Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

The one

Art. II. Sermons by Samuel Horsley, LL. D. F. R. S. F. S. A.

late Lord Bishop of St. Asaph. Vol. 3. ģvo. Hatchard. AMONG those ornaments of literature, and of the church

of England, which have lately been removed by death from the stations to which unassisted merit had advanced them, are to be deplored the names of Porteus and Horsley, men of talents and dispositions more different perhaps than ever actively and harmoniously co-operated in the same cause. was elegant in deportment, gentle in manners, popular in the choice and treatuient of his theological subjects, never profound but always impressive; and though often familiar, yet, by matchless desterity, never inattentive to his own dignity. The other was rough, haughty, and iinperious, of an understanding vast and comprehensive, addicted in his discourses to the choice of novel and difficult subjects, and mingling involuntarily with those, which were intended to be popular, disquisitions at once entertaining and profound. Both having been educated in the university of Cambride, the one abandoned, as soon as academical restraints were removed, the pursuit of abstract mathematics for more elegant studies; while the other, after having graduated in another faculty, spontaneously and through life pursued them to a colle? siderable extent. Both were admitted into the families of great prelates, eminent for their attainments in Hebrew literature; a pursuit which was 'too rugged for the one, and a mere relaxationto the other: and, while both were equally orthodox in their religious principles, the one inaintained the essential doctrines of Christianity by clear and perspicuous statements, the other by irrefragable argument. Porteus had more taste than eloquence, Horsley more eloquence than taste: the first was unquestionably the most amiable; the second, the ablest man of their latter days. In their character as legislators, the same original diversity of temper marked their conduct. Ever attentive to the interests of religion and the establishment, the Bishop of London maintained on questions merely temporal a delicate reserve, which enabled him to interpose with tenfold effect in his own peculiar province; while the Bishop of St. Asaph, with a strong tendency to law and business, together with a constitutional absence of all timidity added to his other qualifications, never scrupled to interpose and to dictate on secular subjects.

With the character and peculiarities however of this great man, as a legislator, a mathematician, an Hebrew critic, or even as a controversialist,(excepting so far as his discourses are controversial,) we have no concern." His original and admirable sermons, many of which were preached in the pulpits of the metropolis, and yet

Lise in the memories of his hearers, are now before us.

Of these the frst and characteristic feature is, that which distinguishes the guted few from a numerous and subordinate class, entitled men of abilities only;--the splendour of original genius. It is by the predominant influence of this rare quality that the sermons of Horsley are freed from that dry severity of ratiocination which Beter fails to cramp the style of ordinary mathematicians, when writing on theological subjects. Proticiency in this science, we mean as distinct from invention and discovery, is no decisive test of superior talents. Great perseverance united to ordinary understandings, wiil suffice for the purpose: but great perseverance long explosed in this single direction, will, if such qualifications have been bestowed on the mathematical student in a moderate degree alors, extinguish imagination, check the flow of native eloquence, and cramp every movement of free and excursive rhetoric. It is only minds like those of Barrow and Horsley (for the influence of the mathematical curb is visible in the discourses of Clark) in stich the vigour of the more elastic and animated faculties is not broken by pertinacious meditation or abstract science; for where the acquirement is difficult, the whole understanding is absorbed ; the mind takes a single ply, and when bent by a long and laborious attention to mathematical truths, becomes so teuse and rigid, that it never after applies itself to moral or religious truths with ease or grace. In intellects of an order so superior, the other faculties, rigorous from the beginning, remain inimpaired, while the student passes at will and with ease from the exercise of pure analysis, to the ever varying gradations of moral evidence, to the persuasive lopies of rhetoric, or to the awakening and animating strains of popular eloquence. An union of excellencies so rare and, in geDetal, so little compatible, we repeat it, has hardly been attained but by Barrow and Horsley, among the divines of this or any otter age or country.

Another excellence common to both, and of immense importance at present, for which the world may bold itself equally indebted to the intrepidity of their tempers, and the perspicacity of their understandings, is, that they never decline a difficulty, nor ever fritter away the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, because they have been abused by famatics. This species of fortitude, (for to be unfashionable always requires some portion of that quality,) which began to be wanted among the latitudinarian divines of Charles the Second's time, is become much more valuable now. On the evi. dences of Christianity, the present reign in England has produced more luminous and convincing works than perhaps the whole Christian world from the age of the apostles: but it is impossible not to observe among tirst-rate divines a certain shyness as to

doctrines:

[ocr errors]

doctrines: we are convinced indeed that Christianity is a revelation, but we are left to collect for ourselves what has been revealed. Meanwhile the fanatic outrages its doctrines to the destruction at once of morality and common sense; the Unitarian pares them down to the standard of reason, and, what is worse, of his own reason; while the preacher of the church of England, disgusted with oye extreme, and afraid of the other, too often conceives that he has attained to the seat of truth, by placing himself in any part of the wide interval between opposite errors. On the firm ground of orthodoxy, as detailed in the articles of the church of England, or rather as contained in the volume of inspiration, Bishop Horsley took his stand, and that perhaps with the greater alacrity, as his peculiar position in the midst of an enemy's host afforded abundant scope for his poleznical talents and propensities. He disdained the poor and cheap praise of liberality; he sought no security by concessions and compromises; he avowed, he displayed the difficulties of his own system; he restated with greater force the objections of his adversaries, that he might but the more triumphantly overbear them.

In point of matter and manner, at a period abounding with good theology, the discourses of Bishop Horsley stand pre-eminent and alone. They are compositions sui generis. Never perhaps did philosophy, certainly never did the philosophy of physics, lend more powerful aid to the cause of revelation. In acuteness of conception, in felicity of illustration, the theological works of Paley may be paralleled with those of Horsley; but in force and profundity, and still more in point of erudition, of which that original thinker had but a small proportion, the distance is immense. Both however could open at pleasure a vein of rich and happy eloquence; both had that contempt for artificial elegance, and that tendency to coarseness of style, which seems to be incident to minds of the first order; but Horsley is never playful, and Paley is never long or willingly grave. The former dogmatizes es cathedrà; the latter instructs with the easy gaiety and naïveté of a fireside companion. Both however enjoyed in perfection one attribute, (the first which can belong to reasoners, or to teachers,) namely, a precision and distinctness in their ideas, with an aptitude and felicity of expression, which, if they are not understood, leave the blame or the misfortune with their readers.

We have already mentioned the seasonable intrepidity of our author in bringing to that prominent and conspicuous station which they ought always to occupy in Christian discourses, the peculiar doctrines of revelation. Of this the following may serve as a specimen : • It is God's will that all men should be brought to a just under

standing

1

standing of the deliverance Christ hath wrought for us, to a just apprebension of the magnitude of our bopes in him, and of the certainty of the codecce on which those hopes are founded. It is God's will that all men seould come to a knowledge of the original dignity of our Saviour's perSI, of the mystery of his incarnation, of the nature of his eternal priestbud, of the value of his atonement, the efficacy of his intercession. This istruction would more effectually secure them against the poison of modern corruptions than the practice, dictated by a false discretion, of voiding the mention of every doctrine that may be combated, and buyag every text of doubtful meaning. The corruptors of the Christian extrines have no such reserve. The doctrines of the divinity of the Son, the incarnation, the satisfaction of the cross as a sacrifice, the mediatorial intercession, the influences of the spirit, &c. are topics of a spelar discussion with those who would deny or pervert those doctre; and we may judge by their success what our own might be, if We would but meet our antagonists on their own ground.'

The clear, undisguised representation of revealed truth, which these admirable discourses every where hold forth, is the more o be applauded because in addition to the false discretion, the tind and heartless reserve of which our author complains, the cauze of religion has received and is receiving many wounds ' in the house of her friends,' by imbecility, by indiscretion, by fzuaticism. The present, it must be confessed, is an age of very superior intelligence; and, as it has been pleaded with great ingetuity in favour of a distinction of ranks among the clergy, that every order in society requires a class of public teachers on a fisting of parity with itself; the same argument may with equal propriety be applied to the state of intellect and inforination which now prevails. Minds of a superior order, highly altvated, and of reasoning faculties powerfully exercised, (and zu such there are who have little attended to the peculiar doctures of Christianity,) would be disgusted rather than edified by Le faithful, though feeble representations of these great truths, which they would receive from ordinary preachers; much less would they endure to separate the gold from the slross, in the wild and incolicrent discourses of honest enthusiasts. It is to minds * constituted, notwithstanding that masterly perspicuity which brings down as far as possible the sublimest doctrines to ordinary understandings, that, after all, the sermons of Bishop Horsley are peculiarly adapted. Possessed of strength themselves, they have here an equally powerful hand to grapple with. Accustomed, if the expression may be allowed, to atlıletic studies, what Ever force they may apply to the argumentation of Horsley, will be met by an equal reaction. He is a preacher to scholars and philosophers of the first order, as a metropolitan is a preacher to princes: he is their equal. They may not at first assent to all VOL. IX. NO. XVII.

his

с

his doctrines, but they will not be able to confute, and, least of all, will they be able to despise them. But our limits require, that we hasten to particulars.

On the sense of the word 'day,' as applied by Moses to the successive periods of the creation, after the difficulties which have lately been started on the subject, the theological philosopher will be heard with unusual interest.

* By what description could the word day be more expressly limited to its literal and common meaning, as denoting that portion of time which is measured and consumed by the earth's revolution on her axis ? That this revolution was performed in the same space of time in the beginning of the world as now, I would not over confidently affirm. But a day, whatever was its space, was still the same thing in nature : a portion of time measured by the same motion, divisible into the same seasons of morning and noon, evening and midnight. The day was itself marked by the same vicissitudes of darkness and light: for six such days God was making the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that therein is, and rested the seventh day.'

In this account however more than one proposition appears to be extremely doubtful; that the portion of time described by Moses as a day, was so called as being bounded at each extreinity by darkness, can scarcely be doubted: but it by no means follows that this period was measured by the same motion, and completed by one rotation of the earth upon its axis, when there was yet no sun to turn to. The principle of light appears at first to have been unembodied, and there is nothing in the term day' to contradict the opinion of modern geologists, (we mean Christian geologists,) that these periods were of indefinitely long duration. The latest discoveries on and beneath the earth's surface, while they bear irrefragable testimony to the order of the creation, as assigned by Moses, certainly countenance the opinion of considerable intervals having taken place between different portions of the work.

To this theory of the six days' work of the creation, and of the origin of the sabbath, we shall, by way of contrast, subjoin from the same discourse an account of the evil of sabbath-breaking, iu the shocking extent to which it is now carried in this country, so lively and scenical, that we are almost led to forget the extent of the mischief, and the solemnity of the subject, in the life and spirit of the description.

• In a commercial country, the great fortunes acquired in trade have a natural tendency to level all distinctions but what arise from affluence. Wealth supplies the place of nobility: birth retains only the privilege of setting the first example. The city catches the manners of the court, and the vices of the high born peer are faithfully copied in the life of the opulent merchant and thriving tradesman. Accordingly, in the

space

« AnteriorContinuar »