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if there are in our body certain respectable persons who have not adopted these sentiments, it is to be accounted for by the fact, that the Independent churches have received so great a reinforcement of numbers from different denominations of Christians in late years, and especially from the Methodists, that scarcely enough time has elapsed to permit them to settle down in the firm reception of all those principles which were held by our forefathers, and which, in truth, are necessary to the completion, and, indeed, consistency of our system of religion. We make these remarks in the kindest feelings towards Mr. Forster, who, we have no doubt, has advanced this opinion in the best faith, and indeed, throughout the whole volume, he evinces the most laudable desire to do justice to his subject, and when he fails, his mistake is entirely owing to that limited acquaintance with Independency, which the contumely cast upon us and our literature by the fashionable schools of religion and politics, has almost necessarily induced. That character of Vane, however, as a man “above ordinances,” is not to be taken altogether as the mere calumny of an adversary. It is a principle admitted by the whole body of Independents, that the grace of the Gospel is so entirely distinct from ordinances, though it be mostly received through ordinances, that no institution whatever can confer that grace, opere operato. This principle misunderstood, may have originated the character given of Vane and others of his brethren as men “above ordinances.”
There is one statement of Mr. Forster, which we believe is calculated to mislead the reader into so incorrect a judgment respecting Sir Harry Vane's religious sentiments, that we must beg to dwell a little at length on it, and, by a comparison of it with Vane's own words, endeavour to prove that it is altogether erroneous. The sentiment to which we refer is contained in page 34, and is stated in the following words.
“ Not to Christian sects and professors alone did he extend his charity, but to men of all opinions and all religions, to the honest moral heathen, as we have seen his friend Sikes express it, no less than to the legal Christian. And he did this because, Christianity was with him a spiritual religion, the vital influence of which can live in the hearts of its followers alone. To him the substance of true religion was moral and spiritual excellence; and wherever he could find that, wherever that appeared whether in the minds of Gentiles or of Jews, he recognized a fellow Christian, although its possessor lived in an age or country which had not known or heard of the very name of Christ." Against this version of Vane's opinions we enter our most solemn protest. That Vane's charity was of the most expansive kind, embracing all the varieties of the human race, we can easily admit, and admit of it as an excellence worthy of universal imitation; but that he would regard those who had never heard of the very name of Christ as fellow Christians, is an inference to which Vane’s words give no possible countenance. In order to set this matter in its right light, we shall beg leave to quote those words of Vane, from which this strange position has been erroneously deduced. N. S. VOL. y.
We have before observed, that Vane, though confessedly a great and good man, was an enthusiast in many of his religious views. Perhaps it may be asserted, that the form in which enthusiasm, or the visionary theology, puts itself most generally forward in originating religious systems, is by marshalling all the existing forms of nature into some remote and fanciful analogy with the great master principle lodged deeply in the mind of the enthusiast. Every subject thus contained, or which may possibly be brought within the sphere of his knowledge, is ranged around the beloved and predominant idea in the manner of concentric circles, and connected with the common centre, or at least by imagination supposed to be so connected, in such a manner that the connecting principles, which are altogether the work of a fervid imagination, giving consistency to its own figments, appear to the enthusiast to be real verities. This, at least, appears to us to be the germ of the enthusiasm of Madame Guion, Bechmen, Saltmarsh, and, if we might dare to say so, of an infinitely greater man—of Plato. As the eye, having gazed for a long time on stars, or other luminous bodies, even when suddenly plunged into darkness, beholds a dim outline of those very luminaries on the dark expanse around it,-so the mind, absorbed in the contemplation of its favourite theory, finds endless similarities and conformities through the whole range of the ideal world. This is the origin of that system of interpretation which has, somewhat improperly, been called spiritualization. It is, in fact, mistaking the halo around a truth for a truth of a distinct kind, or a shadow for the substance. “The melody is but the echo which our over-heated imagination first produces, and to which it then listens.”
To Vane, the Christian religion appeared to embrace, as its great design, the exhibition of the person and grace of Christ as the Mediator and Saviour of the world. This was to him the grand design of Scripture. He considers that exhibition in a three-fold light. In the first relation he regards the Messiah as exhibited to the whole world by the light which God breathed on all mankind in the first creation. This, according to Sir Harry, is the relation which he sustains to the Gentiles. To this exhibition he applies that testimony of the word of God, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men,” and that also which says, “He is the Saviour of all men, but especially of them who believe.” Our author contends, that the human race so enlightened “stand singly in themselves, and show forth unto the world the natural justice and right that shines forth in their natural beings,” page 144. So far, however, is Vane from considering such men as “fellow Christians,” according to Mr. Forster's representation, that, summing up their privileges and character, he says, “These are without Christ and God in the world, yet in a capacity to seek the Lord, if haply they may feel after him and find him, though he be not
far from every one of them, being that light that enlighteneth every man that comes into the world.” page 127.
According to Vane's principles, “the second sort of men are those sons of Adam that are highly enlightened, by being brought beyond this first shadowy image of Christ, unto the ministry of the law,” page 127; or, in other places, “ an Israel after the flesh, in and under Gospel ordinances," page 133; or, as he elsewhere explains himself, those who professed a legal form of Christianity, and are members of worldly and national churches. These he considers under the dispensation of Christ's first coming, or his coming in the flesh.
“The third sort of subjects, belonging to the last administration of Christ's kingdom,” (or the dispensation of the second or spiritual advent of Christ,)“ are they who in faith and patience do possess their souls, following the Lamb whithersoever he goes, not loving their lives unto death ;” in other words, are real Christians, converted characters, living under obedience to the will, and for the glory of God. "These, therefore,” he says, “are distinguished from all the earthborn sons or children of the first covenant, by their higher and more divine birth, as born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Vane, therefore, does not regard virtuous Gentiles or Jews as “ fellow Christians,” but as those who may possibly become so by a divine birth, and his charity is extended to them, not as believing them to be Christians, but as they possess that human nature, and that intelligence and capability of higher attainments, which may eventually elevate them to the dignity of Christianity. These views of Vane, though they might perhaps, with some propriety, be conceived as savouring rather of a spirit of mystification than of sound and rational interpretation, yet assuredly they would never be taxed, as Mr. Forster supposes they would, page 34, with latitudinarianism. So far, indeed, from being capable of any such interpretation, they are most assuredly the very opinions held at this day by all the numerous body with which Vane was in his lifetime identified. His fancied analogy between the three dispensations of Christ and of mankind; in their threefold distinction of character, perhaps be repudiated as unsound, but assuredly the duty of charity may towards the two former and lower forms of moral excellence is not only considered obligatory by the Independents of the present day, but the principle on which it is based, that is, the possibility of such characters being eventually brought to the knowledge of the truth and being saved, is the ground on which all their prayers for, and preaching to, an unregenerate world are, or indeed can be, legitimated. Vane by no means says, as Mr. Forster intimates in page 34, that heathens may be acknowledged and welcomed by Christ as his own at the last day, but it is his design to prove, that Christians should not indulge in uncharitable and bitter condemnations of those who are now in a state of
heathenism or infidelity; and he gives this reason for such moderation, that, howsoever opposed they may be now to Christ, yet, possessing an accountable and reasonable soul, and a conscience capable of being operated on, they may even yet admit of a change which will qualify them for those seats of blessedness to which he will admit his people. No such latitudinarian, or rather unbelieving charity, appears in Vane's writings, as that supposed in this volume. Yet we are deeply anxious not even to appear to give any countenance to a charge to which Mr. Forster has perhaps laid himself open—a charge of misrepresentation. We believe that the mistake has occurred in perfect good faith. In truth, the writings of the early Independents can be understood alone by those who are familiar with their technicalities. Mr. Forster has erred, we are convinced, only from the fact, that he is familiar with but few of our early publications. A phraseology so intricate and so conventional as that of Vane, requires no ordinary attention and practice to render it intelligible.
But we have outstripped the usual bounds of a review : nothing but such a character as Vane could justify our length. We must refrain from any farther prosecution of the interesting events of his life. We have incidentally referred to the disgraceful circumstances which led to his death. Here we must conclude. The dying saint's last speech we venture to quote :
"Gentlemen, fellow-countrymen, and Christians.-When Mr. Sheriff came to me this morning, and told me he had received a command from the king that I should say nothing reflecting upon his majesty, or the government, I answered, I should confine and order my speech, as near as I could, so as to be least offensive, saving my faithfulness to the trust reposed in me, which I must ever discharge with a good conscience unto death; for I ever valued a man according to his faithfulness to the trust reposed in him, even on his majesty's behalf, in the late controversy. And if you dare trust my discretion, Mr. Sheriff, I shall do nothing but what becomes a good Christian and an Englishmen; and so I hope I shall be hereafter civilly dealt with. I stand here this day to resign up my spirit into the hands of that God that gave it me. Death is but a little word, but 'tis a great work to die. It is to be but once done; and after this cometh the judgment, even the judgment of the great God, which it concerns us all to prepare for. And by this act I do receive a discharge, once for all, out of prison, even the prison of the mortal body. In all respects wherein I have been concerned and engaged as to the public, my design hath been to accomplish good things for these nations.' Then lifting up his eyes, and spreading his hands, he said, I do here appeal to the great God of heaven, and all this assembly, or any other persons, to show wherein I have defiled my hands with any man's blood or estate, or that I have sought myself in any public capacity or place I have been in.' The trumpets prevented his proceeding farther. The prisoner was very patient and composed under all these injuries and soundings of the trumpet several times in his face, only saying, 'twas hard he might not be suffered to speak. . But,' said he, my usage from man is no harder than was my Lord and Master's; and all that will live this life must expect hard dealings from the worldly spirit.'”
Thus died Sir Harry Vane, as pure, as mild, as lovely a spirit, as ever sojourned in this lower world. He lived not here to no purpose.
He found that for which he sought-a name and a place with God. If we might mingle with the solemnness of the scenery above recited words of a far lower order, we would venture to suggest to our enterprising booksellers the propriety of printing, for general circulation, an edition of the minor tracts of this great statesmen. His Healing Question, Proceedings of the Protector against Sir Harry Vane, State of the People, Essay on Government, Essays on Life and Death, are to be obtained only by long and diligent search, and yet are worthy of a distinguished place among the political tracts of our country. He was ever the friend of man, of man in every rank, in every station, of every opinion, under every possible diversity of circumstance. He sought the welfare, the greatest happiness of every human being, and will be remembered, if for nothing else, at least for his strenuous, enlightened, and disinterested labours to spread the benign influence of liberty of conscience, that best of blessings which man can impart to his fellowman.
As a whole, Mr. Forster's Life of Sir Harry Vane is a good book : the author has written with all possible candour and impartiality. We have before asserted, that he has not exactly touched Sir Harry's character in all peculiarities, neither was it an easy task to place the dark sayings of so thorough a visionary, at least in some points, in a light sufficiently clear for readers of so unimaginative, so unpoetic an age as this. We might also have wished for a greater correctness of style and figure, especially in pages 7 and 23, and the earlier portions of his book: but the author's general fairness and honesty of design make us willing to be satisfied with and thankful for his publication.
1. Letter to the Lord Bishop of Chester, upon certain Symptoms of
Sectarian Designs in the Pastoral Aid Society; and upon the Catholic, Comprehensive, and Church Regulations of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Additional Curates in Populous Places. By J. E. N. Molesworth, D. D., Vicar of Rochdale, Lancashire. Rivingtons. 2. A Letter to a Member of the Committee of the Church Pastoral Aid
Society, in reference to certain Animadversions upon that Society, recently published by the Rev. Dr. Molesworth. By the Rev. John Harding, M.A., Rector of the united parishes of St. Andrews Wardrobe and St. Ann's Blackfriars, and formerly one of the Honorary Secretaries of the Society.
No one who deserves the name of a patriot or a Christian can be indifferent to the present conflicting movements in the established church. We do not refer so much to the almost overwhelming torrent of error pouring into that community, and threatening to destroy it, but rather to the displays of activity on the voluntary principle shown by the evangelical and orthodox parties in that establishment. Startling