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Title: Natural History of Enthusiasm
Author: Taylor, Isaac
Language: English
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NATURAL HISTORY OF ENTHUSIASM.

by

ISAAC TAYLOR


   ... δύο ἐστὶ, τὸ μὲν ἀρετὴ φυσικὴ, τὸ δ' ἡ κυρία.


From the Ninth London Edition.



New York:
Robert Carter & Brothers
No. 530 Broadway

1859.



ADVERTISEMENT.


The belief that a bright era of renovation, union, and extension,
presently awaits the Christian Church, seems to be very generally
entertained. The writer of this volume participates in the cheering
hope; and it has impelled him to undertake the difficult task of
describing, under its various forms, that FICTITIOUS PIETY which
hitherto has never failed to appear in times of unusual religious
excitement, and which may be anticipated as the probable attendant of a
new development of the powers of Christianity.

But while it has been the writer's principal aim to present to the
Christian reader, in as distinct a manner as possible, the characters of
that specious illusion which too often supplants genuine piety, he has
also endeavored so to fix the sense of the term Enthusiasm as to wrest
it from those who misuse it to their own infinite damage.

The author would say a word in explanation of his choice of a term in
this instance; and of the extent of meaning he has assigned to it. The
best that can be done, when matters of mind are under discussion, is to
select, from the stores of familiar language, a word which, in its usual
sense, approximates more nearly than any other to the abstraction spoken
of. To require from an ethical writer more than this, would be to demand
that, before he enters upon his subject, he should both renovate the
science of mind, and reform his mother tongue: for when things not yet
scientifically defined are to be spoken of, it must needs happen that,
in proportion to the accuracy with which they are described, there will
be apparent occasion for taking exception against the sense imputed to
the term employed.

The author proposed it to himself, as his task, to depict, under its
principal forms, FICTITIOUS SENTIMENT in matters of religion, including,
of course, a consideration of those opinions which seem to be either the
parents or the offspring of such artificial sentiments. Having this
object before him, he would have thought it a very inauspicious, as well
as cumbrous method, to have constructed a many-syllabled phrase of
definition, to be used on every page of his essay. Instead of attempting
any such laborious accuracy, he has boldly chosen his single
term—Enthusiasm; confiding in the good sense and candor of his readers
for allowing him a span or two of latitude when employing it in
different instances, which seem to come under the same general class.



CONTENTS.

                                                                    PAGE
 SECTION I.
 Enthusiasm, Secular and Religious,                                    7

 SECTION II.
 Enthusiasm in Devotion,                                              27

 SECTION III.
 Enthusiastic Perversions of the Doctrine of Divine Influence,        62

 SECTION IV.
 Enthusiasm the Source of Heresy,                                     79

 SECTION V.
 Enthusiasm of Prophetic Interpretation,                              96

 SECTION VI.
 Enthusiastic Abuses of the Doctrine of a Particular
 Providence,                                                         120

 SECTION VII.
 Enthusiasm of Philanthropy,                                         153

 SECTION VIII.
 Sketch of the Enthusiasm of the Ancient Church,                     177

 SECTION IX.
 The same Subject.—Ingredients of the Ancient Monachism,             201

 SECTION X.
 Hints on the probable Spread of Christianity, submitted to
   those who misuse the term—Enthusiasm,                             238

 NOTES

 Section VIII                                                        292

 Section IX                                                          294



NATURAL HISTORY OF ENTHUSIASM.



SECTION I.

ENTHUSIASM, SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS.


Some form of beauty, engendered by the imagination, or some semblance of
dignity or grace, invests almost every object that excites desire. These
illusions, if indeed they ought so to be called, serve the purpose of
blending the incongruous materials of human nature, and by mediating
between body and spirit, reconcile the animal and intellectual
propensities, and give dignity and harmony to the character of man. By
these unsubstantial impressions it is that the social affections are
enriched and enlivened; by these, not less than by the superiority of
the reasoning faculties, mankind is elevated above the brute; and it is
these that, as the germinating principles of all improvement and
refinement, distinguish civilized from savage life.

The constitutional difference between one man and another is to be
traced, in great measure, to the quality and vigor of the imagination.
Thus it will be found that eminently active and energetic spirits are
peculiarly susceptible to those natural exaggerations by which the mind
enhances the value of whatever it pursues. At the same time an efficient
energy implies always the power of control over such impressions. Yet it
is enough that these creations of fancy should be under the command of
reason; for good sense by no means demands a rigid scrutiny into the
composition or mechanism of common motives, or asks that whatever is not
absolutely substantial in the objects of desire should be spurned. He
who is not too wise to be happy, leaves the machinery of human nature to
accomplish its revolutions unexplored, and is content to hold the
mastery over its movements. Whoever, instead of simply repressing the
irregularities of the imagination, and forbidding its predominance,
would altogether exclude its influence, must either sink far below the
common level of humanity, or rise much above it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The excesses of the imagination are of two kinds; the first is when,
within its proper sphere, it gains so great a power that every other
affection and motive belonging to human nature is overborne and
excluded. It is thus that intellectual or professional pursuits seems
sometimes to annihilate all sympathy with the common interests of life,
and to render man a mere phantom, except within the particular circle of
his favorite objects.

The second kind of excess (one species of which forms the subject of the
present work) is of much more evil tendency, and consists in a trespass
of the imagination upon ground where it should have little or no
influence, and where it can only prevent or disturb the operation of
reason and right feeling. Thus, not seldom, it is seen that, on the
walks of common life, the sobrieties of good sense, and the counsels of
experience, and the obvious motives of interest, and perhaps even the
dictates of rectitude, are set at naught by some fiction of an
exorbitant imagination, which, overstepping its proper function, invests
even the most ordinary objects, either with preposterous charms or with
unreal deformities.

Very few minds seem to be altogether free from such constitutional
errors of the intellectual sight, which, to a greater or less extent,
intercept our view of things as they are. And from the same cause it is
that we so greatly miscalculate the amount of happiness or of suffering
that belongs to the lot of those around us; which happens, not so much
because their actual circumstances are unknown, as because the habitual
illusions are not perceived by us amidst which they live. And if the
coloring medium through which every man contemplates his own condition
were exposed to the eyes of others, the victims of calamity might
sometimes be envied; and still oftener would the favorites of fortune
become the objects of pity. Or if every one were in a moment to be
disenchanted of whatever is ideal in his permanent sensations, every one
would think himself at once much less happy, and much more so, than he
had hitherto supposed.

The force and extravagance of the imagination is in some constitutions
so great, that it admits of no correction from even the severest lessons
of experience, much less from the advices of wisdom: the enthusiast
passes through life in a sort of happy somnambulency—smiling and
dreaming as he goes, unconscious of whatever is real, and busy with
whatever is fantastic: now he treads with naked foot on thorns; now
plunges through depths; now verges the precipice, and always preserves
the same impassible serenity, and displays the same reckless hardihood.

But if the predominance of the imagination do not approach quite so near
to the limits of insanity, and if it admit of correction, then the many
checks and reverses which belong to the common course of human life
usually fray it away from present scenes, and either send it back in
pensive recollections of past pleasures, or forwards in anticipation of
a bright futurity. The former is, of the two, the safer kind of
constitutional error; for as the objects upon which the imagination
fixes its gaze, in this case, remain always unchanged, they impart a
sort of tranquillity to the mind, and even favor its converse with
wisdom; but the visions of hope being variable, and altogether under the
command of the inventive faculty, bring with them perpetual agitations,
and continually create new excitements. Besides; as these egregious
hopes come in their turn to be dispelled by realities, the pensioner
upon futurity lives amid the vexations of one who believes himself
always plundered; for each day as it comes robs him of what he had
fondly called his own. Thus the real ills of life pierce the heart with
a double edge.

The propensity of a disordered imagination to find, or to create, some
region of fictitious happiness, leads not a few to betake themselves to
the fields of intellectual enjoyment, where they may be exempt from the
annoyances that infest the lower world. Hence it is that the walks of
natural philosophy or abstract science, and of literature, and
especially of poetry and the fine arts, are frequented by many who
addict themselves to pursuits of this kind, not so much from a genuine
impulse of native genius or taste, as from a yearning desire to discover
some paradise of delights, where no croaking voice of disappointment is
heard, and where adversity has no range or leave of entrance. These
intruders upon the realms of philosophy—these _refugees_ from the
vexations of common life, as they are in quest merely of solace and
diversion, do not often become effective laborers in the departments
upon which they enter: their motive possesses not the vigor necessary
for continued and productive toil. Or if a degree of ambition happens to
be conjoined with the feeble ardor of the mind, it renders them empirics
in science, or schemers in mechanics; or they essay their ineptitude
upon some gaudy extravagance of verse or picture; or perhaps spend their
days in loading folios, shelves, and glass cases with curious lumber of
whatever kind most completely unites the qualities of rarity and
worthlessness.

Nature has furnished each of the active faculties with a sensibility to
pleasure in its own exercise: this sensibility is the spring of
spontaneous exertion; and if the intellectual constitution be robust, it
serves to stimulate labor, and yet itself observes a modest sobriety,
leaving the forces of the mind to do their part without embarrassment.
The pleasurable emotion is always subordinate and subservient, never
predominant or importunate. But in minds of a less healthy temperament,
the emotion of pleasure, and the consequent excitement, is
disproportionate to the strength of the faculties. The efficient power
of the understanding is therefore overborne, and left in the rear; there
is more of commotion than of action; more of movement than of progress;
more of enterprise than of achievement.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such, then, are those who, in due regard both to the essential
differences of character, and to the proprieties of language, should be
termed Enthusiasts. To apply an epithet which carries with it an idea of
folly, of weakness, and of extravagance, to a vigorous mind, efficiently
as well as ardently engaged in the pursuit of any substantial and
important object, is not merely to misuse a word, but to introduce
confusion among our notions, and to put contempt upon what is deserving
of respect. Where there is no error of imagination, no misjudging of
realities, no calculation which reason condemns, there is no enthusiasm,
even though the soul may be on fire with the velocity of its movement in
pursuit of its chosen object. If once we abandon this distinction,
language will want a term for a well-known and very common vice of the
mind; and, from a wasteful perversion of phrases, we must be reduced to
speak of qualities most noble and most infirm by the very same
designation. If the objects which excite the ardor of the mind are
substantial, and if the mode of pursuit be truly conducive to their
attainment; if, in a word, all be real and genuine, then it is not one
degree more, or even many degrees more, of intensity of feeling that can
alter the character of the emotion. Enthusiasm is not a term of
_measurement_, but of _quality_.

When it is said that enthusiasm is the fault of infirm constitutions, a
seeming exception must be made in behalf of a few high-tempered spirits,
distinguished by their indefatigable energy, and destined to achieve
arduous and hazardous enterprises. That such spirits often exhibit the
characters of enthusiasm cannot be denied; for the imagination spurns
restraint, and rejects all the sober measurements and calculations of
reason, whenever its chosen object is in view; and a tinge, often more
than a tinge, of extravagance belongs to every word and action. And yet
the exception is only apparent; for although these giants of human
nature greatly surpass other men in force of mind, courage, and
activity, still the heroic extravagance, and the irregular and
ungovernable power which enables them to dare and to do so much, is, in
fact, nothing more than a partial accumulation of strength, necessary
because the utmost energies of human nature are so small, that, if
equally distributed through the system, they would be inadequate to
arduous labors. The very same task, which the human hero achieves in the
fury and fever of a half-mad enthusiasm, would be performed by a seraph
in the perfect serenity of reason. Although, therefore, these vigorous
minds are strong when placed in comparison with others, their enthusiasm
is in itself a weakness;—a weakness of the species, if not of the
individual.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unless a perpetual miracle were to intercept the natural operation of
common causes, religion, not less than philosophy or poetry, will draw
enthusiasts within its precincts. Nor, if we recollect on the one hand
the fitness of the vast objects revealed in the Scriptures to affect the
imagination, and on the other, the wide diffusion of religious ideas,
can it seem strange if it be found, in fact, that religious enthusiasts
outnumber any other class. It is also quite natural that enthusiastic
and genuine religious emotions should be intermingled with peculiar
intricacy; since the revelations which give them scope combine, in a
peculiar manner, elements of grandeur, of power, and of sublimity
(fitted to kindle the imagination), with those ideas that furnish
excitement to the moral sentiments.

The religion of the heart, it is manifest, may be supplanted by a
religion of the imagination, just in the same way that the social
affections are often dislodged or corrupted by factitious sensibilities.
Every one knows that an artificial excitement of the kind and tender
emotions of our nature may take place through the medium of the
imagination. Hence the power of poetry and the drama. But every one must
also know that these feelings, how vivid soever and seemingly pure and
salutary they may be, and however nearly they may resemble the genuine
workings of the soul, are so far from producing the same softening
effect upon the character, that they tend rather to indurate the heart.
Whenever excitements of any kind are regarded distinctly as a source of
luxurious pleasure, then, instead of expanding the bosom with beneficent
energy, instead of dispelling the sinister purposes of selfishness,
instead of shedding the softness and warmth of generous love through the
moral system, they become a freezing centre of solitary and unsocial
indulgence; and at length displace every emotion that deserves to be
called virtuous. No cloak of selfishness is, in fact, more impenetrable
than that which usually envelops a pampered imagination. The reality of
woe is the very circumstance that paralyses sympathy; and the eye that
can pour forth its flood of commiseration for the sorrows of the romance
or the drama, grudges a tear to the substantial wretchedness of the
unhappy. Much more often than not, this kind of luxurious sensitiveness
to fiction is conjoined with a callousness that enables the subject of
it to pass through the affecting occasions of domestic life in immovable
apathy:—the heart has become, like that of leviathan, "firm as a stone,
yea, hard as a piece of the nether millstone."

This process of perversion and of induration may as readily have place
among the religious emotions as among those of any other class; for the
laws of human nature are uniform, whatever may be the immediate cause
which puts them in action; and a fictitious piety corrupts or petrifies
the heart not less certainly than does a romantic sentimentality. The
danger attending enthusiasm in religion is not, then, of a trivial sort;
and whoever disaffects the substantial matters of Christianity, and
seeks to derive from it merely, or chiefly, the gratifications of
excited feeling; whoever combines from its materials a paradise of
abstract contemplation, or of poetic imagery, where he may take refuge
from the annoyances and the importunate claims of common life; whoever
thus delights himself with dreams, and is insensible to realities, lives
in peril of awaking from his illusions when truth comes too late. The
religious idealist sincerely believes himself, perhaps, to be eminently
devout; and those who witness his abstraction, his elevation, his
enjoyments, may reverence his piety; meanwhile, this fictitious
happiness creeps as a lethargy through the moral system, and is
rendering him, continually, less and less susceptible of those emotions
in which true religion consists.

Nor is this always the limit of the evil; for though religious
enthusiasm may sometimes seem a harmless delusion, compatible with
amiable feelings and virtuous conduct, it more often allies itself with
the malign passions, and then produces the virulent mischiefs of
fanaticism. Opportunity may be wanting, and habit may be wanting, but
intrinsic qualification for the perpetration of the worst crimes is not
wanting to the man whose bosom heaves with religious enthusiasm,
inflamed by malignancy. If checks are removed, if incitements are
presented, if the momentum of action and custom is acquired, he will
soon learn to contemn every emotion of kindness or of pity, as if it
were a treason against heaven, and will make it his ambition to rival
the achievements, not of heroes, but of fiends. The amenities that have
been diffused through society in modern times forbid the overt acts and
excesses of fanatical feeling; but the venom still lurks in the vicinity
of enthusiasm, and may be quickened in a moment meantime, while
smothered and repressed, it gives edge and spirit to those hundred
religious differences which are still the opprobrium of Christianity.
Whoever, then, admits into his bosom the artificial fire of an
imaginative piety, ought first to assure himself that his heart harbors
no particle of the poison of ill-will.

       *       *       *       *       *

The reproach so eagerly propagated by those who make no religious
pretensions, against those who do—that their godliness serves them as a
cloak of immorality, is, to a great extent, calumnious: it is also, in
some measure, founded upon facts, which, though misunderstood and
exaggerated, give color to the charge. When professors of religion are
suddenly found to be wanting in common integrity, or in personal virtue,
no other supposition is admitted by the world than that the delinquent
was always a hypocrite; and this supposition is, no doubt, sometimes not
erroneous. But much more often his fall has surprised himself not less
than others; and is, in fact, nothing more than the natural issue of a
fictitious piety, which, though it might hold itself entire under
ordinary circumstances, gave way necessarily in the hour of unusual
trial. An artificial religion not only fails to impart to the mind the
vigor and consistency of true virtue, but withdraws attention from those
common principles of honor and integrity which carry worldly men with
credit through difficult occasions. The enthusiast is, therefore, of all
men, the one who is the worst prepared to withstand peculiar seductions.
He possesses neither the heavenly armor of virtue, nor the earthly.

It were an affront to reason, as well as to theology, to suppose that
true and universal virtue can rest on any other foundation than the fear
and love of God. The enthusiast, therefore, whose piety is fictitious,
has only a choice of immoralities, to be determined by his temperament
and circumstances. He may become, perhaps, nothing worse than a
recluse—an indolent contemplatist, and intellectual voluptuary, shut up
from his fellows in the circle of profitless spiritual delights and
conflicts. The times are, indeed, gone by when persons of this class
might, in contempt of their species, and in idolatry of themselves,
withdraw to dens, and hold society only with bats, and make the supreme
wisdom to consist in the possession of a long beard, a filthy blanket,
and a taste for raw herbs: but the same tastes, animated by the same
principles, fail not still to find place of indulgence, even amid the
crowds of a city: and the recluse who lives in the world will probably
be more sour in temper than the anchoret of the wilderness. An ardent
temperament converts the enthusiast into a zealot, who, while he is
laborious in winning proselytes, discharges common duties very remissly,
and is found to be a more punctilious observer of his creed than of his
word. Or, if his imagination be fertile, he becomes a visionary, who
lives on better terms with angels and with seraphs than with his
children, servants, and neighbors: or he is one who, while he reverences
the "thrones, dominions, and powers" of the invisible world, vents his
spleen in railing at all "dignities and powers" of earth.

Superstition—the creature of guilt and fear—is an evil almost as ancient
as the human family. But Enthusiasm—the child of hope—hardly appeared on
earth until after the time when life and immortality had been brought to
light by Christianity. Hitherto, a cloud of the thickest gloom had
stretched itself out before the eye of man as he trod the sad path to
the grave; and though poetry supplied its fictions, and philosophy its
surmises, the one possessed little force, and the other could claim no
authentication; neither, therefore, had power to awaken the soul. But
the Christian revelation not only shed a sudden splendor upon the awful
futurity, but brought its revelations to bear upon the minds of men,
with all the pressure and intensity of palpable facts. The long
slumbering sentiment of immortal hope—a sentiment natural to the human
constitution, and chief among its passions—instead of being deluded, as
heretofore, by dreams, was thoroughly aroused by the hand and voice of
reality; and human nature exhibited a new development of the higher
faculties. When therefore, in the second century of the Christian era,
various and vigorous forms of an enthusiasm, such as the world had
hitherto never known, are seen to start forth on the stage of history,
we behold the indications of the presence of Truth, giving an impulse to
the human mind both for the better and the worse, which no fictions of
sages or poets had ever imparted.

In proportion as the influence of scriptural religion faded, the elder
and the younger vice—Superstition and Enthusiasm, joined their forces to
deform every principle and practice of Christianity, and in the course
of four or five centuries, under their united operations, a faint
semblance only of its primeval beauty survived; another period of five
hundred years saw Superstition prevail, almost to the extinction, not
only of true religion, but of Enthusiasm also; and mankind fell back
into a gloom as thick as that of the ancient polytheism. But at length
the breath of life returned to the prostrate church, and the accumulated
and consolidated evils of many ages were thrown off in a day. Yet as
Superstition more than Enthusiasm had spoiled Christianity, she chiefly
was recognized as the enemy of religion; and the latter, rather than the
former, was allowed to hold a place in the sanctuary after its
cleansing. Since that happy period of refreshment and renovation, both
vices have had their seasons of recovered influence; but both have been
held in check, and their prevalence prevented. At the present time
(1828)—we speak of protestant Christendom—the power of superstition is
exceedingly small; for the diffusion of general knowledge, and the
prevalence of true religion, and not less the influence of the infidel
spirit, forbid the advances of an error which must always lean for
support on ignorance and fear. Nor, on the other hand, can it be fairly
affirmed that ours is eminently or conspicuously an age of religious
enthusiasm. Yet, as there are superstitions which still maintain a
feeble existence under favor of the respect naturally paid to antiquity,
so are there also among us enthusiastic principles and practices, which,
having been generated in a period of greater excitement than our own,
are preserved as they were received from the fathers; and seem to be in
safe course of transmission to the next generation.

       *       *       *       *       *

But even if it should appear that—excepting individual instances of
constitutional extravagance, which it would be absurd, because useless,
to make the subject of serious animadversion—enthusiasm is not now
justly chargeable upon any body of Christians, there would still be a
very sufficient reason for attempting to fix the true import of the
term, so long as it is vaguely and contumeliously applied by many to
every degree of fervor in religion which seems to condemn their own
indifference. Not, indeed, as if there were ground to hope that even the
most exact and unexceptionable analysis, or the clearest definitions,
would ever avail so to distinguish genuine from spurious piety as should
compel irreligious men to acknowledge that the difference is real; for
such persons feel it to be indispensable to the slumber of conscience to
confound the one with the other; and although a thousand times refuted,
they will again, when pressed by truth and reason, run to the old and
crazy sophism which pretends that, because Christianity is sometimes
disfigured by enthusiasts and fanatics, therefore there is neither
retribution nor immortality for man. It is the infatuation of persons of
a certain character, to live always at variance with wisdom, on account
of other men's follies; and this is the deplorable error of those who
will see nothing in religion but its corruptions. Nevertheless Truth
owes always a vindication of herself to her friends, if not to her
enemies; and her sincere friends will not wish to screen their own
errors, when this vindication requires them to be exposed.

       *       *       *       *       *

If, as is implied in some common modes of speaking, enthusiasm were only
an error in _degree_, or a mere fault by excess, then the attempt to
establish a definite distinction between what is blameworthy and what is
commendable in the religious affections—between the _maximum_ and
_minimum_ of emotion which sobriety approves, must be both hopeless and
fruitless; inasmuch as we should need a scale adapted to every man's
constitution; for the very same amount of fervor which may be only
natural and proper to one mind, could not be attained by another without
delirium or insanity. If this notion were just, every one would be
entitled to repel the charge of either apathy or enthusiasm; and while
one might maintain, that if he were to admit into his bosom a single
degree more of religious fervor than he actually feels, _he_ should
become an enthusiast, another might offer an equally reasonable apology
for the wildest extravagances. At this rate the real offenders against
sober piety could never be convicted of their fault; and in allowing
such a principle we should only authenticate the scorn with which
indifference loves to look upon sincerity.

That the error of the enthusiast does not consist in an _excess_ merely
of the religious emotions, might be argued conclusively on the ground
that the Scriptures, our only safe guide on such points, while they are
replete with the language of impassioned devotion, and while they
contain a multitude of urgent and explicit exhortations, tending to
stimulate the fervency of prayer, offer no cautions against any such
supposed excesses of piety.

But, as matter of fact, nothing is more common than to meet with
religionists whose opinions and language are manifestly deformed by
enthusiasm, while their devotional feelings are barely tepid: languor,
relaxation, apathy, not less than extravagance, characterize their style
of piety; and it were quite a ludicrous mistake to warn such persons of
the danger of being "religious overmuch." Yet it must be granted that
those extremes, in matters of opinion or practice, which sometimes
render even torpor conspicuous by its absurdities, have always
originated with minds susceptible of high excitement. Enthusiasm, in a
concrete form, is the child of vivacious temperaments; but when once
produced, it spreads almost as readily through inert, as through active
masses, and shows itself to be altogether separable from the ardor or
turbulence whence it sprang.

To depict the character of those who are enthusiasts by physical
temperament is then a matter of much less importance than to define the
errors which such persons propagate; for, in the first place, the
originators of enthusiasm are few, and the parties infected by it many;
and, in the second, the evil with the latter is incidental, and
therefore may be remedied; while with the former, as it is
constitutional, it is hardly in any degree susceptible of correction.

The examination of a few principal points will make it evident that a
very intelligible distinction may, without difficulty, be established
between what is genuine and what is spurious in religious feeling; and
when an object so important is before us, we ought not to heed the
injudicious, and perhaps sinister, delicacy of some persons who had
rather that truth should remain forever sullied by corruptions, and
exposed to the contempt of worldlings, than that themselves should be
disturbed in their narrow and long-cherished modes of thinking. And yet
there may be some lesser misconceptions, perhaps, which it will be more
wise to leave untouched than to attempt to correct them at the cost of
breaking up habits of thought and modes of speaking connected
indissolubly with truths of vital importance. It should also be granted,
that, when those explanations or illustrations of momentous doctrines
which an exposure of the error of the enthusiast may lead us to propound
seem at all to endanger the simplicity of our reliance upon the
inartificial declarations of Scripture, they are much better abandoned
at once, although in themselves, perhaps, justifiable, than maintained;
if in doing so we are seduced from the direct light of revelation into
the dim regions of philosophical abstraction.

Christianity has in some short periods of its history been entirely
dissociated from philosophical modes of thought and expression; and
assuredly it has prospered in such periods. At other times it has
scarcely been seen at all, except in the garb of metaphysical
discussion, and then it has lost all its vigor and glory. In the present
state of the world the primitive insulation of religious truth from the
philosophical style is scarcely practicable; nor indeed does it seem so
desirable while, happily, we are in no danger of seeing the light of
revelation again immured in colleges. But although it is inevitable, and
perhaps not to be regretted, that religious subjects, both doctrinal and
practical, should, especially in books, admit such generalities, every
sober-minded writer will remember that it is not by an intrinsic and
permanent necessity, but by a temporary concession to the spirit of the
age, that this style is used and allowed. He will moreover bear in mind
that the concession leans towards a side of danger, and will therefore
always hold himself ready to break off from even the most pleasing or
plausible speculation when his Christian instincts, if the phrase may be
permitted, give him warning that he is going remote from the vital
atmosphere of scriptural truth. Whatever is practically important in
religion or morals, may at all times be advanced and argued in the
simplest terms of colloquial expression. From the pulpit, perhaps, no
other style should at any time be heard; for the pulpit belongs to the
poor and to the uninstructed. But the press is not bound by the same
conditions, for it is an instrument of knowledge foreign to the
authenticated means of Christian instruction. A writer and a layman is
no recognized functionary in the Church; he may, therefore, choose his
style without violating any rules or proprieties of office.



SECTION II.

ENTHUSIASM IN DEVOTION.


The most formal and lifeless devotions, not less than the most fervent,
are mere enthusiasm, unless it can be ascertained, on satisfactory
grounds, that such exercises are indeed efficient means for promoting
our welfare. Prayer is impiety, and praise a folly, if the one be not a
real instrument of obtaining important benefits, and the other an
authorized and acceptable offering to the Giver of all good. But when
once these points are determined, and they are necessarily involved in
the truth of Christianity, then, whatever improprieties may be
chargeable upon the devout, an error of incomparably greater magnitude
rests with the undevout. To err in modes of prayer, may be
reprehensible; but not to pray, is mad. And when those whose temper is
abhorrent to religious services animadvert sarcastically upon the
follies, real or supposed, of religionists there is a sad inconsistency
in such criticisms, like that which is seen when the insane make ghastly
mirth of the manners or personal defects of their friends and keepers.

The doctrine of immortality, as revealed in the Scriptures, gives at
once reason and force to devotion; for if the interests of the present
life only, in which "one event happeneth to the just and to the unjust,"
were taken into calculation, the utility of prayer could scarcely be
proved, and never be made conspicuous, at least not to the profane. As a
matter of feeling, it is the expectation of a more direct and sensible
intercourse with the Supreme Being in a future life, that imparts depth
and energy to the sentiments which fill the mind in its approaches to
the throne of the heavenly majesty. But the man of earth who thinks
himself rich when he has enjoyed the delights of seventy summers, and
who deems the hope of eternity to be of less value than an hour of
riotous sensuality, can never desire to penetrate the veil of second
causes, or to "find out the Almighty." Glad to snatch the boons of the
present life, he covets no knowledge of the Giver.

Not so those into whose hearts the belief of a future life—of such a
future life as Christianity depicts—has entered. They feel that the
promised bliss cannot possibly spring from an atheistic satiety of
animal or even of intellectual pleasures; but that the substance of it
must consist in communion with him who is the source and centre of good.
This belief and expectation sheds vigor through the soul while engaged
in exercises of devotion; for such employments are known to be the
preparatives, and the foretastes, and the earnests, of the expected
"fulness of joy." The only idea which the human mind, under its present
limitations, can form of a pure and perpetual felicity, free from all
elements of decay and corruption, is that which it gathers and compounds
from devotional sentiments. In cherishing and expressing these
sentiments, it grasps, therefore, the substance of immortal delights,
and, by an affinity of the heart, holds fast the unutterable hope set
forth in the Scriptures. The Scriptures being admitted as the word of
God, this intensity of devotional feelings is exempted from blame or
suspicion; nor can it ever be shown that the very highest pitch of such
feelings is in itself excessive or unreasonable. The mischiefs of
enthusiasm arise, not from the force or fervor, but from the perversion
of the religious affections.

The very idea of addressing petitions to him who "worketh all things"
according to the counsel of his own eternal and unalterable will, and
the enjoined practice of clothing sentiments of piety in articulate
forms of language, though these sentiments, before they are invested in
words, are perfectly known to the Searcher of hearts, imply that, in the
terms and the mode of intercourse between God and man, no attempt is
made to lift the latter above his sphere of limited notions and
imperfect knowledge. The terms of devotional communion rest even on a
much lower ground than that which man, by efforts of reason and
imagination, would fain attain to. Prayer, in its very conditions,
supposes, not only a condescension of the divine nature to meet the
human, but a humbling of the human nature to a lower range than it might
reach. But the region of abstract conceptions, of lofty reasonings, of
magnificent images, has an atmosphere too subtile to support the health
of true piety; and in order that the warmth and vigor of life may be
maintained in the heart, the common level of the natural affections is
chosen as the scene of intercourse between heaven and earth. In
accordance with this plan of devotion, not only does the Supreme conceal
himself from our senses, but he reveals in his word barely a glimpse of
his essential glories. By some naked affirmations we are indeed secured
against false and grovelling notions of the divine nature; but these
hints are incidental, and so scanty that every excursive mind goes
beyond them in its conceptions of the infinite attributes.

Nor is it only the brightness of the eternal throne that is shrouded
from the view of those who are invited to draw near to him that "sitteth
thereon;" for the immeasurable distance that separates man from his
Maker is carefully veiled by the concealment of the intervening orders
of rational beings. Although the fact of such superior existences is
clearly affirmed, nothing more than the bare fact is imparted: nor can
we misunderstand the reason and necessity of so much reserve; for
without it, those free and kindly movements of the heart in which
genuine devotion consists, would be overborne by impressions of a kind
that belong to the imagination. Distance is known and measured only by
the perception of intermediate objects. The traveller who, with weary
steps, has passed from one extremity to the other of a continent, and
whose memory is fraught with the recollection of the various scenes of
the journey, is qualified to attach a distinct idea to the higher terms
of measurement; but the notion of extended space formed by those who
have never passed the boundary of their native province is vague and
unreal. Such are the notions which, with all the aids of astronomy and
arithmetic, we form of the distances even of the nearest of the heavenly
bodies. But if the traveller who has actually looked upon the ten
thousand successive landscapes that lie between the farthest west and
the remotest east could, with a sustained effort of memory and
imagination, hold all those scenes in recollection, and repeat the
voluminous idea with distinct reiteration until the millions of millions
were numbered that separate sun from sun; and if the notion thus
laboriously obtained could be vividly supported and transferred to the
pathless spaces of the universe, then that prospect of distant systems
which night opens before us, instead of exciting mild and pleasurable
emotions of admiration, would rather oppress the imagination under a
painful sense of the so measured interval. If the eye, when it fixes its
gaze upon the vault of heaven, could see, in fancy, a causeway arched
across the void, and bordered in long series with the hills and plains
of an earthly journey—repeated ten thousand and ten thousand times,
until ages were spent in the pilgrimage, then would he who possessed
such a power of vision hide himself in caverns rather than venture to
look up to the terrible magnitude of the starry skies, thus set out in
parts before him.

And yet the utmost distances of the material universe are finite; but
the disparity of nature which separates man from his Maker is infinite;
nor can the interval be filled up or brought under any process of
measurement. Nevertheless, in the view of our feeble conceptions, an
apparent measurement or filling up of the infinite void would take
place, and so the idea of immense separation would be painfully enhanced
if distinct vision were obtained of the towering hierarchy of
intelligences at the basement of which the human system is founded. Were
it indeed permitted to man to gaze upward from step to step, and from
range to range of the vast edifice of rational existences, and could his
eye attain its summit, and then perceive, at an infinite height beyond
that highest platform of created beings, the lowest beams of the eternal
throne, what liberty of heart would afterwards be left to him in drawing
near to the Father of spirits? How, after such a revelation of the upper
world, could the affectionate cheerfulness of earthly worship again take
place? Or how, while contemplating the measured vastness of the interval
between heaven and earth, could the dwellers thereon come familiarly, as
before, to the Hearer of prayer, bringing with them the small requests
of their petty interests of the present life? If introduction were had
to the society of those beings whose wisdom has accumulated during ages
which time forgets to number, and who have lived to see, once and again,
the mystery of the providence of God complete its cycles, would not the
impression of created superiority oppress the spirit, and obstruct its
access to the Being whose excellences are absolute and infinite? Or what
would be the feelings of the infirm child of earth, if, when about to
present his supplications, he found himself standing in the theatre of
heaven, and saw, ranged in a circle wider than the skies, the
congregation of immortals? These spectacles of greatness, if laid open
to perception, would present such an interminable perspective of glory,
and so set out the immeasurable distance between ourselves and the
Supreme Being with a long gradation of splendors, that we should
henceforward feel as if thrust down to an extreme remoteness from the
Divine notice; and it would be hard, or impossible, to retain, with any
comfortable conviction, the belief in the nearness of him who is
revealed as "a very present help in every time of trouble." But that our
feeble spirits may not thus be overborne, or our faith and confidence
baffled and perplexed, the Most High hides from our sight the ministries
of his court, and, dismissing his train, visits with infinite
condescension the lowly abodes of those who fear him, and dwells as a
Father in the homes of earth.

Every ambitious attempt to break through the humbling conditions on
which man may hold communion with God, must then fail of success; since
the Supreme has fixed the scene of worship and converse, not in the
skies, but on earth. The Scripture models of devotion, far from
encouraging vague and inarticulate contemplations, consist of such
utterances of desire, or hope, or love, as seem to suppose the existence
of correlative feelings, and indeed of every human sympathy in him to
whom they are addressed. And although reason and Scripture assure us
that he neither needs to be informed of our wants, nor waits to be moved
by our supplications, yet will he be approached with the eloquence of
importunate desire, and he demands, not only a sincere feeling of
indigence and dependence, but an undissembled zeal and diligence in
seeking the desired boons by persevering request. He is to be
supplicated with arguments, as one who needs to be swayed and moved, to
be wrought upon and influenced; nor is any alternative offered to those
who would present themselves at the throne of heavenly grace, or any
exception made in favor of superior spirits, whose more elevated notions
of the divine perfections may render this accommodated style
distasteful. As the hearer of prayer stoops to listen, so also must the
suppliant stoop from the heights of philosophical or meditative
abstraction, and either come in genuine simplicity of petition, as a son
to a father, or be utterly excluded from the friendship of his Maker.

This scriptural system of devotion stands opposed, then, to all those
false sublimities of an enthusiastic pietism which affect to lift man
into a middle region between heaven and earth, ere he may think himself
admitted to hold communion with God. While the inflated devotee is
soaring into he knows not what vagueness of upper space, he "whom the
heaven of heavens cannot contain," has come down, and, with benign
condescension, has placed himself in the centre of the little circle of
human ideas and affections. The man of imaginative, or of hyper-rational
piety, is gone in contemplation where God is not; or where man shall
never meet him: for "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,
whose name is holy, and who dwelleth in the high and holy place," when
he invites us to his friendship, holds the splendor of his natural
perfections in abeyance and proclaims that "he dwells with the man who
is of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Thus does the piety
taught in the Scriptures make provision against the vain exaggerations
of enthusiasm; and thus does it give free play to the affections of the
heart; while whatever might stimulate the imagination is enveloped in
the thickest covering of obscurity.

The outward forms and observances of worship are manifestly intended to
discourage and exclude the false refinements of an imaginative piety,
and to give to the religious affections a mundane, rather than a
transcendental character. The congregated worshippers come into "the
house of God," the hall or court of audience, on the intelligible terms
of human association; and they come by explicit invitation from him who
declares that "wheresoever two or three are gathered together in his
name, there he is" to meet them. And being so assembled, as in the
actual presence of the "King of saints" they give utterance to the
emotions of love, veneration, hope, joy, penitence, in all those modes
of outward expression which are at once proper to the constitution of
human nature and proper to be addressed to a being of kindred character
and sympathies. Worship is planned altogether in adaptation to the
limitations of the inferior party, not in proportion to the infinitude
of the superior; even the worship of heaven must be framed on the same
principle; for how high soever we ascend in the scale of created
intelligence, still the finite can never surmount its boundaries, or at
all adapt itself to the infinite. But the infinite may always bow to the
finite. Those, therefore, who, inflated by enthusiasm, contemn or
neglect the modes and style of worship proper to humanity, must find
that, though indulgence should be given to their affectation on earth,
no room can be allowed it in heaven.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dispensations of the divine providence towards the pious have all
the same tendency to confine the devout affections within the circle of
terrestrial ideas, and to make religion an occupant of the homestead of
common feelings. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," and
wherefore, but to bring his religious belief and emotions into close
contact with the humiliations of the natural life, and to necessitate
the use of prayer as a real and efficient means of obtaining needful
assistance in distress? If vague speculations or delicious illusions
have carried the Christian away from the realities of earth, some urgent
want or piercing sorrow presently arouses him from his dreams and
obliges him to come back to importunate prayer and to unaffected praise.
A strange incongruity may seem to present itself, when the sons of
God—the heirs of immortality, the destined princes of heaven—are seen to
be implicated in sordid cares, and vexed and oppressed by the
perplexities of a moment; but this incongruity strikes us only when the
great facts of religion are viewed in the false light of the
imagination; for the process of preparation, far from being incompatible
with these apparent degradations, requires them; and it is by such means
of humiliation that the hope of immortality, confined within the heart,
is prevented from floating in the region of material images.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have said that when an important object is zealously pursued in the
use of means proper for its attainment, a mere intensity or fervor of
feeling does not constitute enthusiasm. If, therefore, prayer has a
lawful object, whether it be temporal or spiritual, and is used in
humble confidence of its efficiency, as a means of obtaining the desired
boon or some equivalent blessing, there is nothing unreal in the
employment; and therefore nothing enthusiastic. But there are devotional
exercises, which, though they assume the style and phrases of prayer,
appear to have no other object than to attain the immediate pleasures of
excitement. The devotee is not in truth a _petitioner_; for his prayers
terminate in themselves; and when he reaches the expected pitch of
transient emotion, he desires nothing more. This appetite for feverish
agitations naturally prompts a quest of whatever is exorbitant in
expression or sentiment, and as naturally inspires a dread of all those
subjects of meditation which tend to abate the pulse of the moral
system. If the language of humiliation is at all admitted into the
enthusiast's devotions, it must be so pointed with extravagance, and so
swollen with exaggerations, that it serves much more to tickle the fancy
than to affect the heart: it is a burlesque of penitence very proper to
amuse a mind that is destitute of real contrition. That such artificial
humiliations do not spring from the sorrow of repentance, is proved by
their bringing with them no lowliness of temper. Genuine humility would
shake the towering structure of this enthusiastic pietism; and,
therefore, in the place of Christian humbleness of mind, there are
cherished certain ineffable notions of self-annihilation, and
self-renunciation, and we know not what other attempts at metaphysical
suicide. If you will receive the enthusiast's description of himself, he
has become, in his own esteem, by continued force of divine
contemplation, infinitely less than an atom—a mere negative quantity—an
incalculable fraction of positive entity! meanwhile the whole of his
deportment betrays a self-importance that might be ample enough for a
god.

Minds of superior order, and when refined by culture, may be full
fraught with enthusiasm without exhibiting any very reprehensible
extravagances; for taste and intelligence avail to conceal the
offensiveness of error, as well as of vice. But it will not be so with
the gross and the uneducated. These, if they are taught to neglect the
substantial purposes of prayer, and are encouraged to seek chiefly the
gratifications of excitement, will hardly refrain from the utterance of
discontent, when they fail of success. Whatever physical or accidental
cause may oppress the animal spirits, and so frustrate the attempt to
reach the desired pitch of emotion, gives occasion to some sort of
querulous altercation with the Supreme Being; or to some disguised
imputation of caprice on the part of Him who is supposed to have
withheld the expected spiritual influence. Thus the divine condescension
in holding intercourse with man on the level of friendship, is abused in
this wantonness of irreverence; and the very same temper which impels a
man of vulgar manners, when disappointed in his suit, to turn upon his
superior with the language of rude opprobrium, is, in its degree,
indulged towards the Majesty of heaven. "Thou thoughtest that I was
altogether such an one as thyself," is a rebuke which belongs to those
who thus affront the Most High with the familiarities of common
companionship. We say not that flagrant abuses of this kind are of
frequent occurrence, even among the uneducated; yet neither are they
quite unknown. A perceptible tendency towards them always accompanies
the enthusiastic notion that the principal part of piety is excitement.

       *       *       *       *       *

The substitution of the transient and unreal, for the real and enduring
objects of prayer, brings with it often that sort of ameliorated
mysticism which consists in a solicitous dissection of the changing
emotions of the religious life, and in a sickly sensitiveness, serving
only to divert attention from what is important in practical virtue.
There are anatomists of piety who destroy all the freshness and vigor of
faith, and hope, and charity, by immuring themselves night and day in
the infected atmosphere of their own bosoms. But now let a man of warm
heart, who is happily surrounded with the dear objects of the social
affections, try the effect of a parallel practice; let him institute
anxious scrutinies of his feelings towards those whom, hitherto, he has
believed himself to regard with unfeigned love; let him in these
inquiries have recourse to all the fine distinctions of a casuist, and
use all the profound analyses of a metaphysician, and spend hours daily
in pulling asunder every complex emotion of tenderness that has given
grace to the domestic life; and, moreover, let him journalize these
examinations, and note particularly, and with the scrupulosity of an
accomptant, how much of the mass of his kindly sentiments he has
ascertained to consist of genuine love, and how much was selfishness in
disguise; and let him from time to time solemnly resolve to be, in
future, more disinterested, and less hypocritical in his affections
towards his family! What, at the end of a year, would be the result of
such a process? What, but a wretched debility and dejection of the
heart, and a strangeness and a sadness of the manners, and a suspension
of the native expressions and ready offices of zealous affection?
Meanwhile the hesitations, and the musings, and the upbraidings of an
introverted sensibility absorb the thoughts. Is it then reasonable to
presume that similar practices in religion can have a tendency to
promote the healthful vigor of piety?

By the constitution of the human mind, its emotions are strengthened in
no other way than by exercise and utterance; nor does it appear that the
religious emotions are exempted from this general law. The Divine Being
is revealed to us in the Scriptures as the proper and supreme object of
reverence, of love, and of affectionate obedience; and the natural means
of exercising and of expressing these feelings are placed before us,
both in the offices of devotion and in the duties of life, just in the
same way that the opportunities of enhancing the domestic affections are
afforded in the constitution of social life. Why, then, should the
Christian turn aside from the course of nature, and divert his feelings
from their outgoings towards the supreme object of devotional sentiment,
by instituting curious researches into the quality, and quantity, and
composition of all his religious sensations? This spiritual
hypochondriasis enfeebles at once the animal, the intellectual, and the
moral life, and is usually found in conjunction with infirmity of
judgment, infelicity of temper, and inconsistency of conduct.

But it is alleged that the heart, even after it has undergone spiritual
renovation, is fraught with hidden evils, which mingle their influence
with every emotion of the new life, and that an often-renewed analysis
is necessary in order to detect and to separate the lurking mischiefs.
To know the evils of the heart is indeed indispensable to the humility
and the caution of true wisdom; and whoever is utterly untaught in this
dismal branch of learning is a fool. But to make it the chief object of
attention is not only unnecessary, but fatal to the health of the soul.

The motives of the social, not less than those of the religious life,
are open to corrupting mixtures which spoil their purity, and impair
their vigor. As, for example, the emotion of benevolence, which impels
us to go in quest of misery, and to labor and suffer for its relief, is
liable, in most men's minds, to be alloyed by some particles of the
desire of applause; indeed, there are nice and learned anatomists of the
heart, who assure us that benevolence, when placed in the focus of high
optic powers, exhibits nothing but a gay feathery coat of vanity, set
upon the flimsiness of selfish sensibility. Be it so—and let men of
small souls amuse themselves with these petty discoveries. But assuredly
the philanthropist who is followed through life by the blessings of
those "that were ready to perish," and whose memory goes down in the
fragrance of these blessings to distant ages, is not found to spend his
days and nights in pursuing any such subtile micrologies. Have the sons
of wretchedness been most holpen by Rochefoucaulds and Bruyeres, or by
Howards? If the philanthropist be a wise and Christian man, he will,
knowing as he does the evils and infirmities of the heart, endeavor to
expel and preclude the corrupting mischiefs that spring from within, by
giving yet larger play to the great motives by which exclusively he
desires to be impelled; he will, with new intentness, devote himself to
the service in which his better nature delights, and bring his soul into
still nearer contact with its chosen objects, and oblige himself to hold
more constant communion with the miserable; and he will spurn, with
renovated courage, the whispers of indolence and fear. Thus he pushes
forward on the course of action, where alone, by the unalterable laws of
human nature, the vigor of active virtue may be maintained and increased.

If, indeed, the heart be a dungeon of foul and vaporous poisons, if it
be "a cage of unclean birds," if "satyrs dance there," if the
"cockatrice" there hatch her eggs of mischief, let the vault of dark
impurity be thrown open to the purifying gales of heaven, and to the
bright shining of the sun; so shall the hated occupants leave their
haunts, and the noxious exhalations be exhausted, and the deathly chills
be dispelled. He surely need not want light and warmth who has the
glories of heaven before him; let these glories be contemplated with
constant and upward gaze, while the foot presses with energy the path of
hope, and the hand is busied in every office of charity. The Christian
who thus pursues his way, will rarely, if ever, be annoyed by the
spectres that haunt the regions of a saddened enthusiasm.

The moping sentimentalism which so often takes the place of Christian
motives is to be avoided, not merely because it holds up piety to the
view of the world under a deplorable disguise; nor merely because it
deprives its victims of their comfort; but chiefly because it ordinarily
produces inattention to the substantial matters of common morality. The
mind occupied from dawn of day till midnight with its own multifarious
ailments, and busied in studying its pathologies, utterly forgets, or
remissly discharges, the duties of social life: or the temper, oppressed
by vague solicitudes, falls into a state which makes it a nuisance in
the house. Or, while the rising and falling temperature of the spirit is
watched and recorded, the common principles of honor and integrity are
so completely lost sight of, that, without explicit ill-intention,
grievous delinquencies are fallen into, which fail not to bring a deluge
of reproach upon religion. These melancholy perversions of Christian
piety might seem not to belong, with strict propriety, to our subject;
but, in fact, religious despondency is the child of religious
enthusiasm. Exhaustion and dejection succeed to excitement, just as
debility follows fever. Yesterday the unballasted vessel was seen
hanging out all the gayety of its colors, and spreading wide its
indiscretion before a breeze; but the night came, the breeze
strengthened, and to-day the hapless bark rolls dismasted, without help
or hope, over the billows.

Amid the various topics touched upon by Paul, Peter, John, and James, we
scarcely find an allusion to those questions of spiritual nosology
which, in later periods, and especially since the days of Augustine,[1]
and very much in our own times, have filled a large space in religious
writings. The Apostles believed, with unclouded confidence, the
revelation committed to them, of judgment to come, of redemption from
wrath by Jesus Christ, and of eternal glory:—these great facts filled
their hearts, and governed their lives, and, in conjunction with the
precepts of morality, were the exclusive themes of their preaching and
writing. Evidently they found neither time nor occasion for entering
upon nice analyses of motives; or for indulging fine musings and
personal melancholies; nor did they ever think of resting the
all-important question of their own sincerity, and of their claim to a
part in the hope of the gospel, upon the abstruse dialectics which have
since been thought indispensable to the definition of a saving faith.
Assuredly the Christians of the first age did not suppose that volumes
of metaphysical distinctions must be written and read before the
genuineness of religious professions could be ascertained. The want, in
modern times, of a vivid conviction of the truth of Christianity, is
probably the occasional source of many of these idle and disheartening
subtleties; and it may be believed that a sudden enhancement of
faith—using the word in its unsophisticated meaning—throughout the
Christian community would dispel, in a moment, a thousand dismal and
profitless refinements, and impart to the feelings of Christians that
unvarying solidity which naturally belongs to the perception of facts so
immensely important as those revealed in the Scriptures.

In witnessing, first, the entreaties, and supplications, and tears of a
convicted, condemned, and repentant malefactor, prostrate at the feet of
his sovereign, and then the exuberance of his joy and gratitude in
receiving pardon and life, no one would so absurdly misuse language as
to call the intensity and fervor of the criminal's feelings
enthusiastical: for, however strong, or even ungovernable those emotions
may be, they are perfectly congruous with the occasion: they spring from
no illusion; but are fully justified by the momentous turn that has
taken place in his affairs: in the past hour he contemplated nothing but
the horrors of a violent, an ignominious, and a deserved death; but now
life, with its delights, is before him. It is true that all men in the
same circumstances would not undergo the same intensity of emotion: but
all, unless obdurate in wickedness, must experience feelings of the same
quality. And thus, so long are the real circumstances under which every
human being stands in the court of the Supreme Judge are clearly
understood, and duly felt, enthusiasm finds no place; all is real;
nothing illusory. But when once these unutterably important facts are
forgotten or obscured, then, by necessity every enhancement of religious
feeling is a step on the ascent of enthusiasm; and it becomes a matter
of very little practical consequence, whether the deluded pietist be the
worshipper of some system of abstract rationalism or of tawdry images
and rotten relics; though the latter error of the two is perhaps
preferable, inasmuch as a warm-hearted fervor is always better than
frozen pride.

       *       *       *       *       *

One commanding subject pervades the Scriptures, and rises to view on
every page: this recurring theme, towards which all instructions and
histories tend, is the great and anxious question of condemnation or
acquittal at the bar of God, when the irreversible sentence shall come
to be pronounced. "How shall man be just with God?" is the inquiry ever
and again urged upon the conscience of him who reads the Bible with a
humble and teachable desire to find therein the way of life. In
subserviency to this leading intention, the themes which run through the
sacred writings, and which distinguish those writings by an immense
dissimilarity from all the remains of polytheistic literature, are those
of guilt, shame, contrition, love, joy, gratitude, and affectionate
obedience. And moreover, in conformity with this same intention, the
Divine Being is revealed—if not exclusively, yet chiefly—as the party in
the great controversy which sin has occasioned. The intercourse,
therefore, which is opened between heaven and earth is almost confined
to the momentous transactions of reconciliation and renewed friendship.
When the Hearer of prayer invites interlocution with man, it is not, as
perhaps in Eden, for the purposes of free and discursive converse, but
for conference on a special business. "Come now, let us reason together,
saith the Almighty, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white
as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

The same speciality of purpose and limitation of subject is plainly
implied in the appointment of a Mediator and Advocate; for although the
establishment of this happy medium of approach authorizes and encourages
even a boldness of access to the throne of the heavenly grace, it not
less evidently imposes a restriction or peculiarity upon the intercourse
between God and man. As the Intercessor exercises his office to obtain
the bestowment of the benefits secured to mankind by his vicarious
sufferings, the suppliant must surely have those benefits especially in
view. The work and office of the Mediator, and the desires and petitions
of the client, are correlatives. "No man," said the Saviour, "cometh
unto the Father but by me." It follows then, naturally, that those who
thus come to the Father should keep in constant remembrance the great
intention of the mediatorial scheme, which is nothing else than to
reconcile transgressors to the offended Majesty of heaven. But this
unalterable condition of all devotional services contains a manifest and
efficacious provision against enthusiastical excitements; for the
emotions of shame and penitence, and of joy in receiving the assurance
of pardon, are not of the class with which the imagination has near
affinity, and, in a well-ordered mind, they may rise to their highest
pitch without either disturbing the powers of reason, or infringing the
most perfect inward serenity, or outward decorum. In a word, it may be
confidently affirmed that no man becomes an enthusiast in religion,
until he has forgotten that he is a transgressor—a transgressor
reconciled to God by mediation.

But when, either by the refinements of rationalism—a gross misnomer—or
by superstitious corruptions, the central facts of Christianity have
become obscured, no middle ground remains between the apathy of
formality and the extravagance of enthusiasm. The substance of religion
is gone, and its ceremonial only remains—remains to disgust the
intelligent, and to delude the simple. This momentous principle is
strikingly displayed in the construction of the Romish worship. That
false system assumes the great business of pardon and reconciliation
with God to be a transaction that belongs only to priestly negotiation;
and as forgiveness has its price, and the priest is at once the
appraiser of the offence, and the receiver of the mulct, it would be an
intrusion upon his function, an interference that must derange his
balances, for the transgressor to act on his own behalf, or ever to
inquire what passes between the authorized agent of mercy, and the court
of heaven. No room, then, is left in this system for the great and
central subject of all devotional exercises. The doctrine of pardon
having been cut off from worship, worship becomes unsubstantial. The
expiatory death and availing intercession of the Son of God are taken
within the rail of sacerdotal usurpation; and of necessity, if Jesus
Christ is at all to be set forth "crucified before the people," it can
only be as an object of dramatic exhibition. This is the secret of the
popish magnificence of worship. Music, and painting, and pantomime, and
a tinsel declamation, must do their several parts to disguise the
subduction of the essentials of devotion. The laity, having nothing to
transact with God, must be amused and beguiled, "lest haply the gospel
of his grace" should enter the heart, and so the trading intervention of
the priest be superseded.

The great purpose of the Romish worship, which is to preclude all
genuine feelings by substituting the enthusiasm of the imagination, is
accomplished, it must be confessed, with consummate skill, and a just
knowledge of the human mind. The end proposed will, manifestly, be best
attained when the emotions which spring from the imagination are made to
resemble as nearly as possible those that belong to the heart. The
nicest imitation will be the most successful in this machinery of
delusion. Hence it is, that while all those means of excitement are
employed which quicken the physical sensibilities, the deeper
sensibilities of the soul are also addressed, and yet always by the
intervention of dramatic or poetic images. A plain and undisguised
appeal to the heart is unknown to the system.

If it be for a moment forgotten, that in every bell, bowl, and vest of
the Romish service there is hid a device against the liberty and welfare
of mankind, and that its gold, and pearls, and fine linen are the
deckings of eternal ruin; and if this apparatus of worship be compared
with the impurities and the cruelties of the old polytheistic rites,
great praise may seem due to its contrivers. Nothing in Christianity
that might subserve the purposes of dramatic effect has been overlooked;
and even the most difficult parts of the materials have been wrought
into keeping. The humiliations and poverty which shroud the glory of the
principal personage, and the horrors of his death; as well as the awful
beauty and compassionate advocacy of the virgin mother, the queen of
heaven; the stern dignity of the twelve; the marvels of miraculous
power; the heroism of the martyrs; the mortifications of the saints; the
punishment of the enemies of the church; the practices of devils; the
intercession and tutelary cares of the blessed; the sorrows of the
nether world, and the glories of the upper;—all these materials of
poetic and scenic effect have been elaborated by the genius and taste of
the Italian artists, until a spectacle has been got up which leaves the
most splendid shows of the ancient idol-worship of Greece and Rome at a
vast distance of inferiority.[2]

But of what avail is all this sumptuous apparatus in promoting either
genuine piety or purity of manners? History and existing facts leave no
obscurity on the question; for the atrocity of crime, and the foulness
of licentiousness, have ever kept pace with the perfection of the Romish
service. Those nations upon whose manners it has worked its proper
influence with the fullest effect, have been the most irreligious and
the most debauched. Splendid rites and odious vices have dwelt in peace
under the same consecrated roofs; and the actors and spectators of these
sacred pantomimes have been wont to rush together from the solemn pomps
of worship, to the chambers of filthy sin.

       *       *       *       *       *

The substitution of poetic enthusiasm for genuine piety may, however,
take place apart from the decorations of the Romish service; but the
means employed must be of a more intellectual cast: eloquence must take
the labor on itself, and must subject the doctrines of Scripture to a
process of refinement which shall deposit whatever is substantial and
affecting, and retain only what is magnific, pathetic, or sublime. And
yet the principles of protestantism, and, in some respects, the national
temper, and certainly the style and spirit, of the devotional services
of the English Church, all discourage the attempt to hold forth the
subjects of evangelical teaching in the gorgeous colors of an artificial
oratory. And if the evidence of facts were listened to, such attempts
would never be made by those who honestly desire to discharge the
momentous duties of the Christian ministry in the manner most conducive
to the welfare of their hearers. A blaze of emotion, having the
semblance of piety, may be kindled by descriptive and impassioned
harangues, such as those that are heard, on festival days, from French
and Italian pulpits; but it will be found that the Divine Spirit,
without whose agency the heart is never permanently affected, refuses to
become a party in any such theatric exercises; these emotions will
therefore subside without leaving a vestige of salutary influence.

Yet is there perhaps a lawful, though limited range open, in the pulpit,
to the powers of descriptive eloquence. The preacher may safely
embellish all those subsidiary topics that are not included within the
circle of the primary principles on which the religious affections are
built; for in addressing the imagination on these accessory points, he
does not incur the danger of founding piety altogether upon illusions.
The great and beautiful in nature, and perhaps the natural attributes of
the Deity, and the episodes of sacred history, and the diversities of
human character, and the scenes of social life, and the secular
interests of mankind, may, by their incidental connection with more
important themes furnish the means of awakening attention, and of
varying the sameness of theological discourse. Or even if no
unquestionable plea of utility could be urged in recommendation of such
divertisements, at the worst they are not chargeable with the
desecration of fundamental doctrines; nor do they generate delusion
where delusion must be fatal. But it is not so with the principal
matters of the preacher's message to his fellow-men, which can hardly be
touched by the pencil of poetic or dramatic eloquence without incurring
a hazard of the highest kind, inasmuch as the excitement so engendered
more often totally excludes than merely impairs genuine feelings.

If the taste of an audience be quickened and cultivated, nothing is more
easy to the teacher, or more agreeable to the taught, than a transition
from the sphere of spiritual feeling to the regions of poetic
excitement. Intellect is put in movement by the change; conscience is
lulled; the weight that may have rested on the heart is upborne, and a
state of animal elasticity induced, which, so long as it continues,
dispels the sadness of earthly cares. Let it be supposed that the
subject of discourse is that one which, of all others, should be the
most solemnly affecting to those who admit the truth of Christianity—the
awful process of the last judgment. The speaker, we will believe,
intends nothing but to inspire a salutary alarm; and with this view he
essays his utmost command of language, while he describes the sudden
waning of the morning sun, the blackening of the heavens, the decadence
of the stars, the growing thunders of coming wrath, the clang of the
trumpet, whose notes break the slumbers of the dead, the crash of the
pillars of earth, the bursting forth of the treasures of fire, and the
solving of all things in the fervent heat. Then the bright appearance of
the Judge, encircled by the splendors of the court of heaven; the
convoked assemblage of witnesses from all worlds, filling the concave of
the skies. Then the dense masses of the family of man, crowding the area
of the great tribunal; the separation of the multitude; the irreversible
sentence, the departure of the doomed, the triumphant ascent of the
ransomed.

Compared with themes like these, how poor were the subjects of ancient
oratory! And such is their force, and such the freshness of their power,
that, though a thousand times presented to the imagination, they may yet
again, whenever skilfully managed, command breathless attention while
the sands of the preacher's hour are running out. Nor ought it to be
absolutely affirmed that excitements of this kind can never produce
salutary impressions; or that such impressions never accompany the
hearer beyond the threshhold of the church, or survive a day's contact
with secular interests: peremptory assertions of this sort are
unnecessary to our argument. The question to be answered is, whether
this species of movement be not of the nature of mere enthusiasm, and
whether it does not ordinarily rather exclude than promote religious
feelings.

In reference to the illustration we have adduced, there might be
room for the previous inquiry, whether, on sound principles of
interpretation, the language of Scripture ought to be understood as
giving any warrant whatever to those material images of terrible
sublimity with which it is usual to invest the proceedings of the future
day of retribution. But let it be granted that the customary
representations of popular oratory are not erroneous; and that when the
preacher thus accumulates the physical machinery of terror, he is truly
picturing that last scene of the terrestrial history of man. Even then
it were not difficult, by an effort of reasoning and of meditation, and
by following out the emotions of our moral constitution, to realize the
feelings which must fill the soul on that day when the secrets of all
hearts shall be published; and these feelings may be imagined, on
probable grounds of anticipation, to be such as must render all exterior
perceptions dim and make even the most stupendous magnificence of the
surrounding scene to fade from the sight. It is nothing but the present
torpor of the moral sentiments that allows to material ideas so much
power to occupy and overwhelm the mind; but when the soul shall be
quickened from its lethargy, then good and evil will take that seat of
influence which has been usurped by unsubstantial images of greatness,
beauty, or terror. What are the thunderings of a thousand storms; what
the clangor of the trumpet, or the crash of earth, or the universal
blaze; what the dazzling front of the celestial array, or even the
appalling apparatus of punishment, to the spirit that has become alive
to the consciousness of its own moral condition, and is standing naked
in the manifested presence of the High and Holy One. That time of
judgment which is to dispel all disguises, and to drag sin from its
coverts into the full light of heaven, will assuredly find no leisure
for the discursive eye; one perception, one emotion, will doubtless rule
exclusive in the soul.

No extravagance or groundless refinement is contained in the supposition
that, in the great day of inquiry and award, the moral shall so
overwhelm the physical, that when, by regular process of evidence,
according to the forms of that perfect court, conviction has been
obtained of even some minor offence against the eternal laws of purity
or justice—an offence which, if confessed on earth, would hardly have
brought a blush upon the cheek—the heart will be penetrated with an
anguish of shame that shall preclude the perception of surrounding
wonders:—on that day it will be sin, not a flaming world, that shall
appall the soul.

If anticipations such as these approve themselves to reason, it follows
that the humblest and the least adorned eloquence of a purely moral
kind, of which the only topics are sin and holiness, guilt and pardon,
takes incomparably a nearer and a safer road towards the attainment of
the great object of Christian instruction than does the most
overwhelming oratory that addresses itself chiefly to the imagination.
Nay, it may be affirmed that such oratory, however artfully elaborated,
and however well intended it may be, is nothing better than a curtain,
finely wrought, indeed, with gorgeous colors, but serving to hide from
men the substantial terrors of the day of retribution.

Nothing, then, can be more glaringly inequitable than the manner in
which the imputation of enthusiasm is frequently advanced in relation to
pulpit oratory. On the ground either of common sense or of philosophical
analysis, the epithet should be assigned to him who, in neglect or
contempt of the substance of his argument, draws an idle and profitless
excitement from its adjuncts. And on the same ground we must exculpate
from such a charge the speaker who, however intense may be his fervor,
is himself moved, and labors to move others, by what is most solemn and
momentous in his subject. Now to recur for a moment to the illustration
already adduced. In the anticipations we may form of the day of
judgment, there are combined two perfectly distinct classes of ideas; on
the one side there are those images of physical grandeur and of dramatic
effect which offer themselves to the imaginative orator as the proper
materials of his art, and which, if skillfully managed, will not fail to
produce the kind of excitement that is desired by both speaker and
hearer. On the other side there are, in these anticipations, the
forensic proceedings which form the very substance of the fearful scene;
and these proceedings, though of infinite moment to every human being,
tend rather to quell than to excite the imagination, and therefore
afford the preacher no means of producing effect, or even of keeping
alive attention, unless the conscience of the hearer be alarmed, and his
heart opened to the salutary impressions of fear, shame, and hope. In
looking then at these themes, so distinct in their qualities, we ask—Is
he the enthusiast who concerns himself with the substance; or he who
amuses himself and his hearers with the shadow? Yet is it common to hear
an orator spoken of as a sound and sober divine, who, for maintaining
his influence and popularity, depends exclusively, constantly, and
avowedly, upon his power to affect the imagination and the passions by
poetic or dramatic images, and who is perpetually laboring to invest the
solemn doctrines of religion in a garb of attractive eloquence.
Meanwhile a less accomplished speaker, who—perhaps with more of
vehemence than of elegance—insists simply upon the momentous part of his
message, is branded as an enthusiast, merely because his fervor rises
some degrees above that of others. Ineffable folly! to designate as
enthusiastical the intensity of genuine emotions, and to approve as
rational mere deliriums of the fancy, which intercept the influence of
momentous truths upon the heart. Yet such is the wisdom of the world!

       *       *       *       *       *

It cannot be pretended that the distinction between genuine and
enthusiastic piety turns upon a metaphysical nicety: nothing so
important to all men must be imagined to await the determination of
abstruse questions; and if the distinction which has been illustrated in
the preceding pages is not perfectly intelligible, it may safely be
rejected as of no practical value. But surely there can hardly be any
one so little observant of his own consciousness as not to have learned
that the feelings excited by what is beautiful or sublime, terrible or
pathetic, differ essentially from those emotions that are kindled in the
heart by the ideas of goodness and of purity, or of malignancy and
pollution. And every one must know that virtue and piety have their
range among feelings of the latter, not of the former class; and every
one must perceive that if the former occupy the mind to the exclusion of
the latter, the moral sentiments cannot fail to be impoverished or
corrupted. It is, moreover, very evident that the great facts of
Christianity possess, adjunctively, the means of exciting, in a powerful
degree, the emotions that belong to the imagination, as well as those
which affect the heart; it therefore follows that the former may, in
whole or in part, supplant the latter; and thus a fictitious piety be
engendered, which, while it produces much of the semblance of true
religion, yields none of its substantial fruits. In this manner it may
happen, not in rare instances, but in many, that if, in the history of
an individual, a season of religious excitement has once taken place,
though it had in it little or nothing of the elements of a change from
evil to good, it may have been assumed as constituting a valid and
inamissible initiation in the Christian life; and if subsequently the
decencies of religion and of morality have been preserved, a strong
supposition of sincerity is entertained to the last, even though all was
illusory.

Yet these melancholy cases of self-deception are not to be remedied by
mere explanations of the delusion; on the contrary, the practical use to
be made of definitions and distinctions and descriptions in matters of
religious feeling, is to exhibit the necessity and to enhance the value
of more available tests of sincerity. Thus, for example, if it appear
that, in times like the present, when religious profession undergoes no
severe probation, the danger of substituting some species of enthusiasm
for true piety is extreme, there will appear the greater need to have
recourse to those means of proof which infallibly discriminate between
truth and pretension. This means of proof is nothing else than the
standard of morals and of temper exhibited in the Scriptures. No other
method of determining the most momentous of all questions is given to
us, and none other is needed. We can neither ascend into the heavens,
there to inspect the book of life, nor satisfactorily descend into the
depths of the heart to analyze the complex and occult varieties of its
emotions. But we may instantly and certainly know whether we do the
things which he whom we call Lord has commanded.

[1] The metaphysico-devotional "Confessions" of the good Bishop of Hippo
may perhaps not unfairly be placed at the head of this very peculiar
species of literature. The author is reluctant to name some modern works
which he might deem liable to objection, on the ground of their giving
encouragement to religious sentimentalism, lest he should put into the
mouth of the irreligious a style of criticism which they would not fail
to abuse. He is aware that he runs a hazard of this sort in advancing
what he has above advanced. He can only say that he thinks the subject
much too important in itself, and too intimately connected with the
theme of this Essay, to be passed in silence. And he cautions the
irreligious reader, if the book should fall into the hand of any such
unhappy person, not to suppose that the author would either disparage
the important duty of self-examination; or speak slightingly of those
mental struggles which will ever attend the conflict between good and
evil in the heart that has admitted the purifying influence of the Holy
Spirit. What he pleads for, is, that self-examination should always have
reference to tho Christian standard of temper and conduct; and that
spiritual conflicts should consist of a resistance against evil
dispositions or immoral practices. What he fears on the part of
religious folks is, a forgetfulness of meekness, temperance, integrity,
amid the illusions—now gloomy, now gaudy—of a diseased brain.

[2] Strictly speaking, the religion of Greece was not eminently a
religion of ritual splendor: on the contrary, there reigned in the
public services of the most intellectual of all nations, much of the
simplicity of devout fervor, much of the chasteness of fine taste, and
much of the archaic and unadorned solemnity that had descended to the
Greeks from the patriarchal ages. Even in their theatres, and on their
race-courses, there was far less of pomp and finery than is demanded on
similar occasions by a modern European populace. The Romans carried the
_sublime in decoration_ to a further point; and in the same degree
exchanged reason and taste for colors, gildings, and draperies. Upon the
Roman barbaric magnificence the corrupt church of the fifth and
following centuries engrafted, in a confused medley, the gorgeous
conceptions of the eastern nations—the terrible ideas of the northern
hordes—the jugglings of Italian priests, and the sheer puerilities of
monks and children. Such is the _Christian_ worship of Rome!
Nevertheless, its elements comprise so much that is beautiful, or
imposing, that its puerilities catch not the eye; and a man must be very
rational who altogether repels the impression of its services.



SECTION III.

ENTHUSIASTIC PERVERSIONS OF THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE INFLUENCE.


A sentiment natural to the human mind, leads it to entertain and to
dwell with pleasure upon the belief of the stability and permanence of
the material world. Whether we view the multiform ranks of organized and
animated beings which cover the earth, or examine the occult processes
of nature, or look upwards, and contemplate distant worlds, the
regularity with which the great machine of the visible creation effects
its revolutions inspires a deep emotion of delight. This feeling brings
with it involuntarily the supposition of extended duration; nor is it
without extreme difficulty that we can separate the idea of so vast a
combination of causes and effects, moving forward with unfailing
precision, from the thought, if not of eternity, yet of unnumbered ages
gone by, and yet to come. While these natural impressions occupy the
mind, a strange revulsion of feeling takes place, if suddenly it be
recollected that the massy pillars of creation, with its towering
superstructure, and its high-wrought embellishments, and its innumerable
tenants, are absolutely destitute of intrinsic permanency, and that the
stupendous frame, with its nice and mighty movements, is incessantly
issued anew from the fount of being. Apart from the divine volition,
perpetually active, there can be no title to existence; and in the
moment which should succeed to the cessation of the efficient will of
the First Cause, all creatures must fall back to utter dissolution.

Reason as well as faith justifies this doctrine, and demands that we
deny independency to whatever is created; devoutly confessing that God
is "all in all." In him by whom they were formed, "all things consist:"
in him all "live and move and have their being." He is the author and
giver of life; and in the strictest sense it may be affirmed that every
day is a day of creation, not less than that on which "the morning
stars" uttered their earliest shout of joyous wonder: every moment
during the lapse of ages, the word of power is pronounced from the
height of the Eternal Throne—"Let there be light" and life. This belief
constitutes the basement-principle of all religion, and is the sentiment
from which piety must take its spring. The notion of independency and of
eternity, suggested by the regular movements of nature, are thus thrown
off from the surface of the visible world, and go to enhance our
impressions of the glories of him who alone is eternal, unchangeable and
independent.

But it is certain that the conditions of existence, not less than its
matter and form, are from God. In truth, the notions of being, and of
well-being, are not to be distinguished in reference to the divine
causation; for each of his works is perfect, both in model and in
movement. There can be therefore no particle of virtue or of happiness
in the universe, any more than of bare existence, of which God is not
the author. Neither Scripture nor philosophy permits exceptions or
distinctions to be made; for if we attribute to the Creator the organ,
we must also attribute to him its functions, and its health too, which
is only the perfection of its functions. And thus also, if the soul,
with its complex apparatus of reason, and moral sentiment, and appetite,
be the handiwork of God, so is its healthful action. But the healthful
action of the soul consists in love to God, and free subjection to his
will. Virtue is nothing else in its substance, nothing else in its
cause. As in him we live and move and have our being, so also it is he
who "worketh in us to will and to do" whatever is pleasing to himself.
Whether we take the safe and ready method of acquiescing in the obvious
sense of a multitude of Scriptures, or pursue the laborious deductions
of abstract reasoning, the same conclusion is attained, that, in the
present world, and in every other where virtue and happiness are found,
virtue and happiness are emanations of the divine blessedness and purity.

But if this efflux of the divine nature belongs to the original
constitution of intelligent beings, and is the permanent and only source
of all goodness and felicity, it must be intimately fitted to the
movements of mind, and must harmonize perfectly with its mechanism; just
as perfectly as the creative influence harmonizes with the mechanism and
movements of animal life.

Whatever is vigorous and healthful in the one kind of existence, or holy
and happy in the other, is of God, whose power and goodness are,
throughout the universe, the natural, not the supernatural cause of
whatever is not evil. It were then a strange supposition to imagine that
this impartation of virtue and happiness may be perceptible to the
subject of it, like the access of a foreign and extraordinary influence;
or that while the creative agency is altogether undistinguishable amid
the movements of animal and intellectual life, the spiritual agency
which conveys the warmth and activity of virtue to the soul, is
otherwise than inscrutable in its mode of operation. As the one kind of
divine energy does not display its presence by convulsive or capricious
irregularities, but by the unnoticed vigor and promptitude of the
functions of life; so the other energy cannot, without irreverence, be
thought of as making itself felt by præter-natural impulses, or sensible
shocks upon the intellectual system; but must rather be imagined as an
equable pulse of life, throbbing from within, and diffusing softness,
sensibility and force through the soul.

It is indeed true that if death or torpor has long held the moral powers
in a state of suspended action, the returning principle of life, while
working its way in contrariety to such a derangement of the system, may
make itself felt otherwise than where no similar obstruction has to be
overcome; yet will it only be perceived by its collision with the evils
that have usurped the heart; not by its own spontaneous movements. These
are, in truth, the foreign and disturbing influences; it is these that
make themselves known by their abrupt and capricious activity, by their
convulsive or feverish force. Meanwhile the heavenly emanation which
heals, cleanses, and blesses the spirit is still, and constant, and
transparent, as "a well of water springing up unto eternal life."

Nevertheless, from the accidents of the position in which we are placed,
the divine influence may appear under an aspect immensely unlike that in
which we should view it if our prospect of the intelligent universe were
more extended than it is. Thus the sad tenant of a dungeon, who has
spent the days of many years alive in the darkness of the tomb, thinks
far otherwise of the light of the sun, as he watches the pencil ray that
traverses his prison wall, than those do who walk abroad amid the
splendors of the summer's noon. Or we may imagine a world of once
animated beings to be lying in the coldness and corruption of death, and
we may suppose that the creative power returns and reanimates some among
the dead, restoring them instantaneously to the warmth, and vigor, and
enjoyments of life. The spectator of this partial resurrection, who had
long contemplated nothing but the dismal stillness and corruption of the
universal death, might, in his glad amazement, forget that the death of
so many, not the life of the few, is anomalous, and strange, and
contrary to the order of nature. The miracle, if so he will term it, is
nothing more—nothing else, than what is every instant taking place
throughout the wide realms of happy existence. The life-giving energy
whose beams of expansive beneficence had been for a while, and in this
world of death, intercepted or withdrawn, has returned with a kindling
revulsion to its wonted channel; and now moves on in copious
tranquillity. The dead may indeed still outnumber the living;
nevertheless it is the condition of the former, not that of the latter,
that is extraordinary; and the return to life, how amazing soever it may
seem, could with no propriety be called supernatural.

The language of Scripture, when it asserts the momentous doctrine of the
renovation of the soul by the immediate agency of the Spirit of God,
employs figurative terms which, while they give the utmost possible
force to the truth so conveyed, indicate clearly the congruity of the
change so effected with the original construction of human nature. The
return to virtue and happiness is termed a resurrection to life; or it
is a new birth; or it is the opening of the eyes of the blind, or the
unstopping the ears of the deaf; or it is the springing up of a fountain
of purity; or it is a gale of heaven, neither seen nor known but by its
effects; or it is the growth and fructification of the grain; or it is
the abode of a guest in the home of a friend, or the residence of the
Deity in his temple. Each of these emblems, and all others used in the
Scriptures in reference to the same subject, combines the double idea of
a change—great, definite, and absolute—and of a change from disorder,
corruption, derangement, to a natural and permanent condition: they are
all manifestly chosen with the intention of excluding the idea of a
miraculous or semi-miraculous intervention of power. On the one hand, it
is evident that a change of moral dispositions, so entire as to be
properly symbolized by calling it a new birth, or a resurrection to
life, must be much more than a self-effected reformation; for if it were
nothing more, these figures would be preposterous, unnecessary, and
delusive. But on the other hand, this change must be perfectly in
harmony with the physical and intellectual constitution of human nature,
or the same figures would be devoid of propriety and significance.

But a doctrine of divine influence like this, though so full of promise
and of comfort to the aspirant after true virtue, offers nothing to
those who desire transitory excitements, and who look for visible
displays of supernatural power; and therefore it does not satisfy the
religious enthusiast. Not content to be the recipient of an invigorating
and purifying emanation, which, unseen and unperceived, elevates the
debased affections, and fixes them on the Supreme Excellence; nor
satisfied to know that, under this healing influence, the inveteracy of
evil dispositions is broken up, and a real advance made in virtue, he
asks some sensible evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and
would fain so dissect his own consciousness as to bring the presence of
the Divine agent under palpable examination. Or he seeks for some such
extraordinary turbulence of emotion as may seem unquestionably to
surpass the powers and course of nature. Fraught with these wishes, he
continually gazes upon the variable surface of his own feelings, in
unquiet expectation of a supernatural troubling of the waters. The
silent rise of the wellspring of purity and peace he neither heeds nor
values; for nothing less than the eddies and sallies of religious
passion can assure him that he is, "born from above."

A delusive notion of this kind at once diverts attention from the
cultivation and practice of the virtues, and becomes a fermenting
principle of frothy agitations, that either work themselves off in the
sourness of an uncharitable temper, or are followed by physical
melancholies; or perhaps by such a relaxation of the moral sentiments as
leaves the heart exposed to the seductions of vicious pleasure. Thus the
religious life, instead of being a sunshine of augmenting peace and
hope, is made up of an alternation of ecstasies and despondencies; or
worse, of devotional fervors and of sensual indulgences. The same error
naturally brings with it a habit of referring to other, and to much less
satisfactory tests of Christian character than the influence of religion
upon the temper and conduct. So it happens that practical morality, from
being slighted as the only valid credential of profession, comes, too
often, to be thought of as something which, though it may be well in its
way, is a separable adjunct of true piety.

The rate of general feeling that exists at any time in a community
measures the height to which the exorbitances of enthusiasm may attain;
thus in times of peculiar excitement a perverted notion of Divine
influence is seen to ripen into the most fearful excesses. In such
seasons it is not enough that the presence of the Holy Spirit should be
indicated by unusual commotions of the mind; but convulsions of the body
also are demanded in proof of the heavenly agency. Extravagance becomes
gluttonous of marvels; religion is transmuted into pantomime; delirium
and hypocrisy, often found to be good friends, take their turns of
triumph; while humility, meekness, and sincerity, are trodden down in
the rout of impious confusion. Deplorable excesses of this kind happily
are infrequent, and never of long continuance; but it has happened more
than once in the history of Christianity that the habit of grimace in
religion, having established itself in an hour of fanatical agitation,
and become associated, perhaps, with momentous truths, as well as with
the distinguishing tenets of a sect, has long survived the warmth of
feeling in which it originated, and whence it might derive some apology,
and has passed down from father to son, a hideous mask of formality,
worshipped by the weak, and loathed, though not discarded, by the
sincere. Meanwhile an hereditary or a studied agitation of the voice and
muscles, ludicrous, if it were not distressing to be seen, is made to
represent before the world the sacred and solemn truth, a truth
essential to Christianity, that the Spirit of God dwells in the hearts
of Christians! Whatever special interpretation may be given to our
Lord's awful announcement concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost, an
announcement which stands out as an anomaly in the midst of his
declarations of mercy, every devout mind must regard it as shedding, if
we might say so, a penumbra of warning around the doctrine of divine
influence, and will admit an apprehension lest he should, by any
perversion of that doctrine, approach the precincts of so tremendous a
guilt, or become liable to the charge of giving occasion in others to
unpardonable blasphemies.

       *       *       *       *       *

If it be true that the agency of the Holy Spirit in renovating the heart
is perfectly congruous with the natural movements of the mind, both in
its animal and intellectual constitution, it is implied that whatever
natural means of suasion, or of rational conviction, are proper to
rectify the motives of mankind, will be employed as concomitant, or
second causes of the change. These exterior and ordinary means of
amendment are, in fact, only certain parts of the entire machinery of
human nature; nor can it be believed that its Author holds in light
esteem his own wisdom of contrivance; or is at any time obliged to break
up or to contemn the mechanism which he has pronounced to be "very
good." That there actually exists no such intention and no such
necessity, is declared by the very mode and form of revealed religion;
for this revelation consists of the common materials of moral
influence—argument, history, poetry, eloquence. The same divine
authentication of the natural modes of influence, is contained in the
establishment of the Christian ministry, and in the warrant given to
parental instruction. These institutions concur to proclaim the great
law of the spiritual world, that the heavenly grace which reforms the
soul operates constantly in conjunction with second causes and ordinary
means. In an accommodated, yet legitimate sense of the words, it may be
affirmed of every such cause, that the "powers that be are of God;"
there is no power but of his ordaining; and "whosoever resisteth (or
would supersede) the power, resisteth the ordinance of God."

No one can doubt the possibility, abstractedly, of the immediate agency
of the Omnipotent Spirit of Grace, without the intervention of means;
nor does any one doubt the power of God to support human life without
aliment; for "man liveth not by bread alone." But in neither case does
he adopt this mode of independent operation: on the contrary, the Divine
conduct, wherever we can trace it, is seen to approve much more the
settled arrangements of wisdom, than the bare exertions of power. The
treasures of that wisdom are surely never exhausted, nor can a case
arise in which an immediate effort of Omnipotence becomes necessary
merely to supply the lack of instruments. Nor does the vindication of
the honors of Sovereign Grace need any such interpositions; for the
absolute necessity of an efficient power above that which resides in the
natural means of suasion is abundantly proved, on the one hand, by the
frequent inefficacy of these means, when employed under the most
favorable circumstances; and on the other, by the efficacy, as frequent,
of means apparently inadequate to the production of the happy changes
which result from them. It is not only affirmed by Scripture, but
established by experience, that "neither he that planteth, nor he that
watereth, is anything;" and at the same time it is affirmed by the one,
and established by the other, that, apart from the planting and the
watering of the husbandman, God, ordinarily, giveth no increase.

No persuasion or instruction, we are assured, can of itself, in any one
instance, avail to penetrate the deathlike indifference of the human
mind towards spiritual objects; but when once this torpor is removed by
inscrutable grace, then the very feeblest and most inadequate means are
sufficient for effecting the renovation of the heart. A single phrase,
speaking of judgment to come, lisped by a child, has proved itself of
power to awaken the soul from the slumber of the sensual life, if, when
the sound falls on the ear, the spirit has been quickened from above. In
such a case it were an error to affirm that the change of character was
effected independently of external means; for though they were disguised
under a semblance of extreme feebleness, and were such as might be
easily overlooked or forgotten, they had in themselves the substantial
powers of the highest eloquence; and what might have been added to the
momentous truth, so feebly announced, would have been little more than
embellishment; like the embroideries and embossments of the warrior's
garniture, which add nothing to the vigor of his arm.

Two causes seem to have operated in maintaining the notion that divine
influence is often dissociated from concurrent means of suasion; the
first of these is an ill-judged but excusable jealousy on the part of
pious persons for the honor of Sovereign Grace; and is a mere reaction
upon orthodoxy, from the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies such
persons have thought it necessary, for the safety of a most important
doctrine, not merely to assert the supremacy of the ultimate agent; but
to disparage, as much as possible, all intermediate instruments. The
second of these causes is the imaginary difficulty felt by those who,
having unadvisedly plunged into the depths of metaphysical theology,
when they should have busied themselves only with the plain things of
religion, fail in every attempt to adjust their notions of divine aid
and human responsibility; and, therefore, if they would be zealous for
the honor due to the first, think themselves obliged almost to nullify
the second. If any such difficulty actually exists, it should be made to
rest upon the operations of nature, where it meets us not less than in
the precincts of theology; and the husbandman should desist from his
toils until schoolmen have demonstrated to him the _rationale_ of the
combined operations of first and second causes. Or if such a
demonstration must not be waited for, and if the husbandman is to commit
the precious grain to the earth, and to use all his skill and industry
in favoring the inscrutable process of nature, then let the theologian
pursue a parallel course, content to know, that while the Scriptures
affirm in the clearest manner whatever may enhance our ideas of the
necessity and sovereignty of divine grace, they nowhere give intimation
of a suspended or halved responsibility on the part of man; but, on the
contrary, use, without scruple, language which implies that the
spiritual welfare of those who are taught depends on the zeal and labors
of the teacher, as truly as the temporal welfare of children depends on
the industry of a father. The practical consequences of such speculative
confusions are seen in the frightful apathy and culpable negligence of
some instructors and parents, who, because a metaphysical problem, which
ought never to have been heard of beyond the walls of colleges,
obstructs their understandings, have acquired the habit of gazing with
indifference upon the profaneness and immoralities of those whom their
diligence might have retained in the path of piety and virtue.

Another capital perversion remains to complete the enthusiastic abuse of
the doctrine of divine influence; and this is the supposition that those
heavenly communications to the soul which form a permanent constituent
of the Christian dispensation, are not always confined to the matter or
to the rule of Scripture, and that the favored subject of this teaching,
at least when he has made considerable advances in the divine life, is
led on a higher path of instruction, where the written revelation of the
will of God may be neglected or scorned. This bold delusion assumes two
forms: the first is that of the tranquil contemplatist, the whole of
whose religion is inarticulate and vague, and who neglects or rejects
the Scripture, not so much because he is averse to its truths, as
because the mistiness of his sentiments abhors whatever is distinct, and
definite, and fixed. To read a plain narrative of intelligible facts,
and to derive practical instruction therefrom, implies a state of mind
essentially different from that which he finds it necessary to his
factitious happiness to maintain: before he can thus read his Bible in
childlike simplicity he must forsake the religion of dreams, and open
his eyes to the world of realities; in a word he must cease to be an
enthusiast.

The other form of this delusion should excite pity rather than provoke
rebuke; and calls for the skill of the physician, more than for the
instructions of the theologian. The limits of insanity have not yet been
ascertained; perhaps it has none; and certainly there are facts that
favor the belief that the interval between common weakness of judgment
and outrageous madness is filled up by an insensible gradation of
absurdity, nowhere admitting of a line of absolute separation. Where,
for example, shall we pause, and separate the sane from the insane,
among those who believe themselves to be favored perpetually with
special, particular, and ultra-scriptural revelations from heaven? The
most modest enthusiast of this class, and the most daring visionary,
stand together on the same ground of outlawry from common sense and
scriptural authority; and though their several offences against truth
and sobriety may be of greater or less amount, they must both be dealt
with on the same principle; for both have alike excluded themselves from
the benefit of appeal to the only authorities known among the sane part
of mankind, namely, reason and Scripture: those who reject both,
surrender themselves over to pity—or compulsion.

It would manifestly be better that men should be left to the darkness
and wanderings of unassisted reason, than that they should receive the
immediate instructions of heaven, unless they possess at the same time a
public and fixed rule to which all such supernatural instructions are to
be conformed, and by which they are to be discriminated; for the errors
of reason, how great soever they may be, carry with them no weight of
divine authority; but if the doctrine of divine communications be
admitted, and admitted without reference to a public and permanent
standard of truth, then every extravagance of impiety may claim a
heavenly origin; and who shall venture to rebuke even the most pestilent
error; for how shall the reprover assure himself that he is not fighting
against God?

It has already been affirmed that enthusiasm, far from being necessarily
or invariably connected with fervor or feeling, is often seen to exist,
in its wildest excesses, conjoined with the most frigid style of
religious sentiment. Thus, for example, the three egregious perversions
of the doctrine of divine influence, which have been described in the
preceding pages, are maintained, and have been professed and defended
during several generations, by a sect remarkable, if not for the
chilliness, at least for the stillness of its piety, and its contempt of
the natural expressions of devotional feeling; and even for a peculiar
shrewdness of good sense in matters of worldly interest. But the
incongruities of human nature are immense and incalculable; or it would
not be seen that general intelligence, and amiable manners, and
Christian benevolence, are often linked with errors which, if viewed
abstractedly, might seem as if they could belong only to minds that were
lost to wisdom and piety.



SECTION IV.

ENTHUSIASM THE SOURCE OF HERESY.


The creed of the Christian is the fruit of exposition; no part of it is
elaborated by processes of abstract reasoning; no part is furnished by
the inventive faculties. To ascertain the true meaning of the words and
phrases used by those who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,"
is the single aim of the studies of the theologian. Interpretation is
his function. But the work of interpretation, considered as an
intellectual employment, differs essentially from that of the student of
physical or abstract science; for it neither needs nor admits of the
ardor by which those pursuits are animated. Nor has nature furnished the
faculties that are employed in the labor of expounding the terms of
ancient documents with any very vivid susceptibility of pleasurable
excitement. The toils of the lawyer, of the philologist, and of the
theologian, must therefore be sustained by a reference to some
substantial motive of utility; and though there may be a few minds so
peculiarly constituted as to cultivate these studies with enthusiastic
ardor, from the pure impulse of native taste, the ranks of a numerous
body of men can never be filled up by spontaneous laborers of this sort.

Christianity, being as it is, a religion of documents and of
interpretation, must utterly exclude from its precincts the adventurous
spirit of innovation. Theology offers no field to men fond of
intellectual enterprise: the Church has no work for them; or none until
they have renounced the characteristic propensity of their mental
conformation. True religion, unlike human science, was given to mankind
in a finished form, and is to be learned, not improved; and though the
most capacious human mind is nobly employed while concentrating all its
vigor upon the acquirement of this documentary learning, it is very
fruitlessly, and very perniciously occupied in attempting to give it a
single touch of amendment.

The form under which Christianity now presents itself as an object of
study does, in a much greater degree, discourage and prevent speculation
and novelty, than it did in the early ages; and in fact, if all the
varieties of opinion which have appeared during the eighteen centuries
of church history are numbered, a large majority of them will be found
to belong to the first three centuries, and to the _eastern_ church.
That is to say, to the period when doctors of theology, possessing the
rule of faiths in their vernacular tongue, had no other intellectual
employment than that either of inventing novelties of doctrine, or of
refuting them. Other causes may, no doubt, fairly be alleged as having
had influence in quickening that prodigious efflorescence of heretical
doctrine which infected the whole atmosphere of Christianity, in the
east, during the second and third centuries, and at a time when the
western church maintained, in a good degree, the simplicity of
Scriptural faith; but the cause above-mentioned ought not to be ranked
among the least efficient.

But theology in modern times offers an unbounded field of toil to the
student;—the toil of mere acquisition, and of critical research; for a
familiar knowledge of three languages, at least, is indispensable to
every man who would take respectable rank as a teacher of Christianity;
especially to every one who aspires to distinction in his order; and
some acquaintance with two or three other languages, is also an object
of reasonable ambition to the theological student. And moreover, an
accomplished expounder of Scripture must be well versed in profane and
church history; nor may he be entirely ignorant of even the abstract and
physical sciences. These multifarious pursuits, which are to be acquired
compatibly with the discharge of the public duties of the pastoral
office, assuredly furnish employment enough for the most active and the
most industrious mind long beyond the period of college initiation. Nor
are we to consider merely the natural influence produced upon the
intellectual habits by these employments, in preventing that
discursiveness of the inventive faculties which is a principal source of
heresy; for its quality, not less than its quantity, is decidedly
corrective of the propensity to generate novelties of opinion.

Every one who has made the experiment well knows that the toils of
learned acquisition have a direct tendency to impair the freshness and
force of the intellectual constitution, to chill and cloud the
imagination, and to break the elasticity of the inventive faculty; if
not to blunt the keenness of the powers of analysis. Thus they indispose
the mind to the wantonness of speculation, and impart to it rather the
timidity, the acquiescence, the patience, which are proper to the
submissive exposition of an authoritative rule of faith. Biblical
learning, therefore, not only serves directly to dispel errors of
opinion by throwing open the true sense of Scripture; but it contains
within itself what might be termed a _physical_ preventive against
heresy, which, if it be not always efficacious, is perceptibly
operative. Nothing then can be more desirable than that public opinion
should continue, as it now does, to demand erudition from the teachers
of religion.

Nevertheless, when a large class of men is professionally devoted to the
study of theology, there will not be wanting some whose mental
conformation (not to mention motives which are foreign to our subject)
impels them to abandon the modest path of exposition, and to seek,
within the precincts of religion, for the gratifications that accompany
abstruse speculation, discovery, invention, exaggeration, and paradox.
All these pleasures of a morbid or misdirected intellectual activity may
be obtained in the regions of theology, not less than in those of
mathematical and physical science, if once the restraints of a religious
and heartfelt reverence for the authority of the word of God are
discarded. The principal heresies that have disturbed the church, may,
no doubt, fairly be attributed to motives springing from the pride or
perverse dispositions of the human heart; but often a mere intellectual
enthusiasm has been the real source of false doctrine.

Errors generated in this manner possess, commonly, some aspect of beauty
or of greatness, or of philosophical simplicity, to recommend them; for
as they were framed amid a pleasurable excitement of the mind, so they
will have power to convey a kindred delight to others. And such
exorbitances of doctrine, when advanced by men of powerful or richly
furnished minds, conceal their deformity and evil tendency beneath the
attractions of intelligence. But the very same extravagances and showy
paradoxes, when caught up by inferior spirits, presently lose their
garb, not only of beauty, but of decency, and show themselves in the
unpleasing bareness of error. The mischief of heresy becomes often far
more active and conspicuous in second hands than it was in those of
its authors; and the reason is that it is usually the child of
intellectualists—an inoffensive order of men: but no sooner has it been
brought forth and reared, than it joins itself, as by instinct, to minds
of vulgar quality, and in that society soon learns the dialect of
impiety and licentiousness. The heresiarch, though he may be more
blameworthy, is often much less audacious, and less corrupted, than his
followers; for he, perhaps, is only an enthusiast; they have become
fanatics.

       *       *       *       *       *

In like manner as the passion for travel impels a man to perambulate the
earth, and then makes him sigh to think that he has not other continents
to explore, so the constitutional enthusiasm of speculation urges its
victims to traverse the entire circuit of opinions: and even then leaves
him insatiate of novelty. It is not caprice, much less is it the
excessive solicitude of an honest mind, always inquiring for truth; but
rather the impetus of a too highly-wrought intellectual activity, which
carries the heretic onward and onward, from system to system, blazing as
he goes, until there remains no form of flagrant error with which he has
not scared the sober world. Then, though reason may have forgotten all
consistency, pride has a better memory; and as this passion forbids his
return to the truths he has so often denounced, and denounced from all
points of his various course, nothing remains for him, when the season
of exhaustion arrives, but to go off into the dark void of infidelity.

The sad story has been often realized. In the conformation of the
heretic by temperament, there is more of intellectual mobility than of
strength: a ready perception of analogies gives him both facility and
felicity in collecting proofs, or rather illustrations in support of
whatever opinion he may adopt. So copious are the materials of
conjectural argument which crowd upon him, and so nice is his tact of
selection, and so quick his skill of arrangement, that ere dull sobriety
has gathered up its weapons, he has reared a most imposing front of
defence. Pleased, and even surprised, with his own work, he now
confidently maintains a position which at first he scarcely thought to
be seriously tenable. Having convinced himself of the certainty of the
new truth, and implicated his vanity in its support, deeper motives
stimulate the activity of the reasoning and inventive faculties; and he
presently piles demonstration upon demonstration, to a most amazing
height, until it becomes, in his honest opinion, sheer infatuation to
doubt. In this state of mind, of what value are the opinions of teachers
and of elders? Of what weight the belief of the catholic church in all
ages? They are nothing to be accounted of; there seems even a glory and
a heroism, as well as a duty, in spurning the fallible authority of man:
modesty, caution, hesitation, are treasons against conscience and heaven!

The young heresiarch, we will suppose to have spent the earliest season
of life, while yet the ingenuousness of youth remained unimpaired, in
the pursuits of literature or science, and to have been ignorant of
Christianity otherwise than as a system of forms and offices. But the
moment of awakening arrives; some appalling accident or piercing sorrow
sets the interests of time in abeyance, and opens upon the soul the vast
objects of immortality. Or the eloquence of a preacher may have effected
the change. In these first moments of a new life, the great and common
doctrines of religion, perceived in the freshness of novelty, afford
scope enough to the ardor of the spirit; and perhaps, also, a new
sentiment of submission quells, in some measure, that ardor: the craving
of the mind does not yet need heresy; truth has stimulus enough; and
even after truth has become somewhat vapid, the restraints of connection
and friendship have force to retain the convert three years, or five, in
the bosom of humility. But the first accidental contact with doctrinal
paradox kindles the constitutional passion, and rouses the slumbering
faculties to the full activity of adult vigor; contention ensues; malign
sentiments, although perhaps foreign to the temper, are engendered, and
these impart gloom to mysticism, and add rancor to extravagance. And
now, no dogma that is obnoxious, terrific, intolerant, schismatical,
fails to be, in its turn, avowed by the delirious bigot, who burns with
ambition to render himself the enemy—not so much of the world, as of the
church.

But will even the last extravagance of false doctrine allay the diseased
cravings of the brain? Not unless that physical inertness which, towards
the middle period of life, sometimes effects a cure of folly, or perhaps
some motive of secular interest, supervenes. Otherwise a progression
must take place, or a retrogression; and when the heart is sick and
faint from the exhaustion of over-activity, and when the whispers of
conscience have long ceased to be heard, and when the emotions of
genuine piety have become painfully strange to the soul, nothing is so
probable as an almost sudden plunge from the pinnacle of high belief,
into the bottomless gulf of universal scepticism. A lamentable
catastrophe of this kind, and which is only the natural issue of an
intellectual enthusiasm, would, no doubt, much oftener take place than
it does, if slender reasons of worldly prudence were not usually found
to be of firmer texture than all the logic of theology.

       *       *       *       *       *

A chronic intellectual enthusiasm, when it becomes the source of heresy,
most frequently betakes itself to those exaggerations of Christian
doctrine which pass under the general designation of Antinomianism;—not
the Antinomianism of workshops, which is a corruption of Christianity
concocted by mercenary teachers expressly to give license to the
sensualities of those by whom they are salaried; but the Antinomianism
of the closet, which is a translation into Christian phraseology of the
ancient stoicism. The alleged relationship consists, not so much in the
similar abuse which is made in both systems of the doctrine of
necessity, but in the leading intention of both; which is to inclose the
human mind in a perfect envelop of abstractions, such as may effectively
defend it from the importunate sense of responsibility, or obligation,
and such as shall render him who wears it a passive spectator of his own
destinies. The doctrine of fate was seized upon by ancient sophists, and
is taken up by the Antinomian, because, better than any other principle,
it serves the purposes of this peculiar species of illusory delectation.
Yet the Christian theorist has some signal advantages over his ancestor.
For example: the egregious absurdities of the ancient philosophist met
him on every walk of life, and stood in the way of constant collision
with the common sense of mankind: and thus the sage, in spite of his
gravity and self-command, could hardly pass a day in public without
being put to shame by some glaring proof of practical inconsistency; for
as often as he spoke or acted like other men, as often as he made it
evident that he did not really think himself a statue or a phantom, he
gave the lie direct to the fooleries of his scholastic profession.

But the modern stoic, while, by a _sinister_ inference from his
doctrine, he takes large leave of indulgence to the flesh (an indulgence
which he uses or not, as his temperament may determine) and so borrows
the practical part of Epicureanism, transfers his egregious dogmas to
the unseen world, where they come not at all in contact with common
sense. In the vast unknown of an eternity on both sides of time, he
finds range enough, and immunity, for even the most enormous paradoxes
which ingenuity can devise, or sophistry defend. Besides, the
argumentative resources of the modern are incomparably more copious and
various and tangible than those of the ancient wrangler; for the latter
could only fall back, ever and again, upon the same abstractions; but
the former may take position on any part of a very wide frontier; for
having so large and multifarious a volume as the Scriptures in his hand,
and having multiplied the argumentative value of every sentence it
contains almost indefinitely by adopting the rule of Origen and the
Rabbis, that the whole of Scripture is mystical, and may bear every
sense that can be found in it, he is at once secure from the possibility
of being confuted, and revels in an unbounded opulence of proof and
illustration in support of his positions. To the sober interpreter, the
Bible is one book; but to the Antinomian it is as a hundred volumes.

With a field so wide, and means so inexhaustible, the Christian theorist
lives in a paradise of speculation; and no revolution to which human
nature is liable can be less probable than that which must take place
before he abandons his world of factitious happiness. The dreamer must
feel that sin is a substantial ill, in which himself is fatally
implicated, and not a mere abstraction to be discoursed of; he must
learn that the righteous God deals with mankind not fantastically, but
on terms adapted to the intellectual and moral conformation of that
human nature, of which he is the author; and he must know that salvation
is a deliverance, in which man is an agent, not less than a recipient.

It belongs not at all to our subject to attempt a confutation of this,
the most strange of the many corruptions which Christianity has
undergone; our part is merely to exhibit against the system the charge
of delusion or enthusiasm; and this charge needs no other proof than the
plain statement that, whereas Christianity recognizes the actual
mechanism of human nature, and appeals to the moral sentiments, and
urges motives of every class, and labors to enhance the sense
of responsibility, and authenticates the voice of conscience,
Antinomianism, with indurated arrogance, spurns all such sentiments, and
substitutes nothing in their room but bare speculations; and these
speculations are all of a kind to cherish the selfish deliriums of
luxurious contemplation. But to take a course like this, is, whatever
may be the subject in question, the part of an enthusiast. Whoever, in
any such manner, cuts himself off from the common sympathies of our
nature, and makes idiot sport of the energies of moral action, and has
recourse, either to a jargon of sophistries, or to trivial evasions,
when other men act upon the intuitions of good sense, and rebuts every
idea that does not minister gratification either to fancy or to
appetite, such a man must be called an enthusiast, even though he were
at the same time—if that were possible—a saint.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have spoken of the enthusiasm of mysticism. But there is also an
enthusiasm of simplification. The lowest intellectual temperature, not
less than the highest, admits extravagance, and sometimes even admits it
more; for warmth and movement are less unnatural in the world of matter
or of mind, than congelation: what so grotesque as the coruscations of
frost? If the reasoning faculty had not its imaginative impulse, the
sciences would never have moved a step in advance of the mechanic arts;
much less would the high theorems of pure mathematics, or the abstruse
principles of metaphysics, have been known to mankind. But if this
natural and useful impulse be irregular and excessive, it becomes the
spring of errors. Yet the perfection of science, and its general
diffusion in modern times, operate so effectually to keep in check that
propensity to absurd speculation of which the elements are always in
existence, that if we are in search of specimens of this species of
intellectual disease, we must expect to meet with them only without the
pale of education, and among the self-taught philosophers of workshops,
who sometimes amuse the hour of stolen leisure in digesting systems of
the universe, other than the one which is demonstrated in our
universities.

Driven from the enclosures where the demonstrable sciences hold empire,
the enthusiasts of speculation turn off upon ground where there is more
scope, more obscurity, more license, and less of the stern and instant
magistracy of right reason. Some give themselves to politics, some to
political economy, and some to theology; and whatever they severally
meet with that is in its nature, or that has become concrete, complex,
or multifariously involved, they seize upon with a hungry avidity. The
disease of the brain has settled upon the faculty of analysis; all
things compound must therefore be severed, and not only be severed but
left in disunion. It cannot but happen that, in these zealous labors of
dissolution, some happy strokes must now and then fall upon errors which
wiser men have either not observed, or have spared: mankind owes
therefore a petty debt of gratitude to such speculatists for having
removed a few excrescences from ancient systems. But these trivial
successes, which are hailed with much applause by the vulgar, who
delight in witnessing any kind of destruction, and by the splenetic, who
believe themselves to gain whatever is torn from others, inspire the
heroes of reform with unbounded hopes of effecting universal
revolutions; and they actually become inflated to so high a degree of
presumption, that, at a time when all the great questions which can
occupy the human mind have been thoroughly discussed, and discussed with
every advantage of liberty, of learning, and of ability, they are not
ashamed to adopt a style of speaking as if they thought themselves
morning stars on the verge of the dark ages, destined to usher in the
tardy splendors of true philosophy upon a benighted world!

—Or of true religion: as if the Christian doctrine, in its most
essential principles, had become extinct, even in the days of the
apostles, and had not merely remained under the bushel of superstition
during the ages of religious despotism, but long after the chains of
that despotism were broken, and after the human mind, with all the vigor
and intensity of renovated intelligence and renovated piety had given
its utmost force, and its utmost diligence to the exposition of the
canon of faith. Of what sort, it might be asked, were this canon, if its
meaning on the most important points might, age after age, be utterly
misunderstood by ninety-nine learned, honest, and unshackled men,
and be perceived only by the one? Yet this is the supposition of
simplificators, who from the impulse of a faulty cerebral conformation,
must needs disbelieve, because theology would otherwise afford them no
intellectual exercise.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a common notion, incessantly repeated, and seldom sifted, that
diversity of opinion, on even the cardinal points of Christian faith, is
an inevitable and a permanent evil, springing, and always to spring,
from the diversity of men's dispositions and intellectual faculties.
Certainly no other expectation could be entertained if Christian
theology were what moral philosophy was among the sophists of ancient
Athens—a system of abstractions, owning subjection to no authority. But
this is not the fact; and though hitherto the ultimate authority has
been much abused or spurned, the re-establishment of its power on fixed
and well understood principles seems to be far from an improbable event.
We say more, that an actual progression towards so happy a revolution is
perceptible in our own times. We do not for a moment forget that a
heartfelt acquiescence in the doctrines of Scripture must ever be the
result of a divine influence, and is not to be effected by the same
means which produce uniformity of opinion on matters of science. But
while we anticipate, on grounds of strong hope, a time of refreshing
from above, which shall subdue the depraved repugnances of the human
mind, we may also anticipate, on grounds of common reasoning, a natural
process of reform in theology—considered as a science, which shall place
the intrinsic incoherence of heresy in the broad light of day,
henceforward to be contemned and avoided.

The fields of error have been fully reaped and gleaned; nor shall aught
that is new spring up on that field, the whole botany of which is
already known and classified. It is only of late that a fair, competent,
and elaborate discussion of all the principal questions of theology has
taken place; and the result of this discussion waits now to be
manifested by some new movement of the human mind. Great and happy
revolutions usually stand ready and latent for a time until accident
brings them forward. Such a change and renovation we believe to be at
the door of the Christian Church. The ground of controversy has
contracted itself daily during the last half century; the grotesque and
many-colored forms of ancient heresy have disappeared, and the existing
differences of opinion (some of which are indeed of vital consequence)
all draw round a single controversy, the final decision of which it is
hard to believe shall long be deferred; for the minds of men are
pressing towards it with an unusual intentness. This great question
relates to the authority of Holy Scripture; and the professedly
Christian world is divided upon it into three parties, comprehending all
smaller varieties of opinion.

The first of these parties, constituted of the Romish Church, and its
disguised favorers, affirms the subordination of the authority of
Scripture to that of tradition and the Church. This is a doctrine of
slavery and of ignorance, which the mere progress of knowledge and of
civil liberty must overthrow, if it be not first exploded by other
means. The second party comprises the sceptical sects of the Protestant
world, which agree in affirming the subordination of Scripture to the
dogmas of natural theology; in other words to every man's notion of what
religion _ought_ to be. These sects, having no barrier between
themselves and pure deism, are continually dwindling by desertions to
infidelity; nor will they be able to hold their slippery footing on the
edge of Christianity a day after a general revival of serious piety has
taken place.

The third party, comprehending the great majority of the Protestant
body, bows reverently, and implicitly, and with intelligent conviction,
to the absolute authority of the word of God, and knows of nothing in
theology that is not affirmed, or fairly implied, therein. The
differences existing within this party, how much soever they may be
exaggerated by bigots, will vanish as the mists of the morning under the
brightness of the sun, whenever a refreshment of pious feeling descends
upon the Church. They consist, in part, of mere misunderstandings of
abstract phrases, unknown to the language of Scripture; in part they
hinge upon political constitutions, of which so much as is substantially
evil is by no means of desperate inveteracy: in part these differences
are constituted of nothing better than the lumber of antiquity, the
worthless relics of forgotten janglings handed down from father to son,
but now, by so many transmissions, worn away to an extreme slenderness,
and quite ready to crumble into the dust of everlasting forgetfulness.
Surely men are not always so to remain children in understanding, that
the less shall be preferred to the greater; nor shall it always be that
the substantial evils of schism are perpetuated and vindicated on the
ground of obscure historical questions, fit only to amuse the idle hours
of the antiquary. This trifling with things sacred must come to its end,
and the great law of love must triumph, and the Christian Church
henceforward have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism."



SECTION V.

THE ENTHUSIASM OF PROPHETIC INTERPRETATION.


Disappointment is perhaps the most frequent of all the occasional causes
of insanity; but the sudden kindling of hope sometimes produces the same
lamentable effect. Yet before this emotion, congenial as it is to the
human mind, can exert so fatal an influence, the expected good must be
of immeasurable magnitude, and must appear in the light of the strongest
probability; nor must even the vagueness of a distant futurity
intervene; otherwise, tho swellings of desire and joy would be quelled,
and reason might maintain its seat. On this principle perhaps it is,
that the vast and highly exciting hope of immortal life very rarely,
even in susceptible minds, generates that kind of emotion which brings
with it the hazard of mental derangement. Religious madness, when it
occurs, is most often the madness of despondency. But if the glories of
heaven might, by any means, and in contravention of the established
order of things, be brought out from the dimness and concealment of the
unseen world, and be placed ostensibly on this side of the darkness and
coldness of death, and be linked with objects familiarly known, they
might then press so forcibly upon the passion of hope, and so inflame
excitable imaginations, that real insanity, or an approach towards it,
would probably, in frequent instances, be the consequence.

A provision against mischiefs of this kind is evidently contained in the
extreme reserve of the Scriptures on all subjects connected with the
unseen world. This reserve is so singular, and so extraordinary, seeing
that the Jewish poets, prophets and preachers, were Asiatics, that it
affords no trivial proof of the divine origination of the books: an
intelligent advocate of the Bible would choose to rest an argument
rather upon the paucity of its discoveries, than upon their plenitude.

But now a confident and dogmatical interpretation of those prophecies
that are supposed to be on the eve of fulfilment, has manifestly a
tendency thus to bring forth the wonders of the unseen world, and to
connect them in sensible contact with the familiar objects and events of
the present state. And such interpretations may be held with so full and
overwhelming a persuasion of their truth, that heaven and its splendors
may seem to stand at the door of our very homes: to-morrow, perhaps, the
hastening crisis of the nations shall lift the veil which so long has
hidden the brightness of the eternal throne from mortal eyes: each turn
of public affairs, a war, a truce, a conspiracy, a royal marriage, may
be the immediate precursor of that new era, wherein it shall no longer
be true, as heretofore, that "the things eternal are unseen."

When an opinion, or, we should rather say, a persuasion of this imposing
kind is entertained by a mind of more mobility than strength, and when
it has acquired form, and consistency, and definiteness, by being long
and incessantly the object of contemplation, it may easily gain
exclusive possession of the mind: and a state of exclusive occupation of
the thoughts by a single subject, if it be not real madness, differs
little from it; for a man can hardly be called sane who is mastered by
one set of ideas, and who has lost the will or the power to break up the
continuity of his musings.

Whether or not this explanation be just, it is matter of fact that no
species of enthusiasm has carried its victims nearer to the brink of
insanity than that which originates in the interpretation of unfulfilled
prophecy. It need not be asked whether there is not some capital error
on the side of many who have given themselves to this study; for the
indications of pitiable delusion have been of a kind not at all
ambiguous. There must be present some lurking mischief when the study of
any part of Holy Scripture issues in extravagance of conduct, and in an
offensive turgidness of language, and produces—not quietness and peace,
but a wild and quaking looking-for of impending wonders. There must be a
fault of principle, if the demeanor of Christians be such that those who
occupy the place of the unlearned are excused when they say "Ye are mad."

That some peculiar danger haunts this region of Biblical inquiry is
established by a double proof; for not only have men of exorbitant
imaginations and feeble judgment rushed towards it instinctively, and
with the eagerness of infatuation; but sometimes the soundest
understandings have lost, in these inquiries, their wonted discretion.
At several periods of church history, and again in our own times,
multitudes have drunk to intoxication of the phial of prophetic
interpretation; and, amid imagined peals of the mystic thunder, have
become deaf to the voice both of common sense and of duty. The piety of
such persons—if piety it may be called—has made them hunger and thirst,
nor for "the bread and water of life," but for the news of the political
world. In such instances it may be confidently affirmed, previously to a
hearing of the argument, that, even if the interpretation were true, it
has become entangled with some knotted thread of error.

The proper remedy for evils of this kind is not to be found in the timid
or overbearing prohibitions of those who endeavor to prevent the
mischief by interdicting inquiry; and who would make it a sin or a folly
for a Christian to ask the meaning of certain portions of Scripture.
Cautions and restrictions of this nature are incompatible with the
principle of Protestantism, as well as unnecessary, arrogant, and
unavailing. If indeed man possessed any means of intrusion upon the
mysteries of the upper world, or upon the secrets of futurity, there
might be room to reprehend the audacity of those who should attempt to
know by force or by importunity of research what has not been revealed.
But when the unseen and the future are, by the spontaneous grace of
Heaven, in part set open, and when a message which might have been
withheld, has been sent to earth, encircled with a benediction like
this—"Blessed are they that hear, and keep these words:" then it may
most safely be concluded that whatever is not marked with the seal of
prohibition, is open to scrutiny. In truth, there is something
incongruous in the notion of a _revelation_ enveloped in menace and
restriction. But be this as it may, it is certain that whoever would
shut up the Scriptures, in whole or in part, from his fellow disciples,
or who affirms it to be unsafe or unwise to study such and such
passages, is bound to show reasons of the most convincing kind for the
exclusion. "What God has joined, let not man put asunder;" but he has
connected his blessing, comprehensively, with the study of his word. It
should be left to the Romish Church to employ that faulty argument of
captious arrogance, which prohibits the use of whatever may be abused.
Unless, then, it can be shown that a divine interdiction encloses the
prophetic portions of Scripture, it must be deemed an ill-judged and
irreligious, though perhaps well-intended usurpation, in any one who
assumes to plant his little rod of obstruction across the highway of
Revelation.

Moreover, prohibitions of this kind are futile, because impossible to be
observed. Every one admits that the study of those prophecies which have
already received their accomplishment is a matter of high importance and
positive duty; "we have a sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to
take heed." But how soon, in attempting to discharge this duty, are we
entangled in a snare, if indeed the study of unfulfilled prophecy be in
itself improper; for many of the prophecies, and those especially which
are the most definite, and the most intelligible, stretch themselves
across the wide gulf of time, and rest upon points intervening between
the days of the seer and the hour when the mystery of providence shall
be finished: and these comprehensive predictions, instead of tracking
their way by equal and measured intervals through the course of ages,
traverse vast spaces unmarked: and with a sudden bound, parting from an
age now long gone by, attain at once the last period of the human
economy. These abrupt transitions create obscurities which must either
shut up the whole prophecy from inquiry, or necessitate a scrutiny of
the whole; for at a first perusal, and without the guidance of learned
investigation, who shall venture to place his finger on the syllable
which forms the boundary between the past and the future, and which
constitutes the limit between duty and presumption? A prediction which
may seem to belong to futurity, will, perhaps, on better information be
found to regard the past; or the reverse. These extensive prophecies,
and such are those of Daniel and of John, must then either be shunned
altogether from the fear of trespassing on forbidden ground, or they
must be studied entire, in dependence upon other means than voluntary
ignorance for avoiding presumption and enthusiasm. Whoever would
discharge for others the difficult office of marking, throughout the
Scriptures, the boundaries of lawful investigation, must himself first
have committed the supposed trespass upon the regions of unfulfilled
prophecy. We conclude, therefore, that a separation which no one can
effect, is not really needed.

It is surely a mistaken caution which says—of the Apocalypse, for
example—it is a dark portion of Scripture, and better let alone than
explored. Very unhappy consequences are involved in such an
interdiction. This magnificent book is introduced to the regards of the
Church as a discovery of things that must shortly come to pass. Now we
must either believe that the ἐν τάχει, was intended to indicate a period
of eighteen hundred years (perhaps a much longer term) or admit that the
initial, and probably the larger portions of the prophecy have already
received their seal of verification from history, and come therefore
fairly within the scope of even the most scrupulous rule of inquiry, and
in fact should now form part of the standing evidence of the truth of
Christianity. To think less than this seems to imply a very dangerous
inference. If a part of this prophecy be actually accomplished; and if
yet it be impracticable to assign the predictions to the events, will
not one at least of the great purposes for which, as we are taught,
prophecy was given, have been rather defeated than served? There is not
perhaps a fulfilled prophecy on the page of inspiration which learned
ingenuity might not plausibly allege to have been hitherto altogether
misunderstood, and erroneously supposed to relate to such or such
events. It is a matter of course that, when a multitude of minds
variously influenced, and too often influenced by a wish to establish a
theory upon which literary ambition may build its pretensions, are
employed in the exposition of mystic predictions, _every_ scheme to
which any appearance of probability can be given, should actually find
an advocate. And then those who wish to discourage inquiry may
vauntingly say—See how various and how opposite are the opinions of
interpreters! Meanwhile, it may be perfectly true, that among these
various interpretations there may be _one_ which, though not altogether
unexceptionable, or wholly free from difficulties, will firmly secure
the approval of every unprejudiced and intelligent inquirer.

Some very sober Christians, while endeavoring by all means to secure the
young against the mania of prophetical interpretation, seem little aware
of how far they are treading upon the very path which infidelity
frequents. To advise a diligent study of prophecy (to those who have the
leisure and learning requisite) would it not be far safer, than to shrug
the shoulders in sage alarm, and to say—Prophecy! oh, let it alone!

The ancient Church received no cautions against a too eager scrutiny of
the great prophecy left to excite its hope: on the contrary, the pious
were "divinely moved" to search what might be the purport and season of
the revelation made by the "Spirit of Christ" to the prophets; and
though these predictions did in fact give occasion to the delusions of
"many deceivers," and though they were greatly misunderstood, even by
the most pious and the best informed of the Jewish people; yet did not
the foreknowledge of these mischiefs and errors call for any such
restrictions upon the spirit of inquiry as those wherewith some persons
are now fain to hedge about the Scriptures.

To the Christian Church the second coming of Christ stands where his
first coming stood to the Jewish, namely, in the very centre of the
field of prophetic light; and a participation in the glories "then to be
revealed" is even limited to those who in every age are devoutly
"looking for him." It is true that this doctrine of the second coming of
Christ has, like that of his first, wrought strongly upon enthusiastic
minds, and been the occasion of some pernicious delusions; yet, for the
correction of these incidental evils, we must look to other means than
to any existing cautions given to the Church in the Scriptures against a
too earnest longing for the promised advent of her King. To snatch this
great promise from Scripture in hasty fear, and then to close the book
lest we should see more than it is intended we should know, is not our
part. On the contrary, it is chiefly from a diligent and comprehensive
study of the terms of the great unfulfilled prophecy of Scripture, that
a preservative against delusion is to be gathered. To check assiduous
researches by cautions which the humble may respect, but which the
presumptuous will certainly contemn, is to abandon the leading truth of
Revelation to the uncorrected wantonness of fanaticism.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is often not so much the instrinsic qualities of an opinion, as the
unwarrantable confidence with which it is held, that generates
enthusiasm. Persuade the dogmatist to be modest, as every Christian
undoubtedly ought who thinks himself compelled to dissent from the
common belief of the Church; persuade him to give respectful attention
to the argument of an opponent; in a word, to surrender the topmost
point of his assurance, and presently the high temperature of his
feelings will come down near to the level of sobriety. To doubt after
hearing of sufficient evidence, and to dogmatize where proof is
confessedly imperfect, are alike the indications of infirmity of
judgment, if not of perversity of temper; and these great faults, which
never predominate in the character apart from the indulgence of unholy
passions, seem often to be judicially visited with a hopeless imbecility
of the reasoning faculties. Thus, while the sceptic becomes, in course
of time, incapable of retaining his hold even of the most certain
truths, the dogmatist, on the other hand, loses all power of suspending
for a moment his decisions; and, as a feather and a ball of lead descend
with the same velocity when dropped in a vacuum, so do all propositions,
whether loaded with a weight of evidence or not, instantly reach, in his
understanding, the firm ground of absolute assurance.

Instead, therefore, of enhancing the arrogance of the half-insane
interpreter of prophecy by inviting him to display the blazing front of
his argument, it may be better, if it can be done, to demonstrate that
even though it should appear that his opinion carries a large balance of
probability, there is still a _special_ and very peculiar impropriety in
the tone of dogmatism which, on this particular subject, he assumes; so
that the error of the general Church, if it be an error, is actually
less than the fault of him who, in this temper, may boast that he has
truth on his side. Such a case of special impropriety may, in this
instance, very clearly be made out.

       *       *       *       *       *

The language of prophecy is either common or mystical. Predictions
delivered in the style of common discourse, and free from symbols as
they are little liable to diversities of explication, do not often tempt
the ingenuity of visionaries: they may, therefore, be excluded from
consideration in the present instance. Mystic prophecy, or future
history written in symbols, under guidance of the divine foreknowledge,
in being committed to the custody and perusal of mankind, must be
presumed to conform itself to the laws of that particular species of
composition to which it bears the nearest analogy. For if the Divine
Being condescends at all to hold intercourse with men, it cannot be
doubted that he will do so, not only in a language known to them, but in
a manner perfectly accordant to the rules and proprieties of the medium
he designs to employ. Now the prophecies in question not merely belong
to the general class of symbolic writing, but there is to be discerned
in them, very plainly, the specific style of the enigma, which, in early
ages, was a usual mode of embodying the most important and serious
truths. In the enigma, the principal subject is, by some ingenuity of
definition, and by some ambiguity of description, at once held forth and
concealed. The law by which it is constructed demands, that while there
is given, under a guise, some special mark which shall prevent the
possibility of doubt when once the substance signified is seen, that
substance shall be so artfully depicted that the description, though it
be a true representation, may admit of more than one explication. There
can be no genuine and fair enigma in which these conditions are not
complied with. For if no special mark be given, the true solution must
want the means of vindicating its exclusive propriety, when the
substance signified is declared; a vague riddle is none. Or if the
special mark be not disguised, if no varnishing opacity be spread over
it, the substance is manifested at once, and the enigma nullified.
Again, if the general description is not so contrived as to admit of
several plausible hypotheses, then also the whole intention of the
device is destroyed, and the special mark rendered useless; for what
need can there be of an infallible indicator which is to come in as
arbiter among a number of competing solutions, if, in fact, no room be
left for diversity of interpretation?

Whenever, therefore, among mystic enunciations we can detect the
existence of some couched and specific note of identification, we may
most certainly conclude that it is placed there to serve a future
purpose of discrimination among several admissible modes of solution; or
in other words, that the enigma is designedly so framed as to tempt and
to allow a diversity of hypothetical explanations. An enigmatical or
symbolical enunciation, conformed to these essential rules, serves the
threefold purpose of presenting a blind to the incurious, a trap to the
dogmatical, and an exercise of modesty, of patience, and of sagacity to
the wise. And this seems to be the result intended, and actually
accomplished by the symbolical prophecies of Scripture.

When the subject of enigma already stands within the range of our
knowledge, and requires only to be singled out, the process of solution
is simple. The several suppositions that seem to comport with the
ambiguous description are to be brought together; and then the special
mark must be applied to each in turn, until such a precise and
convincing correspondence is discovered as at once strips the false
solutions of all their pretensions: if the enigma be fairly constructed,
this method of induction will never fail of success. Thus, with the page
of history before us, those prophecies of Daniel, for example, which
relate to the invasion of Greece by the Persians, to the subsequent
overthrow of the Persian monarchy by the Macedonians, to the division of
the conquests of Alexander, to the spread of the Roman arms, and to the
subdivision of the Roman Empire, are interpreted without hazard of
error, and with a completeness and a speciality of coincidence, that
carries a conviction of the divine dictation of those prophecies to
every honest mind.

A course somewhat less gratifying to the eagerness of enthusiastic
spirits must be pursued, if the subject of the sacred enigma does not
actually stand within our view; if it rest in a foreign region, as, for
example, in the region of futurity. It will by no means follow that a
symbolic prediction, which remains unfulfilled, ought not to be made the
subject of investigation; for as the description doubtless contains, by
condensation, the substance of the unknown reality, and perhaps also
much of its character, it may, even when mingled with erroneous
interpretations, serve important purposes in the excitement of pious
hope. The delivery of these enigmas into the hands of the Church, and
their intricate intermixture with fulfilled prophecies, and their being
everywhere embossed with attractive lessons of piety and virtue, not to
mention the explicit invitation to read and study them, may confidently
be deemed to convey a full license of examination. Yet in these
instances the well-known laws of the peculiar style in which the
predictions are enveloped, suggest restrictions and cautions which no
humble and pious expositor can overlook. The fault of the dogmatist in
prophecy is then manifest. Is a mystic prediction averred to be
unfulfilled? then we know, that, by the essential law of its
composition, it is designedly, we might say artfully constructed, so as
to admit of several, and perhaps of many, plausible interpretations,
having nearly equal claims of probability; and we know, moreover, that
the special mark couched amid the symbols, and which in the issue is to
arbitrate among the various solutions, is drawn from some minute
peculiarity in the surface and complexion of the future substance, and
therefore cannot be available for the purpose of discrimination, until
that substance, in the shape and color of reality, starts forth into day.

The expositor, therefore, who presumptuously espouses any one of the
several interpretations of which an enigmatical prophecy is susceptible,
and who fondly claims for it a positive and exclusive preference, sins
most flagrantly against the unalterable laws of the language of which he
professes himself a master. If dogmatism on matters not fully revealed
be in all cases blameworthy, it is especially to be condemned in the
expositor of enigmatic prophecy; and that, not merely because the events
so predicted rest under the awful veil of futurity, and exist only in
the prescience of the Deity; but because the chosen style of the
communication lays a distinct claim to modesty, and demands suspension
of judgment.—The use of symbols speaks a design of concealment; and do
we suppose that what God has hidden, the sagacity of man shall discover?
In issuing the prediction, he does indeed invite the humble, inquiries
of the Church; and in employing symbols which have a conventional
meaning he gives a clew to learned research; and yet, by the combination
of these symbols in the enigmatic form, an articulate warning is
presented against all dogmatical confidence of interpretation.

The adoption of an exclusive theory of exposition will not fail to be
followed by an attempt to attach the special marks of prophecy to every
passing event; and it is this very attempt which sets enthusiasm in a
flame; for it belongs, in common, to all religious irregularities that,
though mild and harmless while roaming at large among remote or
invisible objects they assume a noxious activity the moment that they
fix their grasp upon things near and tangible. There is scarcely any
degree of sobriety of temper which can secure the mind against fanatical
restlessness when once the habit has been formed of collating, daily,
the newspaper and the prophets; and the man who, with a feeble judgment
and an excitable imagination, is constantly catching at political
intelligence—Apocalypse in hand—walks on the verge of insanity, or
worse, of infidelity. In this feverish state of the feelings, mundane
interests, under the guise of faith and hope, occupy the soul to the
exclusion of "things unseen and eternal;" meanwhile, the heart-affecting
elements of piety and virtue become vapid to the taste, and gradually
fall into forgetfulness.

The fault of the dogmatical expositor of prophecy is especially
manifested when he assumes to determine the chronology of unfulfilled
predictions. In the instance of prophetic dates, the different lines of
conduct suggested by the different styles of the communication, are
readily perceived, and cheerfully observed by judicious and modest
interpreters. We may take, for illustration, the predicted duration of
the captivity of Judah, which was made known by Jeremiah (xxix. 10) in
the intelligible terms of common and popular computation: nor could the
supposition of a symbolic sense of the words be admitted by any sober
expositor. On the authority of this unequivocal prediction, Daniel, as
the time spoken of drew near, made confession and supplication in the
full assurance of warranted faith. In this confidence there was no
presumption, for his persuasion rested, not on the assumed validity of
this or of that ingenious interpretation of symbols; but upon an
explicit declaration which needed only to be read—not expounded.

But when the beloved seer received from his celestial informant the date
of _seventy weeks_, which should fix the period of the Messiah's advent
and preparatory sufferings, the employment of symbolic terms of itself
announced the double intention of, at once, revealing the time, and of
concealing it. For, as the terms, though mythic, bore a known import,
they could not be thought to be absolutely shut up from research; yet,
as by the mode of their combination they became susceptible of a
considerable diversity of interpretation, the wise and good might, after
all their diligence, differ in opinion as to the precise moment of
accomplishment. Thus was devout inquiry at once invited and restrained;
invited, because the language of the prediction was not unknown; and
restrained, because it still asked for interpretation, and admitted a
diversity of opinion. Those pious persons, therefore, who, at the time
of the Messiah's birth, were "looking for the consolation of Israel,"
could not, unless favored with personal revelations, affirm "this is the
very year of the expected deliverance;" for the symbolic chronology
might, with an appearance of reason, bear a somewhat different sense.
Yet might such persons, though not perfectly agreed in opinion, lawfully
and safely join in an exulting hope, that the time spoken of was not far
distant, when the son of David should appear.

The same rule is applicable to the position of the church at the present
moment. No one, it may be affirmed, can have given due attention to the
questions which have been of late so much agitated, without feeling
compelled to acknowledge, that a high degree of probability supports the
belief of an approaching extraordinary development of the mystery of
providence towards Christendom, and perhaps, towards the whole family of
man. That this probability is strong, might be argued from the fact that
it has wrought a general concurrence of belief among those whose modes
of thinking on most subjects are extremely dissimilar. Christians, amid
many contrarieties of opinion, are, with a tacit or an explicit
expectation, looking for movement and progression, to be effected either
by a quickened energy of existing means, or by the sudden operation of
new causes. This probable opinion, if held in the spirit of Christian
modesty, affords, under the sanction of the coolest reason, a new and
strong excitement to religious hope. He who entertains it may
exultingly, yet calmly exclaim, "The night is far spent, the day is at
hand;" and this kindling expectation will rouse him to greater diligence
in every good work, to greater watchfulness against every defilement of
heart, and frivolity of spirit, and inconsistency of conduct: he will
strive with holy wakefulness, to live as the disciple should who is
"waiting for his Lord." Thus far he can justify the new vivacity of his
hopes upon the ground of the permanent motives of religion; for he feels
nothing more than a Christian may well always feel; and the opinion he
entertains relative to the near accomplishment of ultimate prophecy,
serves only as an incitement to a state of mind in which he would fain
be found, if called suddenly from the present scene. While giving free
admission to sentiments of this sort, he knows that though he should be
mistaken in his theoretical premises, he shall certainly be right in his
practical inference.

But if the discreet Christian is tempted or solicited to admit an
incongruous jumble of political speculations and Christian hopes; if he
is called upon to detach in any degree, his attention from immediate and
unquestionable duties, and to fix his meditations on objects that have
no connection with his personal responsibility; then he will check such
an intrusion of turbulence and distraction, the tendency of which he
feels to be pernicious, by recollecting that his opinion, how probable
soever it may seem, is, at the best, nothing more than _one hypothesis_
among the many, which offer themselves in explanation of an enigmatical
prediction. To-day this hypothesis pleases him by its plausibility;
to-morrow he may reject it on better information.

Nothing, then, can be much more precise than the line which forms the
boundary between the legitimate and an enthusiastic feeling on the
subject of prophecy. Is a prediction couched in symbol? is it entangled
among perplexing anachronisms? is it studded with points of special
reference? We then recognize the hand of Heaven in the art of its
construction; and we know that it is so moulded as to admit and invite
the manifold diversities of ingenious explication and that, therefore,
even the true explication must, until the day of solution, stand
undistinguished in a crowd of plausible errors. But for a man to
proclaim himself the champion of a particular hypothesis, and to employ
it as he might an explicit prediction, is to affront the Spirit of
prophecy by contemning the chosen style of his announcements. And what
shall be said of the audacity of one who, with no other commission in
his hand than such as any man may please to frame for himself, usurps
the awful style of the seer, pronounces the doom of nations, hurls
thunders at thrones, and worse than this, puts the credit of
Christianity at pawn in the hand of infidelity, to be lost beyond
recovery, if not redeemed on a day specified by the fanatic for the
verification of his word!

       *       *       *       *       *

The agitation which has recently taken place on the subject of prophecy,
may, perhaps, ere long, subside, and the church may again acquiesce in
its old sobrieties of opinion.[3] And yet a different and a better
result of the existing controversy seems not altogether improbable; for
when enthusiasm has raved itself into exhaustion, and has received from
time the refutation of its precocious hopes; and when, on the other
side, prosing mediocrity has uttered all its saws, and has fallen back
into its own slumber of contented ignorance, then the spirit of research
and of legitimate curiosity, which no doubt has been diffused among not
a few intelligent students of Scripture, may bring on a calm, learned,
and productive discussion of the many great questions that belong to the
undeveloped destiny of man. And it may be believed that the issue of
such discussions will take its place among the means that shall concur
to usher in a brighter age of Christianity.

Not indeed as if any fundamental principle of religion remained to be
discovered; for the spiritual church has, in every age, possessed the
substance of truth, under the promised teaching of the Spirit of truth.
But, obviously, there are many subjects, more or less clearly revealed
in the Scriptures, upon which serious errors maybe entertained,
consistently with genuine, and even exalted piety: they do indeed belong
to the entire faith of a Christian, but they form no part of its basis;
they may be detached or disfigured without great peril to the stability
of the structure. Almost all opinions relating to the unseen world, and
to the future providence of God on earth, are of this extrinsic or
subordinate character; and, as a matter of fact, pious and cautious men
have, on subjects of this kind, held notions so incompatibly dissimilar,
that the one or the other must have been utterly erroneous. But the
detection of error always opens a vista of hope to the diligence of
inquiry; and with the mistakes of our predecessors before us for our
warning, and with a highly improved state of Biblical learning for our
aid, it may fairly be anticipated that a devout and industrious
reconsideration of the evidence of Scripture will yet achieve some
important improvements in the opinions of the church on these difficult
and obscure subjects.

Nevertheless, though an expectation of this kind may seem reasonable,
there is, on the other hand some ground to imagine that the
accomplishment of the inscrutable designs of the Divine Providence may
require that the pious should henceforth, as heretofore, continue to
entertain not only imperfect, but very mistaken notions of the unseen
and the future worlds. Well-founded hopes and erroneous interpretations
have been linked together in the history of the church in all ages, even
from that hour of fallacious exultation when the mother of a murderer
exclaimed—"I have gotten the man from the Lord," the man who should
"break the serpent's head." Neither the discharge of present duties, nor
the exercise of right affections, nor a substantial preparation for
taking a part in the glory that is to be revealed, is perhaps at all
necessarily connected with just anticipations of the unknown futurity.
Thus, when the infant wakes into the light of this world, every organ
presently assumes its destined function: the heaving bosom confesses the
fitness of the material it inhales to support the new style of
existence; and the senses admit the first impressions of the external
world with a sort of anticipated familiarity; and though utterly
untaught in the scenes upon which it has so suddenly entered, and
inexperienced in the orders of the place where it must ere long act its
part, yet it is truly "meet to be a partaker of the inheritance" of
life. And thus, too, a real meetness for his birth into the future life
may belong to the Christian, though he be utterly ignorant of its
circumstances and conditions. But the functions of that new life have
been long in a hidden play of preparation for full activity. He has
waited in the coil of mortality only for the moment when he should
inspire the ether of the upper world, and behold the light of eternal
day, and hear the voices of new companions, and taste of the immortal
fruit, and drink of the river of life; and then, after perhaps a short
season of nursing in the arms of the elder members of the family above,
he will take his place in the service and orders of the heavenly house;
nor ever have room to regret the ignorances of his mortal state.

The study of those parts of Scripture which relate to futurity should
therefore be undertaken with zeal, inspired by a reasonable hope of
successful research; and at the same time with the modesty and
resignation which must spring from a not unreasonable supposition that
all such researches may be fruitless. So long as this modesty is
preserved, there will be no danger of enthusiastic excitements, whatever
may be the opinions which we are led to entertain.

It must be evident to every calm mind, that the discussion of questions
confessedly so obscure, and upon which the evidence of Scripture is
limited and of uncertain explication, is ordinarily improper to the
pulpit. The several points of the catholic faith afford themes enough
for public instruction. But matters of learned debate are extraneous to
that faith: they are no ingredients in the bread of life, which is the
only article committed to the hands of the teacher for distribution
among the multitude. What are the private and hypothetical opinions of a
public functionary to those whom he is to teach the principles of the
common Christianity? And if these doubtful opinions implicate inquiries
which the unlearned can never prosecute, a species of imposition is
implied in the attempt to urge them upon simple hearers. It is truly a
sorry triumph that he obtains who wins by declamation and violence the
voices of a crowd in favor of opinions which men of learning and modesty
neither defend nor impugn but with diffidence. The press is the proper
organ of abstruse controversy.

[3] Written in 1828.



SECTION VI.

ENTHUSIASTIC PERVERSIONS OF THE DOCTRINE OF A PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE.


No species of enthusiasm, perhaps, is more extensively prevalent, and
certainly none clings more tenaciously to the mind that has once
entertained it, and none produces more practical mischief, than that
which is founded on an abuse of the doctrine of a particular Providence.
It is by the fortuities of life that the religious enthusiast is
deluded. Chance, under a guise stolen from piety, is his divinity. He
believes, and he believes justly, that every seeming fortuity is under
the absolute control of the divine hand; but in virtue of the peculiar
interest he supposes himself to have on high, he is tempted to think
that these contingencies are very much at his command. This belief
naturally inclines him to pay more regard to the unusual, than to the
common course of events. In contemplating God as the disposer of
chances, he becomes forgetful of him who is the governor of the world by
known and permanent laws. All the honor which he does to one of the
divine attributes, is in fact stolen from the reverence due to another;
but he should remember that "the Lord abhorreth robbery for offering."

A propensity to look more to chance than to probability is known
invariably to debilitate the reasoning faculty, as well as to vitiate
the moral sentiments; and these constant effects are more often
aggravated than mitigated by the accession of religious sentiments. The
illusions of hope then assume a tone of authority which effectually
silences the whispers of common sense; and the imagination, more highly
stimulated than when it fed only on things of earth, boldly makes a prey
of the divine power and goodness, to the utter subversion of humble
piety. A sanguine temper, quickened by perverted notions of religion,
easily impels a man to believe that he is privileged or skilled to
penetrate the intentions of Providence towards himself; and the
anticipations he forms on this ground acquire so much consistency by
being perpetually handled, that he deems them to form a much more
certain rule of conduct than he could derive from the forecastings of
prudence, or even from the dictates of morality.

Delusions of this kind are the real sources of many of those sad
delinquencies which so often bring reproach upon a profession of
religion. The world loves to call the offender a villain; but in fact he
was not worse than an enthusiast. He who, in conducting the daily
affairs of life, has acquired the settled habit of calculating rather
upon what is possible than upon what is probable, naturally slides into
the mischievous error of paying court to Fortune, rather than to Virtue;
nor will his integrity or his principles of honor be at all strengthened
by the mere metonymy of calling Fortune—Providence. It is easy to fix
the eye upon the clouds in expectation of help front above with so much
intentness that the tables of right and wrong, which stand before us,
shall scarcely be seen. This very expectation is a contempt of prudence;
and it is not often seen that those who slight Prudence, pay much regard
to her sister—Probity.

Or if consequences so serious do not follow from the notion that the
fortuities of life are an available fund at the disposal of the favorite
of heaven, yet this belief can hardly fail to spread an infection of
sloth and presumption through the character. The enthusiast will
certainly be remiss and dilatory in arduous and laborious duties. Hope,
which is the incentive to exertion in well-ordered and energetic minds,
slackens every effort if the understanding be crazed. The wheel of toil
stands still while the devotee implores assistance from above. Or if he
possesses more of activity, the same false principle prompts him to
engage in enterprises from which, if the expected contingent to be
furnished by "Providence," be deducted, scarcely a shred of fair
probability remains to recommend the scheme.

If the course of events in human life were as constant and uniform as
the phenomena of the material world, none but madmen would build their
hopes upon the irregularities by which it is diversified. Nor would the
enthusiast do so if he gave heed to the principles that impose order
upon the apparent chaos of fortuities from which the many-colored line
of human life is spun. To expose, then, the error of those who, on
pretext of faith in providence, build presumptuous expectations upon the
throws of fortune, we must analyse the confused mass of contingences to
which human life is liable. This analysis leaves the folly and
impropriety of the enthusiast without excuse.

       *       *       *       *       *

Any one who recalls to his recollection the incidents, great and small,
that have filled up the days of a year past, will find it easy to divide
them into two classes, of which the first, and the larger, comprises
those events which common sense and experience might have enabled him to
anticipate, and which, if he were wise, he did actually anticipate, so
far as was necessary for the regulation of his conduct. The ground of
such calculations of futurity is nothing else than the uniform course of
events in the material world, and the permanent principles of human
nature, and the established order of the social system: for all these,
though confessedly liable to many interruptions, are yet so far constant
as to afford, on the whole, a safe rule of calculation. If there were no
such uniformity in the course of events, the active and reasoning
faculties of man would be of no avail to him; for the exercise of them
might as probably be ruinous as serviceable. In the whirl of such a
supposed anarchy of nature, an intelligent agent must refrain from every
movement, and resign himself to be borne along by the eddies of
confusion. But this is not the character of the world we inhabit: the
connection of physical causes and effects is known and calculable, so
that the results of human labor are liable to only a small deduction on
account of occasional irregularities. We plant and sow, and lay up
stores, and build, and construct machines in tranquil hope of the
expected benefit; and indeed, if the variations and irregularities of
nature were much greater and more frequent than they are, or even if
disappointment were as common as success, the part of wisdom would still
be the same; for the laws of nature, though never so much broken in upon
by incalculable accidents, would still afford _some_ ground of
expectation; and an intelligent agent will always prefer to act on even
the slenderest hope which reason approves, rather than to lie supine in
the ruinous wheel-way of chance.

And notwithstanding its many real, and many apparent irregularities,
there is also a settled order of causes and effects in the human system,
as well as in the material world. The foundation of this settled order
is, the sameness of human nature in its animal intellectual and moral
constitution, of which the anomalies are never so great as to break up
all resemblance to the common pattern. Then those conventional modes of
thinking and acting which sway the conduct of the mass of mankind,
strengthen the tendency to uniformity, and greatly counteract all
disturbing causes. Then again the sanctioned institutions of society
give stability and permanence to the order of events, and altogether
afford so much security in calculating upon the future, that, whoever by
observation and reflection has become well skilled in the ordinary
movements of the machinery of life may, with confidence and calmness, if
not with absolute assurance of success, risk his most important
interests upon the issue of plans wisely concerted.

Skill and sagacity in managing the affairs of common life, or wisdom in
council and command, is nothing else than an extensive and ready
knowledge of the intricate movements of the great machine of the social
system; and the high price which this skill and wisdom always bears
among men, may be held to represent two abstractions; first, the
perplexing Irregularities of the system to which human agency is to be
conformed; and then, the real and substantial Uniformity of the
movements of that system. For it is plain that if there were no
perplexing irregularities, superior sagacity would be in no request; or,
on the other hand, if there were not a real constancy in the course of
affairs, even the greatest sagacity would be found to be of no avail,
and therefore would be in no esteem.

There is then a substantial, if not an immovable _substratum_ of causes
and effects, upon which, for the practical and important purposes of
life, calculations of futurity may be formed. And this is the basis, and
this alone, on which a wise man rests his hopes, and constructs his
plans; he well knows that his fairest hopes may be dissipated, and his
best plans overthrown; and yet, though the hurricanes of misfortune were
a thousand times to scatter his labors, he would still go on to renew
them in conformity with the same principles of calculation; for no other
principles are known to him, and the extremest caprices of Fortune will
never so prevail over his constancy as to induce him to do homage to
Chance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The second, and the less numerous class of events that make up the
course of human life, are those which no sagacity could have
anticipated; for though in themselves they were only the natural
consequences of common causes, yet those causes were either concealed,
or remote, and were, therefore, to us and our agency the same as if they
had been absolutely fortuitous. By far the larger proportion of these
accidents arises from the intricate connections of the social system.
The thread of every life is entangled with other threads beyond all
reach of calculation, the weal and woe of each depends, by innumerable
correspondences, upon the will, and caprices, and fortune, not merely of
the individuals of his immediate circle, but upon those of myriads of
whom he knows nothing. Or, strictly speaking, the tie of mutual
influence passes, without a break, from hand to hand, throughout the
human family: there is no independence, no insulation, in the lot of
man; and therefore there can be no absolute calculation of future
fortunes; for he whose will or caprice is to govern that lot stands,
perhaps, at the distance of a thousand removes from the subject of it,
and the attenuated influence winds its way in a thousand meanders before
it reaches the point of its destined operation.

Both these classes of events are manifestly necessary to the full
development of the faculties of human nature. If, for example, there
were no constancy in the events of life, there would be no room left for
rational agency; and if, on the other hand, there were no inconstancy,
the operations of the reasoning faculty would fall into a mechanical
regularity, and the imagination and the passions would be iron-bound, as
by the immobility of fate. It is by the admirable combination of the two
principles of order and disorder, of uniformity and variety, of
certainty and of chance, that the faculties and desires are wrought up
to their full play of energy and vivacity of reason and of feeling. But
it is especially in connection with the doctrine of Providence that we
have at present to consider these two elements of human life; and as to
the first of them, it is evident that the settled order of causes and
effects, so far as it may be ascertained by observation and experience,
claims the respect and obedience of every intelligent agent; since it is
nothing less than the will of the Author of nature, legibly written upon
the constitution of the world. This will is sanctioned by immediate
rewards and punishments; health, wealth, prosperity, are the usual
consequents of obedience; while sickness, poverty, degradation, are the
almost certain inflictions that attend a negligent interpretation, or a
presumptuous disregard of it. The dictates of prudence are in truth the
commands of God; and his benevolence is vindicated by the fact, that the
miseries of life are, to a very great extent, attributable to a contempt
of those commands.

But there is a higher government of men, as moral and religious beings,
which is carried on chiefly by means of the fortuities of life. Those
unforeseen accidents which so often control the lot of men, constitute a
_superstratum_ in the system of human affairs, wherein, peculiarly, the
Divine Providence holds empire for the accomplishment of its special
purposes. It is from this hidden and inexhaustible mine of
chances—chances, as we must call them—that the Governor of the world
draws, with unfathomable skill, the materials of his dispensations
towards each individual of mankind. The world of nature affords no
instances of complicated and exact contrivance, comparable to that which
so arranges the vast chaos of contingencies, as to produce, with
unerring precision, a special order of events adapted to the character
of every individual of the human family. Amid the whirl of myriads of
fortuities, the means are selected and combined for constructing as many
independent machineries of moral discipline as there are moral agents in
the world; and each apparatus is at once complete in itself, and
complete as part of a universal movement.

If the special intentions of Providence towards individuals were
effected by the aid of supernatural interpositions, the power and
presence of the Supreme Disposer might indeed be more strikingly
displayed than it is; but his skill much less. And herein especially is
manifested the perfection of the divine wisdom, that the most surprising
conjunctions of events are brought about by the simplest means, and in a
manner so perfectly in harmony with the ordinary course of human
affairs, that the hand of the Mover is ever hidden beneath second
causes, and is descried only by the eye of pious affection. This is in
fact the great miracle of providence—that no miracles are needed to
accomplish its purposes. Countless series of events are travelling on
from remote quarters towards the same point; and each series moves in
the beaten track of natural occurrences; but their intersection, at the
very moment in which they meet, shall serve, perhaps, to give a new
direction to the affairs of an empire. The materials of the machinery of
Providence are all of common quality; but their combination displays
nothing less than infinite skill.

Having then these two distinguishable classes of events before us,
namely, those which may be foreknown by human sagacity, and those which
may not; it is manifest that the former exclusively is given to man as
the sphere of his labors, and for the exercise of his skill; while the
latter is reserved as the royal domain of sovereign bounty and infinite
wisdom. The enthusiast, therefore, who neglects and contemns those
dictates of common sense which are derived from the calculable course of
human affairs, and founds his plans and expectations upon the unknown
procedures of Providence, is chargeable not merely with folly, but with
an impious intrusion upon the peculiar sphere of the divine agency. This
impiety is shown in a strong light when viewed in connection with those
great principles which may be not obscurely discerned to govern the
dispensations of Providence towards mankind.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the divine management of the fortuitous events of life, there is, in
the first place, visible, some occasional flashes of that retributive
justice, which, in the future world, is to obtain its long postponed and
perfect triumph. There are instances which, though not very common, are
frequent enough to keep alive the salutary fears of mankind, wherein
vindictive visitations speak articulately in attestation of the
righteous indignation of God against those who do evil. Outrageous
villanies, or appalling profaneness, sometimes draw upon the criminal
the instant bolt of divine wrath, and in so remarkable a manner that the
most irreligious minds are quelled with a sudden awe, and confess the
hand of God. And again there is just perceptible, as it were, a gleam of
divine approbation, displayed in a signal rewarding of the righteous,
even in the present life: a blessing "which maketh rich" rests sometimes
conspicuously upon the habitation of disinterested and active virtue:
"the righteous is as a tree planted by the rivers of water: whatsoever
he doeth, prospers." In these anomalous cases of anticipated
retribution, the punishment or the reward does not arrive in the
ordinary course of common causes; but starts forth suddenly from that
storehouse of fortuities whence the divine providence draws its means of
government. If the oppressor, by rousing the resentment of mankind, is
dragged from the seat of power, and trodden in the dust; or if the
villain who "plotteth mischief against his neighbor on his bed," is at
length caught in his own net, and despoiled of his wrongful gains, these
visitations of justice, though truly retributive, belong plainly to the
_known_ order of causes and effects: they are nothing more than the
natural issues of the culprit's course; and therefore do not declare the
special interference of Heaven. But there are instances of another kind,
in which the ruin of villany or of violence comes speeding as on a shaft
from above, which, though seemingly shot at random, yet hits its victim
with a precision and a peculiarity that proclaims the unerring hand of
divine justice.

In like manner there are remarkable recompenses of integrity, of
liberality, of kindness to strangers, and, most especially, of duty to
parents, which arrive by means so remote from common probability, and
yet so simple, that the approbation of him who "taketh pleasure in the
path of the just," is written upon the unexpected boon. There are few
family histories that would not afford examples of such conspicuous
retributions. Nevertheless, as they are confessedly rare, and
administered by rules absolutely inscrutable to human penetration, there
can hardly be a more daring impiety than, in particular instances, to
entertain the expectation of their occurrence. Yet the enthusiast finds
it hard to abstain, in his own case, from such expectations; and is
tempted perpetually to indulge hopes of special boons in reward of his
services, and is forward and ingenious in giving an interpretation that
flatters his spiritual vanity to every common favor of providence; the
bottles of heaven are never stopped but to gratify his taste for fine
weather! A readiness to announce the wrath of heaven upon offenders, is
a presumption which characterizes, not the mere enthusiast, but the
malign fanatic, and therefore comes not properly within our subject; and
yet the species of enthusiasm now under consideration is very seldom
free from some such impious tendency.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the divine management of the fortuities of life, there may also be
very plainly perceived a dispensation of moral exercise, specifically
adapted to the temper and powers of the individual. No one can look back
upon his own history without meeting unquestionable instances of this
sort of educational adjustment of his lot, effected by means that were
wholly independent of his own choice or agency. The casual meeting with
a stranger, or an unexpected interview with a friend; the accidental
postponement of affairs; the loss of a letter, a shower, a trivial
indisposition, the caprice of an associate; these, or similar
fortuities, have been the determining causes of events, not only
important in themselves, but of peculiar significance and use in that
process of discipline which the character of the individual was to
undergo. These new currents in the course of life proved, in the issue,
specifically proper for putting in action the latent faculties of the
mind, or for holding in check its dangerous propensities. Whoever is
quite unconscious of this sort of _overruling_ of his affairs by means
of apparent accidents, must be very little addicted to habits of
intelligent reflection.

Doubtless every man's choice and conduct determine, to a great extent,
his lot and occupation; but not seldom, a course of life much better
fitted to his temper and abilities than the one he would fain substitute
for it, has, year after year, and in spite of his reluctances, fixed his
place and employment in society; and this unchosen lot has, if we may so
speak, been constructed from the floating fragments of other men's
fortunes, drifted by the accidents of wind and tide across the billows
of life, till they were stranded at the very spot where the individual
for whom they were destined was ready to receive them. By such strong
and nicely-fitted movements of the machine of Providence it is, that the
tasks of life are distributed where best they may be performed, and its
burdens apportioned where best they may be sustained. By accidents of
birth or connection, the bold, the sanguine, the energetic, are led into
the front of the field of arduous exertion; while by similar fortuities,
quite as often as by choice, the pusillanimous, the fickle, the
faint-hearted, are suffered to spend their days under the shelter of
ease, and in the recesses of domestic tranquillity.

But who shall profess so to understand his particular temper, and so to
estimate his talents, as might qualify him to anticipate the special
dispensations of Providence in his own case? Such knowledge, surely,
every wise man will confess to be "too wonderful" for him. To the
Supreme Intelligence alone it belongs to distribute to every one his
lot, and to "fix the bounds" of his abode. Yet there are persons, whose
persuasion of what _ought_ to be their place and destiny is so
confidently held, that a long life of disappointment does not rob them
of the fond hypotheses of self-love; and just in proportion to the
firmness of their faith in a particular providence, will be their
propensity to quarrel with Heaven, as if it debarred them from their
right in deferring to realize the anticipated destiny. Presumption, when
it takes its commencement in religion, naturally ends in impiety.

Men who look no farther than the present scene, may, with less glaring
inconsistency, vent their vexation in accusing the blindness and
partiality of fate, which has held their eminent talents and their
peculiar merits so long under the veil of obscurity; but those who
acknowledge at once a disposing providence and a future life, might
surely find considerations proper for imposing silence upon such
murmurings of disappointed ambition. Let it be granted to a man that his
vanity does not deceive him, when he complains that adverse fortune has
prevented his entering the very course upon which nature fitted him to
shine, and has, with unrelenting severity, confined him, year after
year, to a drudgery in which he was not qualified to win even a common
measure of success: all this may be true; but if the complainant be a
Christian, he cannot find it difficult to admit that this clashing of
his fortune with his capacities, or his tastes, may have been the very
exercise necessary to ensure his ultimate welfare. Who will deny that
the reasons of the divine conduct towards those who are in training for
an endless course must always lie at an infinite distance beyond the
range of created vision? Who shall venture even to surmise what course
of events may best foster the germ of an imperishable life; or who
conjecture what contraventions of the hopes and interests of an
individual may find their reasons and necessity somewhere in the wide
universe of consequences incalculably remote?

Whether the promise "that all things shall work together for good to
those who love God," is to be accomplished by perpetual sunshine or by
incessant storms, no one can anticipate in his own case: or if any one
were excepted, it must be the enthusiast himself, who might almost with
certainty calculate upon receiving a dispensation the very reverse of
that which it has been the leading error of his life to anticipate. He
might thus calculate, both because his expectations are in themselves
exorbitant and improbable, and because the presumptuous temper from
which they spring loudly calls for the rebuke of heaven.

       *       *       *       *       *

Amid the perplexities which arise from the unexpected events of life, we
are not left without sufficient guidance; for although, in particular
instances, the most reasonable calculations are baffled, and the best
plans subverted, yet there remains in our hands the immutable rule of
moral rectitude, in an inflexible adherence to which we shall avoid what
is chiefly to be dreaded in calamity—the dismal moanings of a wounded
conscience. "He that walketh uprightly walketh surely," even in the path
of disaster. And while, on the one hand, he steadily pursues the track
which prudence marks out; and, on the other, listens with respectful
attention to the dictates of honor and probity, he may, without danger
of enthusiasm, ask and hope for the especial aids of Divine Providence,
in overruling those events that lie beyond the reach of human agency.

Prayer and calculation are duties never incompatible, never to be
disjoined, and never to shackle one the other. For while those events
only which are probable ought to be assumed as the basis of plans for
futurity, yet, whatever is not manifestly impossible, or in a high
degree improbable, may lawfully be made the object of submissive
petition. Few persons, and none who have known vicissitudes, can look
back upon past years without recollecting signal occasions on which they
have been rescued from the impending and apparently inevitable
consequences of their own misconduct, or imprudence, or want of ability,
by some extraordinary intervention in the very crisis of their fate, or,
perhaps, they have been placed by accident in circumstances of peril,
where as it seemed, there remained not a possibility of escape. But
while the ruin was yet in descent, rescue, which it would have been
madness to expect, came in to preserve life, fortune, or reputation,
from the imminent destruction. That such conspicuous deliverances do
actually occur is matter of fact; nor will the Christian endure that
they should be attributed to any other cause than the special care and
kindness of his heavenly Father: and yet, as they belong to an economy
which stretches into eternity and as they are not administered on any
ascertained rule, they can never come within the range of our
calculations, or be admitted to influence our plans: a propensity to
indulge such expectations indicates infirmity of mind, and is in fact an
intrusion upon the counsels of infinite wisdom.

Nevertheless, so long as these extraordinary interventions are known to
consist with the rules of the divine government, they may be
contemplated as possible without violating the respect that is due to
its ordinary procedures; and may, therefore, without enthusiasm, be
solicited in the hour of peril or perplexity. The gracious "Hearer of
prayer", who, on past and well-remembered occasions has signally given
deliverance, may do so again, even when, if we think of our own
imprudence, we have reason to expect nothing less than destruction. What
are termed by irreligious men 'the fortunate chances of life', will be
regarded by the devout mind as constituting a hidden treasury of boons,
held at the disposal of a gracious hand for the incitement of prayer,
and for the reward of humble faith. The enthusiast who, in contempt of
common sense and of rectitude, presumes upon the existence of this
extraordinary fund, forfeits, by such impiety, his interest in its
stores. But the prudent and the pious, while they labor and calculate in
strict conformity to the known and ordinary course of events, shall not
seldom find that, from this very treasury of contingencies, "God is rich
to them that call upon him".

In minds of a puny form, whose enthusiasm is commonly mingled with some
degree of abject superstition, the doctrine of a particular providence
is liable to be degraded by habitual association with trivial and solid
solicitudes. This or that paltry wish is gratified, or vulgar care
relieved, 'by the kindness of providence;' and thanks are rendered for
helps, comforts, deliverances, of so mean an order, that the respectable
language of piety is burlesqued by the ludicrous character of the
occasion on which it is used. The fault in these instances does not
consist in an error of opinion, as if even the most trivial events were
not, equally with the most considerable, under the divine management;
but it is a perversion and degradation of feeling which allows the mind
to be occupied with whatever is frivolous, to the exclusion of whatever
is important. These petty spirits, who draw hourly, from the matters of
their personal comfort or indulgence, so many occasions of prayer and
praise, are often seen to be insensible to motives of a higher kind:
they have no perception of the relative magnitude of objects; no sense
of proportion; and they feel little or no interest in what does not
affect themselves. We ought, however, to grant indulgence to the
infirmity of the feeble; and if the soul be indeed incapable of
expansion, it is better it should be devout in trifles, than not devout
at all. Yet these small folks have need to be warned of the danger of
mistaking the gratulations of selfishness for the gratitude of piety.

It is a rare perfection of the intellectual and moral faculties which
allows all objects great and small, to be distinctly perceived, and
perceived in their relative magnitudes. A soul of this high finish may
be devout on common occasions without trifling; it will gather up the
fragments of the divine bounty, that "nothing be lost"; and yet hold its
energies and its solicitudes free for the embrace of momentous cares. If
men of expanded intellect, and high feeling, and great activity, are
excused in their neglect of small things, this indulgence is founded
upon a recollection of the contractedness of the human mind, even at the
best. The forgetfulness of lesser matters, which so often belongs to
energy of character, is, after all, not a perfection, but a weakness and
a more complete expansion of mind, a still more vigorous pulse of life,
would dispel the torpor of which such neglects are the symptoms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thwarted enthusiasm naturally generates impious petulance. If we
encumber the Providence of God with unwarranted expectations, it will be
difficult not so to murmur under disappointment as those do who think
themselves defrauded of their right. In truth, amidst the sharpness of
sudden calamity, or the pressure of continued adversity, the most sane
minds are tempted to indulge repinings which reason, not less than
piety, utterly condemns. The imputation of defective wisdom, or justice,
or goodness, to the Being of whom we can form no notion apart from the
idea of absolute knowledge, rectitude, and benevolence, is too absurd to
need a formal refutation; and yet how often does it survive all the
rebukes of good sense and religion! So egregious an error could not find
a moment's lodgment in the heart, if it did not meet a surface of
adhesion where presumption has been torn away. The exaggerations of
self-love not quelled, but rather inflated by an enthusiastic piety,
inspire feelings of personal importance so enormous, that even the
infinitude of the divine attributes is made to shrink down to the
measure of comparison with man. When illusions such as these are rent
and scattered, how pitiable is the conscious destitution and meanness of
the denuded spirit! with how cruel a shock does it fall back upon its
true place in the vast system of providence!

       *       *       *       *       *

Whoever entertains, as every Christian ought, a strong and consoling
belief of the doctrine of a Particular Providence, which cares for the
welfare of each, should not forget to connect with that belief some
general notions, at least, of that system of Universal Providence which
secures individual interests, consistently with the well-being of the
whole. Such notions, though very defective, or even in part erroneous,
may serve first to check presumption, and then to impose silence upon
those murmurs which are its offspring.

A law of subordination manifestly pervades that part of the government
of God with which we are acquainted, and may fairly be supposed to
prevail elsewhere. Lesser interests are the component parts of greater;
and so closely are the individual fates of the human family interwoven,
that each member, however insignificant he may seem, sustains a real
relationship of influence to the community. The lot of each must
therefore be shapen by reasons drawn from many, and often from remote
quarters. Yet in effecting this complex combination of parts, infinite
wisdom prevents any clashing of the lesser with the larger movements;
and we may feel assured that, on the grounds either of mere equity or of
beneficence, the dispensations of Providence are as compactly perfect
towards each individual of mankind as if he were the sole inhabitant of
an only world. If Heaven, in its condescension, were to implead at the
bar of human reason, and set forth the motives of its dealings towards
this man or that, these motives might, no doubt, be alleged and
justified in every particular, without making any reference to the
intermingled interests of other men: and it might be shown that,
although certain events were in fact followed by consequences much more
important to others than to the individual immediately affected, yet
they did in the fullest sense belong to the personal discipline of the
individual, and must have taken place irrespectively of those foreign
consequences.

This perfect fitting and finishing of the machinery of Providence to
individual interests, must be premised; yet it is not less true that, in
almost every event of life, the remote consequences vastly outweigh the
proximate, in actual amount of importance. Every man prospers, or is
overthrown, lives, or dies, not for himself; but that he may sustain
those around him, or that he may give them place; and who shall attempt
to measure the circle within which are comprised these extensive
dependences? On principles even of mathematical calculation, each
individual of the human family may be demonstrated to hold in his hand
the centre lines of an interminable web-work, on which are sustained the
fortunes of multitudes of his successors. These implicated consequences,
if summed together, make up therefore a weight of human weal or woe that
is reflected back with an incalculable momentum upon the lot of each.
Every one is then bound to remember that the personal sufferings or
peculiar vicissitudes or toils through which he is called to pass, are
to be estimated and explained only in an immeasurably small proportion
if his single welfare is regarded; while their full price and value are
not to be computed unless the drops of the morning dew could be numbered.

Immediate proof of that system of interminable connection which binds
together the whole human family may be obtained by every one who will
examine the several ingredients of his physical, intellectual, and
social condition; for he will not find one of these circumstances of his
lot that is not, in its substance or quality, directly an effect or
consequence of the conduct, or character, or constitution of his
progenitors, and of all with whom he has had to do; if _they_ had been
other than they were, _he_ must also have been other than he is. And
then our predecessors must, in like manner, trace the qualities of their
being to theirs; thus the linking ascends to the common parents of all;
and thus must it descend, still spreading as it goes, from the present
to the last generation of the children of Adam.

Nor is this direct and obvious kind of influence the only one of which
some plain indications are to be discerned; and without at all following
the uncertain track of adventurous speculation, it may fairly be
surmised that the same law of interminable connection, a law of moral
gravitation, stretches far beyond the limits of the human family, and
actually holds in union the great community of intelligent beings.
Instances of connection immensely remote, and yet very real, might be
adduced in abundance: the influence of history upon the character and
conduct of successive generations is of this kind. Whatever imparts
force or intensity to human motives, and by this means actually
determines the course of life, may assuredly claim for itself the title
and respect due to an efficient cause, and must be deemed to exert an
impulsive power over the mind. Now the records of history, how long
soever may have been the line of transmission which has brought them to
our times, fraught as they are with instances applicable to all the
occasions of real life, do thus, in a very perceptible degree, affect
the sentiments and mould the characters of mankind; nor will any one
speak slightingly of this species of causation who has compared the
intellectual condition of nations rich in history with that of a people
wholly destitute of the memorials of past ages. The story of the
courage, or constancy, or wisdom of the men of a distant time becomes,
in a greater or a less degree, a subsidiary cause of the conduct of the
men of each succeeding generation. Thus the few individuals in every age
to whom it has happened to live, and act, and speak under the focus of
the speculum of history, did actually live, and labor, and suffer for
the benefit of mankind in all future times; just as truly as a father
toils for the advantage of his family. And if the whole amount of the
influence which has in fact flowed from the example of the wise, the
brave, and the good, could have been placed in prophetic vision before
them, while in the midst of their arduous course, would not these
worthies contentedly and gladly have purchased so immense a wealth of
moral power at the price of their personal sufferings?

Here, then, as a plain matter of fact, is an instance of boundless
causation, connecting certain individuals with myriads of their species,
from age to age, and forever. It is an instance, we say, and not more:
for the voice of history is but a preluding flourish to that voluminous
revelation which shall be made, in the great day of consummation, of all
that has been acted and suffered upon earth's surface. In that day, when
the books of _universal history_ are opened and read, it shall doubtless
be found that no particle has been lost of aught that might serve to
authenticate the maxims of eternal wisdom, or to vindicate the righteous
government of God. And all shall be written anew, as "with a pen of iron
on the rock forever," and shall stand forth as an imperishable lesson of
warning or incitement to after-comers on the theatre of existence.

Whatever degree of solidity may be attributed to considerations of this
kind, they are at least sufficiently supported by analogies to give them
a decided advantage over those petulant cavils wherewith we are prone to
arraign the particular dispensations of Providence towards ourselves.
Are such dispensations, when seen in small portions, mysterious and
perplexing? How can they be otherwise if, in their completed
measurements, they are to spread over the creation, and in their issues,
to endure forever?

       *       *       *       *       *

The common phrase—"a mysterious dispensation of Providence," when used
as most often it is, contains the very substance of enthusiasm; and yet,
it must be confessed, of a venial enthusiasm; for the occasions which
draw it forth are of a kind that may be admitted to palliate a hasty
impropriety of language. To call any event that does not break in upon
the known and established order of natural causes—mysterious, is
virtually to assume a previous knowledge of the intentions of the
Supreme Ruler; for it is to say that his proceedings have baffled our
calculations; and in fact it is only when we have formed anticipations
of what ought to have been the course of events that we are tempted by
sudden reverses to employ so improperly this indefinite expression. All
the dispensations of Divine Providence, taken together, may, with
perfect propriety, be termed mysterious; since all alike are governed by
reasons that are hidden and inscrutable: but it is the height of
presumption so to designate some of them in distinction from others. For
example; a man eminently gifted by nature for important and peculiar
services, and trained to perform them by a long and arduous discipline,
and now just entering upon the course of successful beneficence, and
perhaps actually holding in his hand the welfare of a family or a
province, or an empire, is suddenly smitten to the earth by disease or
accident. Sad ruin of a rare machinery of intellectual and moral power!
But while the thoughtless may deplore for an hour the irreparable loss
they have sustained, the thoughtful few muse rather than weep; and in
order to conceal from themselves the irreverence of their own repinings,
exclaim—'How mysterious are the ways of heaven!' Yes; but in the present
instance, what is mysterious? Not that human life should at all periods
be liable to disease, or the human frame be always vulnerable; for these
are conditions inseparable from the present constitution of our nature;
and it is clear that nothing less than a perpetual miracle could exempt
any one class of mankind from the common contingencies of physical life.
The supposition of any such constant and manifest interposition,
rendering a certain description of persons intactible by harm; would be
impious as well as absurd. Nothing could suggest to a sane mind an idea
of this sort, if it did not gain admittance in the train of those eager
forecastings of the ways of God in which persons much addicted to
religious meditation are prone to indulge, and which, though they may
afford pleasure for a moment, are usually purchased at the cost of
relapses into gloomy, or worse than gloomy discontents.

There is a striking incongruity in the fact that the propensity to apply
the equivocal term, mysterious, to sudden and afflictive events, like
the one just specified, is indulged almost exclusively by the very
persons whose professed principles furnish them with a sufficient
explanation of such dispensations. If the present state were thought to
comprise the beginning and the end of the human system, and if, at the
same time, this system be attributed to the Supreme Intelligence, then
indeed the prodigious waste and destruction which is continually taking
place, not only of the germs of life, but of the rarest and of the most
excellent specimens of divine art, is a solecism that must baffle every
attempt at explanation. Let then the deist, who knows of nothing beyond
death, talk of the mysteries of Providence; but let not the Christian,
who is taught to think little of the present, and much of the future,
use language of this sort.

       *       *       *       *       *

A popular misunderstanding of the language of Scripture relative to the
future state, has, perhaps, had great influence in enhancing the gloom
and perplexity with which Christians are wont to think and speak of
sudden and afflictive visitations of Providence.

Heaven—the ultimate and perfected condition of human nature, is thought
of amidst the toils of life, as an elysium of quiescent bliss, exempt,
if not from action, at least from the necessity of action. Meanwhile
every one feels that the ruling tendency and the uniform intention of
all the arrangements of the present state, and of almost all its
casualties, is to generate and to cherish habits of strenuous exertion.
Inertness, not less than vice, stamps upon its victim the seal of
perdition. The whole order of nature, and all the institutions of
society, and the ordinary course of events, and the explicit will of
God, as declared in his word, concur in opposing that propensity to rest
which belongs to the human mind, and combine to necessitate submission
to the hard, yet salutary conditions under which alone the most extreme
evils may be held in abeyance, and any degree of happiness enjoyed. A
task and duty is to be fulfilled, in discharging which the want of
energy is punished even more immediately and more severely than the want
of virtuous motives.

Here, then, is visible a great and serious incongruity between matter of
fact, and the common anticipations of the future state: it deserves
inquiry, therefore, whether these anticipations are really founded on
the evidence of Scripture; or whether they are not rather the mere
suggestions of a sickly spiritual luxuriousness. This is not the place
for pursuing such an inquiry; but it may be observed, in passing, that
those glimpses of the supernal world which we catch from the Scriptures
have in them, certainly, quite as much of the character of history as of
poetry, and impart the idea—not that there is less of business in heaven
than on earth, but more. Unquestionably, the felicity of those beings of
a higher order, to whose agency frequent allusions are made by the
inspired writers, is not incompatible with the assiduities of a
strenuous ministry, to be discharged, according to the best ability of
each, in actual and arduous contention with formidable, and perhaps
sometimes successful opposition. A poetic notion of angelic agency,
having in it nothing substantial, nothing necessary, nothing difficult,
and which consists only in an unreal show of action and movement, and in
which the result would be precisely the same apart from the
accompaniment of a swarm of butterfly youths, must be spurned by reason,
as it is unwarranted by Scripture. Scripture does not affirm or imply
that the plenitude of divine power is at all in more immediate exercise
in the higher world than in this: on the contrary, the revelation so
distinctly made of a countless array of intelligent and vigorous agents,
designated usually by an epithet of martial signification, precludes
such an idea. Why a commission of subalterns? why an attendance of
celestials upon the flight of the bolt of omnipotence? That bolt, when
actually flung, needs no coadjutor!

But if there be a real and necessary, not merely a shadowy agency in
heaven as well as on earth; and if human nature is destined to act its
part in such an economy, then its constitution, and the severe training
it undergoes, are at once explained; and then, also, the removal of
individuals in the very prime of their fitness for useful labor ceases
to be impenetrably mysterious. This excellent mechanism of matter and
mind, which, beyond any other of his works, declares the wisdom of the
Creator, and which, under his guidance, is now passing the season of its
first preparation, shall stand up anew from the dust of dissolution, and
then, with freshened powers, and with a store of hard-earned practical
wisdom for its guidance, shall essay new labors—we say not perplexities
and perils—in the service of God, who by such instruments chooses to
accomplish his designs of beneficence. That so prodigious a waste of the
highest qualities should take place as is implied in the notions which
many Christians entertain of the future state, is indeed hard to
imagine. The mind of man, formed as it is to be more tenacious of its
active habits than even of its moral dispositions, is, in the present
state, trained (often at an immense cost of suffering) to the exercise
of skill, of forethought, of courage, of patience; and ought it not to
be inferred, unless positive evidence contradicts the supposition, that
this system of education bears some relation of fitness to the state for
which it is an initiation? Shall not the very same qualities which here
are so sedulously fashioned and finished, be actually needed and used in
that future world of perfection? Surely the idea is inadmissible that an
instrument wrought up, at so much expense, to a polished fitness for
service, is destined to be suspended forever on the palace walls of
heaven, as a glittering bauble, no more to make proof of its temper!

A pious, but needless jealousy, lest the honor due to him "who worketh
all in all" should be in any degree compromised, has perhaps had
influence in concealing from the eyes of Christians the importance
attributed in the Scriptures to subordinate agency; and thus, by a
natural consequence, has impoverished and enfeebled our ideas of the
heavenly state. But assuredly it is only while encompassed by the
dimness and errors of the present life that there can be any danger of
attributing to the creature the glory due to the Creator. When once with
open eye that "excellent glory" has been contemplated, then shall it be
understood that the divine wisdom is incomparably more honored by the
skilful and faithful performances, and by the cheerful toils of agents
who have been fashioned and fitted for service, than it could be by the
bare exertions of irresistible power: and then, when the absolute
dependence of creatures is thoroughly felt, may the beautiful orders of
the heavenly hierarchy—rising, and still rising towards perfection—be
seen and admired without hazard of forgetting him who alone is
absolutely perfect, and who is the only fountain and first cause of
whatever is excellent.

The Scriptures do indeed most explicitly declare, not only that virtue
will be inamissible in heaven, but that its happiness will be unalloyed
by fear, or pain, or want. But the mental associations formed in the
present state make it so difficult to disjoin the idea of suffering and
of sorrow from that of labor, and of arduous and difficult achievement,
that we are prone to exclude action, as well as pain, from our idea of
the future blessedness. Yet assuredly these notions may be separated;
and if it be possible to imagine a perfect freedom from selfish
solicitudes, a perfect acquiescence in the will, and a perfect
confidence in the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, then also may
we conceive of toils without sadness, of perplexities without
perturbations, and of difficult or perilous service, without despondency
or fear. The true felicity of beings furnished with moral sensibilities,
must consist in the full play of the emotions of love, fixed on the
centre of good; and this kind of happiness is unquestionably compatible
with any external condition not positively painful: perhaps even another
step might be taken; but our argument does not need it. Yet it should be
remembered, that, in many signal and well-attested instances the fervor
of the religious affections has almost or entirely obliterated the
consciousness of physical suffering, and has proved its power to
vanquish every inferior emotion, and to fill the heart with heaven, even
amid the utmost intensities of pain. Much more, then, may these
affections, when freed from every shackle, when invigorated by an
assured possession of endless life, and when heightened by the immediate
vision of the supreme excellence, yield a fulness of joy, consistently
with many vicissitudes of external position.

Considerations such as these, if at all borne out by evidence of
Scripture, may properly have place in connection with the topic of this
section; for it is evident that the harassing perplexities which arise
from the present dispensations of Providence might be greatly relieved
by habitually entertaining anticipations of the future state somewhat
less imbecile and luxurious than those commonly admitted by Christians.



SECTION VII.

ENTHUSIASM OF BENEFICENCE.


To say that the principle of disinterested benevolence had never been
known among men before the publication of Christianity would be an
exaggeration;—an exaggeration very similar to that of affirming that the
doctrine of immortality was new to mankind when taught by our Lord. In
truth, the one had, in every age, been imperfectly practised, and the
other dimly supposed; yet neither the one principle nor the other
existed in sufficient strength to be the source of any very substantial
benefit to mankind. But Christ, while he emphatically "brought life and
immortality to light," and so claimed to be the Author of hope for man,
did also with such effect lay the hand of his healing power upon the
human heart, long palsied by sensualities and selfishness, that it has
ever since shed forth a fountain of active kindness, largely available
for the relief of want and misery.

As a matter of history, unquestionable and conspicuous, Christianity
has, in every age, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and redeemed
the captive, and visited the sick. It has put to shame the atrocities of
the ancient popular amusements, and has annihilated sanguinary rites,
and has brought slavery into disesteem and disuse, and has abolished
excruciating punishments: it has even softened the ferocity of war; and,
in a word, is seen constantly at work, edging away oppressions, and
moving on towards the perfect triumph which avowedly it meditates—that
of removing from the earth every woe which the inconsideration, or the
selfishness, or the malignancy of man inflicts upon his fellows.

It remains, then, to ask, By what _special_ means has Christianity
effected these ameliorations? and it will be found, that the power and
success of that new principle of benevolence which is taught in the
Scriptures, are not more remarkable than are its constitution and its
ingredients. Christian philanthropy, though it takes up among its
elements the native benevolence of the human heart, is a compound
principle, essentially differing from the spontaneous sympathies of our
nature. Now, as this new and composite benevolence has, by a trial of
eighteen centuries, and under every imaginable diversity of
circumstance, proved its practical efficiency, and its immense
superiority over the crude elementary principle of mere kindness, it
would be a violation of the acknowledged methods of modern science to
adhere pertinaciously to the old and inefficient element, and to contemn
the improved principle. All we have to do on an occasion wherein the
welfare of our fellows is so deeply interested, is to take care that our
own benevolence, and the benevolence which we recommend to others, is of
the true and genuine sort; in other words, that it is Christian. If, as
every one would profess, we desire to live, not for selfish pleasure,
but to promote the happiness of others, if we would become, not idle
well-wishers to our species, not closet philanthropists, dreaming of
impracticable reforms, and grudging the cost of any effective relief,
but real benefactors to mankind, we must take up the lessons of New
Testament philanthropy, just as they lie on the page before us, and
without imagining simpler methods, follow humbly in the track of
experience. By this Book alone have men been effectively taught to do
good.

A low rate of activity, prompted merely by the spontaneous kindness of
the heart, may easily take place without incurring the danger of
enthusiastical excesses; but how is enough of moral movement to be
obtained for giving impulse to a course of arduous and perilous labors
such as the woes of mankind often call for, and yet without generating
the extravagances of a false excitement? This is a problem solved only
by the Christian scheme, and in briefly enumerating the peculiarities of
the benevolence which it inspires, we shall not fail to catch a glimpse,
at least, of that profound skill which makes provision, on the one side
against inertness and selfishness, and on the other against enthusiasm.

The _peculiarities_ of Christian philanthropy are such as these: it is
vicarious, obligatory, rewardable, subordinate to an efficient agency,
and it is an expression of grateful love.

       *       *       *       *       *

I. That great principle of vicarious suffering which forms the centre of
Christianity, spreads itself through the subordinate parts of the
system, and is the pervading, if not the invariable law of Christian
beneficence.

The spontaneous sympathies of human nature, when they are vigorous
enough to produce the fruits of charity, rest on an expectation of an
opposite kind; for we first seek to dispel from our own bosoms the
uneasy sensation of pity; then look for the gratitude of the wretch we
have solaced, and for the approbation of spectators; and then take a
sweet after-draught of self-complacency. But the Christian virtue of
beneficence stands altogether on another ground; and its doctrine is
this, that whoever would remedy misery must himself suffer; and that the
pains of the vicarious benefactor are generally to bear proportion to
the extent or malignity of the evils he labors to remove: so that, while
the philanthropist who undertakes the cure only of the transient ills of
the present life, may encounter no greater amount of toils or
discouragements than are amply recompensed by the immediate
gratifications of successful benevolence, he who, with a due sense of
the greatness of the enterprise, devotes himself to the removal of the
moral wretchedness in which human nature is involved, will find that the
sad quality of these deeper woes is in a manner reflected back upon
himself; and that to touch the substantial miseries of degenerate man is
to come within the infection of infinite sorrow.

And this is the law of success in the Christian ministry—that highest
work of philanthropy. Every right-minded and heaven-commissioned
minister of religion is "baptized with the baptism wherewith his Lord
was baptized." In an inferior, yet a real sense, he is, like his Lord, a
vicarious person, and has freely undergone a suretyship for the immortal
welfare of his fellow-men. He has charged himself with a responsibility
that can never be absolutely acquitted while any power of exertion or
faculty of endurance is held back from the service. The interests which
rest in his hand, and depend on his skill and fidelity—depend, as truly
as if divine agency had no part in the issue—are as momentous as
infinity can make them; nor are they to be promoted without a
willingness to do and to bear the utmost of which humanity is capable.
Although the servant of Christ be not unconditionally responsible for
the happy result of his labors, he is clearly bound, both by the terms
of his engagement and the very quality of the work, to surrender
whatever he may possess that has in it a virtue to purchase success; and
he knows that, by the great law of the spiritual world, the suffering of
a substitute enters into the procedures of redemption.

He who "took our sorrows and bore our griefs," left, for the instruction
of his servants, a perfect model of what should ordinarily be a life of
beneficence. Every circumstance of privation, of discouragement, of
insult, of deadly hostility, which naturally fell in the way of a
ministry like his, exercised among a people profligate, malignant, and
fanatical, was endured by him as submissively as if no extraordinary
powers of relief or defence had been at his disposal.

On the very same conditions of unmitigated toil and suffering he
consigned the publication of his religion to his apostles: "Ye shall be
hated of all nations for my name's sake: Whosoever killeth you shall
think that he doeth God service: Behold, I send you forth as sheep among
wolves." Though endowed with an opulence of supernatural power for the
attestation of their commission, the apostles possessed none for the
alleviation of their own distresses; none which might tend to generate a
personal enthusiasm by leading them to think that they, as individuals,
were the darlings of Heaven. And in fact, they daily found themselves,
even while wielding the arm of omnipotence, exposed to the extremest
pressures of want, to pain, to destitution, to contempt. "Even unto this
present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are
buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place." Such was the deplorable
lot, such to his last year of houseless wanderings, houseless except
when a dungeon was his home, of the most honored of Heaven's agents on
earth. Such was the life of the most successful of all philanthropists!

Nor have the conditions of eminent service been relaxed: the value of
souls is not lowered; and as the "sacrifice once offered" for the sins
of the world remains in undiminished efficacy, so, in the process of
diffusing the infinite benefit, the rule originally established
continues in force; and although reasons drawn from the diversity of
character and of natural strength, among those who are the servants of
God, may occasion great apparent differences in the amount of suffering
severally endured by them, it is always true that the path of Christian
beneficence is more beset than the common walks of life with
disheartening reverses. Whoever freely takes up the cause of the
wretched, is left to feel the grievous pressure of the burden. The
frustration of his plans by the obstinate folly of those whom he would
fain serve, the apathy, the remissness, or the sinister oppositions of
professed coadjutors, the dangerous hostility of profligate power, and
worse than all, the secret misgivings of an exhausted spirit; these, and
whatever other instruments of torture Disappointment may hold in her
hand or have in reserve, are the furniture of the theatre on which the
favorite virtue of Heaven is to pass its trial.

But this law of vicarious charity is altogether opposed to the
expectations of inexperienced and ardent minds. Among the few who devote
themselves zealously to the service of mankind, a large proportion
derive their activity from that constitutional fervor which is the
physical cause of enthusiasm. In truth, a propensity rather to indulge
the illusions of hope, than to calculate probabilities, may seem almost
a necessary qualification for those who, in this world of abounding
evil, are to devise the means of checking its triumphs. To raise fallen
humanity from its degradation, to rescue the oppressed, to deliver the
needy, to save the lost, are enterprises so little recommended, for the
most part, by a fair promise of success, that few will engage in them
but those who, by a happy infirmity of the reasoning faculty, are prone
to hope where cautious men despond.

Thus furnished for their work by a constitutional contempt of frigid
prudence, and engaged cordially in services which seem to give them a
peculiar interest in the favor of Heaven, it is only natural that
benevolent enthusiasts should cherish secret, if not avowed hopes, of
extraordinary aids, and of interpositions of a kind not compatible with
the constitution of the present state, and not warranted by promise of
Scripture. Or if the kind-hearted visionary neither asks nor expects any
peculiar protection of his person, nor any exemption from the common
hazards and ills of life, he yet clings with fond pertinacity to the
hope of a semi-miraculous interference on those occasions in which the
work, rather than the agent, is in peril. Even the genuineness of his
benevolence leads the amiable enthusiast into this error. To achieve the
good he has designed does indeed occupy all his heart, to the exclusion
of every selfish thought: what price of personal suffering would he not
pay, might he so purchase the needful miracle of help! How piercing,
then, is the anguish of his soul when that help is withheld; when his
fair hopes and fair designs are overthrown by a hostility that might
have been restrained, or by a casualty that might have been diverted!

Few, perhaps, who suffer chagrins like this, altogether avoid a relapse
into religious—we ought to say, irreligious—despondency. The first
fault, that of misunderstanding the unalterable rules of the divine
government, is followed by a worse, that of fretting against them. When
the sharpness of disappointment disperses enthusiasm, the whole moral
constitution often becomes infected with the gall of discontent.
Querulous regrets take the place of active zeal; and at length vexation,
much more than a real exhaustion of strength, renders the once laborious
philanthropist "weary in well doing."

And yet, not seldom, a happy renovation of motives takes place in
consequence of the very failures to which the enthusiast has exposed
himself. Benevolent enterprises were commenced, perhaps, in all the
fervor of exorbitant hopes; the course of nature was to be diverted, and
a new order of things to take place, in which what human efforts failed
to accomplish should be achieved by the ready aid of Heaven. But
Disappointment, as merciless to the venial errors of the good, as to the
mischievous plots of the wicked, scatters the project in a moment. Then
the selfish, and the inert, exult; and the half-wise pick up fragments
from the desolation, wherewith to patch their favorite maxims of frigid
prudence with new proofs in point! Meanwhile, by grace given from above
in the hour of despondency, the enthusiast gains a portion of true
wisdom from defeat. Though robbed of his fondly-cherished hopes, he has
not been stripped of his sympathies, and these soon prompt him to begin
anew his labors, on principles of a more substantial sort. Warned not
again to expect miraculous or extraordinary aids to supply the want of
caution he consults Prudence with even a religious scrupulosity; for he
has learned to think her voice, if not misunderstood, to be in fact the
voice of God. And now he avenges himself upon Disappointment, by
abstaining almost from hope. A sense of responsibility which quells
physical excitement, is his strength. He relies indeed upon the divine
aid; yet not for extraordinary interpositions, but for grace to be
faithful. Thus, better furnished for arduous exertion, a degree of
substantial success is granted to his renewed toils and prayers. And
while the indolent, and the over-cautious, and the cold-hearted, remain
what they were; or have become more inert, more timid, and more selfish
than before, the subject of their self-complacent pity has not only
accomplished some important service for mankind, but has himself
acquired a temper which fits him to take rank among the thrones and
dominions of the upper world.

       *       *       *       *       *

II. Christian philanthropy is obligatory.

Natural benevolence is prone to claim the liberty and the merit that
belong to pure spontaneity, and spurns the idea of duty or necessity.
This claim might be allowed if the free emotions of kindness were
sufficiently common, and sufficiently vigorous, to meet the large and
constant demand of want and misery. But the contrary is the fact; and if
it were not that an authoritative requisition, backed by the most solemn
sanctions, laid its hand upon the sources of eleemosynary aid, the
revenues of mercy would be slender indeed. Even the few who act from the
impulse of the noblest motives, are urged on and sustained in their
course of beneficence by a latent recollection that, though they move
freely in advancing, they have no real liberty to draw back. If the
entire amount of advantage which has accrued to the necessitous from the
influence of Christianity could be computed, it would, no doubt, be
found, that by far the larger share has been contributed, not by the few
who might have done the same without impulsion, but by the many whose
selfishness could never have been broken up except by the most
peremptory appeals. To ensure, therefore, its large purpose of good-will
to man, the law of Christ spreads out its claims very far beyond the
circle of mere pity, or natural kindness; and in the most absolute terms
demands, for the use of the poor, the ignorant, the wretched, (and
demands from every one who names the name of Christ) the whole residue
of talent, wealth, time, that may remain after primary claims have been
satisfied. On this ground, when the zeal of self-denying benevolence has
laid down its last mite, it does not deem itself to have exceeded the
extent of Christian duty; but cheerfully assents to that rule of
computing service which affirms that, "when we have done all, we are
unprofitable servants; having performed only what we were commanded."

Manifestly, for the purpose of giving the highest possible force and
solemnity to that sense of obligation which impels the Christian to
abound in every good work, the ostensible proof of religious sincerity,
to be adduced in the momentous procedures of the last judgment, is made
to consist in the fact of a life of beneficence. Those, and those only,
shall inherit the prepared blessedness, who shall be found to have
nourished, and clothed, and visited the Lord to his representatives—the
poor. The "cursed" are those who have grudged the cost of mercy.

And it is not only true that the funds of charity have been, in every
age, immensely augmented by these strong representations, and have far
exceeded the amount which spontaneous compassion would ever have
contributed, but the very character of beneficence has been new-modelled
by them. In the mind of every well-instructed Christian, a feeling
compounded of a compunctious sense of inadequate performance, and a
solemn sense of the extent of the divine requirements, repugnates and
subdues those self-gratulations, those giddy deliriums, and that vain
ambition, which beset a course of active and successful beneficence.
This remarkable arrangement of the Christian ethics, by which the
largest possible contributions and the utmost possible exertions are
demanded in a tone of comprehensive authority, seems, besides its other
uses, particularly intended to quash the natural enthusiasm of active
zeal. It is a strong antagonist principle in the mechanism of motives,
ensuring an equilibrium, however great may be the intensity of action.
We are thus taught that, as there can be no supererogation in works of
mercy, so neither can there be exultation. Nothing, it is manifest, but
humility, becomes a servant who, at the best, barely acquits his duty.

Let it, for example, have been given to a man to receive superior mental
endowments, force of understanding, solidity of judgment, and richness
of imagination, command of language, and graces of utterance; a soul
fraught with expansive kindness, and not more kind than courageous; and
let him, thus furnished by nature, have enjoyed the advantages of rank,
and wealth, and secular influence; and let it have been his lot, in the
prime of life, to be stationed just on the fortunate centre of peculiar
opportunities; and then let it have happened that a fourth part of the
human family, cruelly maltreated, stood as clients at his door,
imploring help; and let him in the very teeth of ferocious selfishness,
have achieved deliverance for these suffering millions, and have given a
deadly blow to the Moloch of blood and rapacity: and let him have been
lifted to the heavens on the loud acclamations of all civilized nations,
and blessed amid the sighs and joys of the ransomed poor, and his name
diffused, like a charm, through every barbarous dialect of a continent.
Let all this signal felicity have belonged to the lot of a Christian—a
Christian well taught in the principles of his religion; nevertheless,
in the midst of his honest joy, he will find place rather for
humiliation than for that vain excitement and exultation wherewith a man
of merely natural benevolence would not fail, in like circumstances, to
be intoxicated. Without at all allowing the exaggerations of an affected
humility, the triumphant philanthropist confesses that he is nothing,
and, far from deeming himself to have surpassed the requirements of the
law of Christ, feels that he has done less than his duty.

Christian philanthropy, thus boldly and solidly based on a sense of
unlimited obligation, acquires a character essentially differing from
that of spontaneous kindness; and while, as a source of relief to the
wretched, it is rendered immensely more copious, is, at the same time,
secured against the flatteries of self-love, and the excesses of
enthusiasm, by the solemn sanctions of an unbounded responsibility.

       *       *       *       *       *

III. A nice balancing of motives is obtained from an opposite quarter in
the Christian doctrine, of—The rewardableness of works of mercy. This
doctrine, than which no article of religion stands out more prominently
on the surface of the New Testament, having been early abused, to the
hurt of the fundamentals of piety, has, in the modern Church, been
almost lost sight of, and fallen into disuse, or has even become liable
to obloquy; so that to insist upon it plainly has incurred a
charge of Pelagianism, or of Romanism, or of some such error. This
misunderstanding must be dispelled before Christian philanthropy can
revive in full force.

Amidst the awful reserve which envelops the announcement of a future
life by our Lord and his ministers, three ideas, continually incurring,
are to be gathered with sufficient clearness from their hasty allusions.
The _first_ is, that the future life will be the fruit of the present,
as if by a natural sequence of cause and effect. "Whatsoever a man sows
that shall he also reap." The _second_ is, that the future harvest,
though of like species and quality with the seed, will be immensely
disproportioned to it in amount. "The things seen are temporal; but the
things unseen are eternal;" and the sufferings of the present time are
to be followed by "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;"
and those who have been "faithful over a few things, will have rule over
many." The _third_ is, that though the disparity between the present
reward and the future recompense will be vast and incalculable, yet will
there obtain a most exact rule of correspondence between the one and the
other, so that, from the hands of the "righteous Judge" every man will
receive "severally, according as his work has been." Nor shall even, "a
cup of cold water," given in Christian love, be omitted in that accurate
account; the giver shall "by no means lose his _reward_."

Such are the explicit and intelligible engagements of him whose commands
are never far separated from his promises. It cannot then be deemed a
becoming part of Christian temper to indulge a scrupulous hesitation in
accepting and in acting upon the faith of these declarations. And as
there is no real incompatibility or clashing of motives in the Christian
system, any delicacy that may be felt, as if the hope of reward might
interfere with a due sense of obligation to sovereign grace, must spring
from an obscured and faulty perception of scriptural doctrines. The
intelligent Christian, on the contrary, when, in simplicity of heart, he
calculates upon the promises of Heaven; and when, with a distinct
reckoning of the "great gain" of such an investment, he "lays up for
himself treasures that cannot fail;" is, at the same time, taught and
impelled by the strongest emotions of the heart, to connect his hope of
recompense with his hope of pardon. And when the one class of ideas is
thus linked to the other, he perceives that the economy which
establishes a system of rewards for present services can be nothing else
than an arbitrary arrangement of sovereign goodness, resolving itself
altogether into the grace of the mediatorial scheme. The retribution,
how accurately soever it may be measured out according to the work
performed, must, in its whole amount, be still a pure gratuity; not less
so than is the gift of immortal life, conferred without probation upon
the aborigines of heaven. The zealous and faithful servant who enters
upon his reward after a long term of labor, and the infant of a day, who
flits at once from the womb to the skies, alike receive the boon of
endless bliss in virtue of their relationship to the second Adam, "the
Lord from heaven." Nevertheless, this boon shall conspicuously appear,
in the one case, to be the apportioned wages of service, an exact
recompense, measured, and weighed, and doled out in due discharge of an
explicit engagement; while in the other, it can be nothing but a
sovereign bestowment.

But it is manifest that this doctrine of future recompense, when held in
connection with the fundamental principles of Christianity—justification
by faith, tends directly to allay and disperse those excitements which
naturally spring up with the zeal of active benevolence. The series or
order of sentiments is this:—

The Christian philanthropist, if well instructed, dares not affect
indifference to the promised reward, or pretend to be more disinterested
than were the Apostles, who labored, "knowing that in due time they
should reap." He cannot think himself free to overlook a motive
distinctly held out before him in the Scriptures: to do so were an
impious arrogance. And yet, if he does accept the promise of recompense,
and takes it up as an inducement to diligence, he is compelled by a
sense of the manifold imperfections of his services, to fall back
constantly upon the divine mercies as they are assured to transgressors
in Christ. These humbling sentiments utterly refuse to cohere with the
complacencies of a selfish and vain-glorious philanthropy, and
necessitate a subdued tone of feeling. Thus the very height and
expansion of the Christian's hopes send the root of humility deep and
wide; the more his bosom heaves with the hope of "the exceeding great
reward," the more is it quelled by the consciousness of demerit. The
counterpoise of opposing sentiments is so managed, that elevation cannot
take place on the one side without an equal depression on the other; and
by the counteraction of antagonist principles the emotions of zeal may
reach the highest possible point, while full provision is made for
correcting the vertigo of enthusiasm.

If, in the early ages of the Church, the expectation of future reward
was abused, to the damage of fundamental principles, in modern times an
ill-judged zeal for the integrity of those principles has produced an
almost avowed jealousy towards many explicit declarations of Scripture:
thus, the nerves of labor are either relaxed by the withdrawment of
proper stimulants, or are absolutely severed by the bold hand of
antinomian delusion.

Moreover, a course of Christian beneficence is one peculiarly exposed to
reverses, to obstructions, and often to active hostility; and if the
zeal of the philanthropist be in any considerable degree alloyed with
the sinister motives of personal vanity, or be inflamed with enthusiasm,
these reverses produce despondency; or opposition and hostility kindle
corrupt zeal into fanatical virulence. The injection of a chemical test
does not more surely bring out the element with which it has affinity,
than does opposition, in an attempt to do good, make conspicuous the
presence of unsound motives, if any such have existed. Has it not
happened that when benevolent enterprises have consisted in a direct
attack upon systems of cruel or fraudulent oppression, the quality of
the zeal by which some were actuated in lending their clamors to the
champions of humanity, has become manifest whenever the issue seemed
doubtful, or the machinations of diabolical knavery gained a momentary
triumph? Then, the partisans of truth and mercy, forgetful, alas! of
their principles, have broke out almost into the violence of political
faction, and have hardly scrupled to employ the dark methods which
faction loves.

But there is a delicacy, a reserve, a sobriety, an humbleness of heart,
belonging to the hope of heavenly recompense, which powerfully repels
all such malign emotions. Who can imagine the circumstances and feelings
of the great day of final reward, and think of hearing the approving
voice of him who "searches the heart," and at the same time be told by
conscience that the zeal which gives life to his labors in the cause of
the oppressed ferments with the gall and acrimony of worldly animosity,
that this zeal prompts him to indulge in exaggerations, if not to
propagate calumnies; and exults much more in the overthrow of the
oppressor, than in the redemption of the captive? If the greatness of
the future reward proves that it must be altogether "of grace, not of
debt," then, unquestionably, must it demand in the recipient a temper
purified from the leaven of malice and hatred. Thus does the Christian
doctrine of future reward correct the evil passions that are incident to
a course of benevolence.

       *       *       *       *       *

IV. Christian beneficence is only the subordinate instrument of a higher
and efficient agency. "Neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that
watereth; but God that giveth the increase." Such, on the scriptural
plan, are the conditions of all labor, undertaken from motives of
religious benevolence. But the besetting sin of natural benevolence is
self-complacency and presumption. It is perhaps as hard to find
sanctimoniousness apart from hypocrisy, or bashfulness without pride, as
to meet with active and enterprising philanthropy not tainted by the
spirit of overweening vanity. The kind-hearted schemer, fertile in
devices for beguiling mankind into virtue, and rich in petty
ingenuities, always well-intended, and seldom well-imagined, verily
believes that his machineries of instruction or reform require only to
be put fairly in play, and they will bring heaven upon earth.

But Christianity, if it does not sternly frown upon these novelties,
does not encourage them; and while it depicts the evils that destroy the
happiness of man as of much deeper and more inveterate malignity than
that they should be remedied by this or that specious method, devised
yesterday, tried to-day, and abandoned to-morrow, most explicitly
confines the hope of success to those who possess the temper of mind
proper to a dependent and subordinate agent. All presumptuous confidence
in the efficiency of second causes is utterly repugnant to the spirit
that should actuate a Christian philanthropist; and the more so when the
good which he strives to achieve is of the highest kind.

       *       *       *       *       *

V. Lastly, Christian beneficence is the expression of grateful love. The
importance attributed throughout the New Testament to active charity is
not more remarkable than is this peculiarity which merges the natural
and spontaneous sentiments of good-will and compassion towards our
fellows, in an emotion of a deeper kind, and virtually denies merit and
genuineness to every feeling, how amiable soever it may appear, if it
does not thus fall into subordination to that devout affection which we
owe to him who redeemed us by his sufferings and death. The reasons of
this remarkable constitution of motives it is not difficult to perceive.
For, in the first place, it is evident that the love of the Supreme
Being can exist in the heart only as a dominant sentiment, drawing every
other affection into its wake. Even the softest and purest tendernesses
of our nature must yield precedence to the higher attachment of the
soul; for he who does not love Christ more than "father and mother, wife
and children," loves him not. Much more, then, must the sentiment of
general benevolence own the same subordination. Again; as the promise of
future recompense, and the doctrine of dependence upon divine agency,
elevate the motives of benevolence from the level of earth to that of
heaven, they would presently assume a character of dry and visionary
abstraction, unless animated by an emotion of love, belonging to the
same sphere. Zeal without love were a preposterous and dangerous
passion: but Christian zeal must be warmed by no other love than that of
him who, "for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might
be made rich."

It has already been said that religious enthusiasm takes its
commencement from the point where the emotions of the heart are
transmuted into mere pleasures of the imagination; and assuredly the
excitements incident to a course of beneficence are very likely to
furnish occasions to such a transmutation. But the capital motive of
grateful affection to him who has redeemed us from sin and sorrow,
prevents, so far as it is in active operation, this deadening of the
heart, and consequent quickening of the imagination. The poor and the
wretched are the Lord's representatives on earth; and in doing them good
we cherish and express feelings which otherwise must lie latent, or
become vague, seeing that he to whom they relate is remote from our
senses.

This motive of affection to the Lord makes provision, moreover, against
the despondences that attend a want of success; for although a servant
of Christ may, to his life's end, labor in vain, although the objects of
his disinterested kindness should "turn and rend him;" yet, not the
less, has he approved his loyalty and love; approved it even more
conspicuously than those can have done whose labors are continually
cheered and rewarded by prosperous results. Affection, in such cases,
has sustained the trial, not merely of toil, but of fruitless toil, than
which none can be more severe to a zealous and devoted heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

It appears, then, that Christian benevolence contains within itself a
balancing of motives, such as to leave room for the utmost imaginable
enhancement of zeal without hazard of extravagance. In truth, it is easy
to perceive that the religion of the Bible has in reserve a spring of
movement, a store of intrinsic vigor, ready to be developed in a manner
greatly surpassing what has hitherto been seen. Such a day of
development shall ere long arrive, the time of the triumph of divine
principles shall come, and a style of true heroism be displayed, of
which the seeds have been long sown; of which some samples have already
been furnished; and which waits only the promised refreshment from above
to appear, not in rare instances only, but as the common produce of
Christianity.

In the present state of the world and of the Church, when communications
are so instantaneous, and when attention is so much alive to whatever
concerns the welfare of mankind, if it might be imagined that a great
and sudden extension of Christianity should take place in the regions of
superstition and polytheism; and that yet no corresponding improvement
of piety, no purifying, no refreshment, no enhancement of motives,
should occur in the home of Christianity, there is reason to believe
that the influx of excitement might generate a blaze of destructive
enthusiasm. If every day had its tidings of wonder—the fall of popery in
the neighboring nations—the abandonment of the Mohammedan delusion by
people after people in Asia—the rejection of idols by China and India;
and if these surprising changes, instead of producing the cordial joy of
gladdened faith, were gazed at merely with an unholy and prurient
curiosity, and were thundered forth from platforms by heartless
declaimers, and were grasped at by visionary interpreters of futurity;
then, from so much agitation, uncorrected by a proportionate increase of
genuine piety, new prodigies of error would presently start up, new
sects break away from the body, new hatreds be kindled: and nothing
scarcely be left in the place of Christianity, but dogmas and
contentions. Thus the cradle of religion in modern times would become
its grave.

But a far happier anticipation is with reason indulged; for it may well
be believed that the same Benignant Influence which is to remove the
covering of gross ignorance from the nations, shall, at the same moment,
scatter the dimness that still hovers over the Church in its most
favored home; and then, and under that influence, the fervors of
Christian zeal may reach the height even of a seraphic energy, and yet
without enthusiasm.



SECTION VIII.

SKETCH OF THE ENTHUSIASM OF THE ANCIENT CHURCH.


An intelligent Christian, fraught with scriptural principles in their
simplicity and purity, but hitherto uninformed of Church history, who
should peruse discursively the ecclesiastical writers of the age of
Jerom, Ambrose, and Basil, would presently recoil with an emotion of
disappointment, perplexity, and alarm. That within a period which does
not exceed the reach of oral tradition, the religion of the apostles
should have so much changed its character, and so much have lost its
beauty, he could not have supposed possible. He has heard indeed of the
corruptions of popery, and of the enormous abuses prevalent in "the dark
ages;" and he has been told too, by those who had a special argument to
prop, that the era of the secular prosperity of the church was that also
of the incipient corruption of religion. But he finds in fact that there
is scarcely an error of doctrine, or an absurdity of practice,
ordinarily attributed to the popes and councils of later times, and
commonly included in the indictment against Rome, which may not, in its
elements, or even in a developed form, be traced to the writings of
those whose ancestors, at the third or fourth remove only, were the
hearers of Paul and John.

But after the first shock of such an unprepared perusal of the fathers
has passed, and when calm reflection has returned, and especially when,
by taking up these early writers from the commencement, the progression
of decay and perversion has been gradually and distinctly contemplated,
then, though the disappointment will in great part remain, the appalling
surmises at first engendered in the modern reader's mind, will be
dispelled, and he will even be able to pursue his course of reading with
pleasure, and to derive from it much solid instruction. Considerations
such as the following will naturally present themselves to him in
mitigation of his first painful impressions.

While contemplating in their infant state those notions and practices
(of the third century, for example) which afterwards swelled into
enormous evils, it is difficult not to view them as if they were loaded
with the blame of their after issues; and then it is hard not to
attribute to their originators and promoters the accumulated criminality
that should be shared in small portions by the men of many following
generations. But the individuals thus unfairly dealt by, far from
forecasting the consequences of the sentiments and usages they favored,
far from viewing them, as we do, darkened by the cloud of mischiefs that
was heaped upon them in after times, saw the same objects bright and
fair in the recommendatory gleam of a pure and a venerated age. The very
abuses which make the twelfth century abhorrent on the page of history,
were, in the fourth, fragrant with the practice and suffrage of a
blessed company of primitive confessors. The remembered saints, who had
given their bodies to the flames, had also lent their voice and example
to those unwise excesses which at length drove true religion from the
earth. Untaught by experience, the ancient church surmised not of the
occult tendencies of the course it pursued, nor should be loaded with
consequences which human sagacity could not well have foreseen.

Each of the great corruptions of later ages took its rise, in the first,
second, or third century, in a manner which it would be harsh to say was
deserving of strong reprehension. Thus the secular domination exercised
by the bishops, and at length supremely by the bishops of Rome, may be
traced very distinctly to the proper respect paid by the people, even in
the apostolic age, to the disinterested wisdom of their bishops in
deciding their worldly differences. The worship of images, the
invocation of saints, and the superstition of relics, were but
expansions of the natural feeling of veneration and affection cherished
towards the memory of those who had suffered and died for the truth. And
thus, in like manner, the errors and abuses of monkery all sprang, by
imperceptible augmentations, from sentiments perfectly natural to the
sincere and devout Christian in times of persecution, disorder, and
general corruption of morals.

Again: human nature, which is far more uniform than may be imagined,
when suddenly it is beheld under some new aspect of time and country, is
also susceptible of much greater diversities of habit and feeling than
those are willing to believe who have seen it on no side but one. This
double lesson, taught by history and travel, should be well learned by
every one who undertakes to estimate the merits of men that have lived
in remote times, and under other skies.

A caution against the influence of narrow prejudice is obviously more
needful in relation to the persons and practices of ancient
Christianity, than when common history is the subject of inquiry; for in
whatever relates to religion, every one carries with him, not merely the
ordinary prepossessions of time and country, but an unbending standard
of conduct and temper, which he is forward to compare, in his particular
manner, with whatever offends his notions of right. But though the rule
of Scripture morals is unchangeable, and must be applied with
uncompromising impartiality to human nature under every variety of
circumstance, yet is it impractible, at the distance of upwards of a
thousand years, so fully to calculate those circumstances, and so to
perceive the motives of conduct, as is necessary for estimating fairly
the innocence or the criminality of particular actions or habits of
life. The question of abstract fitness, and that of personal
blameworthiness, should ever be kept apart: at least they should be kept
apart when it is asked—and we are often tempted to ask it in the perusal
of church history—May such men be deemed Christians, who acted and
wrote thus and thus? Before a doubt of this kind could be solved
satisfactorily, we must know—what can never be known till the day of
universal discovery—how much of imperfection and obliquity may consist
with the genuineness of real piety; and again, how much of real
obliquity there might be, under the actual circumstances of the case, in
the conduct in question. Who can doubt that if the memorials of the
present times, copious, and yet inadequate as they must be, shall remain
to a distant age, they will offer similar perplexities to the future
reader, who, amidst his frequent admiration or approval, will be
compelled to exclaim—But how may we think these men to have been
Christians? Christianity is in gradual process of reforming the
principles and practices of mankind, and when the sanative operation
shall have advanced some several stages beyond its present point, the
notions and usages of our day, compared with the commands of Christ, as
then understood, will, no doubt, seem incredibly defective.

Perhaps it may be said, that in all matters of sentiment, depending on
physical temperament, and modes of life, the people of the British
islands are less qualified to appreciate the merits of the nations of
antiquity than almost any other people of Christendom; and perhaps,
also, by national arrogance and pertinacity of taste, we are less ready
to bend indulgently to usages unlike our own than any other people.
Stiff in the resoluteness of an exaggerated notion of the right of
private judgment, we bring all things unsparingly to the one standard of
belief and practice; or rather to our particular pattern of that
standard; and do not, until our better nature prevails, own brotherhood
with Christians of another complexion and costume. A somewhat austere
good sense, belonging, first, to the haughtiness and energy of the
English character, then to the liberality of our political institutions,
and lastly, but not least, to the all-pervading spirit and habits of
trade, renders the style of the early Christian writers much more
distasteful to us than it has proved to Christians of other countries.
Moreover, recent enhancements of the national character, resulting from
the diffusion of the physical sciences, and from the more extended
prevalence of commercial feelings, have placed those writers at a point
much further removed from our predilections than that at which they
stood a century ago.

       *       *       *       *       *

But again: in abatement of the chagrin which a well-instructed Christian
must feel in first opening the remains of ecclesiastical literature, it
must be remembered, that these works offer a very defective image of the
state of religion at the era of their production; that is to say, of
religion in its _recesses_, which are truly the homes of Christianity.
Those who _write_ are by no means always those among the ministers of
religion whom it would be judicious to select as the best samples of the
spirit of their times. Moreover, it is the taste of a following age that
has determined which among the writers of the preceding period should be
transmitted to posterity; and in many instances, it is manifest, that a
depraved preference has given literary canonization to authors whose
ambition was much rather to shine as masters of a florid eloquence, than
to feed the flock of Christ. It was therefore an egregious error to
suppose that the spiritual character of the Church lies broadly on the
surface of its extant literature: on the contrary, charity may easily
find large room for pleasing conjectures relative to obscure piety, of
which no traces are to be found on the pages of saints and bishops. The
record of the spiritual church is "on high,"—not in the tomes that make
our libraries proud.

These, and other considerations, which will present themselves to a
candid and intelligent mind, cannot but remove much of the embarrassment
and disrelish that are likely to attend a first converse with ancient
divinity. And the pious reader will proceed with heartfelt satisfaction
to collect evidence of the fact, which some modern sophists have so much
labored to obscure, that the rudiments, at least, of revealed religion,
as now understood by the mass of Christians, were then firmly held by
the body of the Church. And he will rejoice also to meet with not less
satisfactory proofs of the energy and intenseness of practical
Christianity among a large number of those who made profession of the
name.

Nevertheless, after every fair allowance has been made, and every
indulgence given to diversity of circumstance, and after the errors and
disgraces of our own times have been placed in counterpoise to those of
the ancient church, there will remain glaring indications of a
deep-seated corruption of religious sentiment, leaving hardly a single
feeling proper to the Christian life in its purity and simplicity. It is
not heresy, it is not the denial of the principal scriptural doctrines,
that is to be charged on the ancient church; the body of divinity held
its integrity. Nor is it the want of heroic virtue that we lament. But a
transmutation of the objects of the devout affections into objects of
_imaginative delectation_ had taken place, had rendered the piety of a
numerous class purely fictitious, had tinged, more or less, with
idealism, the religious sentiments of all but a few, and had opened the
way by which entered at length, the dense and fatal delusions of a
superstition so gross as hardly to retain a redeeming quality.

Not a few of the Christians of the third century, and multitudes in the
fourth and fifth, especially among the recluses, having lost the
forcible and genuine feeling of guilt and danger, proper to those who
confess themselves transgressors of the divine law, and in consequence
become blind to the real purport of the Gospel, fixed their gaze upon
the ideal splendors of Christianity, were smitten with the phase it
presents, of beauty, of sublimity, of infinitude, of intellectual
elevation, were charmed with its supposed doctrine of abstraction from
mundane agitations; and found within the sphere of its revelations
unfathomable depths, where vague meditation might plunge and plunge with
endless descents. Fascinated, deluded, and still blinded more by the
deepening shades of error, they forgot almost entirely the emotions of a
true repentance, and of a cordial faith, and of a cheerful obedience;
and in the rugged path of gratuitous afflictions, and unnatural
mortifications, pursued a spectral resemblance of piety, unsubstantial
and cold as the mists of night.

While hundreds were fatally infatuated by this enthusiastic religion,
the piety of thousands was more or less impaired by their mere
admiration of it; and very few altogether escaped the sickening
infection which its presence spread through the church. A volume might
soon be filled with proofs of this assertion, drawn exclusively from the
writings of those of the fathers who retained most of the vigor of
native good sense, and who held nearest to the purity of Christian
doctrine. The works of Chrysostom would afford abundant illustration of
this sort. Let his Epistle to the Monks be singled out, which contains
many admirable instructions and exhortations on the subject of prayer;
and which, with much propriety, recommends the practice of ejaculatory
supplication. Nevertheless, there is scarcely a passage quoted from the
Scriptures in this piece that is not distorted from its obvious and
simple meaning, in such a manner as would best comport with the
practices and notions of the ascetic life. If the meaning put by
Chrysostom upon the texts he adduces be the true one, then must a large
part of the inspired writings be deemed altogether useless to those who
have not abjured the duties of common life. Or if such persons may still
be permitted to enjoy their part in the Scriptures, not less than the
monks, then must we suppose a _double sense_ throughout the Bible. In
fact the notion of a double sense flowed inevitably from the monkish
institution, and wrought immense mischief in the church.

Modern writers of a certain class have expatiated with disproportionate
amplification upon the open and flagrant corruptions which, as it is
alleged, followed as a natural consequence from the secular
aggrandizement of the clergy, when a voice from the heavens of political
power said to the church, "Come up hither." No doubt an enhancement and
expansion of pride, ambition, luxuriousness, and every mundane passion,
took place at Rome, at Constantinople, at Alexandria, at Antioch, and
elsewhere, when emperors, instead of oppressing, or barely tolerating
the doctrine of Christ, bowed obsequiously to his ministers. But the
very same evils, far from being called into existence by the breath of
imperial favor, had reached a bold height even while the martyrs were
still bleeding. And moreover, how offensive or injurious soever these
scandals might be, either before or after the epoch of the political
triumph of the cross, they did but scathe the exterior of Christianity.
In every age the vices, always duly blazoned, of secular churchmen, have
stained its surface. But when there has been warmth and purity within,
the mischief occasioned by such evils has scarcely been more than that
of giving point to the railleries of men who would still have scoffed,
though not a bishop had been arrogant, nor a presbyter licentious.

Christianity had lost its simplicity and glory in the hands of its most
devoted friends long before the alliance between the church and the
world had taken place. The copious history of this internal perversion
would afford a worthy subject of diligent inquiry; and though materials
for a complete explication of the process of corruption are not in
existence, enough remains to invite and reward the necessary labor.

       *       *       *       *       *

The enthusiasm of the ancient Church presents itself under several
distinct forms, among which the following may be mentioned as the most
conspicuous:—the enthusiasm of voluntary martyrdom; that of miraculous
pretension; that of prophetical interpretation, or millenarianism; that
of the mystical exposition of Scripture; and that of monachism. Of
these, the last, whether or not it was truly the parent of the other
kinds, includes them all as parts of itself; for whatever perversions of
Christianity were chargeable upon the sentiments and practices of the
general church, the same belonged by eminence to the recluses. A review
of the principles and the ingredients of this system will better accord
with the limits and design of this essay, than an extended examination
of facts under the several heads just named.

       *       *       *       *       *

A strict equity has by no means always been observed by protestant
writers in their criminations of the Romish Church. With the view of
aggravating the just and necessary indignation of mankind against the
mother of corruption, it has been usual to lay open the concealments of
the monastery; and with materials before him so various and so copious,
even the dullest writer might cheaply be entertaining, eloquent, and
vigorous. Meantime it is not duly considered, or not fairly stated, that
the reprobation passes back, in full force, to an age much more remote
than that of the supremacy of Rome. The bishops of Rome did but avail
themselves of the aid of a system which had reached a full maturity
without their fostering care; a system which had been sanctioned and
cherished, almost without an exception, by every father of the church,
eastern and western; which had come down in its elements even from the
primitive age, and which had won for itself a suffrage so general, if
not universal, that he must have possessed an extraordinary measure of
wisdom, courage, and influence, who should have ventured beyond a
cautious and moderated censure of its more obvious abuses.

Every essential principle, almost every adjunct, and almost every vice
of the monkery of the tenth or twelfth century, may be detected in that
of the fourth: or if an earlier period were named, proof would not be
wanting to make the allegation defensible. But if it be affirmed, or if
it could be proved, that the actual amount of hypocrisy and corruption
usually sheltered beneath the roof of the monastery, was greater in the
later than in the earlier age, it should as a counterpoise be stated,
that in the later period the religious houses contained almost all the
piety and learning that anywhere existed: while in the former there was
certainly as much piety without as within these seclusions; and much
more of learning. The monkery of the middle ages, moreover, stands
partially excused by the dense ignorance of the times; while that of the
ancient Church is condemned by the surrounding light, both of human and
divine knowledge. The very establishments which redeem the age of Roger
Bacon from oblivion and contempt, do but blot the times of Gregory
Nazianzen.

Eusebius, followed by several later writers, asserts, although in
opposition to the most explicit evidence, and manifestly for the purpose
of giving sanction to a system so much admired in his time, that the
Christian sodalities were directly derived from those of the Essenes and
Therapeutics of Judea and Egypt, whom he affirms to have been Christian
recluses of the first century, indebted for their rules and
establishment to St. Mark. The testimony of the Jew Philo gives
conclusive contradiction to this sinister averment; not to mention that
of the elder Pliny, and of Josephus; for the minute description given by
that writer of the opinions and observances of the sect, besides that it
is incompatible with the supposition that the people spoken of were
Christians, was actually composed in the lifetime of Paul and Peter, and
the recluses are _then_ mentioned as having long existed under the same
regulations. Nevertheless, the coincidence between the sentiments and
practices of the Jewish and of the Christian monks, is too complete to
be attributed either to accident, or merely to the influence of general
principles, operating alike in both instances; and the more limited
assertion of Photius may safely be adopted, who affirms that "the sect
of Jews that followed a philosophic life, whether contemplative or
active—the one called Essenes, the other Therapeutics—not only founded
monasteries and private sanctuaries, but laid down the rules which have
been adopted by those who, in our own times, lead a solitary life."

A reference to the previous existence of monasticism among the Jews, in
a very specious, and, in some respects, commendable mode, is
indispensable to the forming of an equitable judgment of the conduct of
those Christians in Palestine and Egypt, who first abandoned the duties
of common life for the indulgence of their religious tastes. They did
but adopt a system already sanctioned by long usage, and which, though
existing in the time of Christ and the apostles, had not drawn upon
itself from him or them any _explicit_ condemnation: and which might
even plead a semblance of support from some of their injunctions,
literally understood, though plainly condemned by the spirit of
Christianity.

Nor is this the sole circumstance that should, in mere justice, be
considered in connection with the rise of Christian monachism; for
before the mere facts can be understood, and certainly before the due
measure of blame can be assigned to the parties concerned, it is
indispensable that we divest ourselves of the prejudices, physical,
moral, and intellectual, which belong to our austere climate, high-toned
irritability, edacious appetites, and pampered constitutions; to our
rigid style of thinking, and to our commercial habits of feeling. The
Christian of England in the nineteenth century, and the Christian of
Syria in the second, stand almost at the extremest points of opposition
in all the non-essentials of human nature; and the former must possess
great pliability of imagination, and much of the philosophic temper, as
well as the spirit of Christian charity, fairly and fully to appreciate
the motives and conduct of the latter.

       *       *       *       *       *

That quiescent under-action of the mind to which we apply the term
meditation, is a habit of thought that has been engrafted upon the
European intellect in consequence of the reception of Christianity. It
is a product almost as proper to Asia as are the aromatics of Arabia, or
the spices of India. The human mind does not everywhere expand in this
manner, nor spontaneously show these hues of heaven, nor emit this
fragrance, except under the fervent suns and deep azure skies of
tropical regions. Persia and India were the native soils of the
contemplative philosophy; as Greece was the source of the ratiocinative.
The immense difference between the Asiatic and the European turn of
mind—if the familiar phrase may be used—becomes conspicuous if some
pages of either the logic or ethics of Aristotle are compared with what
remains of the sentiments of the Gnostics. The influence of Christianity
upon the moderns has been to temper the severity of the ratiocinative
taste, with a taste for contemplation—contemplation by so much the
better than that of the oriental sages, as it takes its range in the
heart, not in the imagination. If the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures
had been confined to the east, as in fact they have been almost confined
to the west, the modern nations of Europe would perhaps have known as
little of the compass of the meditative faculty, and of its delights, as
did the Romans in the age of Sylla. The Greeks, being near to Asia
geographically, and near by similarity of climate, and near by the
repeated importations of eastern philosophy, imbibed something of the
spirit of tranquil abstraction: yet was it foreign to the genius of that
restless and reasoning people. Pythagoras probably, and certainly Plato,
whose mind was almost as much Asiatic as Grecian, and whose writings are
anomalies in Grecian literature, effected a partial amalgamation of the
oriental with the western style of thought. Yet the foreign mixture
would probably have disappeared if Christianity had not afterwards
diffused eastern sentiments through the west. The combination was again
cemented by the writings of those fathers who, after having studied
Plato, and taught the rhetoric and philosophy of Greece, devoted their
talents to the service of the Gospel.

But though the nations of the west have acquired a taste for this
species of thought, it is the distinction of the Asiatic to meditate; as
to reason and to act, is the glory of the European. To withdraw the soul
from the senses, to divorce the exterior from the inner man, to detain
the spirit within its own circle, and to accustom it there to find its
bliss; to penetrate the depths and concealments of the heart, to repose
during lengthened periods upon a single idea, without a wish for
progression or change; or to break away from the imperfections of the
visible world, to climb the infinite, to hold converse with supernal
beauty and excellence; these are the prerogatives and pleasures of the
intellectualist of Asia: and this is a happiness which he enjoys in a
perfection altogether unknown to the busy, nervous, and frigid people of
the north. If by favor of a peculiar temperament the oriental frees
himself from the solicitations of voluptuous indulgence; if the mental
tastes are vivid enough to counteract the appetites; then he finds a
life of inert abstraction, of abstemiousness, and of solitude, not
merely easy, but delicious.

The lassitude which belongs to his constitution and climate more than
suffices to reconcile the contemplatist to the want of those enjoyments
which are to be obtained only by toil. A genial temperature, and a
languid stomach, reduce the necessary charges of maintenance to an
amount that must seem incredibly small to the well-housed, well-clothed,
and high-fed people of northern Europe. The slenderest revenues are,
therefore, enough to free him from all cares of the present life. He has
only to renounce married life, its claims and its burdens, and then the
skeleton machinery of his individual existence may be impelled in its
daily round of sluggish movement, by air, and water, and a lettuce.

The Asiatic character is in no inconsiderable degree affected by the
habits which result from the insufferable fervor of the sun at noon, and
which compels a suspension of active employments during the broad light
of day. The period of venial indolance easily extends itself through all
the hours of sultry heat, if necessity does not exact labor. And then
the quiescence in which the day has been passed lends an elasticity of
mind to the hours of night, when the effulgent magnificence of the
heavens kindles the imagination, and enhances meditation to ecstasy. How
little beneath the lowering, and chilly, and misty skies of Britain, can
we appreciate the power of these natural excitements of mental
abstraction!

In an enumeration of the natural causes of the anchoretic life, the
influence of scenery should by no means be overlooked. As the gay and
multiform beauties of a broken surface, teeming with vegetation (when
seconded by favoring circumstances) generate the soul of poetry; so
(with similar aids) the habit of musing in pensive vacuity of thought is
cherished by the aspect of boundless wastes, and arid plains, or of
enormous piles of naked mountain: and to the spirit that has turned with
sickening or melancholy aversion from the haunts of man, such scenes are
not less grateful or less fascinating than are the most delicious
landscapes to the frolic eye of joyous youth. The wilderness of the
Jordan, the stony tracts of Arabia, the precincts of Sinai, and the dead
solitudes of sand traversed, but not enlivened by the Nile, offered
themselves, therefore, as the natural birth-places of monachism; and
skirting as they did the focus of religion, long continued (indeed they
have never wholly ceased) to invite numerous desertions from the ranks
of common life.

A general and extreme corruption of manners, the wantonness, and folly,
and enormity of licentious opulence, and the foul depravity which never
fails to characterise the misery that follows the steps of luxury,
operate powerfully in the way of reaction to exacerbate the motives and
to swell the excesses of the ascetic life, when once that mode of
religion has been called into being. If the "powers of the world to
come" are vividly felt by those who renounce sensual pleasure, the vigor
of their self-denial, and the firmness of their resolution in adhering
to their rule, will commonly bear proportion to the depth of the
surrounding profligacy. Nothing could more effectually starve this
species of enthusiasm in any country in which it appeared to be growing,
than to elevate public morals. The exaggerated virtue of the monastery
can hardly subsist in the near neighborhood of the genuine virtue of
domestic life; nor will religious celibacy be in high esteem among a
people who regard adultery, not less than murder and theft, as a crime,
and with whom fornication is the cloaked vice only of a few. But in
Syria and the neighboring countries, at the time when the monastic life
took its rise, the most shameless dissoluteness of manners prevailed,
and prevailed to a degree that has rarely been exceeded; and there is
reason to believe that the early establishments of the Essenes were, in
a great measure, peopled by those who, having imbibed the love of virtue
from Moses and the prophets, fled, almost by necessity, from a world in
which the practice of temperance and purity had become scarcely
possible. In after times, the corruption of the great cities, in a
similar manner, contributed to fill the monastic houses. The evidence of
Josephus (often cited) though there may sometimes be traced in it a
little oratorical exaggeration, is sufficient to prove the existence of
a more than ordinary profligacy and ferocity among the Jews of his time.
This people, destitute of the restraining and refining influence of
philosophy and of elegant literature, which ameliorated the manners of
the surrounding nations, had been deprived, almost entirely, of all
salutary restraints from the divine law by the corrupt evasions of
rabbinical exposition. At the same time, the keen disappointment of the
national hope of universal dominion under the Messiah, exasperated their
native pride to madness.

A large indulgence, to say no more, is therefore due to those ardent,
but feeble-minded persons, who, untaught by an experiment of the danger
they incurred, fell into the specious error of supposing that a just
solicitude for the preservation of personal virtue might excuse their
withdrawment from the duties of common life; and the more so as they
were willing to purchase a discharge from its claims by resigning their
share of its lawful delights. The Christian recluses fled from scenes in
which, as they believed, purity could not breathe, to solitudes where
(though no doubt they found themselves mistaken) they supposed it would
flourish spontaneously. And in truth, though it must be much more
difficult to live virtuously under the provoking restraints of monastic
vows, than amid the allowed enjoyments of domestic life, refined by
Christianity, there may be room to question whether the balance might
not really be in favor of the monastery, when the only alternative was
an abode with the most extreme profligacy.

So natural to young and ardent minds, under the first fervors of
religious feeling, is the wish to run far from the sight and hearing of
seductive pleasure, and so plausibly may such a design recommend itself
to the simple and sincere, that, even in our own times, if by any means
the general opinion of the Christian church could be brought round to
favor, or to allow, the practice of monastic seclusion, and if, instead
of being on all sides reprobated and ridiculed, it were permitted,
encouraged, and admired, the conjecture may be hazarded, that an
instantaneous rush from all our religious communities would take place,
and a host of the ardent, the imaginative, the melancholic; not to
mention the disappointed, the splenetic, and the fanatical, would
abandon the domestic circle, and the scenes of business, to people
sanctuaries of celibacy and prayer in every sequestered valley of our
island.[4]

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides the ordinary miseries of frequent war, and of a foreign
domination, which afflicted, more or less, the other provinces of the
Roman empire, the existence, among the Jews, of a species of fanaticism
perfectly unparalleled, allowed the Syrian Palestine to taste very
imperfectly, the benefit of temperate and vigorous rule. The intractable
and malign infatuation of that people had so baffled the wisdom of the
Roman government, and had so disturbed its wonted equanimity, as to
compel it to treat the unhappy Judea with unmeasured severity. Or if
respite were enjoyed from military inflictions, the brutal violences of
their own princes, or the atrocities perpetrated by demagogues, kept
constantly alive the brand of public and private discord. During such
times of insecurity and wretchedness, it is usual for the passive
portion of the community to sink into a state, either of reckless
sensuality, or of pining despondency. But if, in this class, there are
those who have received the consoling hope of a bright and peaceful
immortality, it is only natural that, when hunted from every earthly
comfort by violence and extortion, they should look wistfully at the
grave, and long to rest where "the wicked cease from troubling." In this
state of mind it cannot be deemed strange that, upon the first smile of
opportunity, they should hasten away from scenes of blood and wrong, and
anticipate the wished-for release from life, by hiding themselves in
caverns and in deserts.

The most frightful solitude might well appear a paradise, and the most
extreme privation be thought luxurious, to those who, in their retreat,
felt at length safe from an encounter with man, who, when savage, is by
far the most terrible of all savage animals. Such were the causes which
had driven multitudes of the well-disposed among the Jews into the
wilderness. The severities of persecution afterwards produced the same
effect on the Christians; and first on those of Syria and Egypt. This
effect is well known to have resulted from the Decian persecution, and
probably also from those that preceded it. Little blame can be
attributed to Christians who, in such times fled from cities, and took
refuge in solitudes; unless, indeed, by so doing they abandoned those
whom they ought to have defended.

So long as he could wander unmolested over the pathless mountain track,
or exist in the arid desert, the timid follower of Christ not only
avoided torture or violent death, but escaped what he dreaded more—the
hazard of apostacy under extreme trial. Having once effected his
retreat, and borne for a time the loss of friends and comforts, he soon
acquired physical habits and intellectual tastes which rendered a life
in the wilderness not only tolerable but agreeable. To the fearful and
inert, safety and rest are the prime ingredients of happiness, and, if
absolute, they go far towards constituting a heaven upon earth.

In the utter solitude of the desert, or in the mitigated seclusion of
the monastery, a large proportion probably, of the recluses, soon
drooped into the inanity of trivial pietism: a few, perhaps, after the
first excitement failed, bit their chain, from day to day, to the end of
life: or wrung a wretched solace from concealed vices. But those who, by
vigor of mind, supported better the preying of the soul upon itself,
could do no otherwise than exchange the simple and affectionate piety
with which, perhaps they entered the wilderness, for some form of
visionary religion.[5] To maintain, unbent, the rectitude of sound
reason, and unsullied, the propriety of sound feelings, in solitude, is
an achievement, which, it may confidently be affirmed, surpasses the
powers of human nature. Good sense, never the product of a single mind,
is the fruit of intercourse and collision.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the several circumstances above mentioned are duly considered, they
will remove from candid minds almost every sensation of asperity or of
contemptuous reprobation, towards those who, in their day of defective
knowledge, became the victims, or even the zealous supporters of the
prevalent enthusiasm. We have done, then, with the parties in these
scenes of delusion and folly; or at least with those of them who were
sincere in their error. But when we turn to the system itself, and gain
that license which charity herself may grant, while an abstraction only
is under contemplation, we must remember that this monkery, so innocent
in its commencement, and so plausible in its progress, was the chief
means of destroying the spiritual reality of Christianity, and ought to
be deemed the principle cause of that gross darkness which hung over the
church during more than a thousand years.

[4] This conjecture, hazarded in 1829, would seem now to be not unlikely
to be, to some extent, realized.

[5] The errors and extravagances generated by the monastic life did not
ordinarily extend to the fundamental principles of Christianity. The
monks were, for the most part, zealously attached to the doctrine of the
Nicene creed; and the church owes to many of them its thanks for the
constancy with which they suffered in its defence.



SECTION IX.

THE SAME SUBJECT.—INGREDIENTS OF THE ANCIENT MONACHISM.


Among the principal elements of the ancient Monachism, it is natural to
name, first—

Its contempt of the divine constitution of human nature, and the outrage
it offered to the most salutary instincts.

It may be difficult to determine which is the greater folly and impiety,
that of the Atheist, who can contemplate the admirable mechanism of the
body, and not see there the proofs of divine wisdom and benevolence; or
that of the Enthusiast, who, seeing and acknowledging the hand of God in
the mechanism of the human frame, yet dares to institute, and to
recommend, modes of life which do violence to the manifest intentions of
the Creator, as therein displayed; and, moreover, is not afraid to
assert a warrant from Heaven for such outrages; as if the Creator and
Governor of the world were not one and the same Being;—one in counsel
and purpose: or as if the Author of Christianity were at variance with
the Author of nature! Yet this preposterous error, this virtual
Manichæism, has seemed to belong naturally to every attempt to stretch
and exaggerate the precepts of the Gospel beyond their obvious sense;
and indeed has seldom failed to show itself in seasons of unusual
religious excitement.

Christianity is a religion neither for angels nor for ghosts; but for
man, as God made him. Nevertheless, in revealing an endless existence,
and in establishing the paramount claims of the future world, it has
placed every interest of the present transient life under a comparison
of immense disparity; so that it is true—true to a demonstration, that a
man ought to "hate his own life" if the love of it puts his welfare for
immortality in jeopardy. Unquestionably, if by such means the well-being
of the imperishable spirit could be secured and promoted, it would
highly become a wise man to pass the residue of life, though it should
hold out half a century, upon the summit of a column, exposed, like a
bronze, to the alternations of day and night, of summer and winter; or
to stand speechless and fixed, with the arms extended, until the joints
should stiffen, and the tongue forget its office; or to inhabit a tomb,
or to hang suspended in the air by a hook in the side: these, and if
there be any other practices still more horrifying to humanity, were
doubtless wise, if, in the use of them, the soul might be advantaged;
for the soul is of infinitely greater value than the body.

And much more might it be deemed lawful and commendable to refrain from
matrimony, to withdraw from human society, to be clad in sackcloth, to
inhabit a cavern, if such comparatively moderate abstinences and
mortifications were found to promote virtue, and so to ensure an
enhancement of the bliss that never ends. Conduct of this sort, however
painful it may be, is perfectly in harmony with the principle
universally admitted to be reasonable, and in fact very commonly reduced
to practice, namely, to endure a smaller immediate loss or
inconvenience, for the sake of securing greater future good.

The dictates of self-interest every day prompt sacrifices of this kind;
and the maxims of natural virtue go much further, and often require a
man to make the greatest deposit possible, even when the future
advantage is doubtful, and when it is not the sufferer who is to reap
the expected benefit! On this principle the soldier places himself at
the cannon's mouth, because the safety or future welfare of his country
can be purchased at no other price. On this principle a pious son denies
the wishes of his heart, and remains unmarried, that he may sustain a
helpless parent. Christianity is not therefore at all peculiar in
asserting the claims of higher, over lower reasons of conduct, in
peculiar circumstances, or in demanding that, on special occasions, the
enjoyments of life, and life itself, should be held cheap, or abandoned.

Our Lord and his ministers explicitly enjoined such sacrifices, whenever
the interests of the present and of the future life came in competition:
and themselves set the example of the self-denial which they
recommended. Nothing can be more clear than the rule of bodily sacrifice
maintained and exemplified in the New Testament; and this rule is in
perfect accordance with the dictates of good sense, and with the common
practice of mankind. Fasting, celibacy, martyrdom, and such like
contrarieties to the "will of the flesh," stand all on the same ground
in the system of Christian morals: they are ills which a wise and pious
man will cheerfully endure whenever he is so placed that they cannot be
avoided without damage or hazard to the soul, or to the souls of others.
But when no such alternative is presented, then the voluntary infliction
becomes, as well in religious as in secular affairs, a folly, an
impiety, and often a crime. To die without necessity, or to inflict
one's self without reason, is not only an absurdity; but a sin.

And how immensely is this folly and immorality aggravated, when it is
found that the voluntary suffering, instead of being simply useless,
becomes, in its consequences, highly pernicious; and when, by abundant
evidence, it is proved to generate the very worst corruptions and
perversions to which human nature is liable! Such, clearly, are the
inflictions of the monastic life—the solitude, the abstinence, the
celibacy, the poverty!

The rule of Christian martyrdom is precise and unequivocal, and is such
as absolutely to exclude every sort of spontaneous heroism. The
motive also by which the Christian should be sustained, is of a
heart-affecting, not of an exciting kind; and the style of the apostles
when alluding to this subject, is singularly sedate and reserved; nor is
an idea introduced of a kind to inflame fanatical ambition. The reason
of this caution is obvious; for to have kindled the enthusiasm of
martyrdom would have been to nullify the demonstration intended to be
given to the world of the truth of Christianity. So long as martyrdom
rested on the primitive basis (and it rested there, with few exceptions,
until miraculous attestations had ceased to be afforded,) it yielded
conclusive proof of the reality of the facts affirmed by the confessors.
That is to say, so long as Christians suffered only when suffering could
be avoided in no other way than by denying their profession; and so long
as they endured tortures, and met death, in a spirit not raised above a
calm courage; or even displayed timidity or reluctance, such sufferings
afforded direct demonstration of the sincerity of their belief; and
they, having been eye-witnesses of supernatural interpositions, and
being often the very agents of miraculous power, their sincere belief,
and their honesty, carried with it the proof of the facts so attested.

But when, at a later time, martyrdom was courted in a spirit of false
heroism, and came to be endured in a corresponding style of enthusiastic
excitement, it lost almost the whole of its value as a proof of the
truth of Christianity. For it is well known to be within the compass of
human nature to endure, unmoved and exultingly, the most extreme
torments in fanatical adherence to a religious tenet: but such
sufferings evince nothing more than the firmness or the infatuation of
the victim. On the contrary, when the confessor has fallen into the
hands of persecuting power by no imprudence or temerity of his own, and
when he avails himself, with promptitude and calmness, of every legal
and honorable means of self-defence or escape, and when he pleads truth
and right in arrest of judgment, and at last yields to the stroke
because nothing could avert it but the forfeiture of conscience, then it
is manifest that a deliberate conviction is the real motive of his
conduct: and then also, if he have had a personal knowledge of the
facts, for affirming which he dies, his death, on the surest principles
of evidence, must be accepted as containing incontestible proof of those
facts.

The recluses were not the first to spoil the primitive practice of
martyrdom; but their principles greatly cherished the abuse when once it
had been introduced; and still more did their conduct and their writings
enhance the pernicious superstitions which presently afterwards resulted
from the foolish respect paid to the tombs and relics of confessors.
These trivial and idolatrous reverences of human heroism can find no
room of entrance until the great realities of Christianity have been
forgotten; and until the humbling and peace-giving doctrine of atonement
has been lost sight of. The contrite heart, made glad by the assurance
of pardon through the merit of him who alone has merit supererogatory,
neither admits sentiments of vain glory for itself, nor is prone to
yield excessive worship to the deeds of others.

It deserves particular notice that the martyrs of the Reformation in
England, France, Spain, and Italy, with very few exceptions, suffered in
a spirit incomparably more sedate, and more nearly allied to that
displayed and recommended by the apostles, than did the Christians,
generally, of the third century. The reason of the difference is not
obscure; these modern confessors understood the capital doctrine of
Christianity much more fully and clearly than did those of the age of
Origen.

Celibacy, though it may seem to be a kind of self-devotion less extreme
than voluntary martyrdom, was in fact a much greater, and a much worse
outrage upon human nature. This fundamental article of the monkish
system had evidently two distinct motives: the first, and probably
the originating cause of so extraordinary a practice, was the
impracticability of uniting the pleasures of seclusion and of lazy
meditation, with the duties and burdens of domestic life. The
alternative was unavoidable, either to renounce the happiness and the
cares of husband and father, or the spiritual luxuries of supine
contemplation. The one species of enjoyment offered itself precisely as
the price that must be paid for obtaining the other.[6]

The second motive of monkish celibacy, and which so gained ascendency
over the first as to keep it almost wholly out of sight, sprung more
immediately from the centre illusion of the system; and the real nature
of that illusion stands forward in this instance in a distinct and
tangible form. The very germ of that transmuted piety, which, in the
end, banished true religion from the church, may readily be brought
under inspection by tracing the natural history of the sentiment that
attributes sanctity to single life.

For reasons that are obvious and highly important, a sentiment of
pudicity, which can never be thrown aside without reducing man to the
level—nay, below the level of the brutes, belongs to the primary link of
the social system. But this feeling, necessary as it is to the purity
and the dignity of social life, suggests, by a close and easy affinity
of ideas, the supposition of guilt as belonging to indulgence; and then
the correlative supposition of innocence, or of holiness, as belonging
to continence. Nevertheless, feelings of this sort, when analyzed, will
be found to have their seat in the imagination exclusively, and only by
accident to implicate the moral sense. They belong to that class of
natural illusions, which, in the combination of the various and
discordant ingredients of human nature, serve to amalgamate what would
otherwise be utterly incompatible. Among all the natural illusions, or,
as they might be termed, the pseudo-moral sentiments, there is not one
which so nearly resembles the genuine sense of right and wrong as this,
or one that is so intimately blended with them.

It is easy then to perceive the process by which infirm minds passed
into the error of attributing sanctity to celibacy. But the law of
Christian purity knows of no such confusion of ideas. The very same
authority which forbids adultery, enjoins marriage; and so long as
morality is understood to consist in obedience to the declared will of
God, it can never be imagined that a man is defiled by living in
matrimony, any more than by "eating with unwashen hands." But when once
religion has passed into the imagination, and when the sentiments which
have their seat in that faculty have become predominant, so as to crush
or enfeeble those that belong to conscience, then is it inevitable that
the true purity which consists in "keeping the commandments," should be
supplanted by that artificial holiness which is a mere refinement upon
natural instincts. Under the influence of false notions of this sort,
nothing seems so saintly as for a man to shrink horrifically from the
touch of woman; nothing scarcely so spiritually degrading as to be a
husband and a father.[7] Impious and mad enthusiasm! and not only
irreligious and absurd, but pestilent also; for this same monkish
doctrine of the merit of virginity stands convicted, on abundant
evidence, of having transplanted the worst vices of polytheistic Greece
into the very sanctuaries of religion; and so, of infecting the nations
of modern Europe with crimes which, had they not been kept alive in
monasteries, Christianity would long ago have banished from the earth.

How little did the pious men, who, in the third century, extolled the
merit of mortification, and petty torture, and celibacy, think of the
hideous corruptions in which these practices were to terminate! A
sagacity more than human was needed to foresee the end from the
beginning. But, with the experience of past ages before us, we may well
learn to distrust every specious attempt to exaggerate morality, or to
attach ideas of blame to things innocent or indifferent. This over-doing
of virtue never fails to divert the mind from what is substantially
good, and is moreover the almost invariable symptom of a transmuted or
fictitious pietism.

       *       *       *       *       *

II. The ancient monkery was a system of the most deliberate selfishness.
That solicitude for the preservation of individual interests which forms
the basis of the human constitution, is so broken up and counteracted by
the claims and pleasures of domestic life, that, though the principle
remains, its manifestations are suppressed, and its predominance
effectually prevented, except in some few tempers peculiarly unsocial.
But the anchoret is a selfist by his very profession; and, like the
sensualist, though his taste is of another kind, he pursues his personal
gratifications, reckless of the welfare of others. His own advantage or
delight, or, to use his favorite phrase—"the good of his soul," is the
sovereign object of his cares. His meditations, even if they embrace the
compass of heaven, come round, ever and again, to find their ultimate
issue in his own bosom; but can that be true wisdom which just ends at
the point whence it started? True wisdom is a progressive principle. In
abjuring the use of the active faculties, in reducing himself, by the
spell of vows, to a condition of physical and moral annihilation, the
insulated being says to his fellows, concerning whatever might otherwise
have been converted to their benefit—"It is corban;" thus making void
the law of love to our neighbor, by a pretended intensity of love to God.

That so monstrous an immorality should have dared to call itself by the
name of sanctity, and should have done so too in front of Christianity,
is indeed amazing; and could never have happened if Christianity had not
first been shorn of its life-giving warmth, as the sun is deprived of
its power of heat when we ascend into the rarity of upper space. The
tendency of a taste for imaginative indulgences to petrify the heart has
been already adverted to; and it receives a signal illustration in the
monkish life; especially in its more perfect form of absolute separation
from the society of man. The anchoret was a disjoined particle, frozen
deep into the mass of his own selfishness, and there imbedded below the
touch of every human sympathy. This sort of meditative insulation is the
ultimate and natural issue of enthusiastic piety; and it may be met with
even in our own times among those who have no inclination to run away
from the comforts of common life.

       *       *       *       *       *

III. Spiritual pride, the most repulsive of the religious vices, was
both a main cause, and a principal effect of the ancient monachism.

The particular manner in which this odious pride sprung up in the
monastery deserves attention. That sort of plain and practical religion
which adapts itself to the circumstances of common life—the religion
taught by the apostles, a religion of love, sobriety, temperance,
justice, fit for the use of master and servant, of husband and wife, of
parent and child, by no means satisfied the wishes of those who sought
in Christianity a delicious dream of unearthly excitements. It was
therefore indispensable to imagine a new style of religion; and hence
arose the doctrine so warmly and incessantly advanced by the early
favorers of monkery, that our Lord and his apostles taught a two-fold
piety, and recognized an upper and an under class in the church, and
sanctioned the division of the Christian body into what might be termed
a plebeian, and a patrician order.

This doctrine appears more or less distinctly in every one of the
fathers who at all favors the monastic life. It may seem to bear analogy
to the principle of the Grecian philosophers who had their common maxims
for the vulgar, and their hidden instructions for the few. But the
resemblance is more apparent than real: the distinction arose among the
Christians from altogether another source. The church, that is to say
the collective body of true believers, is called in the New Testament
the spouse of Christ; but the monks perverted the figure by using it
distinctively, by calling individual Christians "the brides of Christ,"
and by appropriating the honor to those who had taken the vow of
celibacy.

The most absurd and impious abuses of language presently followed from
this error, and such as it were even blasphemous to repeat. Yet some of
the greatest writers of the times are charmed with these irreligious
conceits.

In accordance with this arrogant pretension, it was believed, that,
while the Christian commonalty might be left to wallow in the affairs of
common life—in business, matrimony, and such-like impurities—the "elect
of Christ" stood on a platform, high lifted above the grossness of
secular engagements and earthly passions, and were, in their Lord's
esteem, immensely more holy, and higher in rank, as candidates for the
honors of the future life, than the mass of the faithful. When this
supposition became generally adopted and assented to, out of the
monastery as well as within it, the first and natural consequence was a
great depreciation of the standard of morals among the people. If there
were admitted to be two rates or degrees of virtue, there must be, of
course, two laws or rules of life: whatever therefore in the Scriptures
seemed to be strict, or pure, or elevated, was assigned to the upper
code; while the lower took to itself only what wore an aspect of laxity
and indulgence. Even an attempt on the part of secular Christians to
make advances in holiness might be condemned as a species of
presumption, or as an invasion of the proprieties of the saintly order.
Heavenly-mindedness and purity of heart were chartered to the
regulars—the monopolists of perfect grace. Alas, that the privileged
should have availed themselves so moderately of their rights!

A second, and not less natural consequence of the same principle, was
the formation, among the monks, either of an insufferable arrogance and
self-complacency, or of a villanous hypocrisy—an hypocrisy which
qualified those who sustained it to become the agents of every
detestable knavery that might promote the ambitious machinations, or
screen the debaucheries of the order.

If a reputation for superior sanctity be ever safe and serviceable to a
Christian, it must be when his conduct and temper, even to the inmost
privacies of domestic life, are open to indifferent observers;—not to
the cringing servitors of a religious establishment, or to the holy
man's hangers-on and accomplices, but to the children and the servants
of a family;—the moral vision of a child is especially quick and clear.
He who thus lives under the eye of witnesses not to be deceived, and not
to be bribed, may actually demean himself the better for being reputed
eminently good. Not so the man who inhabits a den or a cell, who is seen
by the world only through a loop-hole; or who shows himself to an
admiring crowd when, and where, and in what posture he pleases. To such
a one, the praise of sanctity will most often be found inscribed, on its
other side, with a license to crime. Under circumstances so blasting to
the simple honesty and unaffected humility of true piety, almost the
best that charity can imagine is, that the hooded saint deludes himself,
more even than he deceives others.

Such are the natural and almost invariable consequences—in monasteries,
or out of them, of every ambitious attempt to render religion a
something too elevated and too pure to be brought into contact with the
affairs of common life. The mere endeavor generates a pretension that
can never be filled out by truth and reality; and the deficiency must be
made up by delusion and deception; the one begetting arrogance, the
other knavery.

       *       *       *       *       *

IV. Greediness of the supernatural formed an essential characteristic of
the ancient monachism.

The cares, and toils, and necessities, the refreshments and delights of
common life, are the great teachers of common sense; nor can there be
any effective school of sober reason where these are excluded. Whoever,
either by elevation of rank, or by peculiarity of habits, lives far
removed from this kind of tuition, rarely makes much proficiency in that
excellent quality of the intellect. A man who has little or nothing to
do with other men on terms of open and free equality, needs the native
sense of five, to behave himself only with a fair average of propriety.
Absolute solitude (and seclusion in its degree) necessitates a lapse
into some species of absurdity more or less nearly allied to insanity;
and religious solitude naturally strays into the regions of vision and
miracle.[8]

The monastery was at once the place where the illusions of distempered
brains were the most likely to abound, and where the frauds which
naturally follow in the train of such illusions could the most
conveniently be hatched and executed. Those dungeons of dimness, of
silence, of absolute obedience; those scenes of nocturnal ceremony;
those labyrinths of subterrene communication; those nurseries of craft
and credulity, seemed as if constructed for the very purpose of
fabricating miracles; and, in fact, if all the narratives of
supernatural occurrences that are found upon the pages of the ancient
church-writers were numbered, incomparably the larger proportion would
appear to have been connected immediately with the religious houses. The
wonder which goes to swell the vaunted achievements of the sainted abbot
or brother, was effected, we are assured—in the cell, in the chapel or
church, in the convent-garden, in the depths of the overhanging forest,
or upon the solitude of the neighboring shore! Of all such miracles it
is enough to say, that whether genuine or not, they can claim no respect
from posterity, seeing that they stand not within the circle of credible
testimony. History—lover of simplicity—scorns to place them on her page
in any other form than as evidences of the credulity, if not of the
dishonesty of the times!

Many laborious and voluminous discussions might have been saved, if the
simple and very reasonable rule had been adopted of waiving
investigation into the credibility of any narrative of supernatural or
pretended supernatural events, said to have taken place upon consecrated
ground, or under sacred roofs. Fanes, caves, groves, churches, convents,
cells, are places in which the lover of history will make but a
transient stay: and he may easily find better employment than in sifting
the evidence on which rest such stories as that of the roof-descended
oil, used at the baptism of Clovis; or that of the relics discovered by
Ambrose for the confutation of royal error, and a thousand others of
like nature. Those who, reading church history cursorily, are perplexed
by the frequency of suspicious miracle, are probably not aware,
generally, how very large a proportion of all such annoying relations
may be readily and reasonably disposed of by adhering to the rule above
stated.

The miraculous powers existing in the church after the apostolic age,
rest under a cloud that is not now to be thoroughly dispelled. But with
safety the following propositions may be affirmed: first, That the
Christian doctrine probably received some miraculous attestations after
the death of the apostles; secondly, That so early as the commencement
of the fourth century, fraudulent or deceptive pretensions to miraculous
power were very frequently advanced; and lastly, That at that period,
and subsequently, there are instances, not a few, of a certain sort of
sincerity and fervor in religion, conjoined with very exceptionable
attempts to acquire a thaumaturgal reputation. These deplorable cases
deserve particular attention, especially as they show what are the
natural fruits of fictitious pietism.

If we choose to read the church history of the early centuries in the
spirit of frigid scepticism, all the toil and perplexity that belong to
the exercise of cautious and candid discrimination will be at once
saved; and we shall, in every instance, where supernatural interposition
is alleged, and whatever may be the quality of the evidence, or the
character of the facts, take up that obvious explanation which is
offered, by attributing a greedy credulity to the laity of those times,
and a villanous and shameless knavery to the clergy. But this short
method, how satisfactory soever it may be to indolence, or how
gratifying soever to malignity, can never approve itself to those who
are at once well informed of facts, and accustomed to analyze evidence
with precision. The compass of human nature includes many motives, deep,
and intricate, of which infidelity never dreams, and which, in its
unobservant arrogance, it can never comprehend.

Long before the time when ecclesiastical narratives of supernatural
occurrences assume a character decidedly suspicious, or manifestly
faithless, the great facts of Christianity had, with a large class of
persons, and especially with the recluses, become the objects of
day-dream contemplation, and formed rather the furniture of a theatre of
celestial machinery, than the exciting causes of simple faith, and hope,
and joy. The divine glories, the brightness of the future life, the
history and advocacy of the Mediator, the agency of angels, and of
demons, were little else, to many, than the incentives of intellectual
intoxication. When once this misuse of religious ideas had gained
possession of the mind, it brought with it an irresistible prurience,
asking for the marvellous, just as voluptuousness asks for the aliments
of pleasure. This demand will be peculiarly importunate among those who
have to uphold their faith in the front of a gainsaying world; and who
would much rather confound the scoffer by the blaze of a new miracle,
than convince him by an argumentative appeal to an old one.

The first step towards the pseudo-miraculous is taken without doing any
violence to conscience, and little even to good sense; provided that
opinions of a favoring kind are generally prevalent. Good, and even
judicious men, might be so under the influence of the imagination as to
have their sleep hurried with visions, and their waking meditations
quickened by unearthly voices; and might complacently report such
celestial favors to greedy hearers, without a particle of dishonest
consciousness.[9] Thus the taste for things extraordinary was at once
cherished and powerfully sanctioned by the example of men eminently wise
and holy. Then, with an inferior class of men, the progression from
illusions, real and complete, to such as were in part aided by a little
spontaneity and contrivance, and which, though somewhat unsatisfactory
to the narrator, were devoured without scruple by the hearer, could not
be difficult. The temptation to produce a commodity so much in demand
was strong; often too strong for those whose moral sense had been
debilitated by an habitual inebriety of the imagination. Another step
towards religious fraud was more easily taken than avoided, when it was
eagerly looked for by open-mouthed credulity, and when the church might
cheaply and securely be glorified, and Gentilism triumphantly confuted.
The plain ground of Christian integrity having once been abandoned, the
shocks of a downward progress towards the most reprehensible extreme of
deception were not likely to awaken remorse.

Practices, therefore, which, viewed in their naked merits, must excite
the detestation of every Christian mind, might insensibly gain ground
among those who were far from deserving the designation of thorough
knaves. They were fervent and laborious in their zeal to propagate
Christianity; they believed it cordially, and themselves hoped for
eternal life in their faith; and in the strength of this hope were ready
"to give their bodies to be burned." They prayed, they watched, they
fasted, and crucified the flesh, and did everything which an
enthusiastical intensity of feeling could prompt; and this feeling
prompted them to promote the gospel, as well by juggling as by preaching.

But had not these religious forgers read the unbending morality of the
gospel? Or, reading it, was it possible that they could think the
sacrifice of honesty an acceptable offering to the God of truth? The
difficulty can be solved only by calculating duly the influence of
imaginative pietism in paralyzing the conscience; and if the facts of
the case still seem hard to comprehend, it will be necessary, for
illustration, to recur to instances that may be furnished, alas! by most
Christian communities in our own times. Is it impossible to find
individuals fervent, and in a certain sense sincere, in their devotions,
and zealous and liberal in their endeavors to diffuse Christianity, and,
perhaps, in many respects amiable, who, nevertheless, admit into their
habitual course of conduct very gross contrarieties to the plainest
rules of Christian morality? When instances of this sort are under
discussion, it is alike unsatisfactory to affirm of the parties in
question, that they are, in the common sense of the term, hypocrites; or
to grant that their piety is genuine, but defective. The first
supposition, though it may cut the difficulty, does not by any means
nicely accord with the facts: and the second puts contempt upon the most
explicit and solemn declarations of our Lord and his ministers, whose
style of enforcing the divine law will never allow those who are
flagrantly vicious, those who are "workers of iniquity," to be called
'imperfect Christians.'

One alternative presents itself for the solution of the pressing
difficulty. The religion of these delinquent professors is sincere in
its kind, and perhaps fervent; but not less fictitious than sincere. Or
rather the religion they profess is not Christianity, but an image of
it. Whatever there is in the Gospel that may stimulate emotion without
breaking up the conscience, has been admitted and felt; but the heart
has not been made "alive towards God." Repentance has had no force, the
desire of pardon no intensity. Certain vices may be shunned and
reprobated, and others as freely indulged; for nothing is really
inconsistent with the dreams of religious delusion—except only the
waking energy of true virtue. And thus it was with many in the ancient
church; the stupendous objects of the unseen world had kindled the
imagination; and in harmony with this state of mind, a supernatural
heroism and an unnatural style of virtue were admired and practised,
because they fed the flames of a fictitious happiness, which compensated
for the renunciation of the pleasures of sense. In this spirit martyrdom
was courted, and deserts were peopled, until they ceased to be
solitudes; and in this spirit also miracles were affirmed, or
fabricated, not perhaps so often by knaves as by visionaries.

Tho subject of the suspicious pretensions to miraculous power advanced
by many of the ancient Christian writers should not be dismissed without
remarking, that it is one thing to compose a gaudy narrative (de
virtutibus) of the wonder-working powers of a saint gone to his rest in
the preceding century, and another to be the actor in scenes of
religious juggling. If this distinction be duly considered, a very large
mass of perplexing matter will at once be discharged from the page of
ecclesiastical history, and that without doing the smallest violence
either to charity, or to the laws of evidence. Some foolish presbyter,
or busy monk, gifted with a talent of description, has collected the
church tales current in his time, concerning a renowned father. The
turgid biography, applauded in the monastery where it was produced,
slipped away silently to the faithful of distant establishments, and
without having ever undergone that ordeal of real and local publicity
which authenticates common history, was suffused through Christendom, as
it were, beneath the surface of notoriety, and so has come down to
modern times to load the memory of some good man with unmerited disgrace.

       *       *       *       *       *

V. The practice of mystifying the Scriptures must be named as an
especial characteristic of monkish religion.

This practice was, in the first place, the natural fruit of a life like
that of the recluses; for the Bible is a directory of common life; it is
the heavenly enchiridion of those who are beset with the cares, labors,
sorrows, and temptations of the world. To the anchoret it presents
almost a blank page: a style of existence so unnatural as that which he
has chosen, it does not recognize; his imaginary troubles, his frivolous
duties, his visionary temptations, his self-inflicted sufferings, and
his real difficulty of maintaining virtue under the galling friction of
a presumptuous vow, are all absolutely unknown to the Scriptures, which
therefore to the recluse, are _not_ profitable for reproof, or
correction, or for instruction in the false righteousness which he
labors to establish.

To adapt the Bible to the cell, it must of necessity, be allegorized.
Then indeed it becomes inexhaustibly rich in the materials of spiritual
amusement. It was thus that the Jewish doctors, the authors of the
Talmudical writings, found the means of diverting the heaviness of their
leisure; and it was thus, though in a different style, that the Essenes
of the wilderness of the Jordan whiled away the hours of their solitude;
and thus, yet again after another pattern, that the Christian monks,
especially those of Palestine[10] and Egypt, transmuted the words of
truth and soberness into a tangled wreath of flimsy fable.

The doctrine of a mystical sense has invariably been espoused by every
successive body of idle religionists; that is to say, by all who,
spurning or forgetting the authority which the Scriptures assert over
the life and conscience, convert them into the materials of a delicious
dream. The mask of allegory imposed on the Bible, serves first as a
source of entertainment, and then as a shelter against the plain meaning
of all passages directly condemning the will-worship, the fooleries, and
the extravagances to which persons of this temper are ever addicted. So
did the rabbis make void the law of God; so did the monks; so have all
classes of modern mystics; so do modern Antinomians: all have asserted a
double, a treble, or a quadruple sense; a mystery couched beneath every
narrative, and every exhortation, or even hidden in single words: or
they have descried a profound doctrine packed in the bend of a _Samech_
or a _Koph_. Not one of the absurdities of the ancient monkery has been
so long-lived as this: nor is there to be found a more certain symptom
of the existence of fatal illusion in matters of religion.

       *       *       *       *       *

VI. The monkish system recommended itself by astonishing feats of
devotedness, and by great proficiency in the practices of artificial and
spontaneous virtue.

The excitements of enthusiasm are so much more congruous with the
uncorrected impulses of human nature, than are the principles of genuine
piety, that the former have usually far surpassed the latter, as
motives, in the difficult and mortifying achievements of self-denial. In
proportion as a system of fanaticism is remote from truth, its
stimulating force is found to be great. Thus the fakirs of India have
carried the feats of voluntary torture far beyond any other order of
religionists. Mohammedans, generally, are more zealous, devout, and
fervent than Christians. Romanists surpass Protestants in the solemnity,
intensity, and scrupulosity of their devotional exercises. In conformity
with this well-known principle, the monastic orders have had to boast,
in all ages, of some prodigious instances of mortification, as well as
of charitable heroism. And the boast might be allowed to win more praise
than can be granted to it, if there were not manifest, invariably, in
these exploits, a ferment of sinister feelings, quite incompatible with
the simplicity and purity of Christian virtue.

For example, let a comparison be drawn between a daughter who, in the
deep seclusion of private life, and without a spectator to applaud her
virtue, cheerfully devotes her prime of years to the service of an
afflicted parent;—and the nun, who inveigles beggars daily to the
convent, where she absolves them, against their will, from their filth,
dresses their ulcers, and cleanses their tatters. Assuredly the part she
performs is more seemingly difficult, and far more revolting than that
of the pious daughter; yet it is in fact more easy; for the inflated
"sister of charity"[11] is sustained and impelled by notions of heroism,
and of celestial excellence, and by a present recompense of fame among
her sisterhood, of all which the other does not dream, who, unless she
were actuated by the substantial motives of true goodness, could never
in this manner win the blessing of heaven.

Self-inflicted penances, wasteful abstinences, fruitless labors,
sanctimonious humiliations, and all such like spontaneities, may fairly
be classed with those painful and perilous sports, in pursuing which it
often happens that a greater amount of suffering is endured, and of
danger incurred, than ordinarily belongs to the services and duties of
real life. But these freaks of the monastery, or these toils of the
field, deserve little praise, seeing that they meet their immediate
reward in the gratification of a peculiar taste. In both instances the
adult child pleases himself in his own way, and must be deemed to do
much if he avoids trampling down the rights of his neighbor.

Fictitious virtue, if formed on the model of the Koran, naturally
assumes the style of martial arrogance, of fanatical zeal and of bluff
devotion. But if it be the Gospels that furnish the pattern, then an
opposite phase of sanctity is shown. Abject lowliness, and voluntary
poverty (which is no poverty at all,) and ingenious austerities, and
romantic exploits of charity, and other similar misinterpretations of
the spirit and letter of New Testament morality, are combined to form a
tawdry effigy of the humility, purity, and beneficence of Christian
holiness. But compel the imitator to relinquish all that is heroic, and
picturesque, and poetical in his style of behavior: oblige him to lay
aside whatever makes the vulgar gape at his sanctity; let him uncowl his
ears, and cover his naked feet: ask him to acquit himself patiently,
faithfully, Christianly, amid the non-illustrious and difficult duties
of common life, and he will find himself destitute of motive and of zest
for his daily task. Temperance without abstinence will have no charm for
him; nor purity without a vow; nor self-denial without austerity; nor
patience without stoicism; nor charity without a trumpet. The man of
sackcloth, who was a prodigy of holiness in the cloister, becomes, if
transported into the sphere of domestic life, a monster of selfishness
and sensuality.

       *       *       *       *       *

Time, which insensibly aggravates the abuses of every corrupt system,
does also furnish an apology, more and more valid from age to age, for
the conduct of the individuals who spring up, in succession, to act
their parts within its machinery. While ancient institutions rest
tranquilly on their bases, while venerable usages obtain unquestioned
submission, while opinion paces forwards with a slumbering step upon its
deep-worn tracks, men are not more conscious of the enormity of the
errors that may be chargeable upon their creeds and practices, than a
secluded tribe is of the strangeness and inelegance of the national
costume. This principle should never be lost sight of when we are
estimating the personal character of the members of the Romish church
before the period of the Reformation; or indeed in later times, where no
free and fair conflict of opinions has taken place. The system and its
victims are always to be thought of apart.

The recurrence, by a people at large, to abstract principles of
political or religious truth, is a much less frequent event than the
rarest of natural phenomena. It is only in consequence of shocks,
happening in the social system by no means so often as earthquakes do in
the material, that the human mind is rent from its habitudes, and placed
in a position whence it may with advantage compare its opinions with
universal truth. The Christian church underwent not once the perils and
benefits of such a convulsion during the long course of fifteen hundred
years. Throughout that protracted space of time the men of each age,
with few exceptions, quietly deemed that to be good which their fathers
had thought so; and as naturally they delivered it to their successors,
endorsed with their own solemn approbation. In forming an opinion,
therefore, of the merits of individuals, justice, we need not say
candor, demands that the whole, or almost the whole amount of the
abstract error of the system within which, by accident of birth, they
move, should be deducted from the reckoning. This sort of justice may
especially be claimed in behalf of those who rather acquiesced in the
religious modes of their times, than appeared as its active champions.
Thus we excuse the originators and early supporters of a bad system, on
the ground of their ignorance of its evil tendency and actual
consequences; and again we palliate the fault of its adherents in a late
age, by pleading for them the influence of that natural sentiment of
respect which is paid to antiquity.

Perhaps the treatment which Jovinian and Vigilantius received from
Jerom, Ambrose, and Augustine, may be thought to detract very much from
the validity of the apology here offered for the ancient abettors of
monachism. But the circumstances of the case are involved in too much
obscurity to allow a distinct opinion to be formed on the subject. The
protest of Jovinian against the prevailing errors of the church might be
connected with some extravagance of belief, or some impropriety of
conduct which prevented his testimony from being listened to with
respect. Yet certainly the appearances of the case show decidedly
against both Jerom and Ambrose. Augustine knew little personally of the
supposed error against which he inveighed.

These proper allowances being made, there will be no difficulty in
turning from an indignant reprobation of the monkish practices, to a
charitable and consoling belief of the personal virtues, and even
eminent piety of many who, in every age, have fretted away an unblessed
existence within that dungeon of religious delusion—the monastery. In
default of complete evidence, yet on the ground of some substantial
proof, it is allowable to hope that the monastic orders at all times
included many spiritual members.[12] There is even reason to believe
that a better style of sentiment, and less extravagance, and less
fanatical heat, and less knavish pretension, and more of humility and
purity, existed here and there among the recluses of the tenth and
eleventh, than among those of the fifth and sixth centuries.

In the earlier period, though there might be much pretension to
seclusion from the world, the monastery was in fact a house set on a
hill in the midst of the Christian community; and it was ever surrounded
by an admiring multitude; so that its inmates might always find a ready
revenue of glorification for the exploits and hypocrisies of
supernatural sanctity.[13] But in the later periods, and when nothing
hardly existed without doors except feudal ignorance and ferocity (we
speak of the monasteries of Europe), many of the religious houses were
real seclusions, and very far removed from any market of vulgar praise.
Then within these establishments, it cannot be doubted, that the pious
few found their virtue much rather guarded by the envious eyes of their
less exemplary comrades, than endangered by drawing upon itself any sort
of admiration. The spiritual monk (let not modern prejudices refuse to
admit the phrase), glad to hide himself from the railleries or spite of
the lax fraternity, kept close to his cell, and there passed his hours,
not uncheered, nor undelicious, in prayer and meditation, in the perusal
of religious books, and in the pleasant, edifying, and beneficial toils
of transcription. Not seldom, as is proved by abundant evidence, the
life-giving words of prophets and apostles were the subjects of these
labors; nor ought it to be doubted that while, through a long tract of
centuries, the Scriptures, unknown abroad, were holding their course
underground, if one might so speak, waiting the time of their glorious
emerging, they imparted the substance of true knowledge to many souls,
pent with them in the same sepulchral glooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

The monkish system retained its ancient style, with little alteration,
until it received an enhancement, and a somewhat new character in
France, in the hands of the followers of Jansen, and the Port Royal
recluses. Then the old doctrine of religious abstraction—of the merging
of the soul in Deity, and of the merit and efficacy of penitential
suicide, was revived with an intensity never before known and was
recommended by a much larger admixture of genuine scriptural knowledge
than had ever before been connected with the same system, and was graced
by the brilliant talents and great learning of many of the party; while
at the same time the endurance of persecution gave depth, force, and
heroism, to the sentiments of the sect.

It was inevitable that whatever of good might arise within the church of
Rome, and remain in allegiance to it, must pass over to the ancient and
venerated form of monkish piety. The religion of the monastery was the
only sort of devotedness and seriousness known to, or sanctioned by,
that church. A new sect of fervent religionists could therefore do no
otherwise than either fall into that style, or denounce it; and the
latter would have been to break from Rome, and to side with Huguenots.

Embarrassed at every step by their professed submission to the authority
of the popes, which they perpetually felt to be at variance with the
duty they owed to God, and heavily oppressed and galled by their
necessary acquiescence in the flagrant errors of the church in which
alone they thought salvation could be had, and still more deeply injured
by their own zealously loved ascetic doctrine, these good men obtained
possession, and made profession of, the great truths of Christianity
under an incomparably heavier weight of disadvantage than has been
sustained by any other class of Christians from the apostolic to the
present times. They have left in their voluminous and valuable writings,
a body of divinity, doctrinal and practical, which, when the peculiar
circumstances of its production are considered, presents a matchless
proof of the intrinsic power of Christianity, upbearing so ponderous a
mass of error.

Nevertheless, while the Port Royal divines and their friends are perused
with pleasure and advantage, and while the reader is often inclined to
admit that in depth, fervor, and solemnity of religious feeling, in
richness and elevation of thought, in holy abstraction from earthly
interests, in devotedness of zeal, and in the exemplification of some
difficult duties, they much surpass the divines of England, he still
feels, and sometimes when he can hardly assign the grounds of his
dissatisfaction, that a vein of illusiveness runs through every page.
Although the great principles of religion are much more distinctly and
more feelingly produced than generally they are in the writings of the
fathers, and though the evidence of genuine and exalted piety is
abundant and unquestionable; yet is there an infection of _idealism_,
tainting every sentiment; a mist of the imagination, obscuring every
doctrine. In turning from the French writers of this school to our own
standard divines, the reader is conscious of a sensation that might be
compared to that felt by one who escapes into pure air from a chamber in
which, though it was possible to live, respiration was oppressed by the
presence of mephitic exhalations.

Enfeebled by the enthusiasm to which they so fondly clung, the piety of
these admirable men failed in the force necessary to carry them
triumphantly through the conflict with their atrocious enemy—"the
Society." They were themselves in too many points vulnerable, to close
fearlessly with their adversary; and they grasped the sword of the
Spirit in too infirm a manner to be able to drive home a deadly thrust.
Had it been otherwise, had they been free, not merely from the shackle
of submission to Rome, but free from the debilitating influence of
mysticism and monkish notions, their moral force, their talent, their
learning, and their self-devotion, might have sufficed, first, for the
overthrow of their immediate antagonist, whose bad cause, and worse
arguments were hardly supported against the augmenting weight of public
opinion, even by the whole power of the court. Then might they, not
improbably, have supplied the impulse necessary to achieve the
emancipation of the Gallican church from the thraldom of Rome; an event
which seemed, more than once, to be on the eve of accomplishment. And
if, at the same moment, the Protestants of France had received just that
degree of indulgence—of mere sufferance—which was demanded, we do not
say by justice and mercy, but by a politic regard to the national
welfare; and if by these means a substantially sound, though perhaps
partial reform had taken place within the dominant church, and dissent
been allowed to spread itself amicably through the interstices of the
ecclesiastical structure; if religious liberty, not indeed in the temper
of republican contumacy, but in the Christian spirit of quiet and
grateful humility, had taken root in France, is it too much to say that
Atheism could never have become, as it did, the national opinion, and
that the consequent solution of the social system in blood could never
have happened?

The Jansenist, and the inmates of Port Royal, and many of their
favorers, displayed a constancy that would doubtless have carried them
through the fires of martyrdom. But the intellectual courage necessary
to bear them fearlessly through an examination of the errors of the
papal superstition could have sprung only from a healthy force of mind,
utterly incompatible with the dotings of religious abstraction, with the
petty solicitudes of sackclothed abstinence, with the trivial
ceremonials of the daily ritual, with the prim niceties of behavior that
pin down the body and soul of a Romish regular to his parchment-pattern
of artificial sanctity. The Jansenists had not such courage; if they
worshipped not the beast, they cringed before him; he planted his
dragon-foot upon their necks, and their wisdom and their virtues were
lost forever to France!

The monk of Wittemberg had taken a bolder and a better course. When he
began to find fault with Rome, he rejected, not only its own flagrant
and recent corruptions: but the many delusions it had inherited from the
ancient Church; and after a short struggle with the prejudices of his
education, he became, not only no papist, but no monk. Full fraught with
the principles and spirit of the Bible, he denounced, as well the
venerable errors of the fathers, as the scarlet sins of the mother of
impurities; and was as little a disciple of Jerom, of Gregory, and of
Basil, as of the doctors of the Vatican.

The English reformers trod the ground of theological inquiry with the
same manly step; and that firm step shook the monasteries to the dust.
Those great and good men went back to the Scriptures, where they found
at once the great realities of religion—a condemning law, a justifying
Gospel, and a provision of grace for a life of true holiness. With these
substantial principles in their hearts, they spurned whatever was
trivial and spurious, and amid the fires of persecution, they reared the
structure—a structure still unshaken—of religion for England, upon "the
foundation of the apostles and prophets." Had there existed a taste for
mysticism, a fondness for penitential austerities, a cringing deference
to the fathers, among the divines of the time of Edward VI., such a
disposition must, so far as known causes are to be calculated upon, have
utterly spoiled the reformation in England; or have postponed it a
hundred years.

[6] In the only places in the New Testament where celibacy is
recommended, Matt. xix. 12, and 1 Cor. vii. 32, the reason is of this
substantial and intelligible kind, namely, that in the case of
individuals, placed in peculiar circumstances, a single life would be
advantageous, inasmuch as it would give them better opportunity of
serving the Lord without distraction. Precisely the same advice might
sometimes with propriety be given to a soldier, or to a statesman: a
high motive justifies a sacrifice of personal happiness. Nowhere in the
discourses of our Lord, or in the writings of the apostles, is there to
be discovered a trace of the monkish motives of celibacy—namely, the
supposed superior sanctity of that state.

[7] "Grande est et immortale, pœne ultra naturam corpoream, superare
luxuriam, et concupiscentiæ spasmeam adolescentiæ facibus accensam animi
virtute restinguere, et spiritali conatu vim genuinæ oblectationis
excludere, _viveréque contra humani generis legem_, despicere solatia
conjugii, dulcedinem contemnere liberorum, quæcumque esse præsentis vitæ
commoda possint, pro nihilo spe futurorum beatitudinis computare." The
Epistle of Sulpitius _de Virginitate_, in which this passage occurs,
contains, it should be confessed, much more good sense and good
morality, in the latter part of it, than one would expect to find in
conjunction with absurdities such as that above quoted. The annotator on
the passage well says, that the Ascetics avoided the pleasures of
domestic life, not because they were sweets, but because conjoined with
great cares, which those escaped who lived in celibacy. Nor is it to be
denied, says he, that married life is obnoxious to great and heavy
inconveniences: nevertheless, if under those difficulties we live holily
and religiously, our future recompense will surely not be less than as
if, to be free from them we had embraced a single life.

[8] "Habitant plerique in eremo sine ullis tabernaculis quos Anachoretas
vocant. Vivunt herbarum radicibus: nullo unquam certo loco consistunt,
ne ab hominibus frequententur: quas nox coëgerit sedes habent.... Inter
hujus (Sina) recessus Anachoreta esse aliquis ferebatur quem diu
multumque quæsitum videre non potui, qui ferè jam ante quinquaginta
annos à conversatione humanâ remotus, nullo vestis usu, setis corporis
sui tectus, nuditatem suam divino munere vestiebat. Hic quoties eum
religiosi viri adire voluerunt, cursu avia petens, congressus vitabat
humanos. Uni tantummodo ferebatur se ante quinquennium præbuisse,
qui credo potenti fide id obtinere promeruit: cui inter multa
conloquia percunctanti, cur homines tantopere vitaret, respondisse
perhibetur, Eum qui ab hominibus frequentaretur non posse ab angelis
frequentari."—_Sulp. Sev. Dialog._ I.

[9] The two signal instances may be mentioned of Cyprian and Augustine,
men whose honesty and sincerity will not be questioned by any one who
himself possesses the sympathies of virtue and integrity. They were both
carried by the spirit of their times almost to the last stage of
credulity and self-delusion; but the latter much farther than the former.

[10] Origen, as every one knows, led the way in the Christian Church in
this mode of interpretation. It is also well known that the monks,
especially those of Alexandria, warmly espoused the cause of this
ingenious writer against the bishops and clergy, who with equal warmth
condemned his works as heretical.

[11] The charitable offices of the nuns in the hospitals of France ought
always to be mentioned with respect and admiration.

[12] The "De Imitatione Christi" alone affords proof enough of the
possibility of the existence of elevated piety in the monastery. It
abounds also with indications of the petty persecution to which a
spiritual monk was exposed among his brethren.

[13] Many of the ancient _solitaries_, far from living as their
profession required, in seclusion, were accustomed to admit daily the
visits of the multitude who flocked around them, to gaze at their
austerities, to hear their harangues, or to be exorcised, or healed of
their maladies. Symeon, "the man of the pillar," every day exhibited
himself to a gaping crowd, collected often from distant countries.
St. Anthony, more sincere in his love of retirement, when pestered by
the plaudits of the vulgar in Lower Egypt, withdrew into a desert of the
Thebaïs; yet even there he soon found himself surrounded, not only by
dæmons, but worse, by admirers. See Athan. Op. Vita S. Antonii.



SECTION X.

CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PROBABLE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY, SUBMITTED TO
THOSE WHO MISUSE THE TERM ENTHUSIASM.


To waive the exercise of discrimination, can, under no imaginable
circumstances, be advantageous to any man; nor is it ever otherwise than
absurd to persist in an error which might be corrected by a moment's
attention to obvious facts. But assuredly some such suspension of good
sense has taken place with those who accustom themselves to designate,
in a mass, as Enthusiasts, the many thousands of their countrymen, of
all communions, who, at the present time, make profession of the
doctrines of the Reformation.

All who are not wilfully ignorant must know, that what is vulgarly
called "the religious world," now includes, not only myriads of the
lower, and middle, and imperfectly educated classes, in relation to whom
self-complacent arrogance may easily find pretexts of scorn; and not
only many of the opulent and the noble; but a fair proportion also of
all the talent, and learning, and brilliancy of mind, that adorns the
professional circles, and that vivifies the literature of the country.
What appropriateness, then, is there left to language, if a phrase of
supercilious import is to be attached to the names of men of vigorous
understanding, and energetic character, and eminent acquirement;—of men
successful in their several courses, and accomplished in whatever gives
grace to human nature? When those who in no assignable good quality can
be deemed inferior to their competitors on the arena of life, are, on
account of their religious opinions and practices, called Enthusiasts,
it is evident that nothing is actually effected but the annulling of the
contumelious power of the term so misused. We may indeed, in this
manner, neutralize the significance of a word; or we may draw upon
ourselves, the imputation of malignant prejudice; but we cannot reduce
from their rank those who stand firmly on the high stages of literary or
philosophical eminence.

But if arrogance and malignity itself be ashamed of so flagrant an abuse
of the word enthusiast, then neither ought that epithet (unless where
special proof can be adduced) to be assigned to the multitude, holding
the very same opinions: for the eminent few, seeing that they profess
these tenets, and adhere to these practices deliberately, and
explicitly, must be allowed the privilege of redeeming their belief and
usages from contempt, by whomsoever maintained.

An opinion gravely professed by a man of sense and education, demands
always, respectful consideration—demands, and actually receives it from
those whose own sense and education give them a correlative right: and
whoever offends against this sort of courtesy may fairly be deemed to
have forfeited the privileges it secures. But retaliation is declined by
those who might use it, and it is declined on the ground, not only of
Christian meekness, but of commiseration towards such violators of
candor and good manners, whom they hold to be acting under the influence
of an infatuation, at once deplorable and fatal.

That this infatuation should, in any great number of instances, be
dispelled by the mere showing of reasons, is what the religionists, the
"Enthusiasts," by no means expect: they too well understand the nature
of the malady, and too well know its inveteracy, to imagine that it may
be dissipated by force of argument, even though the cause were in the
hands of a college of dialecticians. Nevertheless, they entertain an
expectation (and have evidence to show in support of it) which, if it be
realized, will supersede many difficult controversies, and rob impiety
forever of its only effectual prop, the suffrage of the many. This
expectation is nothing less than that Christianity—or, for the sake of
distinctness, let it be said the religion of the Reformation—the
religion of Wycliffe, and Latimer, and Cranmer, and Jewel, and Hooker,
and Owen, and Howe, and Baxter—will gain, ere long, an unquestioned
ascendency, and will bear down infidelity and false doctrine, and absorb
schism, and possess itself of the substance of power, which is moral
power, and will thus rule the family of man.

In support of a belief like this, many reasons might be urged, some of
which can be expected to have weight only with the religious; while
others may well claim attention from all (whatever may be their opinion
of Christianity) who are at once competent and accustomed to anticipate
the probable course of human affairs.

There are three distinct methods in which an inquiry of this sort might
be conducted: of these, the first is the method of philosophical
calculation, on the known principles of human nature, and which, without
either denying or assuming the truth of Christianity, forecasts, from
past events and present appearances, the probable futurity. To pursue
such calculations efficiently, prepossessions of all kinds, both
sceptical and religious, should be held in abeyance, while the mere
facts that belong to the problem are contemplated as from the remoteness
of a neutral position.

The reader and writer of this page may each have formed his estimate of
the intrinsic force and validity of certain opinions; but this private
estimate may happen to be much above, or much below the level which
reason would approve; and, be it what it may, it can avail nothing for
our present purpose. If we are to calculate the probable extension or
extinction of those opinions, we must consult the evidence of facts on a
large scale; and especially must observe what manifestations of
intrinsic power they have given on certain peculiar and critical
occasions. This is the only course that can be deemed satisfactory, or
that is conformed to the procedures of modern science. We do not now
wish to ask a seraph if such or such a dogma is held to be true in
heaven; but what we have to do is to learn, from the suffrage of the
millions of mankind, whether it has a permanent power to command and to
regain ascendency over the human mind. This question must be asked of
history; and we must take care to open the book at those pages where the
great eras of religious revolution are described. Having glanced at the
past, our next business will be to look at the present: this kind of
divination is the only one known to the principles of philosophical
inquiry.

       *       *       *       *       *

The early triumph of the Gospel over the fascinating idolatries and the
astute atheism of Greece and Rome has been often insisted upon, (and
conclusively) as evidence of its truth. But with that argument we have
nothing now to do; yet if the subject were not a very hackneyed one, it
might well be brought forward, in all its details, in proof of a
different point—namely, the innate power of the religion of the Bible to
vanquish the hearts of men. An opponent may here choose his alternative;
either let him grant that Christianity triumphed because it was true and
divine; or let him deny that it had any aid from heaven. In the former
case we shall be entitled to infer that the religion of God must at
length universally prevail; or in the latter we may strongly argue, that
this doctrine possesses little less than an omnipotence of intrinsic
force, by which it obtained success under circumstances of opposition
such as made its triumph seem, even to its enemies, miraculous; and on
this ground the expectation of its future prevalence cannot be thought
unreasonable.

But if there were room to imagine that the first spread of Christianity
was owing rather to an accidental conjuncture of favoring circumstances
than to its real power over the human mind, or if it might be thought
that any such peculiar virtue was all spent and exhausted in its first
expansive effort, then it is natural to look to the next occasion on
which the opinions of mankind were put in fermentation, and to watch in
what manner the system of the Bible then rode over the high billows of
political, religious, and intellectual commotion. It was a fair trial
for Christianity, and a trial essentially different from its first,
when, in the fifteenth century, after having been corrupted in every
part to a state of loathsome ulceration, it had to contend for
existence, and to work its own renovation, at the moment of the most
extraordinary expansion of the human intellect that has ever happened.
At that moment, when the splendid literature of the ancient world
started from its tomb, and kindled a blaze of universal admiration; at
that moment, when the first beams of sound philosophy broke over the
nations; and when the revival of the useful arts gave at once elasticity
to the minds of the million, and a check of practical influence to the
minds of the few; at the moment when the necromancy of the press came
into play to expose and explode necromancy of every other kind; and when
the discovery of new continents, and of a new path to the old, tended to
supplant a taste of whatever is visionary, by imparting a vivid taste
for what is substantial; at such a time, which seemed to leave no chance
of continued existence to aught that was not in its nature vigorous,
might it not confidently have been said—This must be the crisis of
Christianity? if it be not inwardly sound, if it have not a true hold of
human nature, if it be a thing of feebleness and dotage, fit only for
cells, and cowls, and the precincts of spiritual despotism; if it be not
adapted to the world of action, if it have no sympathy with the feelings
of men—of freemen; nothing can save it: no power of princes, no devices
of priests, will avail to rear it anew, and to replace it in the
veneration of the people; at least not in any country where has been
felt the refreshing gale of intellectual life. The result of this crisis
need not be narrated.

It may even be doubted, had not Christianity been fraught with power, if
all the influence of kings, or craft of priests, could have upheld it in
any part of Europe, after the revival of learning; and certainly not in
those countries which received, at one and the same time, the
invigoration of political liberty, of science, and of commerce.

Whether the religion for which the reformers suffered, "was from heaven
or of men," is not our question; but whether it is not a religion of
robust constitution, framed to endure, and to spread, and to vanquish
the hearts of men? With the history of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries in view, it is asked if Christianity be a system that must
always lean upon ignorance, and craft, and despotism, and which, when
those rotten stays are removed, must fail and be seen no more?

Yet another species of trial was in store to give proof of the
indestructibility and victorious power of Christianity. It remained to
be seen whether, when the agitations, political and moral, that were
consequent upon the great schism which had taken place in Europe had
subsided, and when the season of slumber and exhaustion came on, and
when human reason, strengthened and refined by physical science, and
elegant literature, should awake fully to the consciousness of its
powers; whether then the religion of the Bible could retain its hold of
the nations; or at least of those of them that enjoyed, without limit,
the happy influences of political liberty, and intellectual light. This
was a sort of probation which Christianity had never before passed
through.

And what were the omens under which it entered upon the new trial of its
strength? Were the friends of Christianity at that moment of portentous
conflict awake, and vigilant, and stout-hearted, and thoroughly armed to
repel assaults? The very reverse was the fact; for at the instant when
the atheistical conspiracy made its long-concerted, well-advised and
consentaneous attack, there was scarcely a pulse of life left in the
Christian body, in any one of the Protestant states. The old
superstitions had crawled back into many of their ancient corners. In
other quarters the spirit of protestation against those superstitions
had breathed itself away in trivial wranglings, or had given place to
infidelity—infidelity aggravated by stalled hypocrisy. The Church of
England, the chief prop of modern Christianity, was then, to a great
extent, torpid, and fainting under the incubus, either of false
doctrine, or of a secular spirit; at least it seemed incapable of the
effort which the peril of the time demanded: few indeed of her sons were
panoplied, and sound-hearted, as champions in such a cause should be.
Within a part only of a small body of Dissenters, (for a part was
smitten with the plague of heresy) and that part in great measure
disqualified from free and energetic action by rigidities, and scruples,
and divisions, was contained almost all the religious life and fervor
anywhere to be found in Christendom.

Meanwhile the infidel machinators had chosen their ground at leisure,
and were wrought to the highest pitch of energy by a confident, and, as
it might seem, a well-founded hope of success. They were backed by the
secret wishes, or the undissembled cheerings of almost the entire body
of educated men throughout Europe. They used the only language then
common to the civilized world, and a language which might be imagined to
have been framed and finished designedly to accomplish the demolition of
whatever was grave and venerated; a language, beyond any other, of
raillery, of insinuation, and of sophistry; a language of polished
missiles, whose temper could penetrate not only the cloak of imposture,
but the shield of truth.

At the same portentous moment the shocks and upheavings of political
commotion opened a thousand fissures in the ancient structure of moral
and religious sentiment; and the enemies of Christianity, surprised by
unexpected success, rushed forward to achieve, as they thought, an easy
triumph. The firmest and the wisest friends of old opinions desponded,
and many believed that a few years would see Atheism the universal
doctrine of the western nations, as well as military despotism the only
form of government.

It is difficult to imagine a single advantage that was lacking to the
promoters of infidelity, or a single circumstance of peril and ill-omen
that was not present to deepen the gloom of the friends of religion. The
actual issue of that signal crisis is before our eyes in the freshness
of a recent event. Christianity—we ask not whether for the benefit or
the injury of the world—has triumphed; the mere fact is all that
concerns our argument. But shall it be said, or if said, believed, that
the late resurrection of the religion of the Bible has been managed in
the cabinets of monarchs? Have kings and emperors given this turn to
public opinion, which now compels infidelity to hide its shame behind
the very mask of hypocrisy that it had so lately torn from the face of
the priest? To come home to facts with which all must be familiar: Has
there not been heard, within the last few years, from the most
enlightened, the most sober-minded, and the freest people of Europe, a
firm, articulate, spontaneous, and cordial expression of preference, and
of enhanced veneration towards Christianity? Again, then, we ask—not if
this religion be true, but if it have not, even beneath our own
observation, given proof of indestructible vigor?

The spread of the English stock, and language, and literature, over the
North American continent, has afforded a distinct and very significant
indication of the power of Christianity to retain its hold of the human
mind, and of its aptness to run hand-in-hand with civilization, even
when unaided by those secular succors to which its enemies in malice,
and some of its friends in over-caution, are prone to attribute too much
importance. The tendency of republicanism, which obviously has some
strong affinity with infidelity, and the connection of the colonies, at
the moment of their revolt, with France, and the prevalence of a
peculiarly eager and uncorrected commercial temper, and the absence of
every sort and semblance of restraint upon opinion, were concurrent
circumstances, belonging to the infancy of the American Union, of a kind
which put to the severest test the instrinsic power of Christianity, in
retaining its hold of the human mind. Could infidel experimenters have
wished for conditions more equitable, under which to try the respective
forces of the opposing systems?

And what has been the issue? It is true that infidelity holds still its
ground in the United States, as in Europe; and there, as in Europe,
keeps company with whatever is debauched, sordid, oppressive, reckless,
ruffian-like. But at the same time Christianity, has gained rather than
lost ground, and shows itself there in a style of as much fervor and
zeal as in England; and perhaps, even it has the advantage in these
respects. Wherever, on that continent, good order and intelligence are
spreading, there also the religion of the Bible spreads. And if it be
probable that the English race, and language, and institutions, will, in
a century, pervade its deserts, all appearances favor the belief that
the edifices of Christian worship will bless every landscape of the
present wilderness that shall then "blossom as the rose."

       *       *       *       *       *

Before, in pursuing this method of frigid calculation, the Christian
doctrine be weighed against the several systems with which it must
contend ere it wins its universal triumph, it is proper to inquire—what
is the probability that a collision will actually take place. To
estimate fairly this probability, those who are but slenderly acquainted
with the religious world, in the British Islands, in America, and in the
Protestant states of the continent, must understand, much better than
generally they do, the precise nature of the remarkable revolution that
has, within the last thirty years, been effected in the sentiments of
Christians on the subject of the diffusion of their religion. Such
slenderly-informed persons may very naturally imagine that the
prodigious efforts that have of late been made to diffuse Christianity
through the world have sprung simply from a heat and excitement, in its
nature transient, and which, therefore, must be expected soon to
subside. But this supposition will be found to be incomplete and
erroneous. A stir and kindling of feeling has no doubt happened; but
this feeling, and the activities which followed from it, have given
occasion to the resurrection, so to speak, of a capital article of
Christian morals, which, after lying almost latent for centuries, stands
forth in undisputed and prominent authority in the modern code of
religious duty. This recovered principle is now constantly recognized
and enforced; and it is seen to exert its influence, not merely within
the circles of central movement, but even in the remotest orbits of
religious feeling, where warmth and energy are manifestly not excessive.

The founder of Christianity left with his disciples the unlimited
injunction to go forth into all the world, and to preach the Gospel to
every creature. This command, corroborated by others of equivalent
import, and enforced by the very nature of the Christian doctrine, and
by the spirit of Christian charity, is now understood and acknowledged,
in a manner new to the church, to be of universal obligation, so that no
Christian, how obscure soever may be his station, or small his talents,
or limited his means, can be held to stand altogether excused from the
duty of fulfilling, in some way, the last mandate of his Lord. Thus
understood, this command makes every believer a preacher and a
missionary; or at least obliges him to see to it, so far as his ability
extends, that the labors of diffusive evangelization are actually
performed by a substitute.

Before the commencement of the recent missionary efforts, there had been
missions to the heathen. But these, if carried on with anything more
than a perfunctory assiduity, were anomalous to the general feeling of
Christians, and sprung from the exemplary zeal of individuals. But the
modern missions are maintained neither by the zeal of the few, nor by
the mere zeal of the many; but rather by the deep-seated impulsive power
of a grave conviction, pressing on the conscience even of the inert and
the selfish—and much more on the hearts of the fervent and devoted—that
a Christian has no more liberty to withhold his aid and service from
these evangelizing associations than he has to abandon the duties of
common life; and that, for a man to profess hope in Christ, and to deny
what he might spare to promote the diffusion of the Gospel, is the most
egregious of all practical solecisms.

Those who are ignorant of this remarkable revolution of sentiment, or
who may be sceptical concerning it, would do well to take up, at hazard,
any dozen of the discourses, and reports, and tracts, that are yearly,
and monthly, and weekly, flowing from the religious press, and among
which they will hardly find one that does not assume this as an admitted
principle, and as the ultimate motive of every hortatory appeal. And if,
among these ephemera, there are any, and such are not seldom to be
found, that bear the stamp of superior intelligence, it will be seen
almost invariably, that the reasoner summons all the force of his mind,
not so much to prove that every Christian is bound to promote the
diffusion of scriptural knowledge, as by some new ingenuity of
illustration to place the acknowledged duty in a stronger light, or to
show in what manner it bears upon the specific object for which he
pleads. And it is to be noted that these popular addresses exhibit, for
the most part, much more of the gravity and calmness which naturally
belong to the style of those who feel that they are standing upon
undisputed ground, than of the solicitude, or the inflammatory verbosity
and turgidness of writers who are laboring to fan a decaying blaze of
indefensible enthusiasm.

Or again: it may well be inferred that the modern missionary zeal
springs from motives of a substantial and permanent kind, since they
affect, without exception, every body of Christians (holding the
doctrines of the Reformation) and are felt in the same manner by the
Christians of every Protestant community of Europe. And moreover the
feeling has not declined, but has sensibly increased since the first
years of its activity; and it has endured the trial, in some instances,
of severe and long-continued discomfitures, or of partial success. These
are indications of a spring of action far more sedate and enduring than
any feverish excitement can ever supply.

But if the extent, and the power, and the promise of the existing
missionary zeal are to be duly estimated, the inquirer should visit the
homes of our religious folks; or enter the schools in which their
children are trained, and there learn what is the doctrine inculcated
upon those who are rising up to take their place on the arena of life:
or let him listen to the hymns they lisp, and examine the tracts they
read, and he will meet the same great principle in a thousand manners
enforced, namely—That it is the duty of every Christian, young or old,
rich or poor, to take part in sending the Gospel to all nations. Or let
the observer notice the Missionary Box, in the school-room, in the
nursery, in the shop-parlor, in the farm-house kitchen, in the cottage,
of the religious; and let him mark the multiform contrivances for
swelling the amount of the revenues of Christian charity, devised, and
zealously persisted in, by youths and by little ones, whose parents, at
the same age, thought of nothing but of cakes and sports.

And does all this steady movement, this wide-spreading and
closely-compacted system of united effort, this mechanism in which
infancy as well as maturity takes its part, indicate nothing for
futurity? Shall it all have passed away and be forgotten with the
present generation? If indeed it were confined to a sect, or to a
province, or to a country, it might, though that were unlikely; but not
if it be the common style of Christian feeling in every part of the
world where spiritual Christianity exists at all. Particular
associations may be dissolved, and particular schemes may be broken up;
and standard-bearers in the sacred cause may faint; and the zeal of
certain communities may fade; or political disasters may here and there
bring ruin upon pious labors; but unless devastation universal sweeps
over the face of the civilized world, the doctrine of missionary zeal,
which has been broad-cast over Christendom, in the present day, will not
fail of coming to its harvest. And now, if there are any who wish ill to
Christianity, let them hasten to prevent the measures of its friends,
let them teach their babes to hate the Gospel; for those who love it are
taking such means to insure its future triumph as can hardly fail of
success, and such as, on common grounds of calculation, make it likely
that even the sons and the daughters of the present race of infidels may
be involved in the approaching conquests of the Son of David; and that
they shall actually join in the loud hosanna, announcing his accession
to the throne of universal empire.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is then more than barely probable—it is almost certain—that the
attempt to offer Christianity to all nations, will not soon be
abandoned. The next question is this—whether, on grounds of frigid
calculation, such attempts are recommended by any fair promise of
success.

When the term calculation is used in reference to the diffusion of
Christianity, a use of the word which perhaps may offend the ear of
piety, an important distinction must be kept in view between that
cordial admission of the Gospel which renovates the hearts of men
individually, and that change of opinion and profession which may be
brought about among a people by means that fall short of possessing
efficiency to produce repentance and faith. And while the former must
everywhere, at home or abroad, be the great object aimed at and desired
by the Christian ministry, the latter is both in itself, even if nothing
more were done, and as a preliminary, and a probable means conducing to
the production of genuine piety, a most desirable and happy revolution.
It is moreover a revolution which may be reckoned to lie within the
range of human agency, when judiciously and perseveringly applied. For
Christianity is a species of knowledge, in its nature communicable; and,
as a system of opinions, or as a code of morals, it possesses a manifest
superiority, if fairly brought into comparison with any existing
religious system. And if it may reasonably be asked concerning any
people—how shall they believe without a preacher? the converse question
might, with little less confidence be put—how shall they not believe
with one?

Pagan and Mohammedan nations ought to be thought of by a Christian
people just as the master of a numerous household, if he be wise and
benevolent, thinks of the untutored members of his family; for although
no actual subjection is owned on the one side, or can be exercised on
the other, there exists, virtually, the relationship and the
responsibilities of that domination which is ever possessed by
knowledge, intelligence, and virtue, over ignorance and degradation.
Now, as the master of a family may, to a greater or less extent,
infallibly succeed by zeal, affection, skill, and patience, in
dispelling the superstitions and the ignorance which have happened to
come under his roof; so, with zeal, affection, skill, and patience,
proportioned to the greatness of the work, may the Christian nations at
length effect a cleansing of the earth from the cruelties and impurities
of polytheism.

Nothing inconsistent with the humblest and most devout dependence upon
the divine agency is implied in this supposition, any more than in the
belief that our children and servants may be trained in the knowledge of
God, and in the decencies of Christian worship. Is there not reason to
think that an inattention to this plain principle has prevented, in some
measure, the adoption of those vigorous and extended operations which
common sense prescribes as the proper and probable means of diffusing at
once civilization and religion through the world?

The probability of a change of religion on the part of an entire people
may, it is true, be argued on the adverse, as well as on the favorable
side, and with great appearance of reason. The obstinacy of the human
mind in adhering to the worse, even when the better is presented to its
choice, seems not seldom to possess the invincibility of a physical law;
and it has been found as impracticable to reform an absurd usage, as to
remodel the national physiognomy. How often have both reason and
despotism been baffled in their endeavors to effect even a trivial
alteration in ancient usages or costumes; and there has been room to
suppose, that the tenacity of life belonging to customs or opinions,
bears direct proportion always to their absurdity and their mischievous
consequence. The high antiquity, and the still unbroken force of the
Asiatic idolatries, in themselves so hideous, so burdensome, and so
sanguinary, stand forth as appalling confirmations of the truth, that
whatever has once gained for itself the sanction of time, may boldly
defy the assaults of reason. And then, when religious opinions and
practices are to question, we have not merely to break through the iron
law of immemorial usage, but to encounter the living opposition of the
priesthood, already firmly seated in the cloud-girt throne of supposed
supernatural power, and interested as deeply as men can be who have at
stake their civil existence, and their credit, and their means of
luxurious idleness. Again, in most instances, ancient religious opinions
have sent down their roots through the solid structure of the civil
institutions of the people:—the old superstition is an oak that was sown
by the builder of the state, and has actually pervaded the entire
foundations, and forms now the living bond-timber, to remove which would
be to bring to the ground the whole tottering masonry of the social
system.

When this side of the question has been long and exclusively
contemplated, the schemes of missionary zeal may seem to be utterly
chimerical; or if not chimerical—dangerous. But the friends of mankind
do not forget that the very same objects may be viewed in another light.
Even before particular facts are appealed to, an hypothesis of an
opposite kind may plausibly be advanced. It may be alleged that
Opinion—the invisible power that rules the world—is a name without
substance, which, though omnipotent so long as it is thought to be so,
vanishes quicker than a mist, when once suspected to be impotent. It
might also with great appearance of reason be affirmed as a universal
law of the moral world, that the better, when fairly brought into
collision with the worse, possesses an infallible certainty of ultimate
prevalence.

On this same principle, it is common to affirm that the improved
mechanical processes of a scientific people will at length necessarily
supplant the operose, and wasteful, and inefficient methods practised by
half-civilized nations. And thus probably will the ruinous and
depopulating usages of despotism give way before the wealth-giving
maxims of legal government. And thus also may it be hoped that a pure
theology, and a pure morality, shall, if zealously diffused, prevail
till they have removed all superstitions, with all their corruptions.
Even on the lowest principles of natural theology, some such meditative
power may be presumed to have been imparted to the human system, as a
provision against the progress of utter moral dissolution.

       *       *       *       *       *

But while an argument of this sort is at issue, the simple method of
appealing to such facts as may seem to bear conclusively upon the
question, will assuredly not be neglected; and it will be asked, whether
there are on record any instances which give a peremptory negative to
the assertion that a national change of religion ought to be thought of
as an event in the last degree improbable. And why should not the spread
and triumph of Christianity in the first ages of its promulgation be
accepted as an instance absolutely conclusive, and in the fullest sense
analogous to the problem that is to be solved. To whatever causes that
first prevalence of the religion of the Bible may be attributed, it is
still an unquestioned fact that entire nations—not one or two, but many,
and in every stage of advancement on the course of civilization—were
actually brought to abandon their ancient superstitions, and to profess
the Gospel.

These amazing revolutions took place under almost every imaginable
variety of circumstances, and they occupied a period of not more than
three centuries, and the change had been wrought, to a great extent,
before the aid of political succor came in; and even in the front of
political opposition. People after people fell away from their
idolatries, and assumed (with how much or how little of cordial feeling
matters not) the Christian name and code.

Here once more the objector must be urged to select his alternative.—If
it be granted that Christianity won this wide success by aid from
heaven, then who will profess to believe that a religion, so supported,
shall not in the end vanquish mankind? Or if not, then manifestly, the
fact of the spread of Christianity in the east, and in the west, in the
north, and in the south, destroys altogether the supposed improbability
of its again supplanting idolatry. It has been proved that nothing
inseparable from human nature, nothing invincible, stands in the way of
the diffusion of our faith among either polished or barbarous
polytheists; for already has it been victorious in both kinds. Let it be
affirmed that the religious infatuations of mankind are firm as adamant;
still it is a fact that a hammer harder than adamant once shattered the
rock to atoms. And now, when it is proposed again to smite the same
substance with the same instrument, are those to be deemed irrational
who anticipate the same success? In such an anticipation neither the
superior purity and excellence of Christianity need be assumed, nor its
truth: nothing is peremptorily affirmed but its well-attested efficiency
to subvert and supplant other religious systems. A myriad of
philosophists may clamorously affirm the missionary project to be
insane. Nevertheless Christians, listening rather to the history of
their religion than to the harangues of its modern oppugners, will go on
to preach in every land, "That men should turn from dumb idols to serve
the living God."

That during a period of more than a thousand years Christianity should
hardly have gained a foot of ground from polytheism, and should, in some
quarters, have been driven in from its ancient frontiers, is only
natural, seeing that, in the whole course of that time, no extended
endeavors, or none guided and impelled by the genuine principles of the
Gospel, were made to diffuse it. Angels have no commission to become
evangelists; and if men neglect their duty in this instance, no means
remain for supplying their lack of service. The modern missionary
enterprises (exclusive of some very limited attempts) do not yet date
fifty years; and while the fact that this spirit of Christian zeal has
maintained itself so long, attests its solidity, and gives a promise of
its perpetuity, its recentness (recent compared with the work to be
achieved) may justly be alleged in reply to those who ask—from whatever
motive—Why are not the nations converted? Within this short space of
time the religious public has had to be formed to a right feeling on the
new subject; and all the practical wisdom that belongs to an enterprise
so immense and so difficult has had to be acquired; and the agents of
the work at home and abroad, to be trained; and the initiatory
obstacle—that occasioned by diversity of language—to be removed. The
preparatives have now been passed through, and successes obtained, large
and complete enough to quash all objection, and more than enough to
recompense what they have cost. And these successes, moreover, warrant
the belief that the universal prevalence of Christianity (considered
simply as an exterior profession) is suspended upon the continuance of
the missionary zeal among the Christians of Europe and America.

Instead of allowing speculation to flit vaguely and ineptly over all the
desolate places of the earth's surface, it will be better, if we would
make our calculation definite, to fix upon a single region; and while we
assume it as probable that the existing spirit of missionary vigilance
and assiduity and self-devotion will continue in vigor during the
ensuing half-century, endeavor roughly to estimate the chances (if the
word may be used) of the entrance and spread of Christian light in that
one region; and let us select the region which may be deemed altogether
to occupy the place of an ultimate problem of evangelical enterprise.
Thus announced, every one will of course think of China.

Nothing is more difficult than to view, in the nakedness of mere truth,
any object remote from personal observation, which has once filled the
imagination with images of vastness and mystery. Thus it often happens
that benevolent schemes are robbed of their fair chance of success by
the fond illusions which are suffered to swell out an empty bulk, so as
to hide from view the real difficulties that ought to be deliberately
met. And thus it is usual for the timid to amuse their inaction by
contemplating spectral forms of danger or obstruction that exist only in
the mind. Hindrances and impossibilities may even yield a sort of
delight to the imagination, by the aspect of greatness and terror they
assume; at least while we resolve to view them only at a distance. And
in such cases he must be singularly destitute of poetic feeling, or
singularly conscientious and abstinent in the use of language, who, in
describing the proposed enterprise, does not impart to the mere facts a
form and coloring of unreal greatness and wonder.

This sort of illusiveness and exaggeration unquestionably belongs to the
subject of Christian missions to China. Who does not feel that the high
numbers of its dense and far-spread population, amounting perhaps to
more than a sixth part of the human family, and the yet unpenetrated
veil of mystery which hangs over the origin of the people, and over
their actual condition, and even over the geography of the country; and
then the singularity of the national character, and the anomalous
construction of the language, altogether raise a mist of obscurity which
rests in the way of the inquirer who asks—Is the attempt to introduce
Christianity among these millions of our brethren utterly vain and
visionary?

The natural exaggerations which infest this subject have indeed been
sensibly reduced within the last few years: twenty years ago cautious
and sagacious Protestants would have thought themselves bound, in
deference to common sense, to deride the idea of converting China to the
faith of Europe. What the _De propaganda_, with its store of
accommodating measures might attempt, none who must adhere to the
guileless methods of Christian instruction would undertake: or even if
an enterprise of this sort were commenced, it must be allowed a date of
five hundred years for achieving any considerable success! But better
information, and the actual accomplishment of the initiatory process,
must now, by the least sanguine minds, be deemed greatly to have
lessened the improbabilities of such an attempt, and to have shortened
the date of our Christian hopes. What has been accomplished of late by
the assiduity, and the intellectual vigor, and the moral intrepidity of
a few individuals, has turned the beam of calculation; and it is now
rational to talk of that which, very recently, might not have been
named, except among visionaries.

The brazen gate of China, sculptured with inscrutable characters, and
bolted and barred, as it seemed, against western ingenuity—the gate of
its anomalous language, has actually been set wide open; and although
the ribbon of despotic interdiction is still stretched across the
highway that leads to the popular mind, access, to some extent, has been
obtained; and who shall affirm that this frail barrier insurmountable as
it may now seem, shall at all times, during another fifty years, exist,
and be respected? Within even a much shorter term, is it not probable,
that revolutions of dynasty, or popular commotions, may suspend or
divert, for a moment, the vigilance of jealous ignorance? In some such
manner it may be supposed that, the means of diffusing religious
knowledge being, as they are, accumulated, and headed up above the level
of the plains of China, the dam bursting, or falling into decay, the
healing flood of Christian truth shall suffuse itself in all directions
over the vast surface.

But we are told that the national intellect is spellbound in a condition
of irremediable imbecility. The people, it is said, have no ideas but
such as are fixed under the petrifactions of their ancient usages; or
even if they had a mind in which ideas might float, they have no medium
of communication, or none which can take up even an atom of knowledge or
of sentiment that is of foreign growth. How then shall such a people be
converted to Christianity? Were it not as well to attempt to inform and
persuade the sculptures of Elephanta, or the glazed images of their own
pottery? To all this show of impossibility, a full and sufficient reply
is contained in a single affirmation of Scripture, not less
philosophically just than it is beautiful and sublime—"The Lord looketh
from heaven, he beholdeth all the sons of men: from the place of his
habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth: he
fashioneth their hearts alike."

The old doctrine that there are certain generic and invincible
inferiorities of intellect which must forever bar the advancement of
some branches of the human family, has of late received so signal a
refutation in the instance of the African race—long and pertinaciously
consigned by interested philosophers to perpetual degradation—that it
now hardly needs to be argued against. And assuredly, if the negro
cranium is found, spite of phrenologists, to admit of mathematical
abstraction, fine taste, and fine feeling, it will not be affirmed that
the skull of the Tartar or Chinese must necessarily exclude similar
excellences. To assert, either that nature has conferred no physical
superiorities, favorable to the development of mind, on particular
races, or to maintain that the comparative disadvantages of some nations
are so great and unalterable as to constitute impassable barriers in the
way of civilization, is equally a quackery which history and existing
facts condemn, and which nothing but the love of theory or
simplification could ever recommend to an intelligent observer of
mankind. With the uniform evidence of history before us, it may well be
assumed as probable that certain races will always retain the
intellectual pre-eminence they have acquired; nor is it at all less
reasonable to suppose that every tribe, even the most degraded, is
intrinsically capable of whatever is essential to a state of social
order and moral dignity.

If the lowest degree of proficiency in the mechanical arts is justly
held to give proof of the existence of those powers of abstraction
whence, with proper culture, the sciences may take their rise, so, with
equal certainty, may we infer a susceptibility of the religious emotions
from even the feeblest indications of the moral sense. When a people
diffused over so extensive a surface, and so thickly covering that
surface, is seen to submit itself intelligently to the patriarchal form
of government, which implies the constant and powerful influence of a
moral abstraction, and a vivid sense of unseen power, no doubt can
remain of its capacity to admit the motives of Christian faith.

The Chinese are what they are, more from the natural consequence of
having sustained, during many successive generations, what may be termed
national imprisonment, than from the operation of any physical
disabilities. So complete and successful an interdiction of intercourse
with strangers has not been known to take place in any other country;
and a closer fitting of the restraints of custom and etiquette upon the
manners than has elsewhere been effected, has not failed to impart to
the national character that peculiar _gait_—if the phrase maybe
used—which must distinguish one who had been released from his
swaddling-bands only to be encumbered with a chain, and had worn that
chain through life. Of the Chinese people it may truly be said that "the
iron hath entered into their soul."

But even without resting upon the probability of the subversion of the
existing despotism, the defeat of its jealous precautions may be
anticipated as what must at length result from the present course of
events. That portion of the Chinese population which may be termed the
_extra-mural_, and which, in numbers, exceeds some European nations, may
be considered as the depository of the happy destinies of the empire;
for these expatriate millions are accessible to instruction; and if once
they become, to any considerable extent, alive to religious truth, no
prohibitions of paternal despotism will avail to exclude the new
principles from the mother country. It is a false feeling that would
draw discouragement from the comparative diminutiveness and small actual
results of the operations that are carrying on for imparting
Christianity to this people. These measures ought, in philosophical
justice, to be viewed as the commencements of an accelerative movement,
acting incessantly upon an inert mass, which, by the very laws of
nature, must at length receive impulse enough to be carried forward in
the course of the propelling cause. To be assured of this result, all
that we need is to be assured of the continuance of the spring of
movement.

If the several spheres of missionary labor are reviewed, none, it is
presumed, can be deemed to offer more serious obstacles than the one
already referred to; or if there be one such, yet have fact and
experiment already given a full reply to all objections. May it be
permitted to say that a voice from heaven, full of meaning, is heard in
the particular character of the successes, how limited soever they may
be, which have crowned the incipient attempts to convert the heathen?
The veriest reprobates of civilization and social order have been the
first to be brought in to grace the triumphs of the Gospel in its recent
attempts at foreign conquest; as if at once to solve all doubts, and to
refute all cavils, relating to the practicability and promise of the
enterprise. If it had been thought or affirmed that the stupefaction and
induration of heart produced upon a race by ages of uncorrected ferocity
and sensuality must repel forever the attempts of Christian zeal, it is
shown, in the instance of the extremest specimens that could have been
selected, that a few years only of beneficent skill and patience are
enough to transform the fierce and voluptuous savage into a being of
pure, and gentle, and noble sentiments; that within a few years all the
domestic virtues, and even the public virtues, graced with the decencies
of rising industry, may occupy the very spots that were recking with
human blood, and with the filthiness of every abomination which the sun
blushes to behold.

If one islet only of the Southern Ocean had cast away its idols and its
horrific customs, if one hamlet only of the Negro or Hottentot race had
become Christian, there would have been no more place left on which the
objector against missions could rest his cavils; for the problem of the
conversion of the heathen would have been satisfactorily solved. But in
truth, these happy and amazing revolutions have taken place with such
frequency, and under so great a diversity of circumstance, and in front
of so many obstacles, that instead of asking whether barbarous nations
may be persuaded to forsake their cruel delusions, it may with more
propriety be asked—if anything can prevent the progress of such reforms
universally, where Christian zeal and wisdom perseveringly perform their
part.

The relative political and commercial condition of nations at the
present moment, affords several special grounds of reasoning, on which
the extention of Christianity may be anticipated as a probable event.
Among topics of this class may be named that of the diffusion of the
English language—the language which beyond comparison with any other is
spreading and running through all the earth, and which, by the commerce
and enterprise of two independent and powerful states, is colonizing the
shores of every sea; this language, now pouring itself over all the
waste places of the earth, is the principal medium of Christian truth
and feeling, and is rich in every means of Christian instruction, and is
fraught with religious sentiment, in all kinds, adapted to the taste of
the philosopher, the cottager, and the infant. Almost apart, therefore,
from missionary labor, the spread of this language insures the spread of
the religion of the Bible. The doctrine is entwined with the language,
and can hardly be disjoined. If the two expansive principles of
colonization and commercial enterprise, once diffused the language and
religion of Greece completely around every sea known to ancient
navigation, it is now much more probable that the same principles of
diffusion will carry English institutions, and English opinions, into
every climate.

But in calculations or speculations of this sort, merely secular as they
are, much less is included than truly belongs to the question at issue.
Not to assume the truth of Christianity, and not to argue on the ground
of its divine excellence, and not to confide in those prospective
declarations, the certainty of which has been attested beyond
possibility of doubt, is not only to grope in the dark when we might
walk in the light of noon, but to exclude from the working of our
problem the very facts of most significance in its determination. To
estimate fairly the probability of the universal triumph of true
religion, a second method must be pursued, in which the existing
condition of the Christian church is to be contemplated with a Christian
feeling. When thus viewed it will appear that a promise of a new kind is
now bursting from the bud; and the inference may confidently be drawn
that "summer is nigh."

For the purpose of measuring the progress of religion, attempts have
sometimes been made to effect a sort of Christian statistics, or
calculation of the actual number of true believers throughout the world.
But the propriety of such an application of arithmetic is far from being
conspicuous; and seeing that the subject of computation lies confessedly
beneath the reach of the human eye, its accuracy may be absolutely
denied. Endeavors, again, have been made to judge of the advance or
decline of religion by comparing the state of devotional feeling and of
morals in the present and in other times. But all such comparisons must
be deemed, at the best, extremely vague, and open to immense errors,
arising either from the prepossessions of the individual who makes the
comparison, or from the want of data sufficiently ample and exact; and
probably from both.

No attempts of this delusive kind will here be offered to the reader;
but instead of them, certain unquestionable and obvious facts will be
assumed as affording reasonable ground of very exhilarating hopes.

If any one were required, without premeditation, to give a reply to the
question—What is the most prominent circumstance in the present state of
the Christian Church? he would, if sufficiently informed on the subject,
almost certainly answer—The honor done to the Scriptures. Such an answer
may be supposed as suggested by the conspicuousness of the fact. Now in
order to gather our inference safely from this fact, it is necessary to
look back for a moment to past times.

In the first and best age of the church, the deference paid to the
inspired writings, whether of prophets or apostles, was as great as can
be imagined to exist: and whatever of beneficial influence belongs to
the Sacred Volume, was then actually in operation; or it was so with a
single drawback, namely—that arising from the scarcity of the book, and
its non-existence in the hands of the Christian commonalty. To estimate
duly the greatness of this disadvantage, let it be imagined what would
be the effect, among ourselves, of a sudden withdrawment of almost all
but the church copies of the Scriptures. This supposition need not be
enlarged upon, for every devotional Christian, and every master of a
family feels that, in whatever way the loss might be attempted to be
supplied, it would still be afflicting and injurious in the extremest
degree.

In the next, and the declining period of church history, if the
above-named disadvantage was in some small degree remedied by the
multiplication of copies, the benefit was much more than overbalanced by
the promulgation and general prevalence of a false and very pernicious
system of exposition; a system which sheathed the "sword of the Spirit,"
and scarcely left it its power or penetrating the conscience. The
immediate consequence of this abuse of the rule of faith and practice
was the rapid growth of a thousand corruptions. Thus, while in lip and
in ceremonial the Scriptures held their seat of authority, they were
dislodged from the throne of power. A night of a thousand years
succeeded, during which the witnesses of God lay in their tomb,
literally and virtually hidden, and silenced, and degraded.

The Reformation was, in all senses, a resurrection of the Bible: it was
its recovery and restoration as an ancient document; and the recognition
of its authority as the word of God; and the discovery of its meaning as
a rule of faith, and worship, and life; and its new diffusion through
the Christian body. The restoration of the Scriptures to their place of
power and honor brought with it a revival of true piety, scarcely, if at
all, inferior in extent and fervency to that which attended the
preaching of the apostles. There were, however, deductions from the full
influence and permanent benefit that might have resulted from this
recovery of the sacred canon. Of these deductions, the first was the
limited and imperfect diffusion of copies; for though the publication of
the Bible by means of the press was actually great, it fell very far
short of being complete. The next deduction arose from the infant state
of the science of biblical criticism; the next, from the still unbroken
influence of scholastic systems and modes of expression, which spread a
dense coloring medium over the lucidness of the apostolic style; the
next, and the most considerable and pernicious of these drawbacks, arose
from the acrimony of controversy, and from that spirit of contumacious
scrupulosity which is the parent of schism. These imperfections were
great enough to bar the progress of Christianity, and to sully its glory
at the time, and to procure the speedy decline of piety in all the
Protestant countries.

But when the present aspect of the church is compared with its condition
at the era of the Reformation, several circumstances connected with the
state of the Scriptures offer themselves to observation, that are
decidedly in favor of our times; and such as seem pregnant with hope for
the future. Of these, the first is the unexampled multiplication and
diffusion of the sacred volume: the second, is the progress that has
been made towards bringing the original text to a state of undisputed
purity; as well as the advancement of the science of biblical criticism,
by which means the verbal meaning of the inspired writers is now
ascertained more satisfactorily than at any time since the apostolic
age: and the third, is the incipient adoption of an improved method of
exposition; attended by an increasing disposition to bow to the Bible,
as the only arbiter in matters of religion. It remains, then, briefly to
point out in what manner these auspicious circumstances support the hope
of an approaching revival of genuine religion.

For the first of them, namely, the multiplication and diffusion of the
sacred volume:

Whenever the true and the false in matters of religion are brought into
conflict, two things are necessary to secure the triumph of the better
side, namely, in the first place, that the sound opinion should be set
forth in a perspicuous and convincing manner; and then, that it should
be borne forwards over the resistances of antiquated prejudice, and
worldly interest, and secular power, by the momentum of public feeling.
It is not the single preaching even of an archangel, that could effect
the renovation of the church when it really needs to be brought back to
purity and health. All the logic of heaven would die unheeded on the
ear, unless it were re-echoed from the multitude. Now if it may for a
moment be assumed that a general rectification of doctrine and practice,
and a revival of primitive piety is actually about to take place, what
is that preliminary measure which might be anticipated as the necessary
means of giving irresistible force, and universal spread to such a
reformation? What but the placing of the sacred canon, the arbiter of
all dispute, and the fountain of all motives, previously in the hands of
the people of every country? If, in the coming era, the teachers of
religion are to insist upon its doctrines and duties with new force and
clearness, their success must be expected to bear proportion to the
existence of scriptural knowledge, or to the means of acquiring it,
among those whom they address.

An extraordinary excitement of religious feeling, arising previously to
the general circulation of the Scriptures, can hardly be imagined to
take so prosperous and safe a course, as it would, if it followed that
circulation. So far as a conjecture on the methods of divine procedure
may be hazarded; it must be believed that the extensive dissemination of
the Scriptures, which has of late been carrying on, and which is still
in active progress, in all those parts of the world that are accessible
to Christian zeal, is a precursive measure, soon to be followed by that
happy revolution of which it gives so intelligible an augury.

Let it be said, and perhaps it may be said with some truth, that the
actual religious impression hitherto produced by the copious issuing of
Bibles among the common people in our own and other countries, is less
remarkable than might have been anticipated; then, with so much the more
confidence may the belief be entertained that this extraordinary
publication of the will of God to man is, on the part of him who
overrules all events for the furtherance of his gracious designs,
altogether a prospective measure; and that the special intention of
these many translations, and of these countless reprints of the Bible is
yet to be developed.

Is there much of gratuitous assumption, or of unwarrantable speculation
in picturing the present position of mankind in some such manner as the
following?—During a long course of ages a controversy, managed with
various success, has been carried on here and there in the world, on the
great questions of immortality, and of the liability of man to future
punishment, as the transgressor of the divine law; and concerning the
terms of reconciliation. Hitherto, there has stood, on the affirmative,
or religious side of this controversy, only a small and scattered party;
while on the other side, there has remained, with more or less of active
hostility, the great majority of mankind, who have chosen to pursue the
interests of the present life, as if no doctrine of immortality had been
credibly announced; and who have dared the future displeasure of the
Most High; and have ventured the loss of endless happiness; and have
spurned the conditions of pardon. But it is imagined that now, events of
a new order are to bring this momentous controversy to a final crisis.
Yet before the moment of awful decision comes on, and while all minds
remain in the listlessness of the ancient apathy, and while the winds of
high commotion lie hushed in the caverns of divine restraint—in this
season of portentous tranquillity, those writings, upon the authority of
which the issue is to turn, are put into every hand; and although the
hands that receive them, seem now to hold the book with a careless
grasp, ere long an alarm shall be sounded through all nations; and all
shall be roused from their spiritual sleep, and shall awake to feel that
the interests of an endless life are in suspense: then shall it appear
for what purpose the Bible has first been delivered to every people!

These views, it is granted, are in part conjectural, and yet, who that
entertains a belief of the providential guidance of the Christian
church, can suppose that the most remarkable course of events that has
hitherto ever marked the history of the Scriptures, is not charged with
the accomplishment of some unusual revolution? and what revolution less
than the installment of the inspired volume in the throne of universal
authority, can be thought of, as the probable result of the work that is
now carrying forwards? If the prejudices of the sceptical spirit, which,
in some degree, blind even the most devout, were removed, every eye,
accustomed to penetrate futurity, would see, in the recent diffusion of
the Sacred Writings, an indubitable sign of their approaching triumph
over all forms of impiety and false religion.

The friends of Bible Societies might, on this ground, find a motive for
activity that would be proof against all discouragement. When missionary
efforts meet disappointment, and when accomplished teachers are removed
in quick succession by death, and when stations where much toil has been
expended are abandoned, and when converts fall away from their
profession, the whole fruit of zeal perishes: but it is otherwise in the
work of translating and of multiplying the Scriptures; for although
these endeavors should at first be rejected by those for whose benefit
they are designed; still, what has been done is not lost; the seed sown
may spring up, even after a century of winter. Even if the existing
Bible Societies, at home and abroad, should do nothing more than
accomplish the initiative labors of translation, and should spend their
revenues in filling their warehouses with an undemanded stock of Bibles,
they would almost insure the universal diffusion of true religion in the
ensuing age. Immediate success is doubtless to be coveted; but though
this should be withheld, the work of translation and of printing is
pregnant with an infallible promise.

The restoration of the Sacred Text to a state of almost undisputed
purity, the accumulation of the resources of biblical criticism, and the
great advances that have been made in the business of ascertaining the
grammatical sense of the inspired writers, are circumstances in a very
high degree conducive to the expected prevalence of genuine religion.
Both infidelity and heresy have, till of late, found harborage in the
supposed, or pretended, corruption, or uncertainty of the canon. And the
whole of those small successes, which have served, from time to time, to
keep alive the flickering hopes of heterodoxy, have been drawn from the
detection of petty faults in the received text. There was a season when
some, even of the champions of orthodoxy, became infected with
unwarrantable fears and suspicions on this ground. But the utmost depth
of the ἕλκος has been probed. The most sanguine sceptic can henceforward
hardly hope to derive any new or important advantages from this source.
The text of the Scriptures is now in a state more satisfactory than that
of any other ancient writings; and though ignorance may go on to prate
as it is wont, no theologian, who would not forfeit his reputation as a
scholar, dares to insist upon objections which some years ago were
thought to be of the most formidable kind.

It is remarkable that this work of purgation and restoration, which,
like that of the translation and diffusion of the Scriptures, is
manifestly of a preliminary kind, should have been completed at this
precise moment. Had these doubts and suspicions remained unexamined and
unsettled, they might greatly have checked the progress of a future
religious revival: they might have given birth to new heresies, vigorous
from the enhanced tone of general feeling; they might have shaken the
minds of the faithful, and have distracted the attention of the
ministers of religion. But this preparatory work is done; and so fully
have the holds of sceptical doctrine been searched into, and so
thoroughly has the invalidity of its pleas been exposed, that nothing is
now wanted but an energetic movement of the public mind to shake off
forever all its withering sophisms.

It is not as if even the most faulty translation of the Scriptures; or
one made from the most defective text, would not abundantly convey all
necessary religious truth; or, as if Christian doctrine and practice
were, to any great extent, dependent upon philological exactitude of any
kind. But in removing occasions for the cavils and insinuations of
captious or timid spirits, the literary restoration of the Bible, and
the abundant means of ascertaining the grammatical sense of its phrases,
is highly important. And in looking towards the future, it must be
regarded as a circumstance of peculiar significance that the documents
of our faith have just passed through the severest possible ordeal of
hostile criticism at the very moment when they are in course of delivery
to all nations.

       *       *       *       *       *

The recent progress made towards the adoption of an improved method of
exposition demands to be named amongst the most auspicious indications
of the present times. Insensibly, and undesignedly, and from the
operation of various causes, all well-intentioned theologians have of
late been fast advancing towards that simple and rational method of
inferring the doctrine of Scripture which corresponds with the inductive
method of inquiry, practiced in the pursuit of physical science. Just
as, in the ancient schools of philosophy, each pretended expounder of
the mysteries of nature, first framed his theory, and then imposed upon
all phenomena such an interpretation as would best accord with his
hypothesis; so have biblical expositors, in long succession, from the
ancient Jewish doctors, to the Christian divines of the last century,
with very few, if any exceptions, followed the method of interpreting
each separate portion of Scripture by the aid of a previously formed
theological hypothesis. And although these theories of divinity may have
been, perhaps, fairly founded upon scriptural evidence, partially
obtained, they have often exerted an influence scarcely less pernicious
than as if they had been altogether erroneous. This system once admitted
to constitute a synopsis of truth, has been suffered to exercise the
most arrogant domination over every part of Scripture in detail. Certain
dogmas, awfully clothed in the clouds of metaphysical phraseology, have
bid defiance to the most explicit evidence of an opposite meaning; and
no text has been permitted to utter its testimony, until it had been
placed on the rack.

But the folly and impiety of this style of interpretation have become
conspicuous; and though not yet quite abandoned, it is left to those
whose minds have been too long habituated to trammels to move at all
without them. The rule of the new mode of exposition is founded on a
principle precisely analogous to that which forms the basis of the
inductive method of inquiry in physical science. In these sciences it is
now universally admitted, that, at the best, and after all possible
diligence and sagacity have been employed, we can scarcely penetrate
beyond the exterior movements of the material system; while the interior
mechanism of nature still defies human scrutiny. Nothing then could be
more preposterous than to commence the study of nature by laying down,
theoretically, the plan of those hidden and central contrivances, as if
they were open to observation; and then to work outwards from that
centre, and to explain all facts that come under observation in
conformity with principles so ignorantly assumed. This is indeed to take
a lie in our right hand, as the key of knowledge: yet such was the
philosophy which ruled the world for ages!

The method of hypothetical interpretation is, if possible, more absurd
in theology than in natural science. Every mind not infatuated by
intellectual vanity, must admit, that it is only some few necessary
points of knowledge, relating to the constitution and movements of the
infinite and spiritual world, that can be made the matter of revelation
to mankind; and these must be offered in detached portions, apart from
their symmetry. Meanwhile the vast interior, the immeasurable whole, is
not merely concealed, but is in itself strictly incomprehensible by
human faculties. Metaphysical projections of the moral system, how neat
soever, and entire, and plausible they may seem, can have no place in
what deserves to be called a rational theology. We not only do not know,
but we could not learn, the very things which the framer of a
"scientific divinity" professes to spread forth in all their due
proportions on his chart of the upper world.

The mode in which the necessarily incomplete revelation of that upper
world is conveyed in the Scriptures, is in harmony with that in which
the phenomena of nature offer themselves to our notice. The sum or
amount of divine knowledge really intended to be conveyed to us, has
been broken up and scattered over a various surface: it has been
half-hidden, and half-displayed; it has been couched beneath hasty and
incidental allusions; it has been doled out in morsels and in atoms.
There are no logical synopses in the Bible; there are no scientific
presentations of the body of divinity; no comprehensive digests; for
such would have been not only unsuited to popular taste and
comprehension, but actually impracticable; since they must have
contained that which neither the mind of man can receive, nor his
language embody. Better far might a seraph attempt to convey the
largeness of his celestial ideas to a child, than God impart a
systematic revelation to man. On the contrary, it is almost as if the
vessel of divine philosophy had been wrecked and broken in a distant
storm; and as if the fragments only had come drifting upon our world,
which, like an islet in the ocean of eternity, has drawn to itself what
might be floating near its shores.

The abrupt and illogical style of oriental composition, and in some
instances, the characteristic simplicity of untutored minds, are to be
regarded as the appropriate means chosen for imparting to mankind such
loose particles of religious truth as it was necessary for them to
receive. This inartificial vehicle was, of all others, the one best
adapted to the conveyance of a revelation, necessarily imperfect and
partial.

Now it is manifest that the mode of exposition must be conformed to the
style of the document; and this conformity demands that the inductive
method, invariably, should be used for gleaning the sense of Scripture.
While employing all the well-known means proper for ascertaining the
grammatical sense of ancient writers, each single passage of the
Inspired Volume, like a single phenomenon of nature, is to be
interrogated for its evidence, without any solicitude for the fate of a
preconceived theory, and without asking—How is this evidence to be
reconciled with that derived from other quarters?—for it is remembered
that the revelation we are studying is a partial discovery of facts,
which could not be more than imperfectly made known. Whoever has not yet
fully satisfied himself that the Scriptures, throughout, were "given by
inspiration of God," should lose no time in determining that doubt: but
if it be determined, then it is a flagrant inconsistency not to confide
in the principle that the Bible is everywhere truly consistent with
itself, whether or not we have the means of tracing its agreements. And
while this principle is adhered to, no sentiment or fact plainly
contained in the words, need be refused or contorted on account of its
apparent incongruity with "systematic divinity."

In this manner only is it possible that the whole amount of religious
knowledge intended to be imparted by the Scriptures can be gathered from
them. It must be granted as not only probable, but certain, that
whatever relates to infinity, to the Divine nature, to the ultimate
purposes of the Divine government, to the unseen worlds, and to the
future state, and even to the mechanism of motives, must offer itself to
the human understanding in a form beset with difficulties. That this
must actually be the case might be demonstrated with mathematical
certainty. If therefore we resolve to receive from the Inspired Writers
nothing but what we can reconcile, first to certain abstruse notions,
and then to a particular interpretation of other passages, the
consequence is inevitable—that we obtain a theology, needlessly limited,
if not erroneous.

It may fairly be supposed that there are treasures of divine knowledge
yet latent beneath the surface of the Scriptures, which the practice of
scholastic exposition, so long adhered to, on all sides, has locked up
from the use of the Church; and it may be hoped, that when that method
has fallen completely into disuse, and when the simple and humble style
of inductive interpretation is better understood, and is more constantly
resorted to than at present, and when the necessary imperfection and
incoherency of all human knowledge of divine things is fully recognized,
and when the vain attempt to fashion a miniature model of the spiritual
universe is for ever abandoned, and when whatever the Inspired Writers
either explicitly affirm, or obscurely intimate, is embraced in
simplicity of heart, that then the boundaries of our prospect of the
hidden and the future world may be vastly enlarged. Nor is this all; for
in the same manner the occasions of controversy will be almost entirely
removed; and though small differences of opinion may remain, it will be
seen by all to be flagrantly absurd to assume such inconsiderable
diversities as the pretexts of dissention and separation.

No one cordially reverencing the Bible, and believing it to be given by
inspiration of God, who is "not the author of confusion, but of order,"
can imagine it to have been so worded and constructed as to necessitate
important diversities of interpretation among those who humbly and
diligently labor to obtain its meaning. Nor will any but bigots deny
that, with those who differ from themselves, there may be found
diligence and sincerity quite equal to their own. What account then is
to be given of those contrarieties of opinion which continue to sully
the glory of the Christian Church, and to deprive it almost entirely of
its expansive energy?

In endeavouring to give a satisfactory reply to this important question,
we are, of course, entitled to dismiss from the discussion, first, those
errors of doctrine which spring immediately from the prepossessions of
proud and unholy minds, and which are not to be refuted until such evil
dispositions are rectified. It is not a better exposition of Scripture,
merely, that will afford an efficient remedy for such false opinions. In
the next place it is proper to put out of the question all those
politico-religious divisions which, as they originated in accident, so
now rest for their maintenance much less upon reason, than upon the
authority of habit, and the pertinacity of party feeling, or perhaps
even upon motives of secular interest. All such causes of schism must be
scattered to the winds whenever the authoritative force of the divine
injunctions to peace and union, and mutual forbearance, is vividly felt.

There should moreover be dismissed from the question those differences
that have arisen in the Church on some special points of antiquarian
obscurity. These having been in a past age absurdly lifted into
importance by an exaggerated notion of the right and duty of Christians
to stickle upon their individual opinions, even at the cost of the great
law of love, are now pretty generally felt by men of right feeling, to
be heir-looms of shame and disadvantage to whoever holds them. A very
probable return to good sense and piety is all that is needed to get rid
for ever of such disputes. If the utmost endeavors of competent and
honest men, on both sides, have not availed to put certain questions of
ancient usage beyond doubt; then it is manifest that such points do not
belong to the fundamentals of faith or practice; and therefore can never
afford ground of justifiable separation; nor should the Christian
commonalty be encouraged to suppose that the solemnities of conscience
are implicated in the decision of questions which, even the most learned
cannot in fact decide. What less than a grievous injury to right
feelings can ensue from the popular belief that the manifold evils of
religious dissension are mischiefs of small moment, compared with the
breach of some niceties of ceremonial? Shall Christianity spread in the
world, and show itself glorious, while practical absurdities like these
are persisted in? assuredly not. But there is reason to believe, even in
spite of the fixedness of some unsocial spirits, that the date of schism
is nearly expired, and that a better understanding of the great law of
Christ will ere long bring all his true followers into the same fold.

When the deductions named above have been made, the remaining
differences that exist among the pious are such only as may fairly
be attributed to the influence of the old theoretic system of
interpretation; and they are such as must presently disappear when the
rule of INDUCTIVE EXPOSITION shall be thoroughly understood and
generally practised. The hope therefore of an approaching prosperous era
in the Church depends, in great measure, upon the probability of a
cordial return to the authority of Scripture—of Scripture unshackled
by hypothesis. It is this return alone that can remove the
misunderstandings which have parted the body of Christ; and it is the
reunion of the faithful that must usher in better times.

That a torn church should be eminently prosperous, that it should be
favored as the instrument of diffusing the Gospel with triumphant
success, and on a large scale, among the nations, cannot be imagined;
for doubtless the Head of the church holds the most emphatic of his
admonitions in higher esteem than that he should easily brook the breach
and contempt of it, and put extraordinary honor upon those who seem to
love their particular opinions more than they do "his commandment."

Even without laying any great stress upon that softening of party
prejudices which has of late actually taken place, the hope of a near
termination of controversy, and of the healing of all permanent
differences among true Christians, may still rest on solid ground. An
intelligent faith in the divine origination of the Scriptures contains
necessarily a belief in their power to bring the catholic church into a
state of unity, so that division should no more be thought of. That,
during so many ages this has not been the condition of the Christian
body, is satisfactorily to be attributed to causes which are by no means
of inevitable perpetuity; but, which on the contrary, seem now to be
approaching their last stage of feeble existence. Meanwhile the Oracles
of God are visibly ascending to the zenith of their rightful power. The
necessary preparations for their instalment in the place of undisputed
authority are completed; and nothing is waited for but a movement of
general feeling, to give them such influence as shall bear down whatever
now obstructs the universal communion of the faithful.

An expectation of this sort will, of course, be spurned by those (if
there are any such) who, were they deprived of their darling sectarism,
and robbed of their sinister preferences, would scarcely care at all for
Christianity, and to whom the idea of Catholic Christianity, if they can
admit such an idea, is a cold abstraction. And it will be rejected also
by those who, though their feelings are Christian, accustom themselves
to look at the state of religion always with a secular eye, and are
indisposed to admit any suppositions not obtruded upon them by immediate
matters of fact. To all such persons the existing obstacles that stand
in the way of Church union must seem utterly insurmountable, and the
hope of an annihilation of party distinctions, altogether chimerical.
But it is not to such minds that the appeal is to be made when futurity
is in question; for such are always slaves of the past, and of the
present; and they are destined to stand by, and wonder, and cavil, while
happy revolutions are in progress; and it is only when resistance to the
course of things becomes impracticable, that they are dragged on
reluctantly, more like captives than attendants, upon the triumphant
march of truth.

This assuredly may be asserted, that, so far as human agency can operate
to bring on a better era to the church, he who despairs of it, hinders
it, to the extent of his influence; while he who expects it hastens it
so far as it may be accelerated. This difference of feeling might even
be assumed as furnishing a test of character; and it might be affirmed,
that when the question of the probable revival and spread of
Christianity is freely agitated, those who embrace the affirmative side,
are (with few exceptions) the persons whose temper of mind is the most
in harmony with the expected happy revolution, and who would, with the
greatest readiness, act their parts in the new and better economy; while
on the Contrary, those who contentedly or despondingly give a long date
to existing imperfections and corruptions, may fairly be suspected of
loving "the things that are" too well.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is yet another line of argument, wholly independent of the two
that have been pursued above, in which the general spread of true
religion might be made to appear an event probably not very remote;
namely, the argument from prophecy. But besides that the subject is by
far too large and serious to be treated hastily, the time is not arrived
in which it might be discussed with the calmness it demands. Yet in
passing this subject it may be suggested to whose who, notwithstanding
that they admit the truth of Christianity, constantly deride genuine
piety whenever it comes in their way, that, though the apparent course
of events seems to indicate a gradual improvement, such as would give
time to oppugners to choose the wiser part, and to range themselves
quietly in the train of the conquering religion, the general tenor of
scriptural prediction holds out a different prospect, and gives great
reason to suppose that the final triumph of the Gospel is to be ushered
in by some sudden and vindictive visitation, which shall arrest impiety
in its full career, and deny for ever to the then impenitent the option
of making a better choice.



NOTES.


SECTION VIII.

The following anecdote is reported by Sulpitius, concerning St. Martin
of Tours. The Emperor Maximus, a man of a haughty temper, and elated by
victories over his rivals, had received the unworthy adulation of a
crowd of fawning bishops; while Martin alone maintained the apostolic
authority. For when suits were to be urged, he rather commanded than
entreated the royal compliance, and refused many solicitations to take a
place with others of his order at the imperial table, saying, that he
would not eat bread with a man who had deprived one emperor of his
throne, and another of life. But at length, when Maximus excused his
assumption of the purple by pleading the force that had been put upon
him by the legions, the use he had made of power, and the apparent
sanction of heaven in the successes with which he had been favored, and
stated also that he had never destroyed an enemy except in open fight,
Martin, overcome by reason, or by entreaties, repaired to the royal
banquet, to the great joy of the emperor. The tables were crowded by
persons of quality; among them, the brother and uncle of Maximus;
between these reclined one of Martin's presbyters; he himself occupied a
seat near the emperor. During supper, according to custom, the waiter
presented a goblet of wine to the emperor, who commanded it rather to be
offered to so holy a bishop, from whose hand he expected and desired to
receive it again. But Martin, when he had drank of the cup, handed it to
his presbyter, not deeming any one present more worthy to drink after
himself; nor would he have thought it becoming to his character had he
preferred even the emperor, or those next to him in dignity, to his own
presbyter. It is added, that Maximus and his officers took this contempt
in exceeding good part!—_Sulp. Sev. de Vita B. Martin_, cap. xx.

The same writer reports a not less characteristic incident in honor of
the holy bishop, in his dialogue concerning the miraculous powers of St.
Martin. This personage, it seems, was in the habit of frequenting the
palace, where he was always honorably entertained by the empress, who
not only hung upon his lips for instruction, but in imitation of the
penitent mentioned in the gospels, actually bathed his feet with her
tears, and wiped them with her hair; and he, who never before had
sustained the touch of woman, could not avoid her assiduities. She,
unmindful of the state and dignity and splendors of her royal rank, lay
prostrate at the feet of Martin, whence she could not be removed until
she had obtained permission, first from her husband, and then by his aid
from the bishop, to wait upon him at table as his servant, without the
assistance of any menial. The blessed man could no longer resist her
importunities; and the empress herself made the requisite preparations
of the couch, and table, and cookery (in temperate style), and water for
the hands; and, as he sat, stood aloof, and motionless, in the manner
proper to a slave; with due modesty and humility, mixing and presenting
the wine. And when the meal was ended, reverently collected the crumbs,
which she deemed of higher worth than the delicacies of a royal
banquet.—Cap. 6.

In how short a time may prodigious revolutions take place in the
sentiments of men! This monkish bishop was removed by not more than
three or four lives from the Apostle John! And this humble empress
occupied the honors which, within the memory of the existing generation,
had been sustained by the mother of Galerius! It should be added, that
the auditor of the story above related, shocked at the inconsistency of
St. Martin in thus admitting the offices of a woman so near his devoted
person, requires from the narrator an explanation; who, in reply,
reminds his friend, that the compliance of the bishop with the
solicitations of the emperor and empress was the price by which he
obtained, from the former, release and grace for the persecuted
Priscillianists. The best thing, by far, related of the bishop of Tours,
is his firmness in opposing persecution. There is great reason to
believe that, in common with several of the most noted characters of
church history, his true reputation has been immensely injured by the
ill-judging zeal of his biographer.

       *       *       *       *       *

The life of St. Anthony, by the pious and respectable Athanasius, would
alone afford ample proof of the assertion, that, even in the third
century, the spirit of fanaticism, and the practices of religious
knavery, had reached a height scarcely surpassed at any later period.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first Christian monks followed the Essenes in this particular also,
that they despised human science; and it was not until learning had been
driven from among secular persons, that it took refuge in monasteries.
If the monks had avoided the infection of the philosophy, "falsely so
called," which the Platonists brought into the church, and instead, had
given their leisure to the toils of biblical learning, they would not so
soon and so completely have spoiled Christianity.

Sulpitius affords abundant illustration of the topics adverted to in
this section. Perhaps, within so small a compass, the principles and
practices of the ancient monachism are nowhere else so fully brought
into view, as in his Dialogues and Epistles. He may properly be quoted
in the present instance. Postumianus, lately returned from the east,
that is to say, from Egypt, Arabia, and Palestine, describes to his
astonished brethren of a monastery in Gaul, the abstemiousness the
oriental monks, as well as their piety and marvellous exploits. (On his
outward voyage Postumianus had gone ashore at Carthage to visit the
spots dedicated to the saints; especially—ad sepulchrum Cypriani
Martyris adorare.) His first specimen of a monkish dinner, in the
oriental style, was the being invited to partake, with four others, of
half a barley cake; to which was added a handful of a certain sweet
herb, altogether deemed to be—prandium locupletissimum. Sulpitius hence
takes occasion to joke a brother, who was present, upon their own
comparative appetites; but he replies that it was extremely unkind to
urge upon _Gauls_ a manner of living proper only to angels. Hearty
eating, says he, in a Greek, is gluttony; but in a Gaul—nature.


SECTION IX.

The dictates of good sense are often curiously intermingled in the
writings of the fathers with the defence of the absurd system they
espoused. The incongruous mixture, has it not been of frequent
occurrence in every age? Cyril of Jerusalem, in the fourth of his
Catechetical Discourses, and in the section περι σωματος, with great
vigor and propriety urges the consideration referred to above, while
reprehending those, in his time, who affected to despise and maltreat
the body. "Is not the body," says he, "the excellent workmanship of
God?" and he reminds the ascetic that it is the soul, not the body, that
sins. He goes on, in a lively manner, to hold forth the mean of wisdom
between opposite extremes; and while he much commends the monkish
celibacy, nevertheless bestows upon matrimony its due praise. The
fathers, by appropriating the words _continence_, _chastity_,
_temperance_, _virtue_, to the monastic life, robbed the Christian
community of that standard of morals which belongs to all. Our Lord and
his apostles enjoined purity, and continence, and temperance, and
heavenly-mindedness, upon Christians universally, married and unmarried,
engaged or not engaged, in the affairs of common life. But the monks
shuddered to talk of purity and celibacy as if separable. What part then
could the married claim in the practical portions of Scripture? These
holy precepts were the property of the _elect of Christ_, that is, of
the monks. Such are the consequences of extravagance in religion!

The story of Symeon Stylites, told by Theodoret, has been often
repented. The well-attested exploits of the fakirs of India render this,
and many similar accounts related by the same writer, by Gregory Nyssen,
Sozomen, &c., perfectly credible in all but a few of the particulars;
and in these it is evident that the writers were imposed upon. The fasts
professed to have been undergone by Symeon, by Anthony, and by others of
tho same class, most certainly surpass the powers of human nature; and
must be held either to convict those monks and their accomplices of
fraud, or their biographers of falsehood.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ignatius must be held to have set an example of unhappy consequence to
the church. His ardor for martyrdom, though unquestionably connected
with genuine and exalted piety, was altogether unwarranted by apostolic
precept or example, and stands in the strongest contrast imaginable with
the manner of Paul, when placed in similar circumstances, whose calm,
manly, and spirited defence of his life, liberty, and civic immunities,
on every occasion, imparts the highest possible argumentative value to
his sufferings in the cause of Christianity. Let it be imagined that
Ignatius had acquitted himself in the same spirit; had pleaded with
Trajan for his life, on the grounds of universal justice, and Roman law;
had established his innocence of any crime known to the law; and had
then professed distinctly the reasons of his Christian profession; and
at the same time calmly declared his determination to die rather than
deny his convictions. How precious a document would have been the
narrative of such a martyrdom! There can be no doubt that many such
martyrdoms actually took place; but they were less to the taste of the
church historians of the third and fourth centuries than those that were
made conspicuous by an ostentation of eagerness to die. The First
Epistle of Peter holds forth the principle and temper of Christian
submission under persecution with a dignity, calmness, pathos, good
sense, and a perfect freedom from fanatical excitement, which, if no
other document of our faith were extant, would fully carry the proof of
the truth of Christianity.

       *       *       *       *       *

No serious consideration need be given to those miraculous narratives
which exist only in biographies composed in a turgid style of laudatory
exaggeration, and not published, or not fairly and fully published, till
long after the deaths of the operator, and of the witnesses. An instance
precisely in point is the life of Gregory of Neocæsarea, by Gregory
Nyssen: another of like kind has also been frequently quoted—the life of
St. Martin, by Sulpitius Severus: the life of Cyprian, by his Deacon
Pontius, might be included; as well as that of St. Anthony, by
Athanasius. In passing, it may be observed that a perusal of the
last-mentioned tract, which fills only same fifty pages, would convey a
more exact and vivid idea of the state and style of religion in the
fourth century, than is to be obtained by reading volumes of modern
compilations of church history. At once the piety and the strong sense
of the writer, and the extraordinary character of the narrative, give it
a peculiar claim to attention. Let the intelligent reader of this
curious document take the occasion to estimate the value and amount of
the information that is to be received from modern writers—even the best
of them, such as Mosheim and Milner, for example, of whom the first
gives the mere husk of church history, and the other only some separated
particles of pure farina. But can we in either of these methods obtain
the solid and safe instruction which a true knowledge of human character
and conduct should convey? It may be very edifying to read page after
page of picked sentiments of piety; but do these culled portions, which
actually belie the mass whence they are taken, communicate what an
intelligent reader of history looks for—namely, a real picture and image
of mankind in past ages? Certainly not. If nothing be wanted but
pleasing expressions of Christian feeling, there can no need to make a
painful search for them in the bulky tomes of the Greek and Latin
fathers. Nevertheless, with all its defects, Milner's Church History is
one of the best that has been compiled. A modern reader, led astray by
the malign falsifications of Gibbon, and very partially informed of
facts by church historians, has no means of correctly estimating the
state of Christianity in remote times; or none but that of examining for



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Apparent typographical errors have been corrected.





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