Page images
PDF
EPUB

same metaphysical acumen which, “Can a hair divide, 'twixt north and north west side," have not magnified these objections from one into three.

1. Says the writer, “ This doctrine must be regarded as an unwarranted fancy of mysticism."

In maintaining this position the critic runs into most absurd confusion, as will be seen upon comparing his statements. For, 1. “ There are evidences of regeneration, and every converted person may be assured of his conversion." And yet, 2. “Regeneration evidences itself-to talk of its evidences, as something apart from its nature, is to use language without precision.” “If regeneration takes place in our hearts, we are capable of perceiving it, just as we perceive any other change of character.” But, 3. “Our exercises are the offspring, not of an undefinable 'gracious ability,' but of our moral agency; we produce them voluntarily; of course they come under our notice, and we may have a distinct and accurate consciousness of our moral state." But, 4. “In arriving at a knowledge of his state, it is of the first consequence for him (the regenerate person) to know, that by exciting his feelings and analyzing his impulses, he will not only retard his progress, but blind and delude himself." And yet, alas! 5. " His great inquiry should be, Have I a Christian temper? Have I ceased to do evil, and learned to do well ?"

Before noticing the utter variance between these sentences and truth, as well as their utter variance the one with the other, we may make a remark or two respecting their congruity with the creed which the author of them professes to believe.

According to that creed, repentance and faith are fruits, and so evidences of regeneration. But, here it is represented that we are directly sensible of our regeneration. Are the elect, then, scious" of their regeneration before they repent and believe? Are they absolutely “ assured” of it? The writer may well look to this ; it is a new-new divinity. To return,-These broad assertions are utterly at variance, First, with truth and sound philosophy.

It is asserted that we may perceive that great change, called regeneration, just as we perceive any other change in our character.

Now it is a doctrine of intellectual philosophy,—and one fully sustained, -that the mind itself is not a subject of direct comtemplation. This the writer will find clearly laid down by Mr. Upham, a philosopher of his own.

But if the mind itself cannot, neither can any change in its state, quality, condition, (or whatever term is to be used,) be directly contemplated. We know the mind by its operations—the heart by its affections. We know a change in the things themselves, by change in these.

How does the Spectator suppose that a man is aware of any change in his character? Is it by direct inspection of the soul? Surely not. Should an avaricious man become benevolent, would he know it in any other way, than by considering his feelings at the sight, on the one hand, of money, or of a prospect of gain, and on the other, of distress and want?

We do not therefore directly perceive these changes in our moral condition. The soul is not contemplated as a whole, so that we

con

can pronounce it good or evil, as we pronounce a mountain high or low-a house black or white.

It is not necessary to delay upon the neologistic science couched in the allusion to “gracious ability”—

-or to our “voluntary exercises.” Only let it be noted that those who are for putting down every doctrine that makes against them, by pronouncing it a theory, do not hesitate for a moment, to build whole systems of divinity, and to stake the salvation of all with whom they deal, upon the basis of metaphysical speculation. Of this there is enough visible in the subject of our remarks. The obvious sense of Rom. viii, 16 is, that the Divine Spirit bears witness with the spirit of believers. What but metaphysics can find any other interpretation ?

Secondly, These assertions fight with one another. The sum of them is this. There are evidences of regeneration. These consist of our voluntary exercises—we produce them voluntarily. And yet it is of the first consequence for believers to know that by exciting their feelings, &c., they will blind and delude themselves. Yet, again, he is to solve the question respecting his spiritual state, by inquiring, Have I a Christian temper? Nay, it is not by a reference to his temper only, but to his acts also. Have I ceased to do evil and learned to do well?

If metaphysics can fabricate confusion worse confounded than this, why then our brethren of the Spectator, it is hoped, will secure a monopoly of the article.

1. The believer is directed, in seeking a knowledge of his case, to simple consciousness—he may contemplate the moral condition of his soul directly. In this stage of the inquiry, should one ask him, Have you the evidence of regeneration in the tempers of the heart? He would answer that he had a shorter way of coming at the truth -he had witnessed the change in his moral state, as it took place, and could see it yet. Nay, if thoroughly imbued, he would go on to note the delusiveness of any attempt to excite one's feelings, and analyze impulses, and doubtless impress upon us the necessity of resorting to a direct inspection of the soul. But then, 2. The writer, as though he had forgotten, (or did not understand,) the import of his own expressions, does himself refer us to the state of our, tempers for evidence of regeneration. “ Have I a Christian temper?" “What are the exercises which I voluntarily produce ?" In these expressions he must refer to tempers displayed in action-and voluntary exercises are those which flow from deliberate choice. The test then lies here; and yet this is that which his language has set aside.

We propose to the gentleman a dilemma. He may either admit the needlessness of this second test, in connection with the evidence of direct consciousness, or else admit the compatibility of resorting to conscience,* as a test in connection with the witness of the Spirit. Not that we admit the incompatibility in the one case to be the same as in the other. By no means. But he who withstands us, for introducing the testimony of conscience, in subordination to the

* The careful reader will doubtless observe that this term conscience, is not used in its usual restricted sense, throughout our remarks; but rather we use it to signify the knowledge we have of our feelings and affections by consciousness, as well as what we know of our outward conduct.

witness of the Spirit, should not combine things, which really are, as incongruous as he thinks they are.

But, 3. In the writer's system, we have not only to add to direct consciousness, an inferential process from active tempers, but must go farther. For yet it is asked, Have I ceased to do evil and learned to do well ?

Let this suffice on that point. We grow both weary and weari. some.

The second objection of the Spectator is more like the former than the second to the first commandment. In truth, it is not like it; it is the same in a new array of words.

“ The doctrine of these sermons is the same in principle with every extravagance of the wildest and most ardent form of mysticism.”

The writer seems to think that because we admit an immediate testimony of the Divine Spirit to the souls of believers, therefore, whenever an individual professes to have received such a communication, we must believe him. In this he strangely forgets we have a test. By their fruits we shall know them.

• No matter," it is said, “how preposterous, how amazing, &c., the enthusiast's account of his visions and voices, he is intrenched, and no expostulation can exorcise the insanity,” &c.

The case of an individual giving an account of his visions and voices, is either that of the female before spoken of, in which, though the writer supposed delusion, yet he admitted he could prove none, by the case itself; or, it is a case in which facts contradict the account. In the former, the denial of the Divine testimony is a mere begging of the question. The examiner assumes delusion and then most preposterously complains there is no proof of it—in other words, that the person is deluded into truth. In the latter case, the delusion can be shown, and that is sufficient.

But how sadly this logic confounds prophets and apostles! They received the truth, by direct inspiration. Therefore, thinks the writer, no matter how preposterous the notion which an enthusiast may broach, he is intrenched beyond the reach of expostulation.

The third objection connects itself so closely with current views of the religious experience of Methodists that it deserves larger consideration than can be now given it.

" It gives an undue proportion to feeling in Christian character."

“Every philosophical observer, who examines with the Scriptures before him, fails not to perceive that whatever contributes to promote fitfulness in religion, promotes declension and insensibility.”

It is against confounding the Spirit's influence with mere sensation, that we wish most carefully to guard. In reference to this, we have two points to make good. 1. That the testimony spoken of is entirely distinct from the feeling of him who receives it. 2. That the system of the reviewer is chargeable with a tendency to promote fitfulness much more than that which he attacks.

For the first :-It has often enough been taken for granted, that the testimony of the Spirit lies in certain feelings of gayety, and animation, which many experience in times of devotion. Perhaps Methodists themselves have made the mistake as often as any.

But the feeling is not the testimony. It is the effect of it. A man,

oppressed with guilt and fear, appears at the throne of grace. There pleading the merits of Christ, he receives the assurance of forgiveness. This assurance is not joy; but a sinful man cannot receive it without being made joyful; and hence the feeling has often been confounded with its cause—the testimony. But that they are distinct will be manifest from this, that let him continue until the contrast of the passage from guilt to pardon is done away, and the extreme animation which he has, will subside into a tranquil serenity-a sober certainty of waking bliss.

True, others observing that this testimony is productive of joy, and that this joy is the manifestation of it, put on the joy without the testimony; as men often wear crape and sigh without being sorrowful. But their hearts confound them while they do it.

Feelings vary, but the testimony need not. In the midst of health, and friends, and prosperity of every kind, it speaks, but without flattery; upon the bed of sickness, in the hour of persecution, amid the loss of all things, it still speaks, and as before it did not flatter, so now it is not ashamed. The Lord knoweth them that are his, and recognizes them.

If the temperament of the man who receives it be gay and ardent, he will speak. If otherwise, perhaps he will not. If his physical state be such that he is susceptible of excitement, it will pour itself forth; otherwise not.

Let us propose a case, and examine the two systems upon it. An individual whom, but a moment ago, we saw groaning, weeping, confessing his sins and imploring pardon, suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, dries up his tears, bewails no ore (though he does not forget) his sins, but in fulness of joy gives glory to God, testifying to others how great things the Lord has done for him. I select, of course, an extreme case, the object being to discern the principle of it.

Suppose this person questioned. Upon our system, he answers, The Spirit itself beareth witness with my spirit, that I am a child of God. Now every one must perceive that this witness of which he speaks, is not a feeling of love, or joy; but it is the cause of these feelings. It is of course prior to them.

But let this individual have been informed that from his tempers, he must infer his state. Will he not set himself to work up his feelings—to subdue his remorse-to stimulate his love to arouse emotion? I think this would be the natural result. Beside this, how full of calculation, of balancing of tempers, of casuistry and speculation, would he be!

This leads me to notice another phenomenon. Those who proceed upon the system of the writer, seem to show less feeling and fitfulness than those who proceed upon ours. Why? Because they are so occupied with the balancing of tempers spoken of, that they have no time for the display. But whether others will agree with me or not, I have no hesitancy to say, there is more fitfulness among persons of this class, than of the other.

Beside, times of excitement and again of freedom from it, prove one thing, i. e. sincerity. The feeling must be real. For, if factitious at one time, it could as well be created at another. It is true, that others, looking upon these persons, imagine that now the excitement is gone, the religion is gone also. Perhaps the persons themselves, through lack of information, have the same view, which itself operates to destroy their religion. But it is not a matter of course, that now the excitement is gone, the religion must be gone also.

Who then is it, that judges by emotion and feeling? Which doctrine is calculated to promote fitfulness in religion? Who will awake feeling? He who depends upon feeling for an evidence of his acceptance, or he who does not?

Much more might be said ; but these remarks are, even now, too much protracted.

Some one, perhaps, is ready to ask, Can he who has the witness of the Spirit, ever be in any doubt ?

It is not affirmed, that every believer always has this Divine testimony. Nor is it always equally clear. The apostle who wrote under a plenary inspiration, was yet in one case led to say, I think I have the Spirit of God. How was the old prophet, mentioned 1 Kings xiii, deceived ?

Ought not this doctrine to be oftener preached, and better understood ?

THE PRESENT AGE. Review of Harris' Prize Essay on Covetousness. By the Rev. Abel

STEVENS, of the Bennet-street Church, Boston. MAMMON, or Covetovsness the Sin of the Christian Church. By Rev. JOHN Harris, author of the “Great Teacher.” Boston: Gould, Kendal & Lincoln. 1836.

The current popular literature of the religious press is exceedingly prolific. At least it sustains well its ratio to the other departments of the literature of the age. Nor does it graduate lower on the scale of talent. If there is less of that robust thought and moral stamina which distinguish the earlier religious writers of the English language, there is at least, a delicacy of taste and a keenness of penetration, in later works, that render them better adapted to the peculiarities of the times. And indeed it is questionable, whether there is less of intellectual depth, of acumen, in the religious writings of the present day, than at an earlier period. The literary mannerisms of the day-the studied attention to embellish diction, may have led to the impression that such is the case. But if we are not much mistaken, a studious reader of the current religious writings, will form a very different estimate of their relative value. If the early English writers on Christianity dipped their pens in light, and wrote with simplicity and clearness for the head--it may perhaps be said that these sons have dipped theirs in fire, which both illuminates and burns; and has the double advantage of appealing alike to the understanding and the heart. The old colossal architecture of the Pharaohs may have passed away from practical use, and remains only in the pyramidal monuments it has left. But the less bold yet more beautiful, and sufficiently enduring models of Grecian art have taken its place.

« PreviousContinue »