« ElőzőTovább »
and in some cases even dress, which distinguishes it, not so much from the unbelieving world, as from other denominations of Christians. And this peculiarity is not unfrequently a fruitful source of spiritual pride, involving the fallacious conviction of individual infallibility, and sometimes associated with an atter incapacity of seeing any excellence whatever, except within the narrow pale of their own highly favoured enclosure. And who will venture to deny, that this state of mind does not naturally lead to that bitterness of spirit, which is the very germ of persecution. Bigotry, running into enthusiasm, and terminating in fanaticism.
It must be acknowledged that the spirit of enquiry which prevails in the present day, exposes to great danger all merely hereditary claims, and all creeds, churches, and modes of worship which are not “ founded on undoubted warrant of Holy Scripture.” There is “a shaking of the dry bones” of all mere human formularies, whether of faith or practice, and an unhesitating appeal is increasingly made to the word of God. It is indeed true, that in America, that land of fearless investigation, the Hicksites deny the paramount authority of Holy Scripture, and make their appeal to the light within, as the primary rule of faith and practice; and equally so that the great body of the Friends in these kingdoms, while they oppose the extremes into which Hicks and his followers run, are quite as much alarmed at the beacon light of Isaac Crewdson, which shines and glows with the noble sentiment, “ that there can be no higher rule of faith, duty, or doctrine than the Scriptures." To avoid these injurious extremes, as they have been termed, a third standard of truth has been made the ground of appeal. This is of course regarded by its advocates as lying between the " inward light," and the Holy Scriptures. But it is, in truth, neither more nor less than the former : for, unless we very much misunderstand the controversy, in seeking to avoid the hidden rock of Crewdsonism, the advocates of this middle course have unwittingly fallen on the quicksands of Hicksism. For to what standard, or rather standards, do they now appeal? The opinions of those whom they deem their leading men. To Fox, to Penn, to Barclay, and the living aristocracy of their sect. And why make this their court of appeal ? Because these men either were, or are, eminent in their day-men who have not neglected the “light within"-men who, to use their own phraseology, have much « inwardness.” It is, therefore, not the direct, but the reflected light, to which they appeal. We are aware that Hicks has run into many grievous and unscriptural errors, and we do not charge these on the body; we refer only to that peculiarity of his system (if it deserve the name,) by which he is distinguished from Crewdson, by which, indeed, they are placed at antipodes to each other--the light within, and the light which streams from the Holy Scriptures.
Dr. Hancock, in his defence of the doctrine of immediate revelation, has displayed the spirit of a most virulent partizan, and afforded a melancholy proof of his destitution of the highest qualifications for Christian controversy. - He charges Crewdson with
insincerity, and instead of paying respect to the age, station, and character of the writer of the Beacon, assigns these as a reason for treating him with harshness and severity. He talks of his oblique insinuations, his snares, his covert attacks, his stratagems. The unwary reader of Dr. H.'s pages would suppose that Crewdson's character is made up of the craft of the fox and the subtlety of the serpent. He, however, who reads the Beacon, will be surprised to find such an author so characterized. But party spirit, like bigotry, loses all power to discover the least excellence in the object of its aversion.
While such is the conduct of an individual member of the Society of Friends towards the author of the far-famed Beacon, how shall we characterize that of the body? We have, indeed, nothing to do with the regulations of other denominations of Christians. They must choose their own rules, and constrain their members to be regulated by them, or to leave their Society. But yet we may be permitted to suggest, that the attempt to induce an author to suppress a book which contains a calm and deliberate expression of his opinions, has too much the air of a lordly aithority over conscience, and evinces most clearly a fear of any thing like free discussion among the members of the Society ; while the silencing of Crewdson's ministry teaches us that other principles are at work in that body besides direct manifestation, and that their own favourite test is insufficient. We are inclined to think that the heterogeneous mass of which the Society is composed, which, like the Established Church, under one designation, comprehends almost all the varieties of doctrinal sentiment, will cease to cohere; and the Friends will either separate into distinct sects, or be gradually absorbed by those with which their members may come in contact. While, therefore, we sincerely thank Dr. Wardlaw for his volume, and have little fear that it will have many readers who will be benefited by it, we yet think that the great work of reformation, like the conversion of the heathen nations, will be carried on to completion by individuals raised up among the Quakers themselves.
Dr. Wardlaw's Friendly Letters are eight in number. The first is Introductory and Miscellaneous; the rest are, in succession, On the standard of religious truth and duty; The same subject continued ; On universal inward light; On the gospel doctrine of justification; On Barclay's views of justification; On the scriptural authority pleaded for the “inward light;" On “ the perceptible influence and guidance of the Spirit of Truth.”
The work displays the author's usual laborious investigation, and remarkable powers of acute discrimination, exercised, however, on opinions and writings which are remarkable for their misty indefiniteness. The respected writer feels this.
“ When I had formed the resolution to address you, and set myself, with that view, to a more studious examination of the principles of your Society, I experienced an increase rather than a dimunition of a difficulty which, in common with others, I had previously felt,--the difficulty, namely, of ascertaining with definiteness what these principles are. I do not complain of your having no Creed, no Confession of Faith, no Thirty-nine Articles. There are other bodies
of professing Christians who have none, besides you. My own is one of them. But in these bodies there exists no such difficulty as the one I have mentioned ; or, if it must be admitted to exist, it is nothing like the extent to which it prevails in the Society of Friends. The fact is undeniable; and is it not of itself sufficient evidence of the comparatively little regard that is shown amongst you to religious sentiments, or the articles of a man's belief, provided there be a due adherence to what are emphatically called your Testimonies ?”
The Doctor confesses that he is “ puzzled to know what to think” on one of the most important points of the Friends' doctrine, -namely, in what sense the scriptures are to be regarded as a test of truth. On this point what is affirmed by one writer, is half affirmed by another, and denied by a third, and affirmed, half affirmed, and denied, in succession, even by the same individual." And the mist of mysticism so pervades the productions of the Friends, that it is almost impossible to distinguish, with any thing approaching to precision, the true forms and dimensions of their opinions. Take their views of the inward light for an example. “It is reason-it is conscience-grace-the word of God-it is Christit is the Spirit, it is God-it is a principle-a seed, a substance, in which the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwells : it is natural, supernatural; it meditates, propitiates, justifies, sanctifies.” Now all this may be according to Quakerism, but is it according to truth? It may be the opinion of Fox, of Penn, of Barclay, but is it the mind of God ? There is no such confusion and indistinctness in the revealed will of Heaven. There we have that in which Quakerism is so lamentably deficient--a rule, or a series of rules, or prescripts, which, though they do not supply the place of a right principle, are yet the test to which all our supposed correct principles are to be brought.
Dr. Wardlaw's letters will well repay an attentive perusal. They touch on many important points of theological controversy, and though minute, (we had almost said to a fault,) they are yet well qualified to satisfy a mind which is at once inquiring and industrious. Of their success among the Friends generally we have our doubts. But they will reach and benefit not a few.
The Communion of Saints : or, the Scriptural Principles of
Church Fellowship and Government, delivered to a nenlyformed Church. By James Bennett, D.D. London: Hamil
ton and Co. 1837. pp. 127. The sentiments of this work were delivered to a Congregational church, which has recently been formed in the town of Reading. They are published apparently with considerable enlargement. Chapter the first treats of the great principles of Christian fellowship. “The great principles of Christian fellowship,” says Dr. Bennett, “ are two; that the Scriptures are the only authoritative rule; and that Christ is the only spiritual ruler to whom the saints must bow.” · In considering the first of these principles, Dr. B. justly contends, that the Scriptures are to be received on their own testimony, and not on that of the church. There is, however, a difference between
resting the authority of the Scriptures on the testimony of the church, and a demonstration of the genuineness and credibility of the sacred volume from uninspired testimony, whether that testimony be derived from within, or from without the boundaries of the church. To prevent a misconception of his meaning, on the part of his less instructed reader, it might perhaps have been better if Dr. Bennett had referred to this difference.
In considering the second great principle, “ that Christ is the only spiritual ruler to whom the saints must bow,” our author introduces some excellent remarks on a subject of importance, but one which rarely meets attention; a subject, however, to which the course of events may draw more attention hereafter than it has been wont to receive. : “ We contend that it is our birthright to choose the religion which we deem most scriptural, without being punished for it in life, or limb, or honour, or estate; and this we deem the best part of our privileges as Britons, valuing our political rights chiefly, because they are the shield which protects the liberties of the soul. Yet how few, reflect, that the king is the only person in the realm to whom this privilege is denied! He is bound down to the religion established by law, on penalty of the forfeiture of his crown. To a certain extent this astonishing anomaly prevails in other countries, but in none so flagrantly as in our own. If the attempt of James II. to force the religion of Rome upon the country, might justify the exclusion of that religion from the throne, why bind our kings hand and foot, and leave them no choice at all? But who that knows the value of his soul, the duty of following truth wherever it may lead, and the solemnity of the reckoning of the great day, can reflect on the position of kings without exclaiming, Is this the price paid for a crown? To be deprived of the dearest privilege of a man! What a snare is laid for the soul of a king! For who will deny that a throne is a tempting seat, and that such martyrs as will sacrifice royalty to conscience, are not often to be found? But mark the tortuous ways of the serpent. In the outset contending that kings should choose the best religion for their subjects; and, in the end, forbidding the king to be of any other religion than that which his subjects have chosen for him. In all this a devout student of Providence cannot but behold a specimen of that reaction to which the moral governor of the world has given irresistible force. By violating their subjects' liberty of religion, kings have lost their own. The King of kings has shown that he knows how to defend his rights against the most powerful intruder, and terrible is the vengeance of his temple' For even where no positive law exists, as in our own country, public prejudice and state policy effectually abridge the religious liberty of kings. Nor will they ever recover it, but by restoring that of their subjects."--pp. 30, 31. ,
Chapter II. treats of “ The right application of the scriptural principles of Christian Fellowship.” In this chapter, Dr. Bennett shows “ the genuine elements of the Christian Church, the proper form which it should assume, the officers by whom its affairs should be conducted, and the means by which it should be supported." Under the second particular, our author takes a review of the Erastian, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, (or, as Dr. B. prefers, and with considerable reason, to call the two last-mentioned denominations, Roman and Prelatic,) Presbyterian, and Congregational systems of church government. This review is very accurate and very candid. It is exceedingly suitable for young people and others, who are perplexed by the divisions in the church; divisions, which the well. informed know to be far less numerous than the ignorant suppose...: Referring to the doctrine of apostolical succession, Dr. Bennett saya,
“ If there were any particle of worth in this mystical succession, those against whom it is paraded could say, we have it as well as you ; for we were ordained by preceding ministers, and they by others before them, who came forth from the Establishment adorned with orders, which were derived from Rome. If you, coming out from the church of Rome, abandoning its principal officers, altering its rites, and even excommunicated by it, still carried your apostolical succession with you, we, imitating your example by coming out from you, abandoning your principal officers, diocesan bishops, still carry the apostolical succession with us."-pp. 68, 69.
We should exceedingly regret that any Dissenter should attach the ridiculous importance to the succession which many Episcopalians have done; and yet, perhaps, modern Dissenters may have made too sparing a use of the argument in their controversies with Churchmen. Admitting that the argument is little worth, or as Bishop Butler would have said, that there is nothing in it," still we are inclined to think, that it is an argument which would tell far more forcibly on the men to whom it was directed, than arguments of far greater weight. While then the latter are adduced, let not the former be despised ; and should the rigid Episcopalian rejoin, that the succession is broken through the absence of diocesan episcopacy, let him be reminded, that there is reason to believe, that his own prelates have received their ministry through the medium of the Culdee presbyters. There is, however, one view of ministerial succession, on which we have often thought with exalted pleasure-our ministry has been publicly recognised by men, who, in succession, received their ministry from Doddridge and Watts, from Williams and Henry, from Howe and Baxter. Such a sanction is more honourable and more apostolic than that of ninety-nine out of every hundred diocesan bishops that ever wore a mitre.
Dr. Bennett justly condemns the exaction of one uniform method of admission to the church. " To enact a law on this point, and insist upon submission to it, is to snppose ourselves wiser than Christ, that we can supply the deficiencies of his word ; and to bind our brethren, where our common Lord has left them free.” Dr. B. chiefly refers to oral or written accounts of religious experience. Had he extended his censure to the visits of the brethren, when regarded as indispensable, we should not have censured him.
On one point to which Dr. Bennett has incidentally referred, many, perhaps most of his brethren in the Congregational ministry, will be found at issue with him. “ It is,” says Dr. B., “ the right and duty of every Christian man, that is able, to preach." We cannot reconcile this passage with that which almost immediately succeeds it. " The excellent discharge of the deacon's office may develope such graces as prove that their possessor ought to give himself to prayer and to the ministry of the word ;' but then he should lay aside the deacon's office, and not hold, two, which were designed to be distinct, and held by different persons; the duties of the one being incompatible with the right discharge of those of the VOL. I. X. s.