« PreviousContinue »
ITS SPIRIT AND POWER.
blinding and perverting influences. It will have the latent light and heat of truth, and they will not long be without a visible form and manifestation. And is there no such thing as inspiration? May we make God's influence a matter of ancient history? Has he, who incessantly works in the material worlds, given up and abandoned human souls? Has he no 'secret' to give to them that fear him? no 'covenant' to make known to them? Does he not dwell and walk in his separated servants? And can there be a surer way to obtain his revelations than to live meekly, humbly, obediently, before him? There is a large class of minds whose continuance in the faith of the gospel can only be secured in the present day by a very decided and superior holiness. We have no enmity to philosophy, whencesoever it may come, nor to any fresh original and bold method of propounding its principles. It is high time that metaphysics and morals were more profoundly studied by Christian people, and especially by Christian ministers, than has been their wont. The fear of such study, as if it were inimical to the gospel, arises not from faith but unbelief. Faith may be the plea professed and felt, but it is a faith so ignorant narrow and erroneous that the divine system of Christianity is misapprehended and dis. owned by it. But it is impossible to conceal the fact that much philosophical teaching in our time is so mixed up with error and evil, it is allied to speculations of such a perilous tendency, and is so much in the hands of men who not indirectly make it tell against the doctrine of Jesus Christ, clothing it in charming dresses of thought and style, that not a few are in danger of losing the simplicity and firmness of their faith. They are not the profound, not the deeply versed in knowledge, but men of some intellectual smartness and more intellectual pride, ready and presumptuous, free yet making liberty itself a bondage, to whom may justly be addressed the taunt, Ye are the men, and wisdom shall die with you.' They are to purge the church of 'dead forms,' to strip the Christianity of its 'swaddling clothes,' to destroy the 'humbug' of formal believers. Antiquity is with Some have some a sign of truth, with them it is a sign of error. rejected all that is new, they reject all that is old. They speak of principles as of men, when full of years they ought to die. Instead of adjusting certain spiritual ideas to the requirements of the age, they mistake the form for the essence, and would dismiss them altogether. Here is a widely-prevailing mischief, and a mischief that may not be trifled with. We see in it an indiLet it be cation not of improvement, but of deterioration. that the modes of presenting Christianity to the world admit of, and require, revision; that what, in this respect, was good and forcible a century ago, is useless, and worse than useless, now;
that the terminology of ancient creeds and symbols is out of place at this time of day; and that a more generous aud profound, and practical, and real, method of treating the science of religion is imperatively demanded by the age; still, why should the truths, the essential and vital elements of the gospel, be stale and weak and despicable? Assuming, as we must do in this paper, that they are truths, but one solution is available. They are dead because men's souls are dead. The disesteem avowed or concealed in which they are sometimes held comes simply of the loss of spiritual interest in them. It is not new doctrines that are needed; but new hearts. That which we have had from the beginning' may be as fresh and lively and unctuous as it ever was. The old meal is tasteful enough to the hungry, it is the diseased and overfed that crave a novelty. There is enough in the Christian ideas of God and Jesus, of man and sin, of redemption and the cross, of eternity and recompense, if they be held in light and righteousness, to fill and move and energize the most capacious, ponderous, and weakly, souls. But they must be so held to do this, and doing this, there will be little danger of wandering for stimulus or strength in ways forbidden,* ancient truths, aye, and ancient forms too, becoming young through the presence of a youthful spirit. The wholesale dissatisfaction, in some minds, with what has been proved to be the power of God, the common talk against what is common, the cant about cant, are, in our view, the revelation of infirmity and morbidity, seeking to make changes do the work of conscience, believing in the efficacy of spiritual places to give spiritual power, and the only remedy we can look to is a fresh baptism of the eternal Spirit, the clothing and reanimating of skeleton truths, by his almighty power. Let there be a revival of heartfelt religion, and the mysteries of the kingdom,' as known and taught among us, will not be partially or entirely laid aside as worn out and obsolete, but more tenaciously and vigorously held and taught as the very 'life of God.' They will possess a 'glory that excelleth,' a perpetual youth, a 'power from on high. Would a Whitefield or a Wesley, if raised to-day, not find them so? And they must possess this, not merely to secure their place as theological verities, as things of creed and formula, but that they may be dealt out with zest and force among the people. The peculiar sentiments of Christianity are not to be proclaimed with solemn decency, as being very respectable and venerable in character and standing, or in order to keep up a certain proportion and reputation of evangelical matter; they must not be inserted into discourses simply because they are expected to be, or even ought to be. If they be not used as the vitalities of religious instruction, the nutriment of spiritual life, the only
engine of truly divine success; if the proclamation of them do not come from the heart, be not made because it is loved to be made, because it is the natural voice and fruit of prime and prevailing affections; if the minister do not speak and urge them because the man lives by faith' of them, the preaching may savour much of Christ's doctrine, and yet accomplish little of Christ's will.
This leads to another important topic. The presence of an eminent spirituality gives great power-power over the minds and hearts of men. It is far from our intention, in saying this, to exclude the doctrine of a divine and immediate agency in every case of human salvation. That doctrine we admit in all its plainness and fulness, without qualification or restriction. But we have yet to learn that there are no laws according to which spiritual influence is exerted, or that those laws are less regular and uniform than those by which the agency of God in the material world is exercised. As it has been said that 'all discord' is harmony, not understood,' so we believe it may be said that much which passes under the name of 'sovereignty' in the moral administration of God, and especially in the operations by which he originates and carries on the individual salvation of men, is simple adherence to fixed and wisely-appointed rules. There is no disparagement of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in believing that he works not arbitrarily and at random, but in conformity to certain principles whose fitness and excellence have commended themselves to his approval. Now it appears to us that personal influence is one of the most important modes of divine renewing agency. All revelation is personal. Moral principles are represented to us not as abstract things but as forming the character of the great God and Father, and evangelical truths are exhibited as having their existence in 'Christ our Gospel.' The wisdom of this method of manifestation may be discerned by any one that understands a little of the philosophy of his own nature. And the reasons of it are doubtless among the reasons wherefore it is ordained that 'holy men of God' alone should preach the gospel. Truths are very different things as they are exhibited through different personal media, and clothed with different personal attributes. Justice is never so august as when it breathes in the indignant reproofs of a soul of unbending integrity; love is never so persuasive as when a man divinely good' gives expression to its claims. When Paul'set his eyes' on Elymas the sorcerer, we may well suppose 'the false prophet' received from that awful look of moral reprobation a pang more afflictive than the miracle that made him blind. There is a spirit in man,' and the spirit of one man has mysterious power over the spirits of other men, and if
it be thoroughly and transparently sincere, and full of faith, it attains the highest order of moral influence. Few men are without the means of testing the point. Every one feels very differently in the presence of an earnest believer and a mere formalist or cold sceptic. If a man come with his mind made up about a thing, if he take it for granted that he shall succeed, if no idea of aught else possess him, there is vastly more difficulty in refusing him than if he had come trembling and doubting, failure being less surprising than success, and his whole manner suggesting and almost asking for denial. And in cases where the object sought is one of moral excellence, and its claims are recognised, there is no comparison between the appeals of him all whose sympathies are evidently at one, and all in deep and energetic action, and of him who merely discharges a professional duty, or displays a decent amount of spiritual emotion. Herein lies the great superiority of a man to a book. The living spirit cannot be impressed upon the page, as it may be made vocal, visible, and palpable, in the speech, expression, and manner, of a human messenger of truth. And it is the living spirit that quickeneth. The heart communes with the heart. Sympathy is the law and mode of moral power. All engagements, all kinds of intercourse, all public movements, prove it. The courageous general electrifies his men, the enthusiastic teacher kindles a generous love of learning in his scholars, and on the same principle, though in a nobler state and mystery of operation, the impassioned preacher'saves them that hear him.' In the life of Dr. Arnold we meet with this striking testimony from one who knew him well:-The most remarkable thing which struck me at once on joining the Laleham circle was, the wonderful healthiness of tone and feeling which prevailed in it. Everything about me I immediately found to be most real; it was a place where a new comer at once felt that a great and earnest work was going forward.' This impression resulted from the spirit of reality that pervaded the minds in that establishment, and this spirit was sustained, as it had been generated, by the reality of his spirit who presided over it. It was not by arts and tricks, nor by spasmodic effects of zeal, nor by cold, severe, official authority, that Dr. Arnold changed the moral character of the great school committed to his charge, but by being what he taught, by showing faith that could not but be trusted, and kindness that could not but be loved, and honour that could not but be revered, and thus making moral excellence the growth of souls. And it is just thus that many men of parts not pre-eminent, of doctrines without novelty in nature or in mode, and destitute of the accidents of popular acceptance, command a strange influence over the minds of
others. The learned marvel because of their ignorance, the eloquent because they are rude, the original, because they are common-place, and they may all marvel while they look in these directions; the secret of their success is in the energy of a will instinct with divine life, and the penetrating quickening power of affections stimulated and sanctified by the things of God.' The effects produced are unquestionably and exclusively attributable to divine influence, as much so as were the physical miracles performed of old, and yet, as in the case of those, the mental condition of the instruments may be a matter of prime importance. Some men cannot produce them, because they have not 'faith;' and who can possess the faith, but they whose entire moral being is in close and habitual communion with the spirit of holiness, who walk in the light, and dwell in God?
There is but one other point to which we shall advert, viz., ministerial example. The power of example is too stale a topic to require any illustration or confirmation. Our object regards its connection with a particular function. Whatever truth or importance belongs to the general maxims respecting the influence of right conduct upon others, attaches with peculiar obviousness to those maxims, as applied to the subject in hand. The minister occupies a position more conspicuous than that of many, and the nature and design of his work are necessarily identified with moral considerations. His object being to make men good, there is a virtual challenge in every instance of its performance, to contemplate and criticise his own character. And men will not be backward to accept the challenge. The depravity which makes his work necessary, is too eager to find excuses for itself, and retorts for its reprovers, not to catch for these purposes at any inconsistencies in the preachers of righteousness. It may be true enough that a bad man may teach a good doctrine, and that, if men were wise, they would not injure themselves by rejecting the last for the sake of the first; but the question is one of fact, not of right; relates to what they do, and not to what they ought to do; and it is too plain for dispute, that the sins of ministers present a fatal stumbling-block in the way of many, and that their carelessness and worldly walk operate with disastrous efficacy as a hinderance to the elevated spirituality of many more. We by no means suggest that there are two standards of holiness, one for pastors, and another for people. But deviation from the one standard is attended with more, and more evil, consequences in the case of the former, than in that of the latter. It is a public fact. It has the miserable effect of the breaking down of a witness, or rather his giving evidence favourable to the other side. Nothing can exceed the necessity of a plain, prominent, incontrovertible uprightness, on the part of