« PreviousContinue »
"festivities." As soon should we expect to hear that "the Man of sorrows" joined in the festive dance, because of the language he used in his complaint of the failure of each and every means to convert the sinner: "We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced;" or from his incidental mention of the rejoicings made by the father, when his once prodigal, but afterwards repentant, son, returned to his pa
The following advice contrasts honourably with the suggestions which are sometimes proffered relative to those who dissent from us: "When zealously defending the interests of that venerable Establishment, of which you will be an attached and faithful member, let there be nothing of bigotry or intolerance in your conduct to a Dissenting brother; on the contrary, where his interests can be promoted, without injury to those of which you are the delegated guardian, there be your hand and heart ever open to his assistance. Steadily follow, and teach others to follow, that which, in your judgment, appears the leading path to truth; but do not rashly and uncharitably conclude that every other must terminate in destruction!"
Our author not only condescends to notice the British and Foreign Bible Society (of whose existence the Clergyman's Almanack does not acknowledge itself aware), but he calls it a "charitable" and a "mighty" institution, a " venerable parent," and its end "glorious;" nay, styles it a "sister" to the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge. But here his friendly recognition stops; for in the next page he says, that it "emanates from those who are conscientiously opposed to the Establishment," notwithstanding it reckons among its supporters many bishops and a large number of the clergy, to say nothing of the many noblemen who are its patrons, presidents, and subscribers. Which of all these attached members would not withdraw his support if it "opposed" that church of which they are among the truest friends, not to say the brightest ornaments? The Society emanates not, therefore, from the Dissenters, but virtually, with a few CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 348.
exceptions, of which Popery is the chief, from universal Christendom ; and in England the Established Church claims one-half of its committee. But our author brings a serious charge against those clergymen who support the Society. "I am at a loss," says he, "to account for the motives of those clergymen who strenuously uphold the interests of the Bible Society, to the total neglect of the other:...it is not easy to account for that lukewarmness in a cause to which they are most solemnly pledged: on the one, their time and toil, their personal and active labours, unceasingly expended; on the other, scarcely an annual acknowledgment of its existence bestowed, as if it were alien from their interests, and unconnected with their duty! May such a serious charge, my dear brought home to you." Our author needs not be concerned that he cannot judge of the motives of his clerical brethren. They may be very excellent, though he understands them not. God only can judge of motives, and he that presumes to do so obtrudes himself into the seat of God. With regard to our author's "serious charge," it is more easily made than brought home. We know no "clergymen" who "strenuously uphold" the one, to the "total neglect" of the other; and we are quite sure that the number of clergymen called evangelical who subscribe to both societies is much greater than of those who, called orthodox, and subscribing to the Christian-Knowledge Society, also subscribe to the Bible Society. This double subscription does not shew" lukewarmness." Besides, we were not aware that clergymen are "solemnly pledged" to the "cause of any specific society whatever, but to the "cause" of God and of the church to which they belong.
Our critical eyes are not pleased with such phrases as your own good sense will direct you as to the quantum of devotion that is to mingle with the several parts of the 5 G
service;" and still less with the remark, that "there is another sacrament ordained whereby," &c. "his sins may be forgiven." We know that the sentence in the Communion Service, "whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins, and are made partakers of the kingdom of heaven," is sometimes ignorantly and ungrammatically mistaken, as if the whereby" referred to the word "sacrament," instead of to "Cross and passion;" but we did not expect to find a clergyman so expressing himself as to countenance the error. The form of 1547, the germ of our Common Prayer, worded it "by the which passion we have obtained," &c.
The views which the writer entertains of the respective claims of the different duties of the clergyman appear to us not rightly adjusted. Visiting the sick is highly serious and important, but may not be "by far the most serious and important." "This duty," the author remarks, "was considered of such vast importance, that men were especially appointed to the office;" but the reason given by the Apostles for their being exempted from the daily ministration of the alms of the church was, that it was not reasonable that they "should leave the word of God and serve tables;" evidently implying that the duties as well as the office of deacons are subordinate to those of the ministers of the word of God. Why make comparisons among things allowed to be each of them Scriptural and sacred?"We come now," says our author," to that division of our church service, in the estimation of many the most important,-in fact, the least. You will understand me to allude to the sermon." God's appointed ordinance of preaching, an ordinance eminently blessed by Him for the conversion and edification of the souls of men, is injuriously disparaged, just as prayer or the sacraments would be disparaged by a counter assertion. Our great objection to such remarks on
any side is, that they betray the peculiarities of some school or system, by which every thing is latently measured.
We conclude with a few detached admonitions, illustrative of the serious spirit of the writer; yet we must say, couched in a vague style of divinity:
"I would have you withstand those temptations to which others give way; I would have you resolute where others are yielding, strong where they are weak.... Be not over-anxious to fix the rich and great for your companions, unless they be rich and great in moral and religious worth. .. The lesson which he teaches within the
walls of the temple on each revolving
Sabbath, must be confirmed, as occasion may require, by daily admonition at the respective dwellings both of rich and poor. ..If the Christian minister be permitted to mingle with the world, it is that he may reprove its errors and chasten its pleasures..In this last hour men hope to make their peace with Heaven; and, when both mind and body are debilitated by sickness, to devote the wreck of the creature to their God..No apology will be admissible for the neglect of the Scriptures; the opportunity will ever wait upon the will ..If the world and its follies be idolized, God and his promises be forgotten or set at nought; if they be not, in such moments of reflection, by such warning chastisement, won to repentance, in vain will your labours have been expended upon them; their own unworthiness will have rendered your fervent prayers of no avail, and they will be undone for ever. Little will it avail the public preacher or those committed to his charge, if private worth do not adorn the public station."
We have said that, well-meant and serious as is the advice in these extracts, the divinity is meagre. What, for example, is meant by the ethical and worldly phrase, “private worth," in the last sentence? It is a debasement, rather than an eulogy upon a man who holds the sacred office of an ambassador for Christ, to speak of him merely as a man of "worth." A man of worth, indeed, public and private, he ought to be: but he ought to be far more than this smooth expression indicates: he ought to be "a man of God." Such vague generalities do not form a truly clerical portrait." This "worthy "man, it seems, may lose his labour upon "unworthy" per
sons; that is, persons whose "un. worthiness" consists in idolizing the world, forgetting God, and setting at nought his promises; which in Scripture phrase would be called by the far stronger terms, sin and guilt. We would not argue for a word; but the wording of publications like this shews their spiritual poverty. "Worthiness" is not a term of scriptural divinity; it is fit only for a Saturday paper in the Spectator. Dr. Johnson defines it desert, excellence, dignity, virtue, the state of being worthy, quality of deserving;" all which is far different to the
humbling language of the word of God. The Apostle defines a Christian to be "a man who is in Christ," and who is " a new creature," and "heavenly minded," and "seeking the things that are above;" which many "worthy" men, so called, do not do. We will not at present dwell further on the subject; but our "worthy" author will perceive that these cursory remarks involve not merely matters of diction, but first principles; and, above all, that without which no clerical or Christian portrait can be scriptural, the conversion of the heart to God.
CASE OF MISS FANCOURT. In order not to delay to another Number, the following reply to our remarks on the case of Miss Fancourt, we insert it under the present head. We had no conception that it could be a serious matter with any person to vouch for an alleged modern miracle, or that we offended any man's conscience by denying it. We insert our respected correspondent's letter, adding to it a few remarks, which the subject and our own vindication appear to us to require. We must, however, freely say, that we are lost in astonishment that any reasonable person who considers the circumstances of the case, either medically or theologically, can bring himself to think it miraculous. We could not have anticipated that in the nineteenth century we should have been constrained gravely to argue that the cure of a young lady, however remarkable in some of its circumstances, is not a miraculous suspension of the laws by which the Creator ordinarily governs the universe.
To the Editor of the Christian Observer. I have read your remarks on the account which I sent you of the extraordinary cure of Miss Fancourt. Permit me to avail myself of your assurance that your pages shall be open to replies written with meekness and charity." And first, it is due to myself to rectify an error into which you have undesignedly fallen in reference to the statement which I transmitted to you for insertion. You have described it as being "an abridged version of Miss Fancourt's narrative;" and as omitting some circumstances which appeared in another account previously
received by you, and which in your view "form the very nucleus of the whole case." At the same time, you charitably express your conviction that I have only omitted what appeared to myself not to be essential to the subject. Now, sir, I can honestly assure you the idea of abridging, or omitting, never once entered into my mind.
The fact is, that I knew from the most unquestionable authority, that you were already in possession of a copy of the first narrative of Miss Fancourt, to which you allude, and I therefore thought it unnecessary to send you another. But as that narrative was written almost immediately after her recovery, when a certain degree of excitement did really exist, it contained, I was aware, rather an effusion of pious and thankful feeling, than an accurate account of her disease. Anxious therefore, that persons of such cool judgment as yourself should have before them a dry statement of the progress of her disorder, and the remedies which had been administered, I procured the narrative which I forwarded to you, knowing you would make use of the other as you should see fit. I had no wish but to have the matter thoroughly and candidly examined, and that desire alone prompted me to send you some additional particuculars. Having thus removed an unfavourable impression which your remarks would, unintentionally on your part, leave on the minds of your readers, 1 proceed to make a few further observations on what you have written.
I am not so presumptuous as to offer any arguments to convince you that a miraculous power has been exerted in this extraordinary cure: because, as far as you
are concerned, the matter is decided. To adopt the style of an eminent statesman, on a very different occasion, you have boldly determined, That it is no miracle, and can be no miracle, and shall be no miracle. You think that the opinion, that the age of miracles is revived, is most "dangerous and unscriptural ;" and you lay it down as "the basis of the whole argument, that there is no sufficient proof of any miracle being wrought since the apostolic age.' You consider the idea of such a power being revived, as " wholly in consistent with the present dispensation of the church.' You say, "we must admit any solution rather than a miracle, which it appears to us quite unauthorised and unscriptural to expect." You go so far as finally to declare, that it is more likely "that we are ignorant than that God has suspended his laws;" which is, as you well know, the argument by which Spinoza, Hume, and other infidels, have endeavoured to overthrow the miracles of the Bible itself. Now, sir, to all this I would in meekness and charity reply, that it amounts to nothing more than the opinion of an individual, however wise and able that indidual may be. You have not adduced a single proof from Scripture, to establish the truth of your affirmation, and therefore I am unable to judge of the claim it has on the assent of your readers. For the present, I can only, therefore, oppose the opinion of other wise and good men to yours, in proof that something more than mere assertion, however boldly made, is requisite on such a subject. Let me then refer you and your readers to the second volume of Mr. Milner's Church History, p. 505, where you will find he records the fact, that about the year 483, certain martyrs, whose tongues had been cut out, continued to preach plainly, and without impediment. That judicious historian having related the circumstances which led to the barbarous act, thus proceeds: "And now," says he, "shall I in compliance with modern prejudices, throw a veil over the rest, or proceed according to historical veracity? A miracle followed, worthy of God, whose majesty had been so daringly insulted, and which must at that time have much strengthened the hearts of the faithful." "The miracle, itself," he adds, " is so well attested, that 1 see not how it can be more so." I have made this quotation, simply to shew that this justly esteemed author and divine entertained an opinion on the subject before us, directly opposite to yours, and that he thought there was "sufficient proof of a miracle having been wrought since the apostolic age."
Allow me, sir, to adduce one more instance of a man who you will acknowledge was as far as possible removed from any superstitious or fanatical tendencies, who yet differs from you on the probability of the revival of miracles in the latter days.
Archbishop Tillotson, in his sermon on the evidence of our Lord's resurrection, in the tenth volume of his works (p. 230), has these remarkable words. Speaking of preaching the Gospel among the heathen, he says, "That which may reasonably satisfy us who are brought up in the Christian religion, is not likely to be able to convince them; and therefore I think it still very credible that if persons of sincere minds did go to preach the pure Christian religion, free from those errors and superstitions which have crept into it, to infidel nations, that God would still enable such persons to work miracles, without which there would be little or no probability of success.'
These extracts from Mr. Milner and Archbishop Tillotson are not produced to prove any thing more than this, that, seeing wise and good men have differed respecting the probability of the revival of miracles, and on the fact of any having been wrought since the Apostolic age, your bold assertion on the negative side of the question must not claim more weight than really belongs to it.
When you bring forward your Scriptural proofs, they will no doubt be duly weighed; and if they be satisfactory, the question will be set at rest. I refrain for the present from any further discussion of these points. You must however, sir, permit me to complain (still I trust in meekness and charity) of the manner in which you have sought to make out a case of strong previous excitement in the case before us, which, except in your imagination, has had no existence.
With regard to "the patient's temperament and susceptibilities," all who know Miss Fancourt as well as I do, can testify with me to her sobriety of mind, and to the meekness and quietness of her spirit. It should be remembered, that until the final address of Mr. G she had no idea whatever of what he proposed to attempt. You bring forward her subsequent recollections of what passed during the evening of her recovery, and connect the circumstances with the knowledge which she afterwards obtained of his intentions, and then argue upon it as a proof of great previous excitement. It is a truth that she observed him often during the evening engaged in silent supplication, and no doubt it struck her as an evidence that their guest was a man of prayer; but how could it lead her to imagine he was about to attempt a miracle upon herself? You then assume that there was I know not what "mystery" in his manner and deportment, especially when he remained to converse with her alone; and that by all this Miss Fancourt must have been wrought up to a pitch of excitement beyond what even she herself was aware of.
But in sober truth, sir, you are not borne out in these fancies by the circumstances of the narrative. When left alone with
her he at first began "to converse about general subjects.' There was surely nothing very exciting in this to a person who had not the remotest suspicion of what he was contemplating. "Then rising, as I expected to say good night, he," &c. Such then was, after all, the extent of Miss Fancourt's expectations, notwithstanding the excitement which the mystery of his manner, and the solemnity of his deportment, and his silent supplication, had, according to your lively description, awakened in her mind: namely, that he was going to say "Good night." Doubtless, sir, you have shewn considerable skill in your endeavours to detect an adequate natural cause for the cure which has been effected. You have not, (for you would abhor the thought,) stated any thing that is untrue; but you have, with the best possible intentions, given a colouring to facts which makes them speak more than they are capable of doing when viewed with strict impartiality.
And here permit me to observe further, that Miss Fancourt had not been "hearing much about what are called the Scotch miracles;" neither had "zealous arguments been held respecting them in her presence;" neither was she "much interested in the subject." It is true that some conversation passed (but unheard by her) between her father and Mr. G
in the course
of the evening, on what had occurred in Scotland, and that her father's opinions were NOT in favour of the evidence which had been adduced; and therefore, as far as paternal influence was concerned, it operated against, and not in aid of, excitement on that point.
Upon the whole then, sir, I must declare my conviction that you have not furnished an adequate natural cause for the cure which has been wrought. That very extraordinary excitement has in many cases produced apparently miraculous cures of bodily disorders I most readily allow. Many such, in addition to those with which you have taken the trouble to favour your readers, may be found in Bishop Douglas's Criterion of true and false Miracles. I must however, with all meekness and charity, deny that any such case of excitement can fairly be made out in reference to the case under consideration.
With regard to the Popish cases which you have specified, I cannot allow them to be perfectly parallel, because we have not the same evidence of all their circumstances which we possess in reference to Miss Fancourt; and if we had, there may be in those instances some reason for attributing them to extraordinary excitement. Assuming, however, for a moment that God has not ceased to visit his church with such occasional testimonies of his power, it would be going too far to affirm that the faith of a truly pious Roman-Catholic could not be thus recompenced because of the hay and stubble which even
in such an one is mixed with the One foundation. "Mother of harlots and abominations as I believe Popery to be as a system, I yet know that many of its errors and superstitions have had some foundation in truth; and we have sometimes been driven by our horror of its awful perversions into an opposite extreme. I confess I fail also to see a case properly parallel in the needle touched by the loadstone: the effect of the magnet on the needle is so universally proved, that though we cannot assign the cause, yet reason tells us it is one of unfailing operation; and therefore we have no ground to imagine that it proceeds from any suspension of the laws by which the universe is governed.
And now, sir, in conclusion, I would assure you that I have but one object in view in what I have written; which is, to obtain for this extraordinary cure, and for the general subject, an impartial and candid investigation.
I can fully appreciate the motives of that holy jealousy with which you regard the subject of miracles, and which actuate you to take up so decided a position against all miraculous gifts and interpositions whatever beyond those recorded in Scripture. I rejoice there are those who will exercise the most jealous and watchful circumspection; but still I think that the position you have taken is untenable, and that you will be compelled to abandon it. That Dr. Middleton and others have attempted to subvert the miracles of Scripture, by assaulting them through those the truth of which rests on human testimony alone, is a reason for caution, but not a ground for entire incredulity.
I now close with repeating my hope to see the question soberly and charitably discussed, Whether we have scriptural authority for asserting that miracles ceased with the age of the Apostles; and if so, whether we have scriptural grounds for expecting their revival in the latter days. I am, &c. H. S. C. H.
Our correspondent's first paragraph in the preceding letter applies to Miss Fancourt's duplicate narrative. H. S. C. H. considered that the first narrative, "being written almost immediately after her recovery, when a certain degree of excitement did really exist," a second was wanting for persons of "cool judgment," that they might have before them " a dry statement of the progress of her disorder, and the remedies which had been administered." Our correspondent thus admits that" excitement" existed, as, under all the circumstances, well it might, " immediately after her recovery;" but the traces of which excitement we thought it remarkable had disappeared in the narrative intended for publication, and the more so as, in the opinion of persons of cool judgment," it was an essential part