페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

of the valleys of the Promised Land, whilst it yet flowed with milk and honey, and the children of Abraham had not been exiled for their sins.' We see a company approaching : they are a band of one of the distant tribes, and they are hastening to be at Jerusalem on one of the grand anniversaries. As they advance, we catch the sound of their voices: they are beguiling with psalmody the tedious pilgrimage. We listen attentively, and at length we can distinguish the words, " I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem." Louder and louder grows the melody: the thought of the glories of the city in which Jehovah specially dwelt cheers the weary travellers; and the surrounding mountains echo the beautiful invocation, “ Pray for the peace of Jerusalem : they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.”—Pp. 111, 112. So, too, at page 132 :

Again we may transport ourselves to a valley in Judea. Down every mountain side is pouring a stream of pilgrims; along every path we may see men approaching. There is one who seems to await the throng, as though anxious to know their temper and purpose. The crowd gathers round him : he finds that, animated with one spirit

, they are exhorting one the other to hasten to the Temple, there to meet the God of their fathers. They include him in their exhortations, and the appeal goes at once to his heart. He feels that it will indeed be a marvellous privilege to worship with such a multitude as this; that a Temple, thus filled, will be verily a Bethel, a habitation of the mighty God; and he joins himself to the eager crowd, exclaiming delightedly, I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord."Pp. 132, 133.

A more impressive example might be produced from the fourth Sermon, on The Power of Association," in which Mr. Melvill gives an affecting description of a young man ruined by evil companionship. But we can only refer our readers to a delineation which we have not room to quote. It is

very

beautiful The beauty, too, is enhanced by the touching reality.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that Mr. Melvill still occasionally deviates into the region of the exaggerated, the fanciful, and the far-fetched. In the category of exaggeration, we are constrained to place some remarks upon the nature of sin, which occurs in the first Sermon, on Idle Words." We would call attention to the whole of the following passage, and, more especially, to those clauses which we have printed in italics.

We only assert what must be borne out by an inward witness from every one among you, when we say that men are disposed to underrate sin, and to measure the offences of man against God by the same standards as the offences of man against man. Just because there may be all possible degrees of criminality in the wrong-doing of beings of the same race the one towards the other, it is inferred that sin, emphatically so called the wrong-doing of man towards his Maker—may admit every variety of guiltiness, from the enormous, which could scarce be overpunished, to the insignificant, which scarce deserves punishment at all. And it is no part of our business to disprove there being degrees of guiltiness in sin-as though all sins were on a par, and there were no power in one man of being more wicked than another. We readily admit that sins may be compared in regard of criminality, and that, if you think merely of the proportion which one bears to another, you may justly speak of the great and the small, or arrange a catalogue of what deserves much, and what deserves little.

But along with this admission, and in thorough consistency with it, we would urge that there cannot be a small sin, a sin whose guilt is inconsiderable, or which may be regarded as exposing its perpetrator to none but an insignificant punishment. We argue, that, whilst one sin may differ from another by very large measures, every sin is necessarily great, and deserving great punishment'; so that what you count the least, may indeed be far less heinous than some others with which you institute comparison, but must, notwithstanding, be of infinite guilt, and expose those who work it to an infinite retribution.

And it is because sin is an offence against God, that we assert the impossibility of its ever being trivial or inconsiderable in itself. The Creator, at whose word we rose out of nothing, and might again disappear from the universe, has imposed a law on his rational creatures, having either graven it on their consciences, or traced it in external revelation. There cannot be imagined a more thorough dependence than that in which we stand with regard to this Creator, nor a stricter claim than that which he has on our allegiance. And hence his every precept comes to us with a sanction, and invested with a majesty, which make it impossible that we should be guilty of a slight offence · against God. For, wheresoever there is sin, there must be infringement of divine law; and this law, whether you think of the awful dignities of the Being from whom it proceeds, or ponder the relation in which we stand to that Being, is so august, so imperative, so terrible, that to break it in the least point must be to array ourselves against Omnipotence, and therefore Omnipotence against ourselves. It cannot be a small thing to disobey God, though it may be a small thing in which I disobey Him. The guilt of the disobedience should be estimated by the greatness of the Being whom I disobey, rather than by that of the particular in which I disobey. Indeed, I might almost venture to say, that God cannot require a small thing, cannot forbid a small thing. So soon as required, or forbidden, the small becomes great: law gives to it something of the greatness of the lawgiver; the word which spake every thing out of nothing, magnifies in uttering; and where a divine command lights, a vast duty rises.

There is one thing, therefore, to which we may defy a sinner-we may defy him to commit a small sin, a sin that can be punished in less than an eternity, or pardoned through less than Christ's death. Is it sin? then it is not also small. It is not sin, unless it be a transgression of God's law : but, being this, the law must be insignificant, the lawgiver must be insignificant, ere sin can be insignificant. A thought? a word ? can these break the divine law? it is admitted that they can: the law itself, as interpreted by its author, declares that they can. And what is it to break the divine law? I incur its penalties; and these penalties, what are they but divine attributes pledged to iheir own 'vindication ? Then, had there not been made a propitiation for the sins of

human-kind, it would avail nothing that I could prove myself innocent in all but · a single particular, nothing that this particular, if compared with those in which others had offended, seemed as the light dust of the balance" to the " everlasting hills.I have rebelled against God; and rebellion against God will be a thing to be overlooked, or recompensed lightly, when man shall cease to be a creature, and God to be Creator. And so long as it is God in whom “we live and move and have our being;" so long as, by the rights of creation, and yet more of redemption, He shall have claim to the consecration of every power, and the employment of every moment, so long will it be possible indeed to forget God, to displease God, to resist God, but impossible to sin a small sin. The eternal majesties of Deity rise up as the measures of sin; his necessary attributes represent its heinousness; his own immensity spreads itself forth as that against which, at every point, every evil action strikes.-Pp.3-6.

Now, that Mr. Melvill has stated his argument with much ingenuity, much eloquence, and something of truth ;—that many transgressions, which men choose to flatter their consciences by considering as trivial,

VOL. XXII.

NO. IV.

D D

are, in reality, enormous ;— that the distinction between venial and mortal sins is a perilous and treacherous doctrine, when exhibited as Roman Catholic writers sometimes exhibit it ;—and that the man who lives in the wilful and habitual commission of any one sin, is guilty of all, — these are propositions which we would not for a moment deny. We would likewise allow that one measure of the sinfulness of a sin is the dignity, or the goodness, of the Being whose commandments the sin violates. But still we have scriptural warrant for asserting, that there are sins unto death, and sins not unto death. Yet Mr. Melvill states in express words, or at any rate his premises lead inevitably to the conclusion, that the least sin deserves an infinite punishment. This reasoning, however, seems to carry its own refutation with it, in its very terms ; and, at the same time, to contradict or repudiate the qualifications by which Mr. Melvill would surround it. For, if a sin deserves an infinite punishment, surely it can only be because the sin itself is of an infinite magnitude. But, if such be the case, how can it be the least? or how can there be any degrees of less and greater ? The argument, indeed, as we have seen it put by other preachers, and as it is, in the main, adopted by Mr. Melvill, may be stated thus :—Every sin is infinite, because it is committed against a Being of infinite perfections : and comes into collision with those perfections at every point along the whole line of their infinity. We take it for granted, that they who use this argument, can understand it. Our comprehension is more feeble. With too many, we are convinced, it only passes for a fine and somewhat astounding piece of ecclesiastical metaphysics, which sound judgment rejects, and at which common feeling shudders. We are also convinced, that the attempt to prove too much upon a point like this, is beyond expression dangerous ;-it does not magnify the justice or the mercy of God, but it revolts and outrages the impulses of justice and mercy in mankind, even to intimate that one vain thought, or one loose word, is enough to call down upon our heads the overwhelming weight of an eternal condemnation. Corrupt and prone to self-delusion as we are, it is always well that we should be peculiarly on our guard against an indulgence in any transgression, on the supposition that it is slight;- but it cannot be well, that we should be led to confound the smallest offences with adultery or murder. Men are not deterred - they are simply horrified—where they conceive the crime to bear no proportion to the punishment; or they rush desperately forward to the more heinous crime, to which the temptation is stronger, and of which the punishment can be only the same. And though we are told that Draco's laws were written in blood; because he said, “ Small crimes deserve death, and what worse punishment can we inflict on the greater?" hundreds, nay thousands will declare, that the sanguinary statutes of the Athenian legislator were written, not in blood, but in milk, as compared with this code of vindictive theology. Here is the mischief. We furnish the infidel with a weapon which we cannot parry ; and even that most atrocious and most miserable of infidels—the Socialist, may find some plausible excuse for denying human responsibility, if he can represent the doctrine of responsibility as carried by christian divines to the extreme length, that man, for the most trifling of imaginable offences, is liable, at the hands of his Creator, to penal and intense torments for evermore. If we have at all misrepresented Mr. Melvill's meaning, we shall be sorry; but we are not sorry to have an opportunity of entering our protest against an argument which errs, in our opinion, both against Scripture and against reason, from excess and overstatement.

As instances of the fanciful and the far-fetched, we might adduce several long passages in the third and fifth Sermons, entitled “ The Stronger than the Strong," and The Greater than Jonus.In fact, we might point to the whole tenor of these two discourses. Many assertions contained in them appear to us, we confess, startling and untenable. Yet, where the matter is fanciful, the magnificence of the fancy can hardly fail to make itself admired. The following specimen will suffice to show what we mean.

If the earth yet deserve the name of a palace, we may, with equal fitness, apply the term to man-man, a creature of lofty endowment, is a palace, though a palace in decay, a palace in ruins. There is all the difference between puffing ourselves up with arrogant notions of our greatness, and endeavouring to ascertain our true place in the scale of creation. And whilst, unquestionably, there are points of view under which man appears as only mean and degraded, there are others which present him as scarce inferior to the highest of creatures, the being of a sublime order, and made for noble ends. Think of his vast capacities, his immense powers, his imagination, his memory, his will. What are these but parts of a splendid structure, a gorgeous edifice, made up of chambers, every one of which attests celestial workmanship, and seems to crave celestial residence? What a chamber may memory be-itself a palacevast, so that it may include the world from its first day to its present; haunted by all that has been illustrious since the dawning of time; its walls pictured with the stars in all their mazy revolutions; its galleries thronged with breathing sculpture, with the figures of the philosopher holding in his hand the rich scroll of discovery, of the warrior pressing on in his burning career, of the navigator as he snatches new lands from obscurity, of the Apostle with his revelation of wonders beyond the ken of reason-oh, what is memory, thus capacious, thus furnished, as it may be, with what is brilliant on the heavens, and beautiful on the earth, if not a palace, sufficient of itself to win such name for the structure to which it belongs, were every other part ignoble and contracted? But adjacent parts are not ignoble and contracted. Witness those halls of audience, into which truths are ushered, that their pretensions may be weighed. Witness those council-chambers, where a thousand projects are debated, whence issue winged thoughts which, like the ministers of a monarch, may affect the fortunes of a people, or even pass in mighty influence over a world. Witness that august place of judgment, where, as though enthroned and arrayed in royal apparel, conscience presides, a legislator of such sway that his very presence gives grandeur to the scene, and creates for himself the dome, the column, and the arch. Yea, be it, as we know it to be, that man has fallen--the ruins are so stately, so many pillars are still standing, so many apartments still retain the majesty of their proportions and the splendour of their ornaments, that we recognize a palace, and feel as though no lesser name were worthy to be used. The human race may be but fragments, spread over a desolate waste : but he who gazes on them, strong even in decay, and lofty even in abasement, might suppose himself with the traveller who stands by Palmyra, the “ Tadmor in the desert," and confesses a city of palaces, where ruin hath driven its ploughshare, and death spread its silence. Pp. 50–52.

On the whole, these discourses can hardly, we think, be said to belong to the highest order of pulpit oratory. They have not the requisite comprehensiveness of erudition, and weight of matter, and power of thought. But they do belong to very nearly the highest. In some parts, they are crude, in some parts, even fantastic : they give few, or no, indications of a mature, harmonious, well-digested system of theology; they have not the poetical flow of Jeremy Taylor, or the inexhaustible copiousness of Barrow, or the majestic solidity of Hooker; or the masculine vigour of Horsley or the present Bishop of London. But they are admirably suited for the purpose of stimulating the thoughts, and enchaining the attention, of a mixed audience. Perhaps, too, they are better calculated to float upon the tide of popular admiration than if the specific gravity had been greater. Although of no extraordinary calibre, they are any thing but slovenly and tedious; and if the gold is sometimes beaten out into thin leaf, and spread over a large surface, still, for the most part, it is gold.

These Sermons, again,—and Mr. Melvill's sermons, in general, are not to be considered as unexceptionable models for parochial discourses. It would be a dangerous thing to say, that they are too elaborate—though they are far more elaborate compositions than parochial ministers can usually find time to write—but they are too ambitious; they aim too much at making points ; they possess too much the character of showy harangues; they want the simple instruction—the homely application --the plain, familiar exposition of scriptural truth, without which parochial sermons-sermons by which the poor as well as the rich are to be benefited— lose more than half of their practical utility ; and for the absence of which, as far as parochial sermons are concerned, no adequate compensation could be found in those loftier and more imposing qualities which Mr. Melvill's eloquence unquestionably exhibits. For, in fact, the office of the parochial pastor is to teach his own flock, not to excite the curiosity, or captivate the imagination, of multitudes collected from far and near. It would be a harsh and unjust thing to say, that these discourses have more of Mr. Melvill in them than of the gospel; but they do lead us to think of the preacher, rather than of the word. This is another reason why we should be sorry to see parochial ministers propose them for their imitation. The imitation, too, would be no easy task. The blemishes, indeed, might, without much difficulty, be imitated and exaggerated ; but even to imitate the excellences would require very fine talents and very varied acquirements. In their peculiar style, they will well bear comparison with any thing which this age has produced. There exist very few writers who could equal them ; perhaps, there exists not one-certainly we could not name more than two or three-who could hope to surpass them. We trust that they will be succeeded by many others of the same kind from the same author ; and we hail them as an important addition to our ecclesiastical literature.

« 이전계속 »