« PredošláPokračovať »
Christ, power more than sufficient in the Divine Spirit, room enough in Heaven, scope enough in the evangelical promises, and the most endearing invitations in the Gospel, to bring the greatest Sinners to God of infinite mercy and compassion; so that there can be thenceforth no condemnation to them that, with faith and repentance, apply to him for pardon and grace through the merits of his ever-blessed Son, and use all proper means and helps to render himself a fit object of it.
We must not, however, suppose that the blessed effects of such a repentance will be so soon felt by us as we could wish, or that the duties of self-denial, self-abhorrence, fasting, solitude, ineditation, self-examination, &c., will become easy and delightful as soon as we are entered into a religious regimen: we must, on the contrary, expect them to appear difficult and gloomy at the beginning, in order to excite our faith and reliance on the divine assistance, which draws us not with an irresistable force, but with the cords of men, and the bands of love (Hos. xi. 4). We must likewise expect to meet with frequent foils and backslidings, in order to make us more diligent and watchful, more sensible of our own weakness, and more intent on that help which comes from above. By this means we shall be happily preserved from that pride and presumption, which is but too apt to insinuate itself into the minds of new converts; for experience plainly shews, that those two dangerous vices will be apt to spring, not only out of our sins and passions, but likewise out of our very virtues and graces, if not daily kept down, by the sense or experience of our own infirmities and impotence.
It was an excellent caution of a pious clergyman, “Don't presume; you are not yet come to a state of Christian persection : don't despair; you are in the way to it.” So that whatever difficulties or discouragements we may meet with in our progress, how short soever we may come of our duty, or whatever frailties, or even vices, we may still comfort ourselves with the hope, that we are in a way of growing better, and that the use of those means hath not only preserved us in a great measure from growing a great deal worse, but enabled us to rise after every fall, if it hath not sometimes made even those falls rebound to a greater height of grace, by teaching us, from every such step, to tread more sure for the future; and what a comfortable prospect must this yield to a man that hath made any progress in this happy way; to see God's strength magnified in his own weakness, especially when he adds thereto, this blissful consideration, that the same all-meritorious blood which was shed to expiate all his wilful, if truly repented, transgressions, will much more effectually atone for all his involuntary defects.
Thus much I have thought it incumbent on me to say on this head, because whatever our Free-thinkers may boast of the sufficient power of reason to reclaim a man from a long vicious course, from
the prevalency of evil habits and constitutional vices, whatever powerful influence they may ascribe to the notion of eternal rectitude, &c., to reduce a man that hath deflected so wide and far from it, without any of those supernatural helps above-mentioned ; yet I am well assured, that the former, without the latter, would have proved (to me, at least, if not to any man in my condition,) rather a determent, than an effectual means; for what hopes or likelihood could there be, that a wretch, who had, by his impetuous passion, been hurried into the commission of such a series of impieties against his own reason and conscience, should ever be able io extricate himself from such a slavish state by his own base natural power. What efficacious help could he expect from his own reasoning faculties, which however cried up by others, he had found, by sad experience, so weak and impotent, that the most he could do for him, was to make him condemn himself, without being able to rectify or resist the violent impulses of his predominant vice ? Had, indeed, his knowledge of mankind furnished him with any remarkable existence of the prevalency of reason above a favourite vice, it might have given him some encouragement; but when he sees, on the coutrary, that these strenuous despisers of all supernatural helps, equally enslaved to some favourite passion, and only differing perhaps from him in degree, the most he could expect his reason to do for him, would be to keep his own under some restraint and decorum, till time and indulgence had quite exhausted them.
But what poor encouragement was this to one in my dangerous case ? how inconsiderable the change or remorse ? what poor satisfaction to the world for so vile a man, and what likelihood that it would procure a pardon from an offended God, or calm the stings of a wounded conscience ? And how much happier was it for me that I was directed to look up for and depend on a superior assistance, and instead of trusting to such a broken reed of my reason and strength, to apply myself to that Supreme Being, whose grace alone could work such an extraordinary change in the heart, give an effectual blessing on my weak efforts, and keep me steady in those resolutions which he had inspired me with, as well as in the use of those means he hath provided and prescribed to us.
I gladly repeat it, that nothing less than the hope of his promised grace could have induced me to endeavour after it, and nothing but a full reliance on the merits of a divine intercession could have invited me to cry to him for pardon and acceptance ; and, on the other hand, nothing but the obtaining it would have supported me under my doubts and fears, my difficulties and discouragements, nor enabled me to persevere in, and nothing less than the continuance and increase of, it, could have brought a work of such extraordinary and undeserved mercy to perfection.
I cannot, therefore, but think it the greatest injury that can be done, to persons who have unhappily swerved from the paths of
virtue and religion, to make them depend solely on the strength of their rational faculties for an effectual change, and to inspire them with disregard for the more effectual means and motives which the Gospel offers to them, and which, upon experience, will be found the only one that can bring it about. And may what I have here said awaken every inspired sinner (who hath tried in vain the success of the former) with more comfortable hope and stedfast confidence, in the never failing efficacy of the latter.
Having said thus much on the subject of the divine grace offered to us in the Gospel, it will doubtless be expected that I should state something of my private belief so far as relates to the controversy between the Church of Rome, in which I was educated, and ihat of England, in the communion of which I have lived, ever since my coming into England. And here I must confess, to my very great shame, that though I did for several years profess myself a zealous member of the latter, yet the prejudices of my education, and the general course of my studies, did still strongly incline me in favour of the former; insomuch that neither the many books of controversy I had read on that subject, nor my frequent disputes with priests and others of that communion, (in which I had still vanity enough to give the preference to iny arguments against it,) could fix my wavering mind, much less could I be induced to think it so corrupt and dangerous, antichristian and idolatrons, as it was with so much warmth maintained to be by most protestant writers and preachers; inasmuch that this uncharitable zeal of theirs inade me still more doubtful whether the reasons they urged were sufficient to justify their separation from it. I was, indeed, sincerely persuaded, froin all that I had read or heard, that the Church of England was by far the best and safest of all the Protestant Churches; but that it was really more so than that of Rome, I was far enough from being satisfied in my mind; so that there was almost as little sincerity in my pretended zeal for and constant communion with it, than in my pretended conversion to it: the truth of it is, that I was too young and heedless, vain and conceited, to lie open to conviction, and that I read and heard the arguments on both sides, rather to fill my head, than to rectify my heart, or fix my belief; so that I must confess that I acted, at that time, a very shameful and insincere part, in the preference I so strenuously gave to the one above the other, which, though even so justly observed, did not appear then in that light to me. In this careless, though impious and abominable suspense I continued some years, (which upon the whole, was but of a piece with the other and more flagrant part of my conduct). In “ The case stated between a nobleman of the Church of Rome, and a gentleman of the Church of England,” I thought I found the controversy fully and clearly decided in favour of the latter. And I gave ail heed to the arguments on both sides, not only as they appeared to me to be stated with the greatest
clearness and impartiality, but as I had been long acquainted with Mr. Charles Lesley, the reputed author of that book, who was universally allowed to be one of the most learned men in that coutroversy, and had moreover given the strongest proofs of his probity and siricerity, as well as of his capacity and unbiassed judgment, of all which I was so fully apprised, that no book that I had read did ever contribute so much, if not to fix my wavering mind, yet at least to make me think more seriously on the subject, and to give myself up to a fresh and more close application to that controversy, and the reading of all the best authors who had, or who should afterwards write on either side, for I doubted not we should soon hear of one or more answers from some of the best pens from that side against it. Not any, however, appeared. So that I read over afresh all that had been urged on the opposite side. But here again, though I went over them with the greatest attention and sincerity, I found the dispute so strongly managed and dogged with such elaborate learning and sophistry, such controverted quotations from the Scriptures and ancient fathers, such unchristian charges of forgery, and perverting the sense of those authors, and other uncharitable language, as rather bewildered than convinced my mind; so that the only fruit I reaped from all my reading (besides a strong prejudice against those of the Romish side, whom Ì observed to deal most in that unfair way of disputing) was that there could be no safety in trusting to my own judgment in a matter of such vast concern; and that it was next to impossible for men, frail as we are, and warped by our own passions and prejudices, to wade through such stormy seas of controversy, without an extraordinary assistance froin the fountain of all light and truth. I accordingly made it my constant care ever after, that is, for twenty-five years, to apply myself fervently, and to depend wholly upon that divine guide for a deliverance from all errors of faith and practice, and for such an increase of his light and grace as might confirm me in the belief of all his saving truths, obedience to all his commands, sincere communion with his holy Catholic Church, and tender and charitable concern for all those who have swerved from it. To these petitions, (which I constantly offered up to God, not only inorning and night, for a long series of years, but in a more copious and fuller form, suitable to my own exigence, on more solemn, that is, on fast and festival days,) I hope is owing, that inward satisfaction which I have since been blessed with, in my more steady and sincere communion with the Church of England, and in the preference I now give it to all other Churches; and, as I hope in God, without the least breach of charity to any of the rest. And, indeed, by all that I have read, or been able to judge, have been more and more convinced that theirs and ours are all in an imperfect state, though some more than others, that they are like to continue so till the rising again of the Son of Righteousness upon us, whose brightness will then enlighten at once both hemispheres, and who will then not only reform whatever is amiss in this mystical body, but bring the Jews, Turks, and Heathens into it: till then we can only in charity bewail whatever errors we see in them, either in faith or practice, and pray to God to reforın them in his own good time, and 10 be merciful to those whose hearts are sincere towards hiin, whatever involuntary mistakes they may labour under.
Infallibility in the Church, were a blessing as much to be wished for, in this uncertain age, as it is falsely challenged by the Church of Rome; but since reason and experience shew it to be denied to us, and many sincere members of that Church do privately bewail the errors that are crept into it, though loath to own them a sufficient cause for our separation from it, it highly becomes us all to make the best use of that guide which God hath given us, viz., his divine revealed will and word, without breaking the bond of charity with those who interpret it in a different way from us: for though in that respect, we may justly acknowledge in the words of our Church's confession, that “we have ” all, more or less, "errred and strayed like lost sheep," and that, perhaps, chiefly, through our “ following too inuch the devices and desires of our own hearts;" yet as God is the only judge how far every man is faulty in that respect, should we not be very careful to pass such a favourable judgment on them, as may entitle us to the saine indulgence from the judge of our hearts? Should it not at least (seeing we are all alike fallible, and stand in need of the same charitable allowance) make us exceedingly fearful how we do, by our anathemas and other unchristian denunciations against those that differ from us, expose ourselves to the same severe sentence and meet with the same measure at the last day, as we have so freely dealt unto them? This uncharitable condemning spirit, which hath so long reigned among Christians of all denominations, I have long since looked upon as the most dangerous error a man can fall into, as it is, indeed, the most oper violation of the grand characteristic of the Gospel.
I have been ready to shudder, when I have heard some of our preachers inveigh, in that uncharitable way, against their fellow Christians, or even against our modern Free-thinkers and Deists. Some of them I have heard and read, who could not speak or write of them without ridicule and derision, instead of that pity and concern which is due to persons in that dangerous state; and for that reason, have always thought them the most unfit to teach others, who had all the true spirit of Christianity to seek, and can allow themselves to exult and droll over the errors and frailties of their fellow creatures, which even common humanity forbids us to think of or mention without the utmost seriousness and compassion.
This uncharitable and untimely zeal, even in controversies of the highest nature, doth still more mischief in another way, by magnifying and aggravating the difference between the contending