תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

tianity, than all the terrors of a cruel death against it; so that it even passed into an axiom, “ The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” In seasons of persecution men are naturally driven to fundamentals. They are necessarily prompted to examine their own hearts, and to endeavour to ascertain their title to the blessed hopes and privileges of true Christians. On the other hand, in seasons of the church's external prosperity, when the profession of Christianity, so far from subjecting any one to privation or suffering, becomes creditable, and even necessary to entitle a man to a fair character in the world, there is always danger lest the regard for human estimation, which is commonly the grand governing principle of mankind, should become, in reality and at heart, the main spring also--the vital and actuating principle of the professed Christian. The danger is here the greater, from the very nature and effects of the precepts and character of Christianity. Had our divine Master required his followers to retire from the world, as some devotees have done, and to live in the solitude of the desert, or in the seclusion of a monastery; or had he prescribed to us a course of life, or the formation of a character, which must necessarily have rendered us odious and unpopular, except within our own circle, there would have been less danger of our being misled, and being seduced from our allegiance to our blessed Master, by our acceptance and credit in the world at large: but as Christianity prescribes no duties, and requires no observances, which are not

compatible with the situation of every class and profession in civilized society ;-nay, still more, as it expressly commands its votaries to keep the things that are lovely and of good report, in continual remembrance; to discharge the acknowledged duties of every station in life, with an energy proportioned to the superior force of the Christian's animating principle, a danger too naturally arises lest we should rest satisfied with performing, in some creditable degree, the exterior duties of life, associated, perhaps, with a more than ordinary attention to the outward offices of religion. But may it not justly subject us to the charge of ingratitude, if we make such a return as this to that very kindness of our heavenly Master, which has rendered the path of duty the path also of respectability; and instead of placing us in the trying circumstances of the first Christians, who were subjected to dishonour and evil report, as well as to still severer sufferings, has so ordered our lot, that without violating the sanctity of the Christian character, we may experience, in the estimation of others, the present fulfilment of the apostolic declaration, that " godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to

come ?"

But it is not merely by his obtaining credit with the irreligious world, that the Christian is in danger. Perhaps he has even more to dread from becoming popular among those who profess a more than ordinary respect for religion. We all, for the most part, naturally associate with those who agree with us substan

tially in opinion. With them we form our intimacies and our friendships—their applause is the fame we covet. In truth, to all men, the world may be said to consist of those with whom they are chiefly conversant, and whose good opinion they hold in habitual regard. The world of the professing Christian, therefore, consists mainly of those whose opinions and conduct are formed on a principle of respect for the doctrines and precepts of christianity; and he cannot but be habitually conscious that he would lose his credit with them, if he were openly, or to any great degree, to violate the proprieties of his assumed Christian character. But this habitual reference to the opinions and feelings of others, though it may sometimes supply a counteracting influence against open vice, and an additional security against the suddenness or force of temptation, especially of temptations to actual sin, is yet but too apt insensibly to become the main spring, the actuating principle of our conduct. But alas! we may be popular among our fellow christians from the exterior of our Christian character, while the inner man may all the time be growing weaker and weaker. The true Christian, therefore, conscious of the corruption and deceitfulness of his own heart, will be constantly on his guard against the delusion to which he knows himself to be prone. He will be afraid of having the respect and attachment of his fellow-christians chiefly at heart, while he professes to be supremely actuated by love and gratitude to his God and saviour. He will therefore be endeav

are

ouring to fix, and habitually to maintain, in his mind, a strong impression of the nature and effects of true spiritual religion; and having ascertained, beyond dispute, his own title to that blessed character, he will strive to keep the evidences of this title to the name of Christian, continually present to his view, remembering the Apostle's declaration, that “ as many as LED by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

Still farther. It is the never-failing characteristic of true religion, to prompt its professor, in imitation of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, forgetting the things that are behind, to press forward towards the prize of his high and heavenly calling; and to be continually advancing in h is Christian course, and never to be satisfied with his actual attainments, but to be striving to root out every remaining corruption, and to perfect every Christian grace, that he may bring every thought and feeling into the obedience of Christ ;-to live more habitually under the influence of that divine Spirit, of which Christians are said, in Scripture, to be the temples ;-and to feel more constantly and more powerfully the life and force of this blessed principle. To those who are thus desirous of continually growing in grace, no less than to those who would guard against being fatally beguiled by the fairness and even excellence of their character, few publications are likely to be more useful than the Treatises of the late Dr. John WITHERSPOON, to which I have undertaken to write an Essay. I am conscious, indeed, that the excellence of that Work is far too

well established to render necessary any eulogium of mine. Nevertheless, from what cause I know not, it appears to me, of late years, scarcely to have been valued at its proper worth ; still less to have been perused as generally as it deserved to be. The Author had drunk largely of that abundant stream of practical divinity, which is supplied by what I may be permitted to term the church's well-head, the works of the ancient worthies of the English religious establishment, from the period of the Reformation, till toward the close of the 17th century, to which also many of the excellent Puritan writers copiously contributed. And while his writings contain much of that searching examination of the human heart, for which they were so distinguished, we have the same sentiments at a less expense of time and trouble ; relieved not only from their prolixity, but sometimes from their obscurity, by the omission of those numerous subdivisions with which the works of our older divines so generally abound. It was the object of Dr. Witherspoon, in the present admirable Work, to trace the grand outlines of the Christian character—to lay before his readers the vital principles of real Christianity-and to point out the effects which those principles, when really in the heart, will infallibly produce. More especially he endeavoured to point out the genuine features of him whose glorious privilege it is to be renewed after the divine image, and to distinguish them from those false appearances, which however fair at first sight, possess not the substance and symmetry, the life and power of

« הקודםהמשך »