« AnteriorContinua »
pire of being. All existence, and every possible mode thereof, whether in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, are either material or immaterial; and are made up either of matter or mind, body or spirit, or compounded of both; and these include all the gradations of existence from the lowest to the highest point in the scale of being: from the worm that grovels at our feet, to the seraph that adores before the throne of Jehovah. Man occupies an interesting situation between both these worlds: he is neither all flesh nor all spirit; but is the subject of a wonderful and inexplicable union of both. So great is that reciprocity of interest, and so close the union existing between these two natures in the composition of man, that what af fects one, affects both-they rise and fall together; as the one is vigorous and active, so is the other; as the one is depressed and sunk, so is the other more or less affected by the burden. Yet so distinct and independent in their essence are these two natures one of the other, that while the material structure is dissolved by that shock that all flesh is heir to, and incorporated with the dust of the earth, the spirit rebounds from 'the puny efforts of the monster death, and flourishes in immortal youth, free and unconfined. Man being thus constituted, his character is designated, and his place assigned him in the scale of being, according to the preponderating influence of either of these two primary substances; for in the present existing order of things, and indeed since man's awful defection from his Maker, whereby his material structure and moral powers became disorganized and depraved, we perceive that, with regard to the bulk of mankind, their existence seems almost wholly made up of sensation; and as sensation or reflection characterize the habits and pursuits of the man, so will be his interest in, and affinity with, one of these sources of existence in preference to the other: and as he is seen approximating to one, must he recede from the other. If. the gross portions of matter which lie around him occupy his mind, hold his attention, and constitute his sole pleasure: his mind must receive a corresponding
tincture-all the faculties of which will be subjugated to the gross and grovelling desires of mere animal existence. But if the mind has been trained to habits of thinking and reason, and reflection hold a preponderating influence: if mere animal gratifications and sensible pleasures give place to the vigorous exercise of the rational faculties, and to the more exalted and refined pleasures of the intellect: the man will be so far advanced in the scale of mental existence. But if, to pursue the gradation, the mind has been the subject of that mighty and blessed influence, by which all its powers and faculties have become assimilated to, and united with, the source of all possible perfection-if the man has been brought, in his whole self, in all that belongs to his constitution, whether corporeal, mental or moral, in all his thoughts and ways, his habits and feelings to a sweet acquiescence with his will, who has placed no other yoke upon him, but one of freedom and of love-if he has comprehended in his own happy experience the paramount importance of that weighty aphorism of our blessed Lord's, "Ye must be born again;" and if in the possession of this renovating and sanctifying principle of spiritual life, a few rays of that unsufferable light and love have been poured upon his soul by his Saviour and his God, warming his heart, and making it beat high in extatic transport, a witness, assurance, and pledge of future joys: we have placed him upon an eminence, than which no higher exists; here he must stop and wait till death shall introduce him to the full enjoyment of those beatific glories, which now he can only partially taste, and of which he can only enjoy occasional glimpses. Then when this mortal shall have put on immortalily, evil shall for ever cease, and God be for ever enjoyed.
Here then are three states of existence: the first is characterized by sensation, and takes in the far greater part of our species; the second state is characterized by reason;* and the third by faith. To one of these states or classes we all belong, and it may not be an unimportant task for us to enquire,
This state includes a great part of the literary world, men whose pride is greater than their sen suality, and who make their reason the standard and criterion of all truth. They possess just as much learning as Lord Bacon has said, "inclineth men's minds to Atheism, and who spurn at revealed truth as beneath the high state of their intellectual attainments." It also includes that class of men, who style themselves Christians, and who profess to receive the Holy Scriptures as the rule of their faith and practice; but then it must be through-An Improved Version, which their reason has set up.
to which of these three do our habits and pursuits correspond. How much above the first? and how near to the last are we?
Let us take a cursory view of these states, and let us first enquire-Whence arises this difference amongst the children of men? God, we are told, made man upright; physical imperfection with him is a thing impossible, nothing imperfect, nothing superfluous can proceed from Infinite purity and goodness, directed by Infinite Wisdom. The word of truth informs us whence this difference arose," But they have sought out many inventions." In man's awful defection from his Maker, we perceive the bitter source and spring, whence the long and direful stream of woe has issued; hence the origin of those malignant foes to human happiness, sin and death, with their attendant and concomitant evils, which crowd and infest our world. What an awful change has taken place upon man, the fair and beautiful fabric of God's erection, once the residence of Deity! Once his body and mind both reflected the bright image of his Maker, all the powers of which tended but to one object-the glory of God. Now the sad reverse of this, is the truth-all the faculties of soul and body tend a contrary way, and through the operation of moral evil, the original organization of both, has been quite changed; his material frame, created to enjoy immortal life, and health, and vigour, is now the seat of dire disease, the prey of accident and death. The mind, united to his material frame by a secret and inexplicable power, has partaken the sad effects of this mutilated state of things, and is now the subject of error, and prejudice, and vice, the slave of appetite; reason is dethroned and her seat usurped by hostile inclinations; he calls good evil, and evil good; he can no longer view things in their true nature and proper relation, nor judge of them accordingly; every thing is viewed through a defective medium, and is, therefore, presented to the mind. in a false and distorted manner; hence the importance and permanency attached in his mind to every thing of a tangible and material nature, and hence the little value placed upon those things not cognizable by the senses; so that all the realities of the invisible world are considered by him as nonentities, that which is nothing is
all to him, and that which is all is to him as nothing. And in one view, man in his present fallen, degenerate state, exhibits a sad picture of material, intellectual and moral ruins; the subject of a feeble frame, disordered intellect, and a hardened heart.
Nor do the baneful effects of the fall confine themselves in their operations within the limits of the human raceNo
"Earth felt the wound!"
the wide wasting calamity spread through the face of universal nature, so that that original state of rectitude mainthe "whole creation groaneth." tained by our first parents in their Paradisaical state, all the terms which ideas of moral dignity and worth, are language has invented to convey our wholly inadequate to express that high tone of moral excellence which graced their steps; then, the more they were known, and the more their nature and character were developed or unfolded, infinite goodness traced and discovered. the more were their resemblance to Now, all our knowledge of human nature, every fresh discovery, all those latent workings of the human breast, serve but to increase our knowledge of evil; we find it only evil and that continually; so that to know man, and to know evil, are always identical propositions; and all the terms whereby we designate the contrary class of ideas from those above, of pollution and blasphemy, of ignorance, pride, and ingratitude, fail to represent man as he is. He was, as Milton says of him and his associate,
"In their looks divine,
Now, as Young describes
"Man, fool man; here buries all his thoughts; Inters celestial hopes without one sigh, Pris'ner of earth.""
And as the first of the three before mentioned states comprise the far greatest part of the human race, it demands our greatest attention, as it affords the clearest view of his selfdegraded condition. The most superficial observer of human nature cannot but be convinced, that sensation rather than thought, governs and regulates the lives of the men of this world. The soil upon which they tread is the source of their joys and sorrows, hopes and
fears; all seem bounded by the things that are seen; they lick the dust, and if they can be rewarded for the sweat which they wipe from their brow, with a sufficient portion of its material contents, they are satisfied: to accumulate which, all the energies of body and mind are concentrated and strained to their highest pitch; and this is the grand employment of their lives, seeking nothing higher than to become proprietors and enjoyers thereof. To every thing impalpable and invisible they are insensible and indifferent. Those objects around them in the visible creation, which God has graciously provided for their use and benefit, become the means of leading their minds from the Giver of all good. Our senses and the passions excited in us, turn the attention of man from Him, who is alone the life of all that truly live, and in whom they live, and move, and have their being, who is nearer and more intimate with their powers than the nearest part of this material system, with which they are in contact, and of which they form a part; nearer, alas! but it is a lamentable truth that he is considered as at the greatest distance; and the greatest part of mankind go out of this world without any attainment beyond that of the mere animal. The gratification of sense and appetite is pursued alone through three score and ten years; and if from the feeble suggestions of conscience they should rise so high in the scale of being as to attend any of the outward acts of public devotion, yet are their ideas and conceptions of God and his attributes, and of eternal realities so involved and obscured in their notions of corporiety, tangability and locality, that they become ridiculous and absurd; and hence it is that the religion of the natural man is, and ever has been, that of Materialism-a system of religion which has done so much mischief in the world, and is one of Satan's chief and favourite instruments to veil and obscure the light of Eternal Truth from breaking in upon the mind; and with what success he has employed it we need only take an historical retrospect of past ages of the church, and we shall see the same spirit that prompted the Israelites to substitute the golden calf at the foot of Sinai's mount, has pervaded every successive age, variously modified indeed, but all answering the same purpose-to blind the mind, lull conscience
asleep, and keep the true knowledge of God from man: hence the policy of the Church of Rome in the worship of images, &c.; they knew how well it suited the degraded powers of human nature; since, whatever strongly impresses the senses, particularly the eye and the ear, will be cherished, revered, and adored; here is something pleasingly palpable, whereon the mind rests satisfied and pleased; hence all that outward show and those decorations, with the whole paraphernalia of sensible worship, pictures and statues, relics and crosses; all but so many different material exhibitions, invested with the grandeur and sublimity of whatever is sacred and holy, so contrived to charm the senses and powerfully to excite the imagination, and fix it upon the object as the ultimate end in view; while the superior faculties of the soul are excluded, and become passive and dormant. And such is the natural tendency of the human mind to fix upon something material, that we find one grand and principal object has been to lead off the mind from these gross, false, and impure modes of worship, and to teach men that God is a Spirit, and that they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Still it is a state to which the mind is always tending; and even with us who enjoy the light of Divine Truth, we may perceive an exhibition of the same principle.
It is surprizing what effects are sometimes wrought upon the frames of some people by the different kinds of style, and by the manner of different preachers. The loud vociferations of some, the showy parade of others: the grace and elegance with which some addresses from the pulpit are put forth, and the melting pathos of others, will set an admiring audience all attention, all life, eager to catch every expression, to dwell upon every sound; but in all such impressions, we see an apt illustration of our principle-that man is a creature more of sensation than reflection—hére is much of feeling, but little of thought. Good men perceive this, and lament it; I want to make men think, said an old divine, to send home the people thoughtful and serious, rather than full of admiration at the preacher.
Sense, too, is rendered the criterion by which such persons estimate the qualities of a sermon; the Scriptures are quite left out of the question. Enter
ON THE DANGERS INCIDENT TO CHURCHES, &c.
lull the whispers of conscience, and pre-
HINTS ON THE DANGERS INCI-
into their conversatioa, and what do we hear: what a fine man! what action! what a clear enunciation! how affectionate! and if with these qualities should be added personal attractions, the picture would be complete. What has been spoken, whether true or false, scriptural or unscriptural, is entirely left out of their consideration; the main thing with them is, how was it said? Here is no difference as it respects principle between the idolatry of the Church of Rome and a dissenting meeting-house; the only difference lies in the object-that of the former being a picture or an image, that of the latter the preacher. But it is in their daily habits and avocations that we can most clearly view the element most congenial to their desires; it is here we can see how earthly and sensual, how enslaved by the god of this world. View some of It is a melancholy fact, attested by the drudges of trade, who spend their general experience and the chain of whole existence in the hurly burly of history, that all institutions and schemes life, full of motion and activity, all their on which the agency of man is empowers upon the stretch; for what?ployed, are subject in their practical for affluence or riches; and for the probability of possessing a greater portion of these, the man will sacrifice present lesser enjoyments; he will undergo many privations, will suffer and endure much; here his view terminates; he sees no further; this visible diurnal state is his boundary; and after having obtained as many of the clods of the valley as he was able to heap together, and after having affixed his name to them and secured the possession thereof to his heirs, his worn out frame faulters, and becomes languid; those organs which served to accomplish the wishes of his heart, he finds desert him, he sinks into the dust, one part incorporated with the earth whence it sprang, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Thus he lives, and thus he dies; he lived practically at least without the belief of a spirit within him, or of God, or heaven, or hell. He drove through this world as sordid and grovelling as the earth upon which he trod, with but few pauses; early and late at his favourite pursuit, his senses and animal spirits were kept in continual play and exercise; no time for reflection; God was at too great a distance to be the subject of his attention; diligence in business, providing for his family, prudence and economy, these were the topics, the favourite topics, which served at once to spur him on in his loved career, to
detail, to declension and decay. That awful depravity, which has been the source of evil and misery to mankind in general, has obscured the light of Holy Scripture, and thus given rise to the various errors and abominations which have degraded the Christian name, and allured immortal souls to eternal misery and despair. It will not, therefore, be deemed unseasonable to direct our attention to the peculiar dangers that attend the Church of Christ at the present time. And,
I. May I be permitted to mention, among these, a conformity to the spirit and manners of undecided hearers of the Gospel as an evil, to which there are peculiar temptations in this period of general religious profession. Many persons in opposition to the express declaration of the Saviour are attempting to unite real Religion with a worldly spirit; these characters sometimes appear in the ranks of the faithful, and in the livery of Christ, but their hearts are in the world; they talk about Religion, yet follow the multitude; cry hosannah on the Redeemer's triumph, but desert him at the cross. It will, also, be generally found, that individuals of this description are fully disposed to respect the prejudices of mankind, to adopt every prevailing fashion, indulge in all the frivolities of dress, and assume an air of indifference and gaiety, with a
decided resolution at whatever cost, to attain riches, respectabily, or honour. These undecided hearers of the truth are numerous in public religious assemblies, and their influence is much to be feared, in many instances, on account of some amiable traits of conduct, and much apparent concern for the success of the Redeemer's cause. Let it ever be our earnest prayer at a throne of grace, that the churches of Christ may be preserved from this destructive confederacy with the ungodly, this temporizing worldly spirit. Nothing can be more plain than the words of Jesus Christ, "Ye cannot serve both God mammon," Matt. vi. 24. "Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple," Luke xiv. 27. "Be not conformed to this world," Rom. xii. 2. Self-denial and a determination in all cases, and at every risk to follow the Redeemer, constitute the first apparent fruit of repentance, and the grand mark of our discipleship, Matt. xix. 22. "Whence is it," says Baxter, "but for want of self-denial, that there is such scrambling for rule and greatness, for riches and honours among all? As if they thought it more desirable to fall from a high place than a low! and, at death, to part with riches than poverty, and at judgment to have much to answer for than little, and to go to heaven as a camel through a needle's eye, than by the more plain and easy way." Let us recollect HIM, who by his life of poverty and self-denial, his contempt of worldly show, and his deep humiliation, has placed a due estimate on the possessions of the world, and afforded a pattern and motive to all who follow him as pilgrims to the heavenly Jerusalem, Phil. ii, 5.
2. A neglect of religious intercourse, and the more private ordinances of the Gospel is much to be regretted at the present period. Nothing so directly cherishes every social feeling and unites the hearts of mankind as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Who, that can recur in his thoughts, to the period when he first felt love to the Saviour kindled in his bosom, will not recollect the delight with which he was then induced to regard the saints of God? In mutual converse on the dying love, the infinite condescension, and the cheering promises of the Lord Jesus, true believers find their hearts warmed
with holy love, their hopes revived, and the tenderest sympathy and affection excited in their breasts. The happy effects that result from this communion, at once manifest its importance and utility, and accomplish the memorable promise; "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Let it be understood, also, that we are not left to follow our own inclination in this respect; we are expressly enjoined, “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves, as the manner of some is, but to exhort one another" yet, how is it possible for a Society to enjoy the benefits of mutual oversight and exhortation, or effectually to cultivate the offices of sympathy and brotherly love, if stated meetings for these purposes are not regularly maintained? How shall the lambs of the flock be led by gentle steps into the fold of the Saviour, how shall enquiring souls be directed, or mutual and fervent prayers arise for the prosperity of the church of God, and the spread of the everlasting Gospel, if religious profession must be limited to attendance on the public ordinances of Christianity? We have much mistaken the true design of public worship itself, if we suppose that hearing two or three sermons on the Sabbath constitutes the only essential part of our duty in relation to it. Devotion is the native atmosphere of real Religion, and the Christian is never so much in character as upon his knees. Lamentable and truly affecting it is, therefore, to witness the little interest which many evidence in the public prayers and praises of the house of God: but, who will be surprized with this apathy, when he finds that multitudes of these Sabbath worshippers never appear at meetings for prayer, nor taste the pleasures of Christian communion! This, however, is not the only evil that has arisen from this source; many misunderstandings and contentions, many declensions and divisions have had the same origin; and the writer of these observations may be allowed to say, that if those who have devoted themselves to the ministry, would frequent the meetings of poor but intelligent saints-If they would study the nature and effects of the Gospel in the experience and devotions of sanctified poverty, and begin their attempts in the cause of their Divine Master, by instructing the