« VorigeDoorgaan »
BY REV. EDWARD W. HOOKER,
THE SINNER, AND NOT THE BELIEVER, DERANGED,
voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself ; much learning doth make thee mad.
It is a singular fact, that eamestness and activity in the things of God, and holiness of life, have always subjected guod men to the charge of some fórm or other of mental, if not moral irregularity. Men have been called enthusiastic, singular, unnecessarily strict, superstitious, visionary; when the simple truth was, that they had clear heads and warm hearts, lived “as seeing Him who is invisible," and were ever ready and efficient in the service of their * Lord and Master.”
Paul, as such a servant of Christ, was standing before Festus, and giving an account of his former life and his conversion to the Christian faith, and pouring forth the strength of argument and the eloquence of Christian truth and fervor, when the disturbed Roman governor interrupted him with the charge of madness or derangement.
On that great day of the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Christian church ; when Peter preached so boldly, and Christians were so wide awake to the interests of religion; some, "mocking, said, These men are full of new wine." In later times, Whitfield would gather thousands around him in the fields, and preach as though he “saw heaven opened,” and the world of perdition too; and his hearers would be at one time in a glow of admiration, at another bathed in tears, and at another in consternation. Some thought this man a fit subject for the hospital,—while others would have sent him to prison as a disturber of the peace. That beloved and devoted missionary, Martyn, lived, prayed, and preached like a heavenly-minded minister, and carried upon his tender spirit the anxious care of millions of perishing heathen. And his religion has been pronounced, by literary scoffers, to be nothing more than “ devotional hypochondria.” The energy with which a good man prosecutes some great plan of benevolence, and pleads its claims to support, often brings upon him, from cold, calculating men of the world, the charge of being in a state of mental derangernent. Revivals of religion have been stigmatized by many as mere popular or animal excitement, and their active friends as bigots and fanatics. Ministers of the gospel, in the earnest discharge of their duties, are often accused of letting their zeal get the better of their judgment -of pushing things to extremes--of being uncharitable, unreasonably strict, gloomy in their views of religion. In the more retired walks of life, persons of active piety, accustomed in their intercourse with dying fellow-men to say serious things, urging on the unconverted an attention to the dyiies of religion,
and seeking to excite their fellow Christians to greater faithfulness, are often called imprudent, and charged with meddling in things which do not concern them. Christian benevolence, in our own days, is prompting large contributions to aid the great design of “preaching the gospel to every creature.” And there have been men, wise enough to sit in state legislature and in congress, who have talked of moving for legislative enactments to restrict these doings, and make legislatures a kind of conservators over the devisers of " liberal things."
But we are “not to think it strange" concerning these trials of the servants of Christ, “ as though some strange thing had happened unto them;" for their Lord and Master was treated in like manner. On one occasion when he was moving on with his great work, his friends after the flesh “went out to lay hold on him, for they said, He is beside himself.” Though declared the Light of the world,” and “the Son of God, with power,” there were those who said of him, " He hath a devil, and is mad (i. e. deranged); why hear ye him ?"
This charge is, however, brought against some who are not Christians. The sinner under a conviction of his guilt inquires, with trembling anxiety, « What must I do to be saved ?" “ Poor man,” say thoughtless ones about
“ he has fallen into a gloomy way,"-or " he has been among the superstitious," " he seems a little out of his mind." Here is an unconverted man on the bed of sickness and death, in terror at the prospect before him— conscious of having no hope-going into eternity in the lively agonies of despair. Perhaps he has lived under a ministry of error, and found it out at this terrible hour; or he may have spent life a careless and unprofitable hearer of the truth. Now he begs for the prayers of God's people; reproaches himself for his wicked waste of the day of grace; warns those around him to beware of following his example. Those who surround him say one to another, " He is nervous,"-or “ it is a part of his disease,"-or “he is wild, the mind wanders ;” and they seek to lull the mind, while the soul is in agony and terror.
I. It is proposed in this discourse to offer some explanations of the conduct of those upon whom are cast such imputations as those to which we have adverted; and to show that theirs is in truth the soundest state of mind, that men who feel and act in the manner we have described really give better evidence of the full possession of reason and moral discernment than any of the rest of the world. “I am not mad," said the eloquent Paul ; “ but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” “I have not a devil,” said our divine Lord ; “ but I honour my Father ; and ye do dishonour me.”
Let it be first observed, in reference to the awakened sinner, that he is like one who has long been deranged, and who gives some evidence of returning
The Holy Spirit is unveiling him to himself, "convincing him of his sins, of righteousness, and of judgment.” He is beginning to estimate his own character and conduct, as contrasted with the holy character and law of God. Truth has begun to get hold on his heart, and the precepts of God's word' to stir
up his conscience. The Holy Spirit is on a visit to his breast, to manifest him to himself, and to call him to repentance; and it is not the spirit of delirium, nor the shipwreck of the faculties. And here let it be remarked, that it becomes skeptical men to beware of sinning against the Holy Ghost, by calling the
solicitude and conviction of the awakened sinner derangement, or by treating with levity and contempt the work of Him who comes “ to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”
Let it be also here remarked, in reference to the man alarmed on the brink of the grave, that neither is he beside himself. On the contrary, in this hones and awful hour of approaching death, he justly pronounces his past course of life as one more allied to derangement than reason. “How madly have I lived !" is the distressing burden of his soul. Those rays of awful brightness which flash upon him are the precursors of a restoration to reason, opening kis mind to the overwhelming horrors of an undone eternity.
But we are more particularly concerned to vindicate the sanity of active, fervent-spirited Christians.
They act understandingly ; and this, not by the feeble glimmer of unsanctified human wisdom, but by the broad daylight of divine revelation. They know what they are doing, for they have the mind of the Spirit”—the teaching of Him who ean make the most ignorant to know all things.” They take no steps in the dark, for “ his word is a light to their feet and a lamp to their path.” They have become fools that they may be wise," as the Scriptures show to be necessary; and their wisdom is turning to account. What other men reproach as degrading their faculties, is, in reality, their elevation, expansion, artd increase of strength, under the instruction of Him who teacheth as no man can teach, and whose “strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Their minds are entirely balanced and regular. Because a devoted, heavenlyminded Christian-his heart burning with intensity of interest in the great things of Christ-goes into a different field of thought, and finds satisfaction there with which an unconverted man is unacquainted; is it of course to be concluded that a wild imagination has the reins? As well might an untutored Indian say that the ship, which is moving on the broad sea, is at the sport of the winds and waves, because he knows and believes nothing about the chart, compass, helm, and skill of the pilot, which are in use for its safe direction. Or as well might the worm, which crawls upon the earth, say that the eagle, in his flight above the mountains and the clouds, is at the sport of the breezes on which he ascends, and moves without direction or power. It is a truth on which reliance may ever be placed, and to doubt which is akin to blasphemy, that the grace of God does most effectually order and rule the mind of the Christian ; and gives balance, direction, certainty, beyond what can ever belong to the unconverted man, be his talents, natural and acquired, what they may. If ever it be otherwise with real Christians, it is not because they are the subjects of divine grace, but because they have yet remaining the frailties and imperfections of men, and the liabilities to be tempted out of the path of Christian prudence and simplicity, by the devices of the great adversary.
They are acting conscientiously. This moral faculty-the conscience-is in no man's breast in so enlightened and healthy a state as in his in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up his dwelling. His estimates of duty come far nearer to the spirit of the divine requirements than those of other men. The law of God is spread out before his eyes in its broadness, spirituality, strictness, The impulse by which he is borne on in a faithful obedience is the impulse of grace, stirring up conscience, and giving energy to all its decisions and doings. His tender sense of obligation is not prejudice, nor slavishness of spirit, but pious conscientiousness. His perseverance in difficult and self-denying duty is not ostentation, nor pride. It is the decisive action of a healthy and sanctified conscience. His tenderness respecting the encouragement of error,
and his shrinking from sin, are not squeamishness, nor pretence, nor sanctimoniousness: they are the exercises of an enlightened and healthy conscience, venerating the truth of God, and saying to every sinful allurement, “ how shall I do this great evil, and sin against God ?" His sorrow for sin is not childish melancholy nor causeless grief; it is the “ brokenness of heart," the "godly sorrow," which conscience, taught by the Word, insists upon as reasonable. And this moral faculty in the human breast where grace reigns, carries its impulse into all the feelings and doings of the Christian, and makes him, not a lunatic nor an enthusiast, but a man of thorough, active, immoveable principle.
Again; these persons, so often misjudged, are acting in view of the most exalted motives. What were the grand exciting motives in the mind of Paul, when thus reproached by the Roman governor? You find a true answer in those affecting declarations, "If we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or if we be sober, it is for your cause;" " for the love of Christ constraineth us ;” and * that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified.” Here are disclosed the motives under which he acted. These were the things which excited his feelings, and put his mind upon such a march of eloquence, and made him forget his chains, his humiliation, and the poor and fleeting dignity and splendor of his titled hearers. If this were madness, would that it poured itself from all the pulpits in Christendom, and quickened the movements of every son and daughter of Adam.
Such are the motives which give energy to the piety of all those of whom the world are constrained to “take knowledge” as the children of God. What, in comparison with these, are all the motives of which men of the world boast as praiseworthy and exalted ? Let the philosophers and wise men--the rich men and mighty men--talk largely of their motives, and give them names and epithets sounding and lofty. After all, none of them lift men a whit above themselves and the vain things of the world; nor do they answer the requisitions of a conscience which has been enlightened by a ray from the Word of God. But these raise the Christian above the sordidness of selfishness, and lead him to act for God and for his fellow men. Here is, in fact, the secret of devoted Christians living in such “ holiness of conversation and godliness;" só habitually “ looking unto Jesus ;" so earnestly praying, “ Father, glorify thy name.” Here is the secret of that pious liberality in many, which “casts bread upon the waters ;" which is ever giving that the poor may have the Gospel preached to them; and, with some, forsaking of father, mother, brothers, sisters, home, country—“all things,” and welcoming toil, privation, danger, suffering, and death itself in carrying the Gospel to the “dark places of the earth.” And here, too, is the source of the faithfulness which, in some, is so industriously put forth in exhortation, counsel, and warning, that sinners may be won to Christ, and made heirs of eternal clory.
Again, They are acting in the manner most worthy of immortal beings. "I paint for posterity,” said an eminent artist, who took unwearied pains with his pictures ; while many a man, without a relish for the beauties of painting, would probably look on and say, “poor enthusiast of art!” The Christian improves upon this declaration and example, and says, by his “manner of life,” • I live and act for eternity.' The man of the world asks, 'why do you so undervalue the good things of this life? Why do you not get property, and honor, and interest yourself more in our pursuits ; live more as other men do?" In other words, why do you not countenance us in falling down and worshipping our god ?' This is the Christian's answer, I am living for eternity, I feel myself to have just commenced an existence which is to have no end. Before me is “ infinite joy or endless wo;" an “ inheritance in heaven," or "a bed in hell." I have a soul, and my fellow men around me have souls, which, I believe, must be filled with bliss before the “ throne of God and the Lamb,” or overwhelmed in wretchedness unutterable and eternal.' His faith makes these “ things not seen as yet,” to his mind and feelings, solemn realities. His mind enters into their greatness. They occupy his field of moral vision. They constrain him to be serious. He lives as seeing Him in whose hands are the destinies of all. He
“ Walks thoughtful on the solemn, silent shore
Of that vast ocean be must sail so soon."
Eternity! eternity! is the mighty and overpowering subject of his meditations—the years that for ever roll onward—the ages which follow one after another beyond the numbering of man or angel; the millions on millions of centuries which are to come and go must find and leave him; and those for whose eternal life he is here to labor, blessed in the presence of God, or wretched in the prison of eternal justice. And is this man beside himself, if deeply interested and ever active? Then was Stephen, while rejoicing in the enrapturing visions of his departing hour. Then are Abraham, Isaac, David, Paul, John, and all the arrived in heaven, while ravished in contemplating the blessedness, glory, and solemnity of the place where God resides. Then also, “beside themselves,” are all the glorious hosts of angels, cherubim and seraphim, who veil their faces before the throne, and rejoice in the praises of “Him who sitteth thereon.” No, brethren. He who lives in such a manner has caught the spirit of heaven; is living somewhat as an immortal should on his way through such a world as this to such an eternity. Once more.
Such men are living and acting in the manner most likely to be approved at the close of life and at the final judgment. The main question with the Christian, as about his heavenly Father's business, is not how shall I please myself and other men now?' but what will my conscience approve, when I come to look back from the bed of death upon what I have done ? and what will my God approve, when I shall stand before his judgment seat ?' These inquiries, with many others of a like character, have an influence upon his whole course of conduct. They lead him in a direction entirely opposite to that in which a spirit of self-pleasing and men-pleasing would dictate. They take him out of the smooth, wide, easy, popular path, in which the man