the language of Scripture itself, that we are not to be wise above what is written. This is granted : but then we ought to endeavour to he wise up to that which is written. Seal not the prophecy of this book,' was the solemn injunction of the angel who disclosed the symbols of the Apocalyptic vision to the mind of the venerable Apostle. It was, as if he had said, unroll the prophecy-open its hallowed contents to the view of the church, place it not under any interdict-blessed is he that readeth.

“ The ancient prophets • searched ;' they employed all the powers they possessed in exploring the meaning of their predictions; they searched diligently and inquired,' seeking and deriving information from all accessible re

“ In the first year of the reign of Darius, I, Daniel, understood by the books, the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish the seventy years in the desolation of Jerusalem' (Dan. ix. 2). We learn from this record, that the study of unfulfilled prophecy was productive of the most beneficial results. And how often, in the announcements of futurity by our Lord, both in his personal ministry, and in the revelations of Patmos, do we find it enjoined, Let him that readeth, understand.' He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.""

We greatly rejoice at these sentiments being expressed by Mr. Fletcher, because we are satisfied that they will produce much more effect, in the quarter wherein Dr. Smith's opinions were likely to prove prejudicial, than any thing which could have been said by ourselves; and so long as good is done, it matters not by whose instrumentality it is brought about. The following passage, from p. 20, is excellent.

“Attention to fulfilled prediction, in connexion with the great doctrines of Revelation, will convince us that from the beginning of the world, amidst all the revolutions of time, and all the external changes to which the church of God has been subjected, it has been the grand object of Providence to prepare the way for the establishment and reign of the Messiah. His coming, his kingdom, and bis glory, are the prominent topics of prophecy. Predictions, describing his incarnation, sufferings, and death, have received their minute accomplishment. The statements of prophecy possess, on some of these points, a minuteness of almost graphic representation, which renders them to us as intelligible as the records of Evangelists. But the prophets describe the glory of a reigning, as well as the humiliation of a suffering Messiah. This union of characteristics was the source of all those misconceptions, and prejudices, that made Christ crucified a stumbling-block to the Jews.' They could have borne for a while a suffering Messiah, if there had immediately followed this humiliation, the secular glory of a conquering Messiah. The lapse of eighteen centuries has not extirpated the prejudice. The fiction of two Messiahs has risen out of it; and some, astounded by the accordance of one class of predictions respecting the Messiah, with the history of the despised Nazarene, have been almost willing to believe that he inight be the suffering Messiah, if but the Conqueror were to make his appearance.”

There follows, indeed, to this passage, some observations which mark our author to be not entirely free from the Dissenting error of denying the duty of the king to rule for Christ; but we are so much pleased with the sermon as a whole, that we will not stop to quarrel upon this collateral branch. We regret, however, to be compelled to remark, that, let them take which side they will, there is a very great inaccuracy, in their references to and quotations from Scripture, prevalent in the writings and

sermons of the Dissenters, as a body. This looseness does not arise, with many, froin dishonesty, but from having derived their religion from the Westminster Confession, and not from the Bible: their knowledge of Scripture is slight; and the little they have read not taken in its connection. The following passage illustrates these remarks.

"The Apocalypse opens with a sublime vision of the glorified Redeemer, invested with mediatorial dominion. Clothed in the attributes of majesty, and embodying, in his person the characteristics of Deity, with all the properties of glorified humanity, he sways the sceptre of government, dispenses the blessings of grace, and prepares his church, in the successive scenes of its existence on earth, for its future beatification in his eternal kingdom."

« Mediatorial dominion” is nonsense. The vision with which the Apocalypse opens is that of the High Priest, clothed with the priest's dress, and not in the attributes of majesty: there is no sceptre to sway.

In pp. 28, 29, are some warnings against paying undue attention to unfulfilled prophecy: a warning which might with equal propriety be given to every subject, and therefore wholly useless. Mr. Fletcher might have warned the Apostle James against paying undue attention to good works, and not making them subservient to election and grace: or he might have remonstrated with the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians, for dwelling with such undue proportion upon doctrines, and not giving a larger measure of practical remarks. The warning is so large as to fit nothing, and must be put in as a salvo to the weak brethren whom Mr. Fletcher knew he was addressing.

Pages 31–35 are employed in recommending humility in interpretation, and in setting forth our opinions before others : also a very safe and good truism. What Mr. Fletcher means by it, however, is simply this: Dr. Smith, and those who discourage the study of unfulfilled prophecies, may prophesy themselves respecting the conversion of the world by means of Bibles and tracts; but if Mr. Irving, or the Morning Watch, say he is a false prophet, and deceiving the people, and refer to the word of God for the truth of what they say, they are very presumptuous. Mr. Fletcher quotes with great applause one of the few foolish passages in “The Natural History of Enthusiasm,” in which the author talks of putting the credit of Christianity at pawn in the hand of infidelity, to be lost beyond recovery, if not redeemed on a day specified by the fanatic for the verification of his word :" upon which we can only say, that great men are not always wise; and we assure him he need be under no sort of apprehension lest the credit of Christianity should be lost beyond recovery.

In page 36 Mr. Fletcher declaims against prophecy being made a rule of conduct, and again refers to the Natural History of Enthusiasm. It is much to be regretted, that, in hunting for

VOL. II.-NO. 11.

3 H

extracts with which to adorn his own pages, he should have overlooked the main object of that clever author, which is, to shew how enthusiasm of the most striking kind is engendered by false views, to a much greater extent than it is by true views ; since Mr. Fletcher has chosen to censure those who look to the word of God for specific directions, rather than to such as are loose and general. “Having therefore,” he says, "adopted certain notions about the Jews, for instance, and the destruction of Antichrist, they regard with an almost exclusive attachment whatever may directly or remotely tend to the particular result which they anticipate; while institutions supported only by general principles, and unrepealable obligations, are comparatively overlooked, if not actually discountenanced.” Now we assert that this charge is false, as applied to any other party, sect, or set of men in the church, but to that body to which Mr. Fletcher himself belongs; and that his party is guilty of it. And now to the proof.

The Dissenters have assumed, contrary to the word of God, that the circulation of Bibles and tracts will convert all mankind into Christians before Christ comes; will overturn all established churches; and that the same destiny, without any distinction, awaits the Heathen, Mohammedans, and Jews. Upon this theory they support the Bible, Tract, and London Missionary Societies, almost exclusively; while scarce the name of any one of them is to be found contributing to either of the three societies for the religious instruction of the Jews, and they have no society among themselves with any such object. On the other hand, there is not a member of any one of the three Jewish societies who does not equally promote all the Bible and Missionary societies within his reach. The fact is, that Mr. Fletcher's party have worked themselves and the religious public into an exaggerated state of excitement, by false enthusiasm ; and they are apprehensive, that, if men's motives were brought to the standard of God's word, that false fire would go out; and they are afraid of the light, and dare not bring their deeds to the light, lest they should be reproved. They do make their own false prophecies a rule of conduct, while the others do not make God's prophecies any rule at all, in the single sense in which Mr. Fletcher has rashly and erroneously asserted that they do.

Why," says he again, “should we chill the spirit of benevolent enterprise by the spirit of unhallowed speculation about arrangements which the mind of Deity alone can contemplate, and which it is daring and impious presumption for mortals to approach? The Gospel announces a remedy of Divine appointment for the ills and maladies of a disorderd world.

This is vastly fine, but it is not to the point in hand. It is not on this ground that support is asked by all the committees and deputations of all the societies, but in order to convert the

world, and introduce the Millennium ; which, though the real question that Mr. Fletcher had to handle against those whom he is attacking, he wisely, though not candidly, leaves entirely out of sight: nor do we say any thing of “ the monstrous notions of some presumptuous expositors of Revelation” (p. 4), who presume to call faith in the plain words of God “unhallowed speculation.”

Radicalism in church and state, under the pretext of religious liberty, is the delusion of the day; with a pretty sample of which Mr. Fletcher's sermon closes :

“Every thing in the present aspect of the church and the world calls for prayer, activity, and expectation. New scenes are opening around us; new facilities for exertion are providing in every direction; and the great principles of religious liberty are more than ever recognized and established. The fabrics of intolerance and superstition must ere long crumble into ruin. The mani. festations of hostility and alarm are signs that some great movements are going forward. Knowledge is diffused, light is advancing, and we fear nothing from their progress. The tyrannies of ages are falling, the banner of freedom is unfurling, and He, on whose shoulders is the government,' is overturning, and will overturn, till He shall come whose right it is to reign!

We are sorry to be obliged to inform Mr. Fletcher, that in the next dispensation, so far will its state be unlike that which he thinks would be now perfection, there will be an established church, and only one; that the King will be an absolute, an unlimited Monarch ; that the form of ecclesiastical government will be episcopal, and that a Priest will sit upon the throne : that, so far from what he calls “religious liberty” prevailing, men will be most rigidly required to obey every observance enjoined by the Sovereign: with many other similar particulars, into which we cannot now enter, but which he may learn by the study of Ezekiel, Zechariah, and St. John.


Practical Sermons on the Epistles to the Seven Churches, the

Millennium, 8c.: by the late Rev. Joseph Milner, M. A.” Few names stand higher in the estimation of those with whom every good man would wish to stand high, than the name of Joseph Milner. Far be from us the thought of attempting to detract from his well-deserved estimation, or to do ourselves the injury of separating from that goodly company to whom his memory is dear. But the greater the general excellence of his writings, the more incumbent we feel it to point out those parts wherein one so deservedly influential may have stopped short of expressing the whole truth, and may not have been privileged to discern the entire mind of the Holy Spirit. This we shall endeavour to do in no censorious spirit, for we feel it not; but,

thankful for living a few years later in time, and for witnessing and believing that display of God's purpose which the acts of his providence are daily unfolding to our view, we only carry on Milner's own principles a step or two further than he himself proceeded : which steps we really believe he would himself have taken, had he been living now; and which those who reverence his opinions are, we think, now bound to take. In the volume of sermons under review, there is one on the Millennium (Ser. xv. p. 266): to this we shall confine our remarks at present, as the questions which it will afford us the means of discussing occur only occasionally in the other sermons, and might in most cases be settled by the change of a single word. This sermon was written in 1796, when the great controversy for the literal fulfilment of prophecy was only beginning to arise ;-a controversy which seems destined by God to produce upon the church an immediate benefit, as signal as that for justification by faith in the sixteenth century; and whose issues involve by far the most important events since the creation of the world; for it pronounces YES, or NO, to the glorious advent of the Messiah to sit on the throne of David, to the reign of the saints, to the restitution of all things, to the casting out of Satan, to the finishing of the mystery of God.

And shall we avoid these topics because good men differ upon them ? No; we love controversy: it is as the key to the portal of truth; or like the healthful breeze, which purifies the atmosphere we breathe. “There is a stagnant peace, full of infection and death. Vehement contention for truth may be a duty, and consistent with love and the meekness of wisdom. Peaceful minds are often apt to condemn not so much those who resist the truth, as those who, by testifying the truth, are the innocent occasion of controversy, and thus first disturb the general quiet. This is not, however, the true peace-making spirit which our Saviour blesses, but the love of carnal ease, and the very opposite to the spirit of the Gospel. Erasmus would thus have lost that Reformation, which Luther under God accomplished. There is a greater blessing than present quiet,-even the maintenance of important truth; and millions will through eternity thank God for the holy boldness, decision, and courage of Luther. Eager disputes about important religious truths are far better, and far more hopeful, than that total indifference which arises from infidelity. There may, indeed, be a disproportionate attention to controversy... But because there is this mistake, there is a prevalent notion, among those to whom we may justly give the blessed title of peace-makers, that the simple statement of truth is a sufficient confutation of error. Such forget the advantage that error has against truth, in its falling in with the natural principles of the heart. Exposure of error and false statement, in a controversial

« 上一页继续 »