if his influence is to be extensive while he lives, or to continue after he himself is removed, he must weigh human nature in larger balances, and study human history on a wider social and historic field. In the meantime he has with him our heartiest good wishes, our liveliest affections, our friendliest co-operation and our sincerest respect.

C. W.



1. Eternal Salvation not dependent on Correctness of Belief. A

Sermon, preached at Essex-street Chapel, London, on Wednesday, May 19th, 1844, being the Nineteenth Anniversary of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association. By William Gas

kell, M.A. London. 2. A Sermon, on occasion of the second reading of the Dissenters'

Chapels Bill in the House of Commons, preached on Sunday, June 9th, 1844, at Knutsford. By Henry Green, A.M.

London. 3. Christian Liberty. A Sermon delivered in the Presbyterian

Chapel, Chester, July 28th, 1844. By the Rev. Mortimer

Maurice. London. 4. The Christianity of the Age in advance of Christian Churches.

A Discourse on the passing of the Dissenters' Chapels Act, delivered at Hull, July 21st, 1844. By Edward Higginson.

London. 5. Calumny Repelled, and the Argument Inverted. Two Dis

courses, delivered in the Unitarian Church, Stockport, on Sunday, August 25th, 1844, being the day set apart for a special thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the passing of the Dissenters' Chapels Bill. By William Smith. London.

Of the many discourses to which the progress and ultimate enactment of the Dissenters' Chapels Bill gave rise, it might have been expected that more would be published than we have yet seen announced. Perhaps, however, the very universality of the interest felt (not a single Unitarian pulpit, probably, being silent on the occasion) may have tended to deter individuals from publishing thoughts, which, they might suppose, had suggested themselves to all

. It is pleasing to the sympathies of all, however, to find their own thoughts and feelings expressed by others; and we shall therefore venture to introduce some of the reflections which seem appropriate to the occasion in our notice of the above discourses. Various degrees of enthusiasm have been manifested, we believe, notwithstanding a general similarity in the train of reflections. While some have lauded the measure in strains of poetry and eloquence as a deliverance, little less wonderful and memorable than that of the Israelites from Egypt, others have looked upon it as a mere, sober settlement of certain rights of property, whilst others again have pronounced it bungling and defective. For our own part we think a degree of enthusiasm fairly due, not merely to the measure itself, but to the manner and spirit in which it was brought forward and advocated. We think, too, that an occasional exhibition of enthusiasm is a healthy symptom, especially among the friends of religious liberty, who are apt to be deficient in warmth, much though they need it to sustain them against the less pure heat of their opponents; and the recent occasion has shown that eloquent warmth is not necessarily incompatible with impartial and disinterested justice. It seemed to us, we confess, natural and appropriate that many ministers should take advantage of the anniversary of the ever-memorable Bartholomew's Day, as the most fitting time to review the progress of religious liberty, and thankfully to contrast the trying position of their persecuted forefathers with their own newly-acknowledged and assured rights.

We have been glad to perceive, so far as we know, a total absence of anything like sectarian triumph on the late occasion. Those for whose immediate benefit the measure was passed, have universally and justly regarded it as not in the least degree a concession to their religious opinions, but simply as an act of impartial justice, for which to be thankful and of which to be worthy. A triumphant victory was, indeed, obtained, but it was the victory of justice and religious liberty over bigotry and misapprehension. The sermons at the head of these remarks are all, we think, characterised by a becoming spirit.

1. The first sermon in our list was delivered while the measure was in progress, and contains no marked reference to it, though the minds of both preacher and hearers no doubt frequently reverted to the parliamentary discussion, some points in which were closely related to the topics of the discourse. The subject is treated with elegance, with power and with singular clearness. The idea which the preacher combats is made to appear so glaringly untenable, that we ask ourselves, during the perusal, if it can really have been entertained, and only the recurrence of facts too notorious to be denied and too plain to be mistaken, convinces us that the preacher is not combatting a monster of his fancy. He draws his arguments, first, from the nature of the Christian records--their unsystematic characterthe total absence in them of any care to define the particular articles, belief in which was necessary to salvation ; secondly, from the laws which govern the human mind, showing the inevitably different conclusions at which different minds arrive, even after careful and conscientious study, and the consequent impossibility of attaching merit or demerit to the conclusions themselves. After quoting part of the humble and serious retractation of his opinions by the learned and pious Dr. Whitby in his old age, Mr. Gaskell proceeds :

“ Now can the veriest bigot to orthodoxy maintain, that for such a change of views, induced by the progress of truth-loving inquiry, this learned and laborious divine, or any one actuated by a like spirit of sincerity, could really forfeit his claim to be regarded as a Christian, or bring into jeopardy his eternal salvation ? If he can so maintain, then certainly must he be compelled, at the same time, to maintain, that the Bible alone is not a safe guide, and that from the discharge of an honourable duty-a duty in express conformity with the teachings of Scripture-a man may bring himself into a worse spiritual condition than he was before; that it might have been better for him never to have obeyed his Lord's injunction to judge for himself what was right,' but contentedly and lazily have made over the keeping of his soul to the care of others.

How, too, we may ask in this connection, would it be with one who was just on the point of arriving at a true faith, and had every desire to do so, if, before it was actually attained, he were summoned away by death to another scene? Would the advances which he had made go for nothing? Would his right-mindedness prepare him only to meet the sentence of perdition ? Take the case of the Apostles. It is the opinion now, I believe, of the most eminent orthodox writers, that till after the resurrection of our Lord, they were unacquainted with what are so generally regarded as the peculiar, saving doctrines of the Gospel. They certainly comprehended not the spiritual nature of his kingdom. Are we to believe, then, that if on the night of the last supper the spirit of one of them had quitted this worldsay of the warmhearted Peter, or of the loving and beloved John—it would have dropped from the side of heavenly purity and holiness into the black abyss of the damned ?"

In the third head of his sermon the author argues from the nature of the effects which have followed the mission of Christianity, that correctness of belief cannot be indispensable to salvation. Had it been so, its mission would altogether have failed, since the same doctrines have continually by turns been upheld as essential to salvation, and condemned as fatal heresy.

For a long period, Catholicism held almost unlimited sway; would the zealots, who now delight in pouring forth burning invectives against it, and heaping upon it charges of idolatry and blasphemy, maintain that during so many ages the goodness of God was entirely frustrated in its object--that Christianity utterly missed of its end? This they must do, so long as they continue to recognize salvation only in right-be

lieving. They will fail to see how all the while it was doing a saving work, by impressing itself through the senses on the undeveloped mind and rude heart of humanity, calling into exercise its deepest feelings of awe and veneration, shedding a softening influence over its passions and affections, and gradually preparing it for far higher revelations of the splendour of its power, and the glory of its love.

“ If time would permit, it would not be difficult to show that to the want of that unity of opinion, which on the common view could only furnish a subject for regret, might be traced, if not the continued existence of Christianity in the world, at least very much of its life and progress. And, amidst all the innumerable diversities of belief which spread themselves around us, take the sincere professors of each, and compare them together, and how little appears the difference in the great features of their characters! They all agree in loving God, in loving Christ, in loving their fellow men. They all agree in anticipating a day of judgment, when sin shall meet its fearful reckoning, and goodness find its issue in unspeakable glory. They all agree in reverencing the volume which enshrines their faith, in binding its beautiful lessons on their memories, and filling their minds with its sanctifying spirit, and opening their hearts to its cheering words of promise and its soothing accents of hope. And can it be, that amongst any of those who seem to approach so nearly to one another here, such an awful distinction as is sometimes represented is really to be made hereafter ?”

An idea is here thrown out, on which another excellent sermon might be written. The latter part of the extract reminds us of a favourite passage of ours* from the pen of Mr. Gaskell's colleague, to whom he appropriately inscribes a discourse so congenial with his spirit. Mr. Gaskell argues, fourthly, from the difficulties and uncertainties attending the interpretation of the Scriptures, amidst which, he remarks, it is almost impious to suppose that the merciful Father can have suspended an eternity of anguish on an erring choice. Notwithstanding a savage declaration which the author quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith, he expresses a sentiment with which his whole discourse makes us strongly sympathise, when he says

I cannot bring myself to suppose that there are any, who, in their inmost souls, do believe that a compassionate God can have laid myriads of his creatures under the sentence of perdition, simply because his providence had so cast their lot that it was impossible for them to gain a knowledge of the truth. If any do so believe, not for the whole world would I have my mind darkened with their conception of Him, in whose hands creation's destinies rest. Beneath its gloomy shade, every bursting feeling of gratitude, every springing emotion of love, every blessed germ of trust and hope would shrivel up, and wither away. Instead of * The One and Vital Faith of Christians : A Sermon. By J. G. Robberds, pp. 6—8.

« ForrigeFortsett »