Page images
PDF
EPUB

respect to the third dispensation that the Christian preacher is constrained to wield without ceasing that “sword of the Spirit” and that “shield of faith,” Eph. vi. 16, 17, with which St. Paul was so anxious to see every Christian armed. As this doctrine is abundantly more elevated than the preceding dispensations, so it stands more exposed to the shafts of innumerable enemies. On the left, it is incessantly attacked by carnal professors, and on the right by fanatical zealots. These two classes of adversaries, though continually at war with each other, unhappily agree in opposing, either directly or indirectly, the progress of this glorious dispensation, obliging the faithful minister with equal intrepidity to combat both.

Observe the grand argument with which carnal Christians carry on this opposition. • The Comforter,” say they," which was graciously promised to our Lord's first disciples, was undoubtedly received by those highlyfavoured missionaries, and conducted them into all the truths of the gospel. From this divine Spirit they received continual assistance in spreading that gospel, and by him they were endued with those miraculous gifts which served as so many incontestable marks of their sacred mission. But as Christianity is at this time firmly established in the world, the letter of the holy scriptures is now abundantly sufficient for every purpose, and there is no longer any necessity for that baptism and illumination of the Spirit which were evidently requisite among the primitive Christians.”

As the mistaken Jews, perfectly satisfied with the law of Moses inscribed upon tables of stone, rejected with obstinacy the promised Messiah; so these carnal Christians, contented with the letter of the new testament, perversely reject the "Holy Spirit of promise.” Eph. i. 13.

* “Search the scriptures, for they testify of me,” John v. 39, was our Lord's exhortation to those deluded formalists; and the true minister continues to press the same exhortation

upon those who blindly oppose the coming of Christ's spiritual kingdom. He is anxious, with his heavenly Master, to put the matter upon this issue; fully conscious, that they who peruse those sacred

pages

with an unprejudiced mind must readily observe, that, instead of superseding the necessity of a spiritual baptism, they give ample testimony, that such baptism is to be considered as a privilege freely offered to the whole multitude of believers.

When Christians affirm, that the manifestation of the Spirit is no longer to be sought after, except in that mysterious volume which promises this manifestation to the church, modern Jews might as well declare, that they look for no other manifestation of the Messiah, than that which is to be found in those books of Moses and the prophets where the coming of that Messiah is repeatedly promised. But if it be said, “The Spirit of Christ was fully given to his first disciples, and that is sufficient for us,” this argument has in it as great absurdity as the following method of reasoning: Moses instructs us, that God created the sun, and that the patriarchs were happily enlightened by it; but the supreme illumination of that sun is no longer to be discovered, except in the writings of Moses; and those labourers are downright enthusiasts who imagine they need any other rays from that luminary, except such as are reflected upon them from the book of Genesis. The scripture informs us, that God commanded the earth to produce a variety of fruits and plants for the nourishment of its inhabitants, covenanting, on his part, to send refreshing rains and convenient seasons. we do not live,” exclaims a rational farmer, “in the season of miracles; nor am I enthusiastic enough to expect that rain shall be sent upon the earth. Mention indeed is made, in ancient history, of the former and the latter rain ;' and the books which speak of these fructifying showers, and promise a continuance of them to the latest posterity, are undoubtedly authentic; nevertheless, all the rain we can now reasonably expect must flow from these books alone, and from those speculations which our reason can make upon the truths they contain.” Who will not smile at such a method of reasoning as this?

In those things which respect our temporal interests we are not stupid enough to be deluded by such wretched

66 But

a

a

God,” says

[ocr errors]

sophisms, though we frequently deceive both ourselves and others with regard to spiritual things, by arguments no less palpably absurd.

the orthodox professor, “undoubtedly caused the sun of righteousness so effectually to shine upon believers on the day of pentecost, that they were instantaneously baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.' A celestial shower at that time refreshed the church ; and the mystic vine, matured on a sudden by the direct rays of so glorious a luminary, was assisted to produce, internally, all the graces, and, externally, all the fruits of the Spirit. But some extraordinary phenomena which accompanied that dazzling sun, and those gracious showers, have long ago disappeared. Nay, that sun itself is totally eclipsed with respect to us; and the book which bears testimony to the constant influence of that sun, and the endless duration of those showers, now absolutely stands in the place of both.” Ridiculous divinity! And shall they be called enthusiasts who oppose such absurdities as these ? Then fanaticism may be said to consist in making a rational distinction between the pearl of great price, and the testament that bequeathes it; between that sacred volume, in which the Comforter is merely promised, and the actual presence of that Comforter in the heart. To pretend, that we have no longer any need of the Spirit of Christ, because we are in

possession of an incomparable book, which declares, that " if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his ;" Rom. viii. 9; is not this to destroy at once both the letter and the spirit of the gospel ? And when we see those Christians who profess the utmost respect for revelation deriding without fear the manifestation of that Spirit by which alone " the love of God” can be “shed abroad in our hearts ;" Rom. v. 5; what judgment can we form of such persons, but that they are disposed to treat the gospel of our glorified Master as Judas once treated its persecuted author? Whatever air of devotion they may assume while they salute the exterior of it, their secret intention is to betray the very life of the gospel to derision and infamy. By arguments of this nature it is that Christian ministers are obliged to defend the dispensation of the Spirit from the outrageous attacks of carnally-minded Christians.

But there are times in which the faithful pastor finds it equally necessary to defend this part of his doctrine against high and fanatical professors. In every Christian country there are not wanting such as have rendered the dispensation of the Spirit contemptible by their ridiculous and impious pretensions. Protestants have blushed for the prophets of Cevennes, and catholics for the convulsionaries of Paris. In order successfully to oppose the progress of enthusiasm, he publicly contrasts the two different characters of a presumptuous fanatic and an enlightened Christian in some such terms as follow :- :- The one extinguishes the torch of reason, that he may have opportunity to display in its room the vain flashes of his own pretended inspirations : the other entertains a just respect for reason, following it as the surest guide so far as it is able to direct him in the search of truth; and whenever he implores a superior light, it is merely to supply the defects of reason. The one destroys the clear sense of scripture language, that a way may be made for his own particular manifestations : the other refers

every thing to the law and to the testimony, fully satisfied, that if high pretenders to sanctity “speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah viii. 20. The former flatters himself, that while the means are neglected the end may be obtained, presuming that God will illuminate him in a miraculous manner, without the help of prayer, study, meditation, sermons, or sacraments : the latter unpresumingly expects the succours of grace in a constant use of the appointed means ; and, conscious that “the holy scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation," 2 Tim. iii. 15, he takes them for the subject of his frequent meditation, the ground of his prayers, and the grand rule of his conduct. The fanatic imagines himself independent of superior powers both in church and state: the real Christian, a constant friend to truth and order, looking upon himself as the servant of all, not only acknowledges the respect due to his superiors, but is ready to give them an account either of his faith or his conduct

:

a

a

with meekness and submission; anxious to have his principles supported by appeals to the reason and conscience of his adversaries, as well as by the testimony of revelation. The fanatic pays but little regard to the inestimable grace of charity ; like Simon the sorcerer, he aspires after the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and, seduced by a vain imagination, forsakes the substance that he may pursue the shadow: the true Christian, without despising the most inconsiderable spiritual gifts, implores only those which may assist him in the discharge of his several duties, and peculiarly that charity which is to be ranked as high above the performance of miracles, as miracles are to be esteemed above the tricks of jugglers. The fanatic conceives himself to be animated by the Spirit of God, when his body is agitated by a rapid motion of the animal spirits, excited by the sallies of an over-heated imagination, and augmented by hysterical or hypochondriacal vapours. The judicious Christian detests this enthusiasm, which, covering religion with a veil of delusion and frenzy, renders it contemptible in the eyes of those who are ever ready to treat devotion as fanaticism.

When the true minister unhappily falls among persons who evidence a disposition to enthusiasm, carrying mortification to an unwarrantable excess, publicly uttering long and passionate prayers produced with the most violent efforts ; he calls their attention to that beautiful passage in the history of Elijah, where God is represented as manifesting himself, neither in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire, but in a still small voice. To inspire them with a just horror for this kind of fanaticism, he points them to those contemptible characters whose conduct they are unwittingly copying, and exhorts them to leave the horrible custom of “crying with a loud voice,” together with every other species of religious extravagance, to the superstitious priests of Baal. If it be necessary, he even applies those sarcastic expressions of Elijah, “Cry aloud," &c. In performing this part of his duty, he is anxious, however, to act with the utmost discretion ; not ridiculing the fanatical with an irreverent lightness, but exhorting them with all possible affection and solemnity. It appears

« PreviousContinue »