Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Can any thing be more reasonable, and more easy, than for an Englishman to devote about three hours, out of a whole life time, to the knowledge of the constitution of his country? How astonishingly and how deplorably general, is our political ignorance, as a nation; though most of us affect to value ourselves on the excellency of our civil fabric! Like the Jews of old, too many Britons profess to worship they know not what: and too many others set but a slight esteem on a constitution, which they would almost worship, if they knew its worth. How inexcusable is English ignorance, when the short labour, and trivial expence, of so few hours' attention, would dissipate the mental cloud, and turn the darkness into day!

7. Intimately associated with civil, is religious liberty.

This consists, (1.) in that natural and indefeasible right, which every reasonable man has from God (and which no human authority can lawfully take away or abridge), of thinking for himself, of determining for himself, and of decently declaring his ideas, concerning all and every thing that relates to sacred matters. (2.) In worshipping God, both privately and publicly, according to the dictates of his own conscience; and that as safely, and as fearlessly, as St. Paul preached in his hired house at Rome, viz. axwhulws, without impediment, and no man forbidding him.

Every species of positive penalty, for differing modes of faith and worship, is at once antichristian and impolitic, irrational and unjust. While any religious denomination of men deport themselves as dutiful subjects to the state, and as harmless members of the community; they are entitled to civil protection, and to social esteem; whether they be Protestants, Papists, Jews, Mahometans, or Pagans. In this respect, among many others,

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Moderation Recommended. .

301 the British legislature, for near a century past, have eminently made their moderation known to all men. And Judge Blackstone, in a treatise which does equal honour to his country and to himself, has lately observed, that, “undoubtedly, all persecution and oppression of weak consciences, on the score of religious persuasions, are highly unjustifiable upon every principle of natural reason, civil liberty, or sound religion. But” (as he justly adds) “ care must be taken, not to carry this indulgence into such extremes, as may endanger the national church.There is always a difference to be made, between toleration and establishment.

“ Certainly, our ancestors were mistaken in their plans of compulsion and intolerance. The sin of schism, as such, is by no means the object of temporal coercion and punishment. If, through weakness of intellect, through misdirected piety, through perverseness and acerbity of temper, men quarrel with the ecclesiastical establishment; the civil magistrate has nothing to do with it, unless their tenets and practice are such as threaten ruin or disturbance to the state. He is bound indeed, to protect the established church; and, if this can be better effected, by admitting none but its genuine members, to offices of trust and emolument, he is certainly at liberty so to do: the disposal of offices being matter of favour and discretion. But, this point being once secured, all persecution for diversity of opinions, however ridiculous or absurd they may be, is contrary to every principle of sound policy and civil freedom. The names and subordination of the clergy, the posture of devotion, the materials and colour of the minister's garment, the joining in a known or an unknown form of prayer, and other matters of the same kind, must be left to the option of every man's private judgment (a).”

(a) Commentaries, b. iv. ch. 4.

If we consider this branch of Christian moderation, merely in a civil view, nothing will be found more politically wise. The remark of a late (a) philosopher must ever hold good : that, “ The true secret, for the discreet management of sectarists, is, to tolerate them.” By which means, they are rendered less considerable; and, of course, less formidable. The more the children of Israel were oppressed in Egypt, the more they multiplied and grew.

Let us now take a survey of moderation, not as a public, but as a private virtue: or, rather as a Christian grace, inspired by the holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are born of God; and shining in the tempers, words, and works, of his elect, regenerated children.

St. Paul addressed not only the text, but this whole epistle, to the saints in Christ Jesus, at PhiJippi ; and whom he declares to have been partakers of the same grace with himself. To these, whose names were in the book of life, and whose evident justification by Christ's righteousness entitled them to rejoice in the Lord always, he delivers that amiable precept, Let your moderation [FO &TieneS ÜLwVy your lenity, candour, tenderness, equity, and condescending meekness] be known unto all men.

The lovely constellation of graces, comprised in this expressive term, are what the apostle means, by our participating the mind that was in Christ : even that wisdom from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated; full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. It includes those effects of the blessed Spirits influence, which are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, and crucifixion to the flesh with its affections and lusts.

(a) Mr. David Humé.

Would you see the import of this significant word, exemplified to the life ? Consult the following character, or moral portrait, of the Messiah ; whom, as man and mediator, God the Father thus prophetically described : (a) Behold my servant, whom I sustain ; my elect, in whom my soul delighteth. I have put my Spirit upon him : he shall bring forth judgment (or make known my gospel and purposes of grace] to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets. [i. e. He shall be all mildness, affability, and patience. No boisterous wrath, nor tumultuous noise, shall discolour any part of his behaviour. Though reviled, he will not revile again ; nor threaten when he suffers. He will avoid every appearance of ostentation; and be as humble, as he is good. No fierce opprobrious language shall issue from bis lips. Not the smallest rising of malevolence shall violate his purity of heart. Invincible calmness shall dignify his conduct; and candour dwell upon his tongue]. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench. He shall bring forth judgment unto truth. May we derive from his fulness; and like him, thus make our moderation known unto all men! That (to use the words of a good man, long since with God), “ As paper receives from the press, letter for letter; as wax receives from the seal, mark for mark; and as a mirror reflects face for face; so we may receive from Christ, grace for grace; and have, in ourselves, a measure of every virtue that shone so bright in him!”

By viewing the features of some persons, you may know from what family they sprang; and, by observing the moral walk of religious professors, you may discern to whom they belong. As many as are

(a) Isaiah xlii,

led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. All who have God for their Father, and Christ for their Saviour, have sooner or later, the Holy Ghost for their sanctifier; and their sanctification by him is the effect and evidence of their adoption. By nature, the children of God themselves bear the image of the earthly Adam : but in the very moment of their conversion by insuperable grace, they begin to bear the image of the heavenly. The seal of divine influence is set upon their hearts; and their lives, from thenceforward, correspond to the transforming efficacy of that sacred impression. Being melted down by penitence, and conviction of sin, they are cast afresh, and (a) delivered into the gospel mould, where they are shaped and fashioned into vessels of honour, fit for the master's use. Like the cyon they are severed from the sinful stock, on which they grew; and, being inserted into Christ, the true vine, they bring forth fruit to God.

As when a river is turned into a new channel, the stream forsakes its ancient bed, and pursues a course unknown until then; so the soul of man, when its native captivity to sin and death, is turned as the rivers in the south, flows back to God, from whom it ran before ; nor ceases to flow, until it has gained the ocean of infinite good.

This is the inseparable effect of union and communion with him. The glorious liberty of the chil. dren of God, is a liberty from the darkness of unbelief, and from the bondage of moral corruption, into the light of faith, the fire of love, and the law of righteousness. That question in the prophet, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? admits of a favourable solution. The

(a) St. Paul expresses this idea very finely, in Rom. vi. 17. But God be thanked, that (though] ye were the slaves of sin, yet [in consequence of your regeneration from above] ye have from the heart, obeyed that mould of doctrine into which ye were delivered.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »