« PreviousContinue »
but all the more delicate and difficult of manage'ment, that they related altogether to certain minuter observances of meats and ceremonies and days. It is impossible to withhold our homage from the superior and enlightened way in which the Apostle treats these questions of indifferency with the command of a master, whose own conscience had strength and enlargement enough for either alternative-but, at the same time, with the tenderness of a fellow Christian which prompted the utmost respect and forbearance for the scrupulosities of other and weaker men. He had a difficult part to act between Jews and Christians, in being all things to all men—not, it is quite palpable, for any end of selfishness, but for the sake of the furtherance of the Gospel. It is thus that he who fought so manfully for the exemptions and privileges of his Gentile converts, would not himself eat flesh while the world standeth, if it wounded the conscientious prejudices of a brother or made him to offend. In the exercise of his apostolic wisdom, he was called upon to give sentence on many of these points of lesser observation; but he always did it so as to sustain Christianity in all its characters of greatness, to vindicate and manifest it as being a religion not of points, but of principles. And accordingly, when he recommended compliance in these matters of insignificance, he did it on a clear principle—the principle of charity. And when he contended for liberty it was on a principle alike clear-even that of an enlightened piety which holds the obedience of the heart, as consisting of love to God and man, to be the alone
indispensable obedience. If one regarded a day, enough if he regarded it unto the Lord. If another regarded not the day, enough if to the Lord he did not regard it. We have long thought that there is an identity of principle between these solutions of the Apostle, and the solutions which should be given now on certain indeterminate and not very determinable questions, that exercise, and often agitate and perplex, the minds of Christians in the present day. We mean those questions which respect the precise style and circumstantials of Sabbath observation, as well as the precise degree in which the true disciples of Christianity might externally associate with the world or take part in its companies and amusements. It were well to irradiate all these topics with the light of great and unquestionable principle—that, instead of degrading Christianity into a system of petty exactions urged with senseless and intolerant dogmatism, it might sustain throughout the character of that wisdom which is justified “of its children.” Now Paul accomplished this service in his wise and right adjustment of the controversies of that period. He both accommodated the Jews to the uttermost possibility, yet rescued the Gospel from the littleness, the puerility of narrow and illiberal Judaism. When men pass from one extreme to another, they betray, in general, a like unqualified vehemence in both. But when Paul, brought up in the straitest of the sect of the Pharisees, passed from this yoke of bondage to the liberty wherewith Christ had made him free, he was not transported thereby into any unbridled or unmanageable ardour of this sort. He partitioned the matter aright between the prejudices of the old and the privileges of the new economy; and the utterance of his temperate yet decided judgments, while it bespeaks the enlargement, bespeaks also the guidance and the restraints of inspiration.
10. This reasoning might be prosecuted further. Other examples might be given in detail, of high wisdom and principle, not humanly to be expected in the state and circumstances of the Apostles and which, therefore, as bordering on the miraculous, or perhaps as fully realizing this character, might well be proposed as distinct credentials for the divinity of the New Testament. But the morality of the gospel might be viewed in another light, than merely as an exhibition on the part of its messengers-approving themselves to be singularly, and perhaps, supernaturally gifted men. It might be viewed in immediate connexion with God -or held as a demonstration, at least as a likelihood of having proceeded from Him, with whose character it is in such full and marvellous accordance. For that system of virtue which recommends itself to the consciences of men, must also recommend itself to their notions of the Godhead. The chief argument of nature, as we have already attempted to prove, for the character of the Divinity, is the character of that law which has been graven by His own hands on the tablet of our moral nature. That to which we do homage in the system of virtue, is also that to which we do homage in God as the living exemplar of it—and on the principle that Himself must be adorned by the virtues which He has taught us to admire. It is thus that we personify the ethical system into a Being; or pass from the character of the law to the character of the Lawgiver. We fully esteem and accredit God as author of the law of conscience; and should it correspond with the law of a profest revelation, more especially if it be a revelation by which the conscience itself bas been greatly enlightened and enlarged, dowerecognise the probability at leastif not the certainty of its having come from God.
11. But we can imagine more than this. We can imagine a reader of the Bible to be visited with the resistless yet legitimate conviction, amounting to a strongly felt and immediate sense that God has spoken to him there_insomuch that he feels himself to be in as direct correspondence with God uttering His own words to him, as with an earthly friend, when engaged in the perusal of a letter which he knows to be the authentic production of him from whom it professes to have come. It may be difficult to convince those who have never thus been visited by any such direct or satisfying revelation, that there is no fancy or fanatical illusion in the confidence of those who profess to have been made the subjects of it. And yet they may be helped to conceive aright of it by certain illustrations. Those Jews who heard our Saviour and testified that He spake as one having authority, had at first hand an argument for His divine mission which they could not adequately survey or explain the grounds of to another. The officers of the Sanhedrim who were sent to apprehend Jesus yet refrained from touching Him, “because," as they reported, “never man spake like this man,” had also an evidence, which, however powerfully and warrantably felt in their own minds, they could not by any statement pass entire into the minds of other men. The centurion who was present at the crucifixion of the Saviour, and who from what he heard and saw of the tone and aspect and manner of the divine sufferer, testified that surely this was the Son of God—may have received, through the vehicle of his senses, a deep and a just persuasion, which yet by no testimony of his could be borne .with full effect, and so as to give the same persuasion to those who were distant from the scene. And, in like manner, the men who were not able to resist the spirit and the wisdom wherewith Stephen spake, may have felt a great deal more than they could tell—yet not a groundless or imaginative feeling, but a rightful impression, which it would have been well if they had acted on, that he spake with the truth and authority of an inspired man. In all these cases, we admit the possibility of such tokens having been exhibited, as might give to the parties who were present a strong and intimate persuasion, not the less solid, that it was only felt by themselves and incommunicable to others. The solitary visitant of some desert and before unexplored island, has as good reason for believing in the reality of the scenes and spectacles before him, though no other eyes ever witnessed them but his own. And so too, in the person of a celestial messenger, there might, for aught we know, be such real though indescribable symptoms of the character wherewith he is invested—such undoubted