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to believe and to obey the gospel of Christ; to believe in its blessed saving doctrines fully, and to obey its heavenly precepts conscientiously and habitually.
But alas! it is not so with all: would that it were! There are but too many in the christian world at large, too many every where, who are not thus faithful and true. It may be very true that, like the two persons mentioned in my text, they have, at times, perceived the absolute necessity of following Christ more closely, more decidedly, more entirely, than they have hitherto done. They may have had a strong desire to do so; they may even have boldly and openly resolved, or at least, most solemnly vowed within themselves, that for the future such should be their course; but unhappily some cause has kept them back from the accomplishment of their resolutions.
There are so many classes of persons to whom these observations will apply, that merely to mention them all would be difficult, if not impossible; I shall, therefore, on the present occasion, content myself with speaking of two: they are two classes which seem to be naturally brought to our consideration, by the two characters presented in my text.
1. In the first place, amongst those who, at some period of their lives, have, like the "scribes" in the text, felt within themselves a more especial call and desire to become faithful followers of their Lord, are there not many who have been deterred from complying with that good desire, by learning the self-denying nature of Christ's service 1 It is true, thiinks be to God, that Christians are not now exposed to the sufferings and privations which attended the first followers of Christ. They have not to fear the severe and bitter trials, persecution, and death, which often fell to their lot. But still even yet, it must not be disguised, there are trials, there are difficulties, there are painful requirements in the christian course. For instance, all sinful indulgences must be renounced and forsaken, which is seldom a pleasing task to fallen man. Besides, at times, favourite gratifications must be denied, darling pleasures resigned, and crosses endured for the sake of Christ. And hence, how many, when awakened by some powerful cause to see the urgent necessity of devoting themselves more absolutely and decidedly to their divine Master, on feeling these difficulties, or perhaps only perceiving them at a distance, are tempted to forget their resolutions, and to break their most solemn vows! They fall back again into the multitude.
2. But others, again, there are, amongst those who have felt themselves called by some powerful impression to enter upon a more decided following of Christ, who rather resemble the other disciple mentioned in my text. He made the burial of his father a reason for delaying to do what he felt he ought to do: and so it has been with these: when their conscience has told them they ought to devote themselves more seriously and entirely to Christ's service, some plausible excuse has been found to quiet that sacred monitor. And so it is still. The care of parents to their children, as well as attendance on rich or aged friends or relations; the regular following of their trade, profession, or other worldly calling; these, or things like these,—all, be it well observed, perfectly lawful and excellent in themselves, nay, in their very nature duties not to be generally neglected without sin,—are made, in instances beyond number, to stand in the way of a strict and conscientious devotion to our divine Master. "When I have brought up my family, and settled them in the world," reasons the parent, when conscience warns, "then I will give my mind more fully to religion." "Let me," thinks another, "first cheer the weary hours of my aged parent's life, and when I have laid him in the grave, I will readily pay a more undivided attention to my own salvation." "It can be only a few years before my kind old friend will be gone," says a third, " then I will think about myself." "Business must be attended to," observes the man of the world; "let me make my fortune, and then I will be as religious as the very best; at present it is quite out of the question." Such is the reasoning which, if not publicly avowed, is secretly adopted and acted upon by thousands! such is the reasoning by which conscience is silenced, and the heart-stirring Spirit of God resisted,— resisted, alas, till it is often too late. Either the religious trifler is cut off before he has made his calling and election sure, or perhaps conscience, and the warnings of the Holy Spirit within him, are so gradually but effectually silenced as to leave the person spiritually dead. He falls back into the multitude of those who, after halting for a time between two opinions, at length become, in the language of Scripture, "dead whilst they live;" for though actively alive, perhaps, to all the interests and concerns of this world, they are dead, indeed, to all that is connected with that which is to come.
Now, my brethren, here are subjects well worthy of our deepest consideration; here are warnings for us all. There may be, and I trust there are, amongst us some at least who are real followers and true disciples of Christ, who whilst, with penitent and faithful hearts, they repose in him as their Saviour, endeavour conscientiously to "follow the blessed steps of his most holy life." Ye, who are thus sincere in your profession, are happy indeed. May God give you all grace to continue stedfast in your course—stedfast even unto the end! May you never be tempted to depart from Christ! May you follow him truly all the days of your life!
But is this the case with all ? Alas, my brethren, I fear not. If I were to say that all here present were sincere Christians, the consciences of some amongst you would, I apprehend, immediately deny it. You feel now, as you have no doubt at times felt before, that there is something defective, something wanting in your religious character. And why is this the case 1 I feel convinced that there must have been seasons when you have been before brought to feel and know your danger and your duty. Is not this true? The still small voice of conscience,—the secret working of the Spirit of God within you,—the sudden death of some one of your own age,—good advice once given you by a friend, perhaps at the solemn time of your being confirmed by the Bishop,—a single text of Scripture brought home to the heart,—the words of the preacher having been uttered with some peculiar force,—or some other such cause, has spoken to you so as to be heard, has touched you so as to be felt; and aware of your peril as sinners, you have been led then to resolve to take Christ as your Saviour, to learn of him as your Master, and in all things to follow his steps. But you have not kept your resolutions. Perhaps when you found that you were required to give up some sinful indulgence, straightway you were offended, or perhaps you suffered some of those worldly excuses which I before mentioned, to persuade you to put off to some, as you thought, more convenient season the dedication of yourself to the service of your Saviour.
My brethren, if such be your case, let me entreat you to repent speedily of your folly. Surely you must feel your danger, as miserable sinners in the sight of God, and consequently your absolute need of a Saviour; surely you must feel your want of a safe guide in the midst of this troublesome and wicked world; surely at least you must wish to go to heaven when you die. Then adopt, I beseech you, the only course by which you can secure these necessary blessings: follow Christ. Behold in him your only Saviour from guilt and sin; approach him with the deepest sorrow for all your past transgressions, and seek for his protection from misery and eternal ruin. Then resign yourselves, your heart and affections, your mind and faculties, all that you have and are, entirely to his service, and desire only to be guided and governed in all things by his holy will and pleasure. But you must not rest even here; you must also seek for the aid of divine grace, and instead of following the multitude to do evil, endeavour earnestly to overcome all difficulties, and to cast aside all pretences, and to follow Christ through evil report and good report; to follow him in adversity as well as in prosperity; to follow him not only in the time of health and wealth, but also in sorrow and in sickness, and even in the severest temptations and trials; in fact, whether the world may frown or smile upon you for it, you must strive to be ever faithful and obedient to his holy will, ever to follow his good and blessed example: for so, and so only, will you be Christ's disciples indeed. And remember well, that if we are not found such in the hour of death and at the day of judgment, he will assuredly say to us, " Depart from me into everlasting fire!"
Oh, then, may God Almighty, for Jesus Christ's sake, grant us all, whilst we live on earth, such abundant grace and power that we may be enabled so to forsake the ways of sinners, and so to follow our divine Master wherever, by his blessed example, by his holy word, or by his divine Spirit, he now leads the way, that when we come to die, we may be exalted unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, and with him continually dwell, through the merits of the name of Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.
D. I. E.
THE CHURCH AND DISSENT CONSIDERED IN THEIR ACCORDANCE WITH THE CHRISTIAN SYSTEM.
There are leading principles in the christian system which determine its character, and afford sure tests for whatever professes to accord with it. It is comprehensive. It is a system of order, unity, and peace. It invests its ministers with official authority and dignity, as the ambassadors of God. And it every where presupposes the ignorance and corruption of man, for which it supplies the effectual remedy. We have to consider how far these principles belong to the Church or to Dissent.
It will scarcely be denied that the Church is comprehensive; for it is made a reproach against her that she embraces all characters. A similar reproach was cast upon our Lord himself—" this man receiveth sinners;" and her vindication is the same as his, that it is her office to call them to repentance. At least she cannot be accused of conniving at their sins, while she so earnestly enforces the duties of repentance and holiness, and carefully instructs her flock in all the Scriptures; a practice which her opponents would do well to imitate. Her members are all who have been made members of Christ in baptism, and who, from the time when they personally ratify their vows in confirmation, are admitted as of right to every christian privilege, unless they disqualify themselves by open and unrepented sin. She receives all as committed to her care, and feels it her office not less to seek and reclaim the lost, than to cherish those who stay within the fold. Her parochial system is designed to give full effect to this universal principle; so that no spot being left destitute, every individual shall have his own proper temple for worship, and his own appointed minister to instruct and guide him. If the increase of population, doubling the claims upon her while her power has remained nearly the same, has diminished her comparative means of usefulness, the consequence is to be lamented; but it affects in not the slightest degree the general principle.
Nor let that be forgotten, which is indispensable to a comprehensive religious system, that the Church gives full latitude of opinion in nonessentials. Her wisdom in defining every vital point of doctrine and discipline beyond the power of evasion, while she leaves entirely open all those matters of curious speculation upon which men chiefly differ, enables her to secure unity of faith, and yet allow, even to her ministers, the utmost safe amount of mental freedom. Hence, while sects are divided by shades of difference which would puzzle a casuist to define, the most important controversies in theological metaphysics scarcely affect her tranquillity.
But Independency is a system of exclusion. The meeting, with its own peculiar interests, stands isolated in the midst of society, which sees and understands as littie of its nature as if it belonged to another age and country. Within the meeting itself a narrower wall is built, to separate the " church," to which belongs all privilege and power, from the congregation, who are allowed only to attend and worship. Of all beyond this it takes no cognizance. To borrow the language of a very intelligent Dissenter, whose opinions the well-known Mr. Binney has appended, with deserved praise, to one of his publications, "The bulk of society, good and bad, stand without the pale of Congregationalism. If not excluded, they elude the operation of the system, which takes no cognizance of those whom it does not, with their own consent, embrace. Christianity reached all by its authority, embraced all by its provisions: its character is universality. Do our institutions approximate to this character of authoritative claim and universality? Is not their fundamental principle—separation from the world—a principle of repulsion rather than of attraction; and is not its operation, when adopted as the exclusive principle, adverse to the extension of Christianity V (Two Letters, by Fiat Justitia, p. 114.) Mr. Binney himself declares in the same work, (p. 54,) that "Dissent, unaccommodating and exclusive, ignorant or regardless of human nature, pursuing its principles of theoretical perfection, and attaching too much importance to microscopic formalities, repels many whom it should study to attract."
In complex systems, order depends upon assigning every duty to it* proper agent, confining every agent to his appointed duty, and uniting the whole for mutual support and comfort in a system of regular subordination. This principle is expressly applied by the apostle to the Christian Church, which he compares to the human body, whose members perform each its own office, all being subordinate to one head. It applies most strictly to the system and practice of the Church of England, in which every officer, whether spiritual or secular, has his own sphere of duty, with fixed laws and principles to guide him, and a superior to whom he is accountable. She thus fixes that personal and definite sensibility, and gives that security against improper interference, which are essential to complete success in all undertakings. Rivalry can hardly exist between persons who never clash, and party spirit must sink where the permanent authority and independence of an officer make it hopeless to attack him.
Not so in Dissent. If we apply the apostle's metaphor here, we find that all are heads; all except him, the minister, to whom the office rightfully belongs. It is the first principle of Dissent, that every individual, having the Bible in his hand, owes allegiance in whatever concerns religion only to God, and recognizes no delegated authority; his own conscience being his sole guide and judge, and the full unfettered exercise of private judgment his absolute right. It is evident that this involves the pure democratic principle of absolute personal independence, repudiating the idea of any authority and government which is not derived from the appointment or consent of the parties to be governed. It is entirely opposed to the fundamental principle as well of the Church as of monarchy, which represents God as the source of all authority, and requires all people to be subject, "for conscience' sake," to the powers, both civil and ecclesiastical, which he has appointed. It will be instructive to try the principle as we find it illustrated in the practical workings of Dissent.
And first it may be observed that the Independent principle creates a spirit of hostile rivalry between neighbouring meetings; for the sphere of each is entirely undefined, and the peculiarities which distinguish different denominations are so unimportant in themselves, that they are easily outweighed by a preference for another minister. The fluctuations to which every meeting is exposed, at one time prosperous, at another unsettled and declining, lead many persons to change their place of worship; and it is not in human nature to avoid angry feelings in the adherents of a declining cause, who see their friends deserting them, or something like feelings of triumph in the more successful rival. When afterwards the differences which caused the secession have been adjusted, there is a natural anxiety and hope to bring back former friends, whom their new associates are as anxious to keep. Something of this kind is