صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

them, they will sometimes recur, and give him momentary uneasiness. If this be the case, as it often is, with men of good education and enlightened minds, we are not to wonder if we find it more strikingly exemplified among the weak and the ignorant. The child, who reads his Bible in little portions, to his mother or school mistress, and at the same time, is taught to repeat lessons in the Primer and the Assembly's Catechism, considers them all equally sacred; and gets his notions of religion from what his memory is taxed with. If the words original sin, Godhead, election, &c. are mentioned, his proofs of the doctrines which the words suggest to him, and his ideas concerning them, as far as he has any, are drawn from the little elementary books which he faithfully committed to memory. I recollect to have heard it once related of an adult, that, when challenged to produce a proof-text of original sin, he involuntarily cited-'In Adam's fall, we sinned all.' And I will appeal to any one, who, when a child, learned the Assembly's Catechism so thoroughly, that he could not forget it, whether the word Godhead does not immediately suggest to him that concise dogma,'There are three persons in the Godhead,' &c. Without any further illustrations, I think this moral caution flows obviously from the subject; namely, that it is wrong to impose these little formulas of abstruse doctrines on the infant mind. The doctrines taught in the Assembly's Catechism, are indeed called the distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel; but they are not. They are reduced to a kind of system by great efforts of ingenuity, by remote inferences, and by much subtle contrivance. By fastening them on the youthful mind, a weight may be unwarily imposed, which a person of tender conscience, not guarded by great physical or intellectual vigour, can neither shake off nor endure; which may end, and often has ended, in melancholy or phrenzy.

I might select from the Scriptures a multitude of passages, which have been generally misapplied, in consequence of blind devotion to preconceived opinions, and doctrines clothed in a technical phraseelogy. One of the most remarkable examples of this kind is that passage in the Epistle to the Ephesians, in which the Apostle exhorts them to 'put off the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful

lusts; to be renewed in the spirit of their mind;' and to 'put on the new man, which is created in righteousness and true holiness." Now I will ask, whether the generality of the orthodox, so called, do not apply all this to conversion, in the technical sense which they have attached to the word; and whether their teachers do not encourage or allow it? Is not the old man, by their interpretation, what they call the carnal or natural man, as he comes into the world, by the will of his Maker, wholly depraved? Does not the renewal spoken of by the Apostle, in their apprehension, mean a radical and mysterious change of an originally corrupt nature? and by putting on the new man, do they not understand a transformation of this nature? Every thing seems to them here to fall so naturally into their mode of speculation. upon conversion or regeneration, that most of them would be very apt to smile, perhaps some of them with an expression of a good deal of pity or contempt, if we should suggest to them an examination of the context. Can the context, they ask, make it plainer? or is there any possibility of mistake in the case? Let us hear what the Apostle saith. He writes to men already converted,-converted from paganism to christianity. But he would persuade them that their acknowledged Lord and master, in the religion which he preached, tolerates no vices, and they must no longer indulge in those corrupt practices, which they might once have considered venial, or have indulged without remorse, or fear of future consequences.

As the Ephesians, addressed by the Apostle, had been converted to a new faith, so he tells them they must be converted from the vices forbidden by this new religion. I foresee that some Christians will charge me with great ignorance, or a profane use of words, in speaking of more than one conversion. I have no disposition to ridicule the phraseology of any sect of Christians; for I am far from believing that ridicule is the test of truth. Some good, however, may result from placing such phraseology in a fair and strong light, and seeing whether it will bear the exposure. It is a very convenient and summary doctrine, that, in regard to the religious character, change or conversion can take place but once for all; that the substratum (I know not what other word to use) of all sin, is turned at once into that of

all holiness. But I choose to employ the words convert and conversion, in their real meaning, a meaning that appears to be alike true and intelligible; and to say that every sincere conviction, producing change of opinion, or change of moral conduct, is, in the good sense of the word, conversion, is a turning, as it regards the individual, from errour to truth, from vice to virtue.

It will, I think, be perceived by any one who examines the case fairly, that these views correspond with the exhortations of Paul in addressing the Ephesians. He beseeches these converts to walk worthily of their vocation, in all the christian virtues; and not to conduct themselves as other Gentiles, since they had not so learned Christ. But when he comes to illustrate his exhortation to them, to put on the new man, he does not rest in generalities; he does not exhort them to turn, to be converted, to be renewed, from they knew not what; he is not afraid of being called, in those unenlightened times, a moral preacher; but he intreats the liar to speak the truth,-the irascible and sanguinary, to avoid sinful anger,-the thief to turn to honest industry,the licentious talker, to purify his tongue, the thoughtless or profane, not to resist the holy spirit of God,-the morose, and vindictive, and slanderous, to become kind and forgiving, and tender of others' reputation. He continues the same style of exhortation to the end of the Epistle,-exhortation to mutual love, to chastity in speech and conduct, to vigilance and circumspection, to saving of time, to temperance, to devotion, to deference and forbearance towards one another in all the relations of life. All these are the great ends to be attained; they constitute the great warfare, to accomplish which, and to resist every adversary, we are to put on the whole armour of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.

Now it will not be maintained by any reasonable man, that these Gentile converts were all liars, thieves, &c. by nature, or that there is any thing mysterious or supernatural in their power of abstaining from these vices, or of reforming from them. Some reason the Apostle must have had for all the particularity that we have seen. Some or all of the vices enumerated must have been practised, and the virtues

imperfectly regarded by them; or at least there must have been occasion for great apprehension in the writer, that their virtues needed a very strong guard. They were already converted to a belief in Christ of some kind; but the work was incomplete, till they were thoroughly converted from their sins; for it was the earnest desire of the Apostle, as it was the great end and aim of the religion which he laboured to propagate, to make bad men good and good men better; to make them good in all the relations of life, and devout as the children of God, and heirs of immortality.

It is very much to be feared, that a considerable portion of Christians in this age would consider a preacher, who bestowed much of his attention upon the topicks alluded to, in speaking of the Epistle to the Ephesians, to be exceedingly deficient, quite a legal preacher. And yet how small a portion of the New Testament (and that small portion here and there in the Epistles of Paul) is devoted to abstruse speculations on subjects hard to be understood! The main end is, throughout, moral and devotional, and the sanctions every where solemn and awful.

I am not aware that the Scriptures, in any place, speak a language different from that of Paul, in the passage I have considered. Whenever conversion, renewal, regeneration, or the new birth, is spoken of in the New Testament, it means change of religion, from Judaism or paganism, to Christianity, or change of dispositions and conduct. Consequently unbelievers are exhorted to believe, and be converted to the true faith, and sinners to turn, and repent, and reform.

No doubt there are millions in christendom, bearing the name of Christians, without excepting any sect or denomination, who have little of the form, and less of the power of godliness. They must turn, must be converted, from indifference in regard to religion, to a consideration of its supreme importance; from neutrality to open defence of the faith; from coldness to zeal. Whatever be their habits of sin, of negligence, or stupor, they must be converted, regenerated, born again. No rational Christian is afraid of these terms, any farther than the abuse of them has led him to avoid them, and to seek other words to convey their true meaning. There are not to be found among men more

persuasive exhortations to conversion, than those which fall from the lips of preachers belonging to the liberal party. But they wish to have a meaning affixed to the word, that is at once rational and scriptural. They are afraid to require any proofs of true faith or genuine holiness, which the Scriptures do not require; and are ever ready to appeal to the law and the testimony, to the life and conversation.

When I commenced these remarks, I did not mean to confine myself to the illustration of a single instance of the perversion of scripture language, and perhaps I may renew the subject hereafter. It seems to me the time has come, in which the publick attention should be often called to such inquiries. Names are of little consequence in themselves, any farther than, having been long monopolized by one party, they may serve to mislead mankind, in regard to the things signified. But we know that in religion, as in other concerns, certain watch-words of a party are often more than a match for the sober reasoning of candid and inquiring men. We have seen, however, in our own times, that much can be done for the spread of rational religion, by calm and persevering attempts to enlighten the publick mind; but the occasions are still lamentably frequent for that searching question, which was put by Philip to the Ethiopian,'Understandest thou what thou readest?'

A. V.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF GOVERNOUR BROOKS.

The character of the late Governour Brooks being one of great excellence, and it being well known that he was a warm friend to religion, as well as an able and enlightened magistrate, and heroick defender of his country's rights and liberties, a brief memoir of his useful life may be acceptable to the readers of the Examiner. The following Biographical Sketch is extracted from an occasional Sermon, preached by the pastor of the First Church in Medford, on the Sabbath immediately subsequent to the death and interment of the lamented subject. Governour Brooks had, for many years, been a member of that Church, and how effectually he was supported in his dying hour, by the religion he so long professed, may be inferred from his conversation with the pastor, in the interview described in the close of the following sketch.

« السابقةمتابعة »