« PreviousContinue »
and Alexandria and Carthage :” a similar error has also misled men at various other periods, as may be seen by consulting the history of the Reformation in Scotland, the Works of Archbishop Leighton, and others. And this brings us back to another remark with which we commenced-namely, that the signs of the times is the very last point which we should select with which to discuss prophetical subjects; first, because they are signs, not to unbelievers, but to believers; and, secondly, because they have been repeatedly mistaken in former periods, from men not connecting them with scriptural chronology, and with other lines or series of prophetical events. We are liable, therefore, always to be met with the objection, "Well, let alí you say be granted; yet men as wise and as pious as yourselves have arisen in former times, and been equally positive that the end was coming in their day, and yet were deceived.” Now we think that Mr. Irving has fully proved that the characteristics enumerated by the Apostle are all in full force in these days: but if he had done no more than that, he would have advanced very little, if at all, towards his proof that these are the last days : but although the Eclectic Review has chosen to consider this work of Mr. Irving as insulated-either from design, in order to make it more easy for him to misinterpret and traduce it; or else because he is ignorant of the necessity of collateral proofs-yet it is to be remembered that Mr. Irving has brought forward these collateral proofs in other works, and has given it as his opinion, whether correctly or otherwise is not now the question, both from chronology and from the discursive prophecies, that these are “ the last days” of this dispensation: and therefore the present work is to be regarded merely as a supplement to his former works, necessary indeed to complete a perfect view of the whole subject, but in itself immaterial, or at least deriving its greatest value from its relative position to them.
In former times this passage has been brought forward, and the men of those days charged with being guilty of all the characteristics therein specified : but in almost all those epocha they who alluded to them were politicians fighting for secular ends, and who searched the Scriptures for passages to justify their own acts, and to criminate their political opponents. However those charges may have been applicable to bad men in other times, there are peculiarities which are applicable only to the present state of society. It is to be borne in mind, that the Apostle marks these characteristics as to be found, not in those who are in ignorance or unbelief of Christ, but the contrary. These characteristics are to be looked for in that body which calls itself " The religious world,” and answers to having " the form of godliness." It is on this account that these times are perilous to the true church: for it can never be perilous to Christians to see bad passions and hypocrisy in those who do not call themselves religious; but when hidden and glossed over amongst those who have the form of godliness, which form is all that is visible to man, it becomes exceedingly perilous : and it is a peril of so subtle a nature, that the children of God have need to make it a matter of very earnest prayer to have their eyes opened to discern it, or most assuredly they will be destroyed by it.-A further peculiarity is, that the religious world prophesied of by the Apostle shall withstand those who shall be acting the part of Moses. Now Moses was bringing the people out of bondage into the promised inheritance. Is the religious world in these days pointing the people to the promised land, or not? or are they not, like Jannes and Jambres, opposing to the uttermost those who would lead them there?--Are they not heaping to themselves teachers ? The answer to this last shall be furnished out of the Eclectic itself, where, amongst the new blessings which the editor declares attends the present era, he says,
w in the new churches and chapels as near an approach has been made towards recognising the principle of voluntary contribution and popular suffrage, as is compatible with the law of patronage."
Our limits will not permit, even if there were occasion to do $0, to add much to the more than sufficient proof which Mr. Irving has furnished that the characteristics given by the Apostle are those of that class of persons distinguishing themselves by the name of “the religious world.” Whatever doubts we may have been inclined to entertain formerly upon this subject would be entirely removed now, by the great wrath which the religious reviews display, and the abominable language in which that wrath is expressed, against all who do not Aatter them: and we defy the Christian and Literary editor of the Eclectic to produce, except in the fulsome dedication of some parasite to a royal or noble patron, a piece of boasting and adulation equal to the panegyric upon the religious world, by whose favour and support he gains his bread, which is contained in pp. 20—32 of his journal for January 1829. The lines of Horace addressed to Augustus, and almost burlesqued by Pope in his translation, are tame matter-of-fact prose in comparison :
Wonder of kings ! like whom to mortal eyes
None ere has risen, and none ere shall rise. One of the most extraordinary assertions brought forward by the Eclectic is as follows: “ To speak of the last days' as characteristically evil times, is in fact to contradict the whole tenor of prophecy, and that in the face of Apostolic interpretation.” Now our Lord says, that when he comes again, and we presume he will come in “ the last days,” and not in the first days, -the world will be exactly in the state in which it was in the days of Noab; that he will not " find faith on the earth,” and that few will be looking out for him ; and yet the Eclectic insists 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.” But we 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 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 pauperis.... 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 unfounded; 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 erroneus.
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 of 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 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