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* "I'll carve my passion on the bark,
And ev'ry wounded tree
That Jesus died for me." Here the gratitude and respect which we owe to Christ are converted into a passion, and the Christian is compared to the '. romantic lover in Ariosto. Mr. Wilberforce, though not quite so reprehensible, is not sufficiently guarded and correct; and the strictures of his Reviewer ought not to be disregarded either by himself or his readers. Care ought to be taken not to lay too much stress on feelings, and on a mechanical glow of the passions in religion.
No two men can be more at variance on the terms of accept. " ance with God, than Mr. Wilberforce and Mr. Belsham. In opposition to the principles laid down by the former, the latter ! asserts that not a single word, no, not even a trace, or a. shadow of them, is to be found in the Christian scriptures ;'. and he clearly demonstrates that Mr. Wi's view of what he calls the “grand peculiarities” of the Gospel are exhibited in Language which is not authorized by the New Testament. Mr.. B. does not content himself with maintaining that what Mr.W. ' * honours with the title of “ the peculiar doctrines of the Gos ; pel” derive no countenance from the Christian scriptures : but, in opposition to Mr. W., he denies also their practical value. "Happy (says he) had it been if they had never been invented, and thrice happy when they shall be totally for gotten.'
Confined as our limits are, it is impossible for us to discuss, even in the most summary way, all the points on which Mr. B. combats Mr. Wilberforce. We cannot, however, refrain from noticing that, among what will be deemed singular doctrines, and which must shock the minds of many serious Christians, our author contends, in several parts of these letters, that a : Sabbath day makes no part of Christianity; asserting that, “ to a true Christian, every day is a Sabbath, every place a temple, and every action of life an act of devotion.'
As the doctrines of the Scriptures must rest on their meaning, pains should be taken accurately to ascertain the precise power of the words and phrases used by the sacred writers. This Mr. Belsham has endeavoured to do; and he offers also the following observation on the Scriptures in general; which, . if admitted, will destroy the force of Mr. Paine's objection to them.
· The Scriptures contain a faithful and credible account of the Christian doctrine, which is the true word of God: but they are not themselves the word of God, nor do they ever assume that title : and
it is highly improper to speak of them as such, as it leads inattentive readers to suppose they were written under a plenary inspiration, to which they make no pretension; and as such expressions expose Christianity unnecessarily to the cavils of unbelievers.' P. 19.
The object of Christianity being the extirpation of sin, and the training of man to holiness as essential to his ultimate designation, that of everlasting happiness, Mr. B. notices Mr. Wilberforce's attempt to distinguish between Christianity and religious morality; and he properly objects to it, as tending to generate indifference towards religious and moral practice. He does not suspect Mr. W. of any intention of this kind; but he laments that his expressions are not, as they surely ought to have been, more guarded. He proceeds:
• By christianity as distinct from religion and mere morality, Mr.W. probably means the doctrines of the christian religion, (p. 8.) “ There are (says he) some few facts, and perhaps some leading doctrines and principles of which they cannot be wholly ignorant, but of the consequences and relations, and practical uses of these, they have few ideas, or none at all.”
I shall not now'stay to inquire what the consequences, relations and practical uses of christian doctrines and principles are as distinet from religion and morality, but only observe, that if Mr. W. means to affirm that men professing christianity are in general ignorant of its fundamental principles, he is greatly mistaken. These are obvious to the meanest capacity, and no person who is capable of read. ing: the scriptures can doubt that the chief doctrine of Christ and his apostles is, that the virtuous shall rise to happiness, and the vicious to suffering, how little soever their conduct may be governed by a regard to these important principles. But if he means by christianity what he is pleased to call its peculiar doctrines, such as original depravity, atonement, and the like, which constitute no part of the christianity of the nev? testament, it is not much to be re. gretted, that christians are either totally ignorant of these doctrines, or that professing to believe then they pay little practical attention to them.
Christians of Mr. B.'s persuasion being osten accused by their adversaries of not paying due respect to scriptural authority, the writer takes the first opportunity of stating the different methods in which the advocates for popular systems, and rational Christians, express their veneration for the New Tes. tament.
Popular writers testify their regard for the scriptures, by asserting or assuming their plenary inspiration—by calling them indiscriminately the word of God-by quoting text upon text without regard to connection, without proper explanation, without any allow. ance for figurative language, or jewish phraseology, and without any attempt to ascertain ihe genuineness of disputed passages; citing de. tached sentences, as inspired apophthegms, relying with full confi.
dence on the received text, as though the authority of its editors * were equal to that of the apostles, and apparently ignorant of ail that has been accomplished by the indefatigable industry, and penetrating sagacity of modern critics t, to correct the text and to bring it nearer to the original standard; equally confiding in the authority of the English translation; and annexing without hesitation.or enqırry those senses to disputed phrases which have been learned from obsolete articles and creeds, 'the product of an age just emerging from barbarism, when neither the language nor the doctrines of the scripture were well understood. This, in the estimation of many, is paying due honour to the christian scriptures,... ; ;
But the men who in my judgment shew the truest respect to the New Testament, are those who regard the sacred writers as capable and faithful witnesses both of the doctrine which Jesus taught, and of the facts which they relate—who not forward to admit of any deviation from the laws of nature where the necessity is not obvious, allow the inspiration of the writers of the New Testament in no cases where they do not themselves expressly claim it, and who are not sparing of the labour necessary to distinguish even in the canonical books, what is, of divine authority, from that which is of human origin—who believe that the evangelical and apostolic writings contain a.complete and authentic account of the doctrine and religion of Jesus—who shew their veneration for the scriptures, not by taking every thing upon trust, but by a diligent enquiry into the genuineness of every book, admitting no one into their canon which cannot satisfactorily prove its title to apostolic origin—who do not hastily allow the infallibility of the received text of those books, whose general authority is acknowledged--who-think that the editors of the sixteenth century, however honest, diligent and sagacious, were equally liable to misapprehension and prejudice with later publishers of the sacred text, and have no paramount claim to infallibility who conceiving that many new sources of information have been opened in the two last centuries, and that much has been done to correct and improve the received text, will admit no passage as genuine which has found its way into the common editions of the scrip. tures, in opposition to the most approved manuscripts, the most ancient and uncorrupted versions, and the united testimonies of the earliest Christian writers who having thus obtained a text approxi. mating as nearly as possible to original purity, diligently study the true meaning of Oriental imagery, and of Jewish idioms and phrase3, -who paying little deference to translations by authority, or to senses arbitrarily annexed to the apostolic language by the prejudiced compilers of catechisms and creeds, follow the great example of Locke in
«* Erasmus, Robert Stephens, and Beza, who published editions of the Greek Testament from manuscripts in their possession, in the 16th century; since which time little alteration has been made in the received text.'
++ Upwards of three hundred manuscripts have been collated since the 16th century, by which the received text might be in many places materially corrected.'
studying the scriptures themselves, and in making them their own interpreters ; reading them over repeatedly with due attention to discover the meaning of the author, and the scope of his argumentcomparing together similar passages, illustrating the New Testament by the Old, and passages brief, enigmatical, and obscure, by those which are copious, clear, and intelligible; thus extricating the genuine sense, without taking into consideration whether it agrees with this or is repugnant to that hypothesis of vain and ignorant men, who ftrain the apostolic language to the support of their favourite systems.
This is the way in which rational critics shew their attachment to the Christian scriptures. Whether this judicious homage of men of learning and enquiry, or the blind respect of popular interpreters, be most honourable to that sacred and inestimable volume, and most worthy the imitation of those who aspire to the high distinction of enlightened and consistent Christians, let candour and good sense determine.'
Mr. Belsham being a strenuous Unitarian, it was impossible that these letters should conclude without notice being taken of Mr. W.'s severe reflection on Unitarianism, “ as a sort of half-way house between orthodoxy and infidelity.” Such an expression was beneath Mr. W.: but while the present author, at the end of his Review, strongly resented this aspersion, he , probably forgot that he subjected himself, at the beginning, to similar reprehension, by describing Mr. W. as satisfied himself with being of the number of the elect, as full of joy on account of his personal interest in the promises, and feeling little concern for the non-elect mass of mankind.
Taken altogether, Mr. Belsham's letters are not only extremely candid, but they evince a critical knowlege of the Scriptures, and a profundity of thought and reflection; and those who have read the i Practical View" ought, in justice to' themselves, to peruse this spirited examination of it: which is written without any fear of man's judgment, but, in an entire confidence in the truth of the Christian religion, challenges the fullest inquiry.
Art. IV. The History of America. Book IX. and X. Containing
the History of Virginia, to the Year 1688; and the History of New England, to the Year 1652. By William Robertson, D. D. 1 &c. 8vo. pp. 249. 55. ; in 4to. 75. 6d. Boards. Cadell jun. and Davies. This posthumous work is edited by the son of the late re
spectable and celebrated author, and is given as it stood in his father's hand-writing, without addition, alteration, or any correction whatever. During the course of his last tedious illness, Dr. R. at different times destroyed many of his papers : -but, after his death, the continuation of his history of Ame
rica was found as carefully corrected by him as any part of his manuscripts which the editor had ever seen. He therefore put it into the hands of some of those friends whom his father used to consult on such occasions, and also of some other pere sons in whose taste and judgment he had the greatest confidence : • by all of them, he was encouraged to offer it to the public, as a fragment curious and interesting in itself, and not inferior to any of his father's works.
In attentively perusing the volume, we readily accede to the opinion of those critics whom Mr. R. consulted. Some parts of the author's writings will, on comparison, appear more highly coloured, and others more elaborate, than the performance now before us:--but this fragment exhibits in erery page his characteristic excellencies: the same fullness and perspicuity of narrative, the same power of combination, the same solidity of reflection, conveyed in the same graceful flow of animated diction. The present work commences with : the history of naval enterprise in England, the spirit of which had been awakened by the example of Columbus; and deduces the causes which tended either to invigorate or to enfeeble those maritime exertions, from which the peculiar glory of this island was to be derived. The first permanent establishments in America were formed in the pacific reign of James I. a prince whose merits pass unnoticed, while his faults are grossly exaggerated. James divided that portion of North America which stretches from the 34th to the 45th degree of latitude into two districts, nearly equal. The settlement of those districts, respectively, he allotted to certain gentlemen residing in London, and others inhabiting Bristol, Plymouth, and other parts in the west of England. Neither the monarch when he issued his charter, nor the feeble companies who received it, had any conception that they were proceeding to l'ay the foundation of mighty and opulent states. From this period, however, we may trace the history of the states of Virginia and New England, the two original colonies, and also the most important and powerful. From Dr. R.'s narrative, it appears that those states scarcely received, at different times, 30,000 inhabitants from the mother country. The first and successive early emigrants were perpetually harassed, and more than once nearly destroyed, by the suspicion and ferocity of the Indians, The evils of foreign war were often followed and embittered by domestic faction ; and when we add to these circumstances, that the colonists settled under great disadvantages in an uncultivated desert, their wonderful aggrandisement in the course of less than two centuries will present a spectacle not less striking than instructive. Rev. Oct, 1798. м.