Images de page
PDF
ePub

It is, indeed, the abiding consciousness of this individual and personal relationship to Christ, through faith, and hope and love, that is the very means of the renovation of human character. He appeared in the likeness of man, to men, that he might be an example and a leader to his people. In the character of that fellowship which he, while on earth, maintained with the Father, we have a just exhibition of the communion which is to be enjoyed by the faithful in Christ Jesus. He, too, prayed to God, and “was heard.” He entreated that his disciples should be admitted to that union and fellowship which he enjoyed, and be made perfect in that oneness with the Father which it was the very object of his mission to accomplish. John, c. xvii.

He, while on earth, had respect constantly to the approbation of the Father. To do the will of him that sent him was his delight. To rest in his love and fellowship was his only solace. And as he continually looked to God for love, for honor, for approval, so has he counselled his disciples, in leaving with them the light of his example. It is this constant and direct reference to God through Jesus Christ, that is the very means appointed for the renovation of human character. All may be briefly summed up in that imitation of the divine character; that “walking with God;" that "fellowship with the Father;" that “abor to be accepted of him,” and to "please” him, to which we have so many apostolic exhortations. It is not a mere slavish submission to law, or a scrupulous adherence to forms, that Christianity enjoins. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”-not, indeed, the liberty to dispense with any of the divine commands, or change the institutions of religion; but the emancipation of the soul from the bondage of ignorance and vice to the freedom of righteousness; from the reluctant submission of a slave, to the willing service of a son; from the thraldom of the letter, to the liberty imparted by holy and heart-felt principles. We are not called by the gospel to be again enslaved by traditions; to have our minds subjected to the tyranny of doctrinal opinions, or to be bound hand and foot by the grave-clothes of Judaism. The very excellency of the gospel consists in its power to release the soul from the chains of darkness, and to give life to the dead. And when it has thus raised an individual from the corruption and darkness of the world, its command is, “Loose him and let him go." He is now to walk abroad in the light and liberty of heaven; to have companionship with Jesus; to enjoy the confidence of friendship, and to experience the sympathies of a pure and exalted love,

a personal affection which can have no other aim or purpose than to please the object on which it rests.

How superior such a position; such principles; such relations, to a cold and barren intellectual assent to theological abstractions elaborated by a party leader; to sentences arranged by art and man's device, and regarded, with almost superstitious reverence, as a religious amulet, an effectual charm against the wiles of Satan, and all the dangers of reprobation! How strange the infatuation through which men can be induced to rely for salvation upon a mere belief of certain points of doctrine; a tenacious adherence to a nicely adjusted system of religious philosophy, or a cabalistic regard for a particular form of expression! The divine philanthropy has certainly not based the enjoyment of eterna} life upon the capacity to understand metaphysical subtleties, or upon the power of making nice distinctions in language. Yet what have been the chief strifes and controversies of Christendom, but debates of words, and contentions about matters remote, recondite, and even unrevealed? These, however ingeniously elaborated and arranged, have no power to warm the affections or renovate the character. On the contrary, they serve but to cultivate the pride of opinion and the intolerance of bigotry. They lead not the soul to Christ, but to the founder and the supporter of a party. They fill not the heart with divine love, but with an earthly and a selfish passion. Nothing but that which tells of Jesus, and presents him to the mind as an everliving object of personal regard and imitation, can elevate and ennoble human nature. In a word, nothing but the gospel in its simple beauty; in its facts; its promises; its wonderful delineations of character, and overwhelming demonstrations of the love of God, can possess the power to save man by opening to his view higher prospects and a nobler destiny; by revealing to him his true relations to God, and his proper duty to himself. It is the gospel alone which reveals to man his real value in the sight of heaven. It is the wonderful announcement that “God so loved the world” as to give his “only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” that overcomes,while it enraptures the soul with the consciousness of unmerited favor and the assurance of acceptance. It is Jesus, who, by his personal alliance with human nature, has become to us an object of reciprocal sympathy and affection;-an object fitted to awaken every feeling of personal regard and love.

The Christian should hence be exceedingly jealous of any influence which interposes itself between him and this direct and per. sonal attachment, or which leads him to substitute an overweening reverence for a fallible and mere human teacher, for an abiding sense of the condescension and love of God, or that entire devotion to Him which is its legitimate result. It is not, indeed, primarily so much our regard for others as our sense of what we seem to them, that moulds and fashions us through life. It is the consciousness of the value which God has put upon us; of the love which He entertains for us, which must ever be the formative principle in the renewal of the character. We love Him because he first loved us, and His love to us shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, gives assurance that our hópe in Him shall never be disappointed. It is, then, upon this love that the minds of men should be concentrated, and upon the person and character of Christ that their affections should be placed, and it is the object of this reformation to produce this result by withdrawing the religious community from party tenets and party leaders, and fixing their attention upon the gospel facts and the great basis on which Christianity itself reposes.

R. R.

ANECDOTES, INCIDENTS AND FACTS, Connected with the origin and progress of the current reformation,

some of which have never been before published.-No. II. AFTER my baptism, and the consequent new constitution of our church at Brush Run, it became my duty to set forth the causes of this change in our position to the professing world, and also to justify them by an appeal to the oracles of God. But this was not all; the position of baptism itself to the other institutions of Christ became a new subject of examination, and a very absorbing one. A change of any one's views in any radical matter in all its practical bearings and effects upon all his views, not only in reference to that simple result, but also in reference to all its connexions with the whole system of which it is a part, is not to be computed, a priori, by himself or by any one else. The whole Christian doctrine is exhibited in three symbols-baptism, the Lord's supper, the Lord's day institution. Some-nay, very many-change their views in some one of these, without ever allowing themselves to trace its connexions with the whole institution of which it is either a part or a symbol. My mind, neither by nature nor by education, was one of that order. I must know now two things about every thing, -its cause and its relations. Hence my mind was, for a time,

set loose from all its former moorings. It was not a simple change of views on baptism, which happens a thousand times without any thing more, but a new commencement. I was placed on a new eminence-a new peak of the mountain of God, from which the whole landscape of Christianity presented itself to my mind in a new attitude and position.

I had no idea of uniting with the Baptists more than with the Moravians or the mere Independents. I had unfortunately formed a very unfavorable opinion of the Baptist preachers as then introduced to my acquaintance, as narrow, contracted, illiberal, and uneducated men. This, indeed, I am sorry to say, is still my opinion of the ministry of that Association at that day; and whether they are yet much improved, I am without satisfactory evidence.

The people, however, called Baptists, were much more highly appreciated by me than their ministry. Indeed, the ministry of some sects is generally in the aggregate the worse portion of them. It was certainly so in the Redstone Association thirty years ago. They were little men in a big office. The office did not fit them. They had a wrong idea, too, of what was wanting. They seemed to think that a change of apparel-a black coat instead of a draba broad rim on their hat instead of a narrow one-a prolongation of the face, and a fictitious gravity-a longer and a more emphatic pronunciation of certain words, rather than scriptural knowledge, humility, spirituality, zeal, and Christian affection, with great devotion and great philanthropy, were the grand desiderata.

Along with all these drawbacks, they had as few means of acqui. ring Christian knowledge as they had either taste or leisure for. They had but one, two, or, at most, three sermons; and these were either delivered in one uniform style and order, or minced down into one medley by way of variety. Of course, then, unless they had an exuberant zeal for the truth as they understood it, they were not of the calibre, temper, or attainments to relish or seek after mental enlargement or independence. I, therefore, could not esteem them, nor court their favor by offering any incense at their shrine. I resolved to have nothing specially to do with them more than other preachers and teachers. The clergy of my acquaintance in other parties of that day, were, as they believed, educated men; and called the Baptists illiterate and uncouth men, without either learning or academic accomplishments, or polish. They trusted to a moderate portion of Latin, Greek, and metaphysics, together with a synopsis of divinity, ready made in suits for every man's stature, at a reasonable price. They were as proud of their classic lore and the marrow of modern divinity, as the Baptist was of his "mode of baptism” and his "proper subject,” with sovereign grace, total depravity, and final perseverance.

I confess, however, that I was better pleased with the Baptist people than with any other community. They read the Bible, and seemed to care but little for any thing else in religion than “conversion” and Bible doctrine.” They often sent for us and pressed us to preach for them. We visited some of their churches; and, on acquaintance, liked the people more and the preachers less. Still I feared that I miglit be unreasonably and by education prejudiced against them; and thought that I must visit their Association at Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in the autumn of 1812. I went there as an auditor and spectator, and returned more disgusted than I went. They invited me “to preach;” but I declined it altogether, except one evening in a private family, to some dozen preachers and twice as many laymen. I returned home, not intending ever to visit another Association.

On my way home, however, I learned that the Baptists themselves did not appreciate the preachers or the preaching of that meeting. They regarded the speakers as worse than usual, and their discourses as not edifying—as too much after the spirit and style of John Gill and Tucker's theory of predestination. They pressed me from every quarter to visit their churches, and, though not a member, to preach for them. I consented through much importunity, and during that year I often spoke to the Baptist congregations for sixty miles round. They all pressed us to join their Redstone As. sociation.

We laid the matter before our church in the fall of 1813. We discussed the propriety of the measure. After much discussion and earnest desire to be directed by the wisdom which cometh from above, we finally concluded to make an overture to that effect, and to write out a full view of our sentiments, wishes, and determination on that subject. We did so. Some eight or ten pages of large dimensions, exhibiting our remonstrance against all human creeds as bonds of union or communion among Christian churches, and expressing a willingness, on certain conditions, to co-operate or to unite with that Association; provided only, and always, that we should be allowed to preach and teach whatever we learned from the Holy Scriptures, regardless of any creed or formula in Christendom. A copy of this document, we regret to say, was not preserv. ed; and when solicited from the Clerk of the Association, was resused,

« PrécédentContinuer »