« PreviousContinue »
a wise and well tempered rule, ramifies its genial virtue through all the branches of society. So that if any thing can make a glorious Sovereign, and happy subjects, it is the attachment and submission of both to the oracles of God.
which many prophets and wise men have desired to see, and have not seen them; and to hear, and have not heard them. My Lord, we cannot dwell too much upon the delightful recollection, that here, in this Society, Christians may put off the garb of their exterior diversities, and meet together in the simple and beautiful livery of the Son of God; and, foregoing things which do not touch the hidden man of the heart,' may give scope to that celestial charity which aims at nothing less than extending the pure word of life to every region of darkness and death on the surface of our globe.
My Lord, it would create a smile, if the subject were not infinitely too serious for smiles, that an apprehension of injury to the cause of sound Christianity from the labours of such a Society as this, should find its way into a Christian bosom. If, as your own Chillingworth has exclaimed, The Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants,' it is passing strange, that any good man should be afraid of dispersing it abroad; that is, of spreading his own religion. How is it possible that the charities of men, united in the holy work of diffusing among their fellowimmortals the record of the charity of God, can operate with any other than a salutary influence? Besides removing unnatural and unnecessary restraints upon the reciprocation of our best affections, and thus multiplying friendships which are pledges of mutual virtue, the Bible Society acts with an auspicious energy on all, even the lowest classes of civil society. My Lord, the man who reads and reverences his Bible, is not the man of violence and blood: he will not rise from the study of lessons which the Holy Ghost teaches, to commit a burglary: he will not travel with his Bible, under his arm, and, meditating upon its contents, as forming the rule of his conduct, to celebrate the orgies of Bacchus, or the rites of Venus. Assuredly it was not the Bible, which, in 1780, kindled the flames of Newgate; nor is it from the stores of inspired eloquence, that the apostles of mischief draw those doctrines, and speeches which delude the understanding, and exasperate the pas sions, of an ignorant and ill-judging multitude. If there are any two maxims which go together, under the sanction of scriptural authority, they are these; he who fears God, will honour the King;' and he who does both, will not be the first
meddle with them that are given to change. On the contrary, the influence of the Bible, and, therefore of Bible Societies, upon the habits of the community, is calculated to throw up around every paternal government, a rampart better than walls and guns, and bayonets,-a rampart of human hearts. While, at the same time, that influence over those who are in authority, descends, in its turn, upon the state at large; and, in the exercise of
"For the very same reasons, the Bible, in proportion as it is known and believed, must produce a generally good effect on the condition of the world. In forming the character of the individual and the nation, it cannot fail to mould also, in a greater or less degree, the conduct of political governments toward each other. It is not in the Bible, nor in the spirit which it infuses, that the pride which sacrifices hecatombs and nations of men to its lawless aggrandisement, either finds, or seeks for, its aliment; and had Europe been under the sway of the Book of God, this age had not seen a more than fabled monster of ambition, endeavouring to plant one foot on the heights of Montmartre, and the other on the hills of Dover; and, while he scowled on the prostrate Continent, stretching out his right hand to rifle the treasures of the East, and his left to crush the young glories of the West, Such an ambition was never bred in the bosom, nor drew nourishment from a Bible Society.
"Your Lordship will permit me further to remark, that if any judgment can be formed from the aspect of Providence, it will be the honour of this Institution, both in its direct and indirect operations, to be highly instrumental in preparing the world for that period of life and blessedness, when none shall hurt nor destroy, because the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah.' It will be then that the gallant and principled soldier will rejoice to beat his sword into a ploughshare, and his spear into a pruninghook, and to learn war no more. Societies seem destined to act an illustrious part in the measures preparatory to this grand event. They are scattering over the face of the earth that' precious seed,' which, in due time, shall spring up, being watered from above, and shall ripen into an abundant harvest of righteousness and peace. They are laying and uniting, by social communication, that long train of truth, to which the angel of God shall one day apply his match from heaven, and cause the light of salvation to burst forth as in a moment, from every spot on the globe.
"But before this consummation, much, very much, remains to be done. The cord of the Hindoo cast is to be untwined; and the word of God is to perform the task. There are long ranges of Alps between you, and regions which must be annexed to the crown of Messiah the Prince. They are not merely to be pierced by the hand of imperial power, that a few troops or travellers may pass their limits; they are to be removed; they are to disppear; and
the divine word is the fire and vinegar, under the action of which they are to moulder away, till their ashes shall be scattered to the four corners of heaven, and their bases be turned into a garden of God.
"Permit me to add, that no heart is too magnanimous, no arm too powerful, no station too exalted, to lend its aid in promoting so magnificent a work. In that day, when all human things shall appear in their own littleness, and shall undergo a judgment according to truth, it will not be a source of shame or regret, that Princes have come down from their thrones, and that the members of kingly families, and the possessors of ecclesiastical pre-eminence, have mingled with private Christians in common efforts for the best interests of individual and social man. The reaction of such deeds of goodness will never sully the purity of the mitre, nor dim the star of royalty.
"One observation more, my Lord, upon the general subject. The high and holy interests, and responsibilities which are lodged in the hands of this Institution, do not allow it to give back, or to hesitate. There is a notion which has passed into a sort of common-law creed, that all intellectual and religious light, following the course of the sun, must go from the east to the west. My Lord, the 'Sun of Righteousness rises where he pleases; and, on this occasion, he has chosen to rise in the west, to take the point of his departure from the island of Great Britain, and to fling the broad beams of his glory on the midnight of the east. He has done it, as by other agencies, so, in a singular manner, by the agency of this Society. Its cause and interest are not the cause and interests of a few visionaries, inebriated by romantic projects. It is the cause of more than giant undertakings in regular and progressive execution. The decisive battle has been fought; opposition comes now too late. He who would arrest the march of Bible Societies, is attempting to stop the moral machinery of the world, and can look for nothing but to be crushed in pieces. The march must proceed. Those disciplined and formidable columns, which, under the banner of divine truth, are bearing down upon the territories of death, have one word of command from on high, and that word is ONWARD!' The command does not fall useless on the ears of this Society. May it go onward,' continuing to be, and with increasing splendour, the astonishment of the world, as it is the most illustrious monument of British glory.
"A word more, my Lord, and I shall have done. It relates to a topic on which I know not whether my emotions will allow me to express myself distinctly; it is the late unhappy difference between my own country and this-between the land of fathers and the land of their children.
I cannot repress my congratulations to both, that the conflict was so short, and the reconciliation so prompt; and, I trust, not easily to be broken. Never again, my Lord, it is a vow in which I have the concurrence of all noble spirits and all feeling hearts, never again may that humiliating spectacle-two nations to whom God has vouchsafed the enjoyment of rational liberty; two nations who are extensively engaged, according to their means, in enlarging the kingdom, in spreading the religion, of the Lord Jesus--the kingdom of peace-the religion of love-those two nations occupied in the unholy work of shedding each other's blood! - Never again may such a spectacle be exhibited to the eyes of afflicted Christianity! May their present concord, written not merely with pen and ink, but on the living tablets of the hearts; enforced by the sentiment of a common origin, by common language, principles, habits, and hopes; and guaranteed by an all graicious Providence, be uninterrupted! May they, and their Bible Societies, striving together with one heart and one soul, to bring glory to God in the highest, and on earth to manifest good-will toward men, go on, increasing in their zeal, their efforts, and their success; and making stronger and stronger, by the sweet charities of the Gospel, the bands of their concord!"
The Rev. RICHARD WATSON, (Minister in the Methodist Connexion,) after some prefatory remarks on the merits of the Committee, spoke as follows:
"The Report and the addresses which we have heard this day, have turned our attention to the Russian empire; and delightful are the views which are there presented to us. We cannot listen to such statements, without anticipating, from the circulation of the Scriptures in the Greek Church, the revival of religion there in all its purity: and whoever considers the geographical positions of the Russian Empire, its rising greatness, its political influence, and the character of its sovereign, must contemplate such a revival of pure religion, as the certain harbinger of the moral renovation of the world. To merely Pagan countries we send both Bibles and Missionaries; but where Christianity exists, though in decay, the Bible may be sufficient. The circulation of the Scriptures alone, may raise and restore the Greek Church;-the frame of the temple still stands, and the Bible will rekindle the fire upon its altars-an order of Christian ministers exists, though many of them are comparatively dead; but, like the witnesses in the Apocalypse, when the spirit of truth shall enter into them, they shall stand upon their feet and prophesy.'
"The circulation of the Scriptures in the Latin Church, produced our own glorious Reformation, and gave us Fro
testantism, with all its blessings. And we may look forward to the same results in the Greek Church, with this interesting difference, that the opposition made to the circulation of the Scriptures in the Latin Church, produced an angry schism; but, encouraged as Bible Societies are in the Greek Church, the free diffusion of divine truth will re-animate the body, and yet, probably, preserve its unity. This, my Lord, is a cheering consideration. Our Reformation dawned upon us with lurid glare; all our Protestant Churches had their birth amidst the convulsions of political elements, and their cradle was rocked by storms; but in Russia we have the prospect of change without convulsion, of the good without the evil;-its reformation approaches like a soft and beauteous sun-rise, shedding rays equally welcome on the cottages of Siberia, and the palaces of the northern Cæsar. What is doing in Russia, in comparison of the wants and population of that empire, is chiefly in preparation; yet such notes of preparation fall delightfully on our ears; they are, like the first faint notes of the birds, wakened, even by twilight, into songs, preludes to the full harmony of nature, and the perfect light of day. One circumstance, in the operation of the Bible Society, has appeared to me equally singular and encouraging-the eager desire of the people in all places to possess those Scriptures, which it is the object of the Society to furnish. Has, then, the carnal mind ceased to be at enmity with God?-Have vice and ignorance laid aside their hostility to truth? We believe a time will arrive, when those reproving words of the Evangelist will lose their application, The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not ;'a time when the darkness shall comprehend the light, and eagerly lay hold upon it. Have we, then, the encouragement arising from the consideration, that we are approaching that period? I think we have. When the light of the Gospel faded away from the minds of men in former ages, there was no such feeling as that to which I have referred; none sighed at the approach of night; none laid hold on truth, as Jacob on the angel, saying, I will not let thee go.'-The shadows of the evening were welcomed, and the angel was repulsed. I have no other way of accounting for this change, but by referring it to the special influence of God; and this is one of the noblest proofs, that the work of the Bible Society is taken up into the plans of Providence: God is not only with us, but there is a sense in which he goes before us. Whereever this Society directs its operations, his Spirit appeare, to precede it: a holy influence is breathed upon the world, preparing it to receive those blessings which the Sacred Word alone can communicate. This is a pledge of ultimate and universal
success; it is the quickening freshness which goes before the morning; the rising breeze, which indicates the descending and universal shower.
"I will add but another remark, and I make it, because it has been made before, and because it derives its interest from being made often. Our Christian union still continues; we are still one in this glorious work; the dew of Hermon has not, to us, lost its refreshing quality; the ointment poured on the head of Aaron, still retains all its fragrance. I follow, with pleasure, the respectable divine who has just addressed you. He is an American, with a truly British heart; and he has furnished me with an American allusion, with reference to the principles of this Society, which embraces Christianity of all names and all countries. We have buried the hatchet of strife, and may the moisture which nourishes the root of that tree under which we have laid it, daily eat more deeply into its edge, and more completely destroy its temper. I know of but one malediction in the breast of charity, and that is reserved for the man who shall dig the hatchet from the earth, and again give sharpness to its edge."
MR. HALL'S SPEECH.
The Leicester Auxiliary Bible Society, held its Seventh Anniversary in the Guildhall, Leicester, on Tuesday July 15th 1817, on which occasion, the following Speech was delivered by Mr. R. Hall.
It has been usual, on these occasions, to eulogize the Bible Society; I will not say beyond its merits, for they are more than equal to the powers of the most exalted panegyric: but the frequency of these encomiums must be my apology for saying but little on that topic at present, The stores of rhetoric appear to me to be exhausted; while every department of nature and of art has been summoned and made to contribute its share to the illus tration of the divine simplicity of its principle, the sanctity of its object, and the extent and grandeur of its operations. Never was there an institution which at once went so far forward in the distribution of its benefits, and exerted such a reflex energy on its members and patrons; producing a generous enthusiasm, which kindles at every step, and is raised to a more intense degree byevery fresh achievement.
1 consider this Society as a new moral power, which, combining the energies of Christendom in one great effort, promises to change the face of the universe; while, in imitation of Him in whose cause it is enlisted, it travels in the greatness of its strength, "mighty to save.' It possesses every characteristic of a work of God, in which the simplest means are made to produce the greatest effects; where there is the utmost economy in the contrivance,
and the greatest splendour and mag-, which would exclude a part of the word nificence in the design. The imbecility of God from universal inspection and of man appears in the littleness of his perusal, we feel insuperable objections ends, which he accomplishes, for the most nor are we disposed to ascribe to any despart, by complicated and laborious opera-cription of men whatever, that control tions. Omnipotence, on the contrary, over divine communications which such places opulence in the end, and parsimony a measure implies. We are persuaded in the means. While our pride is morti- that no man possesses a right to curtail fied by perceiving how little we can effect the gifts of God, or to deal out with a by the greatest efforts, the Almighty sparing hand what was intended for unitouches a secret spring, known only to versal patrimony. If the manner in which himself, and impresses a single motion, revelation was imparted, be such as which propagates itself in circles con- makes it manifest that it was originally tinually extending, till it reaches the designed for the benefit of all, we are at extremity of the universe, and diffuses a loss to conceive how any man can have order and happiness through regions most a right, by his interference, to render it remote from its origin, and most unconinaccessible. scious of its cause.
Of so similar a character is the Bible Society, and so analagous to the movements of divine power, that, it appears to me, it would be impious not to acknowledge the agency of the Spirit in its first conception, as much as the superintendence of Providence in its support. To fix upon a course of action, which gives scope to every virtuous energy, while it stands perfectly aloof from the spirit of party; which draws towards itself the best propensities of our common nature, and unites the pious of every nation and profession in one harmonious family, is not the work of a mortal: it bespeaks the finger of God. Its direct benefits are too obvious to escape the most careless observation but the indirect influence it exerts, in harmonizing the spirits, and conciliating the affections of such as had long been alienated from each other, is so remarkable, as to make it doubtful, whether its instruments or its objects, whether those who share, or those who dispense its munificence, are the greatest gainers.
The utility of this admirable institution, however, has been called in question, its constitution censured, and its operations arraigned. To give the Bible to all classes and descriptions, without note or comment, is represented by some as a dangerous experiment, adapted to perplex and mislead uncultivated minds. Excellent as the Scriptures are allowed to be, some preparation, it is asserted, is necessary, ere they are communicated in their full extent; and that the best use that can be immediately made of them, is to compose and distribute such selections and abridgments as seem best calculated for popular instruction.
That some portions of the sacred volume are of more universal interest than others; that the New Testament, for example, has a more immediate relation to our
prospects and duties than the Old, is freely conceded; just as one star differs from another star in glory, though they are all placed in the same firmament, and are the work of the same hand. But to this restrictive system, this jealous policy,
The question itself, whether it was designed to be communicated to mankind at large, without distinction, or to a particular class, with a discretionary power of communicating it, at such times and in such proportions as they might deem fit, can only be determined by itself. If it bear decisive indications of its being intended for private custody; if it be found to affirm, or even to insinuate, that it is not meant for universal circulation; we must submit to hold it at the discretion of its legitimate guardians, and to accept with becoming gratitude such portions as they are pleased to bestow. From the word of God there can be no appeal: it must decide its own character, and determine its own pretensions. Thus much we must be allowed to assume; that if it was originally given to mankind indiscriminately, no power upon earth is entitled to restrict it; because, on the supposition which we are now making, since every man's original right in it was equal, that right can be cancelled by no authority but that which bestowed it. If it was at first promulgated under the character of an universal standard of faith and practice, we are bound to recognize it in that character; and every attempt to alter it, to convert into private what was originally public property, or to make a monopoly of an uni❤ versal grant, is an act of extreme presumption and impiety. It is to assume a superiority over revelation itself.
Let us see, then, how the matter stands. Let us ascend to its original, and examine in what shape it was first communicated.
Though we are accustomed to speak of the Bible as one book, it is in truth a collection of many, composed at different periods and by different writers, as holy men of God were moved by the Holy Ghost.
To speak first of the Old Testament. The Old Testament was distributed by the Jews into three parts; the Pentateuch, the earlier and later Prophets, including some historical compositions, and the Hagiographs, or Holy Writings, con sisting chiefly of the Book of Job, the Proverbs, and the Psalms.
With respect to the Pentateuch, it is a matter of notoriety, that it was delivered with the utmost publicity, and was neither more nor less than the public and municipal law of the Jewish commonwealth, which every king, on his ascending the throne, was commanded to copy with his own hand, as the perpetual rule of his government; and every head of a family, to teach and inculcate on his children, when he sat in his house, and when he walked by the way. It was first proclaimed from the top of Mount Sinai, with ineffable splendour, in the hearing of the whole nation, prefaced with the remarkable words, "Hear, O Israel." There is surely no pretence for representing it as a deposit committed to a particular class, when an accurate acquaintance with it was requisite, in order to regulate the private as well as public life of every Israelite. Though, in process of time, its interpretation gave birth to a particular profession, whose followers are styled scribes, in the New Testament, nothing was further from their thoughts than the assumption of a right to withhold it from public perusal their employment was, partly, by an accurate transcription, to preserve the purity of the copies, and, partly to elucidate its obscurities.
that, when they were about to leave certain countries where they had been employed for a considerable time in disseminating the gospel, the inhabitants of those districts were anxious to possess a permanent record of the principal facts in which they had been instructed, that, by reading them at their leisure, they might, in the absence of their teachers, impress them on their memory. The Gospels of Mark and Luke are affirmed, by the earliest historians, to have been composed from the preaching of St. Peter and St. Paul, and not to have been pub. lished until they had received the entire approbation of those Apostles. This part of Scripture, then, supplies no pretence or apology for the practice of restricted distribution.
The Epistles next come in order; and these, as is evident from their inscriptions, were addressed to the whole assemblies of the faithful; in which, sich and poor, learned and unlearned, Jew and Gentile, were incorporated on terms of religion equality. They were also read publicly, every Lord's-day; in the devotional ex ercises of which the recitation of the Scriptures, after the manner of the an cient synagogue, occupied a conspicuous place. We find St. Paul strongly ad If we descend to the Prophets, we juring one of the societies to which he shall find them addressing their instruc-wrote, to take care that his Epistle was tions, and announcing their predictions, read to "all the holy brethren.” in the most public manner, to all descrip- There is one extraordinary book, of a tions of persons; to princes, to nobles, character totally distinct from the rest, to the populace, in crowded assemblies, which closes the canon of inspiration. in places of the most public resort. Such The book to which 1 refer, you are was the manner in which Jeremiah pro-aware, is the Revelation of St. John; a phesied :-"I am full," saith he, "of composition distinguished above all others the fury of the Lord; I am weary with by a profusion of obscure, figurative holding in; I will pour it upon the chil- diction; delineating, by a sort of hiero dren abroad, and upon the assembly of glyphics, the principal revolutions des young men together." Jer. vi. 11. When tined to befal the Christian church from strong political reasons seemed to dictate the earliest times till the consummation a different proceeding, when he was of all things. This portion of Scripture violently importuned by his sovereign to is a fertile mine of erroneous, extravagant conceal his predictions, lest he should conjecture, and supplies, by its injudicious weaken the hands of the people, and en- interpretation, more gratification to a courage their enemies, he remained in heated imagination, to a taste for the flexible, and continued to divulge the marvellous and incredible, than the whole suggestions of inspiration, with the same of the New Testament beside; insomuch, publicity as before. Yet, it is the pro- that few have been found capable of phetic part of Scripture, which is the preserving a perfect sobriety and commost obscure, and most liable to be per-posure in the midst of its stupendous verted to the purposes of popular delusion. scenery, where the curtain rises and falls Of the Hagiographs little need be said. so often, where new creations so rapidly As they consist chiefly of maxims of civil succeed each other, accompanied by prudence, sentiments of devotion, and myriads of the angelic order, and the sublime descriptions of the Deity and his sound of trumpets, and of voices, and works, it is probable none will contend thunderings, and lightnings. for their restricted circulation. is sufficiently remarkable, that this is Let us take a rapid glance at the the only book, to the perusal of which New Testament. Here, the Gospels an express benediction is attached :— will claim our first attention; and," Blessed is he that readeth, and they with respect to these, if we are to credit the earliest eoclesiastical writers, they are a mere abstract of the preaching of the respective Apostles and Evangelists whose names they bear. We are informed
that hear the words of this prophecy." Its integrity is also guarded and secured by a fearful measure denounced against such as shall presume to alter it in the minutest tittle, by adding to or taking