Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

tensively felt in the world. If we except the Life of Dr. Arnold, we know of no biographical work of modern times more deeply interesting, and we have seldom read a book from the perusal of which we have felt that we have derived so much benefit. We thank Archdeacon Hare for the manly and faithful manner in which he has recorded the history of his friend, and made us acquainted with his investigations and his questionings, his doubts and his fears. By the omission of some portions, he says it might easily have been made more satisfactory. For ourselves, we would not part with a single page or line that he has given us. We wish that he could have told us more, and let us see further into the inner life of one who, however he may have erred in his conclusions on some points which we hold to be of great moment, “ hated falsehood with an intense hatred, and whose spirit burnt with a consuming love of truth.” Sterling's mind, it has been noticed, was of a speculative character; and on leaving Herstmonceux he gave himself earnestly to the study of critical theology, of the authenticity, the authority and the sense of Scripture, and especially of what has been written in Germany, where thought upon these subjects has been much more active and unrestrained than in any other country. We have no definite infor. mation respecting his opinions at the period of his death. But it is very evident from his letters that he had been for some time in doubt with respect to the supernatural origin and the divine authority of Christianity. This doubt, however, did not destroy his piety or weaken his religious trust. His reverence for Christ remained firm and abiding in the midst of all his perplexities and anxieties, and he enjoyed an inward satisfaction which controversies could not disturb. In this he was happy. But it was rather, we think, the result of former habits, and of the peculiar elevation and purity of his mind and heart, than of the views which he had embraced. An individual like Sterling, who has been educated in the firm belief of the divinity of the gospel, and under the influences which such a conviction, properly felt, imparts, may be conscious of no injury in relinquishing that belief. But, generally speaking, we feel assured that the unsettled, speculative state of mind which it produces, has a disturbing, perplexing effect on the whole religious condition of the soul, and is eminently unfavourable to moral and spiritual culture. We would not check free inquiry, but would contend zealously for the right, and insist earnestly on the solemn duty, of private judgment, in all that concerns our faith and obedience as accountable creatures. But there is such a thing as the indulgence of a morbid, a vain and excessive curiosity on a multitude of questions, which, though they may seem to be connected in some way with our religious profession, yet have no essential relation to our necessary religious duty, nor to our everlasting salvation. And this should be carefully guarded against; for there is danger that it may lead us into error. And even if no such consequence should follow, it will probably occupy unprofitably too large a portion of the time and thought which might be devoted to surer means of improvement, to more necessary kinds of intellectual, social and religious cultivation. This is a theme on which much might be written. The story of Sterling's life would form an admirable text for it. But that story is not to be regarded, as his biographer well observes, as a warning to refrain from all speculation. This would be to mislead and pervert it. And it behoves us, unquestionably, to be very careful how we harshly censure and judge those who, in their sincere desire to penetrate into the mysteries of God, are bewildered and led astray.

“ If there is any man,” says Archdeacon Hare, “who, having exerted himself laboriously and perseveringly to pry into the hidden recesses of our nature, to pierce through the unfathomable abyss of evil, and to catch a glimpse of the light and glory beyond and behind, can say he has never been shaken or troubled in the calm composure of his faith, let him cast a stone at Sterling; I cannot. Nor should they, who never having engaged in such inquiries, can form no estimate of the difficulties besetting them."

It is, as it appears to us, one of the most important considerations suggested by the times in which we live, how the advocates of Christian truth shall set that truth forth so as to meet the wants of the age. We are rejoiced to see that so thoughtful and accomplished a writer as Archdeacon Hare is alive to it. And with what he advances on this subject, we will conclude our notice of the life of Sterling. Having stated that among men of intellectual vigour, not only in France and Germany, but also in England, a very large portion are only withheld from open infidelity by giving up their thoughts entirely to the business of this world, and turning away with a compromising indifference from serious inquiries about religion, he goes on to observe,

"In such a state of things it becomes the imperative duty of all who love the truth in Christ, to purge it, so far as they can, from the alloy which it may have contracted in the course of ages through the admixture of human conceits, and which renders it irreconcilable with the postulates of the intellect. This is indeed a very delicate work, and accompanied with many risks; and many will go astray in attempting to accomplish it. But still it must be done. The men of our days will not believe, unless you prove to them that what they are called upon to believe does not contradict the laws of their minds, and that it rests upon a solid, unshakeable foundation. We cannot arrest the winds or the waves; nor can we arrest the blasts and tides of thought. These, too, blow and roll where they list. We may, indeed, employ them both ; but, to turn them to account, we must suffer ourselves to be impelled and borne along by them, without fainting at the thought of the perils we may have to encounter, and in the hope that, with the help of our heavenly compass, we may render those tumultuous elements subservient to the good of mankind. Fresh obstacles are ever rising across our path, and we must assail them. If we do so, though some lives may be lost in the attack, one obstruction after another will be gradually removed. Now Sterling was one of the men whose nature commanded him to stand in the van of human progress. He belonged to the body-guard of him who might be called by the name of the heroic Prussian, Marshal Forwards. If there was a post of danger, he would rush to it; if a forlorn hope was sent out, he would be among the first to join it. Such men we honour, although they fall; nay, we honour them the more because they fall. Of the mystery of their fall we cannot judge; but we may trust that he who, so far as we can discern, has earnestly loved Truth, and sincerely desired to serve the God of Truth, will be judged by the God of Mercy; and we may feel sure that the prayer for forgiveness, when it rises from the depths of a departing spirit, cannot be uttered in vain."

I. toitavilo svuizione di

1918 to yote am avto al yota 16 niugi o non s} ribo ' 781ebi bir a bad si Jiveeq bisa did it!! It con!

MEMOIR OF THE LATE REV. ROBERT ASPLAND.

CHAPTER XIV. DURING the early years of his ministry, it was Mr. Aspland's practice to record in a journal the subjects of his sermons, the places where he preached, the religious and other public meetings which he attended, and all incidents of importance arising out of or connected with his ministerial and public life. Of the early portions of this journal the substance has been embodied in the previous Chapters of the Memoir. These will not be repeated (except in one or two instances, for the sake of some connected fact or remark), but other portions of the journal are worth preserving. The contemporary notes, however brief, of an acute observer of events are always valuable, and furnish both indications of character and materials for biography. The gleanings now proposed, and which it is deemed desirable to throw together, with only a few occasional notes, extend back to the autumn of 1805.

“ 1805. Sept. 15.-Mr. Belsham preached for me this morning. Excellent sermon on Christian Faith, John xx. 29. After an early dinner, I accompanied Mr. Simpson to Worship Street, where I preached in some sort, as at Newington Green, as a candidate.

“ Dec. 1.-Victory off Trafalgar. Buonaparte at Vienna. What shall I do on the approaching lugubrious Thanksgiving-day? Lie I will not; rejoice I cannot.

“Dec. 5.—Thanksgiving-day for the naval victory of Trafalgar, Oct. 21. Service at the Gravel-Pit this morning. Congregation not large, and composed in a great measure of strangers.

Jan. 26.-Gravel-Pit. Morning, Reflections on the Fugitive Nature of Man, written particularly in allusion to Mr. Pitt, who died on Thursday, 23rd instant, and to Lord Nelson, killed in the battle of Trafalgar.

“Feb. 23.-After service, a poor Somersetshire man applied for a book on the grounds of our belief; brought him home, and gave him Priestley's three tracts and Disney's six ditto.

“ June 8.—Birmingham, New Meeting, Sunday morning-charity sermon-Job's Character. Noble congregation. Collected £102. Sunday afternoon, Old Meeting. Excellent congregation-£58.

“June 11.-Melbourne, Derbyshire. Preached this evening (Wednesday) at the General Baptist meeting-house-minister, Mr. Whitaker -- from Acts viii. 8, extempore. Small congregation.

“ June 15.–Birmingham, Sunday morning, Old Meeting, for Mr, Kell. Sunday afternoon, New Meeting, for Mr. Kentish and Dr. Toulmin. Very good congregation. The numbers, respectability and zeal of the Unitarians in this place at once surprised and delighted me,

“ July 13.-Mr. Cogan, of Walthamstow, and I this day exchanged. The congregation at Walthamstow exceedingly small.

“Sept. 14.-News reached me before service of Mr. Fox's death, which so affected me that in reading Ps. ciii. verses 15, 16, to the end, I knew not how to go on.

Sept. 28.-Went this morning to re-open the old meeting in Southwood Lane, Highgate, at the instance of Mr. Treacher (Paternoster

* 1806.

Row) and under the auspices of the Unitarian Fund, which means to keep the place still open.

“1807. Wednesday evening, Jan. 7.—This evening a meeting for Prayer and Religious Conference was opened at the Gravel-Pit. We met at first in the vestry, supposing that not more than twelve or eighteen persons would attend; but the vestry being soon filled, we were constrained to adjourn to the lecture-room. I opened the meeting with prayer, and stated at some length the use and design of a conference. Mr. Simpson followed, and stated his experience of such meetings and his opinion of the best plan. Mr. Rutt expressed generally his approbation of the meeting and his conviction of its usefulness. Mr. Christie and Mr. Spurrel severally declared their cordial approbation of the conference, and delivered their opinion as to the mode of carrying it on. Mr. Simpson concluded with prayer. Question for next evening (proposed by Mr. Christie) is, The Evidence from the Scriptures in favour of a Future Universal Restoration...!

“Who would have anticipated such a beginning of such a meeting at the Gravel-Pit? 'O God! prosper thou the work of our hands; the work of our hands prosper thou it.'

“Jan. 11.-After morning service, I proceeded to deliver my first Lecture to the Young in the lecture-room, and found it, to my astonishment, crowded, so that it was with difficulty I got in. Thus, through a good Providence, this plan also seems to succeed.

“ Wednesday evening, Jan. 14.-Gravel-Pit conference. I introduced the service with a prayer. The question, The Evidence from the Scriptures in favour of a Future Universal Restoration.'

"1. Mr. Parkes* began with reading an examination of the passages relating to future punishment, adopting occasionally the two schemes of Destruction and Restoration to repel the third, of Eternal Torments.

“2. Mr. Simpson spoke, expressing the congeniality of the doctrine of the Restoration with his feelings and wishes, but his incapacity of finding it in the Scriptures, some passages of which supposed to teach the doctrine, he examined.

"3. Mr. Barbauld, who had come without its being known to the conference, declared strongly for Restoration. He admitted it was not to be found in particular passages, but might be inferred from the tenor and was included in the genius of Christianity. He attempted to shew particularly the indefensibleness of the scheme of Destruction.

“4. Mr. Christie spoke in favour of Restoration. **5. Mr. Marsom spoke in behalf of Destruction, taking notice of some passages of Scripture brought forward by Mr. Barbauld. But the time up, he was constrained to conclude abruptly. The subject being hardly entered upon and the speakers by no means exhausted, it was agreed to adjourn the discussion to next Wednesday evening, altering a little the question, and making it, The Evidence from the Scriptures as to the Future Condition of all Mankind.'t

1 * Mr. Samuel Parkes, the well-known writer on Chemistry. Lt So interesting was this discussion, that it was adjourned four successive weeks. At the second meeting the journal records, "Larger company than we yet have had-a considerable number of ladies and some poor persons, whom I was particularly glad to see with us. Mr. Rutt concluded in prayer-short, but comprehensive--animated and correct."-At the close of the Afth discussion

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“Feb. 8.-Wednesday evening. After prayer, I stated that the irregularity which had crept into the conference had obliged us to think of new measures. Accordingly, two Moderators were chosen as subsidiary Chairmen. * * * Question, “The Efficacy of a Death-bed Repentance.' Conversation not brilliant, but Christian. The only peculiarity of the evening was å speech from a Jew, who if he had not been furried would have spoken well.

“March 18.-Wednesday evening. Conference. Quest., Rom. viii. 14, “For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God.'

“1. Mr. Simpson reviewed the connection of the passage—the spirit, the gospel.

“2. Mr. Marsom. The passage an argument. The spirit, the spirit speaking by prophets and apostles.

"3. Mr. Christie. Spirit opposed to flesh, heavenly-mindedness to sensuality.

“ 4. Mr. Eaton. Spirit, miraculous powers.

“I concluded with stating that the apostle probably comprehended in the word Spirit the several ideas that had heen advanced, and indeed the whole system of means by which God under the gospel influences the human mind.-Mr. Rutt prayed.

“ April 29.-Seventeenth and last conference for the season. Question, The Influence of the Mosaic Institutions upon Domestic Happiness.' After praying, I opened the question very much at large with a view to draw forth discussion, it being generally thought the subject was scanty, Mr. Simpson followed, objecting to the rigour of the Jewish law; to whom Mr. Rutt replied, pointing out some provisions of the law favourable to domestic happiness. Mr. Christie took up Mr. Rutt's argument and pointed out other instances of the excellence

Mr. Aspland summed up, stating some arguments for eternal misery, and concluded with expressing the persuasion that the wicked would be punished, that the righteous would be rewarded, and that all would in the end be well. The excitement of this protracted discussion led to some inconvenient violations of the rules of the conference, and is supposed to have acted very injuriously on the health of Mr. Barbauld, whose ardent zeal in behalf of the doctrine of Restoration made it no easy task for the Chairman to keep him within the limits prescribed for the speakers.

Mr. Barbauld died Nov. 11, 1808, the day of Mr. Lindsey's burial. He was found drowned in the New River. Miss Aikin, in her biography of Mrs. Barbauld, alludes to this distressing circumstance when she speaks of " the pressure of anxieties and apprehensions of a peculiar and most distressing nature, which had been increasing in urgency during a long course of time.” Mrs. Barbauld recorded some of her feelings by those striking lines entitled "A Dirge," beginning,

“Pure Spirit ! O where art thou now!" She communicated to the Monthly Repository a short but admirable Memoir of Mr. Barbauld (III. 706). Particular mention is made in the following pas. sage of his earnest zeal for the doctrine of universal restoration : “Of the moral perfections of the Deity he had the purest and most exalted ideas ; on these was chiefly founded his system of religion; and this, together with his own benevolent nature, led him to embrace so warmly his favourite doctrine of the final sal. vation of all the human race, and indeed the gradual rise and perfectibility of all created existence. He preached many sermons on this doctrine, which he defended, both in the pulpit and conversation, with a zeal and enthusiasm which his congregation and his friends cannot but well remember."

« VorigeDoorgaan »