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tion be pretty strongly taken, appears to me to impose rather an awkward task on the preacher of a funeral sermon. To go much beyond a general acknowledgment of the imperfection of human nature, except in some very particular case, would seem to be ungracious and unseasonable on such an occasion. In giving the history, in writing the lives of good men, Scripture certainly relates the faulty, as well as the praiseworthy, parts of their conduct. Yet, in summing up the characters of upright men, even such as had been chargeable with considerable evils, it is remarkable how much it assumes the language of general approbation and praise *." These remarks, in my opinion, denote the just distinction between pulpit and biographical eulogy. It would be unseasonable to intrude in funeral solemnities, and before a bereaved and mourning flock, accusations against a departed pastor ; but when the tide of grief has ebbed, and the character of a human creature, however purified by Divine grace, is diffused over a book, the Scripture rule mentioned by Mr. John Scott should unquestionably be observed. The neglect of doing this is occasioned sometimes by deference to the feelings of surviving relations ; and it then becomes a sacrifice of truth to delicacy or affection. But when this cause does not exist, it may result from a fear of telling the world at large what it generally knows already; for no characters are so much publicized as those of religious men. This is bad policy in a human sense, and untimely caution in a Scriptural sense. It is also evading the opportunity of explaining that the Gospel teaches us to expect such things, and in what manner such inconsistences may be, and are, remedied; while the narrator also leaves untold the contrition and self-abhorrences consequent upon guilt. The history of David is exactly to this point.
We have the details of his sin, his penitence, and his punishment; and, besides these, his Confessional Psalm, disclosing the interior of an afflicted and yet comforted mind. The biography of Cranmer is all the more valuable from its containing an account of his temporary relapse; over which mere worldly prudence would have drawn a veil in the shape of apology and explanatory defences. Inspired biography details, in the most naked narrative, not only the denial of St. Peter, but his previous acts of forwardness, presumption, and ignorance; but there is also as direct a rehearsal of his grief, fidelity, and courage, and a commentary upon the whole in his two Epistles. If a modern historian possesses among his documents an account of his hero's falls, but cannot also find acts and monuments of the same delinquent's repentance, he is entangled in a new difficulty of Christian biography; whence it is perhaps impossible honourably to escape. The history of Solomon is, on this very account, embarrassing and painful. We do not discover a distinct, indisputable statement of his remorse and self-condemnation after his seduction to idolatry; and therefore commentators have theorized on the probability of his having written the Book of Ecclesiastes as a kind of penitential record of his folly. But allow this hypothesis to be just, and still that evidence is dubious, it does not contain a direct and personal confession-such as would obviously mark a man who had been eminently favoured by God, and yet fell into the most fearful of all sins; since idolatry was a rejection altogether of the worship of the Lord, and not, like the offence of his father, a temporary violation of the Divine law, however vile and revolting in its character and consequences.
To descend to modern days, we have many auto-biographies where the writers have, themselves, voluntarily owned their sins ; and not merely as in the case of Newton and others, who refer chiefly to the guilty excesses of their
• Life of Scott. Chapter XVI.
unenlightened years; but we have also confessions of a deeper character, as in the example of Whitefield, who confessed in his later days the errors and false estimates of his spiritual noviciate. I never understood that even the malignant world ever seriously persisted in its criminations of Whitefield, and posterity has owned the disinterestedness and purity of his character. What a contrast to such a man is any one who, in the language of the Patriarch, has made religion “ to stink in the nostrils” of a disgusted world, by some disgraceful fall ; and yet dies without leaving behind him an unequivocal acknowledgment of bis guilt, and which would be considered by his fellows as a solid proof of his repentance. Even Bishop Gardiner is reported to have expired with the confession, “ I have sinned with Peter, but I have not repented with Peter;" a saying which was itself the language of penitence.
Objections to rigidly faithful biography have emerged in another quarter. We are told not to tell a brother's faults. Should they not rather be the more impartially told because he is a brother? If he really were such, and belonged to the Christian fraternity, part of his very system was the dread of hiding the truth. The plaintiff may next urge the unseemliness of one sinner criminating another sinner. On a principle thus slippery, you may equably and silently slide into the most perilous errors. You must give up public preaching, and private remonstrance—it is a sinner addressing and criminating a sinner. The Prophet must no longer say, “ Thou art the man ”-because the criminal may retaliate! Christian biographers might shun some share of their difficulties, if they would consent to place their idols in the lower niches of the temple of fame. Every distinguished soldier is not a Wellington ; and we have had many exemplary bishops below the standard of Bedell and Hall and Leighton. When the sacred historian says of Hannaniah, “ He was a faithful man, and feared God above many," he wrote a discriminative epitaph ; implying that its subject was neither the highest nor the lowest in the ranks of the faithful. But it is among the selfish elements of our nature to be desirous of making all we can, and more than we ought, of our favourites. What is this but one of the numberless forms of self-love? We are to shine by the reflected lustre of a friend's greatness. The more we can elevate him, while we grasp his skirts, the higher we soar ourselves. Religious persons may not be aware how closely they here imitate the ambitions of the world. What did Pope say to Bolingbroke? Let the tempted hear, and beware.
Oh, while along the stream of time thy name,
Pursue the triumph and partake the gale ? The author, indeed, of the Essay on Man knew enough of his subject to be conscious of his then existing popularity, and of his own superiority over “ my St. John ;” and the real meaning of the ironical compliment in this quatrain was, that the poet was the ship and the patron the cockboat. How perpetually is the world laughing at itself ! But Pope and Bolingbroke may shine as beacon-stars, over the deeps of the world, even to Christian voyagers themselves. “ These things are our ensamples.” If a son writes the life of a father, we are reasonably jealous; since filial affection, admiration, and gratitude are so many super-additions to a biographer's natural wish to execute his task with kindness. Then, on the other hand, is it well to entrust it to the hands of an enemy? This also involves another class of embarrassments. I am, however, forgetting that the subject under examination is professedly confined to Christian biographers : and such persons cannot paint a brother's portrait with a hostile pencil. And yet—oh, sir, the sordid poverty of our common nature ! there are religious biographies of which even the wicked world is ashamed: or if I cannot quite exemplify this by a specific reference, we know full well what personalities and contumelious paragraphs are scattered over books of theological controversy. If Toplady had compiled memoirs of Wesley, or Travers the lives of Hooker and Whitgift, who would not have calculated upon hard measure dealt out almost in the language and spirit of an inquisitor? We should too probably have had the odium theo. logicum prancing in a biographical dress.
A person once asked Whitefield-it must have been in his later and reflecting years—what he thought of a certain man's character. The answer was, Let me live with him seven years, and then I may tell you." I could, however, mention a living biographer who many years since indulged the world with an excellent memoir of an exemplary Christian; and who said, in private conversation, of that person—" I was some years in his family ; and not only never saw him sin, but never saw in him an approach to it. I knew indeed that he was a sinner; but still what I say is true.” I record this from distant but accurate remembrance; and it was uttered by one who has himself long maintained a great consistency of character, both in private and pastoral connexions; and, as sobriety of mind, in the highest sense, has always distinguished his opinions and ministrations, I do not hesitate in communicating an anecdote which might otherwise have been received with derision or incredulity.
AMERICAN DIVINES: THE REV. JOSEPH LATHROP, D.D.
(Continued from p. 661.)
For the Christian Observer. We left Dr. Lathrop, in our last Number, restored by the blessing of God to his wonted health and repose of spirit, and enjoying a delightful state of harmony in his parish, after long continued illness, and a most afflicting series of disorganising disturbances. But similar vexations soon recurred; and he complains of the schismatic spirit which prevailed around him, more especially in the case of the Baptists, who, if his account be not unwarily exaggerated, were somewhat turbulent neighbours. He speaks more than once with some little chafing of spirit on this subject. We copy the following illustration of these his pastoral trials. His description is rather more shrewd and pointed than milky; but much must be allowed for the real affliction he felt at such instances of church defection, where evidently there was little real knowledge of the question of baptism or any thing else on which to ground it.
“ When church members withdraw from the communion of their brethren, the common excuse is, · Discipline is neglected.' This is the stalking horse on which they ride off.
“I rarely have known an instance where the brother, who assigns this reason, will dare to say he has ever taken one step, administered one reproof, spoken one word, to reclaim the persons with whom he pretends to be dissatisfied. The charge, which he throws on the church, recoils on himself. The honest Christian, who cannot bear them that are evil, will be ready to assist his brethren in reforming them. He will be watchful and strengthen the things which remain. Many who withdraw from the church under pretensions of pious zeal, manifestly betray their own duplicity and corruption.
“ The Apostle speaks of some, who withdrew from the churches of Christ, as acting under the influence of a charm, or fascination practised upon them by artful deceivers. This is doubtless the case with some in the present day. They are influenced, not by rational conviction, but by urgent feeling.
A very serious woman belonging to this church lived in the neighbourhood of a man who, though he never belonged to any church, nor professed any religion, yet was assiduous in his labours to detach her from her present connexion, and induce her to join the Baptists; and she was sometimes visited by a Baptist preacher, and finally persuaded to attend his meeting. A continual din in her ears disturbed her nerves and affected her mind.
“ She came to me with a request to be dismissed from this church. She seemed to entertain an idea, that her covenant vows were binding; but our dismission of her would release her from them.
“ I told her, that her covenant with God and his people was sacred; her vows had been recorded in heaven, and we could not dissolve them. If she should violate them, the guilt must lie on herself. I observed to her, that there could be no dismission, but by excommunication for obstinate wickedness, or by recommendation to some regular church; that if on good reasons she desired a recommendation to such church, doubtless we should grant it.
“ She said, if she could not be dismissed, she wished to be recommended to such a Baptist church, in a neighbouring town. I asked, if that church would receive her on our recommendation. She said, no: she must be baptized anew in their way, and she did not know but their way was as good as ours.
“I endeavoured to convince her of the validity of her infant baptism, and the sacredness of her covenant-obligations, and of the guilt and danger of renouncing them. Her reason seemed to be convinced ; but her feelings remained the same. She gave me this summary answer : 'I hope it is right to join the Baptists, for I feel as if I must go.' I advised her to delay, and look well to her goings. But no delay was allowed. The next Sabbath she was plunged. In two or three years the family removed to another town. She returned not to the church ; but it was manifest, she was not perfectly satisfied with the step she had taken, and a little delay would probably have prevented it. She acted under the influence of a charm.”
His prowess was, however, often called forth by other classes of arguers than those who hope it is right,” because they feel they must.” The following is a memorandum of a conversation with a Universalist in 1781. This sect was at one time very active in the United States of America ; but we believe is now greatly on the wane, being eclipsed by the increasing knowledge of scriptural truth.
“ Travelling for my health, I called at a tavern for refreshment. The landlord soon introduced to me a gentleman, who, he told me, was a Universalist. I supposed his aim was to bring forward a dispute on the subject of future punishment. After customary civilities, I told the gentleman my health was not good : I conversed but little, and wholly declined disputes : I should, however, be gratified, if he would give me his opinion on the controverted question. He was very courteous, and readily answered me in this manner : · I will state my opinion by reference to the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt. The people came to the Red Sea, saw the Egyptians on their rear, found themselves entangled between mountains, and fell into murmuring and despair. Moses told them there was no danger, the sea would open a way for their escape. They did not believe it; but Moses believed it. The sea opened and they arrived to the other shore.' (He should have remembered that the Egyptians, pursuing them, were all drowned.) · The people were now as safe as Moses. But Moses by his faith had the comfort of the deliverance beforehand. To apply this to the question before us : Believers and unbelievers will be equally safe and happy in the other world. All the difference is, that believers have the comfort of salvation in this world, which unbelievers have not.' I answered him; Sir, I understand your system. I will trouble you only to give me an explanation of one passage of Scripture ; * These shall go away into everlasting punishment.'
The explanation,' said he, is very easy. Christ says, I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink, &c. These, i. e. these sins, these unkind dispositions shall go away into everlasting destruction; shall cease, and be no more known.' Very well, I replied; now as an honest interpreter of Scripture, you will adhere to your own rule. The Judge says to them on his right hand, I was hungry, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink, &c. The righteous, i. e. according to your interpretation, these righteous dispositions; these kind, hospitable virtues, shall go into life eternal. You have disposed of the vices of the wicked, and of the virtues of the righteous : now be so good as to tell me, what becomes of the persons themselves. He gave no direct answer, but diverted to observations foreign to the question.
“ Men attached to a particular scheme will bend to it every text which can be made to yield to their violence. Texts too stubborn for their strength they will throw aside. An honest and impartial mind is necessary in our inquiries after truth. The meek God will guide in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way.'”
The following are Dr. Lathrop's sentiments respecting religious revivals, social meetings for prayer, and devotional conferences.
“In the course of my ministry I have often encouraged special meetings for devotion, and sometimes evening meetings. I have chosen to attend them myself, when I could with convenience; and I have preached, when my ability would permit. If I have not preached, I have usually made a short address to the people, and especially to the youth, on some religious subject, suggested either by a recent providence, or by what has been read. I have seen some good effects of these meetings, and have experienced benefit from them myself. But, when I could not attend them, I have desired that they might be under the direction of some discreet elderly Christians. I have endeavoured to guard my people against an error too common, where religious conferences are much attended ; I mean, substituting these in the place of Divine institutions, and making them a kind of thermometer, by which to prove the degree of heat and cold in religious zeal. When we hear of a revival of religion in any place, the unusual frequency and the general attendance of lectures and conferences by day and by night are adduced as decisive evidences of it. When these meetings become less frequent, or less full, it is said, ' Religion appears to be on the decline.' We ought always to place religion where the Scripture has placed it, in holiness of heart and life; and to regard devotional duties as instrumental to this end. We are never to place the essence of religion in things which are but the means of it.
“A serious man from a neighbouring parish, being one evening at my house on secular business, took occasion to inform me, that there was a great revival of religion in his vicinity. I expressed my satisfaction in the intelligence; but asked him wherein the happy revival discovered itself: whether the people appeared to be more humble, more condescending, more meek and peaceable, more kind and charitable, better united in their social relations, more virtuous in their manners, &c. He could not answer particularly with respect to these things; but said, “People were much