« PrécédentContinuer »
through the atonement made by the offering of his Son, the boundless and overwhelming effects of his love herein displayed, and the radiant light and hopes of everlasting blessedness and spiritual enjoyment, which, by the event commemorated, they were encouraged to anticipate, were all adapted to awaken, in minds susceptible as theirs, no common train of feelings. Often have we seen the intense emotion of the heart, at these seasons, strongly depicted in the countenance, and the face. suffused with tears.
The hundreds who remained to witness the scene were not unconcerned spectators. Their deep interest in what was passing, was indicated in their thoughtful and agitated countenances, and the subsequent conduct of many evinced the kind of impression they received. The anxious concern which we had witnessed among the people, since the preceding summer, appeared to increase, and demanded redoubled efforts for their spiritual advantage. Numbers came as candidates for baptism, and regularly attended the meeting for the instruction of such. Others, from among those who had been baptized, desired to be admitted to church fellowship.
Our liveliest affections were awakened on their behalf; but while we had reason to believe many were sincere, we had also reason to fear that others were influenced by less commendable motives. Anxious to afford encouragement or caution, as the circumstances or character of each required, it was not easy to satisfy our own minds as to the best manner of proceeding. We feared to discourage any who were sincerely seeking a more intimate acquaintance with Christ, and who were desirous to be fully instructed in all things con
cerning his will. On the other hand, we were equally fearful of encouraging the indulgence of improper views, or of admitting to the ordinances of the gospel any who were uninfluenced by those motives which Christ would approve.
There was, however, no part of our charge in whose welfare we now felt so deeply interested, as the little flock, of which the great Shepherd had made us the pastors. So far from considering our work done, with special reference to those whom we had instructed in the nature of a Christian church, and had admitted to this fold, we considered it as only the commencement of a new series of important and interesting duties, arising out of the new relation now subsisting between us. We experienced an attachment binding our hearts to theirs, to which we had before been strangers, and we had reason to believe the feeling was reciprocal.
Their knowledge was but limited, notwithstanding all our efforts to instruct them; and as their duties increased, their situation became more conspicuous, and their temptations greater. Latent depravity still lurked in their hearts, and it might be expected that their great spiritual adversary would not leave them unmolested. We were also fearful lest the privileges they were raised to enjoy might engender or nourish secret pride, or induce a disposition to rest satisfied with having obtained admission to the outward and visible church of Christ, and thus lead them to neglect that constant seeking after God, and the cultivation of those Christian virtues, by which alone they could sustain, with credit to Christianity, and benefit to their own minds, the situation to which they had been raised. They would naturally become models
of imitation to others, and would exert no ordinary influence on the community at large. It was therefore gratifying to behold them humble, prayerful, watchful, and diligent. The weekly meeting with the candidates for communion, whose number was greatly increased, we constantly attended, and recommended the church members not to absent themselves unnecessarily.
At these times we endeavoured to explain the truths in which they were most interested, and, with regard to the members themselves, leaving the first principles of the doctrines of Christ, we endeavoured gradually and gently to lead them on to a more extensive acquaintance with the grand and varied doctrines of the gospel, and the important relative and other duties resulting therefrom.
These meetings were exceedingly interesting, from the simple yet unequivocal evidences often afforded of the operation of the Spirit of the Almighty upon the hearts of the people. Our little church, from time to time, received considerable accessions of such as we had reason to hope were also members of the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.
In the admission of members, we acted with what perhaps many would consider the extreme of caution. Individuals whose moral character has been irreproachable, whose views of divine truth have been clear and scriptural, and whose motives, so far as we could judge, have been pure, have remained two, and sometimes three years as candidates, although we could not prefer any allegation directly against them. The admission of such has been declined, because we feared, that though their knowledge was commendable, and their con
duct influenced by the precepts of the gospel, their hearts were not under its decisive influence; in short, that they had not undergone that change of mind, which our Lord himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus, called being "born again," and without which he had declared no man can enter into the kingdom of heaven. In other instances, however, the testimony relative to this change was so decisive and powerful, that we could not, dared not, hesitate.
The reason the natives have given of their Christian hope, has often been not only satisfactory, as it regarded the individual, but important, and in a high degree interesting, as an evidence of the universality of the depravity of man; and also as shewing the effects of Divine truth, under the influence of the Spirit of God, to be the same in every clime, producing corresponding effects upon men of every diversity in colour, language, and circumstance. Hence, one of the strongest modern evidences in the history of man, of the unequivocal origin of Christianity, has been afforded, and its perfect adaptation to the condition of the whole human race.
The same latent enmity to the moral restraints Christianity imposes on the vicious propensities of men, the same unwillingness to admit its uncompromising claims to the surrender of the heart, was experienced here, as in other parts. The same
tendency to suppose the favour of God might be obtained by services which they could perform, and the same unbelief under convictions of sin, and unwillingness to go to the Saviour without a recommendation that is so often met with in otherswas felt by them.
But while, in these respects, the experience of
the converts in the South Sea Islands resembled that of Christians in other parts of the world, there were points in which it has often appeared to us peculiar. We never met with one who doubted the natural depravity, or innate tendency to evil, in the human heart. We never met with any who were inclined to suppose they could, without some procuring cause, be justified in the sight of God. This may perhaps arise from the circumstance of there being no individual among them, whose past life had not been polluted by deeds which even natural conscience told them were wrong, and consequently, no arguments were necessary to convince any one that he was guilty before God. They must have denied the existence of the Deity, and of all by which the living God is distinguished from their own senseless idols, before they could for a moment suppose their past lives appeared otherwise than criminal before Him. Their fearful state, and the consequences of guilt, they never disputed, but were always ready to acknowledge that they must not only appear criminal, but offensive to the Most High, on account of their vices. There were, however, in connexion with these truths, matters associated with the impression upon their minds, that sometimes a little surprised us.
Ünder declarations of the nature and dreadful consequences of sin, aggravated as theirs had been, the denunciation of the penalties of the law of God, and even under the awakenings of their own consciences to a conviction of sin, we seldom perceived that deep and acute distress of mind, which in circumstances of a similar kind we should have expected. In connexion with this, when such individuals were enabled to exercise faith in the