Page images
PDF
EPUB

to be inhaled by the majority of the Ilcestrians. But who shall prescribe limits to this enlightened age ?

The subjects of these sermons are of the most sublime, awful, and important character that can engage the attention of man. “ The relation of the immortal soul to the past,”—“The relation of the heavens and the earth to the soul of man,”- “ The history of man, the living soul,”—“The Christian walking with his God in humility," –"The Christian walking before God without carefulness." These themes are treated with a solemnity, a pathos, and a diligence answerable to their momentous nature. With much originality of thought and conception, no morbid desire of appearing novel has induced Mr. Wilson to stray from the old and infallible standards of divine truth. With philosophy he has been less scrupulous; and while we admire the ingenuity and eloquence with which he assails the common idea of the population of the heavenly bodies, and endeavours to establish the identity of the spiritual and material heavens, we are yet unconvinced. The language is everywhere elevated, rich, melodious and declamatory—the sentiments varied, forcible, profound. There is no writer of whom he so much reminds us as Chalmers ; and yet he is no imitator of Chalmers. Mannerism, the besetting sin of the Scottish preacher, is no where perceptible in these sermons. A hypercritical eye might detect a few favourite expressions ; not more, perhaps, than in any other writer of a florid or poetical character; but Chalmers's writings abound with such. The verb land and the substantive field may serve as instances. And while we notice this superiority of our preacher to the northern luminary, we will throw in a word in favour of the practice of our Church. It is not improbable that Mr. Wilson would have incurred a fault which has been largely partaken by a kindred orator, had not the custom of our Church, opposite to that of her Scottish sister, prescribed the commission to paper of what was to be delivered within her walls.

We proceed to verify our criticism,

A Christian view of the Divine benevolence under the infliction of pain :

Omitting the delineation of that organic system of which we have considered the less perfect modes in another species of existence, let us proceed to a brief notice of its instrumental offices." How full of sweet uses is the sensation of pain and pleasure, which makes us susceptible of the blessings and relief of the Almighty! How blessed it is when the Divine Being makes himself known to us in the communion of sickness, and effects, in his visitation to the body, during a short season of anguish, such a holy change as might not have been produced by years of hope or sorrow. The promises of our heavenly Father, which seemed to be scattered over the whole of our earthly history, seem now confined to a small space, and to be on the eve of fulfilment within a short period. Pain is the field upon which the Almighty exercises his love most perceptibly; his mercy is more deeply felt in the mitigation of anguish than in any event of existence. If the chastening is necessary, it is that the manifestation of his

presence may be more clear; and the full, the deep thankfulness, with which we receive the alleviation of our suffering, is perhaps unknown to any other state or condition of human existence. The Christian daily grows in grace by experience of the love of his Creator and Saviour; but he is perfected in sntlering:Pp. 171, 172.

The uses of the body, with a beautiful apostrophe :

Let us then consider the solemn responsibility lying on the soul to make the hand, the eye, the lips, the means of thought-and thought itself instrumental not only to our present and future happiness, but to the glory of its God. Whilst we know that the earthly house of this tabernacle will be dissolved, let us look forward to that time when it will be raised from its ruins and rebuilt of God; when faculties to which sight, and hearing, and sensation, present but a dim analogy, shall be imparted to our immortality.

Oh! thou form of one long and most deeply loved, I gaze on thee as if on those soft and fading lineaments were depicted the change of the resurrection! I think of the hour when Jesus shall work on thee at once those miracles wbich his love displayed singły and successively by the shores of Gennesaret; when Christ shall open the eyes of the blind; when Christ shall restore this withered hand;

when this ear, that listens to me no longer, shall hear his voice; when he shall change this countenance, so lately beautiful in piety and affection, and transfigure the whole of this pale and lifeless body into the image of his Divine person, by that mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself

. To whom be all honour, and glory, and praise, and thanksgiving, now and for ever. Amen.— Pp. 177, 178.

Language and writing, their influence in proving the spiritual nature of the human soul; and the peculiar mode of revelation (by writing) defended with great originality and beauty :

We can shew that the mind is independent of any such mechanical impulse from earthly impressions by another and still more convincing testimony. I allude to those symbols and characters, which do not represent the likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. How solemn is this still and holy communication between the spirits of far separated mankind; this communication of language, this transcript of the thoughts, the minds of souls that lived thousands of years before us! this tradition to us of the emanations of the spiritual part of their being. Whence is it that these pictures of departed minds, together with the delineation of scenes and times that are past, are present to the imagination where we see no similitude? It is not to the eye that these lines and letters mirror the sentiments

housand hearts, and the scenes of a thousand histories : it is the soul which reads its own cypher on the page of sight: it is the soul which discovers, by the long process of comparison, the signs and revelation of the past; by the comparison of the uncreated symbol with the object the spirit of the human mind designed it to represent. Nay, rather shall we not say that these symbols, unlike to any image, and yet capable of picturing every object to our thoughts, are of an origin divine? The characters written on the two tables of stone, and the commandments which they signify to the responsible spirit, are with us to this day, and will be with mankind for ever. The law of Sinai is as vivid and indelible as when it was read to the Hebrews in the desert; the inspired prophecies that fell upon the mind of Ezekiel, pass over our own; and the word of the Lord that came to Isaiah, the son of Amoz, comes also unto us as if breathed through eighteen centuries from his tomb. We have the mind of Christ before us, in all its wisdom and innocence; his sayings are preserved to us as faithfully as if we had listened to them in the village of Nazareth, or by the sea of Tiberias; the doctrines of a future resurrection and judgment are as evidently set forth to us as the scenes of our Saviour's passion, rising, and ascension.

a

So that language perpetuates to the soul every holy word and vision of the past : it is the sun which never sets, but shews the will and the wonders of God unto every generation. The air mighthave reflected to us these holy Scriptures, even as it reflects its distinct and unlettered colours: the winds might have whispered this revelation, or the waters told of it in their many voices; for all these might become evangelical at his command, as well as the transcript of the human hand, and the breath of the voice of man : but it is his merciful pleasure that the representations of grace and truth shall be transmitted to us through the mind, in such a manner, that whilst we speak or listen concerning them, we may become fervently inclined to their reception; and that the means by which intelligence of them is communicated, the affectionate instructions in which they are taught, and the tender persuasions with which they are conveyed to the heart, may render the impressions which they produce more deep and indelible.—Pp. 185 -188.

An original, and highly beautiful and spiritual application of an anecdote in Herodotus :

When Adrastus had slain his brother unawares, he fled to the court of the king of Lydia, and prayed that he might be admitted to the sacred rite of purification after the manner of that country. Cræsus performed the religious service which was common to the altars of Greece, and typical of a more solemn expiation ; and having done this, he received the exile into his palace, admitted him to royal sustenance, and in an expedition of considerable danger entrusted him with the care of his son. As they are setting off to the Mysian Hills, he recounts to the stranger some of the benefits which had been conferred upon him, and chiefly that one-I purified thee. And yet he adds, with inuch tenderness, that he does not tell of these benefits by way of reproach, or to enhance their value, but that the memory of them may bind a grateful friend more closely to his child. The beast of which they are in pursuit is found in the Olympian mountain; and foremost amongst those by whom it is encircled, Adrastus throws a dart which swerves from its course, and kills the youth who had been committed to his charge. The body is borne to Sardis, behind it follows the homicide, and as the procession enters into the presence of Cræsus, Adrastus, stretching forth his hand, implores the afflicted king to slay him there upon the body of his dead child, because he had smitten the hand which purified him, and it was no longer fit that he should live. The father relents even in his hour of anguish and bereavement; he melts into compassion, and soothes the stranger's remorse, and tells him that justice is satisfied, that he is blameless, that it was done unawares; the exile makes no reply, but at the burial of the prince, he chooses the moment in which there is deep and general silence, and kills himself at the tomb, to show that life was intolerable when he had been the means of death the son of the benefactor who had purified him from sin. Would that we imitated more faithfully this example of penitent devotion! would that we more frequently meditated upon the love of him who has made an expiation for us! and if an involuntary transgression against one whom he thought his purifier could thus bow the heart of a man to death, how should the memory of our wilful sins against him, who is the propitiation for our sins, afflict and chasten our hearts! There is a voice in every sacrament, in every rite of our holy faith, which should deeply affect the soul-a voice which says, I purified thee. If a man could so lament for a life that had fallen by his hand unawares, what manner of love should ours be for him wlio laid down his life for us.—Pp. 401 –403.

From these extracts our readers may imbibe a thirst for more, which if they wish to gratify, they must go to the fountain-head. One great charm of these sermons, which even our random selections exhibit, is their deep foundation on a principle which the Scriptures declare to be the characteristic of Christians—the only immortal human quality-the essence of the Deity himself-Love. “Speaking the truth in love" appears to be the great scripture principle by which Mr. Wilson's ministry is governed. Our warmest wishes and prayers attend this young, zealous, and able minister of the truth. May his talents receive a sphere better suited to their development, and a reward proportioned to their extent and application !

Art. III.—Practical Sermons on the Epistles to the Seven Churches, the

Millennium, and the Church Triumphant; and on the 130th Psalm. By the late Rev. Joseph MILNER, M.A., Vicar of the Holy Trinity Church, Kingston-upon-Hull. With Prefatory Remarks by the Rev.

EDWARD BICKERSTETH. 8vo. Pp. 392. London: Seeley. Or this posthumous volume of sermons, (making a fourth to those already published,) it will be sufficient to say that they are remarkable for plainness of language, sincerity of purpose, and uncompromising reproof. “Such sermons," we agree with their respectable Editor, and beg leave to quote his words—"such sermons, in all their roughness, are far better suited than merely polished disquisitions on theological subjects, to awaken the conscience, convert the sinner, and establish the Christian." (Pref. p. vi.) The readers of our Miscellany will be prepared, doubtless, for our protest against some of the doctrines maintained in the discourses upon our table, and for our condemnation of the injudicious manner in which other scriptural points are handled, when they remember the school to which our preacher attached himself, and see the channel through which the volume under review has been given to the public. We confess, however, that we are weary of refuting errors, which have been so often refuted, and of stating objections, which have been a thousand times stated in the course of our critical labours. And though it would be easy to point out passages to which we should be slow to give our assent, and to fix upon phrases which seem obnoxious to grievous misconstruction, and had, therefore, better be amended ; yet we will not make our pious author an offender for a word, and we forbear to notice the few blemishes of a work, which contains so much good sense and vital Christianity, as are generally discernible in the publication of which we are now delivering our judgment. Indeed it bas been no small relief to us to read these pages, in which humility, and good sense, and honest simplicity of heart, and an unaffected homeliness of style, are equally conspicuous, and equally in happy contrast with the artificial periods, the contemptuous arrogance, the bombastic pride, and the uncharitable self-sufficiency of many modern babblers in divinity, who

sees

mistake Calvin for Christ, and assume the forbidden province of damning to immortal torments all such as question their faith, or refuse to adopt the shibboleth of their little party. We see no such spirit in the sermons before us; and we are delighted in finding our author so discreet and sober-minded in his opinions upon the Millennium, and the subject of unfulfilled prophecy; from which portion of his plain discourses we take the opportunity of making what we are sure will prove an acceptable extract to our readers—when contrasted with the airy phantoms, blown up by the wanton fancies of some modern interpreters of prophecy. Having declared that he

no reason to suppose that Christ our Saviour will literally live on earth again,” (p. 270.) but that " what is called the Millennium" will be only a spiritual reign of Christ, in which “the light, the evidence, and the glory of the Gospel," will be much stronger in the eyes of men, and "the saints shall be uppermost and reign;" he adds these prudent cautions :

It becomes us to be very careful, lest we be imposed on by pretences, and flattering appearances, or imaginations, as if the time of the Millennium was just at hand. It never profits the souls of God's professing people, but often unsettles, perplexes, and seduces them, to run into errors of this nature. I see the minds of many persons have been afloat, within these two or three years, on account of the surprising changes in the world which have happened. Some have been confident that the reign of Christ on earth is very near; and others have indulged themselves in flattering expectations, far beyond what they had any right to do. I believe that popery will perish, and that the Millennium will take place, because there are very plain prophecies of both; but when, or how soon, I know not. “It is not for us to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.” It were well if these words of our Lord, before his ascension, were better attended to. Popery is very far from being destroyed yet, though much impaired; and though popery be a very bad religion, it is not so bad as none at all; and I have not yet heard that the French people have done one thing to establish any thing better in its stead. They have done still worse, and have promoted all that is impious and horrible. He who can expect good from such things, must have feelings very different from mine. * • . So foolish a religion as popery is not likely to flourish again, where Scripture truth and godliness have been sown and flourished; but as no one can pretend this to be the case in France, if popery should there rise again in a few years I should not be surprised *; for what truth, and wisdom, and piety are there to resist it? I do not say it will be so. I do not undertake to prophesy, nor to use any very probable guesses. I have no business with such things ; and the design of this first remark is to guard those who may have fallen into this spirit. There is no ground in this description of the Millennium," (Rev. xx. 2, 3.) whence I can at all collect when it is to begin ; and it is very foolish for persons to apprehend any for themselves. Events have shewn that those who have undertaken to prophesy in this way formerly are commonly mistaken; and in the meantime it takes people's attention off from better things, and from the serious discharge of their duties."t-Pp. 272—275.

• Written in 1796.

+ “ The Prophecies," writes our author, Serm. XV. p. 257. "are of great use to strengthen our faith, after they are cleared up by events. It is the pretending to explain them before band, which I find fault with."

« PreviousContinue »