Page images

in the views presented of the utterly lapsed and ruined condition of mankind; the free grace of God in Christ, received, and rendered instrumental to the justification of the sinner, solely through faith; with the necessity of the tranforming influences of the Holy Spirit for the conversion of the heart to God; not merely an improvement of the natural character, but a deeply-seated renovation of soul, effected by the power of the Holy Ghost, and inseparably connected with those fruits of holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. On all grounds therefore there was wanted a new work, better adapted to the taste of modern times, as respects its composition, embracing the researches of later writers, particularly Lardner, and graduated to a more Scriptural standard of divinity. As respects ability of composition, amplitude of reference, just discrimination between truth and legend, and the general qualities of a useful and readable book, our Right Reverend author has infinitely the advantage over his lay predecessor. His plan is to give, not in question and answer but in a consecutive narration, a biographical notice of the Apostle or saint; then to append a few pages of reflections; followed by two or more appropriate prayers from the Liturgy, and closed with a short poem on some prominent idea suggested by the narrative. Bishop Mant is not unknown to the public as a poet. His first publication, thirty years ago, was his "Verses to the Memory of Joseph Warton," followed up, two years after, by his "Life and Poems of Thomas Warton." That work now lies before us: it is elegant and classical, and the notes are elaborate; but it certainly has no relation to the studies which have since engaged his lordship's attention. In 1806, his published "The Slave, and other Poems," which we reviewed in our volume for that year, expressing our "unmixed approbation of the de


sign of Mr. Mant's Poems," and our hope that he would cultivate his poetical talent, and continue to apply it in promoting objects of Christian charity." We felt particularly grateful to the benevolent author for depicting the miseries of our colonial slavery, as well as merely of the Slave Trade, with a view to excite the indignation and horror of his countrymen against the whole of this inhuman and unchristian system. The poem is now forgotten, as was the treatise of the present Bishop of Salisbury on the same subject; but as we felt gratified in recalling the attention of the public to that neglected treatise, so are we now in renewing our grateful acknowledgments to another Right Reverend prelate, who preceded the great majority of his countrymen in denouncing our colonial system of bondage. The absurd and hypocritical plea that West-Indian slaves are better off than the British peasantry had long before been indignantly exploded by Bishop Burgess : with equal truth and feeling Bishop Mant exposed the same stale pretext-stale even then, a quarter of a century ago. The following is a passage from his lordship's poem, presenting the condition of the British peasant in powerful contrast to the startling slumbers, the compulsory toil, the civil non-entity, and the destitution of religious privileges, which mark the lot of the slave.

"Not such the rest Britannia's peasant knows,

Whose willing labour leads to calm re

[blocks in formation]

gression, to his lordship's work immediately before us. The name of the Bishop of Down and Connor has been so much connected with the unhappy controversies which divide our church, that it is necessary to state of the present volume, that it is not a work of theological polemics. His lordship's views of Christian doctrine of course tacitly pervade his pages, and give a corresponding tone to his statements; but there seems to have been throughout a desire on the part of the Right Reverend writer to draw up his narratives, and to weave his reflections, in a manner quite opposed to the bitterness of a litigious spirit. A book thus written, and containing so much valuable information and devout remark, we are unwilling to make the occasion of controversy at the same time it would not be consistent with Christian candour, it would neither be just to our Right Reverend author, nor to our readers, nor to truth, if we did not respectfully state our conviction that the general system of divinity on which the volume is founded is defective; symbolizing in a great measure with the school of writers before alluded to, of whom Bishop Bull, the author of the Whole Duty of Man, and the truly pious Nelson, may be cited as examples, but penned with a greater precision in the use of theological language than those writers; a precision arising out of the light which has been thrown upon controverted topics by modern discussions, and which has nearly banished from the more enlightened of our pulpits, those gross mistatements of doctrine which were familiar to our ears even a few years since. As one example among many, it would be most unjust to the Bishop of Down and Connor to urge that he contradicts the declarations of Scripture, and the article of our church respecting the gratuitous justification of the sinner, through faith in Christ, and not for his own works or deservings; and it would

be equally unjust to say that his lordship attributes any merit to those good works which he dwells on as promoting our salvation, or speaks of them as performed otherwise than through the grace of Christ, and the influence of the Holy Spirit. Statements opposed to these tenets, it is true, habitually occur in many of our older divines of nearly the same school as our Right Reverend author; but the Articles and Homilies of our church, and the declarations of Scripture, have been too often quoted in modern controversies, not to have shaded off much that was formerly stated in very different terms. Still we cannot but maintain that this system of divinity, however modified, is materially defective: it penetrates not to the depth of human evil; it aspires not to the sublimity of Divine grace; it is not co-extensive with the spiritual wants of mankind; it neglects or dilutes doctrines which it does not deny, and it virtually encourages others which it does not affirm. We would speak with the respect which we owe to his lordship's office and character; but his work being before the world, and open to fair and Christian discussion, we shall quote a passage or two, which seem to us to illustrate the preceding remarks. A more pleasing employment will be to append some other passages which cannot fail to inform and interest the reader.

We take the following statement:

"St. Paul being zealous in the service of God, of conscience pure and void of offence, in life unblameable, of integrity uncorrupt; was thus qualified to pouse the principles, of the justice of which he saw reason to be convinced.", p. 142.


Our Right Reverend author does not intend to assert a qualification of merit in this passage; and we are far from meaning to impute such a construction. We will go further, and admit that there is a sense in which even the ambiguous term "qualified" might be not unscripturally used; as when it is said,,

"The meek shall he guide in judgment, the meek shall he teach his way" '—"Whosoever will do the will of God shall know of the doctrine;" and so of the case of Cornelius, and the seed falling into an honest and good heart. But in these passages it is not moral qualification, but Divine teaching which is spoken of as leading to the saving reception of scriptural truth; and, to speak with correctness, we ought to say that even the so-called qualification itself, or rather those preparatory stages of spiritual impression, which led to the final result, were the incipient work of the Holy Spirit. If


St. Paul's own oft-repeated account of himself be correct, no man was less naturally "qualified" to embrace the humbling doctrines of the cross of Christ. He says expressly, that he obtained mercy to receive the Gospel to the salvation of his soul, not because of any natural qualification, any moral pre-aptitude, but quite the contrary; for he was a persecutor, blasphemer, and injurious. was, indeed, what our Right Reverend author describes; but this he himself sums up in one characteristic expression, "a Pharisee of the Pharisees;" and so far from persons of this character being peculiarly "qualified" to "espouse the principles" of the Gospel of our Redeemer, even publicans and sinners were nearer the kingdom of heaven than they. The language of our Lord to St. Paul, at his conversion, was far opposed to the idea of any previous qualification; and so far from there having been in him a predisposition of soul to receive the Gospel, it required a powerful, nay, supernatural, revulsion of all his feelings, principles, and habits, before he was led to embrace that faith which once he destroyed.

We should not, however, dwell upon this point, did we not view it as a portion of a defective system. Let us see, for example, how it affects another Scripture doctrine, that of the conversion of the heart

to God. Speaking of the Apostle's own conversion, for which he was thus "qualified," our author remarks,

"Although we have no reason to expect those powerful and miraculous appeals which were made to the Apostle, and therefore are not encouraged to expect in common instances any special conversuch rapid conversions as his, nor indeed sion, according to the modern and fanatical acceptation of the term; yet ought we to encourage both in ourselves and in ing grace of God's Holy Spirit, that raothers, through the preventing and assisttional, sincere, practical repentance which the Scriptures inculcate, accompanied with continual mortification of our corrupt affec

tions, and continual improvement in holiness and growth in grace. His conversion, under the influence of that Holy Spirit which is always to be understood, his conversion was the combined effort of reason and of feeling." pp. 170, 171.

"Doubtless it is our interest, as it is our duty, whether by an entire conversion of our ways, if former habits of abandoned impiety and depravity have rendered such of sentiment and conduct, if such changes conversion necessary; or by partial changes alone are requisite; at all events by a conscientious adaptation of our lives to the rules of the Gospel; to copy the amendment of the Apostle." p. 171.

Now, is not this to dilute, to explain away, one of the most important doctrines of Scripture, the need, in every individual of our fallen race, of an entire change of character, call it conversion, transformation, regeneration (spiritual as distinguished from the sacramental symbol), renewal of the spirit of the mind, being a new creature, turning from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, or by whatever other scriptural expression? We do not, any more than our Right Reverend author, expect those "miraculous appeals which were made to the Apostle;" nor, though we dare not limit the power or operations of the Holy Spirit in any particular case," such rapid conversions as his;" but it appears to us that our biographer underrates both the extraordinary circumstances of the Apostle's own conversion, and the ordinary circumstances of conversion in general. Let the reader peruse the account

of the miraculous conversion of the Apostle, as related by the sacred historian, and decide whether it is adequately depicted by such expressions as "a combined effort of reason and feeling," or "the amendment of the Apostle." If the Apostle was as well "qualified" for conversion as our author alleges, this "amendment" needed not to be very extensive; and if "reason and feeling" were all that was requisite, where was the necessity for a miracle? It is true the bishop says, in a parenthesis, "under the influence of that Holy Spirit which is always to be understood;" but this slight parenthetical manner of alluding to so important, so essential a point, is not satisfactory. "Always to be understood;" rather would we say strongly, unequivocally, cordially to be expressed. A learned divine may silently supply the ellipsis; but not so the ordinary reader. Such parentheses have the air rather of being inserted afterwards, to meet the objections of others, than of flowing from the prompt impulse of a writer's own feelings. Suppose a theologian revising for press the writings of one of the class of divines to which we have before alluded; he would find statements which he could not reconcile to the accuracy of doctrine which is now justly expected from all who preach or write on sacred subjects; but would it supply the defect, would it transmute a hard, barely orthodox, semi-pharisaic system into the grace and freedom of the Gospel, just to tack on a few such common-place expressions as, Of course not forgetting the influences of the Holy Spirit; Of course always understanding through Jesus Christ our Lord? We have heard sermons by some young clergymen almost ludicrously constructed in this style; the general cast and fabric being, from beginning to end, the works, the righteousness, we might even say the merit of man, yet with an interlarding of orthodox and scriptural phrases, as CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 337.

if the writer had whispered to himself, "I must not forget the language of our Articles and Homilies, which have been of late so much talked about: I must not lay myself open to retorts: besides, it is very right that we should recognize the atonement of Christ and the influences of the Holy Spirit: God forbid I should say we can duly improve in virtue without this assistance." But is not this, as we have above said, to neglect or dilute doctrines which we do not deny? and, however orthodox statements thus concocted may sound to the ear, are they not justly open to the charge of being at best very defective, and sometimes virtually heterodox? Would a parochial congregation thus instructed really learn to understand and to value as they ought those important doctrines which they only found thus casually admitted, as if to ward off objections, instead of being made a glad and welcome theme, the joy of the heart, and the prompter of holy feelings, devout affections, and Christian deeds? It is little that a clergyman guards against positively objectionable statements, if the real impression conveyed by the whole tenor of his preaching is that, after all, heaven is really the reward of virtuous and honourable conduct. Many of the divines of the last century plainly said so; and some who do not now say so, tacitly lead their hearers to the unscriptural inference.

But we must return to our Right Reverend author, whom we are far from implicating in the wide range of the above remarks, though to a portion of them his system, we think, is fairly open. On referring back to the above extracts, we feel as little satisfied with his lordship's statement repecting ordinary conversion, as with that on the miraculous conversion of St. Paul. The view given by his lordship is wholly inadequate to the exigencies of the case. "Amendment is a very defective term; for the heart of G

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

man requires not merely mending, but making anew; taking away "the heart of stone," and giving "a heart of flesh." The term "repentance' is also inadequate; for the Scripture says, Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." And what is this conversion? The Right Reverend prelate views it either as the "entire conversion of the ways" of the abandoned profligate; or some "partial changes of sentiment and conduct, if such changes alone are requisite." His lordship thus appears to consider mankind as composed of three classes; those who need entire conversion; those who need only partial changes; and those who need no conversion at all. Need we adduce proofs to shew that this is an unscriptural view of the subject? And whence the defectiveness of this system? From several causes; one of which is, not viewing religion as beginning with the heart. The daring open profligate, the man of "abandoned impiety and depravity," needs, says our author, "an entire conversion of his ways:" but even this is not co-extensive with a conversion of the heart to God; it is not the ways that turn, but the heart that must turn from them. A profligate might in terror, or from some other motive, leave off his vicious" habits," and yet have no love to God in his heart, no wish to know his will, or to obey his laws. The prodigal son might have ceased to "waste his substance with riotous living," and yet have cherished no affection or gratitude for his father, no true conversion of soul, no turning, with self-abasement and humble faith, to him whom he had so foolishly and wickedly forsaken. So, again, "copying the amendment of the Apostle," and "adapting our lives to the rules of the Gospel," are phrases wholly in adequate to describe the change necessary to be produced in every human being before he can become qualified for "the inheritance of the saints in light;" nay, before he can copy" or become "adapted to "

[ocr errors]

any thing that is truly good. The remedy must be co-extensive with the disease. If the fall of man be indeed but partial, if the natural mind be but partially alienated from God, if the demerit of sin be but partial, if the need of a Saviour be but partial, then partial only needs be the spiritual renovation; but if the contrary, then the contrary; and so, we are sure, speaks Scripture, and so believed the reformers and standard writers of our church. We know not, however, where our readers can find the point better stated than by one of the master spirits of the age, not of our own communion. We allude to the pious and eloquent Professor Chalmers's discourse on our Lord's declaration," I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you." Beginning with the man of "abandoned impiety and depravity," and shewing that he at least will be allowed to need an entire conversion of heart, and the introduction of a new principle into the soul, before he can be said to love God, or to be "qualified" in character for the enjoyment of the heavenly world: he proceeds to our Right Reverend author's second class of character, persons currently alleged to require only "partial changes," and then to those who might be currently thought to need none at all; and in every instance he proves, with a clearness of argument quite irresistible, that one and all require conversion, entire conversion, a conversion of the heart as well as an "amendment" of the life; in short, what our author seems to denounce as "conversion in the fanatical acceptation of that term." It would be impossible, however, really to prove the charge of "fanaticism" against this truly sober and reasonable, as well as Scripture doctrine.

In justice to the learned prelate, we ought to state, that there are not many passages in his work such as those we have above quoted; but the system of which they are an

« PreviousContinue »