reply, That when the apostle of the Gentiles petitioned for his Ephesian converts, "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation," Eph. i, 17, he was not to be understood as requesting that God would communicate to them a new Gospel, but rather that he would assist them to discover all the glory, and to experience all the power of that inestimable Gospel which had been already published among them. "Open mine eyes," said David, " that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law," Psalm cxi, 10, 18. And when God was graciously pleased to answer this prayer of the royal prophet, he undoubtedly visited him with the illumination of his Holy Spirit. But that Spirit was imparted, not for the purpose of revealing to him a new law, but merely that he might be enabled to fathom the depths of that holy law, which had been given long before. Thus also Christian believers are constantly offering up their joint supplications, that God would strengthen them "by his Spirit in the inner man," not for the experience of new revelations, but "that they may be enabled to comprehend, with all saints, the unsearchable love of Christ; and be filled with all the fulness of God," Eph. iii, 16,19.
After having defended internal Christianity against carnal Christians and deluded fanatics, the faithful pastor is obliged, on another part, to resist the attacks of gainsaying philosophers. And this he endeavours to do, by reasoning with them upon this important subject in the tbllow. iug manner:—
We consider the Supreme Being as a Divine Sun, whose centre is every where, and whose circumference is no where. A Sun, whose light is truth, and whose heat is charity. The truths of Christianity we consider as so many beams issuing from this glorious Sun, for the illumination of the soul: and as the rays of the natural sun may be collected and rendered more powerful by the interposition of a properly constructed medium, so the rays of this Divine Sun are concentred and rendered more operative by the humanity of Christ. When any of these rays, passing through the understanding, begin to strike forcibly upon the heart, they melt down its stubbornness, refine its nature, and kindle in it a fire of love to God and man. Farther: we believe these changes to be effected in the soul by that secret energy which is called by many "the inspiration of the Holy Spirit," by some the " influence" of that Spirit, and by others " the grace of God."
Is there any absurdity in this doctrine? Can the intellectual world be supposed to merit the Creator's attention in a less degree than the