Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

even plebeian dress, the better to introduce itself into the cottage of the peasant, the boldness of sending forth the Bible to justify itself, and out-face its accuser, added to the almost miraculous conjunction of all ranks, sects, and characters, in one great catholic effort to spread it over the globe, was an occurrence too like a peculiar operation of the Divine Will not to rivet our attention upon the stupendous spectacle.

Being persuaded that from the same source whence the command to search the Scriptures originated, assistance in the prosecution of that .search would be afforded us, we have always regarded the mere diffusion of the Bible in its “naked majesty," as an object of incalculable benefit. We have always looked, upon the Bible, when put entire and pure into the hands of a man endued with the proper disposition which should be brought to the perusal of it, as a most excellent commentary upon itself. When its contents could only transpire through the moạths of teachers, they were liable to be partially selected for supporting particular tenets; but when the whole book is read with a proper consideration of it as a whole, in which the parts were designed to afford to each other reciprocal explanation, the too literal, fond, or forced interpretation or application of particular passages is subdued and softeņed into a mild and compounded belief, in which the great articles of the Christian system are harmoniously intermixed. Yet notwithstanding this persuasion of the benefits to be expected from the catholic dispersion of the Scriptures alone, we have not been insensible to the importance of following up the holy gift with holy counsel. In a word, we have considered the plan as drawing after it an indispensable obligation upon those who have received the blessing of a religious education, to give every help to the illiterate possessor of this book, towards understanding and applying its contents.

Again, though we have never thought that the distribution of the Bible was to be discoụntenanced because the vast numbers that were poured forth from all denominations of Christians could not be made to coalesce in a common effort to spread together with the book acknowledged by all, the system of practical worship adopted only by one though perhaps the largest, and certainly the most constitutional, of those denominations; still we have ardently desired to see a separate and independent society start into being, for the sole purpose of diffusing among the poorer classes the Liturgy of the church of England, and among all classes the Homilies of that church composed by its great and venerable founders. The event has happened as we wished. A Prayer Book and Homily Society, instituted by members of

the church of England, has started into being--the sixth day of May last was their first anniversary; and we have read with feelings of delight the modest, sensible, and encouraging Report of the Committee to the Annual Meeting, first assembled on the same day.

That such a scheme should have to encounter opposition from without, is not at all a subject of surprise. That some descriptions of dissenters should oppose it, is perfectly natural. Nor are we astonished at discovering that it does not find favour with many stout champions of church orthodoxy; not even with all those whose objection to the Bible Societies was grounded on their alleged neglect of the Common Prayer-book. These circumstances do not at all shake our confidence in the ultimate success of this institution. A society of angelic spirits, with human happiness full in their view, and God for their patron, would be charged with officiousness by men living at their ease, with hypocrisy by men of pleasure, with enthusiasm by the care less, and with informality by the punctilious. Every institution designed to promote the good of mankind is militant like the church itself; and he who trembles before man, is a bad soldier in the cause of God.

The great danger to which such institutions are exposed arises from within. Societies are weak not from external pressure, but from internal principles of dissolution. Such principles, however, do not exist in this society. There is but one object, and that object is exactly defined. All the views of its members, however various in their origin, or to whatever ulterior points they may be carried, agree in a common purpose, and as far as the society is collectively concerned, terminate there. The rays, however distinct or diversified, are forcibly drawn to a single focus. Dissonance of character, habits, or sentiments, cannot introduce faction into such a society. One sees nothing, therefore, to extinguish its vitality but the want of zeal, and the want of funds. And against these we are to pray, and preach, and strive.

The Prayer-book has been called the “ Daughter of the Bible,” and nothing can better prove their relationship than the parallel progress with which their influence and diffusion have proceeded. The demand for Prayer-books has been found to keep pace with the multiplication of Bibles. The parent is hallowed in the features of the child, and together they form a just emblem of the awful relation in which we stand to the Creator, and of the holy similitude in which we were fashioned.

With these sentiments in our hearts, it could not but give us

[ocr errors]

sincere pleasure to see a society established under the auspices of some of the most virtuous men in the country, thus promulging itself to the world, and thus designating its views.

“ The Prayer Book and Homily Society,” of which it is the sole object to distribute gratis, and to circulate, at reduced prices, throughout the British empire, its colonies and dependencies, and particularly in his majesty's navy and army, the authorized formularies of the united church of England and Ireland, with out note or comment, viz. the Book of Common Prayer, including the Thirty-nine Articles; and the Homilies in separate sermons, or in an entire volume.

Although the funds of this excellent institution are not yet, we regret to say, ample enough to enable them to accomplish half what they wish, it appears by the report of their committee that the number of Prayer-books disposed of by the society in ten months was 3500. And for this exertion, under all circumstances, we beg leave to be numbered among those who feel the sincerest gratitude. For a right understanding of the excellence of our Liturgy we cannot do better than recommend to our readers the truly admirable discourses upon that subject, preached before the University of Cambridge in 1811, by the Rev. Charles Simeon; from which it is impossible to forbear producing the following page or two, as a specimen of the vigour, perspicuity, and feeling, which characterize the whole.

“Let us look at the stated services of our church; les us call to mind all that we have heard or uttered, from the introductory sentences which were to prepare our minds, to the dismission prayer which closes the whole; there is nothing for shew, but all for edification and spiritual improvement. Is humility the foundation of true piety? What deep humiliation is expressed in the General Confession, and throughout the Litany, as also in supplicating forgiveness after every one of the commandments, for our innumerable violations of them all! Is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the way appointed for our reconciliation with God? We ask for every blessing solely in his name and for his sake; and with the holy vehemence of importunity we urge with him to the consideration of all that he has done and suffered for us, as our plea for mercy; and, at the Lord's Supper, we mark so fully our affiance in his atoning blood, that it is impossible for any one to use those prayers aright, without seeing and feeling that • there is no other name under heaven but his, whereby we can be saved.'

“ The same we may observe respecting the occasional services of our church. From our very birth even to the grave, our church omits nothing that can tend to the edification of its members. At our first introduction into the church, with what solemnity are we dedicated to God in our baptismal service! What pledges does our church require of our sponsors that we shall be brought up in the true faith and fear of God; and how earnestly does she lead us to pray for a progressive, total, and permanent renovation of our souls ! No sooner are we capable of receiving instruction than she provides for us, and expressly requires that we be well instructed in a catechism, so short that it burthens the memory of none, and so comprehensive that it contains all that is necessary for our information at that early period of our life. When once we are taught by that to know the nature and extent of our baptismal vows, the church calls upon us to renew in our own person the vows that were formerly made for us in our name; and in a service specially prepared for that purpose, leads us to consecrate ourselves to God, thus endeavouring to confirm us in our holy resolutions, and to establish us in the faith of Christ. Not content with having thus initiated, instructed, and confirmed her members in the religion of Christ, the church embraces every occasion of instilling into our minds the knowledge and love of his ways.

If we change our condition in life, we are required to come to the altar of our God, and there devote ourselves afresh to him, and implore his blessing, from which alone all true happiness proceeds. Are mercies and deliverances vouchsafed to any, especially that great mercy of preservation from the pangs and perils of childbirth? the church appoints a public acknowledgment to be made to Almighty God, in the presence of the whole congregation, and provides a suitable service to that end. Iu like manner, for every public mercy, or in time of any public calamity, particular prayers and thanksgivings are provided for our use. In a time of sickness there is also very particular provision made for our instruction and consolation : and even after death, when she can no more benefit the deceased, the church labours to promote the benefit of her surviving members by a service the most solemn and impressive that ever was formed. Thus attentive is she to supply in every thing, as far as human endeavours can avail, our spiritual wants; being decent in her forms, but not superstitious; and strong in her expressions, but not erroneous. In short, it is not possible to read the Liturgy with candour, and not to see that the welfare of our souls is the one object of the whole; and that the compilers of it had nothing in view, but that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in God, we should glorify his holy name."

The sermon of Mr. Cunningham, which we have named at the head of this article, has made a very interesting and beautiful application of the text in 1 Chronicles, 28th chapter, and 9th verse : Know thou the God of thy father.” To practise this advice of king David to his son and successor, Mr. Cunningham enforces the necessity upon the church of England of often recurring to her first principles, and these first priciples are, in his opinion, with most certainty to be found in the Homilies, of which the reputed authors were Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and Jewell, the founders of our holy church, and the great pillars of the protestant cause in these realms.

Mr. Cunningham's three propositions are," 1st. That it is the wisdom and duty of churches, in general, often to go back to their first principles. 2dly. That this is especially the wisdom and duty of our own church. 3dly. That the society in question is an instrument well calculated to assist in the discharge of this duty." And these propositions he has, in our judgment, completely succeeded in establishing. We are impressively reminded by him of the happy effect produced by the unexpected discovery of the sacred volume, containing the first principles of the religion of the Jews. Struck with the awful contrast between the engagements and the character of his people, the monarch, it is said, 'rent his clothes, and turned unto the Lord with all his heart, and the impulse communicating itself from the throne to the people, the moment of the discovery of the law became the æra of national reform."

The proneness in every church to an oblivion of its first principles is thus discussed, in a style of uncommon elegance and force.

• If churches, for the most part, as we have seen, set out upon better principles than states, their tendency to decay is also greater. In states, good laws are often long preserved because it is the obvious worldly interest of the community to preserve them. Each order, also, as in our own mixed constitution, from a regard to self interest, resists any invasion of the laws by the other orders. But in religion the case is different. Its benefits are chiefly of a remote and spiritual nature, and therefore not valued by the irreligious. A doctrine may be removed, and a bad man feel no diminution of his pleasures. Neither is one order here concerned to check the excesses of another; because an indolent priesthood is best suited to the feelings of a profligate people. Hence decay makes such rapid progress in religion. Hence the successors of St. Peter display scarcely a vestige of the religion taught in his epistles. Hence orthodoxy has almost deserted the camp of the once devout puri. tans.--Behold then an additional cause for churches going back to their first principles, and examining the elements of which they are

« AnteriorContinuar »