Page images

it was in the days of Noah; that he will not “ find faith on the earth," and that few will be looking out for him; and yet the Eclectic irsists that the last days are not to be evil. Our readers cannot, therefore, fail to remark, that the question at issue between Mr. Irving and the religious world is divided into two parts: First, Are the times in which our Lord makes his second appearance described in the Scriptures as good or evil ? Secondly, Are the present times good or evil? Mr. Irving has assumed as an undoubted fact, and a fact which we believe was never called in question before, from the days of Enoch down to this hour—and which being now called in question for the first time is a very extraordinary sign of the present times—that the days in which the second advent of our Lord takes place were to be days in which evil would predominate over good. We are so astounded at the hardihood of this bold denial, without one particle of authority brought forward to support it, either from the Scriptures or from human writers, that we know not what course at present to pursue; and we shall therefore content ourselves with calling the attention of the Christian world to the fact, that the Review which says it is the only one that combines Christianity with Literature, and which is supported entirely by holding opinions in unison with those of the religious world, promulgates that the days in which the Lord comes with his saints to take vengeance on the ungodly are described in the Scriptures as those in which, in comparison with other days, there will be very few ungodly on whom to take vengeance! And we confess, that had Mr. Irving occupied any time in proving that the last days were declared to be evil, we should have thought he was proving a truism, which no one would have had sufficient folly to deny. But we shall be more cautious in future, and take care how we give these self-complacentinstructors of the religious world credit for faith in one single syllable of God's declarations.

The Eclectic says, that " with regard to the state of the Dissenting churches, the doctrines of the New Testament were never, perhaps, preached with stricter orthodoxy than by the present generation of ministers." We are at a loss to understand why the term “ doctrines of the New Testament” is made use of, unless the Editor means to insinuate that the doctrines of the New Testament differ from those in the Old, or that the present generation of ministers know little or nothing of the Old Testament: with which latter opinion we should be inclined to coincide, after what he has said respecting the characteristics of the last days from “the whole tenor of prophecy.” join issue with him at once upon the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesia, and deny, broadly and unequivocally, that the doctrine of justification by faith is freely preached in that body of which the Eclectic is the organ; and moreover, that that body, and

But we

the Eclectic itself, revile all who do preach it freely, under the never-failing pretext of Antinomianism : as he has done in this very review, upon the old quibble about the Law being a rule of life; in which he censures the very words of Luther, from his Commentary on the Galatians, which Mr. Irving has transcribed, as Antinomian.—We might go on to enumerate many more doctrines, but that we do not like to bring forward charges without at the same time producing our proofs; and we will therefore confine ourselves to one, which is, the covetousness of the religious world; and our proof of this shall be the Eclectic Review. " There has been much in the character of the times very adverse to the prosperity of Dissenting societies. The defection of the more wealthy of the old Dissenting families, which has been going forward continually, has very greatly diminished the funds for the support of their institutions. The depression of the yeomanry, and of the middling classes of society in general, who have always furnished the bulk of Dissenters, has operated still more unfavourably. Further; although their congregations have always included a large portion of the decent and pious poor, the spirit of Dissenting institutions is incapable of coalescing with pauperism..... Still, notwithstanding the powerful competition of the Evangelical clergy, the distresses of the commercial world, and the obstacles to success created by pauperism, the Dissenters have, as a religious body, maintained both their number and their respectability,” &c. Here religion and money are considered as convertible terms; pauperism, and her decline; wealth, and her advance. The preaching of the Gospel by the Evangelical clergy is stated, not as a co-operation in the same blessed work, but as the competition of a rival shop. We think this proof of the covetous spirit of the present religious world, out of the mouth of so unwilling a witness, will go far to gain a favourable reading for this work, which it might not have otherwise received in Dissenting quarters.

The invariable criterion of a converted heart, is the taking of every accusation of evil to itself; seeing and acknowledging it to be there; praying God to wash it out in the blood of his Son; and endeavouring to eradicate it. The invariable criterion of an unconverted, self-righteous, and pharisaic heart, is the repelling of every accusation of evil from itself as founded ; charging that evil upon other individuals, may be of other times; but at all events thanking God that itself is not as other men are. When our Lord spoke of treachery to himself amongst his followers, they who were true-hearted said, “Lord, is it I?This test is not one of our invention, but to be found in every work that ever was published for the purpose of leading either individuals or communities to an examination and right estimate of themselves. Moreover, these works teach


us, and most correctly, that just in proportion as we are offended at the minuteness and closeness of the charge, so is it evident that we ourselves are the characters for whom the warning and rebuke are most especially needed. If, therefore, we had previously any doubt that Mr. Irving had made good his position of finding the characteristics of the last days and perilous times in the modern religious world, the violent passion into which it has put itself-more like that of spoiled children on losing their toys, than men of sense and dignity and right feelingswould alone be sufficient to prove to us that the author's estimate was very far from being erroneous.

The signs of the times are to unfulfilled prophecy what practical holiness is to the doctrines of the Gospel. The world cares little about our theological tenets, until it perceives by our conduct that they have an effect upon

the course

of our life. The religious world would have allowed us to hold in peace the opinions upon future events which Toplady, Gill, and thousands of others, have held before us, if we had not brought them to bear practically upon the things in which they were priding themselves, and of which they were so vain. The contradictions in the Eclectic Review are of such a nature that the editor can always quote one part of his opinion in defence of any other that is found fault with : for example, he says, “ He is not blind, nor can be charged with being over-indulgent, to the prevailing faults of the religious world ; that in this age general profession the spirit of godliness is far from being coextensive with its form; that formalism, and pharisaism, and secularity abound among those who hold an evangelical creed. The state of society is appalling; while that of our religious communities is far from satisfactory: in some directions there is a stagnation of moral influence; in others, the marks of declension are visible. A frightful mass of popular ignorance had been accumulating, which, combining with spreading infidelity, was fraught with the elements of political danger: the whole posture of society had become changed; the eventual result of which has been a frightful and alarming increase of pauperism, and of recklessness, ignorance, and crime. All the relations of society have been affected : the relations between master and servant, yeoman and peasant, landlord and tenant, parent and child, rich and poor, pastor and flock, have all been relaxed; and, extraordinary as have been the exertions made to instruct and reform and Christianize the lower classes, they can scarcely be regarded as adequate to the exigencies of the occasion. We should have supposed, therefore, that he would have agreed with all the details, as he appears to do in the general, of what is brought forward by Mr. Irving; but here again the analogy



of the reception of the Gospel by the world must help us to solve this enigma ; and we know that there are thousands of persons who will acknowledge themselves sinners in general, who will, nevertheless, stoutly defend every action of their lives in detail, Thus, in a few pages afterwards, the consistent censurer of Mr. Irving says, there is “ a large increase of Evangelical preachers and pastors in the Established Church—the doctrines of the New Testament were never preached with stricter orthodoxy than by the present generation of Dissenting ministersnew chapels are building in all directions_scriptural knowledge and piety have very considerably increased—evangelical sentiments never prevailed to a greater extent—there has taken place a great abatement of sectarian animosities--more visible union, more actual co-operation, between Christians of different communions, than this country has ever exbibited—a real increase of Christian charity-religious liberty has gained a signal triumph—the sufficiency and exclusive authority of the Scripture is now almost universally admitted amongst us—the principle has been re-discovered, the moral lever which can move the world, and the base found on which to place it. In the unexampled spread of evangelical truth, the increase of Christian unity, the extension of religious liberty, the extraordinary awakening of a spirit of generous zeal and liberality, and the diffusion and triumph of liberal and scriptural opinions, we have most unequivocal signs of an improved and of an improving condition of society at home.”

It is really very difficult to ascertain what opinion is meant to be expressed by these two opposite statements; whether, in short, we are to believe that the world is become better, or worse? Our own opinion is, that the form of godliness has increased, and that the power has diminished : that there is a very considerably larger number of professors of an orthodox creed ; and that the outward decencies of civilized society are better preserved ; that there is a larger quantity of idle, selfish good-nature, that wishes well to every body, but which will not give itself much personal trouble to promote it: whilst, at the same time, there is less stern, unbending, conscientious principle, both in the world and in the church, than at any former period of the history of man. We think that the great delusion of the day is unsanctified benevolence; and we are the more earnest in contending against it, because we were deeply ensnared in it ourselves. We can therefore sympathize with those who are in it now. And although the error perceived in the system excited a latent suspicion that all was not right, it was only by that attentive study of the Scriptures, which the unfulfilled parts of them have excited, that we were enabled fully to appreciate the cha

[ocr errors]

racter of the times in which we live as depicted by the inspired penmen, and so little like the portrait which is drawn of them by the hand of man.

The case between Mr. Irving and his opponents may be briefly summed up as follows :-He maintains, that last days mean last days; not only with reference to all days, but especially with reference to latter days, inasmuch as last comes after latter ;—That in these present days he perceives, in that party which calls itself, by way of distinction, the religious world, all the characteristics foretold by the Apostle to Timothy as about to be found in the last days in those who should have a form of godliness ;–That the religious world does withstand all who would lead the people out of the bondage of the spirit into the freedom of the Gospel, or out of the bondage of the body into the reign of Christ; calling them, for doing the first, Antinomians; and heaping upon them, for the latter, all manner of abuse ;—That the peril of the days consists in these characters being found, not in the openly profane, but amongst the greatest professors in the church.

The opponents maintain, That last days mean first days, because Timothy is required to oppose the evils, pointed out by the Apostle, which he could not have done if they were not to arise for 1800 years afterwards ;—That last days mean any period during the whole Christian dispensation ;-That the whole tenor of prophecy describes the last days to be good, in reference to all former days; and therefore the evil days, described by the Apostle, cannot be these days; That, so far from any of the characteristics described by the Apostle being to be found in the religious world now, not one is to be found there ; for that there never was so much scriptural knowledge, orthodox preaching, active missionaries, large subscriptions, &c. &c.; and no former days were ever so good as these days.

The opponents, therefore, wrap themselves up in that which Hannah More so happily calls “a geographical security;" and since they suppose these things were apparent in the time of Timothy, they cannot belong to themselves now. The Religious Magazines have no objection to lay those charges on men of former days, but only insist that they are not applicable to us

This is the mode by which the Papists get rid of the other apostasy, of which the Apostle prophesied in the preceding Epistle: they say, the charges do not belong to holy mother church, but to the wicked Encratitæ and Tatians and Manichæans of the first ages; and write a great deal of quibbling to shew the difference between themselves and these old heretics. The Reviewers bring forward Calvin, to prove that last days mean the whole Christian dispensation; which, though the expression does so mean in soine places, Calvin is wrong in giving so


[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »