ePub 版

tist, as it were out of the world's wilderness;—a glorious assurance,—'the reign of heaven is at hand.' And they close with no more. Still a solemn preparation. Jesus must be removed from the eyes of his chosen, must commit his Gospel, all young and ill-understood as it was, to the hands of men and the watch of heaven; he must leave the world and go to the Father. Still a promise. The Comforter, the spirit of truth, should afterwards be sent, to establish and teach, to sustain and guide them.

We are to advance further then, for the perfection which we are seeking to discover is not yet found ;—and we next come upon the broad place of the Apostles' labours. Here is another beginning of the word of Christ; is it also its perfection? The day of Pentecost is past; the promise of Christ has been redeemed; the Holy Spirit has been shed, and the baptism by fire; the heralds of salvation are sent forth. A new record is now opened in our religion, and ' the glorious company of the Apostles' stand before us. Who shall speak lightly of the spirit that animated those devoted men, the spirit that instructed and inspired them? They went out against the world, and the powers of the world were shaken. They were taught of God, and the wisdom of men looked poor before the subduing doctrines of the cross. They were aided of heaven, and prince and council could not bring to nought the sovereign purpose ; and contempt and hatred, cunning and force, could not 'cover what God would reveal.' Still they were only instruments in the hand of Providence for helping on a mighty design; men imbued deep with the influences of early habits of thought, and the tinge of national prepossessions; men subject to infirmities and errours like us. We learn from the memoir of their ' Acts,' and from their own writings, that they did not always understand the overruling will that was employing them ;—that gifted as they were, they could assemble in council and be divided in opinion; that banded together as they were in the greatest and best of services, by that love which was their master's parting commandment, they could withstand each other on points of the greatest moment to the cause which all had equally at heart. The very question whether the Gospel should go freely out into all the earth, unincumbered with any of the rites of Judaism,—a question of such vital interest, was not regarded by them all with the same sentiments, nor at once nor easily decided ;—and is there not a history in one such example? We look in vain among the Apostles, illustrious as they proved to be, for any thing that brings back the image of their departed Head, with his peerless majesty, his divinity of soul. They appear in all things as the servants of him whom they acknowledged their Lord. They were faithful, and therein chiefly lay their praise. But not in their day was the clear glory displayed, which Jesus saw in the visions of his inspired mind beaming full on the nations. Something of the imperfections of the time yet mingled with it, and intercepted its shining. We reach the end of the historical records of our religion; and we see it at that point, and leave it there, somewhat as they leave Paul, its highminded champion ;—preaching indeed worthily ' the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concerned the Lord Jesus Christ;'—but in a hired house, and more than half a captive. There is but one more period, which can be considered capable of being called the beginning of the Gospel. It is what is styled primitive Christianity, the Gospel as it was held by the immediate converts of the Apostles, and those who for a few generations succeeded them. To this many are ready to revert as the golden day of our faith. Then was nothing wanting, and nothing had been added to it. It was pure and perfect in its doctrine, its order, and its consequences. Who but the excellent would embrace it in its season of contempt and persecution? and who could err in opinion, when the very voices of its first proclaimers had hardly died away? Alas! we exaggerate the advantages of that early era. Those high thoughts of their excellence must be sadly reduced, when we think of the disgraceful celebration of the Corinthian eucharist; when we call to mind the many minute directions and reproofs of Paul; when we listen to the complainings of the aged John, whose eyes saw many Antichrists before years had dimmed them. We scarcely hear of a Church sooner than we hear of dissensions in it. There were ignorance and weakness, misrule and superstition, in the first assemblies of believers; and spots in their first feasts of charity. It is indeed natural that we should revert with interest to those earliest receivers of Christian truth. Who can contemplate without emotion 'the noble army of martyrs;' or remember without gratitude the moral principles which they helped to establish in their

trray and in their fall? Yet we cannot forget how speedily the faith for which they suffered departed far away from that simplicity in which the mind of Jesus had received it. It was joined at once by various corruptions from the conceits of vain philosophy and of popular illusion, from the prepossessions of the ignorant and the empty learning of the taught. It began to be mystical and visionary, and to utter a strange speech. Gentilism added its thousand subtilties to those of Judaism, which were already more than enough, and together they came darkly into it, till its 'gift of tongues' seemed almost like the ancient gift at Babel,—a sign of confusion. Long before it stretched out its hand to the temporal power, and drew around itself the purple of the Ceesars, the fictions of the East had found a place with it; Jesus of Nazareth was declared to be God; the foolish dreams of a millenium were believed; and there was no want either of the world's passions or reveries. And what need be said of the disastrous times that succeeded? How much was to be found of the simplicity or the spirit of Christ, amidst factious councils and—that most fearful of sights—bigotry in power? Through what changes must we perceive the name of Christian to have passed, when we look back from the prelate and the monk, to those humble men, who 'were first called Christians at Antioch!'

[The subject may be resumed in another number.]


[The following selections are from the works of Dr. Joseph Hall, a Bishop of the church of England, and one of the ablest and best of the old English divines. His writings abound with fine thoughts expressed with much force, and with much of the qtiaintness of his times. How well his claims to the appellation of the English Seneca, which the closeness and vigour of thought and style displayed in his moral sentences have procured him, are supported by these extracts from his Holy Observations and his Meditations and Vows, we leave our readers to judge. The first of them, which bears hard upon certain doctrines of grace, and the one we have in part italicised, accord but ill with our associ


ations with the far-famed Synod of Dort, of which he was for a time at least a distinguished member. It is but fair to add, however, that he was not, in all points of doctrine and discipline, a member of the very strictest orthodoxy, as perhaps these two extracts make it unnecessary to say.]

God is the God of order, not of confusion. As therefore in natural things, he useth to proceed from one extreme to another by degrees, through the mean ; so doeth he in spiritual. The sun riseth not at once to his highest, from the darkness of midnight; but first sends forth some feeble glimmering of light in the morning; then looks out with weak and waterish beams; and so by degrees ascends to the midst of heaven. So, in the seasons of the year, we are not one day scorched with a summer heat, and on the next frozen with a sudden extremity of cold. But winter comes on softly; first by cold dews, then hoar frosts; until at last it descends to the hardest weather of all. Such are God's spiritual proceedings. He never brings any man from the estate of sin to the estate of glory, brings any man from gross wickedness to any eminence of perfection. 1 will be charitably jealous of those men, which from notorious lewdness leap at once into a sudden forwardness of profession. Holiness doth not, like Jonas' gourd, grow up in a night. I like it better to go on soft and sure, than for a hasty fit to run myself out of' breath;' and after, stand still and 'rest' me.

When I see my Saviour hanging in so forlorn a fashion upon the cross, his head drooping down, his temples bleeding with thorns, his hands and feet with the nails, and side with the spear, his enemies round about him mocking at his shame, and insulting over his impotence ; how should I think any otherwise of him, than as himself complaineth, forsaken of his Father? But when again I turn mine eyes, and see the sun darkened, the earth quaking, the rocks rent, the graves opened, the thief confessing * * * and when 1 see so strong a guard of providence over him, that all his malicious enemies are not able so much as to break one bone of that body, which seemed carelessly neglected; I cannot but wonder at his glory and safety. God is ever near, though oft unseen, and if he wink

but through the estate of grace.


it our distress, he sleepeth not. The senses of others must not be judges of his presence and care; but our faith. What care I, if the world give me up for miserable, while I am under his secret protection? O Lord, since thou art strong in our weakness, and present in our senselessness, give me but as much comfort in my sorrow, as thou givest me security, and at my worst 1 shall be well.

The worldling's life is of all others the most discomfortable. For that which is his God, doth not always favour him; that which should be, never. _____

Injuries hurt not more in the receiving, than in the remembrance. A small injury shall go as it comes; a great injury may dine or sup with me; but none at all shall lodge with me. Why should I vex myself, because another hath vexed me?

Every sickness is a little death. I will be content to die oft, that I may die once well.

Nothing doth so befool a man as extreme passion. This doth both make them fools, which otherwise are not; and show them to be fools, that are so. Violent passions,—if I cannot tame them that they may yield, to my ease, I will at least smother them by concealment, that they may not appear, to my shame.

Forced favours are thankless, and commonly with noble minds find no acceptation. For a man to give his soul to God, when he sees he can no longer hold it, or to bestow his goods, when he is forced to part with them, or to forsake his sin when he cannot follow it, are but unkind and cold obediences. God sees our necessity and scorns our compelled offers. What man of any generous spirit will abide himself to be made the last refuge of a craved, denied and constrained courtesy? While God gives me leave to keep my soul, yet then to bequeath it to him, and whilst strength and opportunity serve me to sin, then to forsake it, is both accepted and crowned. God loves neither grudged nor necessary gifts. I will offer betimes, that he may vouchsafe to take;—I will give him the best, that he may take all.

vol. III.—No I. 4

« 上一頁繼續 »