Page images
PDF
EPUB

dulge in the most false and fanciful speculations concerning them, to be corrected by a more careful and copious induction. Progress, therefore, in the inductive sciences, in the inventions of art, in great discoveries, has not been the result of any advance in natural laws, but an improvement in the education of man. Nature has maintained her own calm and truthful and changeless quality, without freaks or falsities or deflections; and man, her pupil, has gradually opened his eye and observed her regularities, and compared and reasoned and discovered; and the more he has interrogated, the more unreserved has been the response, the more studious he, the more has he been rewarded, the more inquisitive, the more observant, the more patient, the more rapid and certain has been his advancement.

The same is true as to the progress of intellectual and ethical philosophy. If there has been any advance in mental philosophy, it surely is not owing to the production of any new faculty, but the better analysis and classification of mental phenomena. The simple, object of intellectual philosophy is to explain what is; but the same faculties of perception, of memory, of imagination, of reason, existed in the days of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, as of Locke, and Kant, and Stewart. What has the progress of time to do with the question in dispute from the beginning—whether ideas are the images of objects without, or interior and original types, imparting life and form and power to objects of sense? The laws of mind being the same in all times, what can be meant by the progress of intellectual science, but a more accurate analysis of mental processes?

Progress there has been in ethical philosophy: but of what sort? Have new obligations been discovered in our interior mechanism ? Revelation being, for the present, altogether left out of the question, what advantages had Clarke, and Leibnitz, and Butler, and Edwards, above Socrates, and Epicurus, and Zeno, and Cicero, in demonstrating the nature of virtue, and the laws of voluntary action? The same laws, of sensibility, of emotion, of desire and aversion, of pleasure and pain, of happiness and misery, were in operation within every human breast, when the Grecian philosopher discoursed in the grove, and the sage of Northampton, and the Dean of Carlisle elaborated their theories concerning virtue. If there has been progress in ethical philosophy, it has been owing, not to the production of new facts, but the rectification of human opinions concerning things which have remained the same from the beginning.

Turning now to the system of revealed Christianity, we discern, at a glance, one peculiarity by which it is distinguished from all the sciences to which we have alluded. The planetary system, we are authorized to believe, as a system, was complete when the morning stars first sang together; but the system of Christianity, as a system, was not complete at its first introduction. There has been a progress of facts and events, constituting that system, from the beginning. All which is known to us, was not, and could not be known once. Facts which exist now had no existence formerly. The time was when the whole of Christianity was folded, as in a germ, in that one obscure promise of a Redeemer, which cheered the apostate pair in Eden. All of Scripture, and all of history, are but the gradual developement of that original intimation. There is a dramatic unity in the construction of the inspired volume. Genesis and the Apocalypse, dissimilar though they be in form and style, relate to one and the same subject. The silver crescent, turning towards us its delicate rim of light, and the harvest moon, full and bright, are precisely the same objects, though in different phases. It is the first grand error, preparatory to all others, to suppose that patriarchal worship and the Mosaic code were opposite and incongruous to the Christian system. Readily will he be led to expect that Christianity itself will at a later day be superseded by some other religious system, who begins by misunderstanding the mission of Moses, as one of mistake and falsity, wholly at variance with the Christian system. Christianity, we believe, was the alpha, and will be the omega of this world's history—the one drama occupying the whole of time;

“The one eternal scheme involving all." We open the sacred volume, and Genesis, the programme of the mighty Act, acquaints us with the unity of our race, in a common origin, and involved in a common apostacy. Immediately, the promise of a future redemption is announced. The Levitical worship, with its sacrificesand'ablutions, its types and shadows, was language, speaking to the eye concerning Him who was to come to atone for human guilt. The book of Job, one of the earliest books that ever was written, represents, as such a book should, the cravings of the human mind and heart, amid sorrow and sin, after a Redeemer. The writings of Solomon present the utmost of human folly and wisdom, in contrast with that divine Wisdom, who was with God when the worlds were made. The book of Ruth, which, on any other principle of interpretation would seem to be without relevancy or profit, derives all its meaning from its historic account of the families from which the Christ was to come. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Whether with Isaiah, the vision of Christ's spiritual kingdom lights up the gloom of the Jewish captivity with ineffable splendors; or with Ezekiel, we behold all forms of ritual worship superseded by the glorious priesthood of Jesus Christ; or with Daniel, we anticipate the termination of all human kingdoms in the everlasting dominion of the Prince of Peace; or with Zechariah or Haggai, rejoice in the Son of God, as the true glory of the second temple-in one and all, we behold the solemn progress of the same Christianity which was

announced at the beginning. Malachi closes the ancient canon, with the declaration that the morning star would soon appear to herald the approach of the sun. The New Testament begins, but with no change of subject. There is progress, but the progress of the same system. The dawn breaks in the darkened east; 'tis twilight-'tis day. The Sun of Righteousness has appeared :-“ Behold,” say the Evangelists, “ behold the Lamb of God.” In the book of the Acts, we see Christianity in motion, in action, in experiment, and in success. The Epistles of the Apostles present didactic expositions and defences of this well developed system ; and the Apocalypse made to John consoles and stimulates a ransomed Church with the vision of an ultimate extension, and triumph, and reward.

Here is a progress of things, and not of speculative opinions. The facts—the events which make up the system of Christianity, were themselves cumulative and progressive. One's position in time made an essential difference as to his obtaining a correct estimate of Christianity. As to natural religion, it was otherwise. · Socrates made as skilful use of the statues of Polycletus and the pictures of Zeuxis in silencing the atheist Aristodemus, as Dr. Paley has of the watch, and of comparative anatomy. But as to the great system of justification by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the apostles were surely in a better condition to comprehend it, than were Moses and Isaiah. Indeed, there was a rapid progress of things during the brief life-time of the Eleven. The mediation of Christ was better understood by them, after his ascension, than before. The resurrection of the Crucified One was the crowning fact of Christianity. It was the key to all that was obscure and enigmatical before. The whole system was now complete; and in their preaching was actually fulfilled what their Lord had predicted, “Greater things than I do, shall ye do :" because they could tell the world of a Savior, slain, ascended, glorified. Thus far it is very easy to comprehend the application of the law of progress to the development of the Christian system; and we have dwelt the longer upon it than would otherwise have been necessary, because, reasoning from the analogy of the past, many have believed in a similar advance for the future. : :

There came a time, then, as we suppose, when the system of

with the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Great words were those which were uttered by the Sufferer, wlion his head drooped in death-It is finished. There was to be no farther progress of events to complete the Christian system. The disappearance of the Lamb of God, when, ascending from Mount Olivet, he mingled with his native sky, was the grand close and climacteric of Christianity as a system of truth and salvation, Ever after there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin. There cannot be a second Christianity, without falsifying the first. The differential calculus of the ancients and of Descartes, was not falsified because a better analysis was subsequently discovered by Leibnitz and Newton. But the doctrine of Christ would surely be impugned, if any other system of salvation were to supersede it. There is but one religion now for the whole of time ; and this system, according to all Protestant churches, is contained within the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is then, in a real sense, a fixed and changeless object. We expect no new revelation ts supersede it. We do not look for the discovery of any better faith. “Lo! here," and "Lo! there," have been familiar sounds from the beginning; but we do not believe at all in discoveries in religion, such as have been made in chemistry, in pharmacy, and in navigation. Amidst all which is new and visionary, all hypotheses and all imaginations, all philosophies and all reforins, one thing, we know there is, even this revealed Christianity, which, like the polar star, never wanders, and never changes; which, immutable itself, is suited to all changes of time and place and events; and, perfect itself, will, like its Divine author, continue the same to-day and for ever, modified by no speculation, superseded by no discovery, capable of no improvement.

If Christianity be a complete and perfect religious system, the question now arises, can there be a place, in connexion with it, for improvement, and for progress ? Certainly there can, certainly there is : and this in several ways. In the rectification of our own opinions and speculations concerning Christianity; and in the growth of our own faculties, to discern more and more of its innumerable relations and unfolding glories. - Though Christianity itself is perfect, and incapable of improvement, yet, in the mode of viewing, and comprehending, and stating, and applying Christianity, there has been already, and will be for time to come, a great improvement. It is of this part of our subject, that we wish particularly to speak; for here it is that the abstract is transmuted into the practical.

And here we shall be led to observe, that although Christianity, as a revelation from God, is a perfect system; although the knowledge of it is contained within certain books, few in number, to which a word must never be added, and from which a word is never to be subtracted; yet, so it was that in the very beginning, by processes to which we shall advert, accretions of error, false philosophies, vain and foolish speculations, became attached to the Christian system, and incorporated with it ; and some of these, transmitted from generation to generation, under the pressure of authority, have continued to alloy the pure gold of Christianity, to weaken its strength, and obscure its light. It seems to be a part of that moral discipline to which the author of Christianity has subjected us, in our earthly education; that by thought and prayer, by the Word and the Spirit of God, we should work ourselves free from all this beggarly bondage, towards a more simple and perfect appreciation of the few simple facts which compose the Christian system. Our progress in the science of theology in this respect is analogous to that of astronomy. The bodies which compose the planetary system, and the facts which constitute Christianity, are altogether superior to human speculations; and they roll on in their own orbits undisturbed by the ignorance and errors of man. But the opinions which men entertain of these facts; the speculations which they indulge concerning them; the forms of statement which they may choose for the expression of their opinions; these may admit of great variety ; receding remotely from, or approximating more nearly to the simple truth. Egregious and long-lived errors early became incorporated with Christianity ; but they must at length be disengaged from it, and leave her heavenly form free from every foreign substance, pure, bright and independent in its own element of truth and goodness. The sun, immediately upon its rising, was veiled by mists and vapors, which followed it far in its course, and threatened to shut it in; now and then it would struggle forth, and the clouds would again gather, thicker and blacker than before; but the heavenly orb has kept on its way, and the time is coming, ere it sets, when every obstruction will disappear, and the sun, unchecked, undimmed, shall pour its golden radiance upon a calm and cloudless world. Progress, improvement indeed, there must and will be, before the world is released from all those ancient errors which have impeded the power of a perfect Christianity.

The history of Christianity! What ominous words are these ! That history is yet unwritten. We do not mean the record of names, and events, and dates, inclining much to the notion of Lord Plunkett, that these are little better than old almanacs; but the origin, the influence, the transmission and reproduction of opinions.

Considering the divine origin and perfect truth of Christianity, we should have been led to anticipate for it a fair and smooth career. Yet we cannot open the New Testament without perceiving that Christianity, when beginning its progress in the world, gradually contracted influences from existing institutions and opinions, as rivers are tinged and impregnated by the soils through which they flow; while the apostolic epistles abound with predictions of apostacies and corruptions which were to appear within the Christian Church. The messages to the Seven Churches show at what an early day pernicious heresies had obtained. :

First of all was Judaism, which from being, in its origin, a preparatory part and portion of Christianity, had been perverted into an antagonistic system. The epistles to the Hebrews and the Galatians show conclusively with what difficulty the infant Christianity broke from the bondage of the old Jewish faith; like Milton's lion stsuggling to disengage itself from the reluctant sod.

« PreviousContinue »