« PreviousContinue »
ness. It is our duty to provide for our own household; and he who does it not is pronounced, by the apostle, to have denied the faith, and to be worse than an infidel." I have endeavoured, my brethren, to set forth this objection in the strongest light, that it may be examined with the greater
In the first place, it is to be observed, that this plea cannot be urged by those who are so wealthy as to be removed from the necessity which it presup poses. The leisure which such persons possess, renders it their duty to devote a proportionably larger part of their time every day to the immediate service of God and while they devote so much time to recreation, an hour or two cannot be too long to be spent in a grateful acknowledgment of the blessings they enjoy, and of their dependence upon him from whom they derive life, and breath, and all things.
Nor can the plea be urged so extensively by woman, as it can by man. In the fashionable circles of society, especially, we see several hours, every morning, occupied in giving and receiving visits. These interchanges of civility, and often times of benevolence, are certainly not to be censured, unless they rifle a duty. But, surely, when so much time is to be found for attention to our fellow mortals, is it a great matter to devote a portion to visiting the temple of God? Is it a great matter to pay our homage first, to the King of kings, before we pay the tribute of respectful attention to our fellow mortals?
It is honourable to the female character, that it presents so many examples of ardent piety and affectionate and persevering attendance upon the services of the sanctuary. Happy will be the time when every daughter of Israel shall be thus seen, bending low in prayer, and swelling with her voice the anthem of praise. Happy will be the time when the powerful influence of woman over the affections
of man shall be exerted, not in leading him to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but in leading him to that tree of life, the fruit of which will make him live for ever.
From what has been said, then, it is obvious, that want of leisure can be urged only by those whose support depends upon their daily industry; and it is equally obvious, that it derives all its force, from the established laws of society. If the worship of God were, by law, or usage, or the general sense of duty, made a part of the business of life; if it were as customary to devote a particular hour to that employment, as it is to devote a particular hour to our meals, to the exchange, the bank, the insurance office, or the custom house, no difficulty would exist. But that is not the case, and the only question is, what is it our duty to do in the present state of society?
The answer, my brethren, must, in some measure, be left to the conscience of each individual. There certainly
may be exigencies in which the abstaining from publick worship would be an act of duty. God hath declared that he delights in mercy rather than in sacrifice. But let us be careful not to stretch this indulgence beyond its proper limits. "The heart," we are told in the pages of inspiration, "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"* We often act from the impulse of motives of which we are unconscious; and self love is so apt to tell a flattering tale, that without the practice of rigid examination, we shall never know our selves. It is certain that mankind are naturally averse to prayer; that it is difficult to control our thoughts; and that the act of prayer is tedious to the unsanctified spirit. When, therefore, we are disposed to urge the claims of worldly business, as necessarily preventing our attendance at church, let us inquire, whether the real cause be not an unwillingness to pray, a want of
* Jeremiah xvii. 9.
taste for devotion, a readiness to embrace the first and the smallest excuse which our invention presents, and our reason is persuaded to approve. Surely sixty-seven hours, in the course of a year, would not greatly interfere with its business; and if it be impossible to attend church every time that it is opened, it cannot be necessary to be for ever absent. There are times when the calls of business are not imperious, and when, if it were not for the forgetfulness resulting from habitual neglect, attendance upon publick worship would be in the power of every man.
It has been said that the calls of business are irregular and uncertain; that absence from the counting-house, or the office, for a few moments, may be the occasion of much loss. It may be so; but is there no reliance to be placed upon divine Providence? Are we so absolutely the makers of our own fortune, as to be entirely independent upon the frowns or smiles of heaven? "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God, for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: lest, when thou hast eaten, and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God"*" and thou say in thine heart, My power, and the might of mine hand, hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth."t Would it not then be a proper act of faith and trust in his providence, to encounter the risk of devoting an hour to his service? It may be that no loss will be sustained; but if there should be, is there no rea
son to believe, that other opportunities will be afforded; and that your loss will be more than counterbalanced, under the secret operations of his governance? May we not believe, that God will not forget the love which we show to his name, when, from a sense of duty and obedience, we enter his courts? I believe it will be found, that no man, at the year's end, was ever the poorer, for having embraced every occasion of worshipping and serving his God.
My Christian brethren, let me entreat you to reflect upon this subject with that serious attention which its importance demands. Life, and all its pursuits, however interesting they may be at the present moment, are lighter than the dust of the balance, when compared with the endless duration and ineffable enjoyments of heaven. But your happiness in the eternal state, depends upon the preparation which you now make. "The pure in heart," our Saviour tells us, "shall see God."* What, then, will be the condition of the impure? Shall they be excluded from the presence of God? And will not every Christian, under the sense of this awful truth, strive to purify himself, perfecting holiness in the fear of God? But to the purification of the soul, prayer is absolutely necessary. If you are not convinced of these truths, how can you profess to believe the scriptures? And if you are convinced, I entreat you to show it, by a devout attendance upon the prayers of the church. We are now approaching the season of Lent,† which the church hath wisely set apart for the great purposes of self-examination, self-denial, and prayer. You are not bound by any rigid rules of outward mortification, Matthew v. 8.
lished, it is passion week; the most solemn of all the weeks in the year;-that in which our Saviour was content to be betrayed into the hands of wicked men, and crucified, and slain, for the redemption of the world.
+ At the moment when this sermon is pub
but are left at liberty to pursue such means as will tend most to your spiritual welfare. If then you are desirous, in reality, to pursue the things which make for your everlasting peace, you will begin and continue the worship of your God. Every day will you bless and praise his holy name; and whenever the doors of the sanctuary are unfolded, you will not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is, but will exhort one another, and consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works. Amen.
Observations on Southey's "Life of Wesley" being a Defence of the Character, Labours, and Opinions, of Mr. Wesley, against the Misrepresentations of that Publication. By Richard Watson. New York. 1821. SOUTHEY'S life of Wesley has excited in all classes of the reading community, a great deal of attention, and has generally, we believe, been considered as possessing, to an uncommon degree, the characteristicks of fairness and sobriety. The methodists, however, have thought otherwise. At a conference held at Liverpool, in July, 1820, a censure was passed upon it, "as unjust in its representations of the character of Wesley, and calculated to do much injury to vital piety." Mr. Watson was appointed, in consequence, to review it; and the work before us, having thus come out under the sanction of the whole body of the Wesleyan society, is to be considered as expressing their sentiments. In this view, it acquires an importance, which, as the vehicle of individual opinion, it would have had no right to claim. Whatever concessions it makes may fairly be considered as the concessions not of Mr. Watson alone, but of the whole conference; and as they tend to narrow the ground of difference between the church, and a society so respectable
for its numbers and for the piety and zeal, misguided as we think it, of many of its members, we hope to promote the cause of truth and unity by presenting some account of what this work contains to our readers.
We shall first consider the grounds of complaint against the biographer. The writer before us allows that Mr. Southey has collected with diligence the materials of his biography; that the work is creditable to the literary character of the author; that his sin cerity is unimpeachable; that he intended to be impartial, and that he is so candid as to have said " more in praise of the character and publick usefulness of Mr. Wesley than will be found in most publications of the kind not emanating from persons connected with the Wesleyan society." But with all these good qualities, Mr. Southey, in their estimation, was totally unfitted, by the absence of more important characteristicks, to be the historian of methodism. The writer of the "Observations" hints, that Mr. Southey was educated in the Socinian school; that he was afterwards allured farther from the truth by the glare of a false philosophy; that he was both in politicks and religion a disorganizing jacobin; and that, although he had renounced his former errours in both, and become a supporter of government, and a professed orthodox member of the church of England, yet the old leaven has not been entirely worked out, and with regard to religion at least, "he is constantly vacillating between the philosopher and Christian."
One sentiment which Mr. Southey has advanced seems to give an air of probability to a part of this statement. Mr. Wesley's conversion is dated from Wednesday, the 24th of May, 1738. Being present in the evening of that day at a society, where one of the assembly was reading Luther's preface to the epistle to the Romans,
About a quarter before nine," says Wesley, "while he was describing the
change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed; I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation and an assurance was given me, that be had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more special manner despitefully used me, and persecuted me. I then openly testified to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, This cannot be faith, for where is thy joy?" On this, Mr. Southey remarks, "How many a thought arising from that in stinctive logick which is grounded on common sense, has been fathered upon the personified principle of evil!" The devil then is only a personified principle of evil! This sounds very much like Mr. Belsham, and the improved version; and we are not at all surpris. ed at the remark of his reviewer, that "this is sufficiently indicative of Mr. Southey's religious system," and that "the ci-devant Socinian is suffered to come forth here without a vail." p. 23. The bible tells us, in words too plain to be refined away, that there exists an evil being, the enemy of man, whose powers of delusion, like himself, are real; a being who, though he be spi. ritual, and consequently not an object which human sense can apprehend, is nevertheless busily employed in going to and fro upon the earth, " seeking whom he may devour." (1 Pet. v. 8.) "As for those modern sadducees," says South, "who will believe neither angel nor spirit, because they cannot see them; and with whom invisible and incredible pass for terms equipollent; they would do well to consider, that as the fowler would certainly spoil his game, should he not as much as possible keep out of sight, so the devil never plants his snares so successfully as when he conceals his person; nor tempts men so dangerously as when he can persuade them that there is no tempter." (Sermons, vol. v. p. 100.)
We have too favourable an opinion of Mr. Southey to suppose that this idea of "the personification of the principle of evil," was the result of deliberate examination. We are persuaded that he will be among the first to acknowledge his errour; and, when he shall revise the work, that he will blot from its pages an expression which has given occasion more than any other to doubt the correctness of his theology, or the perfectness of his faith.
But the character of a work is not to be decided by a single objectionable expression. The writer before us has set forth indeed with a great deal of rhetorical exaggeration, the charges of latent infidelity, and a total absence of religious feeling in the biographer; but we are far from thinking that he has fairly substantiated his point, or that he has convicted Mr. Southey of such utter incompetency. But he shall be allowed to state the grievances of which he complains in his own words:
"It is much to be regretted, that no general principles appear to have been laid down by Mr. Southey, to guide him in his estimate of Mr. Wesley's conduct and character. He is constantly vacillating between the philosopher and the Christian; but unhappily the tendency to philosophize most frequently predominates. The cause of every movement of the soul, and of every singularity in the conduct of Mr. Wesley and his followers, is eagerly sought, and abundantly laboured out, and it is sure to be one purely natural. Devotional feelings are resolved into constitutional habits; joys and depressions into buoyancy of the spirits, and the influence of disease; Mr. Wesley's selection of the means of usefulness into the impression of surrounding circum stances; his active zeal into ambition; the great effects of his preaching into his eloquence, and the opportune occurrence of a new contagious disease; his enterprise into a consciousness of his own powers; and his want of clerical regularity into his natural unsubmissiveness of mind. Some of these points shall be examined in the sequel; but this mode of determining such questions sa
vours too much of the school from which we trust Mr. Southey is on many great points happily rescued; and it is too great a concession to the infidel and superficial philosophy of the day, of the evil tendency of which, when otherwise applied, he has a deep conviction. This is a weapon which he knows,
or ought to know, may as easily be wielded against Christianity as against methodism; and against every distinguished character in the annals of the church of Christ as against Mr. Wesley.
"Is Mr. Southey a believer in Christianity? If so, waving for the present a minuter consideration of the following points, he must believe in the providential designation of distinguished characters to produce great and beneficial effects upon society;-he must believe in the influence of the Holy Spirit upon the minds of men, exciting them to their duty, and assisting them in it; he must believe that the work of renewing a corrupt heart, and giving real effect to the Christian ministry, is the work of God, though carried on by human agents; he is not a Christian if he admits not these doctrines; he is not a churchman; his Christianity is a name, a pretence and if, in reality, he admits them, they were unhappily too often absent from his mind, and too often confused by the lingering traces of former erring sentiments, when he applied himself to determine the questions which presented themselves in the course of his late researches into methodism. "Another cause of the wavering and unsteady judgment which he forms of Mr. Wesley, though far less blameable, is, that when be assumes something of the character of a Christian in the view of a case, it is not so much of a Christian generally, as of a zealous advocate of the order and discipline of the church of England. I do not blame this rule in subordinate cases, but it is objectionable as a primary one. The religious character and motives of Mr. Wesley are in question, but surely the order and rule of any church, however excellent, are not the standard by
which either can be determined. That standard is to be found in the principles of our common Christianity. The order of a church may have been violated by an irregularity which it does not allow. The fault may have been in the breadth of the zeal of the individual, or in the narrowness of the rule which his zeal has violated; these are other considerations, and are not surely to influence the judgment as to general character and motive. His Christianity must be tried by other laws, and can only be determined by the bible itself. Modern times cannot exhibit a character in which all the great and all the graceful virtues of Christianity were more fully embodied, and, through a long life, more amply realized, than in the founder of methodism. They have not presented a more laborious, a more successful minister of Christ. On what principle then is he cease lessly charged with ambition, and the love of power, as the leading, though sometimes the unconscious motives of his actions? Why
does Mr. Southey delight to rake into the corruption of our general nature, to stain the lustre and dissipate the fragrance of the eminent virtues of this distinguished man, as though those virtues must necessarily have struck root into that corruption as their soil, and have drawn from them a sickly exuberance, and a deleterious and earthly odour? Where virtues so eminent were exhibited by evidence so lofty, why has Mr. Southey, in so many instances, suffered himself to be seduced by a paltry philosophy, which resolves all virtue into selfishness, or more properly into vice itself; and in others determined motives by a rule drawn from party predilections, to the neglect of those more favourable decisions which the general Christian rule would have supplied? Mr. Southey may say, these were Mr. Wesley's infirmities, and the best of men are not without them. ambition, taken in the generally received sense, as Mr. Southey uses the term, is not an infirmity. It is a vice, and is utterly incompatible with the spirit and temper of a real Christian; and if he did not intend very greatly to lower Mr. Wesley's character by the charge, as indeed it seems but fair to acknowledge, this only proves, that Mr. Southey has very low and inadequate notions of practical Christianity itself. He either trifles with Mr. Wesley's character, or with religion." p. 6-10.
"Mr. Southey's views of the Christian ministry are as singularly defective, whether he wish to be considered a Christian, or a churchman, as are his opinions on the subject of providence. It would seem from these volumes, that he is no believer in the direct influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart of man, though, of course, he prays for it whenever he attends divine service, and we hope without any softening mental periphrasis. It would have read singularly, had he given us, upon his own principles, a paraphrase on that being moved by the Holy Ghost,' which every clergyman professes. It would, of course, have excluded all stirring of the affections in zeal for the glory of the Saviour, and compassion to the perishing souls of men; all deep convictions of duty, and inward impulses to a work which, though involving a fearful responsibility, must, nevertheless, be undertaken. This was the enthusiasm of Wesley and Whitefield; but he forgets that it is the enthusiasm which is embodied, and glows in the ordination service of the church of England, one of the most solemn, impressive, and holy forms, by which ministers were ever dedicated to the service of the gospel. Equally does he exclude a divine agency the success of the ministry, as in the call to it: and the effects produced by the preaching of the founders of methodism, of course,