SENEGAL, was a man of talents and profound education, but living a sedentary life, was attacked with the hypocondria. In his study, he embraced the idea that his body was crystalline glass: of course, in all his garden walks, he took great care to preserve his body from being broken to shivers. He was first a fool to believe what was false, then wise, as Daniel, to preserve the result of folly.
I am frequently reminded of Senegal, when I observe the measures of religious theorists in these days. Infallibus is one of those theorists. A system of consistency is his boast. He has fixed a number of monuments, in a straight line, from earth to heaven, but, in steering from one monument to another, the road is not so smooth as he wishes for. The plain phraseology, and apparent meaning of texts of Scripture, do not volunteer themselves to his service as he desires: he, therefore, forms an imaginary monument, which, he says, lies in a direct line, between two unquestionable monuments. This ideal monument he believes in, as much as he believes in his own existence. And the reason why he believes it with a faith so firm, is because he must believe it, or abandon his boast of consistency. Having laid down his thesis, (which, to others, appears very problematical,) be then exerts all his powers and learning to support it. The more doubtful his thesis is, the more he labors to maintain, and the greater his talents are, the greater is the prospect of making many disciples. Hence, the greatest errors often arise from the weakness of great men, for little men have neither character, to give their opinions a hearing, nor arguments to defend them, but great men have both. It is a saying among barristers, that “plain cases need no elaborate defence.” So the essentials of religion are made as plain in the Bible, (not to say more so,) as they can be made in any book.
Rusticus is a marksman: he levelled his rifle at a buck: the sight, on the muzzle, varied but the forty-eighth part of an inch, from the true line to the neck artery; but in the distance of one hundred yards, the ball declined so far from the line, that it never touched the game. So it is with metaphysical reasoning: the smallest error, in the outset, though undiscovered by the writer or reader, if pursued, under the pretext of consistency, will lead to an amazing distance from the truth.
The Bible is not written in systematical form; but heavenly truths are interspersed in it, in a manner somewhat promiscuous, and he that simply reads will generally gain more to instruct his mind, and warm his heart than he who reads to find supports for his system.
After all, I am convinced that a fondness for systematical consistency is interwoven in our nature, and has its advantages in a religious life. Without it, the student in divinity will never be a close thinker – he will be too licentious in his conclusions – he will, too much, feel the impression of every moment, and, of course, pull up stakes too soon, and be driven about with every wind of doctrine. We may, with certainty, argue, that God is a God of order, equal in all his ways, and that a consistency runs through all his works. With equal certainty we may reason, that our own capacities are limited – that divine materials will not submit to human standards – that we may be most in the wrong when we think ourselves to be nearest right. With such reflections in our minds, we ought to follow the clearest light – hold fast that which we believe to be true, but always stand open to conviction – willing to part with error when we can gain truth for it, and remember that the great characteristic of a disciple of Jesus, is to be a little child, possessing an honest heart.
These reflections involuntarily bring my own exercises into view. It has ever been a hard lesson for me to know how to address an assembly of sinners, as such, in gospel style. That the salvation of the soul is from the Lord, and the destruction of the soul is from ourselves, is evident. Nothing is better supported than that men are saved by grace, arid damned for sin, but to reconcile these two evident axioms together, and clear the Almighty from being a respecter of persons, involves such difficulties in my mind, that neither Gill nor Wesley – Hopkins nor Fuller – Winchester nor Paine, can relieve me from them, and the reasoning of my own, are as inefficient. But, when the Lord pleases to quicken me by his holy spirit, and fill my soul with the fulness of the gospel of Jesus, I can, at such periods, address the ungodly without any hesitancy of a deception. Then the words flow from my heart – feel important iii my mouth, and fall on the audience. No whispering then in my heart, “perhaps you are wrong;” no fiery dart to make me blush in the pulpit; what before seemed irreconcileable, now becomes plain. My own soul finds pleasure in the truth, and I feel a confidence that God approves the words of my mouth. But when the heavenly gale ceases to blow, the vision closes, nor can I, with all my reasoning powers, retain that view of the harmonious scheme of salvation.
This circumstance is additional proof to me, that the plan of God is better understood by the influence of grace, than it can be by all moral reasoning on the fitness of things. I here subjoin, I have often sat with plea. sing wonder and solemn awe, to hear men of small capacities, (when preaching in a full tide of heavenly love,) address the ear’s, judgments and consciences of the assembly, while men of much greater accomplishments, destitute of the divine influence, do but mangle heavenly things.
“Without me, ye can do nothing,” says Jesus.
Miscellaneous Essays, In Prose and Verse.
Elder John Leland
Published sometime since 1810 (precise year unknown)
The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland
Pages 422 – 423