« ForrigeFortsæt »
many excellencies, has this peculiar advantage over every other system of ethical instruction, that it exhibits to its disciples, in the image of their Divine Master, a perfect model of all the virtues and graces which it enjoins. In the character of Him who died upon the cross for our redemption, we behold every element of Christian perfection, happily and harmoniously combined, occupying its proper station, exbibited in its just proportions, and actively exercised towards the only ends worthy of our existence, the glory of God and the welfare of our fellow-creatures. The picture of Jesus Christ pourtrayed by the Evangelists differs from the divine and moral precepts embodied in their writings, as a living man from his anatomy: so that to a mind deeply versed in the Sacred Writings, and imbued (through the power of God,) with their true spirit, there is perhaps no method for solving practical difficulties so short and satisfactory, as to conceive for a moment a scene in Judea, and consider what course of conduct our Saviour would have adopted himself, or recom
mended to others, under similar circumstances. Only we must recollect, that it is always necessary to study a model accurately, which we propose to adopt for an authority.
If this living image of Christian excellence be deserving of our most attentive contemplation, for our instruction in the true spirit and proper limits of the active and social duties, it possesses a still higher value in respect to those spiritual sentiments which forin a very large part of the Christian character, and distinguish it so advantageously from every other. These it is plainly difficult to define by a written rule; and as they are not so directly and visibly connected with the system of social life as the principles of justice and benevolence, to determine their nature and offices experimentally proves a slow and somewhat ambiguous process. Hence perhaps, in part, it has happened, that many persons, whose imaginations have been affected by religion, without any real conversion of heart, have been enabled, by exhibiting extraordinary appearances of spirituality in their conversation and manners, to deceive for a time some truly pious and experienced Christians. Thus Montanus and Manes acquired, in former days, a-share of credit and consequence which their practical merits never would have produced for them; and Munzer, and the other celestial prophets, as they were called, who, in the days of Luther, excited the rustic war, and at last perished miserably in their sins, were able, for a time, by a sort of ecstatic devotion, and lofty claims to inspiration, to
deceive even the excellent and sagacious Melancthon. Hence too, in part, it may be explained why many pious Christians have, in different
ages, been led into injudicious and mischievous excesses, which have supplied topics of ridicule to the profane and ignorant, while they have awakened the concern and exercised the humility of their Christian brethren. Instances of this second description will occur, I fear, but too easily to every reader. I need only allude to the old Ascetics, the French Quietists, and the followers of Swedenborgh in the North. Each of these is entitled, as a class, to be numbered among real Christians, and all certainly subjected Christianity to some reproach by their departure from the Gospel-standard of spiritual perfection.
Much of the delusion, and many of the errors and irregularities, which ecclesiastical historians have in general too faithfully recorded, would, doubtless, never have occurred, had Christians in every age been more careful to consider and appreciate the character of their Divine Master. The spiritual affections which glowed in his bosom were equally tranquil and energetic; neither breaking forth into wild and ecstatic fervours, nor sinking into contemplative inactivity. Their internal warmth and vigour undoubtedly exceeded all that we can think or speak; yet these appeared, not in the vehemence of his emotions, but in the activity of his benevolence, the constancy of his fortitude, his steady disregard of worldly gratifications, his unconquerable devotion to the service of his Heavenly
Father. Every holy principle knew in him its proper station and office; all acted harmoniously together; and all concurred to forin that heavenly temper which was visible in the whole tenor of his ministry, which raised him above the world even while he was in it, and which (from the imperfection perhaps of language) we have no better term to designate, than-Spiritual-mindedness. : The followers of Jesus Christ are frequently described in the inspired writings as persons who, in this world, are “strangers and pilgrims," who have here “no continuing city, but seek one to come.” Spiritual-mindedness is that state of mind which naturally belongs to, and becomes those, who answer to this description ; who, knowing that there “ remaineth a rest for the people of God,” and deeply feeling its glory and excellence, ardently desire and humbly wait for it. It implies, therefore, a settled and decided preference of heavenly things, the mortification of worldly desires, and the continual growth of those which are spiritual. It is a temper, not an affection. It is fed and cherished by every holy disposition; it embraces and sustains them all. :
The spiritual-mindedness of a Christian has but little in common with those contemplative and abstract dispositions which were formerly in considerable credit among the Platonists and Stoics, as well as in one of the principal schools of Indian philosophy. It is natural for men who think and feel deeply, to be dissatisfied with ordinary pleasures,
and to discover the superiority of intellectual to sensitive gratifications ; and some may be expected to arise in every cultivated age who will push these truths a little further, and withdrawing themselves in a considerable measure from the influence of external things, will endeavour to find a higher happiness in the exercise of their reason, or the indulgerice of a glowing and creative imagination. It is harsh to speak contemptuously of such practices ; the best and highest minds could travel onward but
under the darkness of Paganism ; and philosophy, doubtless, was religion to the heathen world. Yet it would be difficult, I believė, to shew, that the masters of ancient wisdom ordinarily attempted more than to ascertain what is the proper perfection of man in his present state. The immortality of the soul was, indeed, an article of faith ; at least in the Academy; but its future destiny was so enveloped in the shades of a metaphysical mysticism *, that we cannot easily suppose it to have furnished any motives of action, beyond those which the voice of nature and conscience will supply. Who can be seriously or practically affected by hearing, that after death his spirit shall undergo all sorts of inconceivable lustrations, and finally be absorbed into the Deity? The extreme ignorance t, too,, which universally prevailed, re
* See Somnium Scipionis, and Æneid. Lib. vi.
+ Of the general ignorance respecting God we may form some idea, by considering that the Stoics, one of the most learned, most moral, and most respectable sects of antiquity,