Page images
PDF
EPUB

much soever it might be above that of others, whether Jews or Gentiles, Had that been the case, there would have been no occafion to have sent for Peter to preach Christianity. This moral character neither did, nor could procure for him, remillion of sins, justification, or eternal life. For all these he is refered to faith in Christ Jesus, who, of God, is made unto us, wildom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption-he is retered to the merits of Chrift, not to the merit of his own prayers, or alms for salvation. So far thort of Christian perfection, or Chriftian holiners, is the most exalted character among the heathen! Great as was the Jewith prophet, the fore-runner of Christ, yet we are told, the leuit in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

We may observe, that this call of Cornelius, though in part miraculous, yet was in the main, confonant to the method of God's ordinary government. The knowledge of Christian faith, was not miraculously conveyed (as it might have been) by the angel to Cornelius ; and as was, by Chrift himtelf to St. Paul, Gal. i, 12. but it was appointed in this case, that faith Thould come in the ordinary way, by hearing, by the preaching of Peter to him and his household. And it is observable, that though the Holy Ghost 'fell upon all them which heard the word, so that they spake with tongues, yet prayed they Peter to tarry certain days : undoubtedly that he might expound unto them the word of God more perfectly.

Just so we fee, I will not say miraculous, but uncommon and unaccountable circumstances bring a careless finner to the hearing of the word. It pleases the Lord (the fame Lord who appoints these circumstances) to open his heart, so that he attends to the things which are 1poken by the preacher, and from these small beginnings, a total change, with respect to life and manners, shall follow.

With respect to Paul, God was pleased to reveal His Son in him, by a miracle: he was separated from his mother's womb, and appointed to be a preacher of Christ amongst the Gentiles. His knowledge, therefore, was from the fountain head, was immediately from Christ Himself, and not from the apostles. The knowledge of the Roman Centurion, and his household, was from the mouth of Peter: nevertheless, l'eter's doctrine was witnessed by the Holy Ghost.

But the salvation of Cornelius, and his household, was by no means the whole purpose of this miraculous call. It was, indeed, a favour ; in other words, it was of God's grace, that Cornelius and bis household, thould be thus tingled out, and made the first fruits of the Gentile Church in Chrift. And this was a favour bestowed upon him, on account of his piety, and his alms : and his moral character which made him an object of favour with God, also prepared him to receive the gospel, and rendering him a fit perion to be made an instance of God's purpole, to admit the Gentiles into the covenant of grace. For the great end of the whole of this miraculous diipensation, the vision of Peter at Joppa, and the angel of God warning Cornelius to fend for that apostle, was to convince Peter and the other apotiles, that the middle wall of partition, between the Jews and Gentiles, was now broken down, and that God had to the Gentiles alju, granted repentance unto life.

Thus we fee wildom, and goodness wonderfully united, in the divine dispensations. God's mercies to individuals, have often far more extenlive, and important confequences, than their particular benefit. The ho. nour, and glory of God; the great purposes of His universal government,

and

and above all, that gracious design, the salvation of men through Chrift, are in a wonderful manner promoted, by these favours to individuals, and the objects of His favours selected with a view to these great ends.

We have no reason to doubt but there were at that time, many more pious Gentiles to be found besides Cornelius ; some perhaps in the Roman army: yet none of these were called to the Christian faith by a miracle : so also many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, yet to none of them was Elias fent, fave unto a widow of Sarepta, a city of Sidon. The councils of God are to us, in this respect, unsearchable ; and the language of scripture is, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. Favours would be converted into rights, if one man of equal moral character, that is of equal merit, could demand the same spiritual advantages, which for ends unknown to us are granted to another. It was not given to Socrates, to see the day, and know the salvation of Christ, though to many of inferior merit in the heathen world. Our Lord Himself says to His disciples, I tell you many prophets and kings have desired to see the things which ye see and have not seen them, and to hear the things which ye hear and have not heard them

The character of God, as we may gather from this History, is, that He is impartial ; not like weak men, governed by attachment to parties; not as the Jews fancied, fond of their nation, inexorable to all the world befide. When Peter says, that in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him, he neither means that such obtain pardon of fin, and eternal life, without Christ, nor are his words without any meaning at all. All such are undoubtedly objects of God's favour, but of what favour? of such, and so much favour as God in His wisdom shall see fit to bestow. . This in the particular case of Cornelius · was, as we before said, a miraculous call to the Christian faith. All we

can conclude is, that God's favour, His mercies, particularly those in Christ, are not limited to distinctions, either of nations, families, or even religious sects. · In every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him. But how accepted? Why so accepted as to be admitted, to the Christian covenant and Christian privileges, as well as the Jews. This was a matter of surprize to Peter, some of whose Jewith prejudices, Matt. xvi, 23, still remained: but now, through the heavenly vision, and the command to go with the Roman soldier, and fervants of Cornelius, nothing doubting, he is convinced that God is no respecter of persons, and that in Christ Thall all the nations of the earth, as well as the Jews, be blessed.

And now why should any pious persons, be alarmed, as if human merit was going to be set up against the merits of Christ, or morality should be Jo exalted, as to supersede Christianity? Why fear, left from the History. of Cornelius, taken literally, and plainly, any one thould be led to think, he had no need of Christ, or should expect forgiveness of fins, and eternal life, upon the score of his own merit, his alms, or even his prayers ? As well might he expect a visit by an angel from heaven. Yet such is the dread of this MONSTER merit, that they will not allow what the angel PLAINLY says, “ That the prayers, and the alms of Cornelius came up for a memorial before God." "No! “ his faith in the service and sacrifice at Jerufalem, which he exercised at the time of its offering, became spiritually this MEMORIAL, according to the Mosaic law; for Cornelius, with all the faithful, under the Mofaic law, waited for the manifestation of the Mefliah,

Vol. III, Churchm. Mag. Nov. 1802. O

and trusted in Christ to come.” All which is said, and you may see proved from the HEBREW, in the Theological Miscellany, for March, 1786.

But whatever may be gathered from the Hebrew, the Greek says no such thing. We are told Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian band, and therefore, as others of that band, probably born, and brought up, in Italy. His name shews him to have been a Roman. He was, indeed, a worshipper of the true God. And the knowledge of the true God, he might learn from the Jewith scriptures, then translated into Greek : copies of which he might meet with among the Jews of Celarea. But is it likely he should understand the prophecies or types of the law, or trust in a spiritual Messiah to come- the end of the law for righteousness, as this Calvinistical magazine writer affirms-Who is it that dreams here, to use his own words?

As little weight is there in the argument a priori, urged by Hervey, Dial. vi. p. 211. Edit. Edin. to thew “ that Cornelius, though an heathen by birth, had believed, through grace, before he had the heavenly vision; that the business of the apostle was only to confirm his faith, and administer baptism, and give him a clearer light in some points.” “ No prayers, no alms,” says Hervey, “ can go up as a memorial before God, but through Christ.” Be it fo. Can none have benefit from the facrifice of Christ, or from His interceflion, but those who have heard and believed? Was not the repentance of the Ninevites accepted, at least as to temporal punishment? I do not say, without Christ, but I do fhy', without the preaching of Christ among them, or their faith in that sacrifice. The prayer of Hannah was beard, and answered; yet it is very unlikely, that the should have faith in Christ. Faith in God, as the governor of the world, and the disposer of all events, the might have ; and this is the faith spoken of Heb. xi, 6, here quoted, and as usual, with persons who have a system to support, grossly misapplied. Indeed to suppose Cornelius either a Jew, wanting only circumcision, or a Christian, wanting only baptism, would defeat the end, for which the History is related both liere, and by Peter himself, Acts xi, and would wholly invalidate the conclusion the apostles and brethren drew from it, “ That God hath also to the GENTiles granted repentance unto life.”

Others are driven by the same fear of MERIT, into a different absurdity. The prayers and alms of Cornelius, could not, say they, be a memorial of his piety, and charity, and as such come up before God. No! that could not be. It would imply there was merit in devotion, and alms giving. No! his prayers and his alms came up for a memorial of his SINCERITY-a proof that his devotion was unfeigned.- Very well.---But how is the matter mended ? May there not be MERIT skulking under this virtue of sincerity ? May not lincerity claim a reward, as well as prayers, and alms ?

Upon the whole, we cannot but conclude, that we may safely and without danger to Christianity, admit there is such a thing as merit, and deme'rit, constituting MORAL character, and that in the light of God, as well as man. That it often has been, and may now be the ground of many religious advantages, vouchsafed to persons of all ages and countries, both in the extraordinary, and ordinary administration of God's government over this present world. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers. As to that pernicious notion of setting up merit (often wholly fi&titious)

against against demerit, and arrogantly balancing accounts with God Almighty, there is not the least in this History to countenance it. The morality of Cornelius is not of the sort commonly put off for morality, but comprehends piety towards God, as well as benevolence towards men ; not balancing the total want of one, by extraordinary pretensions to the other. Nor is Cornelius reprefented as one who, knowing the covenant of grace, rejected it in a dependance upon the covenant of works. Just the reverse. The angel purposely sent of God, warning him that Peter should tell him what he ought to do, and the baptism of Cornelius and his household, are proofs that, notwithstanding the high pretensions of heathen morality, even in its most exalted fate, there is no falvation out of Christ ; and that there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

*** The attentive reader is requested to observe, that such errors as escape our notice, in the papers sent to us from Mr. Ludlam, will be corrected by him, in the first subsequent communication of his, which may appear in any of our future Numbers.

In Mr. L.’s Essay upon Religious Conversation, printed in our Magazine for October last, PAGE 223, line 5, for Religion Conversation, read Religious Conversation. 224, third line from the bottom, for I fall take notice, read I shall take

No notice. 225, line 12, for of their conflicts, with their defeats of, read of their

conflicts with, of their defeats from.,

[ocr errors]

DR. DUNCAN's HINTS TO THE CLERGY. TO THE EDITORS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCHMAN'S MAGAZINE.

GentLEMEN, THE great fatisfaction which I, in coinmon with many of my friends,

I have received from the perusal of your useful Publication, induces me to communicate some extracts from an interesting work lately published at Bath. My wish is to diffeminate, by your means, as widely as poslible, the knowledge of a work which appears to me to be calculated to sustain the honour of our Church establishment, in a very superior degree; but which, being published in the country, has been hitherto, perhaps, but little circulated beyond the environs of Bath. The title page announces, that the profits of the publication will be given to the support of the decreasing fund of the School of Industry, in that city. The work, confisting only of 146 pages, is entitled, “ Seasonable Hints to the Younger Part of the Clergy of the Church of England. By the Rev. J. Duncan, Rector of Warmborough, Hants. Barrat, Bath."

How seasonable these Hints really are, and how properly and energetically addressed to those who have newly taken on themselves, the sacred office of Teachers of the Gospel, the following extract will, I am persuaded, abundantly evince."

SECTION III. “ Were the religion of our blessed Lord and Saviour generally displayed in its genuine purity, it must infallibly command the affectionate and devout regard of all who could behold, with an unprejudiced eye, its bene. ficent and glorious effects, upon the conduct of its faithful professors. The mockery of infidels would then be abashed by the illustrious examples it would then exhibit of consistent worth. The striking evidence of this has

O 02

defcended descended to us through eighteen centuries, with such invincible force, that the keenest adverfaries to the idea of its miraculous propagation of old, unwittingly urged it to their own confusion. Their modern mimioks, a Bolingbroke, a Voltaire, a Gibbon, with shameless disingenuity, because in defiance of the tender mercy of God, whereby the day fpring from on high hath visited us,' have alledged this exemplary conduct as sufficient to produce it, without supernatural interposition. Such was at the first establishment of the Church of Christ, ruch will ever be the providential effect of an unfeigned and uniform sanctity of manners.

.“ The corn fprings up, the roses bloom, the fruits, the animals, nay, the rational and moral faculties of man advance to maturity by the decree, the care, the foresight of a Divine Superintendant. Yet all this, it is said, falls out in the ordinary course of nature. We do not indeed, like the superficial and conceited disparagers of natural, as well as revealed, religion, consider these wonderful effects the less, as the immediate operations of a supremely intelligent Providence, on account of their constant regularity. So in the establishment of a religion adapted to regulate the conduct especially as well as the faith of its professors, it was most reasonable to expect the same course of nature, the same regularity of moral effect (become, in its turn, a secondary cause) thould be ordained most powerfully, to co-operate with the miraculous and extraordinary means decreed to take place for the same gracious purpose. Accordingly, such were the unblemished honors of the primitive Church, such the resistless beauty of holiness, confirmed by the reluctant admiration, the express acknowledge. ment of its most cruel persecutors.

“ When in aftertimes, men walking after their own ungodly lusts, had yet the impudence to call themselves Christians, though degenerated from the respectable graces of humility and purity of manners, disgraced by the despicable vices of ambition, pride, and avarice, defiled with every impure and disorderly passion, the veneration before paid to religion would naturally cease. A combination of two different causes that bear little affinity to each other, appears, at this day, to be strangely confpiring, to cart a temporary shade upon the light of the gospel, in the eyes of a superficial observer. The epidemical illusion of the numerous tribes of followers of certain pretenders to extraordinary sanctity, their unintelligible rants and increasing absurdity, are a subject of serious regret to all sound and sober thinkers. They give occasion to the most aggravated and wanton mockery, of religion itself, thus confounded with its wretched semblance. Againit this contagious frenzy, in vain would calm expostulation interpole its friendly aid. Reason and fobriety of thought, are the very foes against whom they are most exasperated, they denounce the most outrageous war. .“ Another object of more inmediate alarm to the public peace and security, is considered as equally injurious to the interefis of the Church and the religion, pure and undefiled. A violent political ferment in the minds of men, into which the critical circumstances of the times have cast these kingdoms, has given a fresh and unbounded loose to the extravagance of the blasphemous and libertine scorner. You will often, in a mixed conversation, be grieved to observe the, advantage taken by the sneering infidel, from the counterfeit coin now currently uttered by our increafing swarms of modern separatists, for the sterling doctrines of the gospel. The discordant authority of our first Protestant Reformers, is Wrested by the Antinomian Methodists, to sanction the impofition. You

wil

« PreviousContinue »