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I am proud of thy love-I can tell
Nor the blind devotion of soul
66 Tis a love more pure and free.
Thou see'st there is not another,
Not even thy childhood's brother,
Thou givest thyself to one
Can keep and can guard, the treasures of love,
My own, my own!
Nobly wonGod has blessed us much, my wounded, my wandering dove!"
Lonely, once more, I stay-
But, brother and friend-to thee
The Dream is reality.
She was nature's brilliant clear,
She beams at thy side,
Full of love and pride;
Art. XIII.-THE PROGRESS OF TRUTH NATURAL,
SILENT, AND GRADUAL.
“He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, and like showers that water the earth."--Psalm 72.
The nature of that religion which God requires and will accept, is a subject worthy of the most serious consideration of every individual. How is the Gospel intended to operate upon the human character? what effects is it designed to produce? and in what manner are we brought to that state of mind, which it is designed to form? These questions are of themselves of deep interest, and require our careful consideration. Our Saviour often adverted in his instructions to the value of the kingdom it was his design to establish; the manner in which it would be extended among mankind; and the mode of its operation on the character and heart. “So is the kingdom of God," saith he, "as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day; and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” In these, and other allusions which our Lord was wont to make to natural objects, we are not to press the resemblances too far; or to suppose that in every particular we shall find an analogy or likeness between the object selected, and the truth to be illustrated. It is sufficient that the general resemblance appear, and this suggests an important rule in interpreting the parables of our Lord. And it is with great beauty and exactness that the kingdom of heaven, or the religion of Jesus is compared to seed cast in the ground, because the whole process from germination to maturity is natural, silent, gradual, and inexplicable. In each of these respects, it illustrates the progress of the Gospel in the world without, and in the hearts of men.
1. In the first place, the progress of the gospel in the world has always been perfectly natural; i. e. entirely conformable to the nature of the gospel itself, and the nature of men. These two objects are as completely adapted to each other, and to the great result which is to follow, as the seed is adapted to the soil, and the harvest which is to succeed. The nature of the seed is right, the nature of the ground which is to receive it, is right; the sprouting, the growth, the ripening, and the fruit are all natural; there is nothing supernatural in the whole work. In the same manner, the nature of the gospel, and the nature of man have a mutual adaptation; and both united are suited to the production of the fruits of true righteousness. It is as agreeable to the principles of human nature, that the gospel should be diffused among mankind, and gain their assent, and form them to holiness, as it is agreeable to the nature and properties of the seed, and of the ground, that plants should advance to maturity and produce their respective fruits. The Creator of all-the Father of our spirits is the author of this mutual adaptation. He made it; His hands formed and prepared it: giving to earth the properties by which it is capable of producing at once the beautiful and the useful; the noxious and the salutary. In like manner, He is the author of human nature: of the several powers, i. e. intellectual and moral as well as corporal, which constitute human beings. Everything pertaining to our constitution, is the workmanship of God. Whatever there is in us, strictly and properly natural, is to be considered as the work of God. Those capacities, by which we distinguish between truth and error; by which we acquire knowledge, approve virtue, and feel an inward satisfaction, when we practice it;--the affections by which we love our fellow-beings;--all these capacities were formed and implanted by God Himself
. These capacities are adapted to the means of instruction and improvement, which are furnished by the same divine hand." And particularly are they fitted to receive light and influence from the gospel: in other words, adapted to progress in religious wisdom and virtue. This gospel is itself, in an eminent sense, the gift of God. It is called by an Apostle Ilis unspeakable gift. And, as it was given for the benefit, so is it admirably adapted to the nature of man. It addresses him as a being, capable of examining and understanding truth; capable of perceiving the weight of evidence; of choosing and pursuing the good, and of shunning the evil: of loving his Creator, and his fellow-men; capable, too, of being swayed by sufficient motives.
Now, if men were destitute of these capacities, or if the system of religion presented, was not adapted to them, the wisdom of the Creator as manifested in His Word, would be less conspicuous than it is in Ilis outward works, the material world. And in the greatest and most precious of His gifts, we should want the tokens of a wisdom and kindness, which we at once discern in His inferior works.
From this view it follows, that the progress of the gospel among men is as strictly natural, i. e. as entirely conformable to the nature of the gospel and the nature of man as the growth of plants is natural, agreeable to the nature of the soil, and of the fruit it produces. This sentiment is confirmed by
every view we take of the history of the progress of Christianity. This progress has been such as to show, that the evidences and the doctrines of the gospel are adapted to the intellectual powers of mankind; that its precepts are suited to the growth and perfectness of their virtue; that the objects it presents to their desire and pursuit are congenial to their moral capacities; that its promises and consolations are fitted to their encouragement and comfort.
We do not deny, on the contrary we fully believe, that the gospel was at first, and for a considerable period attended by supernatural evidence, by the evidence of miracle and of prophecy. But we think, that this evidence is as entirely adapted to the nature of men as any other species of evidence. While this continued to be exhibited by the preaching of the gospel, this pure religion made unexampled progress. Multitudes, wherever its truths were proclaimed in their original power became converts to its faith. A great part of the Roman empire became Christian in the true sense of the word. They forsook their idolatrous worship and their vices, and led peaceful, sober, righteous lives, as it commanded them. They submitted moreover with singular meekness and patience to the reproaches and persecutions they thus incurred.
When the reign of miracles ceased, the proof derived from miracles did not cease. Though they were no longer to be witnessed, the evidence derived from authentic history abundantly proved that they had once been performed: and had Christianity retained its original simplicity, it would probably have continued with rapid advances to gain the belief, and to persuade the souls of men. For this is certain, that in proportion as it is presented in its own simplicity and consistency, as it came from the lips of the great Teacher himself, it is suited to gain the assent, and to command the veneration of men. And, that on the contrary, in proportion to the corruptions that have been attached to it, and what is worse---mistaken for a part of it, infidelity has prevailed. Christianity, then, in its pure state, or as found in the New Testament, is adapted to the nature of man, and fitted in its evidences, doctrines and precepts to make progress in the world. And what is here specially to be remarked is, that this progress is as agreeable to the nature of the human mind, as the growth of the plant is agreeable to the nature of the soil. In neither case, is there anything in the operation special or supernatnral.
By the same reasoning, it may be shown that the effect of the gospel on the individual character and disposition is strictly according to nature. Whatever kind or degree of divine
influence, separate from the natural influence of the truth, may be supposed—and such, undoubtedly, may be supposed,) it will still be found agreeable to the laws of the human mind, and to the principles by which man is actuated, nor can it be distinguished from any other influence. We might as well talk of a special power in the growth of vegetables, or in the improvement of science, as in the increase and power of religion. We might as well attempt to distinguish the divine power in vegetation—which, who will doubts is exerted there '_from the natural influence of the soil, the rain, and the sun; and say, this effect is produced by the rain, and this by the sun, but this comes immediately from the power of God-we might as well make such a distinction as this—as to talk as some do of common grace, and special grace, or to say, that one can make a man only moral, but the other can make him truly religious. This would be like saying, that common power
makes the stalk and the ear, but special power the full corn in the ear. The truth is, “all is of God.”. God is in all and through all, and with all. The gospel is His work; and it is naturally and universally adapted to produce all the influences on the human character, which are necessary to the perfection and happiness of men. It has the same power to give them holiness as to give them instruction; to make them religious as to make them moral; to lead them to love God and their fellow-creatures, from the heart, as to lead them to the performance of outward duties. To say, that it is not, would be as inconsistent as to say, that the ground is fitted to make the plant grow, but not to make it come to maturity.
Besides, we are in danger of being deceived by a latent fallacy in some common expressions, as to the nature of religion, and the manner of becoming religious. I refer now to such phrases as "experiencing religion, finding religion," “meeting with a change:” now it is true of these, and similar expressions so frequent in the lips of those who undertake to utter themselves upon the subject--that they are apt to arise out of mistaken views of the nature of religion, and of the real and only manner, in which men become religious. The fallacy may easily be detected by substituting some term, which is equivalent to religion, or which denotes some moral excellence. Who should think, for example, of saying, that such a person had experienced truth, modesty, honesty, temperance, or industry? Or who would think of describing a real improvement in the character of men, by saying that there is a concern or special attention to charity, to diligence, to humility, to purity, to the love of God, or to benevolence?