wonder that religion languished, and that morality itself became the subject of ridicule, when the vilest men were e.ralled. The Earl of Clarendon, a man of piety and virtue, though he did much good, and prevented much evil being done, was utterly unable to stem the torrent ; and was at last, by its impetuosity, obliged to desert his post, and to take refuge in France. During the whole of this reign, the great doctrines by which Christianity is distinguished from natural religion, were thrown into the shade; and if the principles of Evangelical piety were at any time introduced into sermons, the distorted view in which they were generally exhibited, was both calculated and designed to throw them into ridicule.

But piety, though her influence was contracted, was not entirely extinguished. Dr. Barrow, with a penetrating eye and a feeling heart, could distinguish the sanctifying Influences of the Spirit, from the jargon of enthusiasm, and even when the Scriptural doctrine of Sanctification was generally exploded, was not ashamed to defend what he had learned in the school of Christ. Dr. South (with much alloy, proceeding from irritable passions and intemperate party zeal), enriched his sermons with much excellent divinity. Cudworth, the author of the Intellectual System, displays great strength of mind, and was master of a vast compass of learning, the stores of which have descended in his immortal work, to fertilize and to conduct through the labyrinths of science, the minds of men yet unborn. In point of Evangelical precision he was greatly inferior to the two former writers. The same thing may be said of Whitchcot. “ He studied," says Bishop Burnet, “to raise those who conversed with him to a nobler set of thoughts, and to consider religion as a seed of a deiform nature (to use one of his own phrases). In order to this, he set young students much on reading the ancient Philosophers, chiefly Plato, Tully, and Platin, and considering the Christian religion, as a doctrine sent from God, both to elevate and sweeten human nature, in which he was a great example, as well as a wise and kind instructor." The study of the most celebrated Philosophers is certainly highly important to young divines.

It teaches the young idea how to shoot, and ramify. It gives keenness and perspicacity to the intellectual powers.

It furnishes the mind with the habit of dividing and analyzing. It is one of the best means for forming a correct and elegant taste, and inspiring the art of composition. But for the acquisition of those pripci. ples which purify and elevate the mind, and which at once sweeten and sanctify human nature, the Christian stu. dent must be indebted to other sources. With respect to real sanctity, Plato, as well as his master, Socrates, left the world just as they found it. His philosophy instruct. ed and amused many, but it purified none. It is from the Saviour's cross, and from the influence of his Spirit, that that healing virtue alone proceeds. The Apostles converted the world to Christianity, without employing a single quotation from any of those philosophers, and how useful soever they may be for subordinate purposes, if we seek to quench our thirst at these streams, we are forsaking the fountain of living waters and hewing out to ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water. It was by mixing the principles of the Platonic Philosophy with the doctrines of the Gospel, that Christianity was first corrupted, and men led away, almost imperceptibly, from the simplicity that is in Christ, to the rudiments of this world. A man may know the disquisitions, and the vast genius and learning of Plato and

Cicero, without taking them as his guides to heaven. The choice of them for such a purpose, is the rejection of God himself, who has sent his word to conduct us thither. Perhaps no man, in modern times, has laid the writings of the heathen poets and philosophers under contribution more than Archbishop Leighton, a contemporary of Whitchcot, in his invaluable writings.

But in his pages they never assume the office of guides to conduct, but follow humbly, as servants, the path of him who is travelling to the city of God.

There were among the Bishops of Charles's reign, some men of piety and deep erudition. In the number were Drs. Pearson and Fell, both of them well known in the religious and literary world. During the short reign of James, many of the Clergy distinguished themselves in the controversy which was then agitated with the Church of Rome. Stillingfleet, Tillotson, Patrick. &c. entered the lists, and with eminent success. In this, and in the former reign, infidelity and popery, those seemingly discordant, yet often found united foes, threatened the destruction of every thing that was sacred and venerable in the kingdom. To combat and repel their various attacks from the pulpit, was certainly a pious labour, and the necessity which this imposed has been thought the best apology for that want of prominence, of which Evangelical religion has to complain, in the discourses of those times. It is but fair to admit, that this apology is entitled to considerable attention, but it deserves also to be well weighed, how much the filling up of the lines of Evangelical truth, with a bold and steady hand, might have contributed to defeat the object of the attack, while their tendency was to diffuse among Protestants the most salutary principles, the love of God and of the Saviour.


2 P

The efficacy of Christianity is intimately connected with its pureness, and the most formidable weapon that can be aimed at scepticism or popery, is the sword of the Spirit. It was by the simplicity of the Gospel, as the power of God and the wisdom of God to salration, by the doctrine of a crucified Saviour, that its first preachers triumphed over the arts and arms, over the policy and the philosophy, over the wit and the eloquence of the world. Nor did infidelity ever succeed better, in her reprisals upon Christianity, than when she had disrobed her of her native beauty, to dress her in the garb, with the painting and the patches of a proud philosophy. The doctrine of human merit, an essential part of the system of popery, can never be attacked with such success, as when it is opposed by the doctrine of Justification by Grace, through Faith in the Redeemer's blood. The superstition and dolatry which, like ivy, mantle and entwine themselves round the trunk of popery, powerfully feel the edge of the axe levelled at their root, when the offi. ces of the Redeemer and Sanctifier of man are clearly exhibited, and the worship of the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit, is inculcated as the only inspiring principle of Christian devotion.

The Revolution, by which the Constitution reverted to its first principles of Political Freedom, and held out its protecting hand to the rights of conscience, brought no radical cure for the wounds which the Church had suffered by abandoning her original doctrines. These doctrines continued, as they still continue, to possess all their authority, and none of her sons could engage in her service without subscribing to her Articles and Homilies; a tribute which is still rigorously exacted. But the great and animating truths of the Christian Redemption, though not entirely

overlooked, did not fill that large and distinguished place in the public eye, and in the public ministrations of religious instruction, which they occupy in the New Testament. In the views of Christianity they were generally thrown into the back ground.-It is surprising that so good a man as Bishop Burnet, in his Funeral Sermon of Archbishop Tillotion, should state and avow to the world that the numbers of the Establishment judged it to be the best way, “ First to establish the principles of Natural Religion ; and from that to advance to the proof of the Christian Religion, and of the Scriptures : not to enter much into the discussing of the mysteries of those sublime truths contained in the Scriptures, concerning God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and concerning the person of Christ : and to consider the whole Christian doctrine as a system of principles, all tending to the reforming men’s natures, and the governing their actions, the restraining their appetites and passions, the softening their tempers and sweetening their humours, the composing their affections, and the raising their minds above the interest and follies of this present world.” By this statement it appears that the Gospel was only partially, and by consequence, very imperfectly preached by the divines of the establishment, or at least by much the greater part of them. Whoever looks into the Acts of the Apostles, and examines the records of their preaching, or casts his eye on the Epistles they wrote, to the first Christian Churches will immediately perceive, that the Mediation of the Son of God, the Atonement he made for our sins upon the cross, his being set forth as a propitiation through Faith in his blood ; Repentance toward God and Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, are the grand subjects that employed their

« VorigeDoorgaan »