Imágenes de páginas




July and August, 1822.


THE language in which the nature and effects of Christianity are frequently described in the New Testament, is not a little remarkable. The Apostles of Jesus knew well and felt deeply the high value of the dispensation, which they were sent forth to publish and defend; and they have accordingly spoken of it in terms proportioned to their conviction of its greatness and importance. They seem to seek industriously for words, that shall fully and worthily embody their conceptions of the worth of their religion. They dwell on this topic with the eloquence of sincerity, and levy contributions on strong metaphorical expressions. It is difficult for us, at the present day, to enter fully into what must have been the state of their minds. To us Christianity comes with none of the effects of novelty. We have grown up amidst its instructions and influences; and its holy light, like the air we breathe, has always surrounded us. We have not passed from another religion to this. It has ever been by our side, with the offer of its guidance, its solace, and support; and perhaps it is because we have never been without it, that we are not impressed, as we should be, with its beauty and excellence. But the case was far otherwise with the first disciples of the Saviour; and the peculiarity of their situation imparted its influence to the language which they used. It is in the spirit of the representations, which they were thus led to make, that Christianity is spoken of as a new creation. For,' says St. Paul, we are his workmanship, having been created through Christ Jesus unto good works.' In treating of the union of the Jews and Gentiles, Christ is said to have New Series-vol. IV.

[ocr errors]


abolished the enmity, in order to create, in himself, of the two, one new man.' Again; 'to be renewed in the spirit of your mind and to put on the new man, which is created according to God in righteousness and true holiness. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.' And 'if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; (or more properly, "there is a new creation") old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.' Former errors, and imperfect views, and corrupt principles have passed away; the whole religious condition has undergone a change. The figure is one of the boldest and strongest, giving a deep impression of the happy effects of Christianity, a faithful picture of the great work wrought by him, who came forth from God.

Now, as these expressions have been wrested to the support of views, which they were never intended to countenance, and have been pressed into the service of what we deem a false theological system, it is important to bear it constantly in mind, that if we would see them in their proper light, we must interpret them, not according to the principles of any modern sect, or of visionary enthusiasts, but with a sober reference to the circumstances of the time, when these things were said or written. We may frame a meaning for these passages, and then call it the meaning of the sacred writer, forgetting meanwhile that it is nothing but our own invention. This method of interpretation has forced the Scriptures to patronise almost every opinion, and to utter the discordant sounds of Babel. It is finely observed by Jeremy Taylor, that 'men come to the understanding of the Scriptures with preconceptions and ideas of doctrines of their own; and then no wonder that the Scriptures look like pictures, wherein every man in the room believes that they look on him only, and that, wheresoever he stands, or how often soever he changes his position.' He, who reads the Bible, as if it were composed in modern times and under the circumstances of our own age, must always be liable to gross mistakes. We must never forget, that the sacred books, especially the epistles of the New Testament, bear upon every page the impress of the days, when Christianity was first ushered into the world; and without keeping this in view, we shall not have the same ideas and thoughts in our minds, as were in the minds of the sacred authors, when they wrote-the great point, to which it is the object of correct principles of interpretation to conduct us.

What then are the considerations, to which we must look, in order to understand and to justify St. Paul in describing Christianity with such emphatic strength, as to call it a new creation,' and

to affirm, that in the case of those, who received it, old things had passed away, all things had become new?

In order to answer this question, we must go back in imagination for a moment, and glance at the time, when every thing with regard to religion was in a far different state, from that which it has assumed since Jesus Christ proclaimed to the world the glad tidings of great joy. No one can trace the history of the moral and religious concerns of the human race, in the spirit of sober, deep and unbiassed reflexion, without feeling at every step, as we come down the path of time, how much the world needs light from heaven, how comparatively poor and inefficient a being man is, with all his pride and all his powers, and how he totters and falls like an infant, if the hand of God be not extended to hold him up. Without undervaluing the efforts of unassisted reason, we must confess they were faltering and imperfect; and the best result of her investigations was but the hope of virtue or the conjecture of philosophy. It is not too much to affirm that the pagan world had scarcely an idea of One Supreme Being; for however their wise men might by continued meditation have caught some glimpses of light, have reached some worthy views on this subject, it is certain that these never penetrated to the body of the people, and even as far as they went, were fluctuating and without effect. All in a manner may be said to have been given up to the fantastic fooleries of superstition and the degrading homage of idolatry. Nature with them was divided into various departments, and a deity placed over each; winds and seas, rivers and groves had their several and distinct gods, and these gods had passions and weaknesses and propensities like the worst and most foolish of their worshippers. The service paid to these imaginary beings corresponded to the character and attributes with which they were supposed to be invested. Nothing like a pure and holy confidence, nothing like trust or hope, could be known to the worshippers of such beings. The mind felt the distressing want of a Being of spotless purity, in whom it might rest and to whom it might flee for refuge; and was cheered by no clear and refreshing conceptions of the character of God, and of the way to his favour and acceptance. With regard to a future life, their views were equally unsatisfactory and wavering. In some cases hope glimmered faintly, and threw a feeble light on the regions of futurity; but to the great body of the people they were certainly regions of utter darkness. There is in man a principle, that so makes him cling to existence, such a dread of sinking into nothingness, such an aspiration after a more improved state of being, than is to be found amidst the agitation and weariness


of this world, that no wonder another world was imagined in futurity, and men sought to satisfy the natural cravings of the soul, by cherishing the anticipation of surviving, in some form, the wreck of death. But amidst the painful uncertainty of their imperfect views on this subject, what was there, on which man, with all his weakness and fears, could depend, as an anchor to the soul sure and stedfast? There was nothing to connect this life with a life to come, nothing that included the grand idea of accountability and recompence, nothing that taught them to regard death merely as a circumstance in their existence. may easily be supposed that with such notions of religion, they had but a weak foundation, on which to build their morality; for though there is a redeeming spirit in man which, whatever may be his errors on other subjects, seems to preserve sacred, enough of the principles of virtue for many of the purposes of social intercourse, yet morality, without a deeper and stronger support, must be in a great degree inefficacious and superficial. It must have a healthy and vigorous root, or the leaves will wither and the fruit decay. And it cannot be denied, that in the morality of the heathen world, however sublime it may appear in the writings of some of their philosophers, there were wanting clear, simple, and definite rules of duty; and what is more, had these been supplied, there were wanting strong and powerful sanctions to enforce them. The consequence was, that the public sense of virtue was weak and blunted, and practices were allowed and even applauded, which can be regarded only with pity or disgust. Such was the imperfection and darkness of the pagan world with regard to three great and essential subjects: the being and character of God; the reality and nature of a future life; and the principles and sanctions of moral duty: topics on which, if on any, it is desirable the human mind should be guided and enlightened.


And with regard to the Jews, we shall find that to them something purer and better was scarcely less necessary, than to the heathens. Whatever of light and truth they had received on religious subjects, was communicated to them in a manner suited to that age and to the character of the people. It was originally adapted to the childhood of the human race. views were so low and imperfect, they were so engrossed by the objects of sense, that divine truth could be presented to them only by fragments and in a rude form, surrounded by pomp and ceremony, and bound in by ritual observances, and all the forms which could impress the minds of an ignorant people, unsusceptible of receiving directly higher and purer views. What light they enjoyed soon became darkened; the end of religion was

lost in the means; the shadow was mistaken for the substance. The waters of Zion were gradually polluted by the impure streams, with which they were mingled. At the time of our Saviour, the law of Jehovah was interwoven with the artificial glosses and designing interpretations of cabalistical ingenuity, and had lost in a great degree its moral influence over the hearts of the people. The way was open for all the impositions of priestcraft, and all the corruptions of a good thing perverted. Thus were the Jews weary and heavy laden,' when Jesus appeared to invite them to come to him for rest.'

[ocr errors]

From this hasty view of the state of things before the coming of Christ, we pass to that brighter part of the picture presented by the Gospel. It is almost unnecessary to say, that in the place of all this darkness, Jesus brought light; that amidst this uncertainty and confusion he appeared to dispel doubt, and to give assurance; that where there was weakness and woe, he imparted strength and joy; and that the desert was made to rejoice and blossom as the rose. With regard to the character and perfections of God, Christianity has given the most elevating and consoling instructions. Our attention and worship are not distracted by an indefinite number of weak and idle deities, but our religion teaches us that God is one undivided mind pervading the universe. It is no partial, vengeful, or capricious being, that is brought to our view, but One, whose throne is supported by unfailing goodness, and overshadowed, like the mercy seat of the ark, with the wings of the cherubim of peace; whose government is one mighty plan for the good of his creatures, and who has arranged the whole universe to do the work of benevolence. This Being sustains towards us the character of a wise and kind father towards his children, and our highest good is the aim of all His dealings, and all His dispensations. We learn that we are the subjects of His moral government, placed here under the tuition of His providence; and we are taught not to despair nor suffer our confidence to be shaken, though like the timorous disciple we should be called to walk on troubled waters to meet our Lord.-Besides these views of the Almighty, Christianity has placed in the clearest light the allimportant doctrine of a future state, and has raised it from an obscure conjecture to a moral certainty. On the surest and best evidence, indeed on the only evidence which can be entirely satisfactory, it has taught us that there is a life beyond the present, and to which the present is introductory; that the characters we form here shall have a radical influence on our condition hereafter; that earth points to heaven, and time is linked with eternity. We no longer look on life as the journey

« AnteriorContinuar »