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eminent men, such as Polycarp, betraying a mixture of superstition or vanity with the far better qualities of their minds ?
Were Dr. Clarke's opinion correct, we must suppose, not only that St. Paul longed for martyrdom himself, but also, that he urged all who were mature in religion, most vehemently to desire the same kind of death. Is it not much more reasonable to believe, that feeling himself very far beneath the holy condition of glorified saints, he was determined to spend his own life, and to urge upon others to imitate his example, in an endeavour to approach, as nearly as possible, to that state of freedom from all sin ?
Heb. xii. 23, “to the spirits of just men made perfect,” aveúpaçı dikaiwv Tetele!Wuévwv, while this predicates freedom from bodily infirmities, it also implies, that before their exaltation, just men were subject to evils which prove the moral character to have been imperfect so long as they were in this world of sin and death.
From these and other scriptures it appears, that by perfection when representing the actual or possible attainments of the saints on earth, we are not to understand the absolute and pure state of holiness which fully yields all required by the decalogue; or that state of sinlessness in which glorified spirits exist; but a maturity or ripeness in evangelical knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, –a state indeed, in advance of that which the young convert receives, and which the slothful never attains to, but still in its highest attainments, coming far short of the unmixed sanctity possessed by man in innocency, and enjoyed by the redeemed in glory. This perfection is capable of high degrees of excellence, and of such a beauteous exercise of the Christian graces as adorns the gospel, and illustrates the celestial character of its doctrines ; of such holiness, and spirituality, and heavenly-mindedness, as, alas! are too seldom witnessed among even the good and sincere; yet still is it limited, and checked, and injured, by the influence of the flesh lusting against the spirit, -an influence which makes as many as are perfect feel, that when they would do good, evil is present with them, and that they cannot do the things which they would. The Tédecol in the church, like the full-grown men, who by the Persian laws were all soldiers, know by experience, that their class are engaged in a warfare from which there is no discharge.
The New Testament writers do not define this Christian maturity with exactness. There is no canon or rule by which we can ascertain the perfection, or the ne plus ultra of the moral attainment. As in bodily stature the Patagonian excels the Laplander, though both may be adult ; so among those who “are perfect,” there may be considerable diversity, one Christian rising above another; and who will say, that the tallest man he meets, has reached the maximum of his species? Dr. Bates in the fifth chapter of his “Spiritual Perfection Unfolded and Enforced,” exhibits this truth very clearly. The intention of this indefiniteness is to compel the Christian to aim at absolute perfection, and at an entire and full conformity to the holiness of the law-the boliness “ of the Divine nature" itself. Thus, were the adult Christian's attainments equal to those of St. Paul, he must, nevertheless, employ the language of that holy man :- · Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
There is, we conceive, great wisdom manifested in the law furnishing a distinct and definite portraiture of absolute holiness; and in the indefinite representations of the perfect or mature Christian given in other parts of the sacred Scriptures. Thus no compromise is made of the law, but it remains holy, and just, and good. This is the goal towards which he hastens through the whole of his course, and he is stimulated to accelerate his pace, by inward delight in the law,—by the promises of more grace, -by his regard for the glory of the Lord, —and by the final prize of his high calling. Feeling, however, faint, though pursuing, and annoyed with propensities either to overstep the mark of the stadium, or to loiter in the race, the Christian is mortified at himself, and compelled to invoke the aid and security which he needs. The workings of indwelling sin, so ably described by Dr. Owen, contrasted with the ideal of absolute perfection in holiness that delights his soul, makes him ashamed of his excellences, seek the pardon of his graces-his “righteousnesses," repent of his sinful failings, and, with the pious Beveridge, say, “ My tears need washing, and the washing of my tears needs to be washed in the blood of my Redeemer.” He believes he is a servant of the Lord, but, at the same time, feels and laments his unprofitableness : he rejoices in Christ Jesus, and has no confidence in the flesh.
Let not, therefore, professors be slothful, but followers of the most eminent of the saints : let them not conclude that no attainments are to be practically made, because in this life they expect not to arrive at a state of absolute perfection. The standard and the encouragements to spiritual perfection here are indefinitely elevated and strong; and Christians have enough to do as they watch unto prayer, and offer unto “the God of all grace” those sublimely comprehensive petitions of St. Paul recorded in Ephes. iii. 14-19. Let as many as are perfect be thus minded, and men will soon, beholding their good works, more than ever yet they have done, glorify their Father who is in heaven.
It is difficult for those who profess to have attained perfect conformity to the law in heart and in life, to prove that they do not lower the requirements of the law, and in fact, nullify it. “They measure themselves by themselves," instead of comparing themselves with the Divine standard. They erect a lower standard of right and wrong, a
N, S. VOL. VIII.
milder evangelical law, as it has been termed ; and thus, in fact, through attachment to theory, both the perfectionist and the antinomian meet, and agree to relieve the Christian from the high, unbending, everlasting claims of the moral law. The profession, too, of actual personal freedom from all sin, it is deserving of notice, has more frequently been made by weak and questionable characters, than by those whose graces command from others the greatest confidence and admiration. The best scholar will generally place himself on the lowest form. It seems, likewise, that the notion of perfection which we here combat, is calculated most powerfully to feed vanity and selfgratulation—to lower the exercises of faith into those of sense; and to check the flow of godly sorrow and Christian sympathy.
Dr. Barrow, in his sermon on self-conceit, expresses our sentiments with his usual force. “ There have been, indeed, sects of men, (such as the Novatians and the Pelagians,) who have pretended to perfection and purity; but these men, one would think, did never read the Scripture, did never consult experience, did never reflect on their own minds, did never compare their practice with their duty; had no conscience at all, or a very blind and stupid one. Who can say, I have made my heart clean ; I am pure from my sin ?' was a question of Solomon, to which he thought no man could answer affirmatively of himself. If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me; if I say I am perfect, it shall prove me perverse,' was the asseveration of that person whose virtue had undergone the severest trials. “In many things we offend all,' was the confession of an apostle in the name of the wisest and best men.
“Such men, indeed, (in contemplation of themselves and of their doings) have ever been ready to think meanly of themselves, to acknowledge and bewail their unworthiness, to disclaim all confidence in themselves, to avow their hope wholly to be reposed in the grace and mercy of God—(in his grace for ability to perform somewhat of their duty, -in his mercy, for pardon of their deficiencies and] offences,) to confess themselves, with Jacob, less than the least of God's mercies, —with David, that they are worms and no men,—with Job, that they are vile, and unable to answer God, [if] calling them to account, in one case of a thousand; that they abhor themselves, and repent in dust and ashes; that, after they have done all, they are unprofitable servants. And is he not very blind, who doth see in himself those perfections which the greatest saints would not descry in themselves ? Is he not infinitely vain that fancieth himself more worthy than they did take themselves to be?”. Sittingbourne.
J. K. F.
WHAT IS REQUISITE ON THE PART OF OUR CONGREGATIONS TO SECURE THE SPIRIT OF DEVOTION IN PUBLIC WORSHIP ?
OPINIONS have recently been expressed in various quarters, and with a growing earnestness, that the public worship of Congregationalists is not, usually, characterised by that deeply devotional spirit which the gospel can inspire, and which our nature requires. When we say that our worship is not solemnly devotional, we mean, in fact, that the people are not in a high degree devout. It is not on some altar of earth that the celestial fire burns feebly; but in the hearts of those assembled in the house of
prayer. We propose to inquire, by what means they may gain a more healthy spiritual condition. To realise a happier state of things, it is not sufficient that there be competency and devotedness in our ministers. A regenerating work must be wrought in the congregation; the transforming power of Christ must be received in their breasts. We shall, first, point out some things which, in our judgment, depress the tone and weaken the force of their devotional sentiments and feelings.
We think we can detect the existence of unfavourable influences in some of the characteristics of the age ; for the habits of thought, and the opinions which are popular and national, in every period exercise manifest influence on the church. The spirit of the worshipper within the temple is tinctured by the spirit in the world around it. The opinions and the temper of the man have a directing force on the creed and the feelings of the Christian. The disciple of Jesus is drawn, to a certain extent, into agreement with the social tendencies and the current maxims of the day in which he lives. He is influenced by the active intelligence and the excited and earnest passions of the world. In apostolic times, Jewish habits of thought brought error, prejudice, and disorder into the church. In a subsequent age, the Alexandrian school of philosophy became the source of many subtleties, speculations, and heresies. Philosophy claimed the interpretation of the mysteries of revelation; and the Gospel was corrupted by being forced to speak the language of the schools and the doctrines of sects. So the opinions and the social tendencies of the present age, exercise a powerful influence on the church of Christ.
The sceptical tendency and restlessness of the popular mind damp the devotional ardour of the people. The periodicity which exists in some of the motions of the solar system, seems to have its parallel in the history of human reason. The latter, like the former, has its cycles, comprising less or greater terms, and is subject to revolutions, some of which are rapidly completed, while others have so vast an interval, as to elude the reach of the profoundest mental analysis. It
has its flux and reflux-like the tidal wave ; its periods of energy and of weakness. It has been credulous until almost every play of the imagination has been taken for truth; it has been unbelieving until truth has been treated as a fable. In one phasis we see it possessing a vigorous appetite for the marvellous; in another, discrediting any miraculous interposition of the Creator in his own works. In one period it has yielded an implicit faith to established systems ; in another it has been impatient and restless under the restraints of moral sentiments, and of legislative enactments. The present age is marked by the latter tendency. Its awakened intellect is engaged in detecting the frauds which have been practised on it in earlier times, rather than looking, with a thoughtful and prophetic eye, to those which are to
It is not so much discovering new truths in moral science, as rejecting the errors of past generations. It is dissolving the charms which held sovereign sway over the intellect of ages, rather than submitting to the direction of surer and more infallible guides. It would strip our nature of all those attachments which could not give satisfactory evidence of their physical utility. The heart must have no logic of its own, nor presume to teach the understanding any of the lessons which guide to wisdom and happiness. The popular mind is impatient of restraint. Reason—that is, the average intellect of the men of this age—is regarded as equal to every task ; competent to solve every mystery; and to place in a just and equitable light, those social and religious questions which have long perplexed the wisdom of the world. “In truth, nothing is more characteristic of our age, than the vast range of inquiry which is opening more and more to the multitude of men. Thought frees the old bounds to which men used to confine themselves. It holds nothing too sacred for investigation. It calls the past to account, and treats hoary opinions as if they were of yesterday's growth. No reverence drives it back. No great name terrifies it. The foundations of what seems most settled, must be explored. Undoubtedly this is a perilous tendency. Men forget the limits of their powers. They question the infinite, the unsearchable, with an audacious self-reliance. They shock pious and revering minds, and rush into an extravagance of doubt, more unphilosophical and foolish than the weakest credulity.”* These remarks of an eloquent writer, truly depict the tendency of the popular mind, -especially the active, masculine, but undisciplined intellect of the manufacturing districts. Unsettled opinions are prevalent; and doubt, with many, has become the habit or the rule of reason. Such a state of things generates pride, self-sufficiency, an insubordination of mind to human experience and wisdom, and an irreverential state of feeling towards things sacred and divine. This tendency of the age, in its secondary influences, is
* Dr. Channing.