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had both combined to excite my hatred to this creed; for which reasons I had been accustomed to speak of it with contempt, and to neglect reading it. officially. No sooner, therefore, did I read the words, “ That it was to be thoroughly received, and believed ; for that it might be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture,” than my mind was greatly impressed and affected. The matter of subscription immediately occurred to my thoughts; and from that moment I conceived such scruples about it, that, till my view of the whole system of gospel-doctrine was entirely changed, they remained insuperable.
It is wisely said by the son of Sirach, “ My Son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation.” I had twice before subscribed these articles, with the same religious sentiments which I now entertained. But, conscience being asleep, and the service of the Lord no part of my concern, I considered subscription as a matter of course, a necessary form, and very little troubled myself about it. But now, though I was greatly influenced by pride, ambition, and the love of the world, yet my heart was sincerely towards the Lord, and I dared not to venture on a known sin, deliberately, for the sake of temporal interest. Subscription to articles which I did not believe, paid as a price for church-preferment, I began to look upon as an impious lie, a heinous guilt, that could never truly be repented of without throwing back the wages of iniquity. The more I pondered it, the more strenuously my conscience protested against it. At length, after a violent conflict between interest and conscience, I made known to my patron my scruples and my determination not to subscribe: thus my views of preferment were deliberately given up, and with an increasing family I was left, as far as mere human prudence could discern, with little other prospect than that of poverty and distress. My objections to the articles were, as I now see, groundless : much self-sufficiency, undue warmth of temper, and obstinacy, were betrayed in the management of this affair, for which I ought to be humbled : but my adherence to the dictates of my conscience, and holding fast my integrity in such trying circumstances, I never did, and I trust never shall, repent.
No sooner was my determination known, than I was severely censured by many of my friends. They all, I am sensible, did it from kindness, and they used arguments of various kinds, none of which were suited to produce conviction. But, though I was confirmed in my resolution, by the reasonings used to induce me to alter it, they at length were made instrumental in bringing me to this important determination :--not so to believe what any man said, as to take it upon his authority ; but to search the word of God with this single intention, to discover whether the articles of the Church of England in general, and this creed in particular, were or were not, agreeable to the Scriptures. I had studied them in some measure before, for the sake of becoming acquainted with the original languages, and in order thence to bring detached texts to support my own system ; and I had a tolerable acquaintance with the historical and preceptive parts of them: but I had not searched this precious repository of divine knowledge, with the express design of discovering the truth in controverted matters of doctrine. I had very rarely been troubled with suspicions that I was or might be mistaken: and I now rather thought of becoming better qualified, upon Scriptural grounds, to defend my determination, than of being led to any change of sentiments.
However, I set about the inquiry; and the first passage, as I remember, which made me suspect that I might be wrong, was James i. 5. “ If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. On considering these words with some attention, I became conscious, that, though I had thought myself wise, yet assuredly 1 had obtained none of my wisdom in this manner; for I had never offered one prayer to that effect during the whole course of my life. I also perceived that this text contained a suitable direction, ‘and an en.couraging promise, in my present inquiry; and from this time, in my poor manner, I began to ask God to give me this promised wisdom.
Shortly after, I meditated on, and preached from John vii. 16, 17. “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me; if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” I was surprised that I had not before attended to such remarkable words. I discovered that they contained a direction and a promise, calculated to serve as a clue in extricating the sincere inquirer after truth, from that labyrinth of controversy in which, at his first setting out, he is likely to be bewildered. And though my mind was too much leavened with the pride of reasoning, to reap that benefit from this precious text which it is capable of affording to the soul that is humbly willing to be taught of God, yet, being conscious that I was disposed to risk every thing in doing what I thought his will, I was encouraged with the assurance, that if I were under a mistake, I should sometime discover it.
I was further led to suspect that I might possibly be wrong, because I had not hitherto sought the truth in the proper manner, by attending to Proverbs iii. 5, 6. “ Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” I could not but know that I had not hitherto trusted in the Lord with all my heart, nor acknowledged him in all my ways, nor depended on his directions in all my paths ; but that, in my religious speculations, I had leaned wholly on my own understanding.
But, though these and some other passages made for the present a great impression upon me, and influenced me to make it a part of my daily prayers, that I might be directed to a right understanding of the word of God; yet my pride and addictedness to controversy had, as some desperate disease, infected my whole soul, and was not to be cured all at once.- I was very far indeed from being a little child, sitting humbly and simply at the Lord's feet, to learn from him the very first rudiments of divine knowledge. I had yet no abiding suspicion, that all which I had heretofore accounted wisdom was foolishness, and must be unlearned and counted loss, before I could attain to the excellency of the true knowledge of Jesus Christ : for though I began to allow it probable that in some few matters I might have been in an error, yet I still was confident that in the main my scheme of doctrine was true. When I was pressed with objections and arguments against any of my sentiments, and when doubts began to arise in my mind; to put off the uneasiness occasioned by them, my constant practice was, to recollect as far as I could, all the reasonings and interpretations of Scripture on the other side of the question; and when this failed of affording satisfaction, I had recourse to controversial writings. This drew me aside from the pure word of God, rendered me more remiss and formal in prayer, and furnished me with defensive armour against my convictions, with fuel for my passions, and food for my pride and self-sufficiency.
At this time Locke's “ Reasonableness of Christianity,” with his “ Vindications” of it, became my favourite pieces of divinity. I studied this and many other of Mr Locke's works, with great attention and a sort of bigotted fondness; taking him almost implicitly for my master, adopting his conclusions, borrowing many of his arguments, and imbibing a dislike to such persons as would not agree with me in my partiality for him. This was of great disservice to me; as, instead of getting forward in my inquiry after truth, I thence collected more ingenious and specious arguments, with which to defend my mistakes. *
But one book which I read at this time, because mentioned with approbation by Mr Locke, was of singular use to me: this was Bishop Burnet's • Pastoral Care." I found little in it that offended my prejudices, and many
* After having spoken so freely of Mr Locke's divinity, which I once so highly esteemed; it seems but just to acknowledge the vast obligation, which the whole religious world is under to that great man for his "Letters concerning Toleration," and his answers to those who wrote against them. The grounds of religious liberty, and the reason why every one should be left to his own choice, to worship God according to his conscience, were, perhaps, never generally understood since the foundation of the world, till by these publications Mr Locke unanswerably made them manifest.
things which came home to my conscience respecting my ministerial obligations. I shall lay before the reader a few short extracts, which were most affecting to my own mind. Having mentioned the question proposed to those who are about to be ordained Deacons, “ Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministry, to serve God for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people?" he adds, (page 111,)“ Certainly the answer that is made to this ought to be well considered: for if any one says,” “ I trust so," “ that yet knows nothing of any such motion, and can give no account of it, he lies to the Holy Ghost, and makes his first approach to the altar with a lie in his mouth, and that not to men, but to God.” And again, (page 112,) “ Shall not he (God) reckon with those who dare to run without his mission, pretending that they trust they have it, when perhaps they understand not the importance of it; nay, and perhaps some laugh at it, as an enthusiastical question, who will yet go through with the office! They come to Christ for the loaves; they hope to live by the altar and the gospel, how little soever they serve at the one, or preach the other; therefore they will say any thing that is necessary for qualifying them to this, whether true or false.”
Again, (page 122,) having interwoven a great part of the excellent office of the ordination of priests into his argument, concerning the importance and weight of the work of the ministry; he adds, “ Upon the whole matter, either this is all a piece of gross and impudent pageantry, dressed up in grave and lofty expressions, to strike upon the weaker part of mankind, and to furnish the rest with matter to their profane and impious scorn; or it must be confessed that priests come under the most formal and express engagements to constant and diligent labour, that can be possibly contrived or set forth in words.” He concludes this subject, of the ordination-offices, by exhorting all candidates for orders to read them frequently and attentively, during the time of their preparation; that they may be aware before-hand of the obligations they are about so solemnly to enter into, and to peruse them at least four times in a year, even after their ordination, to keep in their minds a continual remembrance of their important engagements. How necessary this counsel is, every minister, or candidate for the ministry, must determine for himself; for my part, I had never once read through the office when I was ordained, and was in a great measure a stranger to the obligations I was about to enter into, till the very period; nor did I ever afterwards attend to it till this advice put me upon it. The shameful negligence and extreme absurdity of my conduct in this respect are too glaring, not to be perceived with self-application, by every one who has been guilty of a similar omission. I would therefore only just mention, that hearty earnest prayer to God, for his guidance, help, and blessing, may be suitably recomm
mended, as a proper attendant on such a perusal of our obligations.
Again, (page 147,) he thus speaks of a wicked clergyman: “ His whole life has been a course of hypocrisy in the strictest sense of the word, which is the acting of a part, and the counterfeiting another person. His sins have in them all possible aggravations: they are against knowledge, and against vows, and contrary to his character: they carry in them a deliberate contempt of all the truths and obligations of religion ; and if he perishes, he doth not perish alone, but carries a shoal down with him, either of those who have perished in ignorance through his neglect, or of those who have been hardened in their sins through his ill example !”—Again, (page 183,) having copiously discoursed on the studies befitting ministers, especially the study of the Scriptures, he adds, “ But to give all these their full effect, a priest that is much in his study, ought to employ a great part of his time in secret and fervent prayer, for the direction and blessing of God, in his labours, for the constant assistance of his Holy Spirit, and for a lively sense of divine matters; that so he may feel the impressions of them grow deep and strong upon his thoughts; this, and this only, will make him go on with his work without wearying, and be always rejoicing in it."
But the chief benefit which accrued to me from the perusal was this :-I was excited by it to an attentive consideration of those passages of Scripture, that state the obligations and duties of a minister, which hitherto I had not observed, or to which I had very loosely attended. In particular, (it is yet fresh in my memory,) I was greatly affected with considering the charge of precious souls committed to me, and the awful account one day to be rendered of them, in meditating on Ezekial xxxiii. 7--9. “ So thou, O Son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man! thou shalt surely die: If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way, to turn from it: if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” For I was fully convinced with Bishop Burnet, that every minister is as much concerned in this solemn warning, as the prophet himself. Acts xx. 17–35, was another portion of Scripture, which, by means of this book, was brought home to my conscience; especially verses 26, 27, 28, which serve as an illustration of the preceding Scripture : “ Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men: for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
In short, I was put upon the attentive and repeated perusał of the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, as containing the sum of a minister's duty in all ages. I searched out, and carefully considered every text I could find in the whole Scripture, which referred to this argument. I was greatly impressed by 1 Cor. ix. 16. “ For necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel." Nor was I less struck with Coloss. iv. 17.
“ Say to Archippus, take heed to the ministry which tho hast received in the Lor that thou fulfil it." This was brought to my conscience with power, as if the apostle had in person spoken the words to me. But especially I was both instructed and encouraged by meditating upon 1 Peter v. 2–4. « Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock: and when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
I hope the reader will excuse my prolixity in speaking on this subject, because in itself it is very important: and though I obtained no new views of gospel-truth from The Pastoral Care, yet I received such a deep conviction of the difficulty and importance of that work, in which I had thoughtlessly engaged, and of the imminent danger to which my soul would be exposed, should I neglect to devote myself wholly to it; as laid the foundation of all my subsequent conduct and change of sentiments. I was, indeed, guilty of very criminal procrastination, after I had been thus convinced; and, being engaged more than I ought in other matters, I for sometime postponed and neglected complying with the dictates of my conscience. But I never lost sight of the instruction I had received, nor ever enjoyed any comfortable reflection, till, having broken off all other engagements, I had given myself up to those studies and duties which pertain to the work of the ministry. And I have cause to bless God, that this book ever came in my way.
Still, however, my self-confidence was very little abated, and I had made no progress in acquiring the knowledge of the truth. I next read Tillotson's sermons and Jortin's works : and, my time being otherwise engaged, I for a while gave into the indolent custom of transcribing their discourses with some alterations, to preach to my people. This precluded free meditation on the word of God, and led me to take up my opinions on trust. My preaching was in general that smooth palatable mixture of law and gospel, which
corrupts both by representing the gospel as a mitigated law, and as accepting sincere instead of perfect obedience. This system, by flattering pride and prejudice, and soothing the conscience, pleases the careless sinner and self-righteous formalist, but does real good to none; and is in fact a specious and unsuspected kind of Antinomianism.
About time I foolishly engaged in a course of diversion and visiting, more than I had done since my ordination; this unfitted me for secret prayer and close meditation, and rendered the Scriptures, and other religious studies, insipid and irksome to me, a never-failing consequence of every vain compliance with the world. For a season, therefore, my ardour was damped, my anxiety banished, and my inquiries retarded. I was not, however, permitted entirely to drop my religious pursuits : generally I made it a rule to read something in the Scriptures every day, and to perform a task of daily devotion; but in both I was very formal and lifeless.
Yet not long after, I was engaged in earnest meditation on our Lord's discourse with Nicodemus (John iii.) I felt an anxious desire to understand this interesting portion of Scripture; especially to know what it was to be “ born again,” or “ born of the Spirit,” which in five verses our Saviour has three times declared absolutely necessary to salvation. I was convinced it was absurd to suppose that such strong expressions implied no more than baptism with water. Tillotson's controversial sermons on this subject afforded me no satisfaction. Some great and total change I supposed to be intended, not only in the behaviour, but also in the heart. But not having clearly experienced that change, I could not understand in what it consisted. Hlow. ever, having offered some poor prayers for divine teaching, I undertook to preach upon it: but I talked very darkly, employed a considerable part of my time in declaiming against visionaries and enthusiasts, and reaped very little benefit from it. Yet I was so well satisfied with my performance, that, in the course of my correspondence with Mr N. I sent him these sermons for his perusal; and he, in return, sent me some of his own upon the same subject. But, though sincerely desirous to understand our Lord's meaning in this important point, I was too proud to be taught by him : I cast my eye therefore carelessly over some of them, and returned the manuscript, without closely attending to any thing contained in it.
Nothing material occurred after this, till the next spring, 1776; when I was induced, by what I had learned from Bishop Burnet, to establish a lec. ture once a-week in one of my parishes, for expounding the Scriptures. This brought many passages, which I had not before observed, under attentive consideration ; and afforded my reflecting mind abundance of employment, in attempting to reconcile them with each other, and with my scheme of doctrine.
Little progress however had been made, when, May 1776, I heard a dige nified clergyman in a visitation sermon, recommend Mr Soame Jennings' “ l'iew of the internal Evidence of the Christian Religion.” In consequence of this recommendation 1 perused it, and not without profit. . The truth and importance of the gospel revelation appeared, with convincing evidence, to my understanding, and came with efficacy to my heart by reading this book. I received from it more distinct heart-affecting views of the design of God in this revelation of himself, than I had before ; and I was put upon much serious reflection and earnest prayer to be led to, or established in the truth, concerning the nature and reality of the atonement by the death of Christ : for hitherto I had been, in this respect, a Socinian, orwery little better.
But to counterbalance this advantage, Dr Clarke's “ Scripture-doctrine of the Trinity," and the controversy which ensued upon its publication, became a favourite part of my study. The Arian scheme is so inconsistent with reason, that when reflecting men, in order to avoid those mysterious, and, as they imagine, unreasonable conclusions, which, according to the true meaning of words, the Scriptures contain, have become Arians, it is wonderful they do not, for the same cause, embrace the Socinian system. This is the natu