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CONVERSATIONS ON BRITISH
The State of Religion in Great Britain before the Revival of the last Century. CHESTER, SO called on account of its having been a Roman camp, is one of the most interesting cities in our Island. It not only has its age registered in the page of history, and its earliest affairs clothed with marvellous fables, but it bears, at the present moment, more of the time-worn monument, than the traveller meets with in any other of our provincial towns. The walls, and their four principal gate-ways are complete, affording a beautiful elevated foot-path, nearly two miles in length, from which may be seen an enchanting panorama of the country: the Dee, hallowed by Druids, sweeping its course at the foot of the castle, venerable as a Roman fortification, and grand in its more modern architecture, is the stream which formerly divided England from Wales the Rood Dee, a beautiful meadow, where the image of the virgin, drifted by the tide, was found and honoured: behind, the Welsh mountains, rising like alps upon alps: to the east, a rich and diversified part of Cheshire, seen from the tower, whence Charles beheld his army defeated: within the walls, streets as if dug out of the earth, with two stories of shops on each side, furnish a
built chiefly of timber, and its upper stories projecting over the foot-path; at the beginning of the present century, a pious minister and a small class of boys held the following conversation:
'I have often,' began John, 'I have often, sir, wondered how it happened that religion should have been so little thought about in our country, eighty or one hundred years ago. I should have imagined, that the light of the reformers and martyrs would not, like a candle, have burned out; but, that it would have shone more and more brightly. Yet, from what I have read and heard, I suppose England was in a very dull and irreligious condition, before the days of Wesley and Whitfield.'
'You are too correct, John, in your views of the nation, as it respects true piety; at the same time, you are not to suppose there were no holy and spirituallyminded men in the land. You remember the story of Elijah the prophet?' 'Yes, I remember he said, I am left alone, when there were seven thousand persons who had not bowed the knee to Baal.'
'What we, my dear boys, call the Reformation, was a change of national religion, as established by law, from Popery to Protestantism; and although many individuals were doubtless converted to God by the ministry of the Reformers and their successors, yet, it is to be feared, that the
picturesque sight; and the cathe-greater part of the people were dral, St. John's, with its ruins, either popish at heart, or only and other churches and public possessed of speculative or formal buildings, give the whole city an Protestantism. We fix the mind unique appearance. In this place on such men as Cranmer and a landlady took away the commis- Latimer, and Ridley, as we gaze sion sent to the authorities in on a few stars and think all lumi. Dublin, by queen Mary, for the nous, when a large part of the purpose of opening a persecution heavens is without a single light.' of Protestants in Ireland, and by this ingenious means prevented the cruel death of many.
'I suppose,' James remarked, 'very much like what you once told us about education and learning in the days of queen Anne, that
Here, in an old fashioned house,
while, on account of a few men, of splendid minds, we call it the Augustan age, the mass of the people, even farmers, tradesmen, and gentlemen, were ignorant of the art of writing, and very many of them of reading also.'
'Yes, my boy, much the same. We must, therefore, not judge of the whole by only looking at a selection of choice parts. Alas! how many even now profess and call themselves Christians, who never surrendered their hearts to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
means of doing much good, and of increasing the number of truly pious Christians. There never has happened a more serious injury to the Protestantism and orthodoxy of the establishment, than the ejection of two thousand godly and learned ministers, on Bartholomew's day, 1662. The clergy who succeeded these holy men, with some bright exceptions, were tempted not only to join in the laughter of the court at the piety, as well as at the hypocrisy of the former age, but also to lower the tone of their preaching, and thus thousands were encouraged at once, to avow themselves selfrighteous, profligate, and infidel.'
Samuel here interrupted, by asking, 'how profiigate or infidel people could be self-righteous?'
"This is indeed,' it was answered, a contradiction, yet a common one; for almost all who talk about salvation by works, neglect to perform them; while those who hope to be saved by grace, are anxious to bring forth the fruits of righteousness.'
"The literature also of the following reigns was not calculated to promote spiritual religion; and the learned discourses given in pulpits, were often more directed against atheism and infidelity, than fitted to awaken the conscience, and lead the heart to the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. Under all these evil influences it was not to be wondered at, that, with many happy exceptions, the educated were mockers of true piety, and the bulk of the people were uniting a worldly and wicked spirit, with a few senseless forms of public worship.'
'Well, this being the case with a large number, and, as much with the rich and noble as with the poor; you will perceive how the bad would act on the good, and how many who had been carried away with the Reformation when it was fresh and full of vigour, would sink into indifference or hostility to it, when the novelty and the exciting circumstances had passed away. The policy too of the reigns after the days of Edward was, in general, unfriendly to true religion. Elizabeth was self-willed and afraid of the people becoming enlightened; and, for this reason, she rather prevented than encouraged preaching -the instrument by which it pleased God to save them that believe. King James the first was only sincere in a desire to secure the state and trappings of royalty; and was therefore more anxious to discourage non-conformity and to promote episcopacy, than to bring the nation to true religion and virtue. While the two Charleses did great mischief, the former by his arbitrary and deceitful policy and his strong leaning to Popery, and the latter by his unfaithfulness, infidelity, and profligacy. The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, whatever may have been its political faults, and notwithstanding some enthusiasm and hypocricy, was doubtless a
One of the boys enquired, 'if the dissenters had sunk, as low in religion as the church people?'
"The dissenters had their full share of real piety, and some ministers, such as Watts and Doddridge, whose names will be
ever remembered; but alas! very many of their chapels, like Matthew Henry's in this city, had lost the savour of the gospel, and sunk into Arianism. Nor was there among the few who remained faithful, enough of the bold and heart stirring activity, which marked the commencement of Methodism. God was preparing the hearts of many, especially in the higher walks of life, for the coming revival; but the general scene was either that of spiritual death, or of a holy quiet, which did not disturb the surrounding apathy and infidelity.'
It was further asked, 'whether Wales and Scotland were in the same condition?' The minister replied, 'As to Wales, it was in a sad state; less refined and cultivated, and perhaps, on that account, less infidel; the people of Wales had, nevertheless sunk into gross sins and enfeebling superstitions.'
'Pray,' said John, 'what was the Welshman's candle?' 'Oh! it was a number of ballads, written by the vicar of Llandovery, to induce young people to learn the great doctrines and duties of religion, by singing them one to another; and it did much good. I fear, however, it was a candle shining on a dark mountain, before the rise of Rowlands, Harris, and other men of God.'
Here James enquired, if Scotland had retained the fervour of John Knox?' This country was enlightened both by education and a powerful ministry; and enjoyed a form of public service and pastors, more simple than our own, and perhaps less injured by wealth. The Reformation, however, in the north was violent, and mixed up with strong political feeling; and the attempts made by several of our kings to establish episcopacy, that is, the government of the church by bishops, and the solemn oath and covenant,
and the dreadful persecutions consequent, kept alive indeed a noble patriotic feeling, but one we fear unfriendly to the meek and quiet spirit, congenial with the gospel. There has also been a strong disposition to dry speculations in the Scotch, and there is reason to fear, that before the time of the Erskines, and alas! perhaps since, there was more knowledge of the gospel in the head, than love of its precious truths in the heart. The tendency to self-righteousness and to Socinianism likewise had too clearly shown itself in some of the kirks; and, with many exceptions-more perhaps than in any other country -there was a sad want of experimental and active piety.
'As for Ireland, poor Ireland, that never was reformed as a nation; and, with a Protestant establishment, is still filled with a popish people, and with ignorance and wretchedness.'
John thanked their kind instructor, and begged he would repeat what he had said. 'Then, I suppose,' added the minister,
we may sum up the case in this way-The inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland were at first but imperfectly reformed, and even among the professed Protestants, very many were not truly converted to God; as alas! is still the fact that time and political influence greatly injured the mass of the people; and that some fresh, holy efforts are necessary to call back wanderers to the truth of the gospel, and to quicken numbers who were dead in religious forms and dry orthodoxy.'
'Oh, I have just thought of the vision of Ezekiel, the valley of dry bones,' exclaimed James. Your allusion, my dear boy, is appropriate; and we ought to be most grateful, that God was mercifully pleased to raise up such good and great men as the Wesleys and Whitfield, to
disturb the deathly slumbering of the nation, and to prophecy upon these bones, and say unto them, "O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord."'
BRIEF MEMOIR OF THE LATE MR. C. S. HALL, (Concluded from p. 56.) ONE most pleasing trait in his character was, that he set a high value on the Bible, and being naturally of a reflective turn of mind, he found great delight in meditating on its truths. So long as able, he read a portion every day, and often, when reading, would point to some verse which he admired, and from which he derived comfort; and when unable, through extreme weakness, to read himself, he wished to have this daily portion read aloud in his hearing. It was remarked to him, 'How numerous and diversified are the promises contained in the Scriptures, and how adapted are they to our varied circumstances !' 'Yes,' he said, 'I can hardly ever open them but I find a promise.' He read chiefly the New Testament and the Psalms during his illness-he was particularly fond of the latter. The devotional spirit of the Psalmist seemed so well to accord with his own feelings. His familiarity with the Sacred Writings enabled him to select and repeat many passages suited to the state of his mind. A favourite one was, 'He waits to be gracious'-another, 'They that know thy name will put their trust in thee.' On taking leave of him one night to retire to rest, he looked up with a cheerful countenance and said, Great consolation.' 'Yes,' was the reply, there is to those who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them in the gospel. You have fled for refuge to this hope.' He said, 'I do believe I have-I do believe I
have.' 'I am sure you have,' was the answer, and you may take this great consolation.' 'What blessings ! what blessings !' he exclaimed-doubtless he meant which flow from such a source. He felt much pleasure, he said, in thinking of the attributes of God-spoke of his immutability and his omnipotence. Respecting the latter, it was observed, 'God is able to support in every trial, however severe the trial may be.' He replied,
'He will sustain our weakest powers With His almighty arm.'
What a mercy it is to feel in our weakness that God is our strength.
On one occasion, with animation he repeated the following
'There shall I see His face, And never, never sin;
There from the rivers of his grace Drink endless pleasures in."
'How impossible it seems to conceive of a state where there is no sin !'
'What frequent mention is made of the holiness of God in the Bible. His people are commanded to be holy. "Be ye holy; for I am holy." Oh how much do I wish to be holy!' With deep feeling, and in an earnest manner he said, 'Pray, DO PRAY that I may be holy.' Feeling greatly exhausted he said, 'My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.' 'Not only is He your portion now,' it was remarked, but for ever.' With emphasis he repeated the words, 'FOR EVER, FOR EVER!'
'What should I do now,' he remarked, if there were not another world than this!'" In reply it was said, 'But there is a better world-a glorious immortality.' He added, and such company!' 'We derive, you know, my dear, much of our pleasure here from society.' His thoughts immediately took upward
flight, and he thus expressed forth, and for evermore.' 'Blessthem :ed Jesus! when shall I see thy face? Lord, give me patience! Pray that I may say, Not my will, but thine be done.”
A day or two after this he said, 'The Lord is graciously answering my prayers. I have prayed fervently for patience and holy resignation to his will; and I think I am growing in these. Jesus, thou art my only hope. I lie at thy cross-God be merciful to me a sinner.'
'Sometimes I am ready to ex
' Were I in heaven without my God, 'Twould be no joy to me.'
'It is the presence of God,' it was observed, that makes heaven.' 'It makes a heaven on earth,' he said. 'Yes,' was the reply, but here we walk by faith, not by sight, and this is delightful: what will it be, then, to see God!' He replied
'If such the sweetness of the streams, What must the fountain be !*
'Oh the wondrous love of God! What heights and depths are there in it! Who can conceive of it?'
On one occasion he said, I love to think of the immutability of God-Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.' Oh to be kept in a spi
ritual frame of mind! But I
send up my prayers and aspirations to heaven-my desires are heavenly,'
Perceiving that it was with great difficulty he recovered his breath after a slight exertion, Mrs. Hall turned her face aside, and wept. He saw this, and with a view to relieve her grief, elevated his voice, and with an unusual effort cried, 'I am so happy-Jesus makes me so happy.' Occasionally a doubt would arise and cast a dark shadow over his mind; but its continuance
was of short duration. The inquiry would sometimes suggest itself, as it will do in every be
liever's breast-'Am I His, or
am I not?' But it was quickly
dismissed, and set at rest by an exercise of faith in the atonement
of Christ. 'I am a great sinner,' he would say, 'but Jesus died to save sinners-to save me. "He tasted death for every man”there is something very expressive in that word tasted. Blessed be the Lord; and let his holy name be praised from this time
'Oh that the happy hour were come
But I would wait the Lord's time.'
It was remarked to him, 'You are now passing through the dark valley of the shadow of death.— Death is not the passage, it is the termination of it-and the entrance into glory." He said, shortly after, 'If this is the dark valley, it is not dark to me'You still Jesus is with me.' More and feel Jesus precious?' more so,' was his reply. "The nearer you get to heaven?" "Yes.' of his disorder became extreme, His meekness in the last stage and his cough very distressing. On recovering from its paroxysms, (which greatly exhausted him,) he made the following and similar remarks:- Amidst it all, I can
bless the Lord'-'It is his will,
my Lord suffer, and shall I re-
"There shall I bathe,' etc. Feeling his great weakness he observed, 'My head sometimes feels light-I cannot think much, but Jesus is the same. All I can do now is to throw myself into