« הקודםהמשך »
been erected on the plains of Persia, and its votaries had established themselves on the shores of Hindostan. From Egypt it had penetrated beyond the sources of the Nile; and Nubia and Abyssinia had been gladdened with the tidings of salvation. The southern shores of the Mediterranean had beheld very flourishing churches rising over the ruins of idolatry; and the western Provinces of the Empire having submitted to the gentle yoke of Christi. anity, the victorious eagles of Rome had at last crouched to the banner of the Cross.
In the mean time the precious seeds of divine truth had been scattered over the regions of the north ; and before the end of the seventh century, the praises of God and his Christ were echoed along the frozen gulphs
of the Baltic, and among the lakes and mountains north of the Tweed. Thus was Christianity established in a manner most wonderful and miraculous. "The sound of twelve obscure Gallileans" went into all the earth, "and their words to the end of the world.” The Christian Church, soon after its rise, is already of wider extent than the empire of the Cossacs. Seven hundred years of victory were necessary to build up the empire of Rome; but Christianity, without any arms but the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," reigns over all nations. In vain does the whole world exert all its force to suppress it. In vain do sages, and philosophers, and emperors, unite to overthrow it. Every thing proves weak when opposed to the Christians. The Apostles are reviled, abused, imprisoned, and murdered; but this does not check the march of their enterprise. They are replaced by their disciples, the inheritors of their constancy and courage, which surmount every obstacle which men and devils oppose to their labours. Death, the fatal principle of destruction to other Societies, serves only to multiply the number of christians : until at length the generality of men open their eyes to the light, the temples are forsaken, sacrifices cease to be offered, marble and bronze are no longer divinities, and Jesus, by a kind of triumph totally unprecedented, and peculiar to himself, converts his bitter enemies into worshippers of his name. _With Constantine, the cross ascends the imperial throne; and Rome, who holds in her hands all the sceptres of the earth, employs them for the protection of the Gospel. This city, mistress of the nations, falls soon aster a prey to the barbarous swarms of the north, who overturn that monarchy which had swallowed up all others. The greatest part of the States formed out of these ruins fall likewise in their turn; but in the midst of concussions which shake the nations, the church of Christ alone, immoveable as her Divine Head, bids defiance to the powers of Hell and Death, which were never to prevail against her; and at length beholds these conquerors who have held the capital of the world in chains, submitting to ber yoke, and glorying in being her children. Now, Sir, I trust it will readily be admitted, that after the miraculous powers had been withdrawn from the church, her astonishing triumph over a dagitious and idolatrous world could only be attributed, under Providence, to the faithful labours of her ministers, and a constant appeal to the law and the testimony contained in the scriptures. As long as this continued, so long was she assailed in vain by hosts of heretics, rabbies, and subtle philosophists. The calumnies of Trypho, the plausibilities of Platonism, the powerful weapons of extensive erudition, and refined ridicule, wielded by Celcus, Porphyry, and Julian, fell harmless at her feet while cased in the heavenly panoply of the written word. Secure in this impenetrable armour, she defied the fiery darts of her wicked or deluded assailants. When heresies began to abound, and the mystery of iniquity began already to work, “heaven-taught champions arose, and knew where to find weapons to combat the threatening monsters." The Apostles," says Ireneus, preached the gospel, but afterwards delivered it to us in the scriptures, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith."
“I do not follow men, " says Justin Martyr, in his controversy with Trypho the Jew, or human doctrines, but I follow God, and what he taught.” And the great defender of the Trinity, the illustriou s Athanasius, when confuting the gentiles, lays it down as a principle, that, “ the holy and divinely inspired scriptures suffice for our instruction in all truth."
Sir, nothing would be more easy than to produce a multitude of citations from the primitive Fathers, all tending to declare the sufficiency, perspicuity, and potency of the Scriptures, in defending and elucidating the doctrines of salvation. “ All things,” says one of them "are clear and perspicuous, and nothing contradictory can be found in the Scriptures. “The Scripture," says another, “expounds itself, and does not suffer the reader to err.” “Whatever,' says another," has no authority from the Scriptures, is despised as easily as it is alleged.” In a word, the great doctor of grace, St. Austin, with bis usual force and accuracy, thus sums up the only method by which the church in his day maintained the purity of the faith. “Let no one say this is true, because this or that person has wrought such and such miracles, or because some are heard who pray at the monuments (ad memorias) of the martyrs, or because such and such things happen there, or because he or she has seen such a vision when awake, or dreamed while asleep. Away with these fictions of lying men, or prodigies of deceitful spirits. Insist on their showing you some manifest testimonies from the Canonical Books. Remember the saying of our Lord, they have Moses and the Prophets."
Thus it was, Sir, that the church was nourished, propagated, and defended, in her primitive days. The Bible was the charter of her rights, and the umpire of her decisions. To this she always appealed, and never appealed in vain. But the day of her trial was rapidly approaching. By the eruption of the Northern hordes of Barbarians, the Christian world was thrown into utter confusion, and rapine and ignorance pervaded the western empire. The lukewarmness
of Christians had already become very general, their first love had grown cold; orthodoxy had been made a substitute for piety; and the direful judgment which followed seemed to justify the declaration of Attila, ihe leader of the Huns, that he was indeed "the scourge of God.” Amidst the calamities of this most disastrous period of the world, when whole libraries became a prey to devouring faines, we may readily itnagine, that many of the comparatively few copies of the Scriptures were lost or destroyed.
The conquerors, it is true, shortly after einbraced the religion of the vanquished; but this instead of diminishing, only increased the evil. The circulation of manuscript copies of the Scriptures could bear no proportion to the increase of nominal christians, and such was the general ignorance that prevailed for many centuries, that the greater part of those who could afford to purchase any of these copies were unable to read them. But when we know, moreover, from authentic records, that, in addition to the difficulties in ob taining copies of the holy Scriptures, the reading of them was prohibited under the heaviest censures of the church, we may readily conceive what an overwhelming deluge must of course have inundated all the regions of Christendom, tearing up the foundations of faith, and demolishing all the enclosures of virtue; and exbibiting in every quarter the marks of desolation. Sir, it would be painful to myself, and I trust irksome to this assembly, to dwell in detail on these disastrous times. Their history may be read in the affecting and pious lamentations of those who witnessed them—in the writings of a Bernard, and other boly men, who occasionally illumined the dismal gloom, and who deplored, with aching hearts and streaming eyes, the mental and spiritual famine around them; wbile, strange as it may seem, a dearth of the bread of life, the only source of these disorders, seldom or never occurred to their minds. Conscious that they experienced in themselves that “the gospel is the power of God untu salvation," but intent at the same time upon certain observances, wbich it neither enjoins nor countenances, they erroneously imagined that with the majority of Christians the latter might serve as a substitute for an accurate knowledge of the former. They did not reflect, that by the Bible the Spirit of God bas guided the Christian church into whatever truth she has at any time known and believed ; that by this book He has convinced the world of sin, and justified the Son of Man from the malicious slanders of his enemies; that by this book he consoles us for the absence of our Lord, and instructs us in things to come ; that by this he reigns; and that where this is found, his kingdom reaches also; that by this weapon, proceeding from the mouth of God, shall the enemies of bis Christ be at length extirpated from the world; and that by this we may conclude, as by the rule of God's approbation, shall ihe secrets of all hearts be finally made known, in that day when "whosoever is not found written in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire.”
Upon the whole, Sir, I think we may fairly conclude, that to this in
attention to the Scriptures in the clergy, to this inability to procure them in the laity, the discouragement given to their circulation and perusal, and ina word, to the general ignorance prevailing concerning them, we may fairly attribute a great proportion of the moral and doctrinal evils which marked the gradual approach to "the iron, leaden, and dark, ages of the Church,” (as Cardinal Baronius very justly styles thein,) and to those which succeeded down to the reformation. At this auspicious era the unfettered word of God was allowed a free course through many christian nations. Light and life attended every stage of its progress, and the dark monsters of superstition and bigotry were compelled to retreat, with sollen reluctance, from many regions over which they had reigned for ages with uncontroled dominion. Alarmed at these rapid encroachments upon their system, the enemies to the free circulation of the Scriptures were roused from their long slumbers; and with unprecedented activity, laboured to counteract them. Innumerable Missionaries, glowing with zeal and panting for martyrdom, were dispatched to the most distant quarters of the globe. By the indefatigable labours of Francis Xavier in the East, and of his asso, ciates in the West, innumerable multitudes were induced to renounce their idolatrous worship, and many churches were established, which, alas ! enjoyed only an ephemeral existence. Built upon a foundation which nothing but Scriptural knowledge could preserve from decay, they were unable to withstand the storms and tempests that soon began to assail them: and like the seven churches of Asia, who neglected what the SPIRIT said to them by his holy word, they were induced“ to follow after cụnningly devised fables ;" and deprived of the infallible oracles of God, which alone could make them wise unto salvation, they first became neither" cold nor bot," then," wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked :" and finally disappearing, now live only in the pages of history. They were planted indeed by men of heroic courage and ardent zeal, but were ignorant and inattentive to that divine and sufficient energy of the Scriptures which alone can nourish a preached Gospel into a life-giving system, and sanction the doctrines of fallible teachers, when present, or supply in a considerable degree their removal. They had before them the signal instance of the Jewish church, which subsequent lo the Babylonish captivity, was ever after preserved from idolatry, by appointing in their synagogues the constant and public reading of the Scriptures; and they might have remembered, that the primitive fathers of the church appealed continually to them, as the judges of divine truth, and recommended them as such to the Christians of their day. These things, however, a blind deference to living authority induced them to overlook, and the consequence has been such as I lave mentioned. I trust, Sir, that what has now been said, will not be construed into the most distant reflection on any christian Community in our Land. No, Sir, the badge of our Society is universal love; and its aim, the most expanded benevolence. Where virtue and piety are found, we take no exception at a name; and blessed be God, every name among christians seems to have caught the heavenly flame first kindled by the British and Foreign Bible Society, and, is entering either silently, or explicitly into its views, and emulating its exertions. But among the reformed churches, even down to our own days, great has been the scarcity of the holy Scriptures. Editions indeed, of the Bible, have been multiplied throughout Christendom, and have found their way to the libraries of public institutions, and of opulent individuals, but, like the five barley loaves, what were they among so many millions of Tamishing multitudes. Nothing but a similar miraculous multiplication of the bread of life could supply their urgent wants; and this, blessed be God, we have lived to witness ; and in this, through his mercy, we are permitted to partake. We have seen, and have united with a Society of fellow-christians, which, like "another angel flying through the midst of heaven," not content to possess the everlasting gospel itself, was raised up at the time appointed by the inscrutable and immutable decrees of Providence, working all things according to his own will, "to preach it to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” Great, Mr. President, though unmerited, is the privilege conferred upon us, of sharing in the labours and glory of this heavenly undertaking. Let us duly appreciate it by discarding all minor considerations, and by concentrating all the scattered forces of our christian community to the beating down of the kingdom of Satan, sin, and death. Let our messengers of salvation go forth, with the Bible in their hands, and its spirit in their hearts, and let the grand experiments be repeated in this latter age of the world, whether the word of God, circulated among
the heathen and nominal christians, and faithfully preached by those who are duly sent, may not induce those to believe and these to repent. Whether if Paul shall plant or Apollos water, the holy Spirit will not give the increase through the only infallible communication ever vouchsafed to mankind.
Sir, I have offered these few remarks under the impression, that a recollection of the past evils which attended the ignorance of the Scriptures, may prove an additional stimulus in the bosom of every Christian to obviate their recurrence, and to insure success to the most godlike association which the world ever witnessed, by the united, zealous, and persevering exertions of all their members on this Western continent.
Report of the Directors of the twenty-fourth General Meeting of the
MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF LONDON, May 14, 1818. BELOVED BRETHREN,
The Divine Redeemer, whose we are, and whom, in this Institution, we are associated to serve, permits us once more to enjoy the