Page images
PDF

true, Might they not have applied to these ty in pieces, and which so unhappily drive two prelates what was said of Bossuet and the subjects of the Prince of Peace into inFenelon, 'l'un prouve la Religion, l'autre terminable war, and range them into so mala fult aimur.'

ny hostile bands, not against the common If we siudiously contrive how to furnish chemy, but against each other; we cannot the most complete triumpin to infidels, Con- forbear regretting that less temper is pretentious theology would be our best contri- served among these near neighbours in loVance. They enjoy the wounds the combat- cal situation and in Christian truth, than if ants inflict on each other, not so much from the attack of either were levelled at Jews, the personal injury which either night sus- Turks, or Infidels. tain, as from the conviction that every at- Is this that catholic spirit which embraces tack, however it may terminaic, weakens with the love of charity, though not of apthe common cause. In ail engagements probation, the whole offspring of our conuwith a foreign foe, they know that Christi- mon Father-which in the arms of its lange anity must come off triumphantly. All their affection, without vindicating their faults or hopes are founded on a civil war.

adopting their opinions, “takes every creaIf a forbearing temper should be main- ture in of every kind,' and which like its tained towards the irreligious, how much gracious Author, would not that any thing more by the professors of religion towards should perish? each other. As it is a lamentable instance The preference of remote to approximaof human infirmity that there is ofien much ting opinions is, however, by no means cohostility carried on by good men, who pro- fined to the religious world. The author of fess the same taith ; so it is a striking proof the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, of the litigious nature of man that this spirit though so passionate an admirer of the prois less excited by broad distinctions, (such phet of Arabia as to raise a suspicion of his as conscience ought not to reconcile) than own Islamism; though so rapturous an euloby shades of opimion, shades so few and light, gist of the apostate Julian as to raise a sustthat the world would not know they existed cion of his own polytheism, yet with an inat all, if by their animosities the disputants consistency not uncommon to unbelief, he were not so impatient to inform it.

treats the stout orthodoxy of the vehement While we should never withhold a clear Athanasius, with more respect than he and honest avowal of the great principles of shows to the 'scanty creed' of a contempoour religion, let us discreetly avoid dwelling rary philosopher and theologian, whose coid on inconsiderable distinctions, on which, as and comfortless doctrines were much less they do not affect the essentials either of removed from his own. faith or practice, we may allow another to Might not the twelve monsters which eren maintain his opinion, while we steadily hold the incredible strength and labour of Herfast our own. But in religious as in military cules found so hard to subdue, be interpretwarfare, it almost seems as if the hostility ed as an ingenious allegory, by which were were great in proportion to the littleness of meant twelve popular prejudices? But the point contested. We all remember though the hero went forth armed preterwhen two great nations were on the point of naturally, the goddess of Wisdom herself being involved in war for a spot of ground* furnishing him with his helmet, and the god in another hemisphere, so little known that of eloquence with his arrows, yet it is a the very name had scarcely reached us; so certain that he conquered the religious per inconsiderable that its possession would have judices, not of the world, but even of Arges added nothing to the strength of either. In and Mycenæ ; at least they were not allicas civil too, as well as in national and theologi- his earlier conquests; they were not serponis cal disputes, there is often most stress laid on which an infant hand could strangle. They the most indifferent things. Why would were more probably the fruitful hydrae the Spanish government some years ago so which lost nothing by losing a head, a new little consult the prejudices of the people, (head always starting up to supply the incosas nearly to produce an insurrection, by is-sant decapitation. But though he slew the suing an edict for them to relinquish the an- animal at last, might not its envenomed gore cient national dress? Why was the security in which his arrows were dipped be the peof the state, and the lives of the subjects put rennial fountain in which persecuung bigvis to hazard for a cloak and a jerkin? For the ry, harsh intolerance, and polemical acriobstinate people made as firm a stand against inony, have continued to dip their pens! this trifling requisition, as they could have. It is a delicate point to hit upon, neither to made for the preservation of their civil or vindicate the truth in so coarse a manner as religious liberty, if they had been so happy to excite a prejudice against it, nor to make as to possess either-a stand as firm as they any concessions in the hope of obtaining are now nobly making in defence of their popularity. If it be possible, as much country and their independence.

Jlieth in you, live peaceably with all men,' Without invidiously enumerating any of can no more mean that we should exercise the narrowing names which split Christiani-that false candour which conciliates at the

expense of sincerity, than that we shouka * Nootha Sound.

defend truth with so intolerant a spirit, as to

injure the cause by discrediting the advo- | of the point in debate : their unquestionacate.

ble truth availing nothing with those who As the apostle beautifully obtests his bre- do not allow it. But if we take some comthren, not by the power and dignity, but mon ground, on which both the parties can

by the meekness and gentleness of Christ,' stand, and reason from the analogies of naso every Christian should adorn his doctrine tural religion, and the way in which God by the same endearing qualities, evincing by proceeds in the known and acknowledged the brightness of the polish, the solidity of course of his providence, to the way in which the substance. But he will carefully avoid he deals with us, and has declared he will adopting the external appearance of these deal with us, as the God revealed in the Biamiable tempers as substitutes for piety, ble; our opponent may be struck with the when they are only its ornaments, Conde- similarity and be put upon a track of conscending manners may be one of the num-sideration, and be brought to a temper in berless modifications of selfishness, and re- considering which may terminate in the putation is thus often obtained, where it is happiest manner. He may be brought at not fairly earned. Carefully to examine length to be less averse from listening to us, whether he pleased others, for their good to on those grounds and principles of which edification, or in order to gain praise and probably he might otherwise never have popularity, is the bounden duty of a Chris- seen the value. tian.

Where a disputant of another description We should not be angry with the blind cannot endure what he sneeringly calls the for not seeing, nor with the proud for not ac- strictness of evangelical religion, he will knowledging their blindness. We ourselves have no objection to acknowledge the moperhaps were once as blind; happy if we mentous truths of man's responsibility to his are not still as proud. If not in this in- Maker, of the oinniscience, omnipresence, stance, in others perhaps they might have majesty and purity of God. Strive then to made more of our advantages than we have meet him on these grounds, and respectfully done; we, under their circumstances might inquire if he can sincerely affirm that he is. have been more perversely wrong than they acting up to the truths he acknowledges ? are, had we not been treated by the enlight. If he is living in all respects as an accountaened with more patient tenderness than we ble being ought to live?-If he is really conare disposed to exercise towards them, scious of acting as a being ought to act, who Tyre and Sidon, we are assured by Truth knows that he is continually acting under the itselt, would have repented, had they en-eye of a just and holy God? You will find joyed the privileges which Chorazin and he cannot stand on these grounds. Either Bethsaida threw away. Surely we may do he must be contented to receive the truth as that for the love of God, and for the love of revealed in the gospel, or be convicted of inour opponent's soul, which well-bred men consistency, or self-cleceit, or hypocrisy; do through a regard to politeness. Why you will at least drive him off his own ground shouid a Christian be more ready to offendi which he will find untenable, if you cannot against the rule of charity than a gentleman bring him over to yours. But while the against the rule of decorum ? Candour in enemy is effecting his retreat, do not you cut judging is like disinterestedness in acting; off the means of his return? both are statutes of the royal law.

| Some Christians approve Christianity as it There is also a kind of right which men is knowledge, rather than as it is principle, feel they possess to their own opinion, With They like it as it yields a grand object of this right it is often inore difficult to part than pursuit ; as it enlarges their view of things, even with the opinion itself. If our object as it opens to them a wider ficld of inquiry ; be the real good of our opponent; if it be a fresh source of discovery, an additional to promote the cause of truth, and not to topic of critical investigation. They concontest for victory, we shall remember this. sider it rather as extending the limits of We shall consider what a value we put up their research, than as a means of ennobling on our own opinion: why should his, though their affections. It furnishes their undera false one, be less dear to him, if he be- standing with a fund of riches on which they lieves it true? This consideration will teach are eager to draw, not so much for the imus not to expect too inuch at first. It will provement of the heart as of the intellect, teach us the prudence of seeking some ge- | 'They consider it as a thesis on which to neral point, in which we cannot fail to agree. raise interesting discussion, rather than as This will let him see that we do not differ premises from which to draw practical confrom him for the sake of differing ; which clusions ; as an incontrovertible truth, raconciliating spirit of ours may bring him to ther than as a rule of life. a temper to listen to arguments on topics There is something in the exhibition of where our disagreement is wider. " sacred subjects given us by these persons,

In disputing, for instance, with those who which according to our conception, is not wholly reject the divine authority of the only mistaken but pernicious. We refer to scriptures, we can gain nothing by quoting their treatment of religion as a mere science them, and insisting vehemently on the proot divested of its practical applicatio!), and which is to be drawn from them, in support|taken rather as a code of philosophical

speculations than of active principles. To rately argued. Nay we could almost smile explain our meaning, we might perhaps at the sight of some intricate and barren venture to except against the choice of novelty in religion, demonstrated to the satopics almost exclusively made by these tisfaction of some one ingenious theorist, who writers.

draws upon himself instantly a hundred After they have spent half a life upon the confutations of every position he maintains, evidences, the mere vestibule, so necessary, The ulterior stages of the debate are often we allow, to be passed into the temple of such as might make angels weep.' And Christianity, we accompany them into their when we remember that even in the most edifice, and find it composed of materials important questions, involving eternal intebut too co-incident with their former taste, rests, probability is the very guide of life,'* Questions of criticism, of grammar, of histo- we could most devoutly wish, that on subry, of metaphysics, of mathematics, and of jects, to say the least, not generally neces. all the sciences meet us, in the very place sary to salvation,' infallibility were not the of that which saint Paul tells us is the end claim of the disputant, or personal animosiof all,'—that is, •Charity out of a pure ty the condition of his failure, heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith! Such speculatists who are more anxious to unfeigned, from which' he adds, some ha- make proselytes to an opinion, than converts ving swerved, have turned aside to vain to a principle, will not be so likely to conjangling,'*

vince an opponent, as the Christian who is We are very far from applying the latter known to act up to his convictions, and term to all scientific discussions in religion, whose genuine píety will put life and heart of which we should be the very last to deny into his reasonings.' The opponent probathe use, or question the necessity. Our bly knows already all the ingenious argumain objection lies to the preponderance ments which books supply. Ingenuity given to such topics by our controversialists therefore, if he be a candid man, will not be in their divinity, and to the spirit too often so likely to touch him, as that 'godly sinmanifested in their discussions. A prepon- cerity' which he cannot but perceive the derance it is, which makes us sometimes heart of his antagonist is dictating to his lips. fear they consider these things rather as re-There is a simple energy in pure Christian ligion itself, than as helps to understand it, truth which a factitious principle imitates as the substitutes, not the allies of devotion. in vain. The knowledge which puffeth At the same time, a cold and philosophical up' will make few practical converts unacspirit, often studiously maintained, seems to companied with the charity which ediconfirm the suspicion, that religion with fieth. them is not accidentally, but essentially, To remove prejudices, then, is the bounand solely an exercise of the wits, and a den duty of a Christian, but he must take fiell for the display of intellectual prowess care not to remove them by conceding what -as if the salvation of souls were a ihing by integrity forbids him to concede. He must the by.

not wound his conscience to save his credit. These prize fighters in theology remind If an ill bred roughness disgusts another, a us of the philosophers of other schools : we dishonest complaisance undoes himself. He feel as if we were reading Newton against must remove all obstructions to the recepDes Cartes, or the theory of caloic in oppo- tion of truth, but the truth itself he must not sition to phlogiston. Nous le regardons,' adulterate. In clearing away the impedi says the eloquent Saurin upon some religi- ment, he must secure the principle. ous subject, pour la plupart, de la mente If his own reputation be attacked, he must maniere, dont ou envisage les idé es d'un defend it by every lawful means; nor will ancien philosophe sur le gouvernement.'- he sacrifice the valuable possession to any The practical part of religion in short is for- demand but that of conscience, to any call gotten, is lost in its theories; and what is but the imperative call of duty. If his good worst of all, a temper hostile to the spirit of name be put in competition with any other Christianity is employed to defend or illus- earthly good, he will preserve it, however trate its positions.

dear may be the good he relinquishes; but, This latter effect might be traced beyond if the competition lie between his reputation the foregoing causes, to another nearly allied and his conscience, he has no hesitation in to them the habit of creating religion as a making the sacrifice, costly as it is. A feelscience capable of demonstration. On a ing man struggles for his fame as for his life, subject evidently admitting but of moral but if he be a Christian, he parts with it, evidence, we lament to see questions dog- for he knows that it is not the life of his soul maticlly proved, instead of being tempe- For the same reason that we must not be

over anxious to vindicate our fame, we must * See 1 Tim. 1, 5, 6, also verse 4, in which the apos- be careful to preserve it from any unjust in tle hints at certain fables and endless genealogies, putation. The great apostle of the Gentiles which minister questions rather than godly edifying has set us an admirable example in both rewhich is by faith,.' We dare not say how closely this spects, and we should never consider him in description applies to some modern controvertists in theology:

• Builer's Introduction to. The Analogy."

one point of view, without recollecting his may be elevated into gratitude, and forgiveconduct in the other, So profound is his hu- ness into love. mility that he declares himself less than the least of all saints.' Not content with this comparative depreciation, he proclaims his actual corruptions. In me, that is, in my

CHAP. XV. flesh, there is no good thing.' Yet this deep self-abasement did not prevent him from as- On the propriety of introducing Religion in serting his own calumniated worth, from de

general conversation. claring that he was not behind the very .chiefest of the apostles;'-again— As the May we be allowed to introduce here an truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop opinion warmly maintained in the world, me of this boasting,' &c. He then enume- and which indeed strikes at the root of all rates, with a manly dignity, tempered with a rules for the management of religious debate noble modesty, a multitude of instances of recommended in the preceding chapter? It his unparalleled sufferings and his unrivalled is, that the subject of religion ought on no zeal.

occasion to be introduced in mixed compaWhere only his own personal feelings were ny ; that the diversity of sentiment upon it in question, how self-abasing, how self-anni-l is so great, and so nearly connected with the hilating ! But where the unjust imputation tenderest feelings of our minds, as to be liainvolved the honour of Christ and the credit ble to lead to heat and contention. Finally, of religion • what carefulness is wrought in that it is too grave and solemn a topic to be him, yea what clearing of himself; yea what mixed in the miscellaneous circle of social vehement desire; yea what zeal !

discourse, much less in the festive effusions While we rejoice in the promises annexed of convivial cheerfulness. Now, in answer to the beatitudes, we should be cautious of to these allegations, we must at least insist, applying to ourselves promises which do not that should religion, on other grounds, be belong to us, particularly that which is at- found entitled to social discussion, the last tached to the last beatitude. When our observation, if true, would prove convivial fame is attacked, let us carefully inquire, if cheerfulness incompatible with the spirit and we are suffering for righteousness' sake,' practice of religion, rather than religion inor for our own faults ; let us examine, admissible into cheerful parties. And it is whether we may not deserve the censures certainly a retort difficult of evasion, that we have incurred. Even if we are suffer- where to introduce Religion herself is to ing in the cause of God, may we not have endanger her honour, there she rather sufbrought discredit on that holy cause by our fers in reputation by the presence of her imprudence, our obstinacy, our vanity ; by friend. The man endeared by conviction to our zeal without knowledge, and our ear- his religion will never bear to be long, much nestness without temper? Let us inquire, less to be statedly separated from the object whether our revilers have not some founda- of his affections : and he whose zeal once detion for the charge? Whether we have termined him to know nothing amongst not sought our own glory more than that of his associates, but Jesus Christ and him God? Whether we are not more disap- crucified,' never could have dreamt of a pointed at missing that revenue of praise, latitude of interpretation, which would adwhich we thought our good works were en- mit a Christian into scenes where every titled to bring us in, than at the wound reli- thing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, gion may have sustained ? Whether, might be recognised with credit, though our views were right on the whole, These principles appear so plain and intheir purity was not much alloyed by human controvertible, that the question seems ramixtures? Whether, neglecting to count ther to call for a different statement, viz. the cost, we did not expect unmixed appro- Why religion should not be deemed admisbation, uninterrupted success, and a full sible into every social meeting and friendly tide of prosperity and applause, totally for-circle in which a Christian himself would getting the reproaches received, and the choose to be found ? That it is too weighty obloquy sustained by the Man of Sor- and important a subject for discussion, is an rows.

argument, which, standing alone, assumes If we can on an impartial review, acquit the gross absurdity that either men never ourselves as to the general purity of our talk of that which most nearly interests motives, the general integrity of our con- them, or that when they do, they talk imduct, the unfeigned sincerity of our endea- properly. They will not, it is true, introvours, then we may indeed, though with duce a private concern, however important, deep humility, take to ourselves the com- in which no one is interested but themselves. fort of this divine beatitude. When we re. But in the subject of religion, who is not inally find, that men only speak evil of us for terested? Or where will topics be found his sake in whose cause we have laboured, more universal in their application to all however that labour may have been min- times, persons, places and circumstances, as gled with imperfection, we may indeed .re-well as more important, than those whích joice and be exceeding glad.' Submission relate to the eternal welfare of mankind ?

Nor will it be avowed with great colour of safer to stifle it in the birth,' This, if not reason, that topics so important suffer in the avowed, is the implied sentiment. point of gravity, or in the respect of man- ! But is not this delicacy, this mauvaise kind, by frequent discussion. We never ob-honte, so peculiar perhaps to our countryserved men grow indifferent to their health, men on religious subjects, the very cause their affairs, their friends, their country, in which operates so unfavourably upon that proportion as these were made the subjects of effect which it labours to obviate? Is not their familiar discourse. On the contrary, the very infrequency of moral or religious oblivion has been noticed as the offspring of observations, a sufficient account to be given silence. The man who never mentions his both of the perplexity and the irritation said friend, is, we think, in general most likely to to be consequent upon their introduction? forget him. And far from deeming the name And were not religion (we mean such reliof ONE, greater than any earthly friend “ta- gious topics as may legitimately arise in ken in vain,' when mentioned discreetly in mixed society,) banished so much as it is conversation, we generally find him most re- from conversation, might not its occasional membered and respected in secret, by those recurrence become by degrees as natural, whose memories are occasionally refreshed perhaps as interesting, certainly as instrucby a reference to his word and authority in tive, and after all as safe, as 'a close compublic, Familiarity,'indeed, we have been mittee on the weather,' or any other of the told, produces contempt;' a truism, on authorized topics which are about as prowhich we are convinced many persons, ho-ductive of amusement as of instruction ? nestly, though blindly, rest their habitual, People act as if religion were to be regarded and even systematic reserve on religious at a distance; as if even a respectful ignosubjects. But familiarity' in our mind has rance were to be preferred to a more famireference rather to the manner, than to the liar approach. This reserve, however, does act, of introducing religion. Tous it is syno- not give an air of respect, so much as of nymous with a certain trite and trivial repc- mystery, to religion. An able writer* has tition of serious remarks, evidently 'to no observed, that was esteemed the most saprofit,' which we sometimes hear from per- cred part of Pagan devotion which was the sous familiarized, rather by education than most impure, and the only thing that was feeling, to the language of piety.

commendable in it is, that it was kept a More particularly we refer it to a still great mystery.' He approves of nothing in more criminal habit, which, to their dis- this religion but the modesty of withdrawgrace, some professors of religion share with ing itself from the eyes of the world.—But the profane, of raising a laugh by the intro- Christianity requires not to be shrouded in duction of a religious observation or even a any such mysterious recesses. She does Scriptural quotation. To court a grin not, like the Eastern monarchs, owe her when we should woo a soul,' is surely an dignity to her concealment. She is, on the abuse of religion, as well in the parlour as contrary, most honoured where most known, the pulpit. Nor has the senateitself been al- and most revered where most clearly visible. ways exempt from this impropriety. Dr. It will be obvious that hints rather than Johnson has long since pronounced a jest argument belong to our present undertaking. drawn from the Bible, the vulgarest because In this view, we may perhaps be excused if the easiest of all jests. ---And far from per-, we offer a few general observations, upon · verting religious topics to such a purpose the different occasions on which a well rehimself, a feeling Christian would not often gulated mind would be solicitous to introbe found, where such would be the proba- duce religion into social discourse. The perble consequence of offering a pious sentiment son possessed of such a mind, would be in company,

mainly anxious, in a society of Christians, That allusions involving religious ques- that something should appear indicative of tions are often productive of dispute and al- their profession. He would accordingly feel tercation, is a fact, which though greatly a strong desire to effect it, when he plainly exaggerated, must yet in a degree be ad-perceived his company engaged on no other mitted. This circumstance may in some topic either innocently entertaining, or rameasure account for the singular reception tionally instructive. The desire, however, which a religious remark is often observed would by no means cloud his brow, give an to meet with in the world. It is curious to air of impatience to his countenance, or rennotice the surprise and alarm which, onder him inattentive to the general tope and such occasions, will frequently pervade the temper of the circle. On the contrary, he party present. The remark is received as would endeavour to feel additional interest a stranger guest, of which no one knows the in his neighbour's suggestions, in proportion quality or intentions. And, like a species as he hoped in turn to attract notice to his of intellectual foundling, it is cast upon the own. He would show long forbearance to company without a friend to foster its infan- the utmost extent of conscientious toleration. cy, or to own any acquaintance with the pa- In the prosecution of his favourite design, rent. A fear of consequences prevails. It he would never attempt a forced or unreais obvious that the feeling isWe know not into what it may grow : it is therefore

* Bishop Sherlock.

« PreviousContinue »