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FRIDAY THE 17TH, OF TUESDAY THE 21st, WITH THE SERMON OF
THAT DAY, AND OF TUESDAY THE 2871 OF MAY.
AN INTRODUCTORY NARRATIVE,
BY THE REV. A. MOODY STUART,
MINISTER OF ST LUKE's, EDINBURGH.
BELL & BRADFUTE, 12. BANK STREET,
ABERDEEN; AND J. NISBET & CO. LONDON.
" Your Committee would submit whether the whole of Tuesday's proceedings, which have not yet been provided for, and whatever else stands in close connection therewith, ought not to be printed and put into general circulation, to enable the Church at large fully to apprehend the views and intentions of the Assembly, and generally and intelligently to co-operate in giving them effect." - Report of Committee on the State of Religion.
Having been requested, in pursuance of this recommendation, to prepare for the press the whole proceedings of the late Assembly in reference to the State of Religion, we have to state, that for the report now published we are mainly indebted to the Witness newspaper, the greater part having been extracted from its columns; and, judging from recollection, we should say that the principal speeches have there been given with admirable accuracy, and as nearly as possible word for word as they were delivered. This remark, however, does not apply to all the proceedings of Tuesday evening, of which we have been kindly favoured with another report, somewhat fuller in several other speeches, but particularly giving at much greater length those of Mr Macfarlan and Dr Duncan. We have also received a report taken for the Witness, but not fully published in that paper; but we regret that even with these aids, and some slight additions from memory, the report of Dr Duncan's speech, than which there was none during the whole proceedings more worthy of preservation, is still brief and imperfect, while we believe, notwithstanding, that it is now sufficient to convey some idea of its general character.
In attempting to present to the readers of these published proceedings of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, regarding the State of Religion in our land and Church, a brief narrative of the manner in which those proceedings originated, our desire is not so much to give a mere detail of the outward circumstances, as to endeavour, in humble dependence on the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to trace “ the work of the Lord, and consider the operation of his band.”
The overture from the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr states, “ that in the present circumstances of the Church, there is reason to expect and desire a special and enlarged measure of Divine power to accompany the means of grace," while the overture from the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale confesses that “there is but little to be yet seen among us generally, that can well be regarded as the full issue and scope of all the great things which God has done for us." It has sometimes been assigned as an explanation of this complaint, that hitherto our Church has, of necessity, been so occupied with the “ outward things of the House of God," as to prevent her full energy being directed to things spiritual and eternal. While, however, we readily grant the necessity of such occupation, and the difficulty of maintaining a high spiri. tual state in the midst of it, we can by no means admit the soundness of the conclusion which forms the natural counterpart, and without which the explanation loses all its force,-that, but for such external hindrance, our energies would bave been wholly turned into a purely spiritual channel. Had the Assemblies of May and October 1843 been entirely freed from matters of arrangement, they would not therefore have taken the stamp of the Assembly 1844. The cares of this world do indeed choke the word, but chiefly by reason of the uncleansed heart within, and, only in a very secondary sense, on account of their external multiplicity and urgency. Let a man be relieved outwardly of all those cares,-let him even inwardly have ceased to be wrought upon by strong earthly desires of any kind,—and his heart does not therefore, by this simple relief, turn itself truly towards God. The primary evil is, “ they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters,” and the other things are, not indeed exclusively, yet principally sought to fill up the void. The previous Assemblies might have found enough both to occupy and to interest them without resorting to humiliation, confession, and repentance toward God; and apart from the cares of building our Churches, and arranging for our families, we might easily have found our hands full enough in our several charges without setting ourselves to seek, above all things, the glory of God in the salvation of the souls of our people.
The true reasoning on this subject,-applicable equally to the times precedent and subsequent to the disruption, is that which was recognised by the recent Assembly, and which is expressed in the words, “ Your iniquities have turned away these things (the former and the latter rain) and your sins have withholden good things
But while this is the cause as found in man, the question still recurs, might we not have hoped that our God, who had done so great things for us, and had enabled us to adhere to his truth, and suffer for the honour of his Son, would have vouchsafed us this further blessing at such a season, even to have “subdued our ini. quities and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea," and so have granted us “the full issue and scope” of his own mighty interpositions on our behalf. Now, there is an answer to this inquiry, very evident indeed, but, in tracing the finger of the Lord in this matter, extremely important. There can be no doubt, that had the disruption been immediately followed by an extensive and powerful work of grace, there would have been a strong tendency to regard it as the necessary, or at least the natural ef
fect of the principles maintained, and the sacrifices made by the Church. The delay has taught us this most salutary and most memorable lesson, too much lost sight of by other protesting communities, that while, without purity of Christian principle, and without self-denial in adhering to principle, we have no ground for expecting the divine blessing, these do not of themselves secure that blessing, or avail to open the windows of heaven, but that converting and sanctifying grace is the sovereign gift of God, and the work only of his Omnipotent Spirit. A blessing given in circumstances, that might naturally mislead as to its origin, might speedily and permanently have been perverted into a curse. But month after month, during the whole twelve that intervened between the two Assemblies in Edinburgh, the conviction too general, and slight, and latent at the first, was becoming more deeply imprinted on many minds, and more frequently expressed by many lips, that neither a sound creed, nor a scriptural testimony, nor a self-sacrificing spirit, nor all of them united, would of themselves draw down floods upon the dry ground to make the wil. derness blossom as the rose. The Lord has thus all the while been preparing his own way in the midst of us, and if the stumbling-blocks have been cast out, (though, alas, there are many remaining,) we may hope now to hear it said to the cities of Judah, Behold your God. If He has brought us to set our full and hearty seal to the great truth, that the “ residue of the Spirit” remains with himself, He may also, out of his abundant mercy, set the manifest seal of his own Spirit, to be known and read of all men, on the principles he hath taught us to profess, and the procedure he hath enabled us to pursue.
Having thus attempted to shew, that in the midst of our great and inexcusable guilt, the divine wisdom of the Head of the Church may nevertheless be traced in staying the wheels of his chariot, we would next endeavour, from the history of the spiritual movement now commenced, to adduce reasons for concluding that it is of the Lord and not of men. There is nothing now to be so vigilantly guarded against as suffering the present incipient impression to die away, and there is nothing that will more effectually tend to efface it than the persuasion that it is in its nature evanescent. The mind does not care to take firm hold of that which it does not expect to be du. rable; and it is therefore important to possess solid reasons for being persuaded that this counsel and work are not of men, that they should come to nought, but are of God, and cannot be averthrown. It was well remarked by one of the speakers in the Assembly, that “ he regarded that as a sure sign that prayers are to be heard, when the hearts of God's people are melted into one *;" and we are persuaded that a review of the past year will issue in the conviction that throughout the whole of it, the Lord has, by many means, been carrying on a regular process of “ melting his people's hearts into one,”_issuing at length in a general desire to humble themselves before him, and to cry earnestly for his Spirit. Had the Assembly suddenly moved in this matter on the simple suggestion of one or more of its leading members, it would not so clearly have proved a general and cordial concurrence, as the mere absence of general and decided opposition, and that which had been bastily and superficially entered into might have been speedily abandoned. But such was not the history of these proceedings. The design of circulating this account of them is, that the same spirit that pervaded the Assembly may, through divine grace, pervade the Church and the country; but it was the very prevalence of a similar spirit throughout the Church that gave the tone to the Assembly. The Assembly itself only caught the spirit that was already widely spread, and gave it public expression, and in the very act of giving it expression, took a deeper tone; and if the country shall again receive the deepened tone of the Assembly and improve it, then, by the grace of God, another General Assembly will give public expression to much deeper emotions and much stronger desires.
To illustrate one way in which it appears to us that believers have at present been brought to be of “one accord and one mind,” let us take two states, one amongst the lowest and the other amongst the highest, in which true believers are found, and inquire how these two might be brought to be of one heart in earnestly seeking salva
The Rev, Mr Macfarlan,
tion from all iniquity for themselves, and salvation from both sin and death for others. Many amongst us are content with the notion of their being believers in Christ Jesus, and very little more, - maintaining a walk consistent perhaps with their own low standard of Christian character, they live on from day to day, and froin year to year, with slight sense of want, shallow repentance, weak faith, faint desires toward God, dim perceptions of the glory of Christ, the indwelling of the Spirit barely known, and the salvation of perishing sinners a very vague and general object to their minds. Toward the other end of the scale is found a class to whom this condition would be misery, whose portion is the Lord, whose first object every day is the light of his countenance, whose fellowship is with the Father and his son Jesus Christ; but who, nevertheless, may have been living on too contented with their own experience, and too little awake to the condition of their perishing brethren. How may these two classes be brought into one deep searching of their own hearts, and one earnest desire for the outpouring of the Spirit ? One way, we say not the only one, would be this, an increase of the Spirit would effect it in the first, and the withdrawing of the Spirit would effect it in the second. These, being stripped of their comforts, would be reduced to desolation, while those being awakened from sleep would be aware of their desolation, and both would cry as parched land for living waters. Now, we should not be afraid of greatly erring if we hazarded the assertion, that since the disruption this double process has been carried on to a large extent throughout our Church,—that many of the first have been last and the last have been first, or, at least, that the last have been called up and the first have been put down, so as to meet together in one,-one sense of humiliation-one desire for God one cry for the salvation of perishing souls. It was often stated in public, that there was an increased desire for ordinancesa whetted appetite in hearing-a more discriminating relish for saving truth-in a word, a visible progress in the Church; while, in private, the statement was frequently heard, and often responded to, that many experienced and exercised Christians were com, plaining of unusual deadness in their own souls. We have no doubt that both statements were equally true, and that the ground of congratulation and the ground of complaint were both working the same end, of bringing the members of the Church to be of one heart and one mind.
Let us look at another part of the same equalizing and uniting process. In the spirit of mingled penitence and praise, the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale observes, that “ among much that is ground of thankfulness and encouragement, and some tokens of the Lord's spiritual and saving presence in certain parts of the vineyard, there is but little to be yet seen among us generally that can be well regarded as the full issue and scope of all the great things which God has done for us.”
Our remark may not perhaps apply to so recent a date as the adoption of this overture in the month of May; but taking it as descriptive of the state of the Church a few months earlier, these tokens of the Lord's spiritual and saving presence were, if we are rightly informed, chiefly visible in parishes where death and ignorance had reigned before, while places which the Lord had previously visited, and where his presence at such a time was expected, too much as matter of course, were left to complain of comparative desertion. But the one portion of the vineyard was too dead before to know that it was perishing for lack of water, and the other was too well satisfied with the streams it had been enjoying ; and now the one by being visited, and the other by being forsaken, may only have been brought into fellowship of feeling, and both awakened to one earnestness of desire. Had there been instances more numerous, and more marked, of revival in individual congregations, before there had been a general desire expressed by the Church, these might have remained exceptions in the midst of surrounding deadness. It was undoubtedly so in the former Establishment, and it was hopeless to look for it otherwise, when there were hundreds of ministers who could not be said even to make the profession of caring for the promotion of vital godliness. But in a church, all whose ministers had given proof, not indeed necessarily, of grace, but of some measure of sincerity, there could not but be hope of an extensive and general blessing. Had individual ministers obtained in their own souls and in their own flocks the full scope and end of their desires, they might have been therewith satisfied, and their further tendency have been only to