« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Relinquishing the delights and splendor of vanity, they voluntarily renounced their possessions for the relief of their indigent brethren; but the renunciations, unlike those of the heathen philosophers, were not sacrifices of sensuality at the shrine of pride; they proceeded from the purest motives, and were performed with the sublimest views. Thus has the gospel taught men to feel for suffering humanity and human wo. Every country where the gospel is not known and its principles diffused, the poor are neglected and forgotten. All travel. lers who have visited the ruins of the celebrated cities of Greece and Rome, have been greatly solicitous to copy the inscriptions found on fragments of columns, and other relics of public buildings. They have found among the ruins the remains of amphitheatres, temples, palaces, mausoleums, and triumphal arches; but no fragments have yet been found, with an inscription, telling us that that relic belonged to a hospital, or to any institution for the supply of human want, or the removal of human misery. The Christian religion, like its Author, speaks in tones of tenderness and mercy. It stands ready to supply the wants of men, and to alleviate human suffering and misery in all its forms.
6. Lastly, its superiority is demonstrated in the effects it has pro. duced in changing and subduing the heart, and in restoring the moral world to its original purity. Every system of man's invention, however powerful and admirable its adaptation, has proved utterly inadequate to subdue the obdurate will, and curb the violent passions of men. Genius, learning, philosophy, and wit have been resorted to in vain. In the Grecian schools, where the sciences were cultivated, and philosophy attained to the summit of its glory, men lived in the indulgence of unbridled passions, corrupt propensities, and in the com. mission of almost all imaginable crimes. There was nothing in the philosophy of the schools that was calculated to destroy the spirit of avarice, rancor, ostentation, and pride. Men seemed to be propelled forward by the natural impulses of a corrupt nature in their plans and enterprises. Hence we find bickerings, strife, injustice, litigations, &c., existing among the most virtuous and refined. But, if we turn our attention from the Grecian schools, where shall we look to behold man, by human efforts, brought under a proper discipline; his heart changed and renewed, and brought to feel his responsibilities as an intellectual, social, and immortal being ? Such a view in the nature of the case cannot be expected. “There is no other name given under heaven among men, whereby we can be saved."
The gospel is the divine method for man's recovery ; and, whatever the wise men of this world, in the plenitude of their philosophical loftiness, may think or say respecting it, it has been found hitherto, and it will be found henceforward, that “ the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men.
66 After that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the • foolishness of preaching,' to save them that believe." In the moral revolutions which it effected on characters of all descriptions, the gospel proved itself, before the eyes of all men, to be " the power of God unto salvation." The salvation wrought by it was not a thing secret and future; it was present and visible. The preachers of the cross could point to the many trophies of its power; and, enumerating all the varieties of unrighteous, impure, and profligate character, could say—“Such were some of you ; but ye are washed, but ye are sanc. tified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God.”
“ Ye were once darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”
And the “ foolishness" of the cross is still the destined means by which the progressive regeneration of the world is to be effected. What has philosophy done? Where her triumphs ? Where her trophies? Where the hearts she has renewed ? Where the characters that have experienced her converting and transforming power? Where are the tribes which she has turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God ?” Her conquests are all pro. spective; her triumphs all promissory; her vauntings all of what is yet to be done. To no one thing more appropriately and emphatically than to the boastings of human philosophy, is the poet's line applicable :
“Man never is, but always to be bless'd." But the gospel can point to the past as well as to the future. It has done much : and it is not to its shame, but to the shame of its professed believers, that its achievements have as yet been so limited. Had Christians felt as they ought their obligations to the God of grace, they would have done more, and given more, and prayed more: yes, much more; and “the word of the Lord would have run” faster and farther, and been more abundantly “ glorified.” Even as it is,wherever the gospel makes its way,—wherever the word of the Lord takes effect, it shows itself as it did of old, to be still “ the power of God unto salvation." It can still point everywhere to the subjects of its subduing and regenerating influence. It can point to hearts of which the enmity has been slain, and which have been devoted in holy consecration to God," hearts of stone” that have become “ hearts of flesh ;" it can point to the licentious, whose vileness has been purified; to the cruel
, whose ferocity has been tamed; to blas. phemers, that have learned to pray; to drunkards, noted for sobriety; to liars, that are men of truth; and thieves, that “ restore fourfold;" to the proud, humbled to the “meekness and gentleness of Christ;" to oppressors, that have laid aside their “ rod of iron,” and “ broken every yoke;" to extortioners, that have ceased to “grind the faces of the poor," and are distinguished for justice and generosity; to sinners of every description and of every grade, that have relinquished the ways of evil, and are “ living soberly, righteously, and godly." In the heathen world, idolatry, with all its attendant fooleries, im. purities, atrocities, and bacchanalian revelries, gives way before it; and “ the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, perish from off the earth and from under those heavens."* Thus has the gospel triumphed !
This heavenly catholicon is destined to restore the moral world to its original purity, if the predictions of ancient prophets are to be fulfilled. According to those predictions, “the benevolent purposes of the Almighty, in relation to our world, are to be accomplished ; war is to cease its desolating ravages, and its instruments to be trans
* See Wardlaw's Christian Ethics, page 307.
formed into ploughshares and pruning-hooks; selfishness, avarice, injustice, oppression, slavery, and revenge are to be extirpated from the earth; the tribes of mankind are to be united in the bonds of affection and righteousness, and praise spring forth before all nations; the various ranks of society are to be brought into harmonious association, and united in the bond of universal love; the heathen world is to be enlightened, and the Christian world cemented in one grand and harmonious union; the landscape of the earth is to be adorned with new beauties, and the wilderness made to bud and blossom as the rose;"(the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Messiah," the whole earth filled with his glory,' and his sceptre swayed over the nations throughout all succeeding ages.” If such a work is to be wrought, surely nothing but the Christian religion can effect it. Human reason would fail here. Lord, hasten the universal triumph of the cross!
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
Art. V.-OUR COUNTRY.
THERE is a feature in Christianity which seems to have been overlooked by most writers on morals and religion. That it is a remedial system is admitted on all hands. But what is it to remedy? Manifestly, human nature. They are not the works of God which it proposes to remedy. These are all perfect. It is not the state of the physical world which Christianity proposes to remedy-runless it be by that awful and sublime process which is to produce a new material universe, after the general conflagration, for the future residence of the saints.
It is, then, the moral nature of man that Christianity proposes to remedy. It finds this disordered, and prescribes a remedy for the disorder. It does not, indeed, profess to create new faculties, either of body or mind; but it finds the understanding dark, and proposes to enlighten it; it finds the conscience asleep, and arouses it to action, at may do its office. The affections of the heart, the desires of the soul, are fixed on wrong objects, or thrown out to the blast of every wind. These are taken in hand by this kind restorer of human nature, purified from their grossness and defilement, drawn off from forbidden objects, and placed where they may repose with tranquillity, and perform their functions without either remorse or distraction. All this is done by the remedial influence of that Christianity which has come down from heaven to renovate man, and to "make all this new."
This is no new thought. It has been proclaimed a thousand times; and would to God that it might be more generally realized hy those for whom the provision has been made.
It was said that this divine remedy is for man. It is designed to fit him for his station; to qualify him to “act well his part in that relation he sustains in the creation, whether as a lord over inferior animals, as a cultivator of the soil, a merchant or a mechanic, as a subject of the government of God, as a citizen of the world, as a
subject or citizen of a particular country, as a husband, father, or son, as a magistrate, or as one who is bound to obey the laws. In whatever respect he is unfitted to sustain himself in any of these relations, or to discharge the duties arising out of them, Christianity comes in as a restorer, proposing a remedy for his defects, and imparting, by means of its internal energies and its external instructions, capabilities and qualifications to enable man to fulfil his high destiny.
We mean to apply these remarks to the subject indicated at the head of this article, and thereby bring into view that feature of this religion which seems to have been, in some measure, overlooked by Christian moralists. Christianity, then, does not propose what form of civil government shall exist among men. It has existed and flourished under all possible forms. When it first made its entrance into our world, imbodied in the person of its adorable Author, it found mankind under a monarchy of the most absolute character. It did not make war upon this monarchy. The structure of the civil government, whether as displayed in the person of Herod, whose jurisdiction was confined to the land of Judea, or in the person of Cesar, whose jurisdiction was of almost unlimited extent, it left to itself, simply teaching the people to “render to God the things that are God's, and to Cesar the things that are Cesar's.” This divine maxim, which fell from the lips of the Founder of Christianity, comprehended every thing; every duty, civil and religious. It found a government existing, and commanded its disciples to conform to its requisitions, so far as they could without abridging the rights of God; which, indeed, always have had, and always must have, a prior claim upon the homage of mankind.
The apostles, who were the authorized expounders of the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, living under a similar government, but in the hands of a tyrant of the most atrocious character, inculcated obedience to the powers that be.” They did not intermeddle with the civil powers any farther than to exact obedience from their followers to the constituted authorities of the land.
Read over the Evangelists, the Acts, and the apostolic Epistles, and if you can find any officious intermeddling with the affairs of state, we will then allow that we have but imperfectly understood this divine system of religion.
But, while it left all these things to be regulated and managed by those to whom they belonged, they did not fail to attack the vices of all, whether high or low, whether in or out of office; whether the delinquent wielded a sceptre, wore the ermine, brandished a sword, or occupied a less conspicuous station, or mingled with those in the more humble walks of life. Here Christianity knew no compromise, took no bribes, held no parley ; but openly, boldly, and with an honesty of purpose which would not be turned aside for any earthly consideration, rebuked, entreated, and instructed all.
We see, therefore, that in this respect, also, the system presented its remedial character to the consideration of mankind. It did not, indeed, propose to alter or modify the civil government of the country. It expressed no preference to a monarchy, an aristocracy, or a republic. It knew perfectly well that it could live and flourish under either the one or the other, provided the administration were in the hands of men who “feared God and gave glory to his name."
Instead, therefore, of undertaking to prescribe of what character the civil government should be, the public teachers of Christianity sought to bring all men, the ruler and the ruled, under the reforming influence of their religion; knowing, full well, that if its remedial effects were felt in the heart and expressed in the life, no unjust laws would emanate from the throne or the senate, nor would any cruel acts of administration issue from the bench of the magistrate. If all men were brought under the influence of a religion which teaches mankind to “do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God," there would be no tyranny exhibited in the conduct of civil magistrates, no unjust and oppressive laws enacted by the legislature, ne more than there would be resistance or rebellion on the part of the subjects or citizens. All would be bound together as a band of brothers, and actuated in their several relations by the reciprocal laws of justice, truth, and equity. This is the remedial character of Christianity. While it teaches its disciples to “submit themselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake,” to honor the magistrate as
“God's minister, sent to them for good," and "to render honor to whom honor is due,” it proclaims, in tones of thunder, the just judgments of God“ against evil doers” of every description ; rebuking sin, though in respectful language, whether in high or low places. To the obstinate violaters of God's law it denounces wo and death, in terms that cannot be misunderstood ; declaring to one and all, that “except they repent, they shall all likewise perish.” Nor is this all. It reveals and enforces, by the most solemn and awful sanctions, laws suited to all conditions and ranks of men. To these laws implicit obedience is demanded. Duty is thus inculcated upon all. “Fear God, honor the king,”—that is, the civil magistrate,--and “love the brotherhood,” comprehends the whole duty it requires of man.
But suppose it finds mankind in a state of rebellion against God, against the laws of their country, and infringing upon the rights of each other, what does it propose to do? Does it propose to remodel the government? Not at all. Here it comes in its remedial character. Instead of seeking to change the laws of God, or to subvert the government of the country, or to annihilate the rights of individuals, it aims its blow at the rebellious hearts of men, seeks to change them, to subvert the false principles by which they are governed, and to restore them to the possession of their individual rights and privileges. This is its sovereign remedy, and it seeks none other. It knows, all its advocates who understand its principles know, that if this remedy can be applied to the heart and life, those other evils which arise solely out of this radical evil, this heart-sin, this hereditary disease, will be removed, just as naturally and as necessarily as the leaves will fade and die when the tree is plucked up by the roots. Let the governor and the governed thus feel the remedial influence of this sovereign antidote for the ills of human nature, and each one will “ do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God;" and when this is done, it is a matter of indifference who is the ruler, what the nominal character of the government, or by what party the administration is carried forward.
Neither justice, mercy, nor humility can work any ill to our neighbor.
These general remarks admit of a particular application to our VOL. VIII.-October, 1837. 38