Obrázky na stránke

ostentatiously practical, consisting for the most part of that plain and serious argumentation and expostulation, which a sensible believer would employ in the parlour towards friends for whose spiritual welfare he felt the deepest concern. Though he appears to us not to be correct in the explanation of all his texts, and not to be most happy in his clucidation of some difficult theological points, yet as a Christian moral philosopher he perfectly knows his ground, and he has taken the most effectual means of bringing the religious principle into full activity.

Of the thirty-five discourses which are included in this posthumous volume, the first is intitled Seriousness in Religion indispensable above all other Dispositions; and it is throughout illustrative of those remarks which we have made on that sort of preaching which the state of the Christian church requires. Dr. P. manifests his liberality in the very act of censuring levity, and judiciously instructs his readers to guard against the effects' which commonly result from the ludicrous exposure of those who are supposed to carry their religious zeal to a great excess. We shall copy the passage to which we refer, because we have no desire in our arguments with the Methodists about certain doctrines, to avail ourselves of the aid of calumny and misre presentation; and because we should be happy to lead Christians of different communions to deal fairly with each other. After having shewn the impossibility of implanting serious considerations in a mind which is possessed by a spirit of levity, Dr. Paley minutely traces its pernicious operation.

A cause which has a strong tendency to destroy religious seriousness, and which almost infallibly prevents its formation and growth in young minds, is levity in conversation upon religious subjects, or upon subjects connected with religion. Whether we regard the practice with respect to those who use it, or to those who hear it, it is highly to be blamed, and is productive of great mischief. In those. who use it, it amounts almost to a proof that they are destitute of religious seriousness. The principle itself is destroyed in them, or was never formed in them. Upon those who hear, its effect is this. If they have concern about religion, and the disposition towards religion. which they ought to have, and which we signify by this word seriousness, they will be inwardly shocked and offended by the levity with

ing the manuscripts as might be deemed necessary, they should be printed by the Rev. Mr Stephenson, at the expence of the testator's executors, and distributed in the neighbourhood, first to those who frequented church, then to farmer's families in the country, then to such as had a person in the family who could read, and were likely to read them; and finally, it is added, "I would not have the said sermons published for sale."-These directions were fulfilled but the fear of a surreptitious sale induced the Executors afterward to pub lish the discourses.

which they hear it treated. They will, as it were, resent such treatment of a subject, which by them has always been thought upon with awe and dread and veneration. But the pain with which they were at first affected goes off by hearing frequently the same sort of language; and then they will be almost sure, if they examine the state of their minds as to religion, to feel a change in themselves for the worse. This is the danger to which those are exposed, who had before imbibed serious impressions. Those who had not, will be prevented, by such sort of conversation, from ever imbibing them at all; so that its influence is in all cases pernicious.

"The turn which this levity usually takes, is in jests and raillery upon the opinions, or the peculiarities, or the persons of men of particular sects, or who bear particular names; especially if they happen to be more serious than ourselves. And of late this loose, and I can hardly help calling it profane humour, has been directed chiefly against the fol lowers of Methodism. But against whomsoever it happens to be pointed, it has all the bad effects both upon the speaker and the hearer which we have noticed and as in other instances, so in this, give me leave to say that it is very much misplaced. In the first place, were the doctrines and sentiments of those who bear this name ever so foolish and extravagant (I do not say that they are either) this proposition I shall always maintain to be true, viz. that the wildest opinion that ever was entertained in matters of religion, is more rational than unconcern about these matters. Upon this subject nothing is so absurd as indif. ference; no folly so contemptible as thoughtlessness and levity. In the next place, do Methodists deserve this treatment? Be their parti cular doctrines what they may, the professors of these doctrines appear to be in earnest about them; and a man who is in earnest in religion cannot be a bad man, still less a fit subject for derision. I am no Methodist myself. In their leading doctrines I differ from them. But I contend, that sincere men are not, for these, or indeed, any doctrines, to be made laughing-stocks to others. I do not bring in the case of Methodists in this part of my discourse, for the purpose of vindicating their tenets, but for the purpose of observing (and I wish that the observation may weigh with all my readers) that the custom of treating their characters and persons, their preaching or their preachers, their meetings or worship, with scorn, has the pernicious consequence of destroying our own seriousness, together with the seriousness of those who hear or join in such sort of conversation; especially if they be young persons and I am persuaded that much mischief is actually done in this very way.

A phrase much used upon these occasions, and frequent in the mouth of those who speak of such as in religious matters are more serious than themselves, is, "that they are righteous over much." These, it is true, are scripture words; and it is that circumstance which has given currency to the expression: but in the way and sense in which they are used, I am convinced that they are exceedingly misapplied. The text occurs once in the Bible, and only once, It is in the book of Ecclesiastes, 7th chap. and 16th verse. It is not very easy to determine what is meant by it in the place in which it is found. It is a very obscure passage. It seems to me most proE 4 bable,

bable, that it relates to an external affectation of righteousness, not prompted by internal principle: or rather to the assuming the character of righteousness, merely to vaunt or shew our superiority over others; to conceitedness in religion; in like manner as the caution delivered in the same verse, "be not overwise," respects the ostentation of wisdom, and not the attainment itself. So long as we mean by righteousness, a sincere and auxious desire to seek out the will of God, and to perform it, it is impossible to be righteous over much. There is no such thing in nature: nor was it, nor could it be, the intention of any passage in the Bible, to say that there is, or to authorize us in casting over-righteousness as a reproach or a censure upon any one.'

In the sermon on the Taste for Devotion, rules are given for the use of public forms, which, howsoever obvious, are generally wanted:

Forms of public worship must, by their very nature, be in a great degree general: that is, must be calculated for the average condition of human and of Christian life: but it is one property of the devotional spirit, which we speak of, to give a particularity to our worship, though it be carried on in a congregation of fellow Christians, and expressed in terms which were framed and conceived for the use of all. And it does this, by calling up recollections which will apply most closely, and bring home most nearly to our. selves, those terms and those expressions. For instance, in public worship, we thank God in general terms, that is, we join with the congregation in a general thanksgiving; but a devout man brings to church the recollection of special and particular mercies, particular bounties, particular providencies, particular deliverances, particular. relief recently experienced, specially and critically granted in the moment of want or danger, or eminently and supereminently vouch. safed to us individually. These he bears in his thoughts; he applies as he proceeds; that which was general, he makes close and circumstantial; his heart rises towards God, by a sense of mercies vouch safed to himself. He does not, however, confine himself to those fa vours of Providence, which he enjoys above many others; he does not dwell upon distinction alone; he sees God in all his goodness, in all his bounty. Bodily case, for instance, is not less valuable, not less a mercy, because others are at ease, as well as himself. The same of his health, the use of his limbs, the faculties of his understanding. But what I mean is, that, in his mind, he brings to church mercies, in which he is interested, and that the most general expressions of thankfulness attach with him upon particular recollections of goodness, particular subjects of gratitude; so that the holy fervour of his devotion is supported; never wants, nor can want, materials to act upon. It is the office, therefore, of an internal spirit of devotion to make worship personal. We have seen that it will be so with thanksgiving. It will be the same likewise with every other part of divine worship. The confession of sins in our liturgy, and perhaps in all liturgies, is general; but our sins, alas! are particular: our conscience


not only acknowledges a deplorable weakness and imperfection in the discharge of our duty, but is stung also with remembrances and compunctions, excited by particular offences. When we come, therefore, to confess our sins, let memory do its office faithfully. Let these sins rise up before our eyes. All language is imperfect. Forms, intended for general use, must consist of general terms, and are so far inadequate. They may be rehearsed by the lips with very little of application to our own case. But this will never be so, if the spirit of devotion be within us. A devout mind is, exceedingly stirred, when it has sins to confess. None but a hardened sinuer can even think of his sins without pain. But when he is to lay them, with supplications for pardon, before his Maker; when he is to expose his heart to God; it will always be with powerful inward feelings of guilt and calamity. It hath been well said of prayer, that prayer will either make a man leave off sinning, or sin will make him leave off prayer. And the same is true of confession. If confession be sincere, if it be such as a right capacity for devotion will make it to be, it will call up our proper and particular sins so distinctly to our view, their guilt, their danger, their end; whither they are carrying us; in what they will conclude; that, if we can return to them again without molestation from our conscience, then religion is not within us.'

The discourses on the Love of God, on Meditating on Religion, on Purity of Heart, on the Doctrine of Conversion, on Prayer in Imitation of Christ, on Insensibility to Offences, on Seriousness of Heart, on Neglect of Warnings, on the Terrors of the Lord, &c. have all a searching nature; and no man of any reflection can rise from the perusal of them without self-examination. Though Dr. P. represents practical Christianity as comprized in three words, devotion, self-government, and benevolence, he knew that this concise view of the subject was insuflicient to enforce these great duties, and he has therefore enlarged with minuteness on the above-mentioned obligations. On the doctrine of conversion, he has made some very proper distinctions. Here he remarks:

I am willing to believe, that there are very many Christians, who neither have in any part of their lives been without influencing principles, nor have at any time been involved in the habit and course of a particular known sin, or have allowed themselves in such course and practice. Sins, without doubt, they have committed, more than sufficient to humble them to the dust; but they have not, to repeat the same words again, lived in a course of any particular known sin, whether of commission or neglect; and by deliberation, and of afore. thought, allowed themselves in such course. The conversion therefore, above described, cannot apply to, or be required of, such Christians. To these we must preach, not conversion, but improvement. Improvement, continual improvement, must be our text, and our topic; improvement in grace, in piety, in disposition, in virtue. Now, I put the doctrine of improvement, not merely upon the consi


deration, which yet is founded upon express Scripture authority, that, whatever improvement we make in ourselves, we are thereby sure to meliorate our future condition, receiving at the hand of God a proportionable reward for our efforts, our sacrifices, our perseverance, so that our labour is never lost, is never, as St. Paul expressly assures us, in vain in the Lord; though this, I say, be a firm and established ground to go upon, yet it is not the ground upon which I, at present, place the necessity of a constant progressive improvement in virtue, I rather wish to lay down upon the sub. ject this proposition; namely, that continual improvement is essential in the Christian character, as an evidence of its sincerity that, if what we have hitherto done in religion has been done from truly religious motives, we shall necessarily go on; that, if our religion be real, it cannot stop. There is no standing still it is not compatible with the nature of the subject: if the principles which actuated us, be principles of godliness, they must continue to actuate us; and, under this continued stimulus and influence, we must necessarily grow better and better. If this effect do not take place, the conclusion is, that our principles are weak, or hollow, or unsound. Unless we find ourselves grow better, we are not right. For example, if our transgressions do not become fewer and fewer, it is to be feared, that we have left off striving against sin, and then we are

not sincere.'

The sermons on the Efficacy of the Death of Christ are not so well argued as most of the discourses in the collection; and we apprehend that the preacher was not quite satisfied with this part of his labours, since one of the series was missing in the packet of them, which perhaps he had withdrawn with the intention of replacing it by another that might please him better. We do not think with him, (see Sermon 26.) that the body of this death, Rom. vii. 24, relates to the second death; nor that in the text to Sermon 31, the words lose his own soul, Matt. xvi. 26, refer to the punishment of hell; nor that his terrific representation at p. 561 of the future miseries of the wicked is correct: but for the most part we have no objection to his doctrine, which is eminently practical, and warranted by scrip


It is the endeavour of the preacher, in the sermon No. 32, intitled Preservation and Recovery from Sin, to aid us by some plain rules in denying ungodliness, (text Titus ii. 11, 12,) as well as in living righteously and godlily. The last sermon, on the General Resurrection, is equally pointed with the rest; as the conclusion will prove:

They that have done good, shall come again unto the Resurrection of life. But, alas! I hear you say, What good can I do; my means and my opportunities are too small and straightened to think, of doing good. You do not sufficiently reflect, what doing good is. You are apt to confine the notion of it to giving to others, and giv

« PredošláPokračovať »