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quently, devoted their rare talents to subjects peculiarly suited to this day; and that not merely in the didactic form of sermons, which men of the world affect to disdain, but in every alluring shape which human ingenuity could assume. It can be fortunately produced among a thousand other instances, that the deepest metaphysician,* the greatest astronomer, the sublimest poet, the acutest reasoner, the politest writer, the most consummate philosopher, and the profoundest investigator of nature, which this or perhaps any country has produced, have all written on such subjects as are analogous to the business of the Lord's day. Such authors as these, even wits, philosophers, and men of the world, must acknowledge that it is not bigotry to read, nor enthusiasm to commend. Of this illustrious group, only one,t was a clergyman; which, to a certain class of readers, will be a strong recommendation; though it is a little hard that the fastidiousness of modern taste should undervalue the learned and pious labors of divines, only because they are professional. In every other function, a man's compositions are not the less esteemed because they peculiarly belong to his more immediate business. Blackstone's opinions in jurisprudence are in high reputation, though he was a lawyer; Sydenham is still consulted as oracular in fevers, in spite of his having been a physician; and the Commentaries of Cæsar are of established authority in military operations, notwithstanding he was a soldier.
* Locke, Newton, Milton, Butler, Addison, Bacon, Boyle.
+ Dr. Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, author of the Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion.”
RELIGION OF THE FASHIONABLE WORLD.
[First printed, without a name, in 1791.]
There was never found, in any age of the world, either Philosophy, or Sect, or Religion, or Law, or Discipline, which did so highly exalt the public good as the Christian Faith.-LORD Bacon.
The general design of these pages is to offer some cursory jemarks on the present state of religion among a great part of the polite and the fashionable ; not only among that description of persons, who, whether from disbelief or whatever other cause, avowedly neglect the duties of Christianity; but among that more decent class also, who, while they acknowledge their belief of its truth by a public profession, and are not inattentive to any of its forms, yet exhibit little of its spirit in their general temper and conduct. It is designed to show that Christianity, like its divine Author, is not only denied by those who in so many words disown their submission to its authority, but is betrayed by the still more treacherous disciple, even while he cries, “Hail, Master!”
For this visible declension of piety various reasons have been assigned, some of which, however, do not seem fully adequate to the effects ascribed to them. The author of a late popular pamphlet * has accounted for the increased profli
*“ Hints to an Association for preventing Vice and Immorality, written by a Nobleman of the highest Rank." "[This tract was written by the late Duke of Grafton; and the Association which occasioned its publication was set on foot by Mr. Isaac Hawkins Browne, and other virtuous patriots, to enforce the royal proclamation for the suppression of Vice and Immorality. The duke's professed object was to attack the liturgy and clergy of the Church of England, His performance was keenly replied to by Bishop Horne, in “ An Apology for the Liturgy and Clergy,” 8vo. 1790.-ED.]
gacy of the common people, by ascribing it, very justly, to the increased dissoluteness of their superiors. And who will deny what he further affirms—that the general conduct of high and low receives a great tincture of depravity from the growing neglect of public worship ? So far I most cordially agree with the noble author. Nothing can be more obvious than that the disuse of public worship is naturally followed by a neglect of all religious duties. Energies which are not called out into action, almost necessarily die in the mind. The soul, no less than the body, requires its stated repairs and regular renovations. And from the sluggish and procrastinating spirit of man, that religious duty to which no fixed time is assigned, is seldom, it is to be feared, performed at all.*
I must, however, take leave to dissent from the opinion of the noble author, that the too common desertion of persons of rank from the service of the Establishment is occasioned in general, as he intimates, by their disapprobation of the liturgy; as it may more probably be supposed, that the far greater part of them are deterred from going to church by motives widely removed from speculative objections and conscientious scruples.
It would be quite foreign to my present purpose to enter upon the question of the superior utility of a form of prayer for public worship. Most sincerely attached to the Establishment myself, not, as far as I am able to judge, from prejudice, but from a fixed and settled conviction, I regard its institutions with a veneration at once affectionate and rational. Never need a Christian, except when his own heart is strangely indisposed, fail to derive benefit from its ordinances; and he may bless the overruling providence of God, that, in this instance, the natural variableness and inconstancy of human opinion is, as it were, fixed and settled, and hedged in by a stated service so pure, so evangelical, and which is enriched by such a large infusion of Sacred Scripture.
If so many among us contemn the service, as having been, individually, to us fruitless and unprofitable, let us inquire whether the blessing may not be withheld because we are not fervent in asking it. If we do not find a suitable humiliation in the confession, a becoming earnestness in the petitions, a congenial joy in the adoration, a corresponding gratitude in the thanksgivings, it is because our hearts do not accompany our words; it is because we rest in “the form of godliness,"?
* On this subject, see Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton.
and are contented to remain destitute of its “ power.” If we are not duly interested when the select portions of Scripture are read to us, it is because we do not as “new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby.”
Perhaps there has not been, since the age of the apostles, a church upon earth in which the public worship was so solemn, and so cheerful; so simple, yet so sublime; so full of fervor, at the same time so free from enthusiasm ; so rich in the gold of Christian antiquity, yet so astonishingly exempt from its dross. That it has imperfections, we do not deny ; but what are they, compared with its general excellence ? They are as the spots on the sun's disk, which a sharp observer may detect, but which neither diminish the warmth, nor obscure the brightness.
But if those imperfections, which are inseparable from all human institutions, are to be alleged as reasons from abstaining to attend on the service of the established church, we must, on the same principle, and on still stronger grounds, abstain from all public worship whatever; and, indeed, it must be confessed, that the persons of whom we are now speaking are very consistent in this matter.
But the difference of opinion here intimated is not so much about the liturgy itself, as the imaginary effects attributed to it in thinning the pews of our people of fashion. The slightest degree of observation serves to contradict this assertion. Those, however, who, with the noble author, maintain the other opinion, may satisfy their doubts by inquiring whether the regular and systematic absentees from church are chiefly to be found among the thinking, the reading, the speculative, and the scrupulous part of mankind.
Even the most negligent attendant on public worship must know, that the obnoxious creed, to whose malignant potency this general desertion is ascribed by the noble author, is never read above three or four Sundays in the year; and even, allowing the validity of the objections brought against it, that does not seem a very adequate reason for banishing the most scrupulous and tender consciences from church on the remaining eight-and-forty Sundays of the calendar.
Besides, there is one test which is absolutely unequivocal; this creed is never read at all in the afternoon, any more than the litany, that other great source of offence and supposed desertion; and yet, with all these multiplied reasons for their attendance, do we see the conscientious crowds of the high-born, who abstain from morning service through their repugnance to subscribe to the dogmas of Athanasius, or the more orthodox clauses of the morning litany-do we see them, I say, flocking to the evening service, impatient for the exercise of that devotion which had been obstructed by these two objectionable portions of the liturgy? Do we see them eager to explain the cause of their morning absence, and zealous to vindicate their piety by assiduously attending when the reprobated portions are omitted? So far from it, is it not pretty evident that the general quarrel (with some few exceptions) of those who habitually absent themselves from public worship, is not with the creed, but the commandments? With such, to reform the prayer-book would go but a little way unless the New Testament could be also abridged.* Cut, and pare, and prune the service of the church ever so much, still Christianity itself will be found full of formidable objections. Should the church even give up her abstruse creeds, it would avail but little, unless the Bible would also expunge those rigorous laws which not only prohibit sinful actions, but corrupt inclinations. And, to speak honestly, I do not see how such persons as habitually infringe the laws of virtue and sobriety, and who yet are men of acute sagacity, accustomed on other subjects to a consistent train of reasoning; who see consequences in their causes; who behold practical self-denial necessarily involved in the sincere habit of religious observances—I do not see how, with respect to such men, any doctrines reformed, any redundancies lopped, any obscurities brightened, could effect the object of this author's very benevolent and Christian wish.
Religious duties are often neglected upon more consistent grounds than the friends of religion are willing to allow. They are often discontinued, not as repugnant to the understanding, not as repulsive to the judgment, but as hostile to a licentious life. And when a prudent man, after having entered into a solemn convention, finds that he is living in a constant breach of every article of the treaty he has engaged to observe, one cannot much wonder at his getting out of the hearing of the heavy artillery which he knows is planted against him, and against every one who lives in the allowed infraction of the covenant into which every Christian has entered.
* The truth of this observation has been made to appear in what is called “the Improved Version of the New Testament;" where all that offends the Unitarians, as the Socinians now style themselves, is expurgated. Yet, even what is suffered to remain of the dismembered code is sufficient to convince every rational man that the Christian revelation is a religion of mystery, and that its Founder was more than human.-ED,