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to perceptible influxes and illuminations of the Holy Spirit; and to secret and unutterable converse with the Almighty, imparting to them, as the chosen objects of His favour, light, and knowledge, and sanctity, unattainable by the rest of mankind.
To arrive at such a supposed pre-eminence in holiness, many have been induced to renounce the ordinary duties of society, to lead a life of total seclusion and solitude, to practise the most repulsive austerities, to dissolve the ordinary ties that unite man to man, and to prohibit the most harmless gratifications; to aim, in short, at making man “ a new crea
ture," not in the sense in which the Scriptures use that phrase, not by a just conformity to the pattern which our Lord set before us, nor by practically adapting the precepts of Scripture to our respective callings and conditions of life,—but by an absolute desertion of duty in these respects, and by a forced and monstrous change of our essential properties as human beings.
An ancient persuasion, (the offspring of a corrupt philosophy introduced at a very early period into the Christian church,) that there is evil necessarily inherent to matter, and that, consequently, the body is the cause of all the pollutions and disorders of the soul,
led to these vain attempts to disunite the one from the other; and eventually, led also to the rejection of some most important articles of the Christian faith. The sect, or rather the accumulation of sects, which in the first century of the Church were distinguished by the general appellation of Gnostics, were the
prototypes of numerous heresies in after-times, affecting marvellous attainments by their intellectual abstractions; and from these branched out other sects pretending to spiritual gifts of still more wonderful efficacy ; by means of which they conceived themselves able to attain to flights of piety and heavenly mindedness far above the ordinary reach of man in his present earthly state. By many of these in almost every age and country, the profession of the Christian faith has been made an object of derision to the scorner, and of aversion and disgust to men of sober understandings. To enumerate the various sects of this description, and to shew their connection with each other, would be to form a compendium of a large portion of ecclesiastical history, and might furnish materials for voluminous discussion. It will be found, however, that notwithstanding the infinite varieties that occur of mysticism and fanaticism, they for the most part agree in their
general character, and are reducible to one class of error. Whether the eccentricity manifest itself in ecstatic transports of mind, in violent agitations of the animal spirits, in rigorous acts of penance and cruel macerations of the body, in imaginary suggestions of the Holy Spirit directing every trivial thought, word, and action, or in supposed communications with the Deity by perceptible impulses and revelations; the origin of the error is the
It is the mistaken notion, that we must “ seek after God” in some other way than He hath directed us ; and that we cannot have access to Him, but by some extraordinary and preternatural means necessary to the attainment of Christian perfection.
That errors of this kind have sometimes been accompanied with the best intentions, there can be no doubt. But it is equally certain, that nothing may be more easily assumed for the purpose of deception, than the exterior of such sanctity as this. Imposture never more successfully pursues its object, than when it acts under the semblance of enthusiasm. Then it is, that, as St. Paul expiety and purity: and they who are unstable and unwary may the more easily be deluded to become his followers. This renders it necessary that even the really pious and welldisposed should be careful how they adopt opinions bordering upon such extravagances ; lest by giving encouragement to enthusiastic views of religion, however plausible and harmless in appearance, they should unwarily involve themselves or others in notions or practices not reconcilable with that sober-mindedness, that well-regulated zeal and discipline, which characterises a truly Christian life and conversation.
“ Satan is transformed into an “ angel of light a.” The deceiver presents himself to others as a model of transcendent
a 2 Cor. xi. 14.
Let us, then, proceed to inquire, how we are to “ seek after God” in the more correct acceptation of the phrase.
1. In a general sense, every one may be said to seek after God,” who, with that intent, searches the Holy Scriptures ; investigating by the light of Revelation the nature and perfections of the Almighty, His will with respect to man, His precepts and prohibitions, His promises and threatenings, and whatever relates to the terms of our acceptance with God. It is in these Scriptures only that we can “ by searching find out the “ Almighty to perfection 5,” or “ find rest
b Job xi. 7.
unto our souls.” To know whence we came, and whither we go; to learn our origin and our destination; to ascertain what God hath done, or purposeth to do for us; and how we may obtain His favour, which is better than life itself;—this is properly “ seek
ing after God:” and the soul may then be truly said to live, to be alive to its best interests and to the great purpose for which a being was given to it, when it is thus employed in acquiring a knowledge of the Divine will, and in applying that knowledge to the glory of God and its own eternal welfare.
Some, however, appear to be of opinion that this knowledge may be sufficiently obtained without recourse to Revelation ; God having manifested himself (as they conceive) so clearly to our senses and to our natural understandings, as to make any further discovery of himself superfluous. And true it is, that the book of nature, as it may be called, that manifestation of the Divine attributes and perfections which is every where conspicuous in the visible world, justly claims its share of contemplation and research on the part of those who “seek after God.” “ The works of the Lord are great, sought “ out of all them that have pleasure thereind."
c Matth. xi. 29. d Psalm cxi. 2.