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"Oft from the social scene we turn aside,
ART. VI. Sermons on Faith and other Subjects. By Robert Nares, M. A. F. R. S. &c. Archdeacon of Stafford, Canon Residentiary of Litchfield, and Rector of Allhallows, London Wall. 2 Vols. 8vo. 360 pp. Rivingtons. 1825.
THE first seven Sermons in the volume before us are on the subject of Faith. The author has fully illustrated its nature and character; has shewn how essential a constant stability without wavering, is, to a true faith: the meaning and necessity of walking by faith, so as to display its practical fruits; and its power, as exhibited in a strong influence over the mind, affording a support in the greatest trials and temptations. Such is the outline of his subject, and it appears that the chief object in view was to maintain the practical nature of a true and saving faith, in opposition to the idea of its being a mere speculative belief. In a portion of the valuable notes appended to the volume, Mr. Nares comments upon the doctrine of Rotheram's Essay, which he contends would make faith consist in a mere speculative belief. The question is obviously one of terms, it being beyond dispute, that the same word is used in some passages of Scripture to signify a mere assent of the understanding; and in others, to comprehend the lively and practical influence of that assent. However, the author was led to take up the subject, conceiving that the true principle of Christian faith, as laid down by the venerable founders of our church, was too little recollected or understood at the present day. How far this may be the case among his own hearers, we do not know; but we S VOL. XXIII. MARCH, 1825.
own we should not have selected such a charge as generally applicable to the present time.
But, however this may be, the discourses are, in themselves extremely sound and instructive; there is not any pretension to great originality, nor (as we have often had occasion to remark) is originality on such a subject an essential qualification: many of the arguments, however, are put in a very clear and forcible manner. In the first Sermon it occurs to us, that a doubt may be entertained of the interpretation given to the passage Habb. ii. 4. which the author makes out to have a practical force, by putting it in this way; It is the just who are to live by faith; not all kinds of persons, just or unjust." Hooker's admirable sermon on this passage, is not a little at variance with this interpretation. The Scriptural instances of the efficacy of faith, are forcibly urged, and well illustrated, and we think the following passage will afford at once a good specimen of our author's manner, and a clear statement of the grounds of faith, and its practical efficacy.
"We see then how ignorant, as well as malicious, those persons have been, who at any time have censured the Christian grace of faith, as if it meant no more than mere credulity or easiness of belief; a quality which it must be owned, is often found to reside in persons of the weakest intellect. The foundation of Scriptural faith on the contrary, is always supposed to be placed on sound and rational grounds of belief. In the days of the patriarchs, and under the Mosaic covenant, belief was usually founded on actual revelation from Heaven; or at least some impulse of known inspiration. When our Saviour was on earth, its foundation was the evidence of his miracles and divine discourses, which gave sufficient cause for full reliance upon him, to all who saw or heard them with candour and After that, it was the positive testimony of his Apostles and Evangelists, who witnessed what they had seen or known, and gave the strongest pledges for their truth. Since that time, belief in the Gospel rests upon the testimony of history, witnessed (as alf history is) by human words or writings. But in addition to these, it possesses proofs peculiar to itself, in the testimony of prophecies fulfilled, or yet to be accomplished; with a variety of conspiring evidences, of such a nature, that they who with the greatest diligence and acuteness examine into them, are generally the most profoundly convinced of their weight, authority and certainty.
"These are, or have been, the various causes of conviction: to which, if a person candidly attends, he cannot but believe. In all these ways therefore, a rational belief may be obtained: but whether it shall amount to faith in the true and christian sense, depends upon the character and behaviour of the believer. Belief existing in the mind, without producing any consequences, is wholly without efficacy, or saving power. It is only when it leads to actions expressive of unshaken steadiness and confidence, demonstrating a full
reliance on that which we have just reason to believe, that it de serves the name of faith; and like the faith of Abraham, is accounted for righteousness. For this reason, probably, it was, that our Saviour, during his own ministry, required of those who wished to become his disciples, a sacrifice never afterwards demanded of converted persons; namely, that they should forsake all and follow him; they could not otherwise at that time give sufficient proof of their entire reliance upon him, and their unalterable confidence in his power and goodness. St. James has told us truly, that "Faith without works is dead;" and the very first and most necessary work of faith is to show by your conduct, that nothing can change or shake it. P. 13. Serm. 1.
This explanation of our Lord's requisition upon his followers, to forsake all, is very ingeniously adduced. The author continues, in his second discourse, to point out the efficient character of faith, as implying trust and confidence, by an examination of the original meaning of the expression in Heb. ii, 1. nóσTaσs, which would have been much more consistently rendered "confidence," or "firm assurance." In support of this, he urges the authority both of our translators, who have given that meaning in the margin, and of several other eminent writers and commentators. Bishop Conybeare had remarked, that the substance of things hoped for would seem to mean the things themselves. So that the passage in its ordinary acceptation is imperfect in point of sense; and we think a due attention to the original meaning would vindicate the Apostle from a charge which has sometimes been advanced against this passage, as appearing to give a definition of faith, which is really no definition at all. According to the reading here supported, the definition is clear and complete. The whole argument of the sermon is very well laid together, upon the adoption of this interpretation of the text.
In the 3d Sermon, against Wavering in Faith, the different senses in which that expression may be applied are closely and practically distinguished, especially that irritation of an unsettled mind, adopting innovations in religious belief, and regarding novelty as if it were the test of truth. This very prevalent tendency the preacher ably combats. He mentions in a note, in illustration of this part of the subject, an interesting anecdote of Melancthon. When his mother became anxious respecting the topics then agitated, he advised her to continue to worship as she had been used, and not to suffer her mind to be disturbed with controversies. "Go on," he said, " to believe and to pray as you do, and have done before, and do not disturb yourself about the
disputes and controversies of the times." The propriety of individuals rather relying upon the accumulated wisdom of the church than upon their own capricious judgment, is well urged, on the ground, that the pretence to a sounder judgment than that of the founders of the church, must obviously, be the most vain and presumptuous in the great majority of
We must pass over the remainder of this set of Discourses without more particulars. We have already enumerated their leading subjects, and we strongly recommend them to the attention of our readers; especially the fourth, fifth and sixth, which are in continuation, on the text, "We walk by faith, not by sight." They were principally delivered in Lincoln'sInn chapel, where the author preached, as assistant to the late Dr. Jackson, for nearly fifteen years.
The succeeding discourses are upon subjects of a miscellaneous description, several of them of a character in some degree new, but most upon topics often treated before.
The 8th Sermon, on Public Worship, contains many good practical admonitions relative to the performance of that duty; and the concluding topic, the too exclusive importance attached to preaching, leads the author to devote the next discourse to that particular point, and to show the absolute necessity of a corresponding disposition on the part of the hearer, to render any preaching useful or efficacious.
In the 10th Discourse, on Contentment, the preacher acknowledges the perfect exhaustion of the subject by Barrow, and inserts this discourse principally as having a connexion with his former discourses on faith. He urges the duty of resignation from the example of St. Paul's contentment under his sufferings, and points out the necessity of a good conscience in order to real resignation.
Sermon 11th is designed to set forth the consideration of love, rather than fear, as the prevailing motive under the Gospel.
Sermon 12th. The most original and excellent composition in the volume is entitled, "On Imagination as an Aid to Religion." There is, perhaps, no power or faculty of the human mind, as the author observes, which has been less considered as subservient to religion. But he very beautifully and carefully points out the important share which it may have in the elevation of the soul towards heavenly things, when under due regulation and restraint. He guards us against the evil use which may be made of it, and the extravagancies into which it may lead the inconsiderate; and recommends it only when the substantial requisite of a sound and rational belief is made to form the groundwork.
Sermon 13th is of a political cast, treating very clearly and practically on the natural inequality of men in some respects, as distinguished from their natural equality in others. An appropriate topic before a common audience, especially where any tendency to insubordination may be apparent.
The 14th Discourse is on the practical proof of true righteousness, supposing the foundation to be laid in Christian faith. The 15th was delivered in Litchfield cathedral, on the day of the Coronation of His present Majesty; and upon so hacknied a topic, if we say, that the preacher conveys some good advice respecting the duty of subjects, in a plain and intelligible way, we shall be giving him credit for doing the utmost that can be done on such an occasion. Exactly similar observations will apply to the next discourse, entitled, "The Protestant Religion the Blessing of Britain," which was delivered in the same place, on the day appointed for a general fast, February 28th, 1810. National crimes, and the duty of national humiliation and repentance, are, of course, the topics; which are certainly handled in an impressive and useful manner.
The 17th Sermon was preached for the benefit of a district committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; and it contains a sensible exposition of the merits and claims of the institution. We are sorry that Archdeacon Nares thought it necessary to introduce the Bible Society into the discussion; and still more, that he should have recommended it to the support of his hearers. But we entertain no hope of altering his opinion upon the subject, and pass on to less debateable ground.
"A Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of Stafford," with which the volume concludes, is able and interesting. "The Influence of Sectaries, and the Stability of the Church." is the title prefixed, and expresses the main design. The danger to which the church is exposed, from the prevalence and increase of Methodism, is the leading topic and the author, at the commencement, alludes briefly, to the similarity between this sect and that of the Puritans. By the activity of that malignant body, our church was once overthrown. But the Archdeacon observes, it fell only with the state; and he argues from the shortness of the period of its subversion, the completeness and suddenness of its restoration, and the eagerness with which on that event, the general opinion flew from the extreme of fanaticism, to the opposite excess of irreligion, that it is probable, no error, very contrary to sound religion or reason, can long or effectually seduce the people of this country. In this conclusion