Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Seminaries in connexion with the Presbyterian Church, have established a course of three years study. Other denominations have expressed similar views, as to ministerial qualifications and made similar regulations.—These opinions and regulations are obviously sustained by public sentiment. And shall not this united opinion have powerful influence upon us, fortified as it is with the declaration of the Bible, that the preacher must speak things that he knows, and testify the things that he has seen, and not be a blind leader of the blind; a scribe well instructed in things that pertain to the kingdom of God; one that brings forth out of his treasure things new and old ?-If in view of all this, any young man, can set his face toward the ministry, without the expenditure of years in securing the requisite qualifications, he must have no ordinary share of confidence in himself, as well as inadequate conceptions of the nature and duties of that office to which he aspires.—We rejoice, that with us there are but few of this description.

E.

REVIEWS.

THE AUTO-BIOGRAPHY OF THOMAS SHEPARD; with Ad

ditional Notices of his Life and Character, by NEHEMIAN ADAMS, Pastor of the First Church in connexion with the Shepard Society, Cambridge. Boston : Peirce & Parker. 1832. pp. 129.

The opinion that recent observation is most correct, and that the evidence of history is continually weakened by time, is confuted by all experience. No event stands alone; all the great features of bistory are combinations; and parts of the composition are continually emerging from the waves of seeming oblivion, to finish the defective image, and complete our conception of the whole. We survey past time as a traveller sails over the bay, where some great battle has been fought; the bodies are continually rising, as if to tell the secrets of the past, and new wrecks are discovered beneath the waves, as new proofs producing new impressions of the carnage of the dreadful day, when victory and defeat elated and humbled the pride

the

of man. The truth is, in historical affairs, we see more with

eye of reason than the bodily eye. A man shall be present at some great battle, (Waterloo, for example,) and see as far as one witness can see amidst confusion and smoke the evolutions of the day. But he is only one witness; it is only a part which he sees; he is disturbed by the excitement of the awful scene; and he will have a far less correct conception of the event, than the man, who ten years afterwards, sits down coolly in his closet, compares the different accounts, sees causes in their effects, and beholds the event by an enlightened mental perception. ---We recommend these remarks to those, who have found so much difficulty in seeing Christianity through the perspective of eighteen hundred years. Past events are not like a light-house, which fades on the sailors eye, as he surveys it over his stern, while ploughing out into the boundless ocean ; but they are like a planet rising with a brighter and purer light until it reaches the meridian. Pamphlets and private memoirs are continually conring up which throw light on the times of Cromwell. It is so with respect to the character of Buonaparte. There was a time when the murder of Capt. Wright and the massacre of Jafla were considered as entitled to equal credit. Now, probably no one believes the first of these stories, and no one doubts the last.–Our fathers are dead, and the shades of almost two centuries have settled over their sepulchres ; but behold! there arises a relict to paint their manners and even their very wits with all the freshness of original existence.

The first sensation we experienced in reading this little volume, was a feeling of wonder that it never had been permitted to see the light before. It has long been in the hands of authors, writing men, who have profited by its information; and no doubt must have been pleased with its author's spirit. Was it that its charming simplicity was thought ill calculated to please a vitiated age, or was it, that some writers supposed that their own reflected representations of puritan manners would be more vivid and satisfying than this original picture? The latter supposition is impossible. We feel thanful that a kind providence has watched over the frail. manuscript, and we tender our best thanks to the judicious editor, who has given this volume to the public. He has certainly judged right, in retaining the authography, the contractions and all the peculiarities of his venerable author. We have nothing to censure except the omissions, which, after long deliberation, he says, he concluded to make. What they were, or how powerful the reasons were for withholding any part of the work from the pub

he was.

lic, not having seen the manuscript, we are not competent to say.

We confess, for ourselves, if there was not some very strong objection, we should like to have seen Shepard just as

If there was a fantastic wrinkle in his cloak, let him wear it, for it marks the man.

There is, we believe, an original pattern after which most nations shape their character, and in which they place their reputation and glory. If the pattern be good, it is well to have it called from the dust and cobwebs which are gathering over it, and placed in broad view to the public contemplation. Israel of old rejoiced in believing in the Unity of God; Athens in her philosophers and poets ; Sparta in her discipline and apothegms; and Rome in her illustrious warriors. The glory of a nation is the character, which her original genius took, (what gave it that direction it is superfluous to inquire,) and in that track, if innocent, they should follow, as the subsequent waters must always replenish the channel, and roll in it, which the first rivulet has made. England will never forget her Bacon and Newton; and New England never her clergy, her Sabbaths, her fasts and thanksgivings; her sober manners, her stern spirit of self-denial, her orthodoxy and her God. Her character, we hope, will rise on as firm a basis as her rocky mountains; and every subsequent builder remember the first foundation, and give the building a compactness and consistency suitable to the great design. Our fathers, we may begin to ask,—where are they ? and the prophets, we find, do not live forever. But their spirit, we trust, will be as firm as our iron soil, and as permanent as the blessing of our God.

This work is a scrap; and, considered apart from all connexions as a mere work of talent and genius, not a very important scrap. It will certainly disgust by its simplicity those, who can relish nothing but the over-charged biograplıy of the present day. It has no attempts at fine writing ; no far-fetched metaphors. Its charm is the charm of sincerity; and every paragraph is an eflusion of the leart. It is the relict of a departed saint. It is the brick of an ancient edifice, bearing the mystic characters which transport us back to the seasons and times, when other manners reigned and other saints lived and prayed. We seem to go back and converse with the pious author, in an hour when he makes his most confidential communications.

We remember, when Lafayette visited this country, the peculiar impressions, which the event made on our heart. We had been accustomed to read of the heroes of the revolution ; to consider its events as passages long gone by ; and its actors as personages, whom we should never see in this

world, but in the light of history and in the greatness of their deeds. Even Fayette, from the habit of association, seemed to be among the dead, since those were dead with whom he assosociated while living. It was with peculiar feelings we saw him returning as it were from the tomb, to present us a specimen of the living agents of days long past." It is with similar sensations, on a more tender subject, that we survey this little book. It is the better part of Shepard speaking to us from the tomb; or rather not speaking from the tomb; but rising to walk with us as if still alive.

This work is a beautiful illustration of the spirit with which our Pilgrim fathers left their native land. There has been so much declamation on this point, and it is so natural for all nations to look back on their ancestors with an exaggerated estimation, that sometimes the suspicion has flitted across our minds, whether we were not also deceived; whether the Pilgrims were such gigantic heroes and saints, as their admiring posterity have been disposed to make them; and whether they did not at least derive part of their lustre from the darkness to which they were opposed, and the circumstances with which they were surrounded, rather than from their own independent worth. Particularly, we have always harbored a suspicion whether in their zealous opposition to a religion entirely political and secular, they did not overlook the influence of grace on the heart; in a word, whether they were the clear and spiritual Christians, which, since the days of Edwards and Whitefield, have been considered as composing the real church. This suspicion has been somewhat increased by certain passages in the books of that day; particularly the following in Mather's Magnalia, Book V. chap. xvii : “ The first churches of New England began only with a profession of assent and consent unto the confession of faith and the covenant of communion. Afterwards, they that sought for the communion, were but privately examined about a work of grace in their souls, by the elders, and then publicly propounded unto the congregation, only that so, if there were any scandal in their lives, it might be objected and considered." Their ideas also of the connexion of baptized children with the church, were confused and indefinite ; and many perhaps found their way to the Lord's table, who never found the Lord in their heart. We are pretty sure, that both Luther and Calvin, intent on the great controversies which divided them from the Roman church, were not so careful to examine into the state of the heart in those who professed religion, as is necessary to preserve in them the forms and the power of godliness. It was great slackness in discipline, with

hile at

out a corresponding strictness in examining such as are admitted to the church, which produced the commotions which expelled Calvin from Geneva. All these things considered, we have soinetimes harbored the suspicion, whether our puritan fathers were not more careful to prove the correctness of the faith of their followers, than to see the power of that faith in changing their hearts. We are happy to find, from this book, that some of them felt and portrayed, by a vivid delineation, the power of religion on their own souls. Mr. Shepard was the subject of experimental religion. His faith consisted not in an orthodox creed, but in the power of the Holy Spirit on his own soul. Like all converted men from the days of Paul to the present hour, he he was alive without the law once ; but when the commandment came, sin revived and he died. We shall not transcribe the account of his religious exercises college, because we would do nothing to diminish the pleasure with wbich every religious reader must peruse it in the book. It is a beautiful illustration that true religion is the same in every age. There is no love to Christ without conviction of sin ; no conviction of sin without a knowledge of the law; and no true acquaintance with any of these things, until a man is taught by his own experience. The secret of all Shepard's perseverance and success was, that he was taught of God.

It is strong confirmation of the truth of real religion, considered as an exercise of the heart, that in all ages its operations are the same. The same views of truth produced essentially the same impressions on the soul. We find Augustine in his confessions, lainenting his sins, driven off from his self-righteousness, and taking shelter under the cross of Christ. It is remarkable that his speculations and his experience always kept pace with each other; and he became an orthodox believer as soon as he had an orthodox heart. We find the same process of experience, the same heart-work in Owen, in Baxter, in Bunyan, in Whitefield, in Edwards, as in Shepard; men who were born in different ages; had different instructers; and were educated in different churches. Now here is a remarkable phenomenon in the history of human nature; here are witnesses of different characters and different temperaments; all of them habituated to self-inspection ; who rise up from different quarters and bear the same testimony to the power of inward religion. This fact has the same relation to a correct interpretation of the Bible, that a star has to a telescope, or light to the eye. It is impossible to understand the main truths of Christianity without seeing their action on the heart. The worms of the ground might as well undertake to comprehend the worth and pur

« PreviousContinue »