« ZurückWeiter »
the Theomay be puc.this branch other classrner of eblightest,
uses. By this means it acts upon the minds both of those who teach and of those who learn, as any other science would act upon them, that is, it quickens thought, and strengthens the intellect, but leaves the feelings to wait till a totally different operation take place in the mind. We may compare this manner of studying divinity to that in which mathematics is pursued in Universities, the highest advances being made in that science, without the slightest idea ever entering into the mind of the learner of their practical application; that being left to another class of students, who would not have followed this branch of learning, but for the use to which it may be put. That this has been the fact with regard to the Theology of Germany, we are fully persuaded, and that the same consequences have resulted from the University speculations in that country, as were the results of the scholastic ingenuity of the middle ages. In England even we have seen a proof of this, but, unfortunately, and to the no slight disgrace of its scholars, the science of theology, either in one character or the other, no longer exists here. But so far as its shadow is concerned, we may see that the manner in which divinity is studied at Cambridge and Oxford, destroys its usefulness in the great work of national improvement. At the former University, for example, what influence has either the Regius or Margaret professor in preparing the ininds of that large body of the students intended for parish priests? And if we be answered that it is the office of the Norrisian professor in particular to instil the elements of divinity into the memories of the younger students in theology; we answer, that the lecture room of that dignitary need but be attended during part of a winter's course, by any one who may think differently to us on the subject, to convince him of our having reason for what we say, namely, that when divinity is made one of the sciences taught in a University, and is taught only in the same formal and impractical manner as any branch of physical knowledge, it will either become a sort of dead letter, as at Cambridge, or be made a theme, on which men of deep learning, and speculative genius, will be content to employ their ingenuity.
But in saying this, we would not be understood to mean, that divinity is not to be studied by all the aids which human learning can bring to our assistance, or that it ought not to engage the most powerful exertions of the most powerful intellects, but that the iendency of its being studied and examined in the hard dry manner of an ordinary science, or of its being made a subject for speculation, in arguing with great skill and refinement on which, the élite of a University may acquire distinction ; we intend to say, that the tendency of this is to separate the body and soul of theology, and leave its practical purposes in the back ground, and that we shall therefore, very frequently find the existence of many divinity chairs unproductive of that good which they were intended, and have been supposed to effect.
The objects to be arrived at in the public teaching of divinity, are
first, the establishment of its truths; then their explication, so that their mutual relations and bearings may be fully seen; and secondly, their application; first, to our moral nature in general, and next, to the particular relations in which we may be placed. Whenever either the one or the other of these objects is lost sight of, theology is converted into a spurious kind of metaphysics, or is reduced to an imperfect moral philosophy. Both cases are equally hurtful to the proper ends of the study; but the former is by far the less discreditable to the divines of a country, than the former; activity of mind and an interest in the subject being indicated in the one instance, while in the latter we see only the evident marks of indifference and want of knowledge. We have not intended in this article to allude even to the great controversy which is being carried on, respecting the state of theology in Germany, the consideration of which we refer to another occasion; but we cannot help observing, in passing, that while the speculators of that country have greatly endangered the simplicity of Christian doctrine, they can scarcely be convicted of the crying sin of negligence, which we are sorry to say lies at the door of our English divines to a very grievous extent,
In neither Germany nor England, however, is there to be discovered, it seems, that close connection of spirit and manner between the written theology of their divines as scholars, and their practical divinity as preachers, which ought to exist, and would exist, if right notions prevailed. But the volume before us is calculated to give us very favourable impressions of the style in which many of the most distinguished preachers of Germany address their congregations. We could have wished that Mr. Baker had given us a larger collection, and that he had been able to introduce more discourses of a strictly practical character, but many of the sermons at present published are highly interesting, and as a general specimen we select the one which treats of the divine judgments as being corrective rather than vindictive. It is the custom of the German to introduce his discourse by an exhortation which precedes the delivery of the text; the sermon under consideration is thus prefaced :
Collect your thoughts, my brethren, and listen attentively to my words, for I shall solemnly address you to-day on the inost solemn subject that the human mind can conceive—ihe judgments by which the Lord of the universe makes manifest his righteousness. I will direct your view to God, who sits in judgment on our sinful race, that veneration and pious awe niay penetrate your hearts; but that then, when you perceive in ihe Judge the Father also, and discover in the revelations of his justice, the manifestations also of his love, trust and hope may mix with these feelings, and your meditation end in deep adoration of the highly exalled Being, who sits eternally enthroned in solemn majesty, and yet is a God of grace and compassion. But that you may rightly interpret my words, and estimate the divine judg. ments agreeably to the doctrine of Christianity, I shall first of all oppose a double error, which at one time misleads men into uncharitable judgments, at another involves them in inextricable difficulties, and has often shaken their faith. This is partly the opinion, according to which the Divine justice is conceived as only occasionally acting, and consequently the Divine judgments are looked upon not as a continuing, but an interrupted operation of God; and partly the presumption, that the misfortune, which falls upon individuals or on whole nations and ages, is the measure of their guilt. The living, the ever-creating and ruling, the all-pervading and all-animating God, whom Christianity teaches us to kuow and adore, never turns his eye from human affairs, never lets his arms rest, and does not, like an earthly king, rise but occasionally to chastise the disobedient, and to curb the daring. His justice as well as his goodness continues through all times, and is a progressive, uninterrupted operation. Sin is unceasingly punished; retribution begins with the evil deed, yea with the evil intention, although in the external world it is often not visible till after a long time, and often not all; for the laws of the holy Governor of the world are eternal and immutable, nothing stops his everlasting rule, which penetrates the whole world, “ the Lord never suffers his eyes to sleep, nor his eyelids to slumber." But it is still more important to combat the opinion, thai misfortune is the measure of guilt, which is then most clearly discerned to be error, when we contemplate the judgment of God gone out against whole countries and generations. For since in fact the generation which sinned, and the people that deserved its misfortunes, remain ; but the individuals which compose the people or generation, change; it is possible, that the children on whom the punishment, the consequence of sin, fails, are less guilty than their fathers. Although, therefore, all are guilty, whom punishment, which follows sin, overtakes, (for all partake more or less in the universal guilt) yet we are not to take their misfortune as the measure of their delinquency, and assert that the nations and people whom great distress, occasioned by sin, has befallen, are guiltier than others. Hence it is that not all misfortune can be considered as punishment, and we have no sure marks by which to distinguish deserved from undeserved sufferings. For God sends calamity not merely to punish but to prove, and not only sin but nature also, (which destroys while it builds, and wounds while it delights), and the will of others, prepare sorrow and pain for man. Unmerited sufferings, therefore, often befal the individual, as well as whole people and generations. On this account, fate must not be the measure of guilt and of merit; and whoever attempts to adopt such a measure concerning individuals or nations, soon finds himself entangled in such difficulties, that he despairs of perceiving the hand of God in human affairs. For this reason Jesus Christ has expressly declared himself in opposition to the opinion that every unfortunate is a criminal, and that the greatness of his distress testifies of his guilt, especially, when it was related to him, that Pilate had caused several Galilæans to be killed, while offering sacrifices in the temple. “ Suppose ye," said the Lord to those who announced this event to him, “ Suppose ye, that these Galilæans were sinners above all Galilæans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
• But although the degree of calamity must not be taken as a criterion of the degree of guilt, we must nevertheless, if we believe in God, own his judicial dispensations in human affairs; and although his justice, as his goodness, pervades all times, yet it is visibly manifested only on particular occasions. Now the revelations of Divine justice, such events as attract the special notice of men, in which we clearly perceive a connexion of
: calamity and ruin with sin and guilt, we call the judgments of God, and must call them so, though the amount of merit and demerit may not be estimated by the fate that attends them. We see how a period of disorder and distraction, of bloody conflicts and unutterable misery, comes upon a whole quarter of the globe; and whilst we search for the causes of this
ruin, we discover its foundation in the disregard of sacred things and of of right, and in a licentiousness and selfishness, which daringly breaks through : ; the bounds of civil order, overturns every thing, if it can but raise itself,
and allows itself every possible liberty and indulgence. We say with right, that the judgment of God is come upon the generation of such a period; for God has so ordered it, that calamity and ruin follow the moral degeneracy of nations and their rulers, without our being at the same time able to maintain, that the generation experiencing such calamity is more culpable than the preceding ones, which propagated the moral degeneracy in
the succeeding age and prepared its ruin. We see how a nation ihat - proudly and overbearingly exalted itself, and subjugated, plundered, and
brought low the neighbouring nations, has been conquered and humbled. We say with reason, that the judgment of God has overtaken this people ; for God has so ordered it, that oppression gives strength and courage to the aggrieved to turn against the oppressor, and to be victorious in the struggle of desperation; we say with reason, that the judgment of God has overtaken this people, yet without declaring them to be worse than other nations, or finding in the victory of their conquerors a testimony of their moral worthiness. We see the criminal receive the reward of his deeds. We say with reason, the avenging hand of God has seized him ; for it is the dispensation of God, that civil society expels from its bosom him, who has wickedly violated the rights of men, and thus the crime engenders his eventual downfal; we fairly acknowledge the judgment of God in the punishment of the offentler, yet without determining the degree of his guilt, or asserting that he is worse than all the multitude who stand gazing around the scene of his disgrace. This, my friends, is the notion we ought 10 have of the judgments of God ;—Revelations of his righteousness, significant events exciting attention, in which we discern the connexion of misfortune and ruin with sin and guilt, dark clouds which we see collecting from the vapours exhaled from the earth, and which, menacing destruction, hover now over individuals, now over whole nations. If we believe ili God, we must seek and find manifestations of his justice in human con- . cerns, and, therefore, consider events occasioned by sin, and productive of fuin, as Divine judgments. And if we only take care not to regard calamity as the measure of the guilt of those on whom it falls, and do not forget that we are all of us singers, and consequently no one, who is inFolved in the general distress, is an innocent sufferer; then every difficulty 18 removed, and the belief in the righteousness of God exbibited in the world, without misleading us into uncharitable opinions, fills us only with Feverence, pious awe, and humility. For in the whole circle of imagination there is nothing greater and more sublime, more solemn and awe-inspiring, than the thought of God entering into judgment with the sinful race of men. This very solemn thought, however, has its bright and pleasing side, and in this resembles the moon, whose face towards the earth is at one time dark, at another bright and luminous. For even in his judgments God manifests his goodness, even in the solemnity of the Judge the love of
the Father is displayed. We shall acknowledge this, if we contemplate the judgments of God as a purification of the sinful world. But let us to-day so contemplate them, that they may appear to us as thunder-clouds, which together with the destroying lightning send down fruitful rain ; and that the gentle feeling of confiding love may mix with the solemn awe of our veneration.'--pp. 57—6.3.
After taking his text, which is from the third chapter of the prophet Malachi, and the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th verses, the preacher proceeds with his argument, and shews that times of distress were profitable to the purification of the Jewish nation, and have great influence in bettering the affairs of mankind by shewing men in their true colour, it being generally during such times that the virtue of the good is proved, and the corruption of the evil disposed brought to light. The whole illustration of the subject is ingenious and eloquently expressed.
• For justice and goodness are inseparably united in that Holy One, who invariably wills what is well known to be good, so that his justice is manifested in the dispensations of his goodness, and his goodness in the exhibitions of his justice. It is the one sacred will, which we, viewing it in one light, call goodness, and in another, justice. Every revelation of Divine justice must, therefore, be a revelation of Divine goodness also; and however severe the countenance of the Judge, however dark his eye, however threatening his uplifted arm, may appear to us, we must, nevertheless, discern clemency in his severity, and love in his wrath. The thought of the Divine wisdoin leads us to the same conclusion. For the essence of wisdom consists in this, that its every aim serves as the means for a higher purpose, and all these means and aims closely connected unite in one last object. We must then, since we ascribe the highest wisdom to God, admit that the objects of his justice, the punishments he sends forth over the sinful world, are, at the same time, means for the attainment of other ends, means for the cultivation and improvement of our species, and that all his ordinances and dispensations meet in this last and highest object, to guide the human race to moral perfection. Thus the view of his judgments, as a purification of the sinful world, necessarily results from the holiness and wisdom of God. Therefore the Scripture always says of God, “ He reproveth, and nurtureth, and teacheth, and bringeth again, as a shepherd his flock;" therefore it instructs us to consider the sufferings of life as chastisements, and chastisements as proofs of Divine love; and exhibits to us now the punishing severity of the Judge, now the forgiving love of the Father.
• If we believe in God, we must believe in a judgment of God, which is conspicuous in the history of the world, and is shewn in whole nations and generations, as well as in individuals; for the ground of the connexion of distress and ruin with sin and guilt, can only be found in the will of him, who has given to the world its laws, and guides destiny according to his discretion. But we must contemplate this judgment as a cleansing of the sinful world, when we have acknowledged that the rightBeing is also all-gracious, and the Judge, the Father, and Precep“tor, of our species. And now, if fate appears to us as God's judgment, and the judgment as a purification of the sinful world, we look up with