Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

ments, notwithstanding that their deepest workings appear to have been carried on, under the seclusion of a reserved babit,reserved, at least, in so far; for his social, active, and even gamesome propensities would, indeed, imply a certain measure of wbat must have had the effect of trankuess with his sportive companions. To such companionship it is too evident that parental authority must have surrendered him with far too little limit or selection. A proportion of religious instruction, however, found its way to his mind, and prepared bim to be a subject of powerful impressions and alarms. At a very juvenile age the vigorous conflict began between conscience, and inclination, abetted and stiinsulated by example. Notwithstanding all bis practical gaiety among his associates, it is evident that nature had given a gloomy temperament to bis strong passiops; there can, indeed, be no doubt that the spirited sociableness which had the appearance of gaiety, partook very much of the deeper quality of ambition, supported by the consciousness of an athletic frame, and of mental faculties which he could not but perceive to be more effective than those of his coevals. This strong and gloomy mental constitution being powerfully laid hold of by the thought of God as an all-seeing Judge, a thought under which he sometimes sunk in terror, and sometimes struggled with earnest but still despairing resistance, he passed through a long series of violent einotions, alternating with intervals of such oblivion as appear very wonderful and unaccountable. A season of some considerable duration, in which he was overwhelined with distress, wept bitterly, repented, resolved, vowed, and ardertly sought aj glimmer of hope, was followed, apparently with very little of gradual transition of feeling, by a comparatively long period ofutter carelessness and abandonment to folly. During one portionof time, he describes himself as uniformly beginning the day in keen remorse, and ending it in thoughtless levity. He mentions a variety of curious and interesting circumstances, incidents, and suggestions of thought, which occurred in the long course of these fluctuating feelings, the whole train of which, prolonged through a number of years, he appears to have kept profoundly secret. While he felt bitter vexation, and we may almost say a ferocity of resentment at the state of his own mind, he entertained, he says, a great respect and even affection for those whom he believed to be truly religious; but he appears not so much as to have thought of communicating to any of thein the slightest hint. of what he was thinking and suffering. He was, the while, though so prone to folly, preserved from the grosser vices incident to youth.

It was in his sisteenth year that the visitations of religious distress and terror came upon him with a continued intensity, no more to be suspended, or beguiled, or allayed, till he

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

was enabled, toward the end of that year, to embrace with grateful joy the hope of Divine mercy through Jesus Christ. That depth of self-abhorrence which rendered him slow to believe, gave but the greater emphasis to his exultation when he could at length, with humble confidence, assume an interest in the Great Sacrifice of atonement. He was then drawn into communicativeness with some pious persons of his acquaintance; united himself to the society of Baptists at Soham, not far from which his father, a farmer, resided ; and, through a train of circumstances which it was no superstition to interpret as a special direction of Providence, was led gradually, by a kind of necessity, and in spite of the most unaffected reluctance, into the employment of a preacher, in his twentieth year. Not long afterwards, he was persuaded by that society to accept the pastoral office, vacated by a worthy Mr. Eve, whose hyperCalvinistic preaching had never either aided his religious convictions, or consoled his religious distresses, as being of such a contracted scope of doctrine as to make him feel his condition placed entirely out of its cognizance. The good man could not get from the Bible a:ly thing to say, better or worse, to sinners. And whether a preacher of the Gospel should have any thing to say to them, became, in effect, in consequence of a particular occurrence, the subject of a pertinacious and protracted controversy in that church ; in which controversy, Fuller, at the age of eighteen or nineteen, was implicated, and of which he gives in the narrative a curious bistory. Thus, in the very first years of bis juvenile Christian profession, he was compelled to the study of a question which extremely perplexed and hampered him in the first years of his ministry, and which was destined to furnish the first very public illustration of his talents, and the first of his long course of distinguished services to the cause of religion.

It cannot be less our business than it is our inclination, to take any formal account of this ‘Modern Question.' Many very sensible things on the subject will be found in this volume, some of them cited from letters and conversations of Fuller, some of them in observations made by his Biographer. A Calvinist, even of the most moderate standard, believes that the nature of man is so thoroughly depraved, that without the special influence of the Spirit of God, an Agent altogether sovereign, and independent of human will,) no man is able to receive the Gospel in an efficacious manner,--so to receive it that it shall work in bim repentance, and a cordial acceptance of Jesus Christ, as the only way of salvation. But, the case being so, the Question is, Can it with justice, and without inconsistency, be enforced on men as a duty thus to receive the Gospel, which they are utterly without ability to do? Are not offers, invitations, exbortations, remonstrances,

addressed to them on the subject, impertinent and absurd ? This is the question that cost Fuller the protracted course of mental exercise which resulted in his Gospel of Christ worthy of all Acceptation, and cost him many subsequent exertions of mind in contirmation of its purport,-impelled to those exertions partly by the numerous objections and attacks which the work incurred, and partly by the encreasing proofs presented to his mind of the practical importance of its principles, -as to their truth, he never bad a doubt after his opinion had been decided. And probably never was an establishunent of opinion attained by a more conscientious and diligent process.

We presume that a vast majority of the intelligent religious persons who have thought on the subject, are satisfied that Mr. Fuller, and his allies in the argument, are at allevents perfectly right as to the practical point, namely, that it is proper and a solemn duty for Christian teachers to address the Gospel to sinners, with zealous repetition and enforcement, and in every imaginable form of explanatory statement, of appeal, of expostulation, and of persuasion. We presume also, that they must feel the broad and strong ground for this opinion to be, the prevailing spirit and language of the Bible, and especially the example of our Lord and his Apostles ; to which is to be added, in mighty corroboration, the example of all the most divinely assisted and successful preachers, from the Apostles to the present time,- the primitive martyrs, the reformers, the puritans, the Wbitfields. Under the authority of such a sacred magnificence of example, they really may well stand exempted from taking any great trouble about a speculative question of consistency.

To us it has long appeared, (an opinion far enough, indeed, from singular,) thai a Christian preacher, who should lay it clown as his rule, to say nothing on religious doctrines, which he could not demonstrate to be in strict logical or metaplıysical consistency with every thing else which he said on them, not only would be compelled to limit himself to an excessively contracted range of discourse, (for that is a very obvious matter of fact,) but would do that wbich bis grand authority and exemplar, the Book of Revelation, does not enjoin upon him. If we could suppose the case, that there were a mind of as large and strong intelligence as is ever given to man, entirely upprepossessed with any theory or system, and seriously exerted, with honest and perfect simplicity, on the whole extent of Revelation, with memory sutricient to retain, while inspecting distinct parts, a substantial recollection of the import of the other parts,--we think that such a mind, while attaining, as it certainly would at Jength, a decided perception of a general harmony pervading the grand, miscellaneous, irregular assemblage, would feel an impossibility of clearly following out that harmony, into some, we may perhaps say many, of the subordinate matters and connexions. And the conclusion would be, that as in the works, so also in the word, of the Divine Author, it was intended there should remain some cloudy spots, some streaks of darkness, some apparent inconsistencies, to demand the humility and submission of human reason, to iemand this upon the competent evidence, accompanying the communication as a whole, that it is a revelation froni God. Now, supposing this unexampled student of Revelation to be a preacher, which he ought to be, he would not feel himself bound to maintain that rigorous universal consistency which he could not find in the documents constituting bis great authority. Whatever did appear to him to be plainly the meaning of any declaration of the sacred oracles, he would feel him. self warranted to say, even thouglı he could not, by an honest unsystematic application of the rules of analogy and harmonization, make out to his own mind its precise consistency with what he would also say on the authority of other dictates of those oracles, interpreted in the same bonest manner.

Of course, we cannot be understood to mean that this comprehensive and impartial examiner will ever have found an insuperable discrepancy between essentially important parts of the authoritative documents.

We may very fairly ask, whether such a mode of holding and teaching religious truth, be not more reasonable than that adopted by the maintainers of strict systems of Christian doctrine, - let it be what Fuller denominates hyper-Calvinism on the one side, or Arininianism on the other. For is it not quite obvious, that their method is, to fix on certain portions of Divine revelation, taken in the most rigorous and absolute sense, to frame them into a scheme, and then to throw aside, in effect, a very large portion of that same revelation, which presents so plain and direct an appearance of disagreement with that scheme, that they are compelled either to beware of adverting to it at all, or to advert to it always controversially; that is, in the way, and in every way, of torturing, refining, invalidating, in order to avert the strong hostility with which those ungracious parts of Scripture are plainly felt to bear against the consecrated and canonized system, every particle of wbich is, at all hazards, to be maintained in defiance of them? To all such preachers, unless they are adroit in controversy, and love it, and can persuade themselves of its utility in popular instruction, a large portion of the Bible, instead of being a resource, is actually a grievance and a nuisance; and the tendency of their preaching is to render it such to their hearers also. Accordingly, it is notorious, that in more than a few Christian congregations, an occasional preacher would give serious offence, if he should--oot throw out opinions somewhat unaccordant with the idolized system, but-happen to repeat any of the inspired language, that seems to sound a dissonant note. Would they entertain any proposition for rendering the Bible, in every sense, a more commodious book, by the exception of all such passages? They may, at least, inost conscientiously say, that to tbein all such portions of the volume are worse than useless.

But we have been unwittingly led away from the subject. We were venturing the opinion, that from the prevailing strain of the Bible, considered as one mighty address to collective mankind, and upon the authority, especially, of the example of our Lord, of his coinmission to the Apostles, of the correspondent example of those Apostles, imitated also in that of the glorious train of the inen who, tirough succeeding ages, down to this day, have resembled them most, in spirit and success, a Calvinistic preacher may well feel himself warranted and required to urge it on uobelieving men, as their duty, to repent and believe in Cbrist, even though he should not be able to make out the consistency of this proceeding, with his conviction of the total inability of depraved man to do so. At the same time, it were absurd' to hold the value of conscious consistency so light, that he should not be gratified to find it possible for the subject to be placed in such a view as to obviate the discrepancy. An effectual expedient for this desirable purpose, Mr. Fuller, his veteran and deeply read biographer, and many other intelligent divines, have deemed to be afforded by the distinction of natural and moral inability. The nature of this distinction bas often enough been intelligibly stated; and it has been forcibly illustrated, and applied to the purpose, by our excellent biographer, in several sermons and tracts of recent years. There are a number of sensible remarks on the subject, some from his pen, and some in the languiage of Fuller, in the present volume. We are inclined to transcribe one paragraph, as quoted from the latter.

• It is allowed that it would be inconsistent in the Divine Being, to enjoin that on us which we are naturally unable to perform. By naturally unable, is intended that inability wherein we cannot do a thing though we would ever so fain ; or that inability which does not at all consist in the want o a disposition, but of opportunity; or else in a debility of our bodily or mental faculties. If our inability to fulfil the commands of God were of this kind, it is allowed, it would be inconsistent in the Divine Being to hold us still bound to fulfil them. God does not require a blind man to read his word, nor an ideot to understand it. But our inability is not natural, but moræl: that is, it lies in the want of a good disposition, and in being under the dominion of a bad one. . Our inability is like that of Joseph's brethren, who could not speak peaceably to bim: or like that of the Jews, to whom Christ spake, saying, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? or like that of those reproved by Peter, having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin. The reason why the mind is not

« FöregåendeFortsätt »