« PoprzedniaDalej »
images more suited to common conversation, than to the solemnity of public instruction; they mislead you by figurative expressions, and texts partially selected; and address you in language, which, however it may awaken your feelings, and amuse your imagination, only tends to delusion and error. Religion is designed to guide our passions, by supporting the ascendancy of our reason; and its teachers should therefore be careful not to kindle any unrestrained fervors. Besides, I wish you to reflect, that the chief concern of all who resort to public worship should be prayer and attention to the Scriptures; and that if your preachers were indeed as superior to ours, as they are in reality, in all respects, unworthy to be compared with them, it would not justify you in withdrawing from the service appointed by public authority, in conformity to the regulations of the primitive church." p. 12.
We wonder it has never occurred to the Society, that it is in bad taste, if it were no worse, to make the advocates for the Church affect a mortifying tone of condescending superiority over their opponents. In this tract, for example, the Methodist is made to address the Churchman with a constantly recurring reverential while the Churchman, with great self-satisfaction and easy familiarity, opens the dialogue with "Well, Neighbour;" and lays down his positions with much magisterial gravity, in the spirit of "I wish you;" as if his wishes were argument sufficient. Tracts addressed to servants, labourers, and the poorer classes of society, are often felt by them to be insulting, because written with an air of dignity, as if issued from the chair of authority, instead of from the press. These remarks may seem trivial, but they are closely connected with the popularity and utility of tracts. In the best written tracts there is an air of respect, and even of deference, for the reader, which is very winning, and in which the tracts of the Christian Knowledge Society are peculiarly defective. If a tract do not interest the heart of the reader, it is of little value. A poor man never feels himself mortified and put down in perusing such a publication as the Dairyman's Daughter: he finds himself instructed and interested, and regards the writer as an affectionate friend and adviser, to whom he gladly yields respect, as being evidently far his superior in education, rank, and mental and spiritual endowments. No man probably knew better how to address the poor in private and pastoral intercourse than Mr. Legh Richmond; and he always spoke to them with a respectful courtesy, which civilized the most rude, and won upon the most hardened.
But we now come to far more important matters than those which we have hitherto considered-namely, to the views of Christian doctrine exhibited in this tract, and which, we lament to say, are far from being scriptural. To guard against any possible misinterpretation, we again quote from the document. The following succeeds the passage last cited. "Meth. I am convinced, Sir, that I am in the right way; I have experienced a conversion to salvation.
"Church. However much you may be convinced that you are in the right way, you should remember that St. Paul says, 'Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall;' and that he instructs every man not to think (of himself) more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. Many have swelled with a Pharisaic presumption of their own righteousness, and looked down with contempt on others who have been more justified in the sight of God. Conscious that whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased,' we cannot be too careful not to build an unwarrantable confidence on any presumed security. With respect to conversion also, it is not any sudden emotion or transient impression on the mind, but the deliberate conviction of an awakened conscience, contrite in its reflections, and persevering in resolutions of repentance and holiness of life.
"Meth. But, Sir, I have the feeling of the Spirit, and perceive its influence constraining me to sanctification.
"Church. The effects of the Spirit are not perceptible by any sensible impulse, or irresistible control. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth: so is every man that is born of the Spirit.' Its dominion is to be experienced not by any visionary fancies, enthusiastic ravings, or vain inflations of spiritual pride and conceit; but by
the regular and beneficial operation of a religious principle, acting with uniform effect in the energies of a virtuous life." pp. 12, 13.
a conversion to sal
Now, even under the unfavourable aspect which the tract gives to the sentiments of the Methodist, we recognise in him a sounder Christian and a better Churchman than his opponent. The man says that he is convinced he is "in the right way,' because he has experienced what the writer, intending to copy Methodist language, calls “ vation; " but which phrase will probably sound as new to the Methodist conversion to God," as to the Churchman; though the phrases, version of heart," and other expressions of kindred import, are familiar enough. However, we readily accept the phrase in the sense of such a conversion of the heart to God as is connected with salvation. Now, if "" exthe Methodist had scriptural reason to believe that he had really perienced" such a conversion, we see no impropriety in his trusting that he was "in the right way or any reason for taunting him as being one of those who have swelled with Pharisaic presumption of their own righteousness, and looked down with contempt on others." There is no evidence in the Dialogue that this poor Methodist had done either; and it is a mere gratuitous, and not quite charitable, assumption of the Churchman, that his "conversion" was only “a sudden emotion or transient impression." Happily the Methodist is made to add—what is intended to be represented by the writer of the tract as very absurd and enthusiastic― that he has the evidence which arises from the influence of the Holy Spirit" constraining him to sanctification." The man had said nothing of "visionary fancies, enthusiastic ravings, and vain inflations of spiritual pride and conceit;" these are the make-weight inventions of his opponent: he had not even asserted that he enjoyed the "full assurance of faith:" he had not boasted of raptures or exstasies: he had merely said, that he perceived the influence of God's Holy Spirit "constraining him to sanctification; "a test so peculiarly practical and anti-visionary, that we should have thought that the writer of the tract, if he admitted the influence of the Holy Spirit at all, would have been much pleased at this man's sober view of His operations in the human soul. For "sanctification" includes, at the very least (abating the term "uniform," which is not applicable to imperfect man), "the beneficial operation of a religious principle acting in the energies of a virtuous life." It includes this, we say, at the very least: besides which it includes much more; for it is connected with "conversion to salvation," without which what is currently called "a virtuous life" is not a Christian life, and is no more than splendid Heathenism. Seeing, then, that sanctification is so practical a matter, we are surprised that the Right Reverend Prelate and the Society should be displeased at the man's doctrine. Instead of the declamation about enthusiastic ravings, we expected to have heard the Churchman, with his views of theology, say to his opponent, "I am glad to find that you do not rest your belief of having experienced conversion of heart, and the influence of that Divine Spirit without whom nothing is holy, upon conceits and inflations; but upon the sober fruit of moral goodness and a virtuous life, which you call sanctification, but which I call by more classical names."
The Methodist next asks the Churchman, if there is not such a thing as "regeneration, a new birth unto righteousness: " to which the Churchman replies:
"The expression of regeneration is employed in Scripture to signify that admission into Christ's kingdom, which takes place at Baptism, and that conversion under the blessed influence of the Holy Spirit, which is effected in a state of acceptance, and manifested by righteousness of life." p. 13.
The Methodist would think the Churchman a sad Antinomian, and a
dreadful opposer of "a virtuous life" for teaching that any man is "in a state of acceptance with God" who is neither living "under the blessed influence of his Holy Spirit" nor manifesting "righteousness of life." This is fearfully lax doctrine for a Society for promoting Christian Knowledge to inculcate.
We pass over, for expedition sake, several pages of the tract, till we meet with the following question :
"Meth. But still, are we not led to believe that eternal life is a free gift, and that we are justified as to everlasting consequences by free grace, in consideration of Christ's sufferings? p. 17.
Here, at least, we did hope that the Churchman would agree with the Methodist; for if any one doctrine of Scripture, or of our own Church, be more clear than another, it is, that "eternal life is a free gift;" and that we are justified before God, through faith (which, however, the tract omits to mention), in virtue of the obedience unto death of Christ. We should have thought that Bishop Gray not only admitted this essential, this glorious doctrine; but that he would have gladly placed it as the basis of his whole theological system. He could not indeed say "No" to the Methodist's query: not any professed Churchman, who knew what he was saying, could venture to give a direct negative to such a question: but then, without a direct negative, it is got rid of by the convenient and muchabused phrase of "the conditions of the Gospel," and by a circumlocutory and incorrect definition of the term "eternal life;" which the Methodist had employed in his question, but which the Bishop seems to consider not to mean the happiness of heaven, but only an admission to the privileges of the Gospel:" which admission, he adds, "blots out the handwriting of ordinances which was against us ;" an office which the Scriptures attribute, not to "admission to the privileges of the Gospel" (that is, we suppose, to the administration of Baptism), but to the blood of Christ. We would not contend either for or against the equivocal term condition," which is capable of being used in a good or a bad sense; but we strenuously contend that "eternal life is an undeserved gift," and that we are "justified by free grace in consideration of Christ's sufferings," through faith, and not wholly or in part by human merit.
Several of the next pages are occupied with an abstruse discussion upon-what do our readers think?-Perhaps, calling to mind that the followers of Mr. Wesley are most zealously anti-Calvinistic, and are especially averse to the doctrines of election and final perseverance, they may conclude that the Churchman may have urged upon his opponent some views upon the subject of grace which the Methodist accounts Antinomian, and combated others which the Churchman considers "legal." No such thing; precisely the contrary: the Methodists are represented as zealous advocates for the doctrine of election and predestination; nay, of reprobation reprobation, which few even of the modern Calvinists hold. It is to us utterly incomprehensible how any Bishop, any Clergyman, any Society, could thus utterly have mistaken the tenets of a sect, whose very badge is modified Arminianism, as opposed to Calvinism; and so notoriously so, that the periodical organ of their body is, or was, entitled "The Arminian Magazine." It is quite evident, throughout the whole tract, that the writer knows little or nothing of the opinions of the persons whose doctrines and practices he undertakes to oppose and reform. The words and arguments which he puts into the lips of the Methodists, are not only not theirs, but are diametrically opposed to their well-known sentiments. How astounded would the Methodist Conference be at hearing one of their preachers or people accused of inculcating absolute predestination and indefectible grace, against which they protest in all
their books, and preachings, and conversations! Yet the Bishop makes the Methodist speak as follows:
"It appears, nevertheless, to me, that the Scriptures speak of some being predestinated to salvation without any respect to their own conduct." p. 19.
"I have been led to believe, that the title to life, which has been conferred on the elect, cannot be forfeited, and that they cannot fall from grace." p. 20.
Nay, worse: the Methodists are made to deny the doctrine of universal redemption, which is one of their most zealously inculcated tenets; and to speak of some men as doomed by an irreversible decree to evil and condemnation.
"Methodist. Do not the Scriptures speak of some as doomed to evil and condemnation ?
"Churchman. God forbid! Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all, and would have all men to be saved." p. 21.
The Churchman in this reply is right: he speaks the language of Scripture and of his own Church: but no follower of Mr. Wesley would have asked such a question.
We need not enter upon the learned Prelate's arguments in refutation of the doctrine of election, or his construction of the Seventeenth Article, as our object is not to discuss the question, but only to shew how strangely his Lordship has mistaken the views of those whom it is the object of his tract to refute. We must, however, object strenuously to many of his interpretations, and especially to his statement that the expression of the Christian's name being "written in the book of life," and " such like descriptions, imply only a vocation to the privileges of the Gospel." We should blush to put such divinity into the hands of a Methodist, and should lament to see it in the hands of a Churchman. But, apart from positive error, the whole of this portion of the dialogue is very unfit for a tract like the present. The Society for promoting Christian Knowledge might surely be better employed than in debating the abstruse intricacies of Calvinism. What would any poor labouring man, to whom his clergyman had given this tract for his soul's health, make of such a puzzling—and we must add, palpably incorrect-statement as the following; and what practical good would he derive from it, even if he fancied he understood it?
"Churchman. The Seventeenth Article, to which I suppose you allude, must be considered in consistency with the general tenor of the Liturgy, the Creed, and the Articles of our Church; which allow the redemption of the whole world by Christ; the free-will of man, and the acceptable nature of good works, originating in faith, and performed as a condition of salvation, to be obtained only in consideration of the perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Christ; and therefore it must be understood to speak only of adoption to the privileges of the Gospel, or of predestination to life on the terms of faith and obedience; meaning by those who are chosen in Christ,' those whose obedience in Christ God foresaw; that is, as the Scripture expresses it, 'elect according to the foreknowledge of God.' And this exposition of the Article is confirmed by the caution which is subjoined, which intimates the danger of misconception, and requires us to receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture. Indeed, it is certain, and uniformly maintained by our Church, that Christ offered up a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world;' that the blessing which we receive by election conveys no unconditional title to salvation; but only a restoration to favour, a gracious admission to the privileges of a Divine covenant, and that we can realize the benefit of that covenant, only, by fulfilling the law of righteousness, and by doing the will of the Father." pp. 22, 23.
The Methodist next asks the following simple question : "But, sir, are we not told that we are justified by faith?" p. 23.
This question, we might have thought, would have required for answer only Yes, or No: but the author did not choose to say either, and therefore gives us another circumlocution; the conclusion of which, if any thing is concluded from it, is, that we are not justified by faith-that is, according to the plain obvious meaning of the word-but since both Scripture and
our Church say that we are, the difficulty is got over by giving a new interpretation to the word faith, "as expressing the whole of the Christian covenant." Thus comes out the conclusion, that we are justified by the whole of the Christian covenant;" and as this covenant is stated to include the aforesaid conditions and good works, we are, after several turns and bends, justified by faith, that is, by good works.
Next comes the following question and answer :—
"Methodist. Do not the Scriptures sometimes represent us as accepted by God, and entitled to salvation by faith, considered distinctly from, and in opposition to the works of righteousness, as Abraham is said to have been justified by faith without works?
"Churchman. By no means. They employ indeed the word 'justified,' to signify our being released from the effects of original sin, and restored to the hope of the reward, which is to be obtained by observing the condition of the covenant under which we live." p. 24.
On the question we only remark, that neither the Methodists nor the Calvinistic Dissenters speak of our being "entitled to salvation by faith." The title to salvation is not man's faith, but Christ's atonement. A medium, a qualification, an instrument of apprehension, and even a condition, are not a title. Of the answer we only ask, what proof can the Bishop of Bristol produce of his assertion, that the Scriptures employ the term "justified" according to his definition? We know of none.
The writer says in the next page, that
"The Reformers of our Church did not dissever the connection between faith and moral virtue. They asserted the inefficacy of good works in refutation only of the vain follies of the Romish Church, which erected its presumptuous confidence on the pretended merit of pilgrimages, masses, and other superstitions." pp. 25, 26.
The first statement is true, that our Reformers did not separate faith from "moral virtue;"-rather, we should say, from its blessed and holy fruits in the heart and life, which is a far larger meaning than is suggested by the classical phrase "moral virtue." On the contrary, they taught, in conformity with Scripture, that true faith is the necessary, the invariable, the only parent of good works. But the second statement, that the only works of which they denied the efficacy to justify a sinner before God were pilgrimages, masses, and superstitions, is utterly opposed to fact, as any man will clearly perceive, who will take the trouble to examine the Prayer-Book, the Articles, or, in larger detail, the Homilies. How the Society could have published and re-published, from year to year, without detection, so unaccountably mistaken an assertion, is beyond all power of comprehension. The matter is so notorious, that it were utterly superfluous to resort to quotation.
The Methodist next asks:
"But is not faith the gift of God?" p. 26.
Here, again, was a question to be answered by Yes or No; and no man who believes the Bible would dare to affirm the latter. The Bishop therefore again comes in with the following circumlocution, and tertium quid. "Every good and perfect gift is indeed from above. But nevertheless faith is the result of the exertion of our own reason.' p. 26.
If there were not another objectionable line in the tract, this statement is so unscriptural, so delusive, so anti-christian, that we are perfectly shocked at the idea of such spiritual poison having been circulated throughout the land by the instrumentality of a Society for promoting Christian Knowledge. The Bishop cannot deny that faith is the gift of God, since the Bible in express words says so; but, then, he denies that it is so in any high or peculiar sense: it is so only as a mild shower or a good harvest is so: but as to all practical purposes it is a virtue of human growth; not the gift of God, but "the result of the exertion of our own reason." Alas for the Church of England, that the Methodists should know that any professed Churchman thus thinks or writes!