“ My opinions are more Calvinistic than when I first came here; so much so as to be in direct hostility with the leading principles of belief in this society. The greatest part of my views I believe are accurately Calvinistic. My opinion respecting future punishments is an exception."

We shaīl resume the consideration of this latter point, in a particular examination of the tenor of Mr. Foster's mind and writings with reference to it. It was a most strange, unaccountable, and to many persons a startling announcement, that some of the letters in these volumes proved the author of them to have renounced the Scripture truth of the endless punishment of the wicked. We shall see how the thing lay in his mind; how, while his whole belief and practical course was evangelical, there was on this point a break in the chain; his convictions kept the continuity, while a doubting, inconsistent, and impatient logic denied it. It was like an arch kept in its position and form without the key-stone, by the frame on which it was constructed; that frame being in Foster's mind an uninterrupted spiritual conviction and pressure of personal guilt and of eternal realities. To see him in company with the deniers and scoffers of the eternal sanctions of the Divine law, would be as if Abdiel had been found fighting by mistake in the army of the fallen angels.

We have seen his convictions becoming more and more Calvinistic. An extract from a letter to Rev. Dr. Fawcett, in the year 1800, is here in point; written apparently, in part, with reference to the change of opinion noted in the letter to his parents.

“I receive with pleasure, but not without diffidence of myself, your congratulations on a happy revolution of my views and feelings. Oh, with what profound regret I review a number of inesti mable years nearly lost to my own happiness, to social utility, and to the cause and kingdom of Christ ! I often feel like one who should suddenly awake to amazement and alarm on the brink of a gloomy gulf. I am scarcely able to retrace exactly through the mingled dreary shades of the past, the train of circumstances and influences which have led me so far astray; but amid solemn reflection, the conviction has flashed upon me irresistibly, that I must be fatally wrong.

This mournful truth has indeed many times partially reached me before, but never so decisively, nor to awaken so earnest a desire for the full, genuine spirit of a disciple of Jesus. I see clearly that my strain of thinking and preaching has not been pervaded and animated by the evangelic sentiment, nor consequently accompanied by the power of the gospel, either to myself or to others. I have not come forward in the spirit of Paul, or Peter, or John; have not counted all things but loss, that I might win Christ, and be found in him. It is true, indeed, that this kind of sentiment, when strongly presented, has always appealed powerfully to both my judgment and my heart; I have


yielded my whole assent to its truth and excellence, and often longed to feel its heavenly inspiration ; but some malady of the soul has still defeated these better emotions, and occasioned a mournful relapse into coldness of feeling, and sceptical or unprofitable speculation. I wonder as I retlect; and am amazed how indifference and darkness could return over a mind, which had seen such gleams of heaven. I hope that mighty grace will henceforward save me from such infelicity. My habitual affections, however, are still much below the pitch that I desire. I wish above all things to have a continual, most solemn impression of the absolute need of the free salvation of Christ for my own soul, and to have a lively faith in him, accompanied with all the sentiments of patience, humility, and love. I would be transformed, fired with holy zeal; and henceforth live not to myself, but to him that died and rose again. My utmost wish is to be a minor apostle; to be an humble, but active, devoted, heroic servant of Jesus Christ, and in such a character and course to minister to the eternal happiness of those within my sphere. My opinions are in substance decisively Calvinistic. I am firmly convinced, for instance, of the doctrines of original sin, predestination, imputed righteousness, the necessity of the Holy Spirit's operation to convert the mind, final perseverance, &c. &c.

Such letters as these afford convincing proof that the mind of the writer was under the influence of that Divine Grace, of which he asserts the necessity in the soul. They afford proof equally convincing, of the disastrous nature of those tendencies, whatever they may have been, under which Mr. Foster found himself " on the brink of a gloomy gulf;" and which, as we shall see, continued, notwithstanding the endearing openness and meekness with which he received the severe suggestions and remonstrances of inferior minds, to harass and fetter his spirit. The tracing of these causes in their operation, so far as it can be done even with any degree of probability, is a matter of much importance.

Yet it seems, we say again, an ungrateful and presumptuous work, to analyse the defects or obliquities in the religious character of a man of sincere piety, and of such vast endowments ; though the picture is before the world, and there are reasons for a severe scrutiny of it. It seems still more ungrateful to take the ingenuous confessions of Mr. Foster's own mind, which are in themselves such a delightful evidence of genuine childlike humility, in corroboration of a judgment passed upon his deficiencies. But if Mr. Foster had the frankness and humility of a little child, he had also an entire freedom from anything like morbidness of conscience; if he had a perfect ingenuousness of character, he had also a strong protection, in his hatred of hypocrisy and cant, against overdrawing any of the deficiencies of that character; he would be likely to set down things just as they are, or at least just as they appeared to him on discovering them. · We use the freedom of those, who have followed Foster's intellect as a guiding star ; who well remember the time when, as if some gorgeous angel had come to them to lead them on in paths of truth never before opened, they remained as it were spellbound by the grandeur of the vision. And now, if the same angel beckons themon towards a tract of error, they are right, if they scrutinize most severely the elements of an intellectual and spiritual development, assuming so unexpectedly such a direction ; elements, every one of which they were prepared at one time to take even on trust as well-nigh perfect.

In 1799, Mr. Foster wrote a deeply interesting letter to his friend Hughes, in acknowledgment of the justness and kindness of a preceding letter, which had been painful to him by the severity of its friendly strictures. “I know it too well,” he says,

“ " that for a long course of time, during which I have felt an awful regard for religion, my mind has not been under the full immediate impression of its most interesting character, the most gracious of its influences, its evangelic beams. I have not, with open face, beheld the transforming glory of the Lord. I have, as it were, worshipped in the outer courts of the temple, and not habitually dwelt in that sacred recess, where the God of love reveals all himself in Jesus Christ. And is it difficult to believe that in advancing towards a better state, I may be accompanied awhile by some measure of the defects and the shades contracted in that gloomy sojourn, which I must for ever deplore ?"

The state of his mind, while in that gloomy sojourn, may be partially gathered from a letter in 1798. He speaks of v the whole hemisphere of contemplation as inexpressibly strange and mysterious. It is cloud pursuing cloud, forest after forest, Alps upon Alps. It is in vain to declaim against scepticism ; I feel with an emphasis of conviction, wonder and regret, that all things are almost enveloped in shade, that many things are covered with thickest darkness, that the number of things to which certainty belongs is small. I hope to enjoy the sunshine of the other world. One of the very few things that appear to me not doubtful, is the truth of Christianity in general; some of the evidences of which I have lately seen most ably stated by Archdeacon Paley, in his work on the subject.”

This is surely a sad state for a preacher of the Gospel. Say what you will of it, it argues a most defective religious experience, the defects and shades of which did indeed accompany Mr. Foster, in some degree, all through life. It could not have been otherwise, without a great and powerful change, and he was not entirely delivered from the malady of which he speaks in those letters. His mind was veiled; the shades remained upon it.

But if Mr. Foster had passed effectually and thoroughly through THIRD SERIES, VOL. III. NO. I.


such a state of mind as this, and had come out from it, by the grace of God, in reliance submissively upon his Word, into the clear light of the Cross, and of the love of Christ in the soul, it would have been to him a discipline of incomparable worth. If he had wrestled out, as Bunyan did from his conflicts, with no possibility of peace, and a determination of having no peace, but in Christ and in God's Word, it had been an element of power and light. But instead of this, he never entirely passed out of it into the clear light; he carried the involving folds of this gloom, in which sometimes he seemed to take a grim pleasure in wrapping himself, even to the end of life. He was always in some respect in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and exclaiming with Job, “He hath set darkness in my path.” He never seems to have felt, as such a strong mind ought to have done, the amazing importance of being settled concerning the particular revelations of the Christian religion, by an unhesitating reception and most prayerful study of the Word of God. And his mind seemed sometimes obstinately to turn away from, and forget, the light shed as a flood from that Word upon the future dispensation of our being, to lose itself in conjectures, mysterious, solemn, awful, as if everything beyond the grave were absolutely unknown to us. His feeling in reference to the future world was much like that of Job, “ Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness, and the shadow of death ; a land of darkness as darkness itself, and of the shadow of death without any order, and where the light is as darkness." Certainly his prevailing mood was much more this, than that of Paul; and his prevailing mode of reasoning on some points was rather that of a mind under the dimness of the old dispensation than the glory of the new.

He speaks about this same period, in a letter to Mr. Fawcett, of his having " for a long while past fully felt the necessity of dismissing subtle speculations and distinctions, and of yielding an humble, cordial assent to the mysterious truth, just as and because the scriptures declare it, without inquiring, how can these things be ?'' But it is evident that in some respects he never did this, and that his mind was continually relapsing from the health and definiteness of divine revelation, into a state of vague, solemn, awful wonder, as to what he called the absolute unknown beyond the grave, the mysteries of that dread eternal hereafter. As an instance of this state of mind we may take the following paragraph from one of his letters, written even so late as the year 1834.

“ It does always appear to me very unaccountable (among indeed so many other inexplicable things), that the state of the soul after death should be so completely veiled from our serious inquisitiveness. That in some sense it is proper that it should be so, needs not be said. But is not the sense in which it is so, the same sense in which it is proper there should be punitive circumstances, privations, and inflictions, in this our sinful state? For one knows not how to believe that some revelation of that next stage of our existence would not be more influential to a right procedure in this first, than such an absolute unknown. It is true that a profound darkness, which we know we are destined ere long to enter, and soon to find ourselves in an amazing light, is a striking object of contemplation. But the mind still, again and again falls back from it disappointed and uninstructed, for want of some defined forms of reality to seize, retain, and permanently occupy it. In default of revelation, we have to frame our conjectures on some principle of analogy, which is itself arbitrary, and without any means of bringing it to the test of reason.”

Now one is tempted to exclaim, in perusing such a passage, Can the man who writes this have ever seriously read the Scrip. tures?. It may be said that Foster was not here speaking of the general doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, but of the default of any definite knowledge of our state immediately after death. But even thus, such language is absolutely unjustifiable on the ground of the information contained in the Word of God, and would seem totally inconsistent with a firm faith in the truth, or a serious examination of the meaning, of our blessed Lord's own declarations as to what takes place after death. There is no such thing as this absolute unknown, of which Foster speaks; on the contrary, the blank is so definitely filled up, the mystery is so much cleared away, that our Lord solemnly declares to us that if men will not believe for what is already written, neither would they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. A sentence which stands in singular and palpable contradiction against what Mr. Foster remarks about some revelation being more influential. He has introduced a similar train of reflections in one of his Essays, but with a very different impression. But he seems to have been constantly wishing for something more clear and convincing than we have in the Word of God, in regard to the realities of the Eternal World, and constantly underrating the degree and decisiveness of that information ; or what is worse, shrin back from its admission, and dreading its plain and direct interpretation. Nothing can be more unfortunate than such a state of mind in regard to the Scriptures, especially for a preacher of the Gospel; and few things would render a teacher more unfitted for the instruction of others, in regard to some of the most essential points in the system of revealed truth. His state of mind was somewhat like that of a disastrous eclipse,

a and all things looked in it as the vegetation and forms of the world look in an eclipse of the sun at noonday. It seemed as if, while he was advancing forward to the knowledge of Divine things, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and to

« VorigeDoorgaan »