Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

able as if we had had no culture; for in a conflict like this, 'verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity.'

Try human words in a great sorrow, and the fruitlessness of the result, if not equally conspicuous, is equally assured. Take them with you into some valley of the shadow of death. They bring your own thoughts before you, your own doubts, your own guesses; they lament with you the poverty of human resources and the vanity of human hopes, and in language more perfect than any words of yours; but the most they can do is to afford you an agreeable distraction. They suspend sorrow for a moment, because for a moment they suspend thinking. But the tide of woe is only the stronger for being checked. You want light to relieve the perplexity of your reason; you want sympathy in which there is not only fellow-suffering, but hope based upon a wider knowledge than yours. In such moments you cannot lean upon man; to him you cannot communicate your trial; for a part of the trial itself is your utter inability to make it known to your fellow. If frailty were partial, then let the weak resort unto the strong; but in the crises of temptation and sorrow, 'all flesh is as grass,' even the goodliness of man is 'as the flower of grass': the grass withereth, the flower thereof fadeth away; but the Word of the Lord is unchangeable truth, unchangeable sympathy, unchangeable

power.

We

2. This brings us to the second quality in the Word of God which is brought out in the contrast of the text: It is always being spoken. It is, in one sense, wisdom written out and spread before the eye for study. We have the form, the outward word of truth, in these imperishable books. It may be said that God speaks in every truth that is uttered; in every scientific fact that is educed; in every approval or protest of the human conscience; and to the ear of all

intelligent observation the heavens declare the glory of God....Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.' But there is this difference between the testimony of nature, as impressed upon us by the splendid framework of creation, and the revelation of the Divine Scriptures: the first is what we ourselves collect from the power, skill, bounty and equity manifest in the works and ordinances of the universe. It is the testimony of display and exhibition; it is clear or obscure, according as the appreciating faculty of the observer may be prepared to discern it: like a fine painting, the beauties of which come forth to the cultured eye; but it has nothing in it if you bring nothing to it. But the revelation of the Bible is not a mere display of Divine perfections for admiration and study: it is a message framed for man and addressed to man; and it is presented in a thousand aspects to meet the thousand varieties of human condition. It is a system of truth in so far as history. and prophecy, parable and exposition, all concur to set forth one declaration: There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all.' But it is not presented in a systematic form; it is not constructed upon a plan, of which the whole must be mastered before

any section of it can be understood. The one truth, to which every part contributes its argument and expression, may be found in a single passage; and in every possible form. Every temperament has been consulted, every degree of intelligence provided for, every taste anticipated. Those who cannot understand the process of reasoning can find the Gospel in a narrative; those who are so illiterate as not to be able to follow the consecutive acts of a story, can be touched by an invitation of sympathy and a promise of help.

A most conclusive illustration of this fact is given by Missionaries who have taken the Bible to the rudest barbarians. They tell us that the Word of God can be made at once intelligible to the savage; and to those who meet this statement with distrust, they have a stubborn reply, in the reformation of manners and the reconstruction of society, which quickly follow the preaching of the Gospel and the diffusion of the Bible among the populations of such countries as Madagascar and Fiji. This unequalled feature of the Holy Scriptures is more clearly seen when it is remembered that they are circulated through translations, which at the best must be imperfect, but which in some cases are made in tongues that had no written character; the translator having to construct a language before he could begin his work.

But while we thank God for the written oracles to which the Churches of Christ owe their stability, and the highest literature its existence, the text suggests another quality of the everlasting Word which is even more characteristic of its divinity than its universal fitness for mankind: It is always being spoken. And here rises. before us the Living Word, the faithful and true Witness, the Word of God, 'the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.' Jesus is the spoken Word of God. He is the revelation of the Father, and expresses by His incarnation, His words, His sufferings, His death and His resurrection, the mind of God toward the race of man. The teachings that preceded Him were fragmentary, incidental; sometimes embodied in passages of History, sometimes the inspiration of song; sometimes the deposit of prophetic symbols; but their imperfect lights heralded the dawn of complete illumination; and in the fulness of time, in the place of books and scattered hints of wisdom, the Word Himself is made flesh, and

dwells among us, and we behold His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

We do not read His sayings as the lessons of a departed instructor, whose presence we miss, and whose precepts we interpret through the grammar and style of their language. Our Teacher is in our mind; and He abides there as the Living Word. He still speaks we have the manner, the voice, and the earnest sympathy, of a personal presence. A word written for you is a sign: the person who has written it is not with you; if it be a word of great moment you read it with the best helps you can get; it was written yesterday, it expressed the mind of the writer then. Is it his mind now? And if so, what is the exact import of the message? Perhaps you catch it; perhaps you miss it. But the word spoken to you is the person who speaks it. A perfect word from present lips may be said to contain the soul of the speaker. He can put his mood into his word; he can supplement the force of his meaning by acting upon the imagination of his hearer; he can assume the expression that befits the result which he wishes to produce; he can express authority, sympathy, love, anxiety, by the glance of his eye, the gesture of his hand: not to dwell upon another advantage, the opportunity of varying his address according to the behaviour of the listener, who may show doubtfulness as to the meaning of what is spoken, or irresolution, or direct misunderstanding. The Word of the Lord is being spoken, because Christ is within us speaking it. The life which He lived with the Apostles He is living with every disciple. He does not recollect His earthly years as we recollect the past. He is sensitively conscious of that strange human experience which He condescended to master by Himself becoming human. And as we travel through our life, under the disadvan

tages of an hereditary taint, a natural The loftiness of man has been hum

bias to evil, and a thousand outward incentives to error, with strength of passion, weakness of will, and a bodily condition clogging the spirit and utterly beyond control, He is within, speaking, speaking out Himself; and the word that He speaks is Himself in the condition and for the condition in which you happen to be: He weeps, He rejoices, He is sick, He is overworked, He is tempted, He is despised, forsaken, poor and forgotten, with you; and His Word follows you through all the deviations of suffering and conflict, touching every point of your life, to redeem that life from destruction, and to crown it with 'loving-kindness and tender mercies.'

But not merely is He the Word of the Lord in the hearts and in the Church of His people: He is the speech, the discourse of the Most High everywhere. Men do not hear Him; do not heed Him when they hear. But if we can escape the noisy and tumultuous present, and by the help of reflection recede into the fixed and quiet past, we find nothing standing there but the Word of the Lord.

bled, and the haughtiness of man has been bowed down, and the Lord alone has been exalted. We see nothing but the Lord, in even and sublime ascendency from age to age; and the Word which in the past smote down the pride of man, and is the sole living thing left of all that has been, is as fresh and vigorous as ever, and it will go on smiting until every proud cedar of human power and every high tower of human defence shall be laid in the dust. The fool will still affirm 'there is no God'; the wicked will continue to ask, 'How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? ' But meantime the unseen will of the Prince of the Kings of the Earth, the Wisdom and the Power of God, is quietly accomplishing His unchangeable purpose. Every plant, which My Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up; for all flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of grass: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the Word of our God shall stand for

ever.

METHODISM IN KENT.
FIRST PAPER.

It was from the soil of Kent at Gravesend that Mr. Wesley, in the outset of his long career, took ship for America. This was on the 21st of October, 1735. As the vessel was passing the treacherous Sands, the wind suddenly fell. Had the calm continued till the ebb, she and all on board might have been lost; but, by the providence of Him Who holds the winds in His grasp, a favouring gale sprang up and carried her safe into the Downs. Still within sight of the coast-line, the devoted passengers, the Wesleys and the chosen companions

of their voyage, laid that remarkable scheme of daily life which has edified myriads of admiring readers. On October 31st, they turned their backs to the coast of Kent.

Charles was the first of the two Wesleys to return from Georgia. Landing at Deal, on December 3rd, 1736, he proceeded by coach to Canterbury, and thence to Sittingbourne, where he slept, going forward. to London in the morning, and arriving there exhausted by weakness and much shaken by the heavy movement of the rumbling vehicle.* His own

*The first stage-coach that went from London to Canterbury was styled The Phenom

conversion was not long in following; and when he was converted he strengthened in like manner the faith of his friend, the Rev. Henry Piers, Vicar of Bexley, one of four Clergymen who attended the first Conference in 1744. The pulpit of the parish was thenceforth freely open to him; which when the Archbishop of Canterbury heard of, he summoned the brother Clergymen concerned before him; and, having listened to what each had to say, dismissed the Incumbent with smooth words, and the interloper with the roughest that beseemed his Grace. His mildness to the former, however, did not operate so seductively as was perhaps expected. For when, in process of time, it came to the Vicar's turn to preach in Sevenoaks before the Dean of Arches and the Clergy of the rural deanery of Shoreham, at the visitation he did not hesitate to declare plainly the new views which he entertained, supporting them in equal degrees by reference to the Holy Scriptures and to the standards of the Church. He then proceeded to enquire whether we (meaning the Clergy present) preach these doctrines, have such tempers, and lead such lives as become the high character we bear,-Ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.' The effect was startling. The Dean rose and walked out of the church; the Clergy followed in a body, leaving the

Preacher to conclude without them.* In self-defence, Mr. Piers published his discourse, offering to the very Clergy who had indecently affronted him a dedication as affectionate as it was faithful. At the same time, he interposed between this inscription and the sermon a list of books published by the Rev. Mr. John and Charles Wesley, and sold at the Foundery, Upper Moorfields.' This, which might have been mistaken for a defiance, was, in fact, no more than a candid avowal; for Mr. John Wesley had been requested to revise this obnoxious sermon, as appears from a letter to Charles-four days before its delivery-to this effect: I think of going early in the morning to Bexley, and correcting Mr. Piers's sermon.'

To his friendly critic the Preacher sent an account of the manner in which the discourse was received, too graphic to be omitted in a history of

Methodism in Kent:

'The beginning,' he said in substance, 'was heard gravely, though things I took for granted seemed novel to most. My divisions were received with shrewd looks and hems, indignant smiles, and even laughter. As the tragical scene arose-that is, as the firm doctrines of the Church were laid before them-their dislike was shown in loud whispers, changes of countenance and of posture, with other symptoms of uneasiness. Some were heard to say: "The man is mad, crazy, a fool"; till, as I come to my third head, the Ordinary can bear no longer, but beckons

enon, because, mirabile dictu! it performed the journey in one day, and reached a speed of very nearly six miles an hour'! The machine' by which Mr. John Wesley afterwards travelled is thus described on contemporary authority: The vehicle was large and roomy, capable of containing within at least six travellers of large size. It was hung in a somewhat straggling manner, upon its almost upright springs, and was elevated far above any necessary pitch. The top was furnished with round iron rails on either side, and many were the packages collected upon the space so enclosed, while a large cagelike instrument behind contained one or two travellers and a quantity of parcels. The colour of the sides was yellow; but the numerous inscriptions they bore in white characters left little of the groundwork to be seen; for the name of every place at which it stopped was there written for the information of travellers who might desire to visit any town upon the road, so that each side seemed more like a leaf out of a topographical dictionary of the county than anything else. Underneath the carriage was a large wicker-basket, or cradle, also filled with trunk-mails and various other contrivances for holding the goods and chattels of the passengers; and the appearance of the whole was as lumbering and heavy as that of a hippopotamus.'

*Mr. Sutcliffe, who 'joined a maternal great-grandson of Mr. Piers in the Dartford Society in 1817,' relates that 'the congregation stayed to the end.'

to the apparitor to open his pew-door, and to the Minister of the church, in the desk under me, to bid me stop, who, putting up his hand to the pulpit-cushion, says something so cowardly low that I cannot hear. After this, the Ordinary, or the Chancellor, desires me to dismiss the people with the Blessing; for, he said, there is enough. I take no notice, but go on with my discourse. Away he sweeps with his Clergy (except one or two who have the face to hold out to the end) and collects their procurations, while I finish my discourse to an attentive lay audience. After I had done, I went to the Chancellor's Court,-a place within sight and hearing of the pulpit,-to show them I was not ashamed of the Gospel. But having nothing to do there, I (who in the morning was honoured with his Right Worshipful coach) went on foot to my inn, attended by some twenty of my friends from Bexley. After he had ended his court, he went to his inn, and sent for me very civilly. I found him as complaisant as in the morning. He makes me a compliment of my procurations (a favour always granted to the Preacher), and tells me-he liked my discourse exceeding well, but it was too long, "and this entering upon a third head I found inconsistent with my business." "Sir," said I," you seem not to know that the sermon, together with the prayers of the Church, is the more important part of the business of the day. As to the objected length of my discourse, it is altogether a pretence; for I was but about fifty minutes in all, and you interrupted me when I had not preached above thirty-five. Sir, I must tell you, you have done what you cannot justify." I do believe he heartily wishes he had not done what he did. My dear brother, I am for ever indebted to you and dear Charles for having brought me acquainted with the Lord.'

John Wesley had returned to England in 1738, and, taking boat at four in the morning, was landed in half an hour at Deal, on Wednesday, the 1st of February. After reading prayers,' he says, 'and explaining a portion of Scripture to a large company at the inn, I left Deal, and came in the evening to Faversham. I here read prayers, and explained the Second Lesson to a few of those who were called Christians, but were indeed more savage in their behaviour than the wildest Indians I have yet met

with.' Such is his own report of the first Wesleyan preaching ever attempted within the county of Kent. On his way to London he called upon the Delamottes at Blendon, who received him so much better than he expected, that, in May, he spent two days with them, who 'now,' he remarks, 'believed our report.' The seat of this family still stands halfway betwixt Eltham and Bexley.

We next read of Mr. Wesley in Kent on the 14th of June, 1739, when he went with Mr. Whitefield to Blackheath,'

On the 27th of September, he 'went in the afternoon to a Society at Deptford.' On the 20th of February, 1740, he again visited the same people, explaining to them 'the nature of Christian faith and salvation. Many seemed to receive the word with joy. Others complained that strange things were brought to their ears. To some the doctrine sounded so new that they had not patience to hear it.

On the 20th of August, he 'offered remission of sins to a small serious congregation near Deptford.' When he had almost done, a number of people came in 'dressed in habits fit for their work,' and strove either to provoke them, or at least divert their attention; but, as no notice was taken of the interruption, they were soon weary, and went their way.

On the 22nd of September,' wanting a little time for retirement,' which it was almost impossible for him to have in London, he went to the house of his friend Piers, Vicar of Bexley, where, during the next week, he expounded, morning and evening, the Sermon on the Mount, as now published in his Sermons.*

On the 4th of February, 1741, Mr. Wesley proceeded, in the afternoon, to Deptford,' where many poor wretches were got together, utterly void of

[ocr errors]

On the 2nd of June in the following year, Mr. Wesley spoke plainly to Mr. Piers,

« ForrigeFortsæt »