Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

66

holiness. In perusing these sermons, the reader is continually reminded of real life, and beholds human nature under its most unsophisticated aspect, without ever being tempted to suppose himself in the schools of pagan philosophy. We cannot better explain the professed scope and object of the author than by copying a few sentences from his preface. "Of late years it has been loudly asserted, that, among clergymen who have shewed themselves very earnest in doctrinal points, adequate regard "has not been evinced to moral instruction. The charge has perhaps been urged with the greatest "vehemence by persons who have employed little "trouble in examining into its truth. In many "cases it has been groundless, in many, exagge"rated. In some instances there has been reason, "I fear, for a degree of complaint; and in more, "a colourable pretext for the imputation. I believe "that some preachers, shocked on beholding ex

66

66

amples, real or supposed, of congregations starving on mere morality, substituted for the bread "of life; eager to lay broad and deep the founda"tions of the gospel, and ultimately apprehensive "lest their own hearers should suspect them of

reverting towards legality, have not given to "morals, as fruits of faith, the station and the "amplitude to which they have a scriptural claim. "Anxious lest others should mistake, or lest they "should themselves be deemed to mistake, the "branch for the root; not satisfied with proclaim

[ocr errors]

ing to the branch, as they were bound habitually

“ to proclaim, Thou bearest not the root, but the root

66

66

thee, they have shrunk from the needful office of tracing the ramifications. They have not left "morality out of their discourses, but they have

[ocr errors]

66

kept it too much in the back-ground. They have "noticed it shortly, generally, incidentally; in a "manner which, while perhaps they were eminent as private patterns of moral duties, might not sufficiently guard an unwary hearer against a "reduced estimate of practical holiness, nor exempt "themselves from the suspicion of undervaluing "moral obedience." Pref. pp. vii. viii.

66

To the truth of these remarks we cordially assent, as they point to a defect in the ministration of some excellent men, which the judicious part of the public have long lamented, and which Mr. Gisborne, in his present work, has taught his contemporaries how to remedy. Extremes naturally lead to each other. The peculiar doctrines of the gospel had been so long neglected by the most celebrated preachers, and the pernicious consequences of that neglect, in wearing out every trace of genuine religion, had been so deeply felt, that it is not to be wondered at if the first attempts to correct the evil were accompanied with a tendency to the contrary extreme. In many situations, those who attempted to revive doctrines which had long been considered as obsolete, found themselves much in the same circumstances as missionaries, having intelligence to impart before unknown, and exposed to all the contempt and obloquy which assailed the

first preachers of christianity. While they were engaged in such an undertaking, it is not at all surprising that they confined their attention almost entirely to the doctrines peculiar to the christian religion, with less care to inculcate and display the moral precepts which it includes in common with other systems than their intrinsic importance demanded. They were too much occupied in removing the rubbish and laying the foundations, to permit them to carry their superstructure very high. They insisted, in general terms, on the performance of moral duties; urged the necessity of that holiness without which "none shall see the Lord;" and, by a forcible application of truth to the conscience, produced in many instances the most surprising, as well as the most happy, effects. But still, in consequence of limiting their ministry too much to the first elements of the gospel, and dwelling chiefly on topics calculated to alarm the careless and console the faithful, a wrong taste began to prevail amongst their hearers-a disrelish of moral discussions, a propensity to contemplate christianity under one aspect alone, that of a system of relief for the guilty, instead of a continual discipline of the heart. Those wished for stimulants and cordials, whose situation required alteratives and correctives. Preachers and hearers have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the fear of being reproached as "legal," deterred some good men from insisting so much on moral and practical subjects as their own good sense would have dictated. By this means the

[blocks in formation]

malady became more inveterate, till the inherent corruption of human nature converted the doctrine of the gospel, in a greater or less degree, into the leaven of antinomianism. An error, which at first appeared trivial, at length proved serious; and thus it came to pass that the fabric of sacred truth was almost universally reared in such a manner as to deviate sensibly from the primitive model.

When we look at christianity in the New Testament, we see a set of discoveries, promises, and precepts, adapted to influence the whole character: it presents an object of incessant solicitude, in the pursuit of which new efforts are to be exerted, and new victories accomplished, in a continued course of well-doing, till we reach the heavenly mansions. There is scarce a spring in the human frame and constitution it is not calculated to touch, nor any portion of human agency which is exempted from its control. Its resources are inexhaustible; and the considerations by which it challenges attention embrace whatever is most awful or alluring in the whole range of possible existence. Instead of being allowed to repose on his past attainments, or to flatter himself with the hope of success without the exercise of diligence and watchfulness, the christian is commanded to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. In the actual exhibition of religion, the solicitude of serious minds has been made to turn too much on a particular crisis, which has been presented in a manner so insulated, that nothing in the order of means seemed instrumental

to its production. In short, things have been represented in such a manner as was too apt to produce despondency before conversion, and presumption after it.

It must be allowed, the judicious management of practical subjects is more difficult than the discussion of doctrinal points; which may also account, in part, for the prevalence of the evil we are now speaking of. In treating a point of doctrine, the habit of belief almost supersedes the necessity of proof the mind of the hearer is usually preoccupied in favour of the conclusions to be established; nor is much address or ingenuity necessary to conduct him in a path in which he has long been accustomed to tread. The materials are prepared to the preacher's hands; a set of texts, with their received interpretations, stand ready for his use; the compass of thought which is required is very limited; and this little circle has been beaten so often, that an ordinary understanding moves through it with mechanical facility. To discuss a doctrinal position to the satisfaction of a common audience requires the smallest possible exertion of intellect. The tritest arguments are, in fact, the best: the most powerful considerations to enforce assent are rendered, by that very quality, the most conspicuous, as the sun announces himself by his superior splendour. In delineating the duties of life the task is very different. To render these topics interesting, it is necessary to look abroad, to contemplate the principles of human nature, and the

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »