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How much this scheme resembles the course both of the natural and the moral world, must be obvious to all. Plants spring gradually from seed; trees grow still more slowly; and ages pass on, before some of them arrive at maturity. In man, as an individual, the progress of improvement is far from rapid ; in communities, it is still slower. How many centuries roll on, before a nation passes from a barbarous state, to a high degree of civilization. It must be allowed to be, at least, an extraordinary circumstance, that the New Testament should, in this respect, differ so materially from all other books; and that it should, at the same time, so perfectly accord with the actual state of the divine government. The dezree of weight in it is submitted to the consideration of the reader.
ON DENYING ONESELF TO BE AT HOME.
As one great object of your useful publication seems to be the promoting of christian holiness and correctness of manners, I should hope that some of your correspondents would favour me with their sentiments on a custom very general in the polite circles, that of denying oneself to be at home to visitors.
The Reverend Mr. Scott, in his family Bible, condemns the practice as “a very criminal deviation from simplicity and godly sincerity," and I confess his remarks have considerable weight with my mind; but as there are many who are of a different opinion, I think a further investigation of the subject might be useful. We are strictly enjoined to "abstain from all appearance of evil;” and, therefore, no question can properly be deemed trivial and insignificant which concerns our religious profession, and the satisfaction of our own conscience.
PHILALETHES. The above is from the Christian Observer; and an answer to the inquiry, from the same work, is here subjoined.
Mr. Editor, No answer having yet appeared in your miscellany to the Query in Philalethes on the custom prevalent in the polite circles of denying oneself to be at home, I venture to send you the following plain thoughts, being of opinion, that an answer should appear in the same volume of your work in which the query is proposed.
1. I cannot help thinking, that there is an answer to it in a scripture quoted by Philalethes himself, viz. “ Abstain from all appearance of evil.” However it may be doubted, whether the custom in question really be evil, it must surely be acknowledged that it has the appearance of it.
2. We are taught in the Word of God to form high and reverential ideas of truth, as a sacred thing which we cannot prostitute, and with which we cannot trifle with impunity. Now, if truth be an agreement between what we say and what we mean, it is clearly violated in the case under inquiry.
3. But it is urged, that “ words and phrases do, in process of time, change their original meaning.” We have, indeed, heard much lately of this tacit alteration, insomuch that it has been gravely intimated that the articles of our church may now mean something very different from what the original framers of them intended; and Philalethes probably knows that the custom we are now discussing is a favourite illustration of this extraordinary theory. Surely then christians should be careful how they adopt or countenance the perverted use of words.
4. A serious objection, I think, must arise in a conscientious mind on considering, that he who conforms to the custom under inquiry has necessarily to employ an agent in the business. Another must declare for him that he is not at home. There is here, to say the least of it, great liberty taken with another man's conscience; and those who are thus employed will certainly learn to form slight ideas of truth, when they find their superiors (especially if persons of credit and respectability) thus trifling with it.
5. When a person at home is denied to be so, it must either be supposed that he, to whom the denial is made, is likely to take the words in their literal sense, or to understand sufficiently the meaning of them, and the real state of the case. If the former is supposed, actual deception is practised; if the latter, there is a deviation from the meaning of the words perfectly unnecessary, and therefore certainly unjustifiable.
In short, Sir, I cannot think that Mr. Scott has condemned the practice in too strong terms. An undue conformity to the language and customs of the world, is, I fear, the practical heresy of christians in Great Britain. I am, Sir, your's, &c.
V. II. **O
ON SPIRITUAL IMPULSES AND FEELINGS.
[In a letter to a friend. ] MY DEAR FRIEND, Since I saw you last, I have frequently thought of you with much concern, and sincerely wish you divine support and direction in all your trials and difficulties. As I make no doubt of your
being a partaker of divine grace, I believe the Lord will, in the issue, bring you safely through all your troubles. Yet, if I may speak my mind freely, I am jealous over you, lest you should increase your own distresses, and lessen the benefit you might receive from them, by some mistakes you seem in danger of running into.
You remember the account you gave me of your receiving many promises from God, particularly respecting your temporal circumstances, and expressing the strongest confidence of their literal and punctual fulfilment. Perhaps you will thipk me your enemy, should I endeavour to rob you of any part of the consolation you have derived from this source. However, bear with me till you have heard me out; and I trust it will appear, that I do not wish to usurp dominion over your faith, but to be an helper of your joy.
I rejoice that you are enabled to abound in prayer, and thereby to make your requests known unto God; being desirous to cast all your care upon him, and to derive instruction and support from his word. I am fully assured, that the word of God will be found a sufficient directory in all cases whatever, and a source of spiritual comfort under the greatest trials.
It is your duty and privilege to search the scriptures daily, both for direction and consolation; and to endeavour, when you cannot have the Bible in your hand, to recollect the precepts and promises, and meditate upon them; praying that the Holy Spirit would not only assist your natural power of recollection, but more especially that he would give you a spiritual understanding of his word, and an answerable frame of heart, properly affected with the various truths therein contained.
You have reason to bless God for the suitable provision he has made in his word, which, I gladly allow, is as exactly suited to your case, as if the words had been spoken to you individually; though, blessed be God, the same word of truth is equally suited to all other believers; and you have no more cause to complain of this, than you have to complain, that while the sun warms and enlightens you, as much as if you lived alone on the earth, it does as much for millions more at the same time.
You ought to be thankful that God has given you a memory, and assists you to recollect, from time to time, suitable passages of scripture, which sometimes occur to your mind in a very apt and seasonable manner. But perhaps this observation will rather displease you; and you will hardly allow that you do recollect them, but think they are immediately suggested to you from God. Ilowever, if your memory be like mine, it will be very difficult to
prove this point. I have many a time had good things and bad suddenly occur to my mind, which at first I thought I had never read or heard before, and yet have afterwards found out where I first met with them. And be this as it may, it is a matter of no consequence at all, whether God assists my natural faculties in recollecting his word, or immediately suggests it. If he has once spoken in his holiness, it is as true as if he had said the same thing a thousand times. The bare suggestion of words to the mind would not necessarily be accompanied with the exercise of grace; for Balaam, and other natural men, have had wonderful things told them by God himself, and yet had no grace at all in their hearts. And, on the other hand, if my memory, or twenty other natural faculties of body or soul, were made use of in bringing the word of God to my mind, yet if I had at the same time the real exercise of grace, I might be assured, that that was owing wholly to the Spirit of God.
I therefore wish you and all christians to ground their consolation, not on the Manner in which the promises are brought to the mind, but on the MATTER contained in the promises themselves; not to think they are christians, because promises come suddenly to their minds, as if a voice spoke them, when they did not know there were any such words in the book. The suddenness proves nothing either one way or other; the voice is probably formed by the strength of their own imagination; and, if it really came from heaven, would be no surer than the written word Was before: and as to their not knowing the words were in the book, that is the worst sign of all; for it only proves they have not read their Bibles so much as they ought to have done. Suppose you were to take any one plain promise of the gospel, and read it over ten times a-day for twelve months together; if, upon the last day of the year, after reading it 3650 times, you found your mind enlightened to discern its real original meaning, was persuaded of its certain truth, and made to embrace it as good, sincerely and earnestly desiring the enjoyment of the blessings therein contained, for the same ends for which they were promised, and depending on the faithfulness of the Promiser for their fulfilment, thus being excited to give up your heart to him; if you had felt no emotion of the kind for 3649 times that you had read the words before, and if at last your comfort came on ever so slowly, you might nevertheless be safely assured, that it came truly from God.
But at this time I meant chiefly to speak of the promise of temporal blessings, which you seemed to be so confident of, that God had made them to you in particular, and would accordingly undoubtedly fulfil them. Now, it is a certain and comfortable truth, that “goodness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come,” 1 Tim. iv. 8. But verily, my dear friend, I have no notion that God has made one promise of temporal blessings to you, but what is common to all believers in similar circumstances. Herein you seem, to me, to be in great danger of mistakes, and such as will probahly lead you into other considerable errors, if they are not rectified. Christian friendship, therefore, induces me to use freedom and plainness on this head.
Before the canon of scripture was closed, God made known his will at sundry times, and in divers manners, to many of his servants, by way of immediate revelation. He made various par. ticular events known beforehand to Abraham, and Joseph, and David, and others; and gave them promises which belonged to them exclusively, and could not be safely applied to any other. For instance, he promised Abraham, that his seed should be as the sand of the sea for multitude; and that all nations of the earth should be blessed in his seed, &c. He engaged, that Joseph should be exalted above his brethren, and all his father's house. He foretold, that David should be himself seated on the throne of Israel; and afterwards sware unto him, that of the fruit of his loins he would raise up the Messiah, to sit upon his throne. God also made new revelations to bad men, as well as to the godly; to Pharaoh, to Balaam, to Jeroboam, to Jehu, to Ahaz, &c.
But we, who have now the whole Bible to direct and support us, are not encouraged to expect or desire new revelations; but it is our duty to make use of the perfect revelation which God has already made, and put into our hands; and I must insist upon it, that it is so full and perfect, that you cannot need any additions to it.
The precepts of the Bible are so plain and full, that if we have a single eye to the divine glory, they will, in all cases, be found a sufficient directory as to every branch of duty. Indeed, had I ever so much grace and spiritual understanding, the Bible would not tell me what would come to pass next year, nor even what will take place to-morrow. It will not tell me, whether I shall be rich or poor in futurity; whether I shall continue in my present circumstances, or alter my outward condition, within any limited time: it will not inform me, whether I shall live long, or die soon; nor will it assist me to predict a thousand events which my curio. sity would like to know. But it will do that which is ten thousand