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country, and gave it a meaning appropriate to the new dispensation. Christianity was not a covenant in the sense of an agreement or compact. It was the form, in which God conveyed to man the blessings of spiritual light and freedom; it was truly a moral gift, and in no sense of the word, a contract.
But let us look at some customary modes of speech and thought on religious subjects at the present day. It cannot be doubted, that many an error yet lingers, perhaps flourishes in the Christian world, which first had its root in Jewish conceptions, and has thence been transplanted to other lands and other times. This is no more than we might expect, when we remember that Judaism prepared the way for Christianity, and was intimately connected with it at its origin, and in its subsequent development. Some influences of the old Hebrew notion of an exclusive covenant between God, and some portions of mankind, may be traced in the creeds and the religious language of modern days. The clear and pure light of Christianity has not entirely banished a mode of thinking, which could be useful or proper only at a period of time when nothing better could be adapted to the understandings of men. The error, to which reference is here made, may be found more particularly in the views entertained concerning the ordinances of our religion. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not seldom regarded and spoken of as the signs or seals of a peculiar covenant between God and the human soul; and churches have what they call their articles of covenant. And that this language is not used in a merely figurative sense, is evident from the fact, that these outward rites of religion are understood to create a distinct and exclusive relation to God and to duty, so that by them men come under obligations different and separate from their obligations as moral beings, as subjects of the divine government, or as receivers of the Christian dispensation. It seems to be thought, that they enter into a compact with the Almighty, by which they are bound to certain extraordinary responsibilities of sanctity, and by which, they feel assured, the Saviour of the Universe binds himself to bestow on them peculiar and discriminating favors,--so that the members of a church are the covenant people of God, guarded and fenced within their own enclosure in the spiritual world. Now, this is neither more nor less than the old Jewish notion foisted on Christianity, somewhat disguised perhaps, but in substance the same. A little reflection and a sound interpretation of Scripture, will convince us, that such a way of thinking entirely mistakes the
nature of the Christian ordinances. They are not signs or seals of a religious compact, but simply outward modes of religious acknowledgment, or outward means of religious improvement. They do not create our obligations as such, but only present us with new incentives to Christian gratitude, and new helps to spiritual advancement and growth in grace. Our obligations, we must remember, have their foundation in the very nature of our condition as moral and accountable beings, gifted with reason, and illuminated by the light of heaven in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are immutable, being based on everlasting relations. We cannot enlarge or diminish them by chaining ourselves to human creeds or standards, nor by the observance of an outward form of religion which may quicken and excite us to our Christian duty, and stir up and strengthen our pious feelings, but can do nothing more. In baptism we present ourselves or our children to receive the ancient token of adopting the name of Christians; and in the Lord's Supper we commemorate, by the significant symbols appointed by Christ, his services and sufferings, his life and death. No one, it seems to me, who looks at these institutions from the true point of view, can doubt that they are adapted to be exceedingly salutary and edifying. But still they are only the means of religion, not the source of religious obligation. We should pray and strive to improve by them; and if we use them aright, we shall improve by them. But we do not in them stipulate to do, or to be what we are required to do, and to be, by the very fact of being Christians, and the subjects of God's government. If then, church covenants are framed in such a way, as to imply a compact between the Almighty and man, they do but embody in another shape, or revive the antiquated Jewish conception. If any thing in this form must be had, it would be better to call them expressions of faith, or of religious duty, or by some equivalent name, rather than covenants,--since this term is exceedingly liable to leave wrong impressions, or to accustom us to false apprehensions.
Remarks of a similar character might be made with respect to vows, which some individuals consider as a compact, into which they enter with God. If they concern those duties, which as moral beings, and as Christians, we are bound to perform, then they are useless; if they are understood to create an obligation to other duties, they may be worse than useless, - they may be dangerous.
The views now presented, if rightly understood, will lead us to true and spiritual conceptions of the relation, in which we stand to Him in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” From our thoughts concerning this relation, every thing that is narrow and exclusive,-every thing borrowed from the doings, or the passions that grow out of human imperfection,-should be utterly banished. We can enter into no stipulations or covenants with Infinite Goodness, and Infinite Power. We are the subjects of a government arranged for us by One, whose wisdom cannot err, whose justice cannot do wrong; and as such, we stand in our lot, as a portion of the vast system of things constituted by Knowledge which measures, and by Benificence which blesses, the universe. The child does not contract for the duties he owes to his father, nor for the favors he is to receive from him. No more can we do so with respect to our heavenly Father. Our relation to Him is one, in which we stand by the very fact of entering into existence as natural beings. His mercy is around us wherever we turn. His instructions are proclaimed to us from the heavens above, and from the earth beneath, from our moral constitution, and from the Scriptures of truth. His justice is manifested in the world's history, and in our own experience. His promises and threatenings are announced in the laws of nature, and by the solemn voice of revelation. All these we know; under all these we are born and live; all these have respect to us; and hence our duties, hence our obligations, as subjects of the divine government. We do not assume or throw aside responsibleness at our pleasure. We came under it by the fact that we live, and that we enjoy moral privileges and spiritual blessings; and we can no more shake it off, than we can shake off our being. We do not enter into an agreement, and become one of the parties to a covenant. It is our condition, our very constitution, to be bound to render to God all the service, which reason and his revealed will require, and no act of ours can create or modify these requirements. God will do for us, without any covenant, whatever Wisdom and Goodness determine as best to be done
Of that we are fully assured, and we want no more. We can expect or demand no pledge of God's favor, except what we find in the arrangements of his Omnipotence and Mercy, and in the instructions of his Spirit; but that is enough, largely, abundantly enough. The pledge is written in broad and beautiful characters, not to be mistaken, on his works and in his word; it is written in the economy of his providence; it is written on the constitution and operations of nature; it is written on all that He gives us, every hour we breathe and act; it is written in all the inwardness of the spiritual being, in that imperishable soul which bears His image; it is written,
more than all, and better than all,-—in that volume of heavenly instruction, by which we are made wise unto salvation, and in the pages of which ever shines the light of the upper world. Here are the pledges that God loves us, cares for us, and would educate us to the inheritance of saints in light.' Shall we not rest on these, and “press on to the prize of our high calling?” Shall we look for covenanted mercies, which are not found here, and by which we may enclose ourselves on some peculiarly appropriated spot in the spiritual world, separate from our fellows? No, the bow of mercy spans the broad arch over us,—the assurance that God will not forget to be gracious, and the remembrancer that we must work hard while the day lasts, in the tasks of improvement and duty. Here is our covenant; and what other can we want?
I see you in some country town
four hundred settled down,
What little surplus there may be, To buy your wife a Christmas gown. I see you thro' the rain, the snow, Heat, cold, and mud, unwearied go To visit every home of wo,
Sustain each drooping head;
Weep o'er the humble dead.
As rise the flames or fall;
And you the lord of all.
the living prayer:-
Philip Van Artevelde; a dramatic romance, in two parts, by
HENRY TAYLOR, Esq. "Dramatica Poesis est veluti Historia spectabilis." Bacon de Augmentis. Cambridge and Boston: James Munroe, d. Co. 1835.
These volumes have met with as warm a reception "as ever unripe author's quick conceit,” to use Mr. Taylor's own language, could hope or wish, and so deservedly that the critic's happy task in examining them is to point out, not what is most to be blamed, but what is most to be praised.