« AnteriorContinua »
with the wrath of Heaven. We the grossest acts of cruelty to
shall oppose to prevailing and fashionable vice our prayers, our warnings, our admonitions, our entreaties, and the still more persuasive influence of our example-an example which will at once frown vice out of countenance, and powerfully allure to virtue.
This branch of pious zeal has likewise those properties that distinguish it from those things which are either directly opposed to it, or falsely assume its appearance.
It is founded on knowledge. This characteristic alone can render our zeal truly acceptable to God, or beneficial to mankind. A blind, ignorant, misguided fervour is a most pernicious thing. It frequently assumes all the fierceness of bigotry, and all the wildness and extravagance of fanaticism. It was this rash and blind zeal which influenced the Jews in their rejection of Christianity, and which stirred them up to such a pitch of hatred and persecution against its first preachers. I bear them record, says Paul, that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. The apostle was himself an instance of the same frenzy, before his conversion. He was very zealous, persecuting the church. He verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Such an opinion palliated, indeed, but it was far from justifying his conduct: nor did he himself entertain a thought of this kind. So we read of some who would think they were doing God service, while in reality fighting against God, and perpetrating Vol. III. No. 1.
man. This bigoted zeal has in fact shed torrents of Christian blood, and inspired the fanatics of the church of Rome with the preposterous idea of "illuminating the minds of men with the light of fires and faggots."It is of the highest importance then that our minds be well informed in the great articles of truth and duty, and in the merits or demerits of particular objects and characters, before we permit them to be transported with fervour. Nor should our zeal in any case be suffered to transcend our knowledge. Doubtless some honest and good men have been faulty here. Under the influence of a misguided zeal, they have condemned and traduced characters, which, had their eyes been open, they would have loved and honoured. It is a melancholy fact, that the best things become, in their abuse, the worst and most pernicious. If light without heat is useless, it is no less true, that heat without light is worse than useless. It is hurtful and destructive.
Farther, the zeal of which we speak, is prompted by a spirit of love. This is what principally distinguishes it from the false fire of the bypocrite. The real Christian, in all his fervour against error and wickedness, is influenced, so far as he acts in character, by love to God and his cause, by love to mankind and their best interests, by love to the persons, the souls of his enemies, and the enemies of religion. This will infuse an air of tenderness into all his reproofs of vice and licentiousness. This will mingle sentiments of compassion for the souls of men,
with the strongest disapprobation he feels for their sins. I beheld the transgressors, says David, and was grieved.-Rivers of water run down my eyes, because men keep not thy law. Here was the holy, affectionate zeal of a child of God. It did not vent itself in the language of unhallowed reproach, of loud and angry exclamation. It retired, and wept in silence. How amiable the example! Let us see to it, that our zeal be of this excellent kind; a zeal that can pity as well as disapprobate the wicked; that can grieve as well as reprove. Let us beware of attempting to press human passion into the service of God and religion. Let us feel the justice of that remark, that he who hates another for not being a Christian, is himself not a Christian."* Let us tremble at the thought of brandishing the vengeance of the Almighty, of calling down fire from heaven upon the enemies of Christ, or our own. Such a zeal, surely, never came from above. It is earthly; it is sensual; it is diabolical.
Again, our zeal for God and religion should be attempered with humility. To stand up on the side of Jehovah and his truth, before an ungodly world; to appear in behalf of Christ and his religion, in the presence of enemies and blasphemers, is surely to be engaged in a noble cause. It is to act a sublime part. For this very reason, the deepest humility becomes us. The best "of Christians are but too unworthy such an honour. And the best of Christians most sensibly feel this unworthiness.
When they consider how much themselves have done to bring reproach on the sacred name of Jesus, and to open the mouths of blasphemers, they sometimes feel as though their unhallowed lips should be forever sealed from uttering reproofs to others. Or if an overbearing sense of duty constrain them to this painful office, they feel as if every reproof they dispensed to others, fell with tenfold weight upon themselves. And this is the very spirit in which all reproof from one sinner to another should be administered. It is proper it should be so. We are never so well prepared to act such a part, as when we are prest with the deepest sense of our unworthiness. And reproof, in such a case, comes with new force and solemnity, and with a far greater probability of a happy effect.
Again, our zeal should be chastened by prudence. There is a certain decorum to be observed in selecting the place, the circumstances and the occasion, for the exhibition of such a spirit, and for the performance of the duties connected with it. A discreet regard to this object is of high importance. Its negfect is attended with multiplied evils and infelicities. If an honest and zealous Christian grossly step out of his proper sphere; if he flagrantly misjudge in regard to the season of his exertions; or if they be, in their manner, uncouth, unkind, or extremely vehement, they will too probably, however well intended, defeat their own object. It is a gospel injunction, that all things be done decently and in order. Doubtless, it is through the neg
lect of this rule, that religion has not unfrequently been dishonoured by its friends; while its foes have found occasion for triumph, and for hardening themselves in sin.
Still further, our zeal should be proportioned to the importance of its particular object. It was the fault of the Pharisees of old, and a striking evidence of their insincerity, that they were extremely scrupulous respecting many observances of small moment, and omitted those weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith. Nor is it uncom mon for hypocrites to be superstitiously tenacious of things comparatively unimportant, while the great essentials of religion are neglected. All truth, indeed, should be sacred with us. So should all duty. But all truths and duties are not of equal importance. Some are plain. Others are more difficult to be discovered. Some lie at the very foundation of religion. Others are not fundamental. In regard to some, all good men are agreed. Respecting others, the best of men have thought and practised variously.
Now it argues a strange narrowness of mind, or perverseness of heart, or both, to be equally tenacious and engaged upon all these points; to be as ready to exclude another from our charity, to pronounce him a heretic, and no Christian, for a small error in judgment, or practice, as for the greatest. And certainly those Christians, if there be any such, who hope well of the openly profligate, if, in their opinion, they are but orthodox, while they can have no good opinion of the most exemplary,
who differ from them in some small points of opinion, act a strangely inconsistent part. Something must be wrong, either in the head or heart. That may be safely pronounced the true zeal, which is sacredly and inflexibly tenacious in all great points of faith and practice, and generously candid in all those of inconsiderable moment.
In fine, our zeal against sin should manifest itself in such ways only, as are warrantable and lawful. For a single offence in this point; for a rash and angry expression to a provoking people at the waters of Meribah, Moses, that eminent servant of God, was denied the honour and happiness, which his heart so ardently wished, of conducting the Israelites into the land of promise. Nor are any of us out of danger, while conversant with erroneous wicked men, of being transported by that wrath of man, which worketh not the righteousness of God. It is unhappily the case that zeal, being a strong emotion of the mind, and, like other strong emotions, apt to magnify its object, naturally unfits us for judging accurately what methods of its expression are right, and what are wrong. Men are too prone to suppose, that if their general intentions be good, they cannot mistake in the execution of them. Many have been so far carried away by a torrent of zeal, as quite to forget or neglect the maxim, that we must not do evil that good may come. Yet this maxim lies at the very foundation of all morality, and of all practical religion. How absurd, not to say, impious, to entertain the idea of
glorifying God, by violating his laws! How absurd, to think of benefiting our fellow-men, by trampling on the sacred principles of love and humanity! What a monstrous, unchristian, antichristian zeal is that which has tormented and destroyed men's bodies to save their souls! And if the character of a man is his best earthly possession, those surely are in no small mistake, who, under the pretext of relig. ion, mangle and destroy the reputation of their fellow-creatures, by uncharitable censures and bitter revilings. This warfare and these weapons are not spiritual, but carnal. How surprising, how lamentable, that any should be bigots in the cause of peace and love! that malice and slander should be employed in professed support of the benevolent religion of Jesus.
OF THE FAITH OF THE NEW ENGLAND CHURCHES.
THE successive numbers of PASTOR, in his "Survey of the New England churches," particularly those on confessions of faith, have imparted much pleasure and instruction to my own mind, and to the minds of many other readers of the Panoplist. Wishing to contribute all in my power toward accomplishing an important object of this work, viz. a reform of the churches of New England, I shall, for this purpose, present some historical facts, which shew what was their faith in their early, and as I apprehend, their purest state. The character of the fathers of New
England for theological and biblical knowledge, for Christian piety and morality, for wisdom, displayed in their religious, civil and literary institutions, stands deservedly high in the estima, tion of the wise and good. Great weight ought, therefore, to be attached to their testimony in the cause of evangelical truth.
As early as 1648, a synod was holden, consisting of elders and messengers* from all the churches in New England. In their result they say; "This synod having perused and considered, with much gladness of heart and thankfulness to God, the confession of faith lately published by the reverend assembly of divines in England, do judge it to be holy, orthodox and judicious in all matters of faith, and do therefore freely and fully consent thereunto for the substance." Accordingly they republished it as "their confession of faith, and as containing the doctrine constantly taught and professed in the New England churches" at that time.
It is worthy of remark, that this confession, compiled by the venerable and learned assembly, who composed the larger and shorter catechisms, and containing the same doctrines, was ap▾ proved and subscribed by every member of this synod. In doing this they declared, that they intended to express their belief and profession of "the same doctrines, which had been gene. rally received in all the reformed churches in Europe."
This same confession was adopted by the General Assem
Elders, were ministers; messengers, lay delegates.
bly of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, the preceding year. About this time, the Savoy confession of faith, embracing the same doctrines, was adopted by a synod of the Congregational churches, held at the Savoy in London.
The same doctrines
were sanctioned afterward, in 1690, by a general meeting of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches in England.
In 1680, the New England churches, by their elders and delegates, assembled in synod, renewed their assent to the Westminster confession of faith. In consequence, the General Court ordered it to be printed (to use their own words)" for the benefit of the churches in the present and after times." This public and solemn act of the churches, assembled in synod, has not been annulled by any subsequent act; nor has this confession been superseded by the public adoption of any substitute. It must of course now be considered, and, taking into view the whole body of Christians in the commonwealth, belonging to the Congregational churches, I believe it may correctly be considered, as the adopted public confession of the faith of the Congregational churches in Massachusetts.
In 1708, all the churches in Connecticut, assembled by their ministers and delegates at Saybrook, unanimously approved and adopted the Savoy confession of faith. Their proceed ings received the sanction of the legislature. And the churches in this state have continued steadfast in this faith to the present time.
These doctrines have been, and still are, acknowledged, and re
cognized as the essential and distinguishing docrines of Christianity, in the articles of the church of England, and in the confessions of the great body of the Presbyterian churches in Holland, Scotland and America. These doctrines were embraced and main tained, as the truths of Scripture, by the Reformers, and by the Christian church, where it has existed in its purity and simplicity, from the days of the apostles. In evidence of the truth of this assertion, I adduce the following result of the laborious inquiries of a very learned divine of our own country.*
"The doctrines contained in the Assembly's shorter catechism and the Westminster con fession of faith, particularly the doctrine of the divinity and satisfaction of Jesus Christ, original sin, the necessity of special grace in regeneration, justification by faith, &c. have been universally received, taught and established in all ages of the Christian church. After all the search I have been able to make into antiquity, I can find no single instance of any public confession of faith, drawn up by any council, or generally received by any Christian country in the world, wherein any of these doctrines have been plainly and expressly denied. For though there have been some men scattered up and down in the world, and sometimes convened in assemblies, who have not believed these doc trines, and have sometimes endeavoured covertly to disguise them and let them drop, and thus by degrees to root them out of the Christian church, yet
• President Clap.