« AnteriorContinuar »
purpose, is to charge God foolishly, by leading to the con. clusion that the means which He hath provided are inadequate to the end intended to be promoted. To such a mode of reasoning, weak as it is, recourse has been had on the present occasion. Whereas surely there is a wide difference between charging God with the inadequacy of his own means, and bearing testimony, as in humility we ought, to the cor. ruption of man's fallen nature, and to that consequent obliquity of will, and perverseness of understanding, which divine revelation hath never been able effectually to counteract; and to which it has been owing, that the letter of the Bible has proved so insufficient to its graciously intended purpose. In fact, the Bible, though in itself fully competent, as the revealed word of God must be, to " accomplish what God pleases, and to prosper in the thing whereto God sends it;" and consequently, when properly understood, to “ give wisdom unto the simple;" still the Bible does not neces. sarily make even the learned wise unto salvation. Of this humiliating truth the history of the Church has been furnishing continued proofs from the days of its first establishment down to the present time. To suppose then that every one who receives the sacred book becomes acquainted with its contents, and established in its doctrines, is to suppose in the direct face of fact and experience. The word of God, it is certain, must be uniform and consistent; “ for God is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent;">consequently the truth of the Christian covenant must at all times, like its divine Author, be one and the same; whilst human opinions upon it, the offspring of fallibility, have been inore or less in a continued state of variation and contradiction. To furnish a remedy against this greatest of all evils, an apostasy from the revealed truth, God in his wisdom never left his Church unprovided with duly authorized witnesses; whose office it should be “ as approved workmen, rightly
to divide the word of truth, that they might be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince gainsayers ; ” on the consideration that the Church would at all times be encompassed “ by unruly and vain talkers, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not.” And the members of the Church of England are, I conceive, the first members of any truly apostolical Church, who have been led to think, that such a wise and gracious provision for the preservation of the true faith in the world, night, at any time, and under any circumstances, be safely dispensed with.
In fact, the word and the ministry appear to be two collateral parts of the same divine provision for the salvation of fallen man. And if so, it should seem, that they were intended to act in proper connection with each other. Hence it will follow, that the error of the Romish Church, which depends for the most part on the ministry, whilst it withholds the word ; and the error of some protestants who would circulate the word independant of the duly appointed ministry; will perhaps tend equally to defeat the object which Divine Wisdom had in view in revealing the one and appointing the other ; by keeping the parties concerned in ignorance with respect to that true saving knowledge, which the word and ministry CONJOINTLY were designed to promote.
Whatever then may be imagined on the subject of religion, (and imaginations on that subject have been infinite,) it will be ultimately found, that the mercy of God has not been more signally displayed in the act of salvation itself, than has his wisdom in the institution of the means that were to be instrumental to its final accomplishment. On the ground then that “ God's counsel shall stand,” every deviation from his plan for the salvation of his fallen creatures must be adopted at the incalculable risk of the parties concerned in it.
It must indeed be allowed, that a Society whose professed object it is “ to produce an indefinite diffusion of that heavenly knowledge, which is alone adapted to make men wise, and good, and happy,” carries so much of interest on the face of it, as cannot fail to arrest the attention of every Christian mind. And when we are informed that nearly half a million of Bibles have been dispersed, and towards one hundred thousand pounds expended for the purpose, we wish to hope, that much good to the cause of Christianity has of late years been doing in the world through the medium of this benevolent undertaking. But whilst disposed to give full credit to the parties concerned in its prosecution, it is with regret that we feel ourselves constrained to think, that the comprehensive charity, and ostensible plausibility of the object professedly in view, have tended in a great measure to keep out of sight the essential defects of the plan set on foot for its promotion. The fallacy which has prevailed appears to be, that much in this case has been taken for granted, which remains to be proved; the estimate of the advantage derived to the cause of Christianity having been taken, not from any account of converts to the true faith really made, or congregations of sound professing Christians actually set on foot, (the old and approved method of conveying intelligence of this nature, and the only one by which this important point can be satisfactorily ascertained ;) but from the mere insulated circumstance of the quantity of Bibles dispersed. s.
But this mode of estimating proceeds on the erroneous principle, that the letter and spirit of the Bible are one and the same thing ; in other words, that between mere quoting, and rightly interpreting the language of Sacred Writ there is no essential difference. Whereas the history of our own country, (not to extend our remarks beyond it,) is abund
See Sketch of the British and Foreign Bible Society,
antly sufficient to inform us; that the most pernicious de. signs, not less than the most pestilent heresies have been promoted by the former ; whilst common sense must tell us, that it is by the latter only, that the honor of God and the cause of true religion can be advanced in the world. And this, I conceive, constitutes with all sound Churchmen one chief objection to the society in question; that whilst its funds are profusely employed in dispersing the letter of the Scriptures, and the letter only ; no provision for teaching the essential principles of the one true faith contairied in them, compatible with its originally established plan, can possibly be adopted.
It has been said indeed, that the evil consequences to be apprehended from such an imperfect plan of circulating the revealed word, the Churchmen concerned in it have it in their power, in a degree at least, to counteract; by accompanying their Bibles with their own established formularies, and such explanatory publications as in their judgment are best calculated for the purpose. But such a mode of proceeding is a direct departure from the fundamental rule of che Society, with which they have connected themselves. The question then seems to be, what advantage to the cause of truth, Churchmen can have in contemplation from such a connection, which will not, even in their own judgment, be more effectually secured by a Society peculiarly their own ; which, whilst it exacts from them, as the condition of their engagement, no concession of established principle, presents them at the same time with no evil consequences to be counteracted. Or to place this matter in another light; as division among Churchmen can at no time tend to good; particularly at a time, when the Church is beset with enemies on every side; it may be asked, what weight Churchmen have to throw into the scale, which can in any degree counterbalance the consequences to be apprehended from their becoming members of an association, the pro
fessed object of which is to effect, what they, by judiciously concentrating their whole strength, have it in their own power to effect, not only in the most perfect way, but also to a much greater extent than, in consequence of their divided means, they are now enabled to do. For the point for consideration in the present case is not, what it has been plausibly, though I think, sophistically represented, and by which plausible and sophistical representation many well meaning persons have been hastily carried away; that “ the circulation of the Bible will procure incalculable good, and cannot possibly do any harm;" but, whether that sacred book, which was intended to do the greatest good, as containing divine information essential to the most important interests of mankind, ought not to be circulated, in the way best calculated to promote its most gracious design. In a word, the question is not, whether or not good is to be done ; but whether that good ought not, in the judgment
of Churchmen at least, to be done in what they consider to · be the best and most approved way. There are however
some respectable persons, and it is not my wish to keep back any circumstance that may be deemed favorable to the association in question, who appear to build much on its efficacy “ to lessen the political and religious evils of dissent ;” and “ to unite all denominations of Christians in a cause, where all may safely unite."
Could these positions be substantiated, it must be admitted, that amid the profusion of high-sounding declamation that has from time to time been lavished on this popular subject, something had been said that was justly entitled to consideration. At the same time it must be remarked, that there is perhaps no word, in its religious acceptation, which the modern vocabulary has more perverted than that of unity. In consequence of which, many, it is to be feared, have been hastily carried away by the inviting sound of this word No. IX.
Pam.. VOL. V.