« 이전계속 »
own views to a sense of justice, and the revealed character of
ment. To those who approve the peculiarities of their theological views, these simple manuals of Christian doctrine must be above all price, and deservedly rank next to the Bible. It is not the least praise of this renowned Assembly, that they did not consider it beneath their dignity to simplify their doctrines, and adapt their statements to the young and the illiterate. It justly claims our admiration to see this great synod of learned and dignified persons and the Parliament of England, amid the tumults of civil war, concentrating their intellectual and moral energies upon such a task. The influence of the labors of the Assembly has been extensive and controlling over multitudes of the better portion of the inhabitants of the British Islands, and other parts, wherever the English language is spoken. To their formularies millions have owed their preservation from destructive errors, their theological knowledge, and saving, sober piety. Up to that time the Puritanical party, and the distinctive principles of Puritanism, had no proper embodiment, but existed as a warring element in the national church. It now assumed a distinctive form, and a tangible individuality; and ever since has maintained its position, and exerted a most salutary influence in the world. By it the Romanizing tendency of the English Establishment has been kept in check: its opposition to the demanded uniformity has perpetuated religious liberty; while its deep-toned orthodoxy has stood as a bulwark against the onsets of every form of seductive error. As it was only in Scotland that these formularies became really the doctrinal and disciplinary standards of the church, to that kingdom we must look for an exemplification of their practical tendency. On this point the language of one of Scotland's worthies may be cited, as a felicitous statement of the case: “By these,” (the Confession and Catechisms,) says the biographer of Alexander Henderson, “these divines have erected a monument in almost every heart in Scotland. For two hundred years these have withstood the attacks of infidelity, and even many severe wounds from the hands of their friends; yet is the Confession of Faith, unshaken as the rock of ages, still found, on a sabbath afternoon, in the hands of our peasantry, dear to them almost as their Bible; and the Catechism, carried morning after morning, by our sons and our daughters, to the parish school, (the plan of which Henderson devised,) that their contents may enlighten the minds and spiritualize the feelings of the rising generation. Next to the introduction of Christianity itself into Scotland, and the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue, the framing of the Confession
of our Faith, and of the Catechisms, has conferred the greatest boon on every Christian in our country.”
We have, in the foregoing quotation, incidentally introduced a name which deserves more than a passing notice—Alexander Henderson. Though many circumstances concurred to give this age an influence over later times, and though many master-workmen were engaged upon these venerable structures, yet he may be justly regarded as the ruling spirit of his age. It was not that his voice was always loudest in debate, nor that he could coerce men into a reluctant obedience to his own will; but, being a man of singular decision of character, and of an almost idolatrous devotion to his own religious sentiments, with great natural and acquired abilities, joined to a commanding but conciliating address, he left his impress upon whatever passed through his hands, and silently insinuated his own opinions into other minds. The commotions of the church of his native kingdom first called into public notice his transcendent genius. Prepared by long exercise in those troubles, he came to Westminster to mingle anew in the conflicts of contending minds, and to fashion the Church of England, then in a transition state, after his own cherished model. As a reformer he was “radical,” but not “destructive;” for he was no less skillful to build up than strong to pull down. He discouraged the revisal of the old Articles of the Church of England, and advised an entirely new formulary of doctrines. He opposed a modification of the episcopacy, and insisted upon a pure Presbyterianism. Though co-operating and making common cause with Independents and Erastians against prelacy, he would, in no case, abate his exclusive claims for his own cherished system. His confidence in the goodness of his cause made him bold, and even pertinacious, in its defense. He appears to have been fully persuaded that his reasons for his own notions of church government were quite irresistible; and he was therefore positive in his conclusions, and impatient of contradiction. But, though never convinced by arguments, he would sometimes prudently yield to the power that he could not effectually resist, and suspend the purposes that he never abandoned. Against the vast learning of Lightfoot, the skill and erudition of Selden, or the majesty of his fallen prince, he was equally undaunted; constantly asserting the exclusive divine right of his favorite Presbyterianism. He was evidently of that sort of men of which martyrs are made, and needed only a change of circumstances to have given his name a high place among those who have sealed a good confession with their blood. Nearly every considerable production of that memorable period bears his impress. The Solemn League and Covenant was his own composition. The Directory was formed under his eye. He wrote the principal part of the Confession of Faith with his own hand. And the form of church government which the Assembly attempted in vain to give to the Church of England was little more than a transcript of that which he had, a little before, drawn up for the Church of Scotland. But his labors were more than he could long endure, and, in the midst of his days, he fell a sacrifice to his strenuous fidelity to the cause he had espoused, and which he sincerely believed to be that of his divine Master. His country honors his memory as that of one of her chief benefactors; and the whole Christian world owes him a debt of lasting gratitude. Most of the business for which the Assembly was convened had been gone over, when, in the latter part of the year 1648, the final action was had on the Catechisms. But little, however, had been done to the satisfaction of those who at the first came up to that body with the most sanguine expectations. The days of the Assembly's usefulness had passed, and it would have been well had the Parliament then terminated its being, or had they asked to be dissolved. The breach between the Presbyterians and Independents had widened, and become apparently irreparable. Their discussions were no longer the intercourse of generous minds laboring to elicit truth; but the bickerings and criminations of angry partisans contending for victory. The Parliament continued to exercise supreme authority in the affairs of the church; and nothing could be approved and ratified in the Discipline, Confession, or Catechisms, that denied their right to do so. The Assembly, through the influence of a variety of causes, was going rapidly to decay. Many of the divines had returned to their parishes in the remote parts of the kingdom, and public expectation was no longer directed to them. A new and formidable enemy to both that body and the Parliament began to appear in the army, now clamoring for a republic, and religious toleration. In the latter part of the year 1647 the Scots took formal leave of the Assembly, after an interchange of civilities, and returned home; but little satisfied with what had been effected, and entertaining but faint hopes of the future. Henderson had gone some time previous, first, to Newcastle, in the vain hope of inducing the captive monarch to become a Presbyterian; and thence to Edinburgh, where, after a few weeks, he sickened and died. The Scots General Assembly, in August of the same year, ratified the Confession of Faith, and a year later the Catechisms; the Directory, and Form of Church Government, had been previously adopted, and reduced to practice. The business of the Assembly was now virtually at an end. They had performed the work assigned them, and submitted what they had done to the Parliament, to be approved, modified, or rejected. But the power of the Parliament was declining scarcely less rapidly than that of the Assembly, and universal confusion again threatened the distracted church and kingdom. A proposition to obtain the king's sanction for the Assembly, with the addition of twenty Episcopalian divines, was talked of, but failed; and that once powerful and illustrious body for some time dragged on a feeble and useless existence, without either dignity or employment. The few members who remained continued, at intervals, their formal but useless sessions, till February 22d, 1649, when they were changed to a committee for examining candidates for vacant churches. Thus terminated the labors of the Assembly of Divines, after they had sat five years, six months, and twenty-two days, and had held one thousand one hundred and sixty-three sessions. In its new character, the committee of triers continued to hold their meetings for three years longer, till Cromwell forcibly dissolved the Long Parliament; and so the committee, the poor remains of the famous Westminster Assembly of Divines, ceased to be. In its origin, progress, and end, it was like a meteor bursting suddenly into being, and beaming with unwonted splendor for a season, till again lost in the surrounding gloom, now rendered more intense by the departed radiance. Not so, however, were its effects: but, like the genial showers and the gentle sunshine of early spring, it imparted life and strength to what had seemed utterly dead; and, though lost again among the lingering blasts of winter, it was the pledge of the coming summer, and the seedtime of that harvest whose reaping is yet in progress.
ART. WII.-Methodist Hymnology; comprehending Notices of the Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, &c. With Critical and Historical Observations. By DAvid CREAMER. New-York. 1848.
In the number of this journal for April, 1844, appeared the first extended criticism of the Methodist Hymn-book. In the year following a small volume, entitled, “Wesleyan Hymnology; or, a Companion to the Wesleyan Hymn-book,” was published in London. We have now before us the result of six years of absorbing study of this subject, by a lay member of our church, in a neatly printed volume of four hundred and seventy pages, duo