图书图片
PDF
ePub

though not very deep. It consisted in the nature of the theology he taught—in its persect simplicity and universal application. His thirty or forty thousand sermons were but so many variations on two key-notes. Man is guilty, and may obtain forgiveness; he is immortal, and must ripen here for endless weal or wo hereafter. Expanded into innumerable forms, and diversified by infinite varieties of illustration, these two cardinal principles were ever in his heart and on his tongue. Let who would invoke poetry to embellish the Christian system, or philosophy to explore its esoteric depths, from his lips it was delivered as an awful and urgent summons to repent, to believe, and to obey. To set to music the orders issued to seamen in a storm, or to address them in the language of Aristotle or Descartes, would have seemed to him not a whit more preposterous than to divert his hearers from their danger and their refuge, their duties and their hopes, to any topics more trivial or more abstruse. In fine, he was thoroughly and continually in earnest, and, therefore, possessed that tension of the soul which admitted neither of lassitude nor relaxation, few and familiar as were the topics to which he was confined. His was, therefore, precisely that state of mind in which alone eloquence, properly so called, can be engendered, and a moral and intellectual sovereignty won. A still more important topic we pass over silently, not as doubting, or reluctant to acknowledge, the reality of that divine influence, of which the greatest benefactors of mankind are at most but the voluntary agents; but because, desiring to observe the proprieties of time and place, we abandon such discussions to pages more sacred than our own. he effects of Whitfield's labours on succeeding times have been thrown into the shade by the more brilliant fortunes of the ecclesiastical dynasty of which Wesley was at once the founder, the lawgiver, and the head. Yet a large proportion of the American churches, and that great body of the Church of England which, assuming the title of evangelical, has been refused that of orthodox, may trace back their spiritual genealogy, by regular descent from him. It appears, indeed, that there are among them some who, for having disavowed this ancestry, have brought themselves within the swing of Mr. Phillip's club. To rescue them, if it were possible, from the bruises which they have provoked, would be to arrest the legitimate march of penal justice. The consanguinity is attested by historical records and by the strongest family resemblance. The quarterings of Whitfield are entitled to a conspicuous place in the evangelical scutcheon; and they who bear it are not wise in being ashamed of the blazonry. Four conspicuous names connect the great field-preacher with the evangelical body, as it at present exists in the Church of England. The first of these, Henry Venn, exhibited in a systematic form the doctrines and precepts of the evangelical divinity in a treatise, bearing the insignificant title of the “New Whole Duty of Man.” He was the founder of that “school of the prophets,” which has, to the present

day, continued to flourish with unabated or increasing vigour in the University of Cambridge, and the writer of a series of letters which have lately been edited by one of his lineal descendants. They possess the peculiar and very powerful charm of giving utterance to the most profound affections in grave, chaste, and simple language, and indicate a rare subjection of the intellectual, and sensitive, to the spiritual nature—of an intellect of no common vigour, and a sensibility of exquisite acuteness, to a spirit at once elevated and subdued by devout contemplations. He was followed by Joseph Milner, who, in a history of the Church of Christ, traced, from the days of the Apostles to the Reformation, the perpetual succession of an interior society by which the tenets of the Calvinistic Methodists had been received and transmitted as a sacred deposit from age to age. A man of more spotless truth and honesty than Milner never yet assumed the historical office. But he was encumbered at once by a theory, and by the care of a grammar-school; the one anticipating his judgments, the other narrowing the range of his investigations. His “apparatus” included little more than the New Testament, the Fathers, and the ecclesiastical historians. To explore, to concentrate, and to scrutinize with philosophical scepticism, the evidences by which they are illustrated and explained, was a task unsuited alike to his powers, his devotion, and his taste. He has bequeathed to the world a book which can never lose its interest, either with those who read it to animate their piety, or with those who, in their search for historical truth, are willing not merely to examine the proofs, but to listen to the advocates. John Newton, most generally known as the friend and spiritual guide of Cowper, has yet better claims to celebrity. For many years the standard-bearer of his section of the Anglican church in London, he was the writer of many works, and especially of an autobiography, which is to be numbered amongst the most singular and impressive delineations of human character. A more rare psychological phenomenon than Newton was never subjected to the examination of the curious. The captain of a slave-ship, given up at one time to all manner of vice and debauchery, gradually emerges into a perfect Oroondates, haunted to the verge of madness by the sentimental Psyche, but is still a slave-trader. He studies the Scriptures and the classics in his cabin, while his captives are writhing in mental and bodily agonies in the hold. With nerves of iron, and sinews of brass, he combines an almost feminine tenderness, and becomes successively the victim of remorse, a penitent, a clergyman, an eminent preacher, an author of no mean pretensions in verse and prose, beloved and esteemed by the wise and good; and at an extreme old age closes in honour, peace, and humble hope, a life of strange vicissitudes, and of still stranger contrasts. The position which he has the courage to challenge for himself in the chronicle of his party, is that of an example of the salutary influence of their principles on a man once given up to reckless guilt. His friends and followers, with more discretion, and at least equal truth, assert for him the praise of having consecrated his riper and declining years to the practice of pure and undefiled religion; and to the inculcation of it with all the vigour of his natural disposition, tempered by a composure and adorned by an elegance, the most remote from his primitive character. The last of the fathers of the Evangelical Church was Thomas Scott, the author of many books, and amongst these of a treatise called the “Force of Truth,” which records his own mental history; and of a Commentary on the Bible, in which the truth he sought and believed himself to have found is discovered in almost every page of the inspired volume. Scott was nothing less than a prodigy of autodidactic knowledge. Bred up in humble life, with little education, regular or irregular, and immersed from youth to age in clerical cares (of which a well-filled nursery and an ill-filled purse seem inevitable parts) he had neither money to multiply books, nor much leisure or inclination to read them. But he studied his congregation, his Bible, and himself. From those investigations, conducted with admirable sagacity, good faith and perseverance, he accumulated a fund of thought indigenous if not original, accurate if not profound, which, considered as the gathering of a solitary mind, is altogether marvellous. In the later editions of his work, indeed, he interspersed such learning as he had derived from subsequent study. But, inverting the established order, he seems to have published his own books first, and to have read those of other men afterwards. Such a process, executed with such zeal and earnestness, if aided by a vivid imagination, would have rendered his speculations instinct with breath and life; if directed by vanity, it would have ascribed to the sacred oracles some wild novelties of meaning at jar with the sense and spirit of their authors; if guided by mercenary views, it would have brought them into harmony with the opinions of the orthodox dispensers of ecclesiastical emoluments and honours. But imagination in the mind of Thomas Scott was not merely wanting, it was a negative quantity; and his chariot-wheels drove heavily. The thirst of praise or of wealth was quenched by a desire as simple and as pure as ever prompted human activity to promote the Divine glory and the good of man. He would have seen the labours of his life perish, and would have perished with them, rather than distort the sense of revelation by a hair's breadth from what he believed to be its genuine meaning. He rendered to his party (if with such a man party can be fitly associated) the inestimable service of showing how their distinguishing tenets may be deduced from the sacred canon, or reconciled with it; and of placing their feet on that which Chillingworth had proclaimed as the rock of the Reformation. Gradually, however, it came to pass in the Evangelical, as in other societies, that the symbol was adopted by many who were strangers to the spirit of the original institution;–

by many an indolent, trivial, or luxurious,

aspirant to its advantages, both temporal and eternal. The terms of membership had never been definite or severe. Whitfield and his followers had required from those who joined their standard neither the adoption of any new ritual, nor the abandonment of any established. ceremonies, nor an irksome submission to ecclesiastical authority, nor the renunciation of any reputable path to eminence or to wealth. The distinguishing tenets are few and easily learned; the necessary observances neither onerous nor unattended with much pleasurable emotion. In the lapse of years the discipline of the society imperceptibly declined, and errors coeval with its existence exhibited themselves in an exaggerated form. When country gentlemen and merchants, lords spiritual and temporal, and even fashionable ladies gave in their adhesion, their dignities uninvaded, their ample expenditure flowing chiefly in its accustomed channels, and their saloons as crowded if not as brilliant as before, the spirit of Whitfield was to be traced among his followers, not so much in the burning zeal and self-devotion of that extraordinary man, as in his insubordination to episcopal rule and unquenchable thirst for spiritual excitement. Although the fields and the market-places no longer echoed to the voice of the impassioned preacher and the hallelujahs of enraptured myriads; yet spacious theatres, sacred to such uses, received a countless host to harangue or to applaud; to recount or to hear adventures of stirring interest; to propagate the Christian faith to the furthest recesses of the globe; to drop the superfluous guinea, and to retire with feelings strangely balanced between the human and the divine, the glories of heaven and the vanities of earth. The venerable cloisters of Oxford sheltered a new race of students, who listened not without indignation, to the rumours of this religious movement. Invigorated by habitual self-denial; of unsullied, perhaps of austere virtue; with intellectual powers of no vulgar cast; and deeply conversant with Christian antiquity-they acknowledged a Divine command to recall their country to a pietyomore profound and masculine, more meek and contemplative. They spoke in the name and with the authority of the “Catholic Church,” the supreme interpreter of the holy mysteries confided to her care. That sublime abstraction has not indeed, as of yore, a visible throne and a triple crown; nor can she now point to the successors of the fishermen of Galilee collected into a sacred college at the Vatican. Though still existing in a mysterious unity of communion, faith, and practice, she is present in every land and among all people, where due honour is paid to the episcopal office derived by an unbroken succession from the apostles. Her doctrines are those to which Rome and Constantinople have made some corrupt additions, but which the Ante-Nicene fathers professed and our Anglo-Saxon ancestors adopted. She requires the rigid observance of her ancient formularies, and calls on her children to adore rather than to investigate. She announces tenets which the unlearned must submissively receive with a

modest self-distrust; inculcates a morality which pervades and sanctifies the most minute, not less than the more considerable of our actions; and demands a piety which is to be avowed not by the utterance of religious sentiments, nor by a retreat from the ordinary pursuits or pleasures of the world, but by the silent tenor of a devout life. If among the teachers of this new or restored divinity, Oxford should raise up another Whitfield, the principles for which the martyrs of the Reformation died might be in peril of at least a temporary subversion, in that church which has for the last three centuries numbered Cranmer, Hooper, and Ridley, amongst her most venerated fathers. The extent of the danger will be best estimated by a short survey of the career of the only confessor of Oxford Catholicism, who has yet taken his place in ecclesiastical biography. Richard Hurrell Froude was born “on the Feast of the Annunciation” in 1803, and died in 1836. He was an Etonion; a fellow of Oriel college; a priest in holy orders; the writer of journals, letters, sermons, and unsuccessful prize essays; an occasional contributor to the periodical literature of his theological associates; and, during the last four years of his life, a resident alternately in the south of Europe and the West Indies. If the progress of his name to oblivion shall be arrested for some brief interval, it will be owing to the strange discretion with which his surviving friends have disclosed to the world the curious and melancholy portraiture drawn by his own hand of the effects of their peculiar system. “The extreme importance of the views to the development of which the whole is meant to be subservient,” and “the instruction derivable from a full exhibition of his character as a witness to those views,” afford the inadequate apology for inviting the world to read a selfexamination as frank and unreserved as the most courageous man could have committed to paper in this unscrupulous and inquisitive generation. Yet, if the editors of Mr. Froude's papers are the depositaries of those which his mother appears to have written, and will publish them also, it will be impossible to refuse them absolution from whatever penalties they may have already incurred. These volumes contain but one letter from that lady; and it contrasts with the productions of her son as the voice of a guardian angel with the turbulent language of a spirit to which it had been appointed to minister. She read his heart with a mother's sagacity, and thus revealed it to himself with a mother's tenderness and truth. “From his very birth his temper has been peculiar; pleasing, intelligent, and attaching, when his mind was undisturbed and he was in the company of people who treated him reasonably and kindly; but exceedingly impatient under vexatious circumstances; very much disposed to find his own amusement in teasing and vexing others; and almost entirely incorrigible when it was necessary to reprove him. I never could find a successful mode of treating him. Harshness made him obstimate and gloomy; calm and long displeasure made him

stupid and sullen; and kind patience had not sufficient power over his feelings to force him to govern himself. After a statement of such great faults, it may seem an inconsistency to say, that he nevertheless still bore about him strong marks of a promising character. In all points of substantial principle his feelings were just and high. He had (for his age) an unusually deep feeling of admiration for every thing which was good and noble; his relish was lively and his taste good, for all the pleasures of the imagination; and he was also quite conscious of his own faults, and (untempted) had a just dislike to them.” Though the mother and the child are both beyond the reach of all human opinion, it seems almost an impiety to transcribe her estimate of his early character, and to add, that, when developed and matured in his riper years, it but too distinctly fulfilled her less favourable judgment. Exercising a stern and absolute dominion over all the baser passions, with a keen perception of the beautiful in nature and in art, and a deep homage for the sublime in morals; imbued with the spirit of the classical authors, and delighting in the strenuous exercise of talents which, if they fell short of excellence, rose far above mediocrity, Mr. Froude might have seemed to want no promise of an honourable rank in literature, or of distinction in his sacred office. His career was intercepted by a premature death, but enough is recorded to show that his aspirations, however noble, must have been defeated by the pride and moroseness which his mother's wisdom detected, and which her love disclosed to him; united as they were to a constitutional distrust of his own powers and a weak reliance on other minds for guidance and support. A spirit at once haughty and unsustained by genuine self-confidence; subdued by the stronger will or intellect of other men, and glorying in that subjection; regarding its opponents with an intolerance exceeding their own ; and, in the midst of all, turning with no infrequent indignation on itselfmight form the basis of a good dramatic sketch, of which Mr. Froude might not unworthily sustain the burden. But a “dialogue of the dead,” in which George Whitfield and Richard Froude should be the interlocutors, would be a more appropriate channel for illustrating the practical uses of “the second reformation,” and of the “Catholic restoration,” which it is the object of their respective biographies to illustrate. Rhadamanthus having dismissed them from his tribunal, they would compare together their juvenile admiration of the drama, their ascetic discipline at Oxford, their early dependence on stronger or more resolute minds, their propensity to self-observation and to record its results on paper, their opinions of the negro race, and the surprise with which they witnessed the worship of the Church of Rome in lands where it is still triumphant. So far all is peace, and the concordes anima, exchange such greetings as pass between disembodied spirits. But when the tidings brought by the new denizen of the Elysian fields to the reformer of the eighteenth century, reach his affrighted shade, the regions of the blessed are disturbed by an unwonted discord; and the fiery soul of Whitfield blazes with intense desire to resume his wanderings through the earth, and to lift up his voice against the new apostasy. It was with no unmanly dread of the probe, but from want of skill or leisure to employ it, that the self-scrutiny of Whitfield seldom or never penetrated much below the surface. Preach he must; and when no audience could be brought together, he seized a pen and exhorted himself. The uppermost feeling, be it what it may, is put down in his journal honestly, vigorously and devoutly. Satan is menaced and upbraided. Intimations from Heaven are recorded without one painful doubt of their origin. He prays and exults, anticipates the future with delight, looks back to the past with thankfulness, blames himself simply because he thinks himself to blame, despairs of nothing, fears nothing, and has not a moment's ill-will to any human being. Mr. Froude conducts his written soliloquies in a different spirit. His introverted gaze analyzes with elaborate minuteness the various motives at the confluence of which his active powers receive their impulse, and, with perverted sagacity, pursues the self-examination, until, bewildered in the dark labyrinth of his own nature, he escapes to the cheerful light of day by locking up his journal. “A friend” (whose real name is as distinctly intimated under its initial letter as if the patronymic were written at length) “advises burning confessions. I cannot make up my mind to that,” replies the penitent, “but I think I can see many points in which it will be likely to do me good to be cut off for some time from these records.” On such a subject the author of “The Christian Year” was entitled to more deference. The great ornament of the College de P 'a at Oxford, he also had used the mental microscope to excess. Admonishing men to approach their Creator not as isolated beings, but as members of the Universal Church, and teaching the inmates of her hallowed courts to worship in strains so pure, so reverent, and so meek, as to answer not unworthily to the voice of hope and reconciliation in which she is addressed by her Divine Head, yet had this “sweet singer” so brooded over the evanescent processes of his own spiritual nature, as not seldom to throw round his meaning a haze which rendered it imperceptible to his readers and probably to himself. With what sound judgment he counselled Mr. Froude to burn his books may be judged from the following entries in them: “I have been talking a great deal to B. about religion to-day. He seems to take such straightforward practical views of it that, when I am talking to him, I wonder what I have been bothering myself with all the summer, and almost doubt how far it is right to allow myself to indulge in speculations on a subject where all that is necessary is so plain and obvious.”—“Yesterday when I went out shooting, I fancied I did not care whether I hit or not, but when it came to the point I found myself anxious, and, after having killed, was not unwilling to let myself be considered a

better shot than I had described myself. I had an impulse, too, to let it be thought I had only three shots when I really had had four. It was slight, to be sure, but I felt it.”—“I have read my journal, though I can hardly identify myself with the person it describes. It seems like leaving some one under one's guardianship who was an intolerable fool, and exposed himself to my contempt every moment for the most ridiculous and trifling motives; and while I was thinking all this, I went into L.'s room to seek a pair of shoes, and on hearing him coming got away as silently as possible. Why did I do this? Did I think I was doing what L. did not like, or was it the relic of a sneaking habit? I will ask myself these questions again.”—“I have a sort of vanity which aims at my own good opinion, and I look for any thing to prove to myself that I am more anxious to mind myself than other people. I was very hungry, but because I thought the charge unreasonable, I tried to shirk the waiter; sneaking !”—“Yesterday I was much put out by an old fellow chewing tobacco and spitting across me; also bad thoughts of various kinds kept presenting themselves to my mind when it was vacant.”—“I talked sillily to-day as I used to do last term, but took no pleasure in it, so I am not ashamed. Although I don't recollect any harm of myself, yet I don't feel that I have made a clean breast of it.”—“I forgot to mention that I had been looking round my rooms and thinking that they looked comfortable and nice, and that I said in my heart, Ah, ha! I am warm.”—“It always suggests itself to me that a wise thought is wasted when it is kept to myself, against which, as it is my most bothering temptation, I will set down some arguments to be called to mind in time of trouble.”—“Now I am proud of this, and think that the knowledge it shows of myself implies a greatness of mind.”— “These records are no guide to me to show the state of my mind afterwards; they are so far from being exercises of humility, that they lessen the shame of what I record just as professions and good-will to other people reconcile us to our neglect of them.” The precept “know thyself.” came down from heaven; but such self-knowledge as this has no heavenward tendency. It is no part of the economy of our nature, or of the will of our Maker, that we should so cunningly unravel the subtle filaments of which our motives are composed. If a man should subject to such a scrutiny the feelings of others to himself, he would soon lose his faith in human virtue and affection; and the mind which should thus put to the question its own workings in the domestic or social-relations of life would ere long become the victim of a still more fatal skepticism. Why dream that this reflex operation, which, if directed towards those feelings of which our fellow-creatures are the object, would infallibly eject from the heart all love and all respect for man, should strengthen either the love or the fear of God? A well-tutored conscience aims at breadth rather than minuteness of survey; and tasks itself much more to ascertain general results than to find out the solution of riddles. So long as religious men must reveal their “experiences,” and self-defamation revels in its present impunity, there is no help for it, but in withholding the applause to which even lowliness itself aspires for the candour with which it is combined, and the acuteness by which it is embellished. It is not by these nice self-obscrvers that the creeds of hoar antiquity, and the habits of centuries are to be shaken; nor is such high emprize reserved for ascetics who can pause to enumerate the slices of bread and butter from which they have abstained. When Whitfield would mortify his body, he set about it like a man. The paroxysm was short, indeed, but terrible. While it lasted his diseased imagination brought soul and body into deadly conflict, the fierce spirit spurning, trampling, and well-nigh destroying the peccant carcass. Not so the fastidious and refined “witness to the views” of the restorers of the Catholic Church. The strife between his spiritual and animal nature is recorded in his journal in such terms as these:– “Looked with greediness to see if there was goose on the table for dinner.”— “Meant to have kept a fast, and did abstain from dinner, but at tea ate buttered toast.”— “Tasted nothing to-day till tea-time, and then only one cup and dry bread.”—“I have kept my fast strictly, having taken nothing till near nine this evening, and then only a cup of tea and a little bread without butter, but it has not been as easy as it was last.”—“I made rather a more hearty tea than usual, quite giving up the notion of a fast in W.'s rooms, and by this weakness have occasioned another slip.” Whatever may be thought of the propriety of disclosing such passages.as these, they will provoke a contemptuous smile from no one who knows much of his own heart. But they may relieve the anxiety of the alarmists. Luther and Zuingle, Cranmer, and Latimer, may still rest in their honoured graves. “Take courage, brother Ridley, we shall light up such a flame in England as shall not soon be put out,” is a prophecy which will not be defeated by the successors of those who heard it, so long as their confessors shall be vacant to record, and their doctors to publish, contrite reminiscences of a desire for roasted goose, and of an undue indulgence in buttered toast. Yet the will to subvert the doctrines and discipline of the Reformation is not wanting, and is not concealed. Mr. Froude himself, were he still living, might, indeed, object to be judged by his careless and familiar letters. No such objection can, however, be made by the eminent persons who have deliberately given them to the world on account of “the truth and extreme importance of the views to which the whole is meant to be subservient,” and in which they record their “own general concurrence.” Of these weighty truths take the following examples: “You will be shocked at my avowal that I am every day becoming a less and less loyal son of the Reformation. It appears to me plain, that in all matters which seem to us indifferent, or even doubtful, we should conform our practices to those of the Church, which has preserved its traditionary practices

unbroken. We cannot know about any seemingly indifferent practice of the Church of Rome that is not a development of the apostolic 760s, and it is to no purpose to say that we can find no proof of it in the writings of the first six centuries—they must find a disproof if they would do anything.”—“I think people are injudicious who talk against the Roman Catholics for worshipping saints and honour. ing the Virgin and images, &c. These things may, perhaps, be idolatrous; I cannot make up my mind about it.”—“P. called us the Papal Protestant Church, in which he proved a double ignorance, as we are Catholics without the popery, and Church of England men without the protestantism.”—“The more I think over that view of yours about regarding our present communion service, &c., as a judgment on the Church, and taking it as the crumbs from the apostle's table, the more I am struck with its fitness to be dwelt upon as tending to check the intrusion of irreverent thoughts, without in any way interfering with one's just indignation.”—“Your trumpery principle about Scripture being the sole rule of faith in fundamentals (I nauseate the word) is but a mutilated edition, without the breadth and axiomatic character, of the original.”— “Really I hate the Reformation and the reformers more and more, and have almost made up my mind that the rationalist spirit they set afloat is the 4svěorpcorns of the Revelation.” Why do you praise Ridley? Do you know sufficient good about him to counterbalance the fact, that he was the associate of Cranmer, Peter Martyr, and Bucer?”—“I wish you could get to know something of S. and W. (Southey and Wordsworth) and unprotestantize and un-Miltonize them.”—“How is it we are so much in advance of our generation 2" Spirit of George Whitfield; how would thy voice, rolled from “the secret place of thunders,” have overwhelmed these puny protests against the truths which it proclaimed from the rising to the setting sun In what does the modern creed of Oxford differ from the ancient faith of Rome 1 Hurried along by the abhorred current of advancing knowledge and social improvement, they have indeed renounced papal dominion, and denied papal infallibility, and rejected the grosser superstitions which Rome herself at once despises and promotes. But a prostrate submission to human authority (though veiled under words of vague and mysterious import)—the repose of the wearied or indolent mind on external observances—an escape from the arduous exercise of man's highest faculties in the worship of his Maker—the usurped dominion of the imaginative and sensitive over the intellectual powers—these are the common characteristics of both systems. The Resormation restored to the Christian world its only authentic canon, and its one Supreme Head. It proclaimed the Scriptures as the rule of life; and the Divine Redeemer as the supreme and central object to whom every eye must turn, and on whom every hope must rest. It cast down not only the idols erected for the adoration of the vulgar, but the

« 上一页继续 »