« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
lected parishes, gives a great advantage to a pious minister, who seldom fails greatly to increase it; while some attend from a partiality, ignorant indeed, to the parish church, who would not hear the same truths in another place on any account; and while they continue to quarrel with the preacher and his doctrine. Yet it is often found, in the event, that some of these very persons are at length won over. Though the manner in which the liturgy and scriptures are read in too many places greatly prevents the good which, apart from preaching, might be expected from them, as means of instruction; they certainly produce in men's minds such a general knowledge of Christian truth and duty, as missionaries would gladly find in the heathens among whom they labour; and which opens the way to their understanding of instruction which would otherwise be wholly unintelligible: while quotations from the liturgy, the articles, and the homilies, give the preacher an advantage which he otherwise could not have. It may be said, this arises from prejudice.' Be it so but he who will not avail himself of men's prejudices to attempt their good, as far as he conscientiously is able, has not well studied the state of the world, and could not imitate the apostle in "becoming all thing's "to all men, that by all means he might save "some." 1
Even the administration of the sacraments (though, alas! too generally formal,) keeps up in men's minds ideas of Christian doctrine, to a de
1 1 Cor. ix. 19-21.
gree that is not generally considered. Original sin, regeneration, or a renewal to holiness by the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Trinity, and many other coincident points of Christianity, are continually brought before the attention of the members of the establishment by the administration of infant-baptism, and by the catechism generally taught their children: and, when a pious minister comes among persons who have even these mere inefficient notions, no tongue can express how much labour is spared, which, without them, would be indispensible and most discouraging. He can appeal to the liturgy, the catechism, and the form of baptism, and its professions and exhortations: he can argue, persuade, and expostulate with children, parents, sponsors, and all concerned, on the ground of them; he can silence the charge of novelty by arguments of which they must feel the force, whether they will or not. The same may be said of the doctrine of the atonement, and faith in the Lord Jesus, by means of the Lord's supper; and of " the great mystery of godliness" by means of both sacraments: while the confessions, both in the general service and at the communion, and the collects, and litany, afford him a never-failing source of illustration, explanation, and argumentum ad hominem; which often is more silencing and convincing than any other argument. In short, he performs his journey on a road formed to his hand, while the missionary must urge his course through forests and morasses, over rivers and mountains, as well as he can : and who does not perceive, that these are vast advantages arising from an establishment?
It has been stated, that few, if any, instances occur in which conversion takes place by means of the reading of our evangelical liturgy and the scriptures in the places of worship: and I would be far from considering this, apart from faithful preaching, as adequate to the religious instruction of any congregation or parish, in the manner which many do. Yet I have met with instances, in which, as far as I could judge, conversion had been effected, through God's grace, by means of the church service exclusively: but especially I have known several individuals, conscientious, dissatisfied with themselves, yet ignorant, and even prejudiced against the preachers of the gospel, but greatly attached to the church; who, when the gospel was brought to them on their own ground, soon found it was precisely the thing which they wanted, and embraced it in some respects after the same manner as Cornelius did the message of Peter, only by a more gradual progress. Among these some instances have occurred under my own ministry, of persons of seventy or eighty years of age, who ended their lives usefully and happily.
The situation of a parish minister has also the following advantage. It is conceded that his parishioners are his proper charge; and he is supposed to be doing nothing but what may be reasonably expected from him, when by kind and lenient, yet firm measures, he urges each individual to attend on the worship of God, and uses other means, by private exhortation, admonition, and persuasion, of influencing them to mind the one thing needful; or puts tracts into the
hands of each parishioner, for this purpose; and when, even uncalled, he visits the house of sickness and mourning, with his instructions and prayers. In this licensed preachers are not confined to the form of visitation, as many imagine, but left in great measure to their own discretion; as indeed they are in many respects far beyond what is generally supposed. In these, and various other ways, the parish minister has access to those whom he could not by other means readily approach: and, even when unwelcome, he stands on ground on which, if he act properly, he cannot be censured; but will have a testimony in the consciences even of those who dislike his intrusion. He has, in respect of others, very many opportunities of attempting good: but here he cultivates as it were his own land, and is blameable if he do not improve his advantages to the
As to the fact; I have seldom heard even the strictest dissenters deny, that very numerous conversions have taken place under the ministry of those who have laboured, and do labour, in the established church; while the members, and not very unfrequently the ministers, of the dissenting churches were first brought to the knowledge of the gospel by their labours, or rather by the blessing of God on those labours :-for" this hath "God wrought." The conduct, however, of the apostles, who saw one "casting out devils in "Christ's name, and forbade him, because he "followed not with them," has been more imitated, among all parties, than the admonition of our Lord on the occasion has been duly regarded;
else so many methods would not have been used, of weakening the hands, and drawing off the congregations, of pious clergymen.
I once conversed with a dissenter, who observed, that he had heard one of his brethren express a wish that there were no pious ministers in the establishment. On further inquiry I found that he, who thus expressed himself, did not doubt that God converted many sinners by the ministry of such pious clergymen: but he added, The person who informed me said, that, if there had been no pious clergy, God would have brought those sinners to the meeting, and there have converted them. The answer which I gave to this was obvious: Your friend supposes, then, that the only wise God has formed a plan for the accomplishing of his gracious purposes, and is carrying it into effect by his special grace; but that, if God would have consulted him, he could have suggested a better plan!
The persons concerned may indeed take wrong steps, and be left under some mistakes and prejudices. But can we suppose that God evidently prospered what he entirely and totally disapproved? and that he crowned, and still crowns, with success the labours of those in the establishment, who are in duty bound to come out from it; nay, would be so if the establishment were ever so unexceptionable? If "he that winneth "souls be wise;" he who continues, as far as he can conscientiously, where he has peculiar opportunities of winning souls, and where God crowns his labour, and that of his brethren, with much success, cannot be very unwise. But verily I.