« PreviousContinue »
this is just as it should be.-Suppose a man was going to York to take possession of a large estate, and his chaise should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him if we saw him wringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “ My chaise is broken ! my chaise is broken !"
I have many books that I cannot sit down to read ; they are, indeed, good and sound ; but, like halfpence, there goes a great quantity to a little amount. There are silver books, and a very few golden books; but I have one book worth more than all, called the Bible, and that is a book of bank-notes.
I conclude these remarks, not because my memorandum-book is exhausted, but lest the reader should think I forget the old maxim, ne quid nimis. No undue liberty, however, has been taken in publishing Mr. N.'s private conversation; since all the above remarks were submitted to him, as intended for this publication, and were approved.
lant old age.
The difference of mental improvement, among men, scems very much to depend on their capacity and habit of gathering instruction from the objects which are continually presented to their observation. Two men behold the same fact : one of them is in the habit of drawing such remarks and inferences as the tact affords, and learns something from every thing he sees; while the other sees the same fact, and perhaps with a momentary admiration, but lets it pass without making so much as one profitable reflection on the occasion. The excursions of the bee and the butterfly present an exact emblem of these two characters.
I have present to my mind an acquaintance, who has seen more of the outside of the world than most men : he has lived in most countries of the civilized world ; yet I scarcely know a man of a less improved mind. With every external advantage, he has learned nothing to any useful purpose. He seems to have passed from flower to flower without extracting a drop of honey; and now he tires all his friends with the frivolous garrulity of a capricious, vacant, and petu
I wish the reader of these Memoirs may avoid such an error in passing over the history here laid before him. An extraordinary train of facts is presented to his observation ; and if “the proper study of mankind is man,” the history before us will surely furnish important matter of the kind, to the eye of every wise moral traveller.
I would here call the attention of three classes of men to a single point of prime importance; namely, to the efficacy and excellency of real Christianity, as exhibited in the principles and practice of the subject of these Memoirs.
1. Suppose the reader to be so unhappy (though his misfortune may be least perceived by himself,) as to be led astray by bad society, in conjunction with "an evil heart of unbelief." I will suppose him to be now in the state in which Mr. N. describes himself formerly to have been, and in which also the writer of these Memoirs once was. I will suppose him to be given up to " believe his own lie;" and that he may be in the habit of thinking, that God, when he made man, left him to find his way, without any express revelation of the mind and will of his Maker and Governor; or, at most, that he is left to the only rule in morals, which nature may be supposed to present. What that way is, which such a thinker will take, is sufficiently evident from the general course and habits of unbelievers. But there is a conscience in man. Conscience, in sober moments, often alarms the most stout-hearted. When such an unbeliever meets an overwhelming providence, or lies on a death-bed, he will probably awake to a strong sense of his real condition. He will feel, if not very hardened indeed, in what a forlorn, unprovided, and dangerous state he exists. Life is the moment in which only this sceptical presumption can continue; and, when it is terminating, where is he to set the sole of his foot ? He wildly contemplates the book of nature, in which he may have been persuaded, that man may read all he Deeds to know; but the forlorn outcast sees nothing there to meet his case as a sinner. Infinite power, wisdom, contrivance, general provision alone appear; but nothing of that further and distinct information, which a dying offender needs. He wants footing, and finds none. He needs the hand of a friend to grasp, but none is seen. Possibilities shock his apprehension. He may, perhaps, discern, that the present system has a moral government, which frowns
upon guilt; and, for aught he knows to the contrary, the next scene may present a Judge upon his throne of justice—this world, his present idol, vanished like smoke-and quick and dead called to give their account. Where then is he?—an atom of guilt and wretchedness! All this, I say, may be, for aught he knows to the contrary. But the express and well-authenticated revelation, which that Judge hath sent to man, tells us plainly that all this shall be, and that every eye
shall behold it !
Be it so,” such a reader may reply, “still I am what I am. My habits of thinking are fixed; and I perceive my habits of life can only be decently borne out by my profession of unbelief. Both are now inveterate. Nor do Í see, all things considered, what can be done in my case. How can I adopt the Christian revelation ? and what could it do for me if I could ?" I answer by calling your attention to the fact before us. What was the case of John Newton ?
Could any one be more deeply sunk in depravity, in profligacy, in infidelity, than be? Can you even conceive a rational creature more degraded, or more hardened in his evil habits? Would you attempt to recover such a mind by arguments, drawn from the advantage which virtue has over vice ? or by rousing his attention to the duties of natural religion? or the possible consequences of a future retribution ? He would have gone on thinking he had made the most of bis circumstances, in his practice of catching fish, and eating them almost rawHe would sullenly have proceeded to sleep through the drying of his one shirt, which he had just washed on the rock, and put on wet-He would, with a savage ferocity, have watched an opportunity for murdering his master-He would have drowned all reflection in a drunken revel, and overwhelmed all remonstrance by belching out newly-invented blasphemies; and then sought to rush headlong, in a drunken paroxysm, into the ocean.
Here is certainly presented the utmost pitch of a depraved and a degraded nature; nor does it seem possible for Satan to carry his point farther with a manexcept in one single instance, namely, by the final disbelief of a remedy.
Now, by God's help, this divine remedy was applied, and its efficacy demonstrated, of which there are thousands of living witnesses. A plain matter of fact is before us. It pleased God, by a train of dispensations, that this prodigal should
come to himself.” He is made to feel his wants and misery. He follows the “ light shining in a dark place." He calls for help. He is made willing to follow his guide. He proceeds with implicit confidence. And now let us examine to what, at length, he is brought; and also by what means.
I speak of a matter of fact-whither is he brought? He is brought from the basest, meanest, under-trodden state of slavery-from a state of mind still more degraded, being "foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating”'-wanting nothing of a complete devil but his powers. This man is brought, I say, to be a faithful and zealous servant of his God; an able and laborious minister of Christ; a useful and benevolent friend to his neighbour; wise to secure the salvation of his own soul, and wise to win the souls of others.
Consider also the means by which he was brought. It was not by the arguments of philosophers, or the rational considerations of what is called natural religion. Mr. N.'s own account informs us, that the peculiar discoveries of revealed truth gradually broke in upon his mind; till, at length, he was made sensible that there was a remedy provided in the gospel, and which was fully sufficient to meet even his case, and he found that, and that only, to be “the power of God unto salvation.”
The result, therefore, which should be drawn from these premises is the following :—There exists a desperate disorder in the world, called sin. Heathens as well as Christians have marked its malignant influence; they have tried various expedients, which have been prescribed for its cure, or at least its mitigation; but no means, except God's own appointed means, have been discovered, that
have been able to relieve so much as a single individual. Yet, strange to say, this medicina mentis of God's own appointment, to which only he has promised a peculiar blessing, and by which he is daily recovering men in the most desperate circumstances, who actually employ it: strange to say, this remedy still remains a stumbling block—is counted foolishness—insomuch, that many will rather dash this cup of salvation from the lips of a profligate, like Newton, when disposed to receive it, than he should obtain relief that way. Their conduct seems to say, “ Rather let such a wretch go on in his profligacy, than the gospel be acknowledged to be the wisdom and the power of God.”
Not that the case of Mr. N., here presented to the consideration of an unbeliever, is brought forward as if the gospel needed any farther evidence, or has occasion for facts of our own time to give it additional authenticity; but we are directed to regard the “cloud of witnesses,” among which our departed brother was distinguished; "and though now dead, yet speaketh.” May the reader have ears to hear the important report !
Does the question return, therefore, as to what the unbeliever should do ? Let him, after seriously considering what is here advanced, consider also what conduct is becoming a responsible, or at least a rational creature ? Surely it becomes such a one to avoid all means of stifling the voice of conscience whenever it begins to speak; to regard the voice of God yet speaking to him in the revelation of his grace, and that much more humbly and seriously than such persons are wont to do. It becomes him, if he have any regard to the interest of his own soul, or the souls of his fellow-creatures, to give no countenance, by his declarations or example, to the senseless cavils, and indecent scoffs, by which the profligate aim to cloak the disorders of their hearts; by which vanity aims at distinc tion, and half-thinkers affect depth. The person I am now speaking to cannot but observe how much the judgment becomes the dupe of the passions. “If the veil be upon the heart, it will be upon every thing." We need not only an object presented, but an organ to discern it. Now the gospel, only, affords both these. Mr. N. becomes an instructive example in this respect to the unbeliever. “One of the first helps," says he, “I received (in consequence of a determination to examine the New Testament more carefully) was from Luke vi. 13, 'If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?' I had been sensible, that to profess faith in Jesus Christ, when, in reality, I did not believe his history, was no better than a mockery of the heartsearching God; but here I found a Spirit spoken of, which was to be communicated to those who ask it. Upon this I reasoned thus : if this book be true, the promise in this passage must be true likewise. I have need of that very Spirit by which the whole was written, in order to understand it aright. He has engaged here, to give that Spirit to those who ask; and if it be of God, he will make good his own word.”
A man, therefore, who is found in this unhappy state, but not judicially hardened in it, should mark this stage of Mr. N.'s recovery, and attend to the facts and evidences of the power and excellency of real religion, such as this before him. He should appreciate that gospel, which it has pleased God to employ as his instrument for displaying the wonders of his might in the moral world. He should pray that he may experience the power of it in his own heart, and thus not lose the additional benefit of the cases presented to him in Memoirs like these ; a case probably far exceeding his own in the malignity of its symptoms. Let him also consider, that, while such convictions can produce no real loss to him, they may secure advantages beyond calculation. He may not be able at present to comprehend how " godliness is profitable for all things, in having not only the promise of the life that now is, but that which is to come ;'' but he may see, as a rational creature, that, at the very lowest estimation, he has taken a safe side, by embracing the only hope set before him: and on this ground it is clearly demonstrable, that not only the grossest folly must attach to the
rejector of a revelation attended with such accumulated evidences, but also actual guilt, and the highest ingratitude and presumption.
II. But there is avother class of men, to whom I would recommend a serious consideration of Mr. N.'s religious character and principles. The persons whom I am now addressing are convinced of the truth of revelation, and some of them ably contend for it against unbelievers. They are also conscientiousthey are often useful in society—and are sometimes found amiable and benevolent: they are even religious, according to their views of religion; and some of them are exact in their devotions. Yet from certain morbid symptoms, they appear not to receive the grace of God in truth, nor to be cordially disposed to the spirit of the gospel. So much apparent right intention and exemplary conduct seems, indeed, to demand respect: and a respect which some, who possess more zeal than judgment, do not duly pay them.
ARDELIO despises his neighbour Eusebius's religious views and habits; and not only deems him a blind Pharisee, but has sometimes expressed the sentiment in the rudest terms. This reminds me of the old story of Diogenes' walking on the costly carpet of his brother philosopher, saying, "I trample on the pride of Plato.” “ Yes," said Plato, “but with greater pride, Diogenes."
If it be asked, Why should any one judge unfavourably of such a character as Eusebius ? I answer, we may charitably seek to convince one whom we have reason to think under fatal mistakes, without any disposition to judge or condemn him. I meet a traveller who is confidently pursuing a path, which I have reason to believe is both wide of his mark, and dangerous to his person: I may charitably attempt to direct his steps, without thinking ill of his intention. It is recorded of our Lord, that he even loved a young man, who went away sorrowful on having his grand idol exposed. But why, it is asked, should you suspect any thing essentially wrong in such characters as you describe? I reply, for the following reasons :
I have observed with much concern, when God hath wrought such a mighty operation of grace in the heart of a man like Newton, that this man has not, 11pon such a saving change being wrought, suited the religious taste of the persons just mentioned. They will, indeed, commend his external change of conduct; but by no means relish his broken and contrite spirit, or his ascribing the change to free and unmerited favour, and his “counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus," as that Lord who has thus called him “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." They will not relish the zeal and evangelical strain of his preaching, his endeavouring to alarm a stupid sleeping conscience, to probe a deceitful heart, to expose the wretchedness of the world, and to rend the veil from formality and hypocrisy ; nay, they will rather prefer some dry moralist, or mere formalist, who, instead of having experienced any such change of heart, will rather revile it.
Again, I have observed a lamentable disposition of mind in such persons to form false and unfavourable associations. They will pay too much attention to inju rious representations, true or false, of a religious class of mankind, whom the world has branded with some general term of reproach. Two or three ignorant or extravagant fanatics shall be admitted to represent the religious world at large, not considering how much such offensive characters are actually grieving those whose cause I am pleading. No one, indeed, can have lived long in society, but he must needs have met the counterfeit of every excellence. In the article of property, for instance, who is not on the watch lest he should be imposed on ? And, while the love of property is so general, who is not studious to discover the difference between the true and the false? It will be so in religion, wherever there is the attention which its worth so imperiously demands. Love has a piercing eye, which will discover its object in a crowd. But if there be this disposition to confound in the lump the precious with the vile, it is symptomatic of something morbid in the heart. We have reason to fear a latent aversion from vital and spiritual religion, notwithstanding all the allowance that can be made for the