Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

THE VAGUENESS, AND CONSEQUENT INEFFICACY, OF

POPULAR NOTIONS ON RELIGION.

For the Christian Observer.

That this world is not the Christian's rest, but a scene of probation : and, as indeed this very term implies, that its every action, word, and thought, exert an influence, favourable or adverse, on man's eternal destiny: that this world is, in fact, the school in which souls are educated for heaven,-religion the system of education, - the Spirit of God the teacher :—these are truths, without a belief of which no man can be a subject of religion. Without it, God can appear to him but a cruel tyrant, when He dashes from his lips the cup of expected pleasure, and chastens him, in love, that he may be a partaker of His holiness. Religion can appear to him but a mere arbitrary enactment, possessing no necessary connexion with his future state : and, therefore, a harsh and unmeaning deprivation of liberty and enjoyment, here, in order to the capricious bestowal upon him of happiness hereafter,-a happiness which, secured to him only by the favour of a Being apparently so arbitrary and malignant, might indeed be anticipated with distrust, and rejoiced in with trembling. But if, as both the reason of the case, and Scripture, amply prove, every circumstance in man's conversation here on earth tends to form the character, and fix the destiny, of his soul : a character and a destiny which will be but the consummation of a corresponding condition already entered upon in this state of probation; it is evidently of the utmost necessity, that man should possess clear and definite views of so much at least of this end,—that is, of the happiness and misery of the future state-as is thus intimately connected with the conduct of his present life. I say, “So much ;" for there is no doubt that, in addition to this, God may, and will, impart new faculties, and thus open new inlets, through which additional happiness or misery may flow in upon the soul.

But see the operation of this principle in the every-day details of secular life; in which it meets full and diligent attention. In order that your son may be duly qualified to reap the rewards which some learned or honourable profession holds out to merit; or fitted to earn a livelihood in the vocation of some respectable trade or business ; it is necessary that you should determine the particular profession or trade for which you design him, and that his education should bear CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 30.

2 T

more especially upon this as its end and object. For it is evident that a man may be deeply read in the law, without thus becoming a good physician: and may be most diligent and skilful in the business of an ordinary mechanic, or in naval or military tactics, without ever being fitted by such an education to fill suitably and efficiently the place which you design for him in a merchant's office or a trader's shop. Now precisely the same connection and the same influence subsists between this life and eternity. And unless we cultivate the peculiar qualifications which bear upon the future state, all others, however useful they may be for this world, will be altogether useless for the other. You may advance through the various stages of life and gradations of society, from youth to age, from poverty to wealth, from humbleness to respectability. You may fine down every coarseness of mind, and polish away every roughness of manner, as you advance. Throughout your whole progress, you may assert a just claim upon society to the character of an honest, upright, and liberal man, of strict veracity and unimpeachable morals.

Still more, you may have been a zealous advocate and supporter of the church, incul. cating by precept, and by example too, a regular attendance upon all its ceremonial observances and stated duties ; and yet, with all these, you may not have come into contact with the principle of spiritual life: and been brought to the knowledge of the truth : and been instructed in things of eternity: and made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.

Hell and heaven are the two great objects, by a tendency to the avoidance or attainment of which, respectively, the value of every circumstance of life is to be estimated. What do these terms mean? Does hell mean nothing more definite than the abode of Satan, where lost souls crouch beneath his rod of iron, amid the everlasting burnings of a material penal fire, and are tormented by devils: a something too terrible to be thought of, or for a moment dwelt upon, except in the occasional prayer, at times of sickness or danger, of an evil conscience, lashed by the horrors of retributive vengeance, but unweaned from the love of sin, that God will not cast you into it? Does heaven mean still less ? For a guilty conscience can force upon the soul some idea of hell in its real nature : but the Spirit of God alone, not without blood, can withdraw the veil from the holiest, and enable us to look into the sanctuary. Does it express a something too vague to be grasped and contemplated : too floating to fix the mind. too uncertain and uninteresting to be comprehended in its estimate of happiness? If this be all they furnish to your mind : what light can these, the appointed lamp unto your feet, afford to guide your steps through life? what influence can these, its designed springs of action, exert upon your religion ?

Some persons seize upon the metaphors with which, in a few instances, Scripture describes the misery of the lost, as if they had laid hold upon

which they most loved, and could best wield; and so distort, and scare us with these awful figures, exaggerated into colossal dimensions, that, in the intensity of our bodily fear, we almost forget that we possess souls. In the statements of the experimental Christian, you will find these metaphors scarcely oftener than you find them in the New Testament: and that is far less frequently than the excitable fancy of some may conceive. When the experienced Christian needs the terrors of the Lord to persuade men, he speaks seldom of the undying worms and quenchless fires

the weapons

of external penal infliction ; but often and awfully of the gnawings of an evil conscience; of the outer darkness of despair ; of the quenchless fires of insatiable and ungratified ambition; of jealousy, of pride, of sensuality, of covetousness. “God, to whom vengeance belongeth," is not depicted by him in the stern visage, and girded with the whips and scorpions of a pagan Nemesis ; sitting in the dungeons, and surrounded by the racks and fires, of a papal inquisitor; but even when exerting this, “ His strange work,”. he appears in the mild yet awful and sin-repelling majesty of holiness; and, as once over Jerusalem, mourns while he condemns the self-destroyed, self-convicted, self-tormented sinner. Such is the view which the experienced Christian presents of the dark side of the Gospel. And is it not the most operative, as well as the most Scriptural ? For if hell really be the attracting centre to which all evil, physical and moral, tends, without one redeeming comfort, one redeeming virtue, to sweeten its cup of unmingled bitterness : the receptacle of sinners of every grade and character, but all dead to every gracious affection, every softer emotion; where Satan, unawed by the Divine presence, plays the tyrant, in the perfection of those cruelties and impurities of which, in heathen lands, he even now dares exhibit to us some faint specimen ; and tortures and mocks his deluded and adoring votaries; and sin riots, in all the corruption and malignity of which unembodied spirits can be the subject ; where souls which hated and ruined one another, and whom this earth is not wide enough to contain, shall be indissolubly and eternally wedded together in most hated union : where ambition will soar to the throne of universal empire, but to be waked from its reveries by the galling of its chains : where pride will swell to its utmost, but that it may be forced to cringe in stifled agony: where every impure and malignant passion will rage in all the fury of impotence : where feverish impatience, and pining discontent, and anxious and alarmed covetousness—those undying worms—will eternally gnaw upon the soul: where it will thirst after those sensual gratifications which, in the world it has left, were its sole enjoyment, but which disembodied spirits cannot taste; without one drop of water to cool the tongue tormented in this flame ; while the memory of unrepented and unpardoned sins, and vain regrets for time wasted, and now gone by for ever : for opportunities neglected : for critical moments sacrificed to some idol sin,-while all these bitter remembrances will float, in the mazes of inextricable confusion, through the dark chaos of a bewildered soul : and when it turns to the last hope of the wretched: when it asks, what must be the measure and duration of these intolerable agonies ? the “ still small voice” of conscience will answer, with the calmness of despair -Eternity! If this, though but a faint, partial, imperfect glimpse, is yet the real character of that place of torment ; abandon those vague fancies, and inoperative contemplations of a mere material fire, and material hell, and look well to the state of your souls. Look to the manner, and to the spirit, with which you discharge the duties of the several relations of life. Look to the character, and to the tendency, of your pursuits and enjoyments : to the habits of your life : to the tastes and tempers of your mind. Abandon your false dependence upon the mechanical formalities of an unmeaning worship, as though you could thus bargain with Him whose is the earth and the fulness thereof. Fly to the alone atonement for sin, which the Son of God offered upon the cross : and before the tremendous sentence is executed upon you, “Cut him down—why cumbereth he the ground," prostrate yourself before the Lord in the humility of convinced sinfulness, and in earnest prayer : and cry, from the very

bottom of your soul, “Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.

Let me conclude this paper by reminding you, that this life, though, if considered in itself alone, it is indeed but a vain shadow, yet if view. ed in its bearings upon eternity, and as the path which all must tread to "glory, honour, and immortality," it assumes a vast, an incalculable importance. Yet how many are there, over whose heads year after year of extended grace—it may be of protracted vengeance-has rolled; and found, and left them (the great work for eternity undone, perhaps uncommenced) in an attitude of bold defiance, of careless indifference, of faint resolve ; while the most trivial accident, of every day occurrence, may cast the die on which their all is staked; arrest their fleeting breath, and sink them to perdition. For years have they stood upon the brink of the all-devouring ocean. Each plunge, an acquaintance, a friend, a relative, has vanished from their view, and sunk to rise no more. Yet their memory of the solemn scene has gradually faded away; and, with the circling eddies of the agitated expanse, diffused, and cast itself in the element around them. The truth is, men live ever on the brink of eternity: and like him who dwells amid the clouds and storms of some Alpine cliff, the scene has become familiar, and they view its horrors without dismay. But our feelings cannot alter the fixed constitution of things, and the immutable decrees of Heaven. We may cast a vacant, careless glance upon the closing grave; yet each must shortly lie within its narrow bounds: each must shortly tread, and tread alone, the dark valley of the shadow of death. And, in that lonely path, many a sight and sound of terror, many a shuddering apprehension, and many an actual horror, will astound the soul unprotected by death's only conqueror. Gloomy indeed will the journey be to him whose hopes and anticipations were all bounded by these visible heavens : whose God was Mammon : whose lamp has gone out upon the very threshold of eternity, and left him “in outer darkness," amid “weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth :” whose heart, whose treasure, and whose conversation, were on earth ; unwearied from the vanities of time and sense ; uninterested, by a quickening faith, in the purchased immortality; unpardoned, unreconciled, unsanctified.

J. M. H.

MELANCHOLY HISTORY OF GERMAN EMIGRANTS TO

ARMENIA.

To the Editor of the Christian Observer. I HAVE professed myself in another place, and on another occasion, to be a Scriptural Millennarian. So much, however, has this doctrine been abused, not only by the German Anabaptists in the time of Luther, and the Fifth Monarchy men who followed the heels of Cromwell, but by associated individuals in our own day, that I cannot be surprised at your feeling some, and possibly no small, repugnance against any extravagant notions on this subject; or that you should see the need of guarding your readers against errors by which others bave been led astray. I need not repeat my own views on this litigated question, because I do not wish unnecessarily to obtrude them upon those whose opinions do not coincide with mine on the application of this portion of revelation ; but I will relate a narrative which furnishes some useful admonitions. The facts, which may be novel to some, I have gathered from a work on Russia, by Dr. Pinkerton, who will be the best guarantee for their truth.

Among the German colonists in the vicinity of Odessa, some families of peasants from Wertemberg reached that country in the autumn of the year 1817, on their journey to Mount Ararat, whither they were induced to migrate from a religious nostalgia, though they were not themselves Jewish descendants. In January, 1818, Dr. Pinkerton met with two leaders of their sect in Moscow, named Koch and Frick, which city was then visited by the emperor and his family. They were deputed by their brethren to petition Alexander for assistance, whose piety and benevolence represented him to them as one raised up to prepare the kingdom of the Saviour upon earth, and they sang his praises in congratulatory hymns and addresses. Though otherwise illiterate, they had read the Scriptures, and were gifted with a warm imagination, and a certain power of reasoning. It appears that Professor Jung-Stilling, of Baden, was a popular prophetic writer of this persuasion, and probably the principal author of this enthusiastic and ill-timed attempt to forestal futurity. His exposition of the Apocalypse, and other mystical works, were generally diffused and

He combated by his arguments the Neologians and Sceptics; but, together with the doctrines of the Gospel, he held some strange fancies on universal restitution, which he interpreted in such a sense as involved the non-eternity of hell, the salvation of heathen in an unconverted state, and even that of the devil and his angels. He fixed both the year and place of Christ's appearance and reign with such positiveness, that numbers sold their property, and hastened to the East in consequence. Bengel of Wertemberg was another author of the same too visionary character. He was born in 1687, and died in 1752. Numbers of their infatuated followers removed to the south of Russia. At one time 7000 having placed their families' effects upon rafts in the Danube, with colours flying, and singing Millennial songs, arrived in the Black Sea ; but before they had passed quarantine, and approached the place of their destination, nearly 3000 of them had perished by disease and hardship. The Emperor Alexander, with his wonted liberality, gave them money, allowed them a guide through the mountains of Caucasus into Georgia, and ordered that the Governor General should permit them to settle there, making them a grant from the crown lands. Koch and Frick both declared their implicit belief that they were really inspired to write ejaculatory effusions. The death of their companions did not quench the ardours of the pursuit, nor could they be dissuaded from their rash project, though they were apprized that the country where they had become settlers, was very unhealthy, and that the tribes there subsisted by robbery and murder. Early in the spring of 1818, they passed Mount Caucasus, and planted themselves in some villages on the banks of the Kur, at some distance from Tiflis ; but such were the difficulties which they encountered, and sickness they endured, that many of them were aroused from their imaginary speculation, and some of them alto

« VorigeDoorgaan »