[blocks in formation]

unfavourable it may appear to the cultivation of religion, which precludes the possibility, or exempts us from the obligation, of acquiring those good dispositions, and exercising those Christian virtues which the gospel requires. Men of the world are apt to imagine that religion was not made for them; that it was intended only for those who pass their days in obscurity, retirement, and solitude, where they meet with nothing to interrupt their devout contemplations, no allurements to divert their attention and seduce their affections from heaven and heavenly things. But as to those whose lot is cast in the busy and the tumultuous scenes of life, who are engaged in various occupations and professions, or surrounded with gaieties, with pleasures and temptations, it cannot be expected that amidst all these impediments, interruptions, and attractions, they can give up much of their time and thoughts to another and a distant world, when they have so many things that press upon them and arrest their attention in this.

These, I am persuaded, are the real sentiments, and they are perfectly conformable to the actual practice, of a large part of mankind. But to all these pretences the instance of the centurion is a direct, complete, and satisfactory answer. by his situation in life a man of the world. His profession was that which, of all others, is generally considered as most adverse to religious sentiments and habits, most contrary to the peaceful, humane, and gentle spirit of the gospel, and most exposed to the fascination of gaiety, pleasure, thoughtlessness, and dissipation. Yet amidst all these obstructions to purity of heart, to mildness of disposition and sanctity of manners, we see this illustrious centurion rising above all the disadvantages of his situation, and, instead of sinking into vice and irreligion, becoming a model of piety and humility, and all those virtues which necessarily spring from such principles. This is an unanswerable proof, that whenever men abandon themselves to impiety, infidelity, and profligacy, the fault is not in the situa

He was


tion, but in the heart; and that there is no mode of life, no employment or profession, which may not, if we please, be made consistent with a sincere belief in the gospel, and with the practice of every duty we owe to our Maker, our Redeemer, our fellow-creatures, and ourselves.

Nor is this the only instance in point; for it is extremely remarkable, and well worthy our attention, that among all the various characters we meet with in the New Testament, there are few represented in a more amiable light, or spoken of in stronger terms of approbation, than those of certain military

Besides the centurion who is the subject of this lecture, it was a centurion who, at our Saviour's crucifixion, gave that voluntary, honest, and unprejudiced testimony in His favour, "Truly this was the Son of God."* It was a centurion who generously preserved the life of St Paul, when a proposition was made to destroy him after his shipwreck on the island of Melita. It was a centurion to whom St. Peter was sent by the express appointment of God, to make the first convert among the Gentiles—a distinction of which he seemed, in every respect, worthy, being, as we are told, “a just and a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, that gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway." +

We see, then, that our centurion was not the only military man celebrated in the gospel for his piety and virtue; nor are there wanting, thank God, distinguished instances of the same kind in our own age, in our own nation, among our own commanders, and in the recent memory of every one here present. All which examples tend to confirm the observation already made, of the perfect consistency of a military, and every other mode of life, with a firm belief in the doctrines and a conscientious obedience to the precepts of religion.

* Matt. xvii. 54. + Acts xxvii, 43. # Acts x. 2.



SENT from heaven, but little thought of-locked up in that trite small-printed book, the Bible—lies the germ of moral renovation—the only secret for making base spirits noble, and fallen spirits holy. Received into the confiding heart, and developed in congenial affections, it comes forth in all the wonderful varieties of vital Christianity; and, according as the recipient's disposition is energy or mildness, activity or contemplation, it creates a bold reformer or a benign philanthropist—a valiant worker or a far-seen thinker. In bolts that melt as well as burn, it flashes from Luther's surcharged spirit; and in comprehensive kindliness spreads its warm atmosphere round Melancthon's loving nature. In streams of fervour and fiery earnestness it follows Zuingle's smoking path, and in a halo of excessive brightness encircles Calvin's awful brow. In impulses of fond beneficence it tingles in Howard's restless feet, and with a glow of more than earthly affection it gladdens the abode of a Venn or a Richmond. But, whether its manifestations be the more beauteous or the more majestic, of all the influences which can alter or ennoble man, it is beyond comparison the most potent and pervasive. suffusion with which it cheers existence, in the holy ambition which it kindles, and in the intensity which it imparts to character, that gospel is “the power of God.”

And just as its advent is the grand epoch in the individual's progress, so its scanty or copious presence gives a corresponding aspect to a nation's history. When its power is feeblewhen few members of the community are up-borne by its joyful and strenuous force—when there is little of its genial infusion to make kindness spontaneous, and when men forget its


In the sunny


solemn future, which renders duty so urgent and self-denial so easy—the public virtues languish, and the moral grandeur of that empire dies. It needs something of the gospel to produce a real patriot; it needs more of it to create a philanthropist; and, amidst the trials of temper, the seductions of party, and the misconstructions of motive, it needs it all to give that patriot or philanthropist perseverance to the end. It needs a wide diffusion of the gospel to fill a Parliament with highminded statesmen, and a country with happy homes. And it will need its prevailing ascendancy to create peace among the nations, and secure the good-will of man to man.

The world has not yet exhibited the spectacle of an entire people evangelised ; but there have been repeated instances where this vital element has told perceptibly on national character; and in the nobler tone of public acting, and higher pulse of popular feeling, might be recognised a people nearer God. In England, for example, there have been three evangelic eras. Thrice over have ignorance and apathy been startled into light and wonder; and thrice over has an influential minority of England's inhabitants felt anew all the goodness or grandeur of the ancient message. And it is instructive to remark, how at each successive awakening an impulse was given to the nation's worth which never afterwards faded entirely out of it. Partial as the influence was, and few as they were who shared it, an element was infused into the popular mind, which, like salt imbibed from successive strata by the mineral spring, was never afterwards lost, but, now that ages have elapsed, may still be detected in the national character. The Reformers preached the gospel, and the common people heard it gladly. Beneath the doublet of the thrifty trader, and the home-spun jerkin of the stalwart yeoman, was felt a throb of new nobility. A monarch and her ministers remotely graced the pageant; but it was to the stout music of old Latimer that the English Reformation marched, and it was




a freer soil which iron heels and wooden sandals trode as they clashed and clattered to the burly tune. This gospel was the birth of British liberty. Its right of private judgment revealed to many not only how precious is every soul, but how important is every citizen; and as much as it deepened the sense of religious responsibility, it awakened the desire of personal freedom. It took the Saxon churl, and taught him the softer manners and statelier spirit of his conqueror. It “mended the mettle of his blood,” and gave him something better than Norman chivalry. Quickening with its energy the endurance of the Saxon, and tempering with its amenity the fierceness of the Gaul, it completed the amalgamating process of many ages, and produced the Englishman. Then came the Puritan awakening—in its commencement the most august revival which Europe ever witnessed. Stately, forceful, and thrilling, the gospel echoed over the land, and a penitent nation bowed before it. Long-fasting, much-reading, deep-thinking—theology became the literature, the meditation, and the talk of the people, and religion the business of the realm. With the fear of God deep in their spirits, and with hearts soft and plastic to His Word, it was amazing how promptly the sternest requirements were conceded, and the most stringent reforms carried through. Never, in England, were the things temporal so trivial, and the things eternal so evident, as when Baxter, all but disembodied, and Howe, wrapt in bright and present communion, and Allein, radiant with the joy which shone through him, lived before their people the wonders they proclaimed. And never among the people was there more of that piety which looks inward and upward—which longs for a healthy soul, and courts that supernal influence which alone can make it prosper; never more of that piety which in every action consults, and in every incident recognises Him in whom we move and have our being. Perhaps its long regards and lofty aspirations, the absence of

« 前へ次へ »