« PreviousContinue »
to love one another, these differences notwithstanding. This glory of the primitive times, the predominance of brotherly love, has not yet fully returned, but return it must and will ere the millennium comes ; and never since the beginning have any times been so beautified and brightened by this fair sign as ours. It is now more than forty years since the glory of this light began to appear. It has been shining more and more until the present moment. The adversary, knowing that his kingdom of darkness must decline as this light increases, is striving to quench it; but in vain his attempts thus far, and so we trust they will be. All our hopes depend on his not succeeding here. We shall succeed if he does not, and shall fail if he does. Then will the world believe in Christ, and appreciate the character of his disciples, when Christ's prayer is heard, that they loving one another may be all one, as “ Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us.”
Our times are distinguished also by improved methods of propagating the gospel. Our preaching, though not so learned as that of other days, is for the most part more simple, direct, pungent, and, we will add, judicious. Among divines, the puritan, generally, deserve no inferior rank; and there were preachers among them of great power as well as erudition ; but their views, especially in some points of much pulpit-moment, were obscured by the influence of their philosophy, and of some ancient errors from which the reformers, not having escaped themselves, could not deliver the church. While we defer to those mighty men as superior to our own in intellectual strength and learning, we should confess curselves guilty of a stupidity for which they would upbraid us, if, released from the chains of an erroneous philosophy, and tutored by providential doings and discipline for one hundred and fifty years, we had not learned, by their assistance and the help of those events which have been fulfilling the Scripture since their day—they would have cause to upbraid us for a criminal stupidity, if, with these advantages, we had learned in no respect either to think or to speak more correctly than themselves; especially since we have the teachings of God's own Edwards, a burning and a shining light, whom no luminary, whether puritan, reformer, or father, hath excelled in gifts, or equalled in elucidating and enforcing the gospel.--Said the great Dr. Owen, about one hundred and eighty years ago, “Let new light be derided whilst men please, he will never serve the will of God in this generation who sees pot beyond the line of foregoing ages.” Would not such a man as Owen wonder, if he were now living, to find the church knowing nothing more of Scripture truth,-improved not at all either in her conceptions or utter ances, after almost two hundred years; and two hundred as pregnant years as ever passed over our world.
Let no one misjudge what we say. We are far from alleging that the church has been at any time a stranger to the substantial truth of the gospel. No new doctrines are to be expected, -none to be received. But were it not reproachful to the Divine Wisdom to suppose that no more just and enlarged views of old doctrines may be hoped for by a careful observer and improver of the signs of the times ? since it is certain that the times, as they roll forth to accomplish the Father's will, are ever giving new and more perfect fulfilment of the inspired oracles. God's works in some measure bear the impress of his incomprehensibleness ; and he surely is an arrogant man who pretends that he thoroughly knows every thing which the Book of God, whether of nature or revelation, was intended to teach.—Let us not then be judged irreverent to our fathers, or boastful of our own attainments, when we affirm that God has doubtless taught his people a more useful way of preaching than has generally prevailed heretofore ; a way which brings the gospel to bear on all the powers of the soul more skilfully and perfectly; a way embracing more definite views, especially, of the provision of the gospel, man's relations towards it, his obligation and duty to embrace it, and the ground of his dependence on the Holy Spirit. In the statement and application of these cardinal points, the preaching of our days, though still defective, excels as far as we know, that of any except the apostolic.
Besides, we have our own methods of enforcing the gospel out of the pulpit. Catechising has been of old, but not our sabbath and infant school, and bible-class operations, and meetings for spiritual inquiry, and other revival measures. These are peculiar signs of our times, in which it much becomes all men to rejoice and be glad.
XV. And we cannot but think that the PERSONAL PIETY, as well as the preaching and instruction of this age, is in some respects improved. We would ever give praise to God for such examples of spiritual religion as those which the puritans and their descendants have left us. They were men of deep experience, of eminent devotion, of profound acquaintance with the Scriptures, of close intercourse with God, of very peculiar uprightness and holiness of life ; and in these things they were greatly our superiors. It is to be feared that the comparatively light reading of our day has tended to lightness of thought, and feebleness of feeling; and that
much outward action has excluded in some cases deep meditation and heart-searching. But the puritans had their defects also. While they searched their hearts and minded their closets and families so faithfully, they had not just impressions of that grandest duty of the church, spreading the glorious gospel abroad through the earth ;—a great point, truly, to be wanting in which is no uniinportant deficiency. This deficiency was theirs. What did they to evangelize the benighted and perishing nations ? Why, when intolerance robbed two thousand of them of their pulpits and their churches, and hindered them from preaching the gospel to their countrymen, did they not turn to the Gentiles, as did the first preachers when rejected by the Jews? They were spirits not to be restrained altogether; and when they could not preach, they wrote, and their writings are a rich legacy to the church, and on the whole perhaps a greater blessing than their labors among the heathen would have been. But still is it not surprising that they did not go forth lifting up their holy and their mighty voices in the wilderness of the unevangelized world ! Now, far as the piety of our times falls behind theirs in other things, it goes beyond it here. Piety is now crying for the breath of the Lord to breathe upon the slain of mankind. Piety is now contributing its large offerings to carry measures forward which contemplate directly the world's conversion. Piety, in many forms, is now running to and fro, that the knowledge of God may be increased among men. Piety now consecrates itself, in many instances, among ministers and people--and of the latter both male and female to the exclusive work of making Christ known where He has not been heard of; and, at the hazard of life, is at this moment successfully performing this work in the ends of the earth, and in the islands of the sea, Does not the piety of these times, in one respect at least, look more like that of the apostles and first disciples of christianity?
XVI. But the chief glory of these latter days has not yet been mentioned. It is the AssocIATIONS OF CHRISTIANS OF THE VARIOUS DENOMINATIONS IN THE ENTERPRISE-OF EVANGELIZING THE WORLD. Who since the apostles fell asleep hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things ? Christians of every name forgetting their differences, and banding themselves together,-their hearts, their influence, and their substance,-in societies, for the salvation of the human race!--in bible societies, which are pledged to supply the world with the oraeles of God ;---in tract societies, which make a sermon for a man ;-in sunday and infant school societies, which gather together the
* This exception to the high excellence of puritan piety was suggested to the author by the Rev. Professor Alexander's essay preliminary to a little work entitled “ Advice jo a Young Christian.”
youth on the sabbath and at other times, to impress upon them the lessons of eternal truth and grace, as the schoolmaster impresses the first rudiments of knowledge ;-in missionary societies, which support the heralds of the cross in their noblest of all the works of faith and love ;--in education societies, which train the sons of the church in the necessary nurture and knowledge, to furnish them well for the work of the ministry; and, though last in this enumeration, not least in their favorable bearing on the temporal and eternal well-being of mankind-in temperance societies, which have undertaken to stem and exhaust that burning flood of inebriation, which has so long been spreading crime and misery in all their forms over the fairest portions of christendom:--free associations of christians of every name and every sect for such purely benevolent purposes. What times except our own had signs like these? In other times, christians contended against one another ; now behold again how they love one another ! Not indeed as they ought ; nor as they must and will before christianity becomes universal ; but as they have not done since the early days of the gospel.
XVII. Now these signs are bright marks of the hand of God-tokens of coming good and glory, which may well renew in us somewhat of that exceeding great joy, with which the wise men rejoiced when they saw the star which had conducted them out of the east, offering itself again, to lead them from Jerusalem to where the young child was; tokens, doubtless, which even the eye of God rests on with great delight; and partly to testify His joy in which He has given another sign, whose light has been all along mingled with the other lights of these times, and has been the main strength and vigor wherewith they have been shining. For from the time the churches began to meet monthly for prayer, about forty-six years since from that time, when our age had its beginning, God has been granting the EFFUSIONS OF His Spirit in a measure unprecedented since the apostolical period; and these effusions have been the life and the energy of every gracious movement and doing before mentioned. Our revivals have been 80 much spoken of that some may be wearied by another allusion to them, but they deserve more consideration than they have received ; and God deserves to be more praised and sought unto for revivals, ten thousand times, than He has been, even by those who have had the deepest sense of their importance. Let our revivals cease, and our other signs will soon depart also ; and signs may come in their stead, portentous of distress of nations, and men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.
XVIII. I have spoken of little besides things of a most desirable and enlivening kind; there are things of another character, adapted to infuse trembling into our joy; but on that very account, rather encouraging expectation than otherwise. Satan does not look on the signs of these times without concern: he knows their meaning, and not being yet bound, his subtlety has never perhaps been more deeply exercised to invent contrivances of resistance and frustration. What will ultimately come forth from his wily malice can scarcely be conjectured; but both in the church and in the world there are plain traces of his artful and deep-flotting wrath. In the world he is forming counter-combinations, and raising loud outeries of slander and falsehood. In the church, he is laboriously sowing seeds of division and discord, and strengthening the bands of sectarianism, by means of groundless jealousies and guilty envyings: and he is seeking also, not only to scatter, but devour Christ's flock, by turning into it wolves in sheep's clothing infidels and heretics we mean, under the name and garb of christian teachers. But God observes these movements of satan, and nothing yet appears to make us doubt whether any thing but good will come out of his evil agency.
XIX. Now, from the survey which has been taken, this inference impresses itself on our thought, not as a dubious conjecture, but as almost a moral certainty, that the millennium is drawing near. Do you ask, watchman, what of the night? We answer, “the MORNING cometh : the night is far spent ; the day is at hand, it is high time to awake out of sleep.” As our times themselves are nearer those of the millennium, so the signs of them more definitely portend and promise the millennium, than any other that the eyes of men have ever seen or their ears heard of. The signs of the first age were glorious, but they did not promise the millennium. That age did not and could not give the bible to all the world, or lay, permanent foundations for even growing knowledge, and hence was room left for satan to bring in upon the church ten centuries of grosser darkness than paganism itself. The signs of the times in the reformation did not promise the millennium. Associations for giving every creature a bible, and our tract, and sunday, and infant school labors were then unknown; and the reformers, while with unrivalled pains and ability they disabused the great truths of the gospel of popish perversions and absurdities, had learned imperfect obedience to the law of brotherly love, and with the truth conjoined some errors of great practical force—whereby the reformation was itself greatly marred and hindered, and was speedily succeeded by strange degeneracies and overturnings. Our age has an influence of a different kind its aim is to advance and perpetuate knowledge through all orders and nations, and it pursues its aim, not by isolated efforts of individuals, but by the combined