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Art. V.-SERMONS ON PRACTICAL SUBJECTS. By
the late L. CARPENTER, LL.D. 8vo. pp. 502. London: Mardon and Green.
This volume, we doubt not, will be received by that portion of the public to whom it is more particularly addressed, with an interest arising from their just appreciation not only of its own merits, but of the distinguished character of its lamented author. Volumes of sermons, especially posthumous sermons, derive in fact their chief prospect of a favourable reception from the respect and attachment which many of their readers may be expected to feel for the preacher, with whom they may have been personally connected, or whom they have esteemed for the active and useful character which he has sustained through life. It would be unreasonable to seek in such publications for much new or original matter; selected, as they most commonly are, without any very distinct or definite principle of choice, from the author's weekly preparations for the stated duties of the pulpit. They have been composed in general without the most distant view to publication ; probably in haste, and too often in hurried and inadequate intervals, which would have been more naturally devoted to repose and relaxation from other laborious and absorbing employments. They have rarely if ever received the author's final corrections; and if composed as they ought to be, with an immediate view to their effect and impressiveness when addressed to the preacher's accustomed hearers, will often be on that very account less fitted to appear with advantage from the press, divested of all those local and personal adaptations which tended to bring them home to the wants and the hearts of their hearers.
Many preachers, also, (and we believe that this was the case to a considerable extent with Dr. Carpenter,) are in the habit of trusting much to the impulse of the moment; and in such cases, when the feelings are warm and excited, and aided by a sufficient power and facility of extemporaneous expression, it may be presumed that these unpremeditated effusions which do not appear in the manuscript, were frequently the portions of the discourse which made the strongest impression, and were heard with the most lively interest. We may add, that it will be almost always found that even the best sermons derive no small portion of their effect, not so much from their intrinsic merit, as from their adaptation to the style and manner, to the peculiar habits of thought and feeling, and even of pronunciation and delivery in the preacher; so that they will often be read by the friends to whom they recal such personal and incidental associations with a species of interest in which others cannot easily participate.
Such publications therefore should not be criticised without a due regard to the peculiar circumstances under which they make their appearance. Not that we should wish to claim a more than ordinary share of allowance on this ground for the volume before us, which, if we mistake not, the friends and admirers of Dr. Carpenter will find on the whole to be such as they will be willing to associate with his honoured name. They are for the most part of a practical and devotional cast, and we think the Editor has acted judiciously in regulating his selection upon this principle. For as he justly observes in the preface, owing to the circumstances in which the author was placed, and the frequent occasions in which he was drawn out into a public vindication of his peculiar views of Christian doctrine, the greater part of his published writings are of a controversial character. And though he might have added with equal justice, that notwithstanding the excitement almost unavoidable in such contests, and the provocation arising from the frequent traces of a very different spirit in his opponents, there is not to be found in any of these writings a single deviation from his accustomed character of Christian gentleness and forbearance, or a single line which in his cooler moments he would wish to blot, yet they cannot from their nature exhibit to one who knows him only by his writings, a complete picture of his mind, or represent him in the aspect in which he was chiefly viewed by those who knew him best. For when they think of Dr. Carpenter, it will not be merely as the acute and judicious scripture critic, or the successful controversialist, but as the generous friend, the active and enlightened philanthropist, the faithful and affectionate pastor, whose heart was ever in his work,—the consistent and conscientious Christian, who exemplified in his own life the character he delighted to pourtray in his public instructions, of an habitually religious man.
To many readers of these discourses, as the editor observes, and we have already hinted, there may appear little in the thoughts themselves with which they are not familiar. But there will often be found that in the expression of them, which bears the character of the writer, and finds its way to hearts closed against appeals which some may deem more powerful. Let it not be supposed, however, that there is an entire absence of what may fairly be called originality. For example, there are few
readers, we are inclined to think, who can rise from a careful perusal of the sermon, “Christ alone leadeth to the Father," or the very interesting and pleasing train of reflections on the influence of the circumstances preceding and attending the birth of Jesus on his future character, without feeling that his thoughts had been agreeably and profitably carried into a channel in which they have not often fowed before. In the first of these, (which if we may judge by the date, may have been suggested by the recent visit to Bristol, of the British Association, he justly observes, that however true it may be that God hath not left himself without witness in the works of creation, yet it may happen, and has too often happened, that those who have addressed themselves most assiduously to the perusal of these works, without having been previously led by Christ to the Father, have failed to discover this witness. In the Gospel revelation, we find “a provision to support the weakness of the human intellect always exposed to the bondage of sense, and to raise the drooping faith towards Him whom eye shall never see, and towards abodes which here can only be the object of the imagination. He that hath seen me, saith the Saviour, hath seen the Father;' in him we have the image of the invisible God; through him we have access to the Father of spirits ; by him too, passing as he did through death to a deathless life, we have the assurance implanted which the enfeebling approach of death conquers not, that death will be swallowed up in victory. We need all this, when Science has taught her most glorious discoveries, or led us among her minutest wonders.
"Were there not influences, direct or indirect, from Revelation, would the contemplation of the laws which govern the natural world, in the phenomena of the heavens, and in the organization of living beings from the lowest to the highest, lead us to intimate communion of spirit with Him who impressed them upon his creation ? Would not even the very regularity and uniformity of operations tend to deaden the sensibility to the Invisible Cause, in his personal connections and agency? Would not the vague sentiment of principle and agency, even where religious conviction and feeling were maintained, take the place of that vital, inspiring faith in him who is invisible, which impresses the sense of God upon the soul, and cherishes the life of God within ; which thus throws a sacred radiance without, making every object to be viewed as the production of his wisdom, every event as under the direction of his Providence, every power of nature as his agency, every law of nature as the mode of his operation, which thus gives life to the belief that nothing is without God, and prepares the soul to be
his temple? Without the support of Revelation, the mind would be misguided even by the regularity of nature, and bewildered in the infinity and variety of its wise contrivances.”_ p. 12.
He proceeds to point out several remarkable illustrations of his principle, in what we cannot but regard as the lamentable aberrations and inconsistencies of some of the most eminent votaries of modern science.
Dr. Carpenter is well known to have received the introductory chapters of Luke's Gospel, while he rejected those of Matthew, and, interpreting the former without reference to the latter, to have considered the encouraging assurance of the Divine messenger to the destined mother of Jesus, (Luke i. 38), as implying no more than that this highly-favoured woman should, for the sake of her future offspring, be the object of the special protection and care of God ;-should dwell, as the Psalmist expresses it, under the shadow of the Almighty, and be under the care and guidance of his good spirit, of his gracious Providence. And he thinks that the remarkable events which accompanied the birth of Jesus, could not but have a most powerful influence on her who laid these things up in her heart, in the nurture and training of this heir of promise, and also on his own mind, as they were in process of time related to him, while he gradually increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour both with God and man. The author proceeds to enlarge on this suggestion, and indulge his imagination in following it out into particulars. We cannot make room for the whole, but are unwilling to abridge the following passage.
" It is not unnatural for a moment to wish that we possessed the his. tory, in detail, of the period which this beloved son of the Most High God spent in privacy, before the time when his kinsman John came forth from his solitary abode in the wilderness of Judæa, to preach the baptism of repentance, and to announce the approach of the Messiah. We do know enough to make us feel assured, that the same disposition of soul which he manifested, when, sanctified by the anointing of the Spirit, he was sent into the world by his heavenly Father, had been that by which he had been led through the preceding years from the earliest period of infancy. Of him, without a doubt, it might always be said, as well as in the days of his ministry, that he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. We know that the child grew and waxed strong in the Spirit, filled with wisdom,' and that 'the grace of God was upon him.' We know that at twelve years of age, still subject to his parents, and engaged without a doubt in the ordinary occupations of life, he showed understanding and sagacity in the subjects of religion, which enabled him to converse with the teachers of the law, so as to Vol. III, No. 13.-New Series,
astonish all who heard him; and we have the comprehensive declaration, that he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour both with God and man.'
“But we know something more than this, even in addition to what had taken place before and after his birth, contributing to the sanctity of his life, and his preparedness for the great work before him. We know the nature of those public services of religion in which without a doubt he habitually joined; not only of those solemn rites which accompanied the three great festivals of his nation, but those of the frequent stated worship of the synagogues, by which we know what were the supplications and thanksgivings which he offered to Jehovah, the God of his fathers. And we have, too, those holy Scriptures by which he was instructed and guided, by which his pious affections were cherished, by which the fear and the love of Jehovah his God were impressed upon his spirit, and made the regulating spring of his life. But to discern the extraordinary influences of these, as he increased in wisdom, on his understanding, -on his heart,-on his pure and lovely sensibilities,on his elevated but regulated imagination,-on his faith in God, and in the purposes and discipline of his soul,—we must remember that he knew from the dawn of life that that life was to be destined to great and momentous purposes. He would learn, as he could receive it, that he was to sit on the throne of his father David, and to possess a kingdom of which there should be no end, that he was to be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel ;-but nevertheless that he was to be the object of cruel contradiction, and that his mother's heart would on his account be pierced through with many sorrows. And how, with such thoughts, would he, in the retired glens which sur. rounded Nazareth,-in the sacred solitudes where he had no witness but his heavenly Father,—dwell in deep contemplation on the prophecies which respect the Anointed of Jehovah, which he was at the appointed, but uncertain, time himself to become. We know that he would discern, in that sacred volume which trains up the spirit to godli. ness now, as it did in the days of Christ, as it did Jesus himself, that the Messiah (and such he knew he was to be) was specially designed to be the herald of divine mercy to the children of sin and ignorance, to bind up the broken-hearted, to offer liberty to the captive, to open the prison doors to those in bonds, and to proclaim the acceptable year of Jehovah, the year of the spiritual jubilee. He saw that he was one day to have a dominion which should include all nations, and all ages; a kingdom that time and death should not destroy. But he also saw that the Messiah was to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs ; to be despised and neglected of men ; to be cut off, but not for himself; to he wounded for the transgressions of his people; to be bruised and put to grief, and at last to die with the wicked.
" It requires but little exercise of the imagination, and but little know. ledge of the heart, to discern how such contemplations must have influenced and trained this beloved son and servant of the Most High. And then think of him as passing ten years of manhood thus looking forward,-knowing that the time was appointed, but without a knowledge