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Tothe Editorofthe Christian Observer.
IN inviting the attention of your
readers to a series of communications on the manifold and varied forms in which the offspring of superstition cross our path, I must claim their indulgence, should I sometimes impugn the truth of any longcherished prejudices; and, especially, should I frequently refer to a bodily cause, effects which some of them may have attributed to a purely spiritual agency: and therefore I think it necessary to prefix to this inquiry, the principles upon which it is undertaken.
I. The cause of true religion always loses ground, in proportion as it is associated with any system of irrational belief.
II. The cause of true religion always gains an accession of influence, and obtains an extension of its benefits, in proportion as the faith of its disciples is supported by knowledge, enlightened by the torch of scientific research, and chastened by the delicacy of true taste.
III. The honour of God is vindicated, and the kingdom of Christ is enlarged; the faith of the humble and sincere is confirmed; the prejudices of such as are satisfied with this world's wisdom are subdued; the fears of the ignorant are superseded; and the hope and confidence of the just are supported, by being CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 325.
placed on a basis of scientific and rational explanation, rather than on the fears of ignorance, or on a measure of belief which never was de
signed for a revelation addressed to
God's rational creatures.
These propositions require a little farther development; and first, the cause of true religion in the world always loses ground, in proportion as it is associated with any system of irrational belief. Reflection teaches us, that thus it must be: for since revealed religion was designed for God's most perfect work, and as it was destined to restore man to the image of God, in order that he might shew forth the glory of his Creator and Redeemer; it is manifest, that this object will be accomplished only in proportion as he resembles his Maker. And since perfect knowledge forms one of the attributes of the Divine character, his creatures will be like him in this respect, only as the clouds of ignorance have been chased away by the influence of the Holy Spirit, upon the exertion of those talents which man has received; as the undefined forms of twilight are rendered visible in all their proportions by the result of increasing acquaintance; as his hopes are enlarged by being placed on a firmer basis; as his affections are invigorated by discoveries of the infinite care, and goodness, and love of his Heavenly Father; as his intellectual powers are strengthened and matured by
constant exercise on a wider, and a more successful field of inquiry and observation; and as he is enabled to explain phenomena, and account for circumstances, which have been termed supernatural, and to know the wise and rational agency of that good Providence which upholds and governs all things by the word of the Divine power.
Experience confirms this award of reflection. Let us cast our eyes upon the Roman Catholic devotee; let us look to his standard maxim of, "I believe, because it is incredible;" let us contemplate the homage which he offers to his priest,-not on the score of influence arising from superior sacredness of charac. ter, from intellectual and moral worth, or in return for the instruction he receives; for all these may be wanting: he may be grossly and openly profligate, profoundly ignorant, and wholly careless of the real wants of his flock; yet homage, might I not almost say adoration? is yielded to his ministerial character as confessor, and as possessing the power of granting or withholding absolution, rescuing his supplicant from the torments of purgatory, or suffering him to experience its prolonged punishments;-let us advert to his belief in the power of the priest to forgive sins, upon being paid for it, although it is declared that none can forgive sins except God alone; let us contemplate the catalogue of faults which includes murder, theft, adultery, and the like, as admitting of pecuniary atonement; nay, farther, let us estimate the prospective indulgence which may be obtained to commit sin in future, upon a scale proportioned to the wealth of the individuals;-let us look to the mummery of his religion, to its imposing ceremonial, and its dread of the circulation of the Bible; let us accurately weigh its favourite doctrine of transubstantiation, and of the real presence; its constant hostility to the diffusion of intellectual culture; its claim to infallibility for all its deci
sions, and its permanent substitution of a belief in the church, for faith in Christ, and of penances and pilgrimages for holiness of life; and then let us see whether all the loveliness and spirituality, and almost all the influence of Christianity be not lost by its degrading association with that which is irrational. Witness again the effect of this system upon the will and upon the intellect: man loses his free agency and individual accountability; his mind is grasped by the terrors of superstition, as by a charm of adamant; he has no will but that of his priest, and no occasion for the exercise of judgment, or of the other intellectual faculties; he is fast bound by the thraldom of the most enthralling power; his conscience is the interest of his spiritual pastor, and the fear of his resentment, rather than the love of his heavenly Father, and the desire of obedience to his commands. Effects, similar in kind, though not in degree, to these are produced wherever a spirit of Roman-Catholicism is abroad throughout the world, and under every possible disguise; that is, when any thing short of the pure and simple evangelical piety of the Bible is substituted as the ground of hope, or the rule of conduct; whenever any irrational attachment to forms and ceremonies is placed in the room of the worship of the Most High God.
If it were necessary to accumulate proofs of this position, they might readily be found in the system of religious belief of the Mohammedan-in the endless and sensual mythology of the Hindoo—or in the still less enlightened notions of the North-American Indian; all tending to shew, that in proportion as man departs from that which is reasonable, he becomes the willing victim of ignorance, the debased slave of his passions, and still further and further alienated from the God of his life; experience thus affording the strongest confirmation of our position.
II. The cause of true religion always gains an accession of influence, and obtains an extension of its benefits, in proportion as the faith of its disciples is supported by knowledge, enlightened by the torch of scientific research, and chastened by the delicacy of true taste. Real Christianity always gains by inquiry: once get a man to think over his state, and the suitableness of religion to his wants; once enlist his understanding in the pursuit, and let him be truly in earnest in asking what is his duty towards God and his neighbour; and there is every hope for him. The great mischief is, that he will not think; that he will not consider; and that he will be contented with a few irrational services, placing these in the room of principled obedience.
Prejudice is diminished by the association of the understanding with religious belief. While the man of science and intellectual attainment can persuade himself that religion consists in a certain influence upon the passions and affections, exerted he knows not how, and by a mysterious agency the very existence of which he almost hesitates to acknowledge, he considers it only as the heritage of weak minds, and designed to govern the ignorant: but when he sees its doctrines embraced upon conviction, by individuals of whose intellectual capacity he can entertain no doubt; and when he perceives that such minds are only energised in the pursuit of knowledge, and refined and purified; when the powers of the judgment are confessedly deepened, and the benevolent affections are expanded; when argument is called in to the defence of their opinions, and all the resources of learning are placed in requisition, to prove the reality, as well as the reasonable ground, of their convictions; he is assured that religion is not that contracting study which he once thought it, but that it possesses the power even of ennobling the mind: and thus the veil of prejudice is blown aside, the
film of visual delusion is dissipated, and at least the soil is prepared for the reception of Divine truth.
Again; learning, and the majesty of cultivated mind, exert an astonishing influence over popular opinion and must therefore add strength to the cause of Christianity, in proportion to the extent of such agency. And this will operate both in the way of precept and example: the opinion of the reputed wise is quoted by the majority of those who think not for themselves; their powers of persuasion are very great; and their example is bounded only by the extent to which it can be
The employment of these talents and researches upon Biblical Criticism has not been thrown away: many seeming incongruities have been explained; many difficulties have been removed: light has beamed upon that which was obscure; the appearance of contradiction has been reconciled; and the harmony of the Scriptures has been fully established: the objections of the infidel have been answered; and while it has been allowed that there are mysteries in religion far beyond the comprehension of a finite capacity, it has also been shewn that the same law attaches to all the productions of nature; and precisely because the human mind, formed originally with capacities to comprehend the rationale of its own phenomena, has lost that power by the debasing influence to which it has been subjected. It has been shewn, too, that the difficulties of infidelity involve an exercise of belief far greater than the mysteries of religion, and monstrous in proportion to the cheerless annihilation with which they are connected: the doubts of feeble and unconvinced, but sincere, inquirers have been chased away, like the summer's mist which has still lingered on the crest of our hills, till it has vanished before the light and heat of the full
born day and the faith, and hope, and love, and joy of the Christian have been deepened in their hold upon his heart, while they have expanded into all that is virtuous in principle, all that is pure and benevolent in feeling, all that is lovely and excellent in conduct.
Moreover, Christianity will derive an accession of strength from the delicacy of true taste: its influence upon the mind will be to give it a more extensive hold upon the sympathies of others; while to the man of simple literary taste, it will come recommended and adorned with its genuine qualities, instead of being associated with that which is opposed to its real nature; and thus its agency will be extended both above and below, from the giant of literature, to the least expanded intellect among the sincere and simple-hearted, the poor and illiterate. Besides, there will be developed a delicate perception, by which the finer shades of moral beauty will be seized and appropriated; an acquaintance with mind, and its powers and operations will be widened; the removal of prejudice will unveil the wide field of mental research; all that is sublime and beautiful in nature or in character will be doubly enjoyed; there will be a permanent delight in cultivating the intellectual faculty, and in consecrating its powers to the service of Him from whom all blessings flow; the substantial worth of the individual will be increased, while his capacity for usefulness, and his desire after it, will be aug. mented; the productions of reason and intellect will be estimated aright, and will be tested, as they ought to be, by their title to the possession of moral beauty; and this again will be referred for its standard, to the character of highest value, even to Christ who is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.
III. But, thirdly, I have stated that the honour of God is vindicated, and the kingdom of Christ is en
larged; the faith of the humble and sincere is confirmed; the prejudices of those who are satisfied with this world's wisdom are subdued; the fears of the ignorant are superseded; and the hopes and confidence of the just are supported, by being placed on a basis of scientific and rational explanation, rather than on the fears of ignorance, or on a measure of belief which never was designed for a revelation addressed to God's rational creatures.
Christianity is not a religion of mere feeling and passion: for, although it should come from the heart, it must be based on the understanding, and be supported by the intellect; otherwise its clear and steady light will be exchanged for the transient meteor of exhalation on the one hand, or the frost of indifference on the other. The glow of enthusiasm, or the chill of carelessness; the fever of passion, or the collapse of scepticism; will characterise the manifestations of a mind which has embraced its truths but in part, and has, perhaps, embraced them with the narrow views of sectarian influence. Besides, a little acquaintance with the intellectual nature of man will prove that he was originally designed for much greater attainments than are now within his grasp; and will shew that some perverting agency has passed upon him, has circumscribed his knowledge, placed a limit every where to his researches, converted that which was once good into that which has an evil tendency, and made him what he now is, the willing slave of sin, instead of what he ought to be, the obedient servant of Christ. And if this state of things cannot be accounted for upon any known principle, it is surely not irrational to take the account which revelation gives of this sad change. And, if our conviction of this first and fundamental truth in revelation be thus confirmed, our faith in its remaining doctrines acquires a firmer basis. For faith, which is the gift of God, must be
placed upon the conviction of want in the dependent, and of power, and knowledge, and goodness, in the Giver; and it must be supported by the understanding, or it will wither away, before the sophistries of the designing. Besides, the moral responsibility and free agency of man, his power to choose the good, and refuse the evil; and his loss of that power, in consequence of the gloomy inheritance bequeathed him from this first fall, and now prolonged to successive generations, derives support from the phenomena of mental manifestation and brainular peculiarity.
The original character of the faculty of volition may be still descried through its mournfully altered phenomena: man's know ledge of good, and his conviction of truth, his preference of evil, and his choice of error, are stamped in undeniable characters upon his mental operations, and plainly indicate the necessity of some change, in order to convert the manifestations of his degraded temperament, into the offspring of truth, and justice, and righteousness; and thus also confirm the doctrine of a necessity for the influence of the Holy Spirit, to renew that nature, to change that heart, to subdue that rebellious will, to enlarge that contracted understanding, and to place its renovated feelings, and views, and principles, on another and a firmer basis, even the Rock of Ages. Yet, if this be true, it is clear that man is now in a state of imper fection; and still equally clear that the constitution of his nature must have originally destined him for a state of perfection. Man's immortal spirit is encumbered and imprisoned in its material tenement, which is destined, in a few short years, to lose its beauty, and to crumble into dust. Here, then, he is tending to decay; and therefore, if there be a state of perfection any where, it cannot be on earth. But he possesses within himself a consciousness of continued existence.
It is reasonable to conclude that perfection must be hereafter: and we now see him placed in a period of probation, during which, his powers are to be refined; and he is to be daily striving forward, after that nearer and still nearer approach to a perfect state, which is only attainable, as is revealed to us, when mortality shall be swallowed up of life, when the soul shall escape the burden of materiality, and when disenchanted from the thraldom of ignorance and vice, and released from the prison of the body, it shall know all things; when it shall be clothed in the robe of its Redeemer's righteousness, and shall be holy, even as He is holy.
But, further, this being admitted, it is madness to rest satisfied with the possession of any measure of present wisdom. For if the original tendency of the human mind be the pursuit after perfection; and if any point of improvement be a step gained in advance towards this state; and if the acquisition of every fresh portion of knowledge be not only a triumph over ignorance, but a source of strength for the future useful application of mental power; and if the value of knowledge be estimated only by the end which it proposes, and by the means of its accomplishment; it is clear, that that wisdom which relates to a small section of man's existence, can only be valuable in proportion as it adds to his capacity for enjoying, and his means of obtaining, that eventual good which will con. stitute his happiness throughout futurity; and therefore, that every attainable portion of science should be earnestly desired, and should be employed directly or indirectly in seeking after that perfection which alone can thoroughly satisfy the heart that has been renewed by the Spirit of grace, since none but a Divine sanction can fully calm its fears, or expand the bosom with hope and confidence, or joy and love: nought but this can constitute the active Christian, the burn