Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

and dogmatism of science. The Victoria Institute having, in the name of philosophy and science no less than of Christianity, uplifted the banner of Christian faith, a puissant host of adherents, counting not a few names of undeniable eminence in every department of cultivated thought, have gathered to that banner, and have manned the defences of our faith and swelled the garrison of the Institute.

It appears to me that there was ten years ago, and that there is still to some extent, a danger of allowing exaggerated fears to prevail in regard to the hold which Christianity, in its essential faith and in its spiritual power, maintains upon our country and upon the rising thought and energy of the nation. Not only is there no need for alarm, there is, I cannot but hope, no need for discouragement; although, on the other hand, false security would be a fatal mistake, and there is need undoubtedly for vigilance and energy, --such vigilance and energy as the Victoria Institute was created for the sake of enlisting, of organizing, of setting in array.

The position of Christianity in a country is not to be estimated according to the negative gauge of the absence of professed unbelief, but by the positive gauge of the amount of fruitful Christian energy and life among the people, by the amount of living faith as tested by Christian fruits, of faith and life actually found growing and flourishing in the nation. The opposition now, as from the beginning, is between “that which is of the Father" and " that which is of the world,” to use St. John's language ; between “the mind of the Spirit” and “the mind of the flesh” (the carnal mind), to use St. Paul's language. " That which is of the world" the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life," comprehending in this last the pride and self-sufficiency of the natural understanding—may, at the present time, include much more of professed and active unbelief than in many former ages; but it does not, therefore, follow that the fortunes and hopes of Christianity are lower now than in the ages when professed orthodoxy was too often associated with all that is evil in the world's appetites and passions. “The mind of the flesh”-the "carnal mind”-may not now, as in some former periods, find it necessary, or at least convenient, to disguise its "enmity" against the spiritual “law of God” and the nature-humbling faith of Christ; but it would surely be a mistake therefore to infer that the faith of Christ and “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus" have less power now than in those former periods : it is an old maxim that an open foe is less dangerous than a hypocritical professed friend.

Sixty or seventy years ago there was little public profession of unbelief,--indeed, the state of the law made such public profession hazardous; but society was honeycombed, nevertheless, with an infidelity not the less deadly because it was contemptuously cold, an infidelity which was to all faith or religious earnestness as a malaria, which seldon showed any respect for morals—often, on the contrary, making a boast of immorality—and which habitually employed language, whatever might be the occasion, of the grossest irreverence and profanity. Can it for a moment be supposed that there was more Christian faith in proportion, that there was really less unbelief, in this country then than now ? Let the Parliament of this land during the first twenty years of the present century, with the advantage, if it were indeed an advantage, of its being as yet unreformed, be compared with the Parliament of the last twenty years, and then let it be judged whether the power of Christianity is less to-day, or its prospects less hopeful, than sixty years ago.

Sixty years ago more anti-Christian energy in proportion among the educated classes went into vice and fashionable frivolity than now; to-day our social anti-Christ develops more energy in the direction of critical infidelity; of intellectual rebellion against the “ truth as it is in Jesus." The advance of Christianity during the last two generations is marked-may be said to be registered-by the moral superiority of the avowed unbelief of to-day to the covert infidelity of the early years of this century. Scepticism and agnosticism can of themselves as little inspire morality, can as little teach nobleness or holy love, can as little sustain beneficence and self-sacrifice, whether in right and authority as a principle, or in force and fervour as a passion, as the tide-washed sands of the seashore could bring forth the growths and fruits and flowering beauty of Eden. It is a marvellous evidence of the power and authority of Christianity, of the victory which it has wrung from its foes in the realm of morals, of its indisputable ascendency over whatever is highest and best in human nature, that anti-Christianity to-day so far does homage to the Christian faith as to assume its ethical code and to imitate its morality. The power, the inspiration, the example of Christianity liave thus availed so far as almost to create a soul under the ribs of death."

Or, to go back still half a century farther, can any one imagine that there was more in proportion of Christian faith or of Christian life in this country in the last century than there is now? We have only to refer to Bishop Berkeley's “Minute Philosopher," to look again at Bishop Butler's great

[ocr errors]

men.

work, to consider the gist and purpose of Paley's writings, in order to dissipate any such idea. It is scarcely possible to conceive of an age more heartless, less Christian, more abjectly materialized, than the eighteenth century in England. Infidelity was then vastly stronger in proportion, more fashionable, more arrogant, in what were regarded as cultivated circles, than agnosticism is to-day among educated English

It may be instructive and encouraging to mark the agencies which Providence has employed during the last century to raise up the power of true religion in this country. The successive waves of spiritual force will serve, in some general way, to register the interval between the Christianity of to-day and that of a hundred years ago. I can, of course, but indicate these agencies and their operation very briefly.

The first I name was the power of right reason applied to Divine things. The fashionable infidelity of England was reduced to absurdity by the fine philosophic irony of the accomplished Berkeley; the grave doubts on moral subjects of sincere questioners, of honest and earnest seekers after truth, were worthily dealt with by the profound intellect, equally candid and humble, of Butler; the metaphysical scepticism of Hume, prototype of the sceptical idealism, shall I call it, or nihilism ?-of Mill, was ably refuted by Dr. George Campbell in Scotland, and in England by the luminous common-sense of Paley. Thus infidel intellect was foiled at its own weapons, and Christianity remained mistress of the field of argument.

This was a great and needful success, without which the position of Christianity, at least among educated men, must have been left very insecure. But yet the labours of these masters of argument only gave Christianity a negative triumph. Speculative argument may subdue the aggressive foe, may keep him back, may beat him down; but for Christianity to gain positive triumphs other weapons are needed, not the armour and arms of intellectual defence, but of spiritual onset-the sword of the Spirit, the Tord of God, and, as the only protection against " fiery darts” of doubt and unbelief which no chain-mail of logic however complete and cunningly wrought can always avail to "quench," the shielil of a living faith. These other weapons were provided in connection with successive movements of spiritual revival which arose during the century following the rise of Methodism.

These movements may all have been traceable, more or less remotely, to the same fontal influences, but the waves broko successively in different directions. The earliest Methodism

that of the Wesleys, of Whitefield, and of the Countess "* found its field chiefly among miners, ironworkers, handloom weavers, upland agriculturists, and northern dalesmen; among certain circles of high life," in fashionable watering-places, and in some of the larger towns, especially in the west of England; it made scarcely any impression on the southern and eastern counties, and, except for the eccentric Mr. Berridge's work in Bedfordshire, took but a feeble hold of the midlands south of the Trent. But at length, in its Low Church Calvinistic form, Methodism gained a footing in Cambridge about fifty years after it had emerged from Oxford in its High-Church and Arminian form, to receive its true baptism of faith and power from Moravian Germany. Cambridge was the real source of the Low Church Evangelical

Whitefield and “the Countess”-for want of a University school of the prophets-diffused their influence, especially in the later periods of their work, rather beyond than within the pale of the Church of England ; but Charles Simeon, entering into the field at Cambridge which his erratic predecessor, Rowland Hill, had helped to prepare, gave form and direction to the Evangelical Low Church movement. In this he was greatly aided by the authority and influence of Dr. Milner, Dean of Carlisle, and Master of Queen's College, Cambridge. Anthony Milner's Church History--he was the brother of the Dean-Scott's Commentary, and even the Olney Hymns, had furnished a necessary apparatus and basis for the work of leavening the Church of England with Evangelical ideas and life which Simeon organized. Earlier still, indeed, the preaching of Romaine in London and Venn in Yorkshire had also helped to prepare the way for an Evangelical revival in the Church; but of the Evangelical movement in its permanent organization Simeon’spreaching at Cambridge and his personal intercourse with the undergraduatos maintained the central energy and impulse, whilst his unbounded liberality in the use of his private fortune for the planting throughout the country of Evangelical clergymen, and the foundation of well-guarded trusts in the interests of Evangelical orthodoxy, especially in the most influential town centres and the most frequented places of fashionable resort, enabled him to lay wide and firm the basis of Low Church Evangelical revival and extension. He died little more than forty years ago, just, indeed, as the earlier preludings of the High Church revival were beginning to produce a sensible effect, not only in Oxford, but through a widening circle. During fifty years preceding he had been doing his work at Cambridge. John Wesley, for six years before his own death, had known him, and had hailed him as an earnest fellowlabourer. His labours thus occupied the interval between John Wesley and the rise of the Oxford High Church party. The movement, of which he was the leading organizer, must be reckoned as the second wave of religious influence which, during the past hundred years, has spread widely through the land.

movement.

* So Lady Huntingdon was familiarly called throughout all “Methodist” circles in her own day.

The third great wave of Christian influence, mingling with and reinforcing the second, was that with which the name of Wilberforce is identified. Though this movement was closely connected with the Evangelical Church of England movement of which I have just spoken, it was not altogether limited or defined by it. A well-known religious book by an eminent Nonconformist divine-Dr. Doddridge's "Rise and Progress of Religion ”—the companionship of Isaac Milner on two continental tours, and, finally and above all, the study of the Greek Testament, were the visible links in the chain of causes by which William Wilberforce was brought to spiritual faith and true conversion. His conversion was no corollary of a movement, can be no boast of a section or of a school, it was of God; and his personality and personal influence were not capable of being limited to any particular school,-nor indeed to any one Church or denomination. Wilberforce was a Catholic Evangelical, and found his friends and allies anong all those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” He was, in many respects, the forerunner of Lord Shaftesbury. He was father of the modern lay Church of England, founder of the great English lay brotherhood of Christian philanthropy and home mission work. He was himself a preacher of no ordinary power. Of his “Practical View” fifty editions were sold within fifty years after its publication. He carried his Christian influence straight and full into Parliament, and there confessed Christ as a legislator. Thus was another wave of vast scope and mighty influence, another wave of Christian life and love, launched on its career of blessing. The work of which Wilberforce was during his lifetime the soul and centre has been carried forward since his death by a host of noble men and devoted women-the most distinguished of all these ministers of mercy in the influence he has been enabled to exercise having been, as I have already intimated, the honoured nobleman who now presides over this Institute, and who looks back over forty years of philanthropic and Christian enterprise.

The last movement of life in English Christianity which

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »