Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Iced , pitied se, attr

of prayer-leaders into all the neighboring villages and towns about Halifax, and in many of them he was the first to introduce Methodism and found societies and chapels. He conducted sometimes seven or eight meetings on a single Sabbath. His praying bands multiplied at last to twelve, and he became a praying bishop in a large diocese, which was kept alive with evangelic energy.

In 1803 he was enrolled on the “Local Preachers' Plan.” Crowds now flocked to the chapels in Halifax and elsewhere to hear him, and he immediately became one of the notabilities of Methodism, his fame spreading throughout the country. His genial spirit, his deep piety, his originality of thought and simple but strong language, attracted irresistibly the rude masses; they both pitied and revered him. “Many of his sermons produced,” says his biographer, “extraordinary impressions.” Like the “ Village Blacksmith” and the “ Yorkshire Farmer,” he had several remarkable discourses, which became celebrated, under quaint titles, among the common people. His sermons on “The Vision of Dry Bones," on “Studying to be quiet and do our own business,” and on Whitfield's favorite text, “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord,” will “never be forgotten by those who heard them.” The latter especially is said to have usually produced electrical effect.

If Jonathan Saville was not grateful for his personal deformity, he was grateful for the advantages it gave him in his Christian labors. It made his appeals in behalf of the poor and afflicted irresistible; it gave force, by contrast with his peculiar talents, to his public discourses; it commanded tender respect from even ruffian men; drunkards in the street, it is said, became reverential as he passed them, for they knew what he had endured and how he had conquered. It is remarkable, says his biographer, how seldom they were known to treat him with incivility. One case is recorded that proved a blessing which the crippled evangelist would not have foregone. On going to a country appointment an intoxicated man knocked him down, calling him “a crooked little devil.” “ The God that made me crooked made thee straight," said the preacher as he rose. Whether the drunkard perceived the significant rebuke or not, the exhortation which followed it sunk into his heart. Years later, when Saville had been preaching in the city of Hull, a stranger seized his hand, exclaiming, “I bless God that ever I knocked thee down !” The good man was astonished; the stranger recalled to him the old offense, and said that it led to his reformation and conversion.

He became one of the most successful champions of the new inissionary movement of Methodism, and was one of the most popular speakers of the connection on the missionary platform. Some of his speeches have been pronounced “brilliant, and worthy of men of greater name.” He stood up, in this cause, by the side of the greatest Wesleyan leaders, and hardly could their superior abilities prove more effective on popular occasions than his peculiar genius.

Jonathan Saville, Samuel Hick, and William Dawson, personal friends and fellow-laborers, were, in fine, three of the most useful and historical men of Methodism during these times, and for most of the first half of the new century. Its strict regimen trained them to habits which, notwithstanding their eccentric tendencies, never detracted from its honor; their peculiarities never degenerated into vulgar indecorums; they were made by their religion modest as well as brave men, deferential to authorities, and regardful of religious discipline. They were good examples to all their brethren except in their peculiar talents, and were not so in their talents only because these were inimitable.

Such were some of the representative men, in the itinerant and in the lay ministries, with which God blessed the Wesleyan Church about the time of its emergence from the dark days of its seven years' trial after the death of its founder. When the missionary era of its history fully set in, they were prepared to take the lead of the movement. It deepened and widened under their labors till it became the great characteristic of modern Methodism, raising it from a revival of vital Protestantism chiefly among the Anglo-Saxon race, to a world-wide system of evangelization which has reacted on all the great interests of its Anglo-Saxon field, has energized and ennobled it in all its characteristics, and would seem to pledge to it a universal and perpetual sway in the earth.

ART. II.- ANNIHILATION.

The doctrine of the ultimate annihilation of the wicked has received fresh impulse within a few years from having been embraced by a large section of the “Second Advent” or “ Millerite” sect, and from the publication of several works of considerable theological and exegetical ability in Great Britain and in our own land. The position assumed is, that immortality is not a characteristic of the soul as such, but a gift of God to the righteous alone, which was forfeited in the fall and is restored in Christ; that the promise of “eternal life” to believers is emphatically a promise of endless existence, and that the threatening of “death” to the wicked signifies the destruction of their being. This view is defended as the literal and proper sense of Scripture, from which there is no warrant to depart. When we say that the body dies, we are supposed to mean that it ceases to be; and hence it is argued that when God says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die,” he must mean that such a soul shall no longer exist. With the word death are joined, for similar argumentative use, the words destroy, destruction, perish, perdition, consume, burn, and devour, which are employed in the Bible to denote the punishment of sin, or the effect of the divine wrath. To this exegetical defense the advocates of the annihilation theory add theological considerations. They adopt and urge the objections of Universalists against the “orthodox” doctrine of eternal punishment, but claim that they avoid the pernicious Universalist error of teaching that all will finally reach heaven. They hope to relieve theology from the difficulties of " orthodoxy” while yet providing, according to Scripture and the necessities of moral government, an irreversible doom of exclusion from heaven of all impenitent sinners. And thus they believe that annihilation will relieve God's universe of sin by the simple and easy process of blotting from existence the offenders.

The purpose of the writer in examining this doctrine restricts him to the utterances of the Saviour respecting the future life, and he therefore raises the question whether Jesus taught that annihilation was to be the final punishment of the wicked. Upon this let it be remarked, 1. That the argument from his use of the words “life” and “death” is not valid to prove annihilation, even should we accept their literal meaning. Death of itself never means annihilation. A separate word and an additional process must be introduced to convey such an idea. I do not mean simply that death never annihilates material substance, though that fact may well be weighed by those who discuss the subject in hand. So far as we can detect, there is no annihilation of substance in God's universe. Not that it is an impossibility, for the power that creates can uncreate ; but that it seems to be no part of God's plan to annihilate the smallest particle or essence to which he has given being. No hint (much less an analogy) of such a thing is obtained from the vast realms of nature. Matter changes its form, its locality, its density, its color, its smell; it becomes now visible and then invisible; first a solid, then a fluid, and then a gas; but it never ceases to be. Wood burns in the fire and mostly disappears, but nothing material has been annihilated; part is changed to ashes, and part has taken the form of smoke and gas. A tree falls and decays, and passes through the same process of decomposition, but not of annihilation. The body of man or beast when it dies dissolves into its orig. inal elements, but leaves no real vacancy in the world. There is no opening through God's universe of matter by which the minutest atom can fall into the utter void and be lost. Hence nature furnishes no analogy to aid the doctrine against which I contend.

But it may be said, that though death does not annihilate matter in its substance, it destroys the peculiar organization which constitutes individual things what they are in distinction from each other, so that it annihilates the particular plant or animal as such. But if this be admitted, its only bearing is apon organized matter, or objects made out of separate particles by curious and diversified arrangement, and which, therefore, on occasion of disorganization, revert to their original elements. How does that touch the question of the soul? Is that made up of elementary spiritual particles? Is there such a thing as soul-dust, to which dead souls moulder back, and out of which new souls may spring? Is the thinking spirit composite and organic in structure, resolvable by a divine chemistry into an original spiritual substance that has yet no consciousness, no intelligence, no will, none of the distinctive properties of the organized, individual soul? It will be long before the annihilationists can demonstrate such analogy between the material and spiritual creation, or persuade the world that the bolder materialistic ideas of some of their number are other than false and degrading.

But is the assertion strictly true even of material bodies? Does death itself disorganize and disintegrate, or does it simply furnish the occasion for the action upon bodies of the permanent forces of nature? The exact fact seems to be, that death is simply the removal from the organization of a mysterious principle called life, leaving the former perfect and entire, but immediately subject to the ordinary laws of chemical action which previously had been held in suspense by the vital force. These laws seize upon the body after it is dead and destroy its organization, resolving it into dust and gases. Death has to do with the process only by removing the counteracting power. The body is dead before any such destruction commences, beyond what disease may have wrought as the counteracting force of life was withdrawing. We can even conceive that the organization might remain entire for days or weeks and yet the body be dead; just as we conceive that God created Adam, so far as bodily organization was concerned, while yet there was no life, till something of a higher nature was added.

What we mean by death, then, is not decay, corruption, annihilation, which, however certain, are subsequent events; but a departure of that vital principle which insures the use of the organization and the perfect acting of all its functions. When that ceases we pronounce the body dead, without reference to the effect upon the organization, even though it should continue in existence forever, an eternal corpse. In what sense, then, does the ordinary literal meaning of the word death signify annihilation? I do not see. It never implies destruction of substance, and, in material organizations, does not cause dissolution, though leading to it. There would appear to be a begging of the question by the destructionists at the outset, and the assertion of a false premise as the very first step in the argument! If death is properly only a ceasing to perform those functions which constitute or manifest life, if it be but

« AnteriorContinuar »