« PreviousContinue »
Springs forth obedient to thy call;
Give me, my Lord, my life, my all! You will observe, it is the spirit of these passages I prize, without meaning to adopt every expression in them. That which pleases me above all, is their dwelling upon our Saviour as a source of vital influence, and not as an extrinsic ground of vague comfort.
On the whole, then, I rest on this persuasion, that, as Bishop Butler has expressed it, Christianity is “a scheme, consisting of various parts, and a mysterious economy that has been, and is still carrying on by the Messiah, who is to gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad ; and that there is a plan of things beforehand laid out, which, from the nature of it, requires various systems of means, as well as length of time, in order to the carrying on its several parts into execution.” But, with deference, I differ from Bishop Butler in this, that he supposes the scheme wholly incomprehensible. He thinks so, because he conceives the completion of the scheme to belong to a future life. But in this idea, I conceive the great and good man overlooks the whole tenor of Scripture, and departs from his own beautiful principles of analogy, inasmuch as all the schemes of Nature, from whence he derives illustration, had their obvious completion, no less than their commencement and progress, within this visible sphere; and, therefore, though it is certain that the strictly ultimate results of the
scheme must be referred to the immortal state; yet, when the means, the movements, the connexions, the whole perceptible organisation, are derived from, and attached to, this world, nay, are, many of them, such as the removal from this world must terminate and dissolve; and, as the very notion of progress implies not only a continuous operation, but a begun efficiency, good sense, and every analogy we can refer to, seem to unite in demanding that, where the organisation has long acted progressively, there it should, in due time, act perfectly; that is, should attain its own perfection, whatever that be. This, I conceive, is congruous to all we see, and to every law of Nature that we can conjecture: when, for instance, we see seed sown, we look for a harvest in that very spot; when we see an acorn planted, we conclude that, if the process of Nature goes on, there will be an oak; and, to come nearer, when we see a building begun, there we expect the roof to be put on, and we admit, no doubt, that the conclusion of the work will be of the same nature with its progress.
I think, therefore, the excellent bishop makes his appeal to ignorance much more than was necessary; and I have humbly attempted to give a rude sketch of a more satisfactory procedure.
But if my ideas be founded, as I have more than once asked, so must I again put the question, Of what inconceivable consequence is our empire ? I leave this, however, to your thoughts, and will mention only one or two facts, and then take my leave.
LETTER TO J. S. HARFORD, ESQ. ON CERTAIN
GREAT TRUTHS DWELT UPON IN THE EPISTLE
TO THE EPHESIANS.
MY DEAR MR. HARFORD,
You are very good to me, in having written a second letter, notwithstanding my apparent inattention to your first. It was, in truth, only apparent inattention. I am sometimes so coiled in a chain of thought, that I cannot quit it until I come to a natural break, unless at the expense of confusion, perhaps not to be re-adjusted. I was so occupied when your first letter reached me, otherwise I should have forthwith attended to your interesting queries. The determination has been ever since in full view; but time and thought have been employed in writing to certain friends in answer to letters on the Roman Catholic subject. You know so much of my mind, as to forgive me for yielding to this urgency. As you suppose, the determination of the House of Commons to give a friendly hearing to that great topic, has given me heartfelt pleasure. I must still feel anxiety until it be brought to a definitive issue, as every step now makes the next more critical.
For the kindness of both your letters I am unfeignedly grateful. That written in January lies on my table; and I willingly advert to the point
which you bring before me in its commencement the connexion of the 3d chapter of Ephesians with what I have maintained to be the ruling idea.
I think you, yourself, touch the truth of the case, when you suppose a close connexion, in St. Paul's mind, between the calling of the Gentiles and the grand consummation, and a deep subserviency of the former to the latter. In this light I have always viewed the Apostle's statement; and, instead of feeling the scheme disturbed by the introduction of this particular subject, I have entertained a persuasion, that we are thus made acquainted with the instrumentality chiefly relied upon by Divine foresight; and, therefore, exquisitely prepared by infinite wisdom. The calling of the Gentiles, therefore, not only, in my mind, constitutes a necessarily intervenient link, but eminently affords the most efficient machinery for accomplishing the destined object.
But it will be necessary strictly to ascertain what we are to understand by the calling of the Gentiles : I conceive it cannot mean the admission of Gentiles individually to the participation of spiritual blessings — this was an invaluable blessing, and the germ of all other blessedness. But, 1. There was in this nothing which could be called mystery: it was as plain and intelligible as any other feature in the Christian dispensation : it required some preliminary steps to reconcile Jewish feelings to the measure, but nothing to explain it. St. Peter accordingly speaks of it, in his immediately subsequent statement to the believing Jews, and in his discourse at the council of the Apostles and Elders,
in the simplest terms, as if it were a transaction of natural occurrence in the evangelic system, and within the compass of every man's understanding. 2. This expansion of Divine mercy could not have been said “ to be not made known in other ages,” as no part of the Gospel dispensation had been more largely predicted: Simeon (taught as well by the letter of prophecy as by the Spirit of God,) had called our Saviour “ A light to lighten the Gentiles ;” and our Saviour himself did not deem it necessary to preface, with long explanation, that unbounded commission," Go ye, and disciple all nations." Least of all, 3. Could St. Paul have spoken of his own part in this great arrangement as he has done in the first ten verses of the chapter referred to), had the trust reposed, or the truth communicated, been nothing more than St. Peter had already been charged with. The expressions, though not importing exclusive communication to himself, seem clearly to imply a more unexpected and peculiar designation than would correspond to a simple continuance of that service which a Fellow-Apostle had, some years before, begun to perform.
On all these, and other accounts, which I will not go on to enumerate, I think we must attach some deeper and more pregnant sense to that admission of the Gentiles into the kingdom of Christ and household of God, which the Apostle here dwells upon : and such a sense, I persuade myself, will easily be found, if the entire import of this portion of the Epistle be duly attended to.
For this purpose, we must go back to the 11th