« FöregåendeFortsätt »
to be chastised by wholesome rules, it is not in a condition to decide on what course it is best or wisest to adopt. Of so much consequence is this matter, that the greatest masters of wisdom have always laid down principles for self-guidance, and desired them to be considered subsidiary to the eternal laws of moral rectitude. These principles have been exhibited sometimes in short sentences, at others in apothegms, or formal discourses. The treatises of our author partake of the value of whatever has been taught by any of these methods. They are replete with the experience of ages; but experience itself is exhibited as taught by a wisdom surer and more universal than its own. Over that which was obscure, light is thrown from its purest fountains : to that which deviates from the straight line of truth, a rule is laid which shows the exact degree of its deviation; and the sentiment which, though beautiful and amiable according to its extent, seems to languish for want of a stronger, healthier spirit, is confirmed by new appeals to the sanctions of unchanging goodness.
In these dissertations, moreover, the nature of moral and religious discipline is described in a manner which enables the reader to make it a matter of personal application. Rules technically stated, and appealing dogmatically to the human heart, rouse up all its pride and selfishness; but exhibited through the medium of divine love, they
remove prejudices, and then bear upon the conscience with all the force of heavenly admonitions. Our author keeps this carefully in sight. He proves the necessity of discipline by arguments of paternal kindness; and while the Christian sees in every page evidence of his Saviour's holiness, the philosopher and moralist cannot fail of perceiving, that every rule laid down is of infinite importance to the advancement of our common enlightenment and happiness.
The grandeur of a theme like this is only to be equalled by the variety of its parts and relations. It is calculated above all others to set forth proofs of the harmony existing between evangelical doctrine and the principles of sound morality. He who gave the gospel to mankind displayed a character so unspotted in holiness, that no imagination, however vivid, can add to the brightness of its lustre. View this noble character in its several elements, and each is found to exhibit the same perfection of purity. Seek to imitate it : be abashed at the attempt; filled with confusion at the discovery that every experiment is likely to be a failure. Inquire the cause, and it is found, that this divine teacher has declared, that the power of following his example depends entirely upon our believing in his word, and becoming sanctified by his Spirit.
To exhibit doctrine, so as to show its origin in
God's eternal holiness, and to teach morality so as to make the desire of faith in God more practical and lively, is the grand triumph of Christian instruction. The spiritual contemplation of the Saviour himself is the only sure means whereby this noble end can be attained; but every help to such a consummation of mental exercise is of value, and when it is afforded by a witness to the truth, who has sought to give light, because he prized and loved it in his own heart, we may well congratulate ourselves on its possession, and seek how it may best be employed to our comfort and advancement.
It is not, however, by the simple enunciation of a doctrine that faith is engendered : nor is it by the persuasions of a moralist, or the ingenuity and force of a proverb, that the heart can be converted. “The law was a schoolmaster:' it wrought by rules and ordinances, and a wall was built on either side of the path to be trodden. The gospel confers a dignity incompatible with this severity of precept; and he who receives it is expected to be of sufficient strength, stature, and knowledge, according to the measurements of the Spirit, to be treated as a being set free from the trammels of his childhood. To instruct such a being,—to fit him for his improved condition, and enable him to employ his rich inheritance aright,-is a task wholly unlike to that of mere legal teaching. The scribes of old, however learned and ingenious, could never, with
out a most complete inward conversion, have become instructors of Christ's disciples. They could have formed no idea of the condition of either the wants or the difficulties of the man of whom it might be said, “The law of the spirit of life hath made him free from the law of sin and death.'
This it is which makes practical theology a branch of literature so difficult as well as important. When God speaks by his Spirit to the hearts of men, the appeal is direct; but though direct, it reaches every tortuous passage of our perverted nature; addresses every passion, and satisfies every doubt, however various its origin. When man addresses his fellow-man, he must appeal to the same complex nature; and he can only hope to succeed when he has taken care to furnish himself with arguments and appeals which may reach the enemy in whatever quarter he takes up his abode. And this appears to have been the object of our author in amassing such a vast store of learning, before he ventured on the composition of the present work. He knew mankind: he knew the sufficiency of the gospel for all purposes of good ; and the lesson be has taught from its pages is as varied in its details and appeals, as those of the most eloquent of orators and poets.
London, October 22, 1835.