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ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA. 5
from man, who is the creature and property of God, was a covenant of righteousness. This covenant, by including the descendants of Adam as well as himself within its bonds, was a covenant that resembled the dealings of men with each other, for the conduct and agreements of parents affect the future condition of their offspring; it accorded with the law of nature, for Adam, being the perfect head of his descendants then in his loins, was their natural representative ; and it was agreeable also to the dealings of God in other covenant engagements, (see Deut. xxix. 10-15). This covenant, through the transgression of Adam, is à broken covenant; and he having plunged himself, by his disobedience, into a state of death, we as his descendants inheritit and are born spiritually and morally as well as judicially dead; and in this state we must have perished, had not God “remembered us in our low estate, because His mercy endureth for ever.” From this view of the primeval state of man, we must rise with feelings of reverence and love towards God, who so blessed and provided for our happiness in His dealings with Adam. Matlock, Bath.
ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF
THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
ON THE GENTILE World. That in the reign of Augustus Cæsar, there was born in Bethlehem (an obscure place in Judea) a notable, glorious, and Divine Personage, who bears the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered death by crucifixion under the reign of his successor Tiberius Cæsar, is a fact, better attested than the undisputed existence of Cyrus and Alexander, or of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle ; for while the Lycæum and the Academy are no more, while Babylon, Persepolis and Ecbatana are fallen, while the Macedonian empire is not, and while the memorials of Alexander's prowess in Asia Minor and in India are few in number, and decreasing with the progress of time, the Christian religion exists, and the institutions founded by our Lord exist, and not only exist, but extend their influence, and increase the sphere of their dominion perpetually. They have changed the face of Europe, and they are transforming the face of the globe. The existence and wide-spreading influence of Christianity proves the existence of its Founder, which is further supported and authenticated by the writings of the Romans. Suetonius not only mentions the Redeemer by name, but adds that Claudius expelled all His adherents from Rome. Tacitus records the rapid progress the Christian religion had made in his day, the cruel death of its Founder, and tells us He flourished under the reign of Tiberius. And Pliny, who has been called “ excellent," in one of his letters to the emperor Trajan presents us with a picture of the innocence and harmlessness of primitive Christianity. Speaking of Christians, he says . It was their custom to meet before light on a stated day and mutually to recite a hymn to Christ as a God, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purpose of anything wicked, but on the contrary, never to be guilty of any fraud, of any theft, or of any debauchery, never to falsify their word, never to deny a trust when they were called upon to deliver it up, &c.” The opposition of Celsus, Porphyry and Julian, proves in union with all that is above stated, the birth, life and death, of our Redeemer, and the early establishment of Christianity.
We, as Christians, believe the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (which is so well authenticated) as the most important event, that has transpired since our first parents were expelled the garden of Eden, and that it has been productive of invaluable blessings, and conferred on the human race inestimable benefits of a civil, a moral and religious character. No period indeed can be selected from the annals of the world so interesting to the Christian historian, or so fraught with useful information, as that in which our Lord made His advent. By contrasting the state of things then existing, when philosophy and eloquence had done their utmost, and left the people in darkness, both dense, cold, and cheerless, with the change that has transpired since the publication of the Gospel, we are enabled to form a better estimate of “ the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
When He came, the light of tradition was nearly extinguished, vice and doubt were universally prevalent. Men were involved in the murky darkness of ignorance, der lusion and sin; but He rose, the “ Sun of righteousness," and by the splendour of His rays dispelled this horrid gloom, whilst He animated, warmed, and cheered the sons of men. At this period, the Roman empire had attained its loftiest height, and shone with resplendent lustre. Externally it was a very magnificent spectacle, extending from the river Euphrates on the east to the Atlantic Ocean on the west, and from beyond the Rhine and the Danube in the north to the deserts of Arabia in the south of the empire; measuring in length more than three thousand miles, and in breadth more than two thousand, comprising within its territories more than sixteen hundred thousand square miles, enclosing all the civilized, and almost all the then known world within its limits, and occupying the most desirable portion of the temperate zone. It produced the necessaries and luxuries of life ; it was an empire of kingdoms : for, like a flood, its power had flowed over the dominions of the Chaldean, Medo-Persian and the Grecian empires, while they, with all their dependencies, sunk beneath its powerful influence.
But its internal state was not so felicitous as to correspond with its external grandeur. The majesty of the Roman people was decreasing. They and their venerable senate, although they had not lost entirely the shadow of liberty, were nevertheless divested of freedom, and reduced to a state of servile submission to Octavius Cæsar, who, after the battle of Actium, which sealed the doom of the Commonwealth, was master of the Roman empire. He, by craft, treachery and cruelty, attained the sovereignty of the empire, and united in his own person all the great offices of state, civil and religious. He was emperor, and, at the same time, the tribune of the people; at once the sovereign pontiff, and the pro-consul. The majesty of the Roman people was the majesty of Octavius, then surnamed Augustus, who, having established himself upon the ruins of his rivals, beheld the world, from the British Isles to the Euphrates, in subjection to his government; the conquered kings, whom he continued in their dominions, borrowing all their authority from his clemency.
The political system of Rome, and at this time of the world, with the exception of the Northern tribes beyond the bounds of the empire, which were destined to establish new forms of government upon its ruins, would be of a two-fold character. The emperor or empire would adopt such a mode of procedure, as should tend to maintain the dominion of Rome over the nations subjugated to her rule, and to subdue the spirits of the conquered, in order to prevent their rising simultaneously in behalf of their liberty. Cruelty and injustice, therefore, under the controul of an ambitious and domineering spirit, would characterize their dealings with the conquered. This is substantiated by facts. The population of the Roman empire at this time, is computed to be 120 millions; of these some were citizens, who enjoyed ample liberty and were entitled to peculiar immunities, and some were provincials, who possessed nothing more than a shadow of liberty, and had no constitutional freedom; but the rest, at least sixty millions, were in a state of the most abject slavery, of whom the greater part, through the fortune of war, were deprived of all the rights of society and all the comforts of life. These were reduced to a state of dependence on the caprice of cruel and tyrannical masters, whose object was to weaken and enthral them. They were unprotected by the laws, and amenable to the severest that could be enacted against them; they were liable to torture, maiming, or death, at the pleasure of their owners. This discloses at once a policy cruel in its nature and regardless of the laws of God as well as the rights of man, and is fully proved by the general current of Roman history, as well as by the treatment of the Jewish nation at the destruction of their city and temple.
We pass by the cupidity and injustice of the Roman governors in the distant provinces, together with the rapacity displayed by the publicans who farmed or ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
collected the taxes, with all the grievances, complaints and tumults they occasioned; we pass also by the cruel, intriguing, and deceitful character of the conduct which was exhibited by the conquered, who were allowed to rule under Roman tolerance in their own dominions; and hasten from politics to literature and the arts, as then flourishing in the empire. It may be well to observe, that our remarks in this, as in the former part of our review, are almost exclusively confined to the Roman empire, and bear but little upon either the nations on the south and east of the empire, which were generally the slaves of despotic tyranny, or the nations on the north, who were “bloody zealots for what they called liberty,” although enslaved by their respective chiefs.
The Arabs do not appear to have possessed at this time any claim to learning or literature, save to a few, rude and pitiful specimens of pastoral poetry. The Arabs at this period were far inferior to the Arabs of the sixth and seventh centu. ries. Admitting there are some notices of learned men existing in the districts which bounded the dominions of Augustus, we find polite learning, eloquence and art principally in the Roman empire. The Augustan Age was the most learned and polite that Rome ever beheld. The love of the arts, the sciences, and of literature was great, and widely spread. In Greece, 'now a Roman province, there were a number of men distinguished for their learning, acuteness, and eloquence ; philosophers of all classes, who disseminated the tenets of Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, and Epicurus; rhetoricians also and instructors of youth. In short, Greece may bé regarded as the university of the empire. Nor were the Gauls and neighbouring nations destitute of men of both learning and genius; for the celebrated poets, historians, and philosophers, who then flourished, had diffused an ambition and excited a taste for mental improvement throughout the vast regions of that extensive empire. They vied with each other, and strove individually to obtain the glory of producing the most perfect piece of composition, of carrying philosophy and oratory to the greatest extent, and of cultivating the powers of the human mind with the greatest success. Architecture, painting, sculpture, and music, were successfully pursued. The two former attained to the highest excellence; but the two last would, in all probability, could a fair comparison be made, yield the palm of victory to the attainments of modern times. But while this age is justly celebrated as the most learned and polite that Rome ever saw, it is worthy of remembrance, that, in whatever lustre Aristotle might shine in the darkness of heathenism and of monkish superstition, he is fully eclipsed and deprived of his glory in the superior brilliance of our own Bacon; and that since his age, the discoveries of modern science impart to ancient physics a character of insignificance and comparative inutility. Rome also, learned as she might be, powerful in arts and arms as she was, can never lay claim to originality. She received from Greece the knowledge she possessed, and reflected her glory. To be close imitators of the Grecian writers, was the utmost ambition of her sons. Horace enjoined the poets to study the Grecian models night and day, and never was a system of imitation carried to greater extent. Doubtless there was, in some instances, a little improvement on the models they admired, and possibly in a few they came short of the perfection of transcription. It is, however, clear, that the Gospel has the honour of being introduced in a learned, polished, and inquisitive age, an age capable of discovering and rejecting imposture; and yet it conquered the superstitions of its day, and outlived all persecution, when it was not supported, but on the contrary opposed by the power of the state.---(To be continued.)
GLEANINGS. “Christ's ministers must be careful, while they display God's wrath, to conceal their own, and be jealous over themselves, lest sinful anger shelter itself under the cloak of zeal against sin.”—M. Henry.
"Much of the ability to do good lies in the disposition to do it. The very breathing of a benevolent heart is a species of doing good.”-Hervey.
" If the heart be cold in prayer, pray until it grows warm. To forsake the closet because you are not in a good frame, is to go away from the fire because you are cold."-Hervey.
In the last number of “The Evangelical Register," * I gave a sketch of Dr. Chalmers (whose thoughts have so often enriched its pages) as a Professor in the University of Edinburgh. I now propose to consider him in a different capacity, as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This assembly is the highest court in that church; the inferior courts being Synods, Presbyteries, and Kirk-Sessions. Before it any ecclesiastical matter may be brought, by appeal or reference from the courts below; and new subjects may be introduced to it by motion. It is held annually in Edinburgh, in the month of May. At this meeting, which lasts ten days, a commissioner is present, as the representative of Majesty. He sits in state, under a gorgeous canopy of crimson and gold, dressed in a military uniform, and attended by pages, footmen, and a “gentleman in waiting;" altogether making a show” not quite consistent with the simplicity of the Scottish Church. The commissioner opens and closes the annual meeting with a speech, but takes no part in the deliberations, and generally consumes the tedious hours by reading a newspaper. He has a levee every morning, and a public dinner every evening; and his goings to and fro are attended with a good deal of processional pomp.
It was in the year 1832, that Dr. Chalmers was chosen Moderator; and having been an eye and ear witness of the proceedings of the General Assembly in that year, I intend to offer such a sketch, as may prove interesting to readers at a distance from the Scottish metropolis. The business before it was not so important, nor were its daily sittings so protracted, as during the previous year's meeting; when, in the celebrated case of Mr. Campbell, of Row, the members sat from eleven o'clock in the forenoon, till past five on the following morning.
The first step taken by the General Assembly at its yearly meeting, is to attend Divine service at the high church ; for religious services hallow all the meetings of the Scottish ecclesiastical courts. The service is always preached by the Moderator who is just going out of office. That which was preached by Dr. Chalmers, when it came to his turn, will be found in the seventh volume of his Works, page 320; and also in "The Pulpit,” No. 556, volume xxii. page 56, June 13, 1833. The commissioner proceeds to church through an avenue of soldiers, who line the streets; and he sits in a large covered pew in the front of the gallery at the end of the church, and opposite the pulpit. A singular ceremonial is, that when the minister enters the pulpit, he and the commissioner bow to each other. On the two Sabbaths which occur during the sittings of the Assembly, the commissioner also attends church. I was present on one of these occasions, and was surprised to find two sermons included in one service. This, I understood, was the custom.
After the conclusion of Divine service, the Assembly met in the Tron Church. Lord Bethaven was the royal commissioner, as he has been for several years. Dr. Chalmers was then chosen Moderator ; a tribute to his unrivalled talents, which ought to have been rendered to him many years before. Coupling this delay with the fact that the late Dr. Andrew Thomson,t whose services in all the church courts were pre-eminent, was never placed in the Moderator's chair, or even appointed to preach before the commissioner, the contrast presented by the many of inferior note, or of no note at all, on whom those distinctions have been conferred, cannot but excite our surprise.
In reply to the Lord High Commissioner's speech, Dr. Chalmers spoke to the following effect:" His Majesty's gracious letter to the General Assembly of the National Church, yields us the most sincere joy, both on account of the distinguished honour which his Majesty has again conferred on the religious establishments of this part of the kingdom, and for the renewed pledge of the continuance of his favour and protection towards that Institution, which we deem, above all others, best fitted to uphold the Christian religion. We feel grateful for the gracious and condescending notice, which his Majesty has been pleased to take of our zeal in the service of religion. Our appropriate return will be, to continue
+ See « The Evangelical Register" for December, 1839 ; No. 122, volume xi., page 455. + The Funeral Serion for this distinguished minister, by Dr. Chalmers, will be found in the eleventh volume of the latter's Works, page 193. An ontline of it was given in “ The Pulpit,” No. 427, VOlume xvi. page 209, March 3, 1831. See also “ The Evangelical Register" for October, 1839; No. 120, volume xi. page 387.
that zeal in the service of our church, in turning many sons and daughters to righteousness, and in endeavouring to rear up the population in faith and obedience to Christ. The royal donation* is the more precious in our view, as it is an additional recognition of the principle of a National Establishment. Your Grace will be pleased to tender to his Majesty our grateful acknowledgments, both in our name and in the name of the many thousands who will be benefited by it, and who were otherwise placed beyond the reach of the church's parochial establishment. That his Majesty has again been pleased to make choice of your Grace as his representative in the General Assembly, is most satisfactory to us all; knowing, as we do, the kind and indulgent manner in which you acted towards us during the sittings of the last Assembly. It will be our constant endeavour to maintain that temper and moderation in our discussions, which shall best enable your Grace to make a favourable report of our proceedings to his Majesty."
The business transacted was of no great public interest for the first three or four days; but a case of heresy, affecting Mr. Dow, was brought up for decision. This was probably the gentleman referred to by the Rev. Edward Irving,+ during his trial before the London Presbytery. Mr. Dow had some scruples, it seems, with respect to the Confession of Faith, and considered his having signed that Confession as a sinful act; and the anomaly is, that he could wish to remain longer in communion with those, who had committed and who adhered to an act, which he regarded as sinful. His scruples might be conscientious, and perhaps laudable; but it is plain that no man can be properly a member of any society, the rules of which he disclaims. The reverend gentleman in question wished to be retained as a minister of the Church of Scotland, and yet released from obedience to its standards; a proposal strongly marked by inconsistency. After several hours' deliberation, and hearing Mr. Dow interruptedly in his defence, the Assembly determined on deposing him; and, after prayer by Dr. Muir, of Glasgow, Dr. Chalmers pronounced the sentence as follows :-"It is with great pain, and in the discharge of my incumbent, but most distressing duty, that I (as Moderator of the Assembly) do hereby, in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, depose you, Mr. William Dow, from the office of the holy ministry, prohibiting and discharging you from exercising the same, or any part thereof, under pain of the highest censure of the church.”
The next day was devoted to the discussion of patronage, that sorest blot on the Scottish Establishment. It was in reference to this subject, that on the previous Sabbath the celebrated Dr. M‘Crief prayed, with great propriety, that the Assembly might “ be guided in its deliberations, especially in matters involving the liberties of the Christian people.” The proposal to give the congregation a veto in the appointment of their minister, was rejected at that time; but it has since been passed into a law, and has unfortunately brought the civil and ecclesiastical courts into collision. One of the opponents of this measure observed, that by it the people might reject the ministers presented to them, one after the other, till they got one who was agreeable, not to the patron, but to themselves. Surely such a result would be highly desirable. It is far more important, that the minister should he agreeable to those who are to sit under him, than to the patron, who may perhaps reside at a distance. Well might Dr. Chalmers say, he was “ hopeless of any demonstration, however irresistible, having any effect on ecclesiastical bodies. I am not nearly so sanguine as I was wont to be, that these bodies will sąve themselves from ruin by a timely correction of those abuses, which if not remedied will effect their destruction.”|| Such defenders as the one I have alluded to, while considering themselves the warmest friends of the church, are in reality
* An annual donation of two thousand pounds for propagating religious education in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Dr. Chalmers's tribute to the memory of the Rev. Edward Irving, will be found in “ The Evangelical Register" for October, 1839; No 120, volume xi. page 385.
I Extracts from Dr. M'Crie's Sermons, previously in published, will be found in “ The Evangelical Register" for October and November, 1838 ; volume X., pages 445 and 490.
See “ The Palpit;" No. 489, voluwe xix. page 144 ; March 29, 1832, VOL XII.