« PreviousContinue »
an infinite understanding. The simple deed, its circumstances, the intention of the agent, and its consequences-all these shall come into notice as matter of pleasing review, or of painful and tremendous condemnation. We shall,
III. Make some improvement.
First, let us learn to cultivate our rational powers. "The Lord is a God of knowledge;" heaven is a place of superior knowledge, where we shall see as we are seen, and know as we are known. The angels of light, those living creatures around about the throne, are pre-eminent in knowledge. And are we then to worship in that temple of light? Are we to be the companions of those celestial spirits, and to participate in the nature and felicity of Jehovah, the God of knowledge? Then let us cultivate our rational powers; let us endeavor to increase our stock of knowledge, by reading, observation, reflection, and prayer.
There are many topics within the range of human inquiry calculated to afford matter of pleasing contemplation to the mind of man, and to assist in weaning him from the low pursuits of this world, and in fitting him for a more elevated and felicitous state of being; but which, not being essential either to his present safety or future well-being, are not placed fully within the reach of the great mass of mind. Thus the splendor of the heavenly orbs, and the still more magnificent heavens, in which they proclaim the glory of God, and show forth his handiwork, are spread out before the universe of intelligent beings, a wonderful exhibition of the wisdom and power of the Almighty, which all may see and admire, but few can understand. It requires time, learning, and labor, and a superior reach of thought, to enter that vast theatre of action, and survey the order and majesty of the arrangement, the harmony and sublimity of the operation. But, if this is a pleasure reserved for the few, it is one the loss of which is not felt by the many; and the less so because the Spirit of God has dictated a book infinitely more sublime in its revelations, and important in its bearings, than the volume of nature. It is a farther revelation of his will, enlarged and improved, in which life and immortality are brought to light. Here we may learn the nature and will of God, the character and employments of celestial spirits, the destiny of the just made perfect, the rewards of virtue, and the inevitable doom of wicked Here we may learn the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and have our minds enlightened, enlarged, and sanctified, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, whom to know aright is life eternal. Such knowledge it is the will of God we should cultivate. He has given us the capacity requisite to its attainment; blessed us with ample means for its prosecution, and so identified it with our happiness as to make it at once both our duty and interest.
Secondly. Let us learn to judge cautiously, righteously, and not from appearances only. If we would pronounce a fair and impartial judgment on any one, we must first ascertain his circumstances, motives, and intentions. We must weigh his actions; and if we are incompetent to this, we are not less so to pronounce judgment upon him.
If we suppose the adoption of this rule, so obviously Scriptural,
there would be at once an end of all unrighteous and of all uncharitable judging. Men would learn to speak cautiously of each other; would suspend their judgment frequently in the ordinary affairs of life, and much more in relation to those principles and habits which involve a man's reputation in this life, and his destiny in that to come. The Almighty has reserved to himself alone the tremendous right of pronouncing on the moral condition and final destiny of men. We may with perfect safety infer the general character of the tree from its foliage and fruit; but to say when, and how, it shall be cut down, belongs exclusively to the great Proprietor of the vineyard.
Let us, therefore, learn to be slow in judgment, and impartial in judging. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Let us not venture to anticipate the decisions of that day which shall try every man's work as by fire. Let us bear in mind, that we have all yet to be weighed in the balance of the divine law; and we are advertised beforehand, "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
Thirdly. Let us admire the perfection of Divine Providence. "He is a God of knowledge." "He is light, and in him is no darkness at all." From his high and holy habitation, where he dwells in glory ineffable, he looks abroad on the vast regions of space, swarming with systems, created, upheld, and directed by the word of his power. Thus we are taught in the word of God to contemplate the almighty Creator and Preserver of all, as presiding over and guiding the affairs of this great universe, however complicated in their arrangement, vast in the field of their operation, or protracted in the period of their existence.
He beholds, as the creature of his special care, each of the various systems that people the regions of space, and every world in each, in all their leading and subordinate arrangements, their various circumstances, their heaving oceans and murmuring rills; the different tribes of rational and irrational beings that inhabit them that crowd their cities, that roam in their deserts or warble in their groves-with all their cares, their wants and sufferings, their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows. He has not left our world to plunge its way through the regions of space, like a vessel in a stormy sea, without rudder, chart, or guide, a sport of warring winds and opposing tides; much less has he left its intelligent population as helpless orphans, unpitied and unprovided for, amid the abounding ills and ceaseless vicissitudes of life. A God of knowledge, he enters into the very minutia of our circumstances, bottles up our tears, and numbers the hairs of our head: he watches over our race with more than paternal tenderness. How vastly more cheering, reasonable, and sublime are these views of the divine character and government than any we can derive from the shriveled, cold, and heartless systems of modern infidelity. Who can hesitate to determine which is the more excellent? Christian, this God is our God for ever and ever. He will be our guide even unto death.
We have yet one reflection more; it is a reflection of deep and solemn import to the wicked. "The Lord is a God of knowledge," VOL. X.-July, 1839.
and "there is no might or counsel against him;" there is no darkness in which the votaries of iniquity can hide themselves. If they should dig into hell, thence would he bring them forth. There is no remote point in the regions of space to which the offender may retire, a voluntary exile from the displeasure of his God. God is everywhere. There is no power or strength in numbers, though even kings should set themselves; there is no wisdom or cunning in the policy of men, though even rulers take counsel together. What Jehovah has appointed that shall come to pass. He has appointed the day of trial, he has fixed the standard of value, and placed it before the world; and we all hasten to the period and the place where actions are weighed ;-where actions are weighed in an even balance, held by an impartial hand, and in the sight and with the approval of the assembled universe. Then many things highly esteemed by men on earth will be regarded as a vile and loathsome abomination ;-there, not only the outward act, but the secret principle of action, will be brought into view. Startling beyond all the anticipations of hope, or the forebodings of despair, will be the developments and disclosures attendant on that day of trial. There the child of earthly suffering and privation, whose spirit was sanctified by the blood of the cross, will shine forth, to the honor of divine grace, as a star in the kingdom of his Father; and there many who shone as stars amid the constellations of this world will disappear in the darkness of everlasting night! Men will be astonished to see how many of the great and prominent actors on the theatre of this life, the reputed wise and mighty, chief captains, and men of renown, will be received without ceremony, and judged without favor. How they will be weighed in the same balance with the ignoble throng-will be weighed by themselves, without their reputation, equipage, and earthly glory. The poor man without his poverty, and the rich man without his gold, will be weighed together, with their actions. These things will then be no further remembered than as they presented aids or difficulties in the performance of duty. Then it will not be so much what number of talents we had as how we improved them; not whether we were esteemed by men, but whether we esteemed and performed the will of God.
What, then, are our principles? Are we without charity, without pity, forbearance, or compassion, unforgiving and vindictive? Then, behold the law!-behold the eternal Judge!-behold the throne!--all proclaim, " With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. On the other hand, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
In view of these facts, let us watch and be sober, cultivate uprightness of intention and tenderness of spirit: let us seek, through the Lord Jesus Christ, such an assurance of the divine favor as will enable us to contemplate that day of trial with composure, with confidence, with transport; saying with the apostle, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus, and come quickly. Amen."
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF A WELL INSTRUCTED MINISTRY.
BY REV. D. SMITH, OF THE NEW-YORK CONFERENCE.
THE progress of Methodism since its first establishment has been both constant and rapid. Unchanging and unaltered in its doctrines and aims, it has encountered the opposition, and fearlessly met the difficulties, incident to a young and rising denomination. Its doctrines and ecclesiastical organization have passed the ordeal of the most rigid scrutiny, both from friends and foes; and the result has been an increasing confidence,.on the part of its friends, in the Scriptural character of those doctrines and the wisdom of those who, under Divine Providence, planned its system of operations. Men of a philosophic cast of mind looking back upon the anticipations and predictions* of the past, and contemplating the scene actually exhibited by the present, and forgetting withal that Methodism was a child of Providence—a fact which furnishes the only true solution of its unexampled success-are beginning to eulogize the wisdom and foresight of John Wesley in terms of the highest commendation. Indeed, were we only carried back a few centuries, we might soon expect to see a place assigned him in the Pantheon.
Leaving speculation, however, for those who can find no better employment, it becomes us to keep to action. This we must do, both to retain what we have already gained and to continue our advances. It has been already remarked, that we have full confidence in the Scriptural character of our doctrines and the excellence of our system of operations. By this latter member of the last sentence are meant the general features of our system of operations. Neither Mr. Wesley, nor any wise man among his followers, ever supposed that the system sprung complete and full-grown from his mind, as Minerva from that of Jupiter. If there was any one prominent trait in Mr. Wesley's own character, it was a disposition to take advantage of every favorable circumstance, and to enter every opening door of providence.
"As to their leader," (Wesley,) says Rev. John Bennett, in his Letters to a Young Lady, originally dedicated to the queen, "he is doubtless a prodigy. An old man, of nearly ninety years, rising constantly at four o'clock in the depth of winter; preaching frequently on the same day; journeying from place to place, and from one people to another kingdom; himself the bishop, secretary, judge, and governor of his people. The main spring of such a vast and complicated machine is a phenomenon that will vanish from our earthly horizon when he ceases to exist. His opinions, it is said, do not injure his cheerfulness. Time has planted few wrinkles on his forehead, though it has covered his head with snow. Notwithstanding the religious zeal that works wonders in his favor, and the deference naturally paid to the first founder of a sect, particularly when possessed of any genius or learning, yet his peaceful government of so numerous a people, for such a length of time, is a proof of extraordinary talents and address. Whenever he dies, his disciples will dwindle. They will not easily agree about a successor. No successor can have so undisputed a sovereignty, or possess so undisputed a throne. They will separate from the Church, and the separation will be fatal." The above quotation is given as a specimen of the views entertained by those who undertook to predict the fate of Methodism, and as heralding to the future the opinions of former times.
To oppose all improvements, therefore, under the impression that we are contending for what is sometimes termed "old Methodism," would be to betray ignorance both of the genius of Methodism and the character of its founder. Mr. Wesley, guided by Scriptural principles, and on the basis of Scriptural doctrine, laid the foundation of a system of doing good to the souls of men, and expected his followers, not laying a new foundation, but building upon the old, would go on and complete the edifice.
We indeed should prepare but a poor compliment to be inscribed on the pages of our future history, should we do that from choice which was formerly done from necessity, and perpetuate all the disadvantages inevitably connected with an infant church. If Mr. Wesley or Bishop Asbury could appoint but a single laborer to a large field, and infant societies could only have preaching once a fortnight, are we, under altered and improved circumstances, to refuse a church, a regular ministry, and stated ordinances, for fear of departing from the ancient land-marks? If Mr. Wesley found himself unable to give the young men whom he employed to labor under his direction that assistance, in qualifying themselves for the work, which he desired, and was obliged to send them out with but slender acquirements-a necessity which he greatly lamented-must we continue to do the same for fear of coming under the charge of substituting learning for piety?
There are some of every age, and every church, who scent degeneracy and heresy the moment learning is named in connection with the ministry. Should there be found in our ranks a single individual of this class, to such a one we would say, Methodism originated in a college. Its founder was an instructor in one of the most venerable of literary institutions: himself a scholar of no ordinary acquirements-a close student through life, he ever prized learning as the handmaid of piety. In the midst of building churches, and at a time when the societies in connection with him had small pecuniary resources, with numerous claims to meet, he established an institution of learning, and took up yearly collections for its support.
So far was he, indeed, from desiring an illiterate ministry, that he sets down a want of knowledge in the ministry as one of the chief obstacles in the way of the progress of piety. In answer to the question, "Why is it that the people under our care are not better?" he answers, " Other reasons may concur, but the chief is, because we are not more knowing and more holy."
We have thought proper to offer these preliminary observations for the benefit of any whom they may concern, before proceeding more directly to the consideration of the topic named at the head of this article. Before, however, we proceed further, it may be proper to observe, that we have no thought of arrogating to ourselves the honor of starting a new subject. The man who should address the Methodist Episcopal Church, through one of her periodicals, as though she had yet to learn the importance of an intelligent ministry, would but betray his own ignorance and stupidity. The object of this sketch is simply to aid in keeping alive an important subject. It may meet the eye of some young men who are looking forward to the ministry, or of others who have just entered it; and