Page images
PDF
EPUB

you believing, concerning one another, that you sincerely seek the honour of Christ and the union and peace of the church, as I believe concerning you all. Let each of you be ready to lay aside his own former opinions or resolutions, as you shall see reasons arise for the common welfare. If there should be quarrels and janglings, reflections and hard speeches, it would be a grief too heavy for me to bear, and the most effectual way to overwhelm my spirit, and delay my return to you: and as I know you have the utmost tenderness of my peace, you ought to be as tender of each other's spiritual advantage, and the union and peace of the body, and to indulge no secret whispers or backbitings that may hinder the edification of your brethren by the ministrations of the church.

“ But I will not give myself leave to entertain such suspicions concerning you, who have so many years walked together in constant love. I pray heartily that the all-wise God, and Jesus Christ our Lord, may preside in your consultations, direct your hearts, and determine all things for you ; that you may be established and edified, and be a joy and a blessing to each other, as you have been, and I trust will be, to “ Your most affectionate and afflicted pastor,

Isaac Watts.

DEFINITION OF USEFUL KNOWLEDGE.

To the Editor of the Christian Observer. Will one of your able correspondents be kind enough to inform a plain simple man what is meant by “ useful knowledge ?" I used to think that to learn to know and serve God, to fear him, and to keep his commandments, was very useful knowledge; and I was accustomed to consider the Bible as containing the most useful knowledge extant; and even your pages I thought not wholly useless, as I often gained a hint from them for reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness.

But all this, I am told, was my rustic ignorance; that useful knowledge means, to know all about rail-roads, and steam-engines, and elephants, and hippopotamuses, and other things which in our village no more concern many of us than a sermon preached twenty miles off. I admit that they are very entertaining as a recreation ; and that they may also keep a man from the public-house, and enlarge his mind; and in these and other respects be very serviceable; and I would not quarrel with the title of “ useful knowledge” applied to such things, if I did not see a disposition among some of my neighbours to suppose that other knowledge must therefore be useless

- particularly a knowledge of the Bible, and every thing that respects the soul and eternity—just as you hear some men speak of “the useful classes," as if no person were of any value in society who does not earn his living by manual labour. But why should not even parsons be reckoned among the useful classes ? I am sure our clergyman has been of more use to me and my family, both in body and soul, than if he had taught us the names of all the parrots and monkeys in the Zoological Gardens; and that his religious tracts on our shelves, and his broad-sheets with very respectable pictures on our walls, have done more to make us wise, industrious, religious, and happy, than the most useful wood-cuts of the Seven Wonders of the World and the history and representation of both the giants in Guildhall to boot.

I think, sir, you will see, upon reflection, that deception lurks under such exclusive titles. Why, are not Tract and Bible societies, “ useful knowledge" societies? I can hardly persuade myself that the assumption of such an epithet in relation to things merely temporal, is not meant as an indirect slight to things spiritual and eternal. Had it been said, 'secular' knowledge, or physical,' or scientific,' or 'literary' knowledge, it would have been very proper ; but to call that knowledge exclusively “ useful,” which leaves out all that is useful to the soul and beyond the grave, is a perversion of terms which I cannot but think a symptom of the religious scepticism of these our unhappy days. Is it of no use to know how to get to heaven ? I am the more anxious to have the subject considered, because some of my neighbours tell me that Mr. Hume, or some other great man, intends to get a system of national education constructed upon the "useful-knowledge" principle. Let us, before we begin upon this plan, really understand what useful knowledge is, especially to those whose time for reading is very li. mited. The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is wisdom ; and to depart from evil is understanding." Might it not be worth inquiring whether this is true ?

A RUSTIC CHRISTIAN OBSERVER.

ON THE SPECIAL PROVIDENCE OF GOD.

To the Editor of the Christian Observer. Affixed to an admirable published address by the Rev. J. H. Stewart, minister of St. Bride's, Liverpool, respecting the Cholera-stating the fearful ravages of the disease in that town, the duty and blessedness of being prepared for it, the signs of the times, the proposal of a special weekly service and a collection for the widows and orphans of the sufferers by cholera—is the following observation : “ It is worthy of remark, that, by the special goodness of God, not one death from cholera has occurred in St. Bride's district, although this malady has been so fatal in Liverpool.”

Mr. Stewart's address—characteristic of that excellent man- -is one of such singular affection, faithfulness, and devout zeal, that it must, I would hope, have deeply affected those to whom it was directed; and it furnishes a valuable model for similar addresses in other places. But I submit that the above remark affixed to it, which does not appear to be his, but rather the comment of some friend, is not well or wisely added. The blessed doctrine, not only of an over-ruling providence, but of an individual and special providence," I so fully believe, and so inestimably value, that I always lament to see any remark which tends to discredit it. It was right and Christian in the minister and inhabitants of St. Bride's district to acknowledge the goodness of God in sparing their parish from the visi. tation of a fearful malady ; but was it befitting to represent Mr. Stewart's flock as placed under a "special" dispensation of exemption, while the malady had been so fatal in other parts of Liverpool ? Surely the designs of Infinite Wisdom are too vast and inscrutable to be thus minutely tied down by man's feeble guesses to particular individuals and places. Besides which, in those providential visitations which fall upon large bodies of persons, nothing penal or otherwise can be inferred with regard to par. ticular individuals. In Mr. Stewart's interesting account of the loss of the Rothsay-Castle Packet we find some persons of exemplary piety and consistency involved in the calamity : to them a blessed calamity, and the very gate of heaven : but is it, then, just or sober to represent the very same catastrophe as a special” infliction in some other cases, for some special sin-such as, for example, having violated the preceding Sabbath ?

The true line of Scriptural doctrine, it appears to me, is to view every blessing as a direct gift and mercy from the hand of God; but carefully to abstain from any such comparisons as might minister to a wrong, and above all to a pharisaical, spirit. In Mr. Stewart's district there might be many wicked persons who were spared; and in other districts there might be many righteous who fell: were the latter, then, specially under the displeasure of God, and the former specially under his favour? Besides, why are we to represent the omniscient Searcher of hearts as recognising the minute local boundaries of parochial districts, and not rather as regarding the personal character of each individual within them? Why are we to suppose one pious clergyman's parish placed under a special dispensation, and another’s not? If the cholera was specially restrained from a wicked family in Mr. Stewart's district, why did it specially fall upon a religious family in Mr. Buddicom's ? Why also, after this alleged specialty, did the disorder visit, as I believe was the fact, the place thus signally honoured ?

I am far from asking these questions in order to diminish the gratitude of those who are spared any providential infliction ; for each Christian, viewing his own particular offences against God, with all their aggravations, must feel the long-suffering of his Creator to be great beyond conception; but I would avoid such comparisons as might at least be easily misunderstood; and, knowing my own ignorance, I would abstain from pretending to decide in any particular case what is special and what is ordinary, in the Divine government. The mercy to St. Bride's was great; the comparison with the rest of Liverpool was unnecessary, and might lead to evil. It was right to have " a special service ;” but was it well-considered to assert a special manifestation? God may hear prayer, and may answer it, and yet the answer may be in a manner quite contrary to what we asked or wished. A parish in another part of England, distinguished on the Fastday, and on other occasions, by great solemnity, has suffered very severely by the pestilence; while some other parishes, not far off, have scarcely been affected. Shall we then say that God does not hear or answer prayer? Far from it: the only legitimate inference is, “What I do thou knowest not how ; but thou shalt know hereafter.” But if we once begin to make our ignorance a test by which to try the dispensations of Providence; and to say that one parish, in which there were devout observances, was under“ special goodness,” and another, where the minister and people were equally serious and earnest, was not under the same special goudness, because in the latter the disease prevailed, and in the former not; we shall soon arrive at practical difficulties which it would not be possible to solve. I might apply the remark to different nations, as well as to portions of the same nation ; but the question will readily open itself, in all its bearings, to the intelligent Christian reader, without further amplification. Let us feel and acknowledge God every where ; let us limit him no where : in all our ways let us acknowledge Him, and He will direct our steps ; but let us beware of the subtle effects of self-esteem, self-importance, and self-righteousness lingering in the holiest mind, and ever warring with the self-renunciation and meekness which adorn the Christian character.

J.

ON THE GRACIOUS OPERATIONS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

To the Editor of the Christian Observer. In answer to your corespondent A. L. permit me to offer a few observations on the question “What are, and what are not, distinguishing and essential characters of the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit on the soul ?”

Without attempting to enumerate the various operations of the Holy Spirit on the soul of man, I will mention a few only. The sinner, being delivered from the effects of delusion and wicked passions, perceives things in a new light : if then, humbly examining ourselves by the sacred CHRIST, OBSERV. No, 370.

4 P

word, we become conscious of our desires and affections being sanctified, and perform actions acceptable to God, we may conclude that this is effected “by the Spirit, which dwelleth in us.” For we must ascribe all that is true and good to His sacred influence. His operations are “to work in us both to will and to do;” “ to quicken the dead in sin;" to raise fallen man from the death of sin to a life of righteousness,” and to restore him to the capacity of loving and delighting in God, and his worship and service; and to excite such as “ through grace have believed” to a greater degree of diligence in following those who “ through faith and patience inherit the promises." These may be ranked among his most distinguishing operations on the soul of man. The same Divine Agent is spoken of in Scripture as illuminating the mind with the light of Divine truth, leading all true believers by his sacred operations, and causing in the soul high and honourable apprehensions of Christ.

With regard to what are not his gracious operations, it must not be supposed that the Holy Spirit is promised or given in order that we may do any thing which was not our duty; or that He will render us infallible ;. or that He will be given, in answer to our petitions, to inform us by a direct revelation that we are the children of God. This conclusion cannot be safely arrived at by mere impression, but is to be looked for by his enabling us to exercise repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, with love to God and to our neighbour grounded upon them. Nor is it one of his characteristics to discover new duties, not already taught in Scripture; but rather to free our minds from the effects of our various prejudices and corrupt passions, that we may discern spiritual things, and understand the nature and glory of revealed truth. Lastly, miraculous and prophetical gifts are not "distinguished and essential” marks, or marks at all, of His “ gracious operations ;" so that even if they were now vouchsafed, which it is clear they are not, they would not come under the present question.

M. G. H.

AMERICAN DIVINES: THE REV. JOSEPH LATHROP, D.D.

For the Christian Observer. The name of Dr. Lathrop will be probably new to most of our readers, though some of them may chance to remember in our second volume, some thirty years ago, a review of one of his publications,- his Discourses on False Teachers, who in every age privily creep into the sacred ministry. The ancestors of Dr. Lathrop had separated from the Church of England, or were ejected from it by the Act of Uniformity : their descendants, in return, had to contend with those who separated from them; and Dr. Lathrop found as much difficulty in coping with those whom he considered “false prophets, and wolves in sheep's clothing,"in Connecticut, in the nineteenth century, as English kings and bishops had in opposing the Puritans of the old country in the seventeenth. Dr. Lathrop, in the sermon just adverted to, following out his text, “ by their fruits ye shall know them," points out the following ten marks of false teachers : 1. The want of regular ordination; 2. Coming in sheep's clothing, but being inwardly ravening wolves ; 3. Privily and craftily bringing in dangerous heresies ; 4. Being unruly, and vain talkers and deceivers, and thereby deluding people of little discernment; 5. Implacable malignity against the regular ministers of the Gospel; 6. Being guided by no line, and confined to no measure, but running from place to place, entering into other men's labours, and building on other men's foundations; 7. Causing divisions and offences in the churches of Christ; 8. Attending more to the form than to the power of godliness ; 9. Opposing subordination, under insidious pretensions of liberty ; 10. Corrupting the word of God, and handling it deceitfully. These ten specifications he dilates upon, but without any direct reference to any sect or party.

We have alluded to this discourse as a preface to the following notice of Dr. Lathrop, because it happens to have been printed, or re-printed, in Great Britain ; but this was but a very small portion of his publications, which extend to many volumes, and some of which have reached ten or more editions. Many years before his death he enumerated forty-six sermons published by him in separate pamphlets, and one hundred and sixty-four in five volumes, besides innumerable papers, “theological, moral, devotional, and literary.” He entered his eternal rest in 1821, in his ninetieth year, at West Springfield, Massachusetts, in which parish he had resided and officiated as pastor for sixty-five years, being his first and last clerical appointment. He left behind him the extraordinary number of five thousand manuscript sermons ;—"a noble monument,” says the continuator of his auto-biographical detail, “ of his piety, talents, and industry.”

Such a man well deserves to be introduced to our readers among our proposed occasional notices of American Divines; and, happily, we have his own account of himself, above alluded to, from which we purpose extracting a few pages.

The memoir of Dr. Lathrop is little adorned wita incident, for he passed his long and valuable life almost wholly in one place, and with few varieties ; but it will be found interesting and edifying. The details are desultory, the author having apparently written them down as they occurred to him at the moment; and we shall not attempt to string them more connectedly together. The following is his statement :

The Rev. John Lathrop, a minister of Barnstaple, in England, arrived at Scituate September 28, 1634, with several sons. He settled in the ministry at Barnstable, a town in Massachusetts, so called from the town of the same name in England. A number of his former flock came and settled in the same town. Samuel, his youngest son, came to Norwich in Connecticut, and there settled in a family state. He was my great-grandfather. He, and my predecessors after him, all lived and died in that town. There I was born, Oct. 20, 1731, 0. S. I have formed an opinion of my father as a person of early and eminent piety, of good natural talents, and of more than a common education for that day. My situation was remote from school; but my mother paid particular attention to my education.. She instructed me in reading and writing, and in the principles of religion. She was a person of exemplary piety.

In the year 1739, when I was in the eighth year of my age, my mother married to a Mr. Loomis, of Bolton, with whom I lived till I became a member of college. He was a sensible, good man: he treated me with much kindness ; nor could I ever accuse him of undue partiality in favour of his own children. At the age of fourteen I chose him my guardian, nor did I err in choice.

About this time there was a general attention to religion in the country, and it reached the vicinity in which I lived. Many youths were exceedingly agitated with religious terrors for a time; and then were wrought into high comforts and joys. My mind was not wholly unaffected with what I saw and heard ; but it was calm and unruffled. I often wished to experience the strong sensations which some others seemed to feel, but could not attain to them in the same degree. My mind, however, was serious and attentive. I often retired for secret prayer; read much ; thought I found benefit in reading pious books, such as Alleyne's Alarm, Stoddard's Safety of Appearing, and some of Bunyan's works, &c. (and I have never

my

« PreviousContinue »