« AnteriorContinuar »
sequent edition. Throughout, the authoress is too inattentive to perspicuity, particularly in regard to chronology and geography. Her descriptions would be more graceful and more impressive, were they liberated from a cumbersome load of superfluous words ; and did she possess more skill in arrangement, and more moderation in ornament. She is too fond of common-place flourishes, and too careless of grammatical accuracy and logical precision. The account of the Canton of Basil is indistinct, ill written, and ungrammatical. Her fondness for metaphor betrays her into absurd expressions : silent discordance' for example, vol. ii. p. 12. Her phraseology is too often Gallic :- thus the word · salary' is used as a verb, vol. ii. p. 170. In page 149 of the same volume, she confounds Marischal Keith with his elder brother, the Earl Marischal of Scotland. These, however, are but petty blemishes. The greatest fault of the work is a prevalence of sound over sense, with a recurrence of the same images; yet this fault, great as it appears, is compensated by very consia derable beauties, to which we have endeavoured to do. ample justice.
Art. III. A Review of Mr. Wilberforce's Treatise entitled “ A
practical View of the prevailing religious System of professed Christians, &c.” in Letters to à Lady. By Thomas Belsham, 8v0. Pp. 277. 4 s. Boards. Johnson. 1798. CORDIALLY subscribing to the opinion of Archbishop New.
come, prefixed as a motto to this work, that “ Christianity can never have its free course among men of improved undera standings, and even among rational creatures in general, while gross misrepresentations of it are substituted in the place of the simple and perfect original ;" we think it of infinite importance to enable and to excite men to distinguish between genuine Christianity and that which is often honoured with this august appellation. Owing to the bias of education, the influence of received systems, and the power of habit (with its attendant prejudices) over the operations of the mind, it is a more difficult task than is generally supposed, to induce professing Christians to make this distinction. Theologians have favourite words, to which, though not of scriptural extraction, they are as much attached as to the very language of Christ and his apostles; and they would deem their creed imperfectly exhibited, were these words omitted. Their particular system is, in a sort, the bed of Procrustes; and the Gospel must be shortened or stretched to the required size. Thus unfairly dealing both with themselves and the professed
object of their veneration, that which is called Inquiry serves only to attach them more strongly to their prejudices, and to close their eyes more effectually against the fair image of real Christianity
Having seen much of this in the course of our critical la. bours, we may admire the writings of those wđo endeavour to correct the misapprehensions of men respecting the Christian religion, but we can scarcely expect that their effect will be very extensive, at least for the present. The march of Truth is slow ; and Error, though conscious of defeat, disputes every inch of ground.
Yet, with all the reluctance of the professing Christian world to admit the fact, it must be confessed, on a direct appeal to the Scriptures, that the picture of Christianity, as delineated by our Saviour himself, is as simple as it is captivating; - that it is not a system generating abstruse speculation, but prompting the noblest conduct ;-and that its sum and substance, its Alpha and Omega, are love towards Gad, and love towards man. If we compare it with Judaism, out of which it may be said to have sprung, its simplicity will be wonderfully striking. It sanctions no burdensome ceremonial, nor lays down any precise rules as to the arrangements of public worship. In nothing of this kind does its efence-consist. Offciate ing priests, splendid temples and rites, and other appointments which may be deemed requisite in religious instruction and social worship, are not indeed prohibited ; and communities are left to settle these points as they think proper among themselves: but they should take care not to confound these matters with real Christianity, the seat of which is the heart, and the object of which is to form the sentiments and the temper on the purest models of virtue and piety. Its creed is simple, and accommodated to the apprehension of the great mass of mankind. Inquisitive and reflecting minds may de, duce a number of inferences from it: but these ought to be distinguished as corollaries of Christianity, and must not be deemed the necessary faith of “ a Christian man.” i
On considering Mr. Wilberforce's late treatise, together with the present Review of it by Mr. Belsham, we have been induced to offer these observations, in order to lead the way to the important discussion to which we are here invited.
Mr. Wilberforce endeavours to prepossess his readers in his favour, by appearing as the advocate for “ the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel :" but, before he be admitted in this high character, it will be necessary to examine whether his “ peculiar" be the immediate and express doctrines of the Gospel; or ; whether they be only his inferences or deductions from Scrip
ture premises ; and, if the latter, whether they be fairly and accurately made?
In this examination, we do not hesitate to say that Mr. Bel. sham will afford the reader considerable assistance. If all who peruse his Reyiew do not on every point think with him, they must allow that he is clear in argument, liberal in conception and expression, and sincerely desirous of appreciating the value of Mr. Wilberforce's book, as a delineation of Christianity.
Mr. Belsham has scarcely exhibited Mr. Wi's system, when he suspects that this gentleman will be ready to disown the like'ness; for Mr. B. is of opinion that he and others of a similar belief seldom regard their system in a comprehensive view, or pursue their principles to their just or necessary consequences.' How far this may be true or false, we have no inclination to inquire. In reviewing this Review, the great question is, Has Mr. Wilberforce, in the first instance, fairly pourtrayed the Christian doctrine ? and when he sets out with asserting that the Gospel speaks of men « as naturally in a state in which they are unable to will or to do rightly," does he either use the language or express the sentiment of Christ concerning us? Certainly he does not use the language of Jesus. This « natural inability in men to think or do rightly” is Mr. W.'s inference from our Saviour's representation of sinners :-but what is Christ's representation? It figuratively describes them as sick, or as lost, in the sense of erring or straying, as sheep are known to do. The one phrase conveys the idea of their being morally diseased, and therefore requiring a moral physician; the other represents them as having deviated from the path of duty, but as capable of being reclaimed. These words cannot, by any fair construction, be interpreted to prove that Jesus considered men as naturally incapable of thinking and acting rightly. They assert all that is necessary to justify our Saviour's benevolent interposition,—all that is necessary as a basis for the great scheme of the Gospel,-namely, that mankind are in a vitiated state, and require the aid of the great mental healer. This is iudeed the fact : but more than this, Jesus by his language does not seem to be solicitous of establishing. Why, then, should we wish to establish more? Why make it
a peculiar doctrine” of Christianity, that it proposes to instruct and form, on the model of pure virtue and piety, a race of beings naturally incapable of right sentinents or right conduct? In our apprehension, this is undesignedly to libel the Christian religion :- it is representing it as attempting an impossibility. Mr. Wilberforce, we are persuaded, had no idea of this kind : but we must lament that, with all his natural good sense, he was not led to the obvious and in this connec
. tion) important distinction between inability as the effect of disease, and natural inability. Of the former, it is rational and kind to attempt the removal ;-of the latter, it is ridiculous. We send the physician to the sick person, but not to the dead corpse.
We are ashamed to take up so much space with mere truisms: but when so many difficulties are to be obviated by so plain a statement, and when so much depends on the accurate commencement of the inyestigation, we trust that we shall be pardoned.
The Gospel, while it asserts the prevalence of sin among men, does, by the very nature of its exhortations, virtually assert the possibility of their recovery to righteousness; or that this moral disorder is not without remedy. It simply states that sin exists, and that sin may be cured : but it no where speaks, in the language of Mr. W., of our being “ tainted to the very core.” It neither invites us to investigate " the origin of evil" according to the Calvinists; nor to decide, with Mr. Belsham's rational Christians, that a limited quantity of evil, both natural and moral, was necessary to the production of the greatest quantity of good. We may “reason high,” like Milton's devils, “and find no end in wandering mazes lost:" but let us not implicate the religion of Jesus in these metaphysical researches, nor denominate our ingenious conclusions “the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel,” and represent them as “ lying at the root of all true religion.”
Against the radical corruption of human nature, so strenuously maintained by Mr. W. " as eminently the basis and ground-work of Christianity,” Mr. B. strongly protests. “I hesitate not to say that whoever affirms this, impeaches the character of his Maker, and traduces his works.'- No axiom cau be more self-evident than this, that if God be just, he cannot make men naturally corrupt and vicious, and then condemn them to eternal misery for being so.' Mr. B. denies that vice on the whole predominates over virtue ; and, after an able ana. lysis of character, as the sum total of habits,' he concludes i that there may be a considerable preponderance of virtues even in characters justly estimated as vicious; and likewise that the quantity of virtue in the world may far exceed that of yice, though the number of virtuous characters may be less than that of vicious ones. He farther adds: “We hear more of the vices of men than of their virtues : and why? Because virtue is the ordinary state of things, and no notice is taken of it : vice is a deviation from the accustomed order, and there. fore it is remarked and recorded.?
The whole of what Mr. B. has advanced on this topic merits attention. He is, however, highly speculative, and in one place seems to admit something of a Purgatory : see p. 42.
Adhering to the principle with which we commenced this article, we confess ourselves more inclined to adopt Mr, Belsham's notions concerning the Devil, than those of Mr. Wilberforce. The former has so neatly expressed our own ideas on the subject, that we cannot do better than employ his words.
• Neither Jesus nor his apostles ever explicitly declare that they themselves admitted the philosophy which governed the language of the country in which they lived; much less do they profess to teach it as of divine authority. They leave the mythology of evil spirits, like many other popular opinions and prejudices, in the same state in which they found it, to be corrected in the course of time by the principles which they taught, and by the growing good sense of mankind. The fact is, that they neither positively affirm nor authoritatively contradict the existence and agency of an evil spirit ; but express themselves on this subject exactly as the rest of their cotem, poraries did.' -Happily for us, there is no evidence from reason to prove that any spirit, good or evil, shares with the Supreme in the government of the universe; nor do the Scriptures, carefully studied and rightly understood, authorize any such unphilosophical and mis. chievous opinion.'
A more serious objection to Mr. W. is made by Mr. B. viz. that, in stating "his scripture doctrine" concerning Christ, he does not employ the express language of the New Testament. Respecting the personality of the Holy Spirit, Mr. B. refers to Dr. Lardner's celebrated Letter on the Logos, and the first posta script annexed. It is in vol. xi. of the edition of his works published 1788; and, as affording a very clear explanation of the words the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, as used in the Scriptures, it is worthy of a very attentive peruşal. Lardner haş very justly been styled the Prince of modern divines. He has not only established the credibility of the New Testament, but has elucidated its important system.
Mr. B. denies that the influence of the Spirit on the mind for moral purposes is a doctrine of the Scripture. «The agency, (he says,) which they admit, extends to evil as well as to good ; "it hardens the heart of Pharoah,” as well as “ opens, that of Lydia," and therefore it is a general, and not a parti, cular influence.'
On the subject of love to Christ, Christian writers and preachers have expressed and continue to express themselves very strangely and inconsiderately. Dr. Watts, in his Lyric Poems, has this very objectionable stanza :