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ments at public meetings and visits to
and , had no injurious effect
on the prayer meetings in your congregation?
May I venture to touch on another topic.—Can it be possible? Yes, possibly it may; the connections you are now forming may render that, and some other cautions not unseasonable. I will then risk giving you a moment's pain, by suggesting a caution to avoid intro> ducing yourself, or the mention of your own experience as such. Is it not rather remarkable that ministers should consider themselves as entitled to an exemption from the rule, which restrains all other public speakers from speaking of themselves? I confess I should not wish a minister to go beyond the expression of such a wish for the prayers of his hearers, as Saurin sometimes introduces in the beginning of his sermons, or a pious wish in behalf of those hearers; I suppose some preachers do it with a view to convince and to impress. I doubt whether it has this effect upon any but the very ignorant, and of its utility in these cases I greatly doubt. Is there no danger of its leading them to make a min ister's experience a standard for their own, instead of comparing their views, their principles, and their conduct, with the representations and requirements of the inspired writings.
I fear your present views and feelings "ill lead you to be much too vague and general in your preaching. Such preaching passes over the mind like oil over marble, it leaves scarcely a trace; the ignorant are not informed, the careless are not roused, the slothful are not stimulated, no evil passion is subdued, no pious affection excited. The hearers are gently lulled into a persuasion that all is well. In the description of the guilty they never recognize themselves, they are general, they are intended to suit all transgressors; but they reach no man's conscience, for want of an accurate and discriminating description, and therefore every sinner escapes with impunity.
Study human nature as described in the historic part of Holy Writ; there is no history in which it can be studied to so much advantage, because there the motives of actions are assigned with unerring certainty; but as the habits and manners of different ages and nations diversify appearances, where the principles and motives are the same, it is also worth while, in your intercourse with
society, to observe the minuter shades of character. Possessing the skill which you will acquire by practice, you will be able so to discriminate as, in effect, to say to each individual transgressor, "Thou art the man;" and may you not hope, by the divine blessing "following means so well adapted to the purpose, that the self-convicted sinner may look on Him whom he has pierced, and mourn.
There is still another subject on which I intended to have made a few observations—choice of friends, but the length of my letter has so far exceeded my design, and I have already so greatly trespassed on your patience, I will add only that I am,
Your affectionate ,
To the Editor of the New Evan. Magazine.
I beg leave, through the medium of your Magazine, to make a few observations in reply to the query in your number for March, signed D. V. N. which runs as follows:
"What reason can be assigned that Christians of the present day almost universally fall incomparably short of their forefathers of the primitive age in religious consolation, and that we now know little or nothing of rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory? And, if this deficiency of comfort>nd joy be not owing to some advantages which the first Christians enjoyed, but which we are denied—how is the evil likely to be remedied?"
The question appears to be founded on the belief, that there really is a deficiency of joy and consolation among Christians of the present day, compared with that possessed by the first believers—and I fear there is too much reason to make the inquiry. But that there are some happy exceptions must needs be granted. For, as Solomon says, "the heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy." Perhaps the best way to ascertainthe causes of this falling off in comfort and joy, where it unhappily exists, will be to examine the grounds of consolation in the first Christians. In doing this, recourse must be had to the law and the testimony; for to adopt any other method will tend only to bewilder the mind the more. If we can indeed come at the truth respecting the causefs of the joy of the first followers of our Lord, it will be the best rule by which to measure our own joy, and consequently the best way to ascertain the causes of our own declension. Doubtless, much depended on the faith of the disciples of Jesus Christ, in the day of his sojourn here on earth. They believed in him; indeed they could not be disciples without this. Faith in Christ lay at the very foundation of their joy. He said unto them, " follow me i" they left all and followed him; but this they could not have done had they not believed in him. And when he rose from the dead and appeared to them, although for a time some doubted, yet when he had convinced them that it was he himself, then faith returned to its hold of him, fur they worshipped him. And Thomas especially adored him, when he said, "My Lord and my God." His heart was full of joy, the joy of faith, mixed with deep contrition for past unbelief. Again, on the day of Pentecost, when Peter delivered his memorable discourse, and three thousand were brought over to the faith, and united to the church, we are informed, that they gladly received the word, or believed it, which is the same thing: that they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, &c. And Peter and John departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. We are also taught the same truth in the effects produced by the preaching of Philip in Samaria—for there was great joy in that city; not merely on account of the sicknesses healed, but as the result of a true reception, or belief of the Gospel message— for it is added, they were baptized both men and women. And when the eunuch believed and was baptized, he went on his way rejoicing. The jailor also rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. It is said of the Gentile converts at Antioch, "as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed—and the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost." Many more passages might easily be produced, to prove that the joy and consolation of the primitive Christians had its foundation in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But, as faith works by love, it may also he affirmed, that this consolation was the effect of love to Christ, and
obedience to him. Hence Peter says to the strangers to whom he wrote, " whom having not seen ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet, believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Love to Christ produces obedience to him—as faith calls love into exercise, so love excites to actual obedience to the authority of Christ. As we love him because he first loved us, so if we love him we shall keep his commandments. And he says, "he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." In this way the primitive saints are described as acting, and hence their consolation was proportionate. The love of Christ was shed abroad in their hearts, which caused them to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost—thus the fruits of the Spirit were both love and joy. They had a particular regard to the institutions which Christ had ordained, as means of promoting thit growth in grace to which they were called. These institutions being spiritual, they would only be regarded liy such as were spiritual; and consequently in proportion as they attended to them, Christ would be present with them, to manifest himself to them, which manifestation constituted the life of their unspeakable joy. They were diligent in the conscientious use of these means. We read of their searching the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so; although they had much less of these means than we have. They had indeed the ministry of the Apostles, and saw the miracles which were wrought by them, which would doubtless tend to confirm them in the faith. And thus by an attention to the means of grace as appointed by Christ himself, and not human tradition, they had this rejoicing in addition to the rest—"the testimony of their consciences; that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not by fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, they had their conversation in the world."
Moreover, the circumstances in which they were placed,, were overruled by Christ to promote their consolation. He had told them, that in the world they would have tribulation, but he adds, " Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,"—" I will not leave you comfortless." They were exposed to the whole 137
ON THE WANT OF RELIGIOUS JOY IN PROFESSORS.
opposition of the unbelieving world— they who are born after the flesh, persecuted those who are born after the Spirit. Hence, without are fightings, within are fears. Sometimes they are pressed above measure out of strength, insomuch as to despaireven of life. But, says Paul, "God who comforteth them that are cast down, comforteth us in all our tribulation; that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble with the comfort wherewith we are comforted of God." They are called to sufferings and death itself for Christ's sake; they give up all their earthly hopes, leaving all they held dear in this world for the kingdom of God's sake. But as their sufferings abounded for Christ, their consolations abounded by Christ— so that they gloried in tribulation; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us; and this was the comfort which Jesus had promised them. How did the consolations of religion abound and overflow in the hearts of Paul and Silas, when their feet were fast in the stocks at Philippi 1 They sang praises to God in the prison. Thus we say their faith, their love and obedience, together withi their afflictions, all contributed to ijxcrease their joy and consolation in the Lord.
Now with regard to the second part of the question, we may observe, that as the Christian doctrine began to spread, false teachers arose to draw away disciples after them; bringing in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. And in process of time, the churches got corrupted from the simplicity there is in Christ—indeed, the mystery of iniquity began to work in the apostolic age, as we find both from the Epistle to the Galatians, and those to the Thessalonians; and much mischief was done by those Judaizing teachers, who wished to graft the ceremonies of Moses on the institutions of Jesus Christ, and then set up another Gospel; which indeed was not another, but a mere human system tending to subvert their souls. And in the time of the latter days of the apostle John, we find several churches had been corrupted by errors. And each succeeding age diminished the number of the faithful followers of the Lamb; iniquity aboundVOL. X.
ed, and the love of many waxed cold; and history informs us, that a long period of darkness, delusion, and sin, reigned through the greater part of the world. And the few witnesses for Christ, who kept the ordinances as they were delivered by Christ and his apostles, were obliged to hide themselves in unfrequented places to save their lives. All the rest had nothing but the name of Christianity, consequently were wholly destitute of the joy and consolation I have been considering. And though there has been a great reformation effected within the last five hundred years, from the time of Wicklifte and others, yet much error has been retained, both in doctrine, and discipline, and practice. The doctrines of grace have been corrupted to the purposes of licentiousness on the one hand, or have been denied in order to establish free-will and human merit pn the other. Justification has been represented as the effect of a mixture of grace and works, instead of being entirely and alone by the righteousness of Christ received by faith; even the righteousness of God, which is unto all, and upon all them that believe. The primitive order and discipline has in a great measure been laid aside, and human tradition set up in its room. The ordinances themselves have been changed or greatly corrupted; and conformity to the world has taken place of that self-denial, that was so exemplary in the first Christians; in a word, the form of godliness has superceded the power of it, and men are satisfied with a round of duties, while heart religion droops and languishes.
If these things are so, need we wonder at the want of that christian consolation, which is now so rare? As the first believers experienced this joy while they adhered to the rules which Christ had given them, so we have no ground to expect this consolation in a similar measure, except we are found abiding in the doctrine of Christ, and walking in his ways, after the pattern of the first Christians.
The causes then of'this declension of joy, may be traced to our departure from the simple Gospel order. Nor can we justly argue that the primitive believers had any superior advantages to us as the reason of their joy; for while we allow they had the apostolic ministry among them, and the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, we have the full
revelation of God, including the whole history of the first churches, and all the epistles, which contain all that is needful to be known in order to salvation and Gospel worship. We have many exceeding great and precious promises— we have too the promised and sealing Spirit, under whose influence, and in the belief of whose truth, we may even now rejoice in hope of the glory of God. How then is the evil complained of to be remedied? Doubtless by a return to first principles, and to primitive practice. See Rev. ii. 5. "Remember therefore from whence thou hast fallen, and repent and do the first works." Here we have an account of a church which departed from the rule of Christ, though not wholly, yet were they in a dead state, and hence they were required to do the first works as necessary to revival. And although in the present day there is a great profession of religion; and extraordinary efforts are made to spread the Gospel at home and abroad, yet it is to be feared there is very little disposition to return to the primitive doctrine or discipline. There is great profession of faith in Christ, while but little of the fruits of faith appear. There is a profession of love to him, and but little attention to his commands. Where are the men to be found who will be willing to follow Chris.t fully? How few there are who keep the ordinances as they were delivered! Nearly all seek thfeir own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's. How are the ordinances changed from those tests of obedience and self-denial, into mere will worship; so that neither faith, nor love, nor any other christian grace, are considered necessary in order to partake of them. No reproach attends those who observe them, and consequently there is no cross to be taken up. The offence of the cross is nearly ceased with all, except those few who yet retain the primitive rite of baptism; they indeed continue to be despised, even by those who call themselves Christians; not that they are without defects; but then they are the only people that bear about them the marks of primitive discipline.
Now, if we return to the purity of the first churches, or if we set them before us as the only pattern in faith and practice, and walk as they walked, we may expect to have a greater measure of consolation. Many complain of the want of spiritual enjoyments, who when
urged to duties of which they live in the neglect, reply," these are not necessary to salvation, or to Christianity: I want to feel more of the Spirit's influence, and to be baptized in his grace, and to feed on the fulness of Christ." Let such know, that while they live in a disregard of those things, which the grace they have already received, and the word of God requires of them, and which their consciences approve as right, they ought not to be surprised at their leanness, and want of spiritual delights. If members of churches can on slight occasions keep away from meeting their brethren for prayer and christian exhortation, they are in a fair way to lose all relish for these enjoyments they profess to desire. Let me then press it upon my fellow professors, to attend more punctually and conscientiously to the private and public duties of religion, to exhort one another daily, lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. I am aware that the deep rooted predilection for old established human customs; the forcelof education and example, together with the natural reluctance there is in men to acknowledge their errors, or even to know them, are fearful obstacles to a full return to primitive Christianity. But notwithstanding this, we are encouraged to expect a time when tins happy change will be effected—wncn they shall be all taught of God, and see eye to eye. When Christ will thoroughly purge his floor; bum up the chaff, wood, hay and stubble, which has kept his disciples in a long mist and darkness, and tended to alienate them from each other. The Lord hasten it in his own time. I am, Sir,
Your obedient humble Servant,
MR. ARCHIBALD M'LEAN TO MR.
I have been away from home since the beginning of December last, visiting the brethren in different places, and particularly those at Dundee, who are now set in order with elders and deacons, and have a very promising appearance. Upon my return I received your two letters, the first of Feb. 3, the last by our brdther Thomas Smith. 1 am happy that the Treatise on the 139
LETTER FROM MR. M'LEAN.—SABBATH.
Commission is approved of by you, and am much obliged to you for the pains you are at in disposing of it; but it is too much to remit any money till you have received it. You have already sent £1. lis. 6d. of which I acknowledge the receipt. I have no view to make a single farthing of private gain by it, but only to clear the expense of paper and print. If this can be effected, it may induce me, if the Lord will, to venture another volume into the world, composed of a number of miscellaneous pieces, upon subjects which I look upon as of considerable importance, and which I have lying beside me in manuscript. But this will depend upon the reception which the public give to the present publication.
The account which our brother gives of your present situation gave us all pleasure, and exceeds what we expected. He thinks your people docile and willing fo be instructed in primitive Christianity, and was much satisfied in private conversations with several of them. I hope you have now the Lord's supper every first day of the week, as he informs us it was agreed upon before he left you. It requires courage, zeal, judgment, patience, and perseverance in a teacher to introduce and maintain the scriptural order and union among disciples; and nothing can support him under the various discouragements and oppositions he may meet with, but a firm conviction of the truth and importance of the cause he has espoused; such as makes him willing to stand or fall with it, and abide by all its consequences. From the accounts brought by our brother, I feel myself more nearly interested in you than ever; and am not without some thought (if the Lord will) of paying you a visit next summer, but cannot fix the precise time.
I have perused the Reply to Dan Taylor on Singing, and have not time to make remarks upon it at present; but find it to be a piece of vain jangling and impotent carping, at a very plain commanded duty and branch of divine worJhip. I know not what Mr. Taylor has advanced upon the duty of irregenerate persons to sing without grace in their hearts; perhaps he has spoken injudiciously upon the point. But when his antagonist bids him prove that the words sung, sang, or sing, are in the original of Mat. xxvi. 30. Acts xvi. 25. Heb. ii. l'i. James v. 13. it is ridiculous;
for no man will affirm that these words are Greek, but only the plain sense of the Greek words in English. But should we prove that the original bears that sense, this will not satisfy; he has another question to put, viz. "Does the word sing always mean to pronounce musically, by modulating the voice, and proportioning the sounds of the syllables to one another, in such a manner as may be harmonious and pleasant to the hearer?" Such a question, I think, deserves no reply, nor such disputers any answer.
I have also read Mr. Robinson's piece on free communion, but think it a very flimsy vague performance, serving to throw every thing loose, and establish a toleration as to errors of faith, and irregularities in practice, which he endeavours to found upon Rom. xiv. and has the confidence to assert, that the inspired apostle affirms, "that there is no moral turpitude in mental errors, and that the toleration of them is perfectly consistent with the safety of the church, the purity of the faith, and the order of divine worship."
But I am obliged to break off, praying that the Lord may preserve you and your people from the loose and sceptical principles, which are so much gaining ground at this day, and am, Dear Sir, Your's most affectionately,
A RCIIIBA LD M'LSA N.
Edinburgh, March 12,1787.
'Tis Sabhalh—season bless'd. of liushM repose!
To toil and want a cordial and a balm,