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CONTEMPLATIVE PIETY AND RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
AN INTRODUCTORY PAPER.
THE venerable Mr. Jay has a remark in the preface to his Christian Contemplated, to the effect, that the habits of the present age, if more favourable to the exercise of Christian zeal than those of our forefathers, appear to be less favourable than theirs to the cultivation of inward piety. This is the general purport of his remark, given from memory, but, it is believed, with substantial accuracy, and expressing, there can be no question, an important fact. The duty of our Lord's disciples to his cause, their obligation to disseminate his truth, and to extend his kingdom, has for the last half-century been so frequently, directly, urgently, and variously inculcated, that there has been no possibility of avoiding its consideration. Appeals in this behalf have been reiterated in every town, from the pulpit, the platform, the bazaar, and the press. The work, too, has been taken up so much in earnest, that it has been found imperative to call in aid the great principle on which all industry must depend for its due success,-that of the homogeneous distribution of labour, and what, fifty years ago, was considered to be the proper work of one religious society, has, in more recent times, been found enough to fill the hands, and exercise the vigilance and wisdom of two or three. For an example of this progressive division of labour, we may refer to the London Missionary Society, which, at first, as its early publications* prove, was at once a continental, a colonial, and a Jews' Society, but has of late years
* Bogue's Essay on the New Testament, written at the request of the London Missionary Society, with a view to the counteraction of infidelity in France; and Ewing's Essays addressed to the Jews, written also at the instance of the same society. The former work has been translated into almost every European language, and is now included in the publications of the Religious Tract Society.
exclusively restricted its operations to heathen missions, and ceded the other branches to distinct societies. The result is, that there is no professing Christian, male or female, or any child of such, (having learned his A, B, C,) who has not been appealed to for the cause of God. Ministers and people, parents and children, masters and servants, all have been required to do something, and the agitation is incessant it would seem to be the long-sought-for perpetual motion. He who has just said 'No,' to the Bible Society, is obliged to pull his purse-strings for the Church Missionary; the 'friend' who, to-day, declines contributing to the support of a theological seminary, tomorrow, perhaps, goes on the committee of the Borough Road School; while some, who profess and believe that the Religious Tract Society inculcates deadly poison, are possibly, as the secretaries of some provincial Bible society, actively labouring to circulate the very book from which, if we have any judgment, that poison has been distilled. In this way, the claims of every evangelical enterprise are, some time or other, enforced, and each is, to some extent, supported; whether adequately, let the treasurers of our colleges, and the treasurers and secretaries of our Congregational Union and British Missions,-our missions in England, Ireland, and the colonies, say. We fear they must say 'No.' Still, our argument holds good. They appeal, explain, enforce, and almost threaten, whether they succeed or not. Their sound is gone out through all the country, and their words unto the ends of the land. Their voice is, "Christ expects every Englishman to do his duty." And on the top of all, like the ark on the waters, as we are told, comes our religious literature, with her annuals, (in the shape of Congregational and other lectures,) quarterlies and monthlies, (to say nothing of her hymn-books,* and her serial works on missions,† and the history of the church, and the classics of the Reformation,) § now blandly canvassing from our Sunday scholars patronage of her halfpenny Missionary Magazine,-now storming, half in play and half in earnest, at those pastors who have not told their people from the pulpit, that they must, for their own sake, read the 'Christian Witness.' But enough it will be at once conceded, that this agitation is perpetual, when the very children who built the missionary ship had hardly fetched their breath, before they were called upon to go forth again to get enough to keep her on full service. Do we object to this activity?—to the principle of it, not a whit. It assumes, like all other
*The Congregational Hymn Book, of which a new and revised edition has lately been published.
+ Morrison and Ellis.
Hanbury's Historical Memorials relating to the Independents, &c., &c., in 3 vols. 8vo., published for the Congregational Union, by Jackson and Walford, London. § The publications of the Wycliffe Society, projected by the Union.
good things, now and then, a questionable shape, but this is incident to human infirmity. We would rather say, "herein we do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." But then we must add, in recollection of Mr. Jay's remark, "this ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone." It is, therefore, our wish, now to call attention to a few considerations connected with the other duty mentioned above, -the cultivation of personal religion.
Mr. Coleridge used a happy expression, when, speaking in the preface to his 'Aid to Reflection' of those who wished for aid in disciplining their minds to habits of reflection, he described them as 'desirous of building up a manly character in the light of distinct consciousness.' Let this expression suggest our first remark. He who would cultivate religion in right earnest must know what religion is. He cannot do it in the dark. "He that doeth truth cometh to the light." To this end, it is of as great moment that he should be well informed respecting the principles, causes, and functions of that spiritual life which is hid with Christ in God, as that he should be exercised in the outward duties of devotion and benevolence. He should be instructed as to the sources of danger, and the causes of spiritual declension; and it is well, that besides the general conviction that the Gospel, and Gospel truth, and cleaving to the Lord Jesus Christ, is the great remedial provision, he should have the eyes of his understanding enlightened to behold in what varied forms of instruction, warning, exhortation, and promise, that one great remedy is exhibited and applied in the Scriptures, to relieve our infirmity, dispel our error, heal our backslidings, subdue our enmity, and clear, strengthen, and exercise our faith, our patience, and our love.
So much has been written on this subject, that it seems needless to enlarge upon it here. Among the many valuable works relative to it, let a few be mentioned, both old and new. To those who have a taste for Latin reading, the "Theologia Activa" of Lampe, and the "Typus Theologiæ Practica" of Vitringa, (which has also appeared in a French translation, made by the celebrated Benedict Pietet), may be well recommended. Both these works set forth the theory of religion very luminously. Among our own older writers, Baxter's "Treatise on the Life of Faith, "Owen on the 130th Psalm, Scudder's "Christian's Daily Walk in Holy Security and Peace," Polhill's "Christus in Corde," Matt. Henry's "Communion with God all the day long," deserve particular mention. Among our medieval nonconformists' works, Doddridge's "Rise and Progress," with Foster's "Introductory Essay:" among later writings, Newton's "Cardiphonia," Mr. Sheppard's "Thoughts on Private Devotion," and Jay's "Christian Contemplated." There is also much admirable counsel of this sort in Mr. James's lately published "Pastoral Addresses;" and the late Robert Hall's piece upon the "Holy Spirit," now published as a
tract, by the Religious Tract Society, is a perfect gem, small in bulk, but of inestimable price. In comparing older and more recent works together, we cannot just say with Cotton Mather: "No man having drunk that old wine, and such books, as the Christian's Daily Walk of a Scudder, will much desire the new, but he will say, The old is better." Each class has its own merits. The older works, especially those of Vitringa, Lampe, and Scudder, excel in order, and a comprehensive particularity; the newer are on the whole more partial, but their discrimination is finer, and usually, though this is not always the case with Newton, they are free from various misinterpretations of Scripture current in the seventeenth century.
It is not the object of this paper to dilate upon all the various means whereby the hidden life of personal religion is sustained, or even the principal of them. Yet we must not pass on to the conclusion which we have in view, without explicit reference to the study-the prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures. We are told by inspiration that these "are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness." But to become such, they must be studied for the improvement of the heart and conscience. That in them there are many things "hard to be understood," is perfectly true; and these things must also be inquired into in due season. But we are speaking of the study of the Scriptures as a mean of spiritual grace, and this must be a prayerful, humble, devout study; the study of an awakened conscience; study, like Mary's, "at the feet of Jesus." In this study the mind will not be flying off after points of geography, chronology, or doctrinal controversy: but will pray, "Lord, turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and show me wondrous things out of thy law-reveal thyself to me, reveal me to myself! Reveal to me my duty, my transgressions, my necessities, my help, my deliverance, my strength, and my exceeding great reward. Let old things pass away, make all things new!"
There is, however, among the various minor methods whereby the life of our religion is promoted, one which, in this age of restless activity, may, we think, be eminently useful. It is the improvement of an idea, (not a new one, indeed,) placed in a striking light by Mr. Sheppard, in his "Thoughts on Private Devotion," and expanded and adapted to a wider application, in a small work, noticed some short time since in this magazine, intituled "Outlines of a Private Calendar, designed to aid the Cultivation of Practical Piety and Closet Devotion." Mr. Sheppard's hint will be understood from the following
"In the earliest stages of life, we can have but few private anniversaries. The year is comparatively unmarked by memory, and all its days are given to hope. Even the birthday, which is early distinguished by parental notice, and the new-year's day, which general feeling or habit observes, are rather viewed in connexion with the
future than the past. But the memorable days which succeeding years will recall must multiply for each of us, as years revolve. There arises gradually a calendar of our individual history, and its anniversaries are far more affecting to ourselves, than most of those which the almanac presents. The period of our attaining some desired success; of our entrance on some important employ; of our embarking for some distant enterprise, or returning from it in safety; of our solemnly assuming new duties; of an endearing connexion commenced; of other fond relations ensuing; of some signal preservations; and of some poignant griefs, among which must be the successive dissolution of the tenderest ties of life; all these, in some minds, already augment the record; and some of the last must, in almost every mind, continue to augment it, till our mortal records shall be closed.
"Perhaps there are those so awake both to grateful and pensive recollections, that this unwritten register, amidst all the scenes of passing months, rarely fails to be reviewed; so that few such anniversaries escape without a degree of lively remembrance and appropriate feeling. To some others, a calendar thus inscribed, still noting the additional days which are signalised, as life goes on, might be more profitable than many a treatise. It would be the briefest and most impressive sort of diary; and not omitting the seasons which nature or Christianity celebrates, it would add a still increasing number, which must awaken as powerfully the serious thoughts and emotions of the individual."-Section xxvi. pp. 40, 41, Eighth Edition.
The suggestion here thrown out is thus expanded and applied in the "Outlines of a Private Calendar:"
"To thoughtful readers a great variety of interesting devotional occupation will have been already suggested, by the events and changes so feelingly enumerated in the preceding extracts. The latter paragraph exhibits what may be called the first draught of such a calendar, as is now in fuller outline recommended for devotional use. This calendar, as may be seen by reference, has an opening for every month, and a line for every day in the year. Every opening presents four columns. Such occasions as those specified in Mr. Sheppard's first paragraph, and others to be mentioned presently, are principally distributable under the first two columns, which relate to personal and domestic interests. The other columns, which are intended, one of them for the spiritual, the other for the secular interests of the human family at large, as they arrest the eye of the Christian philanthropist, have, however, an important use; for we are to look, and that both in practice and in prayer, 'not every man on his own things only, but every man also on the things of others.' Thus, on the third column, that relating to the interests of Christ's church, or, what is the same thing, the spiritual interests of man, might be entered, on the anniversary of their occurrence, such events as the commencement of real and well-ascertained revivals of religion; the undertaking of important missions to the heathen; the births or conversions of the most distinguished instruments raised up by Providence to advance the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom; also providential dispensations of an opposite and mysterious character, such as religious persecutions, or the deaths, in the flower of their age or usefulness, of any remarkably faithful or laborious servants of the Lord Jesus Christ; and, though last mentioned, yet not upon the whole least memorable, the first publication, when it may be ascertained, of works which have exercised an important influence, whether doctrinal or practical, on the interests of true religion, especially translations of the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, into the various languages or dialects of fallen men. The fourth column supplies fewer and different materials, but some of them are valuable. Great medical discoveries, such as of the circulation of the blood, and vaccination; important inventions, as for instance, the principal applications of steam-power; humane legis