Images de page
PDF
ePub

This simple account of his spiritual experience is not difficult to understand. His will, he tells us, was decidedly in favour of what is good; his affections found their enjoyment and repose in the gospel of Christ, as teaching us how to attain the chief good' of man, and as promoting it in the most efficacious manner; but his natural reason would put in its claim, whether right or wrong, to demonstration and certainty upon truths which had already taken possession of his heart, and would prosecute that claim the more strenuously on account of his naturally superior mental powers, especially as they advanced in cultivation by classical study, and by increased spirituality and practical piety. A remark of his own is here much to the purpose :

“ It would be worth while to discuss the proposition, that conversion easily leads to heterodoxy. It might be shown, first, that in divine truth very much depends upon the least things; and then, that through the weakness of our natural understanding we are far from being in a condition to apprehend divine truth as yet to its full extent, and consequently are bound to have great patience one with another. A raw, unconverted man, living after the course and fashion of this world, and therefore indifferent to the truth altogether, meets with no difficulty in subscribing to any form of doctrine. He takes a thing for granted, just as he finds it, and cares not for the trouble of proof. But a really converted man feels truth to be a precious thing; is disposed to inquire after it; preserves it when found; and handles it, as he would an invaluable jewel, with great care and circumspection. Finding it impossible to go on in a careless, trifling spirit, he is obliged to prove all things, whatever trouble it may give him. Now as truth upon every point is not attainable without many a hard struggle, his progress is often, in the mean time, very slow, during which he may easily be mistaken for a person of heterodox opinions. But how lamentable is it when such ingenuous inquirers are thought worthy only of harsh treatment; when their brethren bear down upon them at once with puzzling propositions and perplexing interrogatories, and can think of no other method of dealing with them but the method of coercion; whereas, we ought rather to allow them the free liberty of disclosing to us every private scruple, that by their acquiring a confidence in us they may by and by suffer us to make an attempt to remove their difficulties.”

Bengel's own spiritual difficulties at this period may be conjectured from two or three notices of the kind among his papers. Speaking of the seven psalms, which are called penitential, and which young persons at school were specially taught to commit to memory, he notices that they “ were so called long before the time of Luther, and contain very many experiences not generally familiar even to the most advanced Christians. Such passages,” he adds, “occasioned me much perplexity in my younger days; for, wishing to measure myself by the measure I found in those psalms, I endeavoured to realize the same strong experiences, and could not. Many persons, perhaps, have perplexed themselves in the same disheartening manner.” On another occasion he speaks of the blasphemous and bad thoughts with which holy persons are sometimes harassed, and says, “0, how many such darts have heretofore gone through my soul! They have occasioned me such distress and dejection in my younger days, as quite to alter my manner of behaviour to others; and I hardly knew how to prevent it."

We find him regretting at a later period, that during his two first years at Tübingen he had lost much time in doubts and difficulties about the purity of the text of the Greek Testament. He commonly at that time used the edition which, with an excellent preface by Professor Franke, is, in all other respects, copied from the Oxford one, which contains a mass of various readings, without showing which of them are preferable. Being at that time occupied in studying dogmatic theology, and having to look for proofs in his Greek Testament, he was perplexed with this medley of uncertainties; especially as in the divinity lectures of those days, at more universities than one, very undue attention was given to textual criticism. Our timid

young student thought he stood alone in these perplexities, for he had not confidence enough to ask for their solution; and having long busied himself in them to no purpose, he found it necesary to lay aside this edition and to study the simple text. But such a season of discouragement had its advantages, for it “stirred him up to diligent prayer; and his being tempted to doubt as to the purity of textual readings was overruled into an early habit of accurately investigating every nice peculiarity of the word of God, which led him to ponder over some of its most important passages, prevented him from leaning to his own understanding, or to mere human authority, and left him but little leisure for extravagant fancifulness;" in a word,

it wrought to the very best effect upon his future critical labours.

We may regard, as another advantage of this season of mental trial, his having learnt, that “the most important of all con

troversies are those we experience within us; of which there i is no end, till the whole mind has undergone a change, and

the whole man has struggled into renovation. When this is done, a host of casuistical scruples disappear at once, and we soon get rid of the remainder.”* Indeed it was in more than one respect that his spiritual life became advanced by his residence at Tübingen University, especially at its theological seminary, which he entered just at the time “when the Lord had stirred up among the elder students a more than common zeal for true piety; a zeal that was followed by the most happy and lasting effect upon many."

A number of well-disposed young men, having been stimulated by the example of students at other universities, (as Halle, Leipsic, &c.) had agreed to regard themselves as a society of christian brethren under obligation to diffuse among one another, and among their connexions, a practical knowledge of the written word of God, a vitally sound and actively well-doing spirit of Christianity. They wished not to waste in fashionable levities the fairest season of their life, but to encourage one another to devote the strength of its prime to the service of Him whose servants in a particular manner they were destined to be. At those years when worldly and fleshly lusts so easily fascinate the inexperienced into the snares of death, and actually impede so many in the way to happiness, temporal and eternal, they designed to strengthen one another for quitting themselves like men of God; and as early days were best suited for the formation of friendships, they wished to form such as, being consecrated by his holy fear, should insure every real blessing of that nature to the end of life.

A young man like Bengel, whom God had so early drawn to himself, and who, to use his own words of humble and grateful acknowledgment, “had experienced grace in his childhood a hundredfold more than sufficient to have destroyed the very life of sin within him," could not but regard it as a singular favour of Providence, and a great kindness of such christian friends, to be admitted into this social circle, and no longer obliged to go on as it were by himself. Doubtless he

Bengel's words.

с

was welcomed by them as a valuable addition to their company, and they were glad to have among them a mind so richly gifted. As this promising combination was perfectly in harmony with the statutes of the university and of the college, and tended most happily to promote diligence in study and regularity of conduct, it was very kindly patronized by several of the professors, continued in a flourishing state during Bengel's four years at Tübingen, and was kept up by one succession of students after another through the whole of the last century. As it had been of such important service to Bengel at the outset of his manly piety, and as so many of his early and happy recollections were associated with it, he felt the most sincere joy at hearing, in 1747, that a revival had taken place in this society ; * and in 1748, when he was on a visit at Tübingen, he took a most friendly part at one of its meetings.t

Besides this advantage from like-minded fellow-students at Tübingen, his residence there was particularly beneficial to him in respect of his tutors. Several of them, being men of lively faith in Christ, laboured to promote the spiritual as well as scientific improvement of their pupils ; and among them we may especially name Dr. Christopher Reuchlin, and Dr. A. A. Hochstetter. Bengel speaks of the former as “ a truly noble character,” and says that “ his lectures, and particularly those he gave just after morning prayers—indeed, whatever things he uttered at any time-were refreshing like the morning dew, full of power and full of life. He had nothing of affectation; neither used any high sounding expressions; but all was just with him as it should be; and at returning from his lectures, one felt as if returning from a sermon full of unction and energy. His manner was as instructive as it was persuasive and stirring; and whoever came to college in right earnest about practical religion, was soon made fervent in spirit by his means. He was clearly in the scripture sense strong in spirit;' and was instant and very affectionate in prayer. It was always profitable to get near him."

Bengel had the advantage of much intercourse with him ; for it was one of Reuchlin's excellences, that he devoted himself most gladly and willingly to the students. Personal acquaintance with such a man must have been more valuable just then than ever; as he was ripening under severe trial for his approaching abrupt removal to a better world. He fell asleep in Jesus on the 11th of June, 1707, shortly after Bengel had terminated his divinity studentship; and the elegy inserted in his Memoir by some pupils who heard the last lecture he ever gave, was composed by Bengel.

* Charles Henry Rieger, afterwards rector of the cathedral church at Stuttgart, was then one of the students belonging to it.

+ For his brotherly and edifying address on that occasion, see Part II. chap. i. sect. 2, at the end.

Hochstetter also, who, as we have seen, was very useful to Bengel in learning, was equally so in promoting his welfare as a Christian. He was a sincere Christian himself, and a very learned divine; serving God with zeal, conscientiousness, and unwearied endeavours to extend the influence of vital Christianity. The following extract from a funeral discourse which he delivered upon the death of Reuchlin, where he strikingly describes the character of a true Christian, may serve to give us a better idea of himself.

“ The children of this world,” he says, “commonly use the words godly and pious in a way of ridicule. Of whatever rank or profession any one may be, if he will no longer live irrationally, extravagantly, or profligately as they do, and especially if he venture in brotherly kindness to remonstrate with his erring neighbour, that he may not suffer sin upon him; he is bantered or abused by them as a pietist, by which of course they mean a heretic. Nevertheless, there are such beings in the world as persons truly pious; persons who are in earnest to please God, having hearts of honesty, and not hypocrisy; persons who live by the faith of the Son of God; who, though they despise no man, cannot but love good order, and observe it in their conduct. Nay more, they are merciful persons, who, knowing what it is to feel christian love, evince what they feel by a sincere regard for the temporal and eternal interests of their fellow-men, go straight forward in the narrow way which leadeth unto life, and turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, to unsound doctrine or to ungodly and careless living. They are upright in their dealings, attentive to the duties of their station, and busy not themselves with other men's matters. These are they who are justified by Jesus Christ; their lives attest this fact; their study is to conduct themselves as the elect of God, holy and beloved ; and to be holy in all manner of conversation, because he who hath called them is holy. Their upright walk before him is after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ ; that example which he hath purposely left us, that we should follow his steps. And

« PrécédentContinuer »