Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

For among

to which he makes this surrender, according to reason's dictate, he would be found in woful deficiency. But if this can be said of the green tree, what must be the state of the dry ?

In looking round on the reading public, the eye settles upon one class of men, to whom the culture of religious affections can be a matter of no interest. They are living in a cherished disbelief of the doctrines of Christianity, and although they comply perhaps with its public observances, yet they do so out of mere condescension to the credulity of their weaker brethren, or on grounds which are purely secular, that they may not defeat the influence of what they regard as a very serviceable delusion. the more reputable even of sceptics themselves, the impression is pretty general, that something more than the philosopher can furnish, or the moralist enforce, is necessary to quell the insurrectionary spirit of man; while, of all the expedients for this purpose which have ever yet been heard of, Christianity has the first and the fairest claim--a concession, by the way, which, if pressed to its consequences, might turn out to be more candid than considerate ; for that which, after an ample experiment, is found to be best suited to the present condition of man, is most likely to have come from the God who made him. But to expostulate with such persons on their want of feeling on religious subjects, is to begin at the wrong end of the subject. They cannot be swayed by the authority of Christianity, because they disown that authority; they cannot be awed by its sublimities, because they have never recognized them; nor can they be softened into tenderness at the thought

of its flowing munificence, because they believe it to have no existence except in the day-dreams of visionary minds. We may tell them, that this exalted offspring of the Deity has resources of her own to sustain her, without the aid of their hypocrisy; that, in the consciousness of intrinsic competency for extending her empire over the human family, she scorns the proffer of their hollow alliance ; that she is so

; pure, and so gentle, and so full of good fruits, as to maintain her own credit and support her own pretensions; and that, if they will not do justice to her credentials, by yielding them the homage of an honest belief, they had better refrain from her, and let her alone : but to claim from them those affections, which spring from her genius, and felicitate the hearts of her subjects, would be to expose her, in all her sacredness, to their impious derision.

Nor do we deprecate such an exposure for her sake, but for theirs. She may be maligned, or resisted, or detained in unrighteousness, but she cannot be exterminated; and she is fearful in taking vengeance. The demand is made upon them, first for belief, and then for fervent affection, as the result of that belief; and to neutralize the demand, is as impossible as to break loose from the control of the God of Nature. Christianity is “ the kingdom of God," and evinced to be so by signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. The present administration of this kingdom may be converted into “ a stone of stumbling or a rock of offence;" and if a man s shall fall on this stone, he shall be broken ; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”

It is that portion of the professing community,

a

then, who give way to the truth of our religion, as well as take part in its outward observances, who are most directly accessible in a discussion of this kind. With them, the advocate of Christianity has at least this advantage, that they are at one with him, or take themselves to be so, as to the reality of the great subject for which he pleads. In this department there are two modifications of conduct, or two extremes, in religious affections, which come very prominently into view. The one is a total destitution of these affections, the other a diversified irregularity, or palpable want of wisdom in the culture and display of them; and although the first of these

may be regarded as the most prevalent, as well as in itself the most injurious, yet they are both to be met with in the present state of religious society, and are both operating very injuriously to the diminution of Christian piety.

However strange the thing may appear, it is nevertheless undeniable, that there are many persons, professing Christianity, and prepared, in words, to sound its praises, who have never surrendered their hearts to its influence, nor ever seriously proposed to do so: although placed in circumstances where the tendencies of this influence are presented to their view in inspired description or in living character, they think of it, and talk about it, as

does a blind man about the beauties of colour, or cherish, perhaps, so inveterate a dislike of it, that, were the question put to them in the mildest possible manner, or with the most benevolent intentions, What do you know of the religion of the heart ? they could scarcely refrain from resenting it as the language of unbearable insult. Still they do not esteem themselves profane men, nor do they wish to be regarded as such by others. Their conduct is measured by the rules of a correct morality; their presence in the social circle may be a protection from the nuisance of flagrant impiety; or their influence a valuable auxiliary to the dispensers of religious instruction.

They make their appearance among Christian worshippers, perhaps, with a commendable regularity; they take part in the prayers or the melodies of the scene, with a most exemplary outward decorum; and they listen, or seem to listen, to whatever is convincing or instructive, or admonitory or consoling, in a diversified Christian ministration, while they pass through the whole with as much apathy, as if mere good-breeding were the sum total of social religion.

It is admitted, indeed, that the man who is thus precise in his devotion to the ceremony of religion, must come to be interested in it, either pleasurably or otherwise.

The very growth of habit, as superinduced by practice, will contribute something to this; while his partialities for a particular ministration, or his aversion to it, with the display of talent or imbecility, of taste or vulgarity, of eloquence or its opposite, of decided churchmanship or thorough-going dissenterism, * which characterize it, may stimulate the emotions, or call forth the expression of approbation or dislike.

These emotions, however, are not to be confounded with religious affections. A man is not religious because he admires what is excellent, or re

These terms, it will be seen, are restricted to the mere sectarianism, which may render a man a bigoted devotee, and, of course, a discredit to either the church or the chapel.

probates what is bad, in the modes or appendages of Christian worship. The two things are as entirely distinct, as the symmetry of a human body and a piece of attire by which it is adorned or disfigured. Feelings excited in this way, although tending, by alliance, to excite or repress the spirit of devotion, are, in themselves, absolute neutralities, which may rise into the highest delight without being sublimated by the slightest tinge of Christian piety, or sink into the deepest disgust without being impious, provided that, in both cases, they be sustained by a proper estimate of their exciting cause. Such a confusion of ideas is, nevertheless, very prevalent; and such appendages as have been specified, are very frequently taken up as the theme of applause or reprehension, just as if this were religion : while the spiritualities of the sub

: ject, with the topics for devout reflection and hallowed conference, which are suggested by its every service, are left, like the robes of the officiating priesthood, within the precincts of a place of worship, por ever permitted to mingle themselves in any form whatever with the intercourse of social or domestic life.

It is to this state of mind that we are to trace that ridiculous medley of avocation to which many individuals, and many families, are regularly given upon the first day of the week, where attendance at church, and the more retired species of festivity and amusement, and gossippers on the tradesmanship of preachers, and the reading of a newspaper, and the perishing tattle of the day, and the yawn of absolute ennui, are blended together in one accordant mass of absurdity and irreligion, while every thing which properly belongs to that day is parried off from the heart, as if

« AnteriorContinuar »