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METHODISM has a good effect in exhibiting the power of united, systematic action in the members of a church. It displays the force of an esprit du corps, under the stimulus of an organization that compacts the people, and that gives each one a place to fill and a work to do. The success of this denomination has been a great encouragement to our Church to push its aggressive action among other populations than those which have a birth-right with us, and to make us feel that; we too are bound to carry the gospel beyond the limits of our immediate congregations. The warmth and animation of their preachiriģ;. the directness of their modes of address to the individual heart; have had a good effect upon our own style of proclaiming the gospel. Taking warning from their indiscreet excesses in this respect, we have seen, on the other hand, that the popular mind requires a blending of the more extemporaneous and informal method of address with what was, with us, in danger of becoming too scholastic and artificial. Their animated and unanimous singing, arising from the cultivation of familiar tunes and hymns, has reproved the lifeless habits into which we were degenerating. Perhaps I might justly add, that, without shaking our Calvinistic foundations, their very Arminian errors have helped to increase, in our public worship, the presenting of the more encouraging and inviting features of the gospel. “Free grace" is as much our doctrine as theirs; but their extreme in one direction, has helped to modify our tendency to the other.
For these benefits we should be grateful to our Wesleyan brethren: but some other influences we should be glad they would keep at home, if they will not part with them altogether. Their peculiar views of the modes of conversion; their encouragement of physical excitement; their confidence in extraordinary "experiences," exert a secret influence on the minds of multitudes who never enter their meetings. It is to this source mainly, that we may trace the unscriptural impressions which every pastor finds among his people, of the necessity of certain characteristics or signs of regeneration, wanting which all others are disregarded. You may hold them to the Bible doctrine and Bible history of conversion, but the recollection of what their neighbours have proclaimed aloud of the light they see, the joy they felt, the burden which suddenly fell off, the perfection which they reached, will be their secret reply to the Bible itself. Very often, too, our own people take their views of their own church-doctrines from the misrepresentations afloat in the Methodist neighbourhoods, and are kept in a sort of prejudice against what is held up to them as a harsher system.
Mixed up as our people are in their social intercourse with our zealous friends of that denomination, we thus partake of their good and evil influences to a wide extent.
The BAPTISTS are the next in number of our Christian brethren who contribute to modify our peculiarities.
In looking for the good they do us, I am disposed to think we may attribute to them some beneficial effects as resulting from the
re-action of the very opinions in which they are our antagonists. Their interpretation of the two great ordinances of Christianity, operates as a constant check to our proneness to put them above their scriptural place. When we see a large and excellent body of believers holding in all other points our Confession and Catechisms, separating themselves from their brethren in the Lord on the sole ground of their peculiar views as to who should partake of the sacraments, and as the form in which one sacrament is to be observed, it sometimes seems to me a permission of the Head of the universal Church, explicable on no other ground than that the mixture of such opinions in the Christian world, would tend to keep the whole mass from the still greater evil of converting the sacraments into mere superstitions. So long as there is a controversy, the respective parties will be more likely to keep within bounds in which human weakness may be forgiven; and the Presbyterian side may be kept in a wholesome conservatism of the truth, which otherwise might gradually venture into some of the mystical theories on the subject.
Then, again, although we believe the Baptist interpretation to be erroneous, yet the mere fact of their professing to hold to a more literal and scrupulous observance of the Scripture pattern, has a tendency to remind all other branches of the Church of the great general principle involved in that common profession. One may plainly see that the "into the water,” and “out of the water," have nothing to do with the nature of baptism; but the mistaken adherence to Scripture in one point, may contribute to maintain a more general adherence to it in points of real moment.
But then, not to speak of that close communion which hurts the cause of Christianity at large, the evil that we suffer from our Baptist neighbours lies chiefly in their suggesting doubts to the minds of our people on the topics of the controversy. Here and there one, not all, instructed in the analogy of faith, conceives that baptism is immersion; or that if a different mode of applying the symbol be sufficient, yet that the offspring of believers should not be included in their parents' profession; or that seeing infant baptism is doubted by so many, it can do no harm to omit it, or at least to wait till the child is old enough to remember the transaction. Sometimes a member of a Presbyterian household is led off by the conviction, or the excitement of a moment, and bound to a system which thenceforth denies to the new Baptist the privilege of sitting at the Lord's table with father or mother, brother or sister!
More sparsely than either of the above-named communions, but in some quarters more influentially, is mingled the EPISCOPALIAN element. It is more difficult to speak of the general influence of this denomination, for it is less homogeneous, and less uniform in its phases than any of us. Their revolutionary movement is so recent, that the character of the body, as one, is yet indeterminate. It is a duality, or triality, not a unit. But whether the high, the low, or the middle party, this branch of the Church has done and may do
us good by its practical example in some things, even where we cannot go full length in the theory from which it springs. For instance, we cannot believe in such a local consecration as makes it sacriligious for the laity to set their feet in the chancel; but we like the hint that this silly notion gives to our own people of such a sacred association of the thoughts with the place of divine worship, as would make them unwilling to give it up to concerts, political meetings, or other merely secular uses ; or to talk, and
gaze, and move about in it on the Lord's day, as if they were in their own dwellings. We do not wish to see the show, and ornament, and expensiveness of their churches imitated; but we may so far regard their example, as to study good taste, neatness, convenience, and cleanliness in the plainer structures which our plainer forms demand. We do not give in to the theory that preaching is the inferior portion of the objects of the sanctuary, but we would learn from the other extreme of our liturgical friends, not to depreciate our devotional services for the sake of the sermon. We would not give up the doctrinal basis of our preaching for the genteel moral lecture, but we may learn to incor. porate in our discourses a more direct and open reference to particular moral duties and faults. We cannot but smile at their calling confirmation “an apostolic rite," and tremble at the mockery of sacred subjects which is so often connected with its observance, but we may learn to be more careful in keeping our baptized children in mind of their birthright.
In such particulars the Episcopalians may be silently doing us a good service. But, per contra, we must expect to have our evangelical simplicity offended and injured by the tendency of their opinions to encourage a ceremonial religionism, and of their forms to captivate our worldly-minded youth. We may reasonably fear that our denominational pride will be roused by their local successes so as to tempt us to be more accommodating to the worldly taste, and to forget the gospel-models where our strength lies, in order to assume an attire which is only the rags of Anglicanism, as theirs is of Romanism.
When the suggested Book comes to be written, the author will, doubtless, extend his inquiry into the influences we receive from other large denominations, not usually included in our brotherhood of churches. The “Society of Friends," for example-whether their drab does not help to modify our blue, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse—whether it is not intended, that whilst they should be rebuked by our example for not keeping the ordinances, we should learn from their principles to mix more silent meditation and spiritual waiting with our constant hearing and doing. Perhaps the supposed author will even go into the dark regions of the Popish heresy, and trace some superstitions of individual Presbyterians to the social influence of the adherents of that system; or find in the sincere fidelity of many of the ignorant Papists to the requisitions they believe to be sacred, a rebuke to our looseness as to what we know to be divine; and surely the Christian Catholic may learn
from the Roman Catholic the value of the Scriptures and the dross of tradition; the superiority of knowing what to believe, above believing what we know not; and the peril of trusting to the hands and knees the work of the heart. How much the very spectacle of this sad perversion of truth may have done to keep our exertions in the right path, no mortal eye can discern; but according to the ordinary rules of Divine Providence, we cannot believe it has been suffered without a good design, or that that design has not been, in its ordained degree, fulfilled.
To one who runs his eye along Mosheim's chapters of “Heresies and Schisms,” in his annals of the first fifteen centuries, where he begins his new division of “the general” and “the particular” history of the Church, it must seem to be a matter of surprise that the diversities of religious opinion have actually diminished, rather than increased, under the great Reformation principle of the right of private judgment in interpreting the Scriptures. For, in order to determine the question of the number of the present divisions of the Christian body, it would not be fair to enumerate the variety of names by which they are called; but the surest, the most evangelical method would be, to determine how many of these societies of believers in Jesus can pray and praise together; can rejoice in the same ground of acceptance; can weep, and be comforted, and reproved and edified, by the same pre-eminent and most precious doctrines; can admit the same preceptive and spiritual obligations, and thus prove that, despite of other differences, they feel themselves to be, in the highest sense, one in Christ.
Divine Providence has permitted the nominal church of our day to exist in our country in two great divisions, the Protestant and the Protested. The former is subdivided into several distinct organizations, but, taking the country in mass, the four forms we have been naming will express its leading influences—the Methodist, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Episcopalian. These names are sufficiently distinctive to mark the general character of the Reformed or Evangelical Church. We may, therefore, conclude that the inhabitants of the United States, so far as they arrange themselves under any religious name, come under one or another of the five divisions now stated.
Out of every arrangement or permission of Providence we must believe some final good will proceed. Error is evil, and division may be evil: but even error and division may serve the purpose of counteracting greater evils, and working out a collateral or eventual good. At all events, there must be, in such a country as ours, not only an influence going out from each of these forms on their respective adherents, but a reciprocal influence on each other. Is not this tendency of the variations one of the designs, if not the chief, in the providential permission of their existence ?
MANY years ago, I visited a church in the eastern part of the State of not very far from the ocean. It is one in which the sainted Brainerd is known to have preached, on a sacramental occasion, when he was accompanied by a troop of his tawny converts. The house is very plain, after the manner of those days, and was reared by the descendants of a small Scottish emigration. But there is one object which gives venerable beauty to the edifice—it is surrounded by a spacious burying-ground, lying gracefully over the rounded crest of a hill, and shaded by clumps of ancient oaks, the survivors of a great forest. Here lie the people of several generations, with many a lettered stone, on which the children, who stray among the rank grass and spring-flowers, love to spell out the wellknown family names. Vastly more touching, in my humble judgment, is this simple cemetery, than all the landscape-gardening of Mount Auburn, Greenwood, or Pere la Chaise. Without the aid of Hervey or Young, the thoughtful mind may here read lessons that quiet, instruct and elevate.
The month of May, in which I first visited this church, was genial and delightful, and many groups of worshippers were sprinkled over the field of the dead. Some walked in the green paths, some stood under the shady trees, and some, who were bowed with years, sat upon the broad tombstones; but all were serious and devout in their mien, for it was a communion season. Among all these persons, there was one who attracted instant attention, even before his character was known. He was a tall old man, of slender but erect form, with gray hairs that straggled from beneath his broad old-time hat. He scarcely leaned on the staff
, which, like the clergy of all ages, he seemed to bear as a pastoral symbol. All who met him did him reverence; voices were hushed as he approached; many rose as he passed; yet the smallest children appeared happier for his greeting. For nearly forty years he had ministered to them, and had at length became the patriarch of the vicinage. I well remember the serene and gentle grace with which he would lead away some shrinking creature, all suffused with emotion, into the covert of a little grove, to administer words of cheering with regard to the approaching ordinance; and then with what grave control in his manner he would gather around him the grey-haired elders, to confer with them on cases arising out of the same solemnity. As the look and carriage of a good man spring, when he is unaffected, from inward sources of character, so they have their share in that influence which a faithful minister carries with him, more and more, upon all who come into his presence. Feelings thus produced, are made more solemn and enduring amidst the memorials of the dead. For who that walked among those hillocks could forget that this aged servant of God had preached to their forefathers, and that the congregation of the dead was far greater than that of the living?