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The origin and progress of Unbelief, are attributed to the influence of the evil Spirit. 'The progressive variations in error and falsehood have run parallel with the progressive state of true religion, so as clearly to indicate the constant operation of a deceiving Spirit, prosecuting one invariable purpose, that of frustrating God's gracious designs towards fallen man, and, under every dispensation of the Divine will, suggesting new modes of delusion, according to the peculiar circumstances and condition of mankind.' This sentiment, which pervades the work, and which is more particularly the ground-work of the first volume, will not obtain for the author any favourable acceptance of his labours among certain professors of Christianity. They have discarded it from their credenda. With them it is an infallible symptom of a weak understanding, or a certain indication of a bigoted adherence to exploded system. Bat to others it will be a recommendation of his performance; they will recognize its scriptural authority, and be pleased with that deference to the clear and explicit doctrines of the word of God, which the writer manifests. The existence of an Apostate Spirit, we are instructed to receive as a matter, not of speculation, but of great practical importance; nor can we forbear to express our disapprobation of that ingenuity and artifice, which have been exercised to explain away, and " make of none.effect," a doctrine which appears in almost every page of holy writ, to which its predictions, its narratives, its precepts, its promises, its exhortations, bear perpetual reference.
On the subject of Idolatry, which is treated in the second Sermon, after specifying and describing its principal kinds, the worship of the elements and heavenly bodies, brute creatures, and deified men, Mr. V. M. remarks,
• Whatever difficulty, then, there may be in arranging this perplexed mass of absurdity into any regular system, it is sufficiently evident that it must have originated (as has been already observed) in a wilful departure from the truth. For, when we consider that man was not, from the beginning, left to himself, to discover the true Author of Nature, or the worship that was due to him; but was instructed, by immediate communication from his Creator, in every thing relative to his spiritual concerns; how can we regard the introduction of these false Divinities in any other light than that of wilful apostacy from the true God? Ignorance could not be the cause of Cain's departure from the faith, nor of the infidelity of his immediate descendants ; neither could it be pleaded in excuse for " the children of Seth," (emphatically called " the Sons of God,") when they forfeited their claim to that tide, by entering into alliance with the wicked posterity of Cain. The same is to be observed respecting the immediate dessendants of Noah; whom we cannot suppos^ to have been ignorant of the true Religion founded on the expectation of the promised Redeemer, notwithstanding their readiness, so soon after the Flood, to renounce that expectation, and to follow their own corrupt imaginations. . . * ■
•When we thus investigate the. nature and origin of false religion, its heinousness, as involving the guilt of presumptuous opposition to the Divine will, is hardly to be disputed. It is, therefore, but a vain apology for Heathenism (when we speak of its first origin and introduction) to treat it as the harmless invention oFpoor unenlightened mortals, labouring, with good intentions, but under invincible ignorance, toi discover the true God, and to perform to him an acceptable service. Neither will it avail' (for the vindication of the earliest apostates, at least, from the true Faith)' to-have recourse to those refined and specious theories, by which ingenious men have endeavoured to conceal the deformities of the Gentile superstitions, under the semblance of profound mystical instruction; representing them as useful political institutions; nay, even dignifying the objects of Pagan worship .with the appellation of " elegant Divinities;" and extolling them as the invention of wise and discerning minds. Whereas the fact appears to be clearly this; that mankind had been from the beginning in possession of the one true Religion; but that the founders of Heathen Idolatry " forsook the Lord," that they might ".serve strange Gods." This is uniformly the language of Scripture; and every- thing that we can collect from history confirms the truth of this' representation.' Vol. I. pp. 58—60.
We were much surprised to meet with the following passage in the 4th sermon, " Gallio, the deputy of Achaia, would not even listen to the Apostle's defence, but suffered him to be illegally beaten; 'caring for none of those things."— Sosthenes, not Paul, was beaten by the Greeks; and we perceive nothing in the Proconsul's behaviour inconsistent with' the duties of his office; his conduct, we think, was not only free from blame, but dignified on the occasion.; he refused to, take cognizance of a cause which did not belong to his tribunal, and would not suffer the uprightness of his mind to be overcome by popular clamour. We attribute this misrepresentation to inadvertency, and regret that so respectable a character as Gallio should be injured through inattention to a.plain narrative. Nor is Mr. Van Mildert the only person who has thus offended. Some preachers have' reproved the unconcerned part of their auditors as "like Gallio." We have an instance in this work, Vol. II. p. 207.
The emperor Julian holds a: conspicuous p'lice among the determined and persevering opponents of the Gospel j "The Idol of modern Infidels," to whom they have offered' their incense, and upon^vhom they have lavished their praise. The Historian of the Roman Empire has. bestowed more than, •dmmon labour in the delineation of liis hero. Mr. V. M. has' ■devpted a .number of pages to the consideration 6f his character and conduct, as connected with his subject; and we regard the portrait which he has drawn as faithful and judicious. We quote the following passage, as containing an exact counterpart of our characteristic object; recent experience has sufficiently demonstrated, that Julian did not estithe power of literature as an agent too highly:
'It was another project of Julian, to banish all Learning from amonr. Christians; and to reduce them to a state of ignorance and barbarism, by depriving them even of the common advantages of education. This Was a deep-laid scheme; and, had it been carried into execution, could hardly have failed of accomplishing the end proposed. Julian laboured, therefore, indefatigably, to effect this part of his design. The whole Empire was converted, as it were, into a College of Infidelity; and scarcely > department in -%\ie State was unoccupied by Sophists, on whom he depended for the completion of this, grand scheme. But " the foolishness of .God," (as said St. Paul) " is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men* :" and never was this more remarkably proved than In the pre-eminence, which the Gospel still maintained over its insidious opponents.' pp. 170, 171.
J.n the 6th sermon we meet with a spirited sketch of the jCommencement and progress of Mahometanism, and an examination of the Koran, the absurdities and impieties of which are fully exposed.
From the 7th we give the following extract, containing a jcqmparison between 'Mahometanism and Popery:
* It can hardly escape our observation, on the first general view of thi* .•xtensive subject, that the greater part of the ignorance and corruption, which prevailed in the Middle Ages, is to be ascribed to the two great Anti-Christian Powers, the Mahometan and the Papal, which sprang up in the Eastern and Western Empires, at nearly the same juncture of.time. Temporal and spiritual tyranny were united in each of the monstrous systems supported by these powers: and" the Prince of this world'' sought, by means of both, to bring mankind under his cruel yoke. Both operated, [though in different ways, to obscure the knowledge of pure Religion, and •to promote the increase of Superstition and of Unbelief. Fabulous Legends, uncertain Traditions,' and corrupt Interpretations of the Holy Scriptures, ■were characteristic of both. But, in other respects, they widely differed. Popery gloried in the Cross, and strenuously maintained all the essentials .of the Christian Faith, though it loaded it with non-essentials and brought it into contempt, by i corrupt admixture of human inventions -with the ■Word of God. Mahometanjsm, though acknowledging the divine mission M Jesus, despised the Cross, renounced the saving troths of the Gospel, and .asserted a new Revelation from God, for the purpose of subverting all its fundamental doctrines. Ip these respects the latter wpre the aspect of a direct and open Apostacy; the former a held the faith," though neither i«
-•*«'<" V—' :'' • '''" * 1 Cor.L2S.' ~ ~ '"~
"the unity of the spirit, nor in the bond of peace." Through the medium of Popery, the Church was still preserved : its Priesthood was perpetuated, in regular succession from the Apostles; and its members were admitted into Covenant with God, through the initiatory Sacrament of Baptism, administered by persons duly and lawfully ordained. But by Mahometanism, the Church was annihilated, its Priesthood done away, its Sacraments rejected; and the whole of the Christian Covenant superseded and annulled. The former, therefore, admitted of correction, and has, by the blessing of God upon the exertions of its Reformers, been, in several countries, purged of its errors, and restored almost to its primitive purity: whilst the latter teems only to wait the avenging arm of Heaven, and to admit of no remedy but absolute excision.' Vol. 1. pp. 234—'226.
We are not in the least disposed to treat Mahometanism with indulgence, or to palliate the evils which it has occasioned: but we cannot view Popery itself in a light quite so favourable, as that in which Mr. V. M. has placed it, whatever may be our admiration for some individuals in that communion. Have the wounds inflicted by it, upon vital Christianity, been so much less deep or severe, than those by the imposture of the Arabian Prophet F The personal character of Mahomet would not suffer by a comparison with that of many of the Pontiffs. Nor do we believe that the atrocities committed under the sanction of the Romish church, have been less dreadful than those perpetrated by the believers in the Korarr. We must object to the assertion, that "Popery gloried in the cross, and strenuously maintained all the essentials of the Christian faith." How can this be affirmed of a church which taught a way of acceptance with God, different from that in the New Testament, and propagated the most fatal delusions; and to which most properly belongs the term "apostacy ?'* Nor is the author consistent with himself, since he describes a majority of its members (p. 242), as adhering to every foppery of paganism with more tenacious regard than to the essentia^doctrines of salvation. If, according to Mr. Van Mildert, p. 284, the Waldenses and Albigenses are to be regarded as the remains of pure and legitimate provincial churches which flourished in Italy and Gaul, from the earliest promulgation of the Gospel in those countries, and, which were of far mare ancient date than the Papal usurpation,—rather through them, than by the medium of Popery, was the Christian priesthood perpetuated, and the church preserved. Th<; tenet of Apostolic and uninterrupted succession seems to be the origin of this excessive preference; but the worthy author must be aware that this derivation of the sacred office' through the imniaculate hands of Popes and Bishops is very unnecessary to its utility; it has pleased God to impart, with* vut it, all the spiritual advantages "which were ever conveyed with it; and while we have reason to lament that the blessing of God is not constantly connected with episcopal ordination, we have equal cause to rejoice that it is not exclusively.
But whether Mr. Y. M.V opinion,' p. 285, concerning the legitimacy of the Piedmont and Valais churches, be true or false, we think that the Waldenses and Albigenses—that the authors of every Reformation—are to be vindicated on the principle of private judgement; and to this, as their source, we believe they may all be traced. Something like this our author admits in the same page. The intrepidity of individuals, in separating from a corrupt communion, and guiding themselves by the word of God and the dictates of enlightened conscience, in opposition to human authority, has effected those striking changes which give us cause for incessant admiration and devout praise. We are sorry that so respectable an author should stigmatize conscientious Christians, under the title of "modern Schismatics."
The reader will find an able vindication of the character 'and conduct of the Reformers, in the 8th Sermon, which, as the elegant pen of a popular writer has revived the subject, we regard as seasonable^
• Although their adversaries have spared no pains, to asperse the reputa» tion of Wickliffe, Huss, Luther, and of others who trod in their steps; we' shall, perhaps, search in vain, either in ancient or modern history, for examples of men more justly entitled to the praise of splendid talents, sound learning, and genuine piety. As to any failings in temper or discretion, which appear to have sullied these excellent qualities, when we consider the perverseness with which these Reformers had to contend, and the bitter persecutions which they continually experienced, in pursuing their great and laudable purpose j we must have little of Christian charity, as well at little knowledge of human infirmity, if we be not disposed to make large* allowance for the peculiar circumstances in which they were placed.' Vol. I. pp. 288, 289.
Mr. V. M.'s subsequent applause of the English Reformers as acting in subordination to the English Bishops, is, however, an implied censure on Luther, Calvin, and Huss, who only acted in obedience to the word of God.
Our limits prevent our noticing every part of this valuable work. In the subsequent pages of the present volume^ thai efforts of modern Infidels to abolish Christianity are considered. In proportion to the pleasure we should have felt, if the abilities they possessed had been consecrated to the Redeemer's, service, and exerted in his behalf, is our s'orrow as their reprobate names pass before us. Alas! that such talents and influence as they commanded, were employed in the dreadful and vain work of opposing God. *