« AnteriorContinuar »
THE RELIGIOUS CONDITION OF NEW ENGLAND.
a. C. Cixe ART. V.-Pages from the Ecclesiastical History of New England, during the century between 1740 and 1840. Boston, Dow, 1847; pp. 126, 12mo.
New Englandism not the religion of the Bible, being an examination of a Review of Bishop Brownell's Fourth Charge to his Clergy, in the New Englander for January, 1844. Hartford, Parsons, 1844; pp. 60, 12mo.
OUR Vocation as New England Reviewers necessarily involves us with some matters which our taste would let alone. We do not live to amuse ourselves with mere literature, nor yet only to discuss questions of abstract theology. We have practical objects in view. We live among the hereditary enemies of our holy religion, and where decaying Puritanism has concentrated all its remaining vitality against the Church. We have to do with Puritanism in its developed form of unbelief; retaining its malevolence, but discarding its principles; and preparing for a death-struggle with the Church, in which it seems willing to surrender its own life, if it can only at the same time impede her progress, and check her victories. The Puritanism which we are called to combat, strives no more for positives, but fights, like a Cromwellian trooper, for mere negatives. It dictates no longer that men must believe Calvinism; but it is as fiery as ever in enforcing its last development, that men must not believe any thing in particular. If it can only destroy the religion of the Creeds, it consents to reduce every thing to the level of Socinian infidelity. It compromises all minor differences, to make war upon the Church; and announces its only remaining principle in the language of Neander-that "it matters little whether a man is an Arian, a Nestorian, or a Calvinist, if he be only pious." We live, then, where this pernicious maxim ist diffused among the people in every imaginable way. It is embodied in sentimental songs, and sentimental stories, and sentimental books. It is taught in common schools, vociferated from pulpits, insinuated in colleges, and implied in the universal spirit of the daily press. It infects more or less the flocks of our own New England Church, and is inhaled with every breath, by the souls for which our clergy watch, as they that must give account. In such a state of things, we
must not be too particular as to likes and dislikes. We must forget that we have aversions, and cut into the morbid subject before us like surgeons. It is a duty to which our profession obliges us, for the good of the community; and it is only a sense of that duty, which brings us down to this business of examining somewhat carefully the existing developments of Puritanism.
To supply ourselves with material, we have taken advantage of the preceding labors of two prominent divines of our own communion; and in so doing, we are happy to call attention to a couple of unassuming tracts, which deserve a greater degree of notice than they have yet attracted. To New England Churchmen they are of no ephemeral value; but deserve to be kept for frequent re-perusal, in connection with the progressive demonstrations of an ever-shifting religionism. We regard the latter as a kind of corollary to the former; the one showing historically what "New Englandism' is, and the other stamping it counterfeit, without making any apologies. A few words of more particular criticism may well be devoted to each.
Our deep regard for the estimable Prelate who is the reputed author of the former, shall not prevent us from mentioning some of its defects. It is, in our opinion, very inaccurately entitled "Pages from the Ecclesiastical History of New England," for it is the history of every thing but the Church, and would more properly be styled, "Pages from the Religious History of New England." In his effort to be candid, the author is sometimes so very neutral, that his sympathies seem rather leaning to the other side; and, like our Romanizing divines in England, he flatters the enemy so much, that while reading him, we are almost forced to question his fidelity. This is peculiarly objectionable in a controversy with religionists, who are far more anxious to be admired for genius and attainments, than to be approved for piety and orthodoxy. What is it to Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, that our author shows him to be a heretic, when he takes pains to call him "a noble victim ?" What does Unitarianism care, that her apostles are infidels, when one is called by so eminent a Churchman," the admirable Follen;" when others are spoken of as "jewels that had glittered in the crown of liberal religion ;" and when Everett is loaded with tributes as "the brilliant scholar, the accomplished orator, the successful statesman, the dignified chief-magistrate, and the ambassador whom princes and universities delighted to honor!" Kirkland and Channing are said to have passed away "after lives of hon
ored service," when truth required nothing better than judicious silence, or else the flat and honest verdict that their's were the lives of "evil men and seducers, who waxed worse and worse." Orestes Brownson is spoken of as a very remarkable star shooting up the horizon of letters," where the connection far more naturally suggests the language of St. Jude about "wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness, for ever;" and scarce a heretic is introduced without some honied epithet of consideration, which is never balanced by an outburst of that indignation and disgust which the effrontery of irreligion demands. We understand and appreciate the author's plan; he intends to let facts speak for themselves; but we deprecate his impolicy in so glossing them with unimportant concessions to the gifts and graces of his heresiarchs, that much of their deformity is kept out of view. More than once we have been forced to imagine him startled with his own suavity, and exclaiming,
Forgive me, oh thou bleeding Lamb of GOD,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers;
for we know the spirit of the man, and we are sure of his devoted loyalty to that Cross, which is trampled under foot by those of whom he writes. As we are sure, therefore, that the араthetic spirit of the tract is not the result of indifference, we cannot but regard it as altogether the most successful exhibition of polemical self-government that ever claimed a place in a great religious contest. The amiable author confesses in his preface that "the opinions which are implied relate to subjects on which no Christian can desire disguise ;" and yet we have seen sensible men deeply puzzled to determine to what religious system the writer of such a tract might adhere.
But the great value of the brochure, is the comprehensiveness with which it gives at one view the detailed history of the decline of Puritanism; or perhaps we should rather say of its natural ripening, and running to seed, in various forms of unbelief. It shows, in short, how the great University of Massachusetts, over the cradle of which old Cotton Mather twanged any thing but prophetic strains of admiration, has passed from the austere Calvinism of its founders, into the flagrant Pantheism of their legitimate children and successors; and how from similar causes, and pari passu, not less than one hundred and ten Calvinistic congregations, in that commonwealth, have gone through the successive stages of maturation, by which the Puritan larvæ transform themselves into Socinian moths. To an earnest-minded Puritan this his
tory must be startling indeed. It has been patiently and laboriously gathered, and is compiled with method and skill. The style, though sometimes obscure, is chaste and pleasing; and to us who know familiarly the mood of its gifted author, it occasionally betrays a latent sarcasm, which he must sometimes have struggled hard to suppress. He would have done well, to have prefixed, as a key to his meaning, the text which is so fearfully illustrated in his Review of New England Religionism-" clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.'
But what the one tract shows by facts, the other does not stick to say in plain words. We like the blunt boldness of the title-page-" New Englandism not the Religion of the Bible." The author of this tract simply takes up "the distinctive religion of New England," as he finds it now, and where the other leaves it, after its successive developments. He finds the strong unbelief of Massachusetts still diluted by something of pious instinct in Connecticut; but does not hesitate to declare, even of the latter, that "its open and avowed sympathy with the foulest heresies, its justification of the most unwarrantable schisms, its rejection of many of the everlasting truths of the gospel, its glorification of man, its abounding self-righteousness, and the unlawful measures in religion, consequent upon it, raise the most fearful apprehensions for the future." Since this was written, five years of that future have unfolded, and, we hesitate not to add, with disclosures more rapid and mischievous, than any one could have anticipated. During that short period a living connection between Yale and Harvard has been formed, in the eccentric person of Dr. Horace Bushnell of Hartford, and a circulation of kindred blood has been re-established, which will probably soon be recognized as an indissoluble bond between this duality of Puritan unity-this Chang-and-Eng of New Englandism. While we write, we observe announced as just published, the erratic doctor's long trumpeted improvements in theology, and learn that, in the estimation of an earnest-minded Puritan, holding a high judicial station, "they sap the very foundations of Christianity." Be that as it may, the doctor is now the great exponent of "the distinctive religion of New England,' and has secured to himself the leading position among its progressive improvers. True, he may be a little before his system as commonly held in Connecticut, but what draughthorse was ever behind his wain? He stands now, where Dr. Taylor of New Haven stood in his day; and where he will
eventually be regarded as quite as much behind the times, as he regards Dr. Taylor now. Progress is the word which now carries him ahead, and which will soon leave him in the rear of his own school
"For such as Mather is, must Bushnell be."
It seems to be his mission to knock into one compound of philosophical unbelief, the Sabellianism of Andover, the Socinianism of Harvard, and the Pelagianism of Yale; or, in other words, to unite the sentimental scepticism of Massachusetts with the rationalizing revivalism of Connecticut. Matters will become worse before they become better, and he will "have his day," only to prepare things for some daring successor, who will make New England another Germany; unless meantime we Churchmen bestir ourselves, and speak out for the bleeding Truth of GOD, which hangs crucified between malefactors. To this conviction we are brought by the forcible and judicious remarks of the second tract, as well as by the inferences, which, in reading the condensed disclosures of the former, are irresistibly forced upon our minds.
If this conclusion be correct, the Church, in New England, must no longer hide her candle under a bushel. It is high time for her to show herself, amid this fearful deluge of heresies, as the Ark of Salvation, and the only refuge of those who would cling to the truth as it is in JESUS. Why should we any longer be cautious of showing our colors? Why should we conceal claims, which everybody has a right to examine and understand? How dare we hide the fact that we have Christ's commission to disciple every soul within these borders, and that we believe he is nowhere else fully preached or fully believed, except in communion with the Church? If this be not the case, then our talk about Episcopacy and Apostolical succession is mere nonsense. If we be what we say we are, pure and Apostolic, and witnesses and keepers of Holy Writ, then our position loads us with a solemn responsibility, for the state of every errorist who has not been fully warned of our true character. "The pillar and ground of the Truth" was not set up to be concealed from "those who have erred and are deceived." We have no right to withhold the bread of life, when thousands are in a state of spiritual starvation around us. Souls, ready to perish, have claims upon the ambassadors of Christ, and upon all "the royal priesthood," whom He has made the light of the world, and who ought to be the salt of the earth. They have a right to demand of us apostolical zeal and boldness, and not merely a tabular view of the Apostolical succession! The time has