Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

very; the elevation of the female character and condition, and the termination of polygamy; greater purity of manners; comparative mildness in the conduct of warfare; the suppression of many cruel practices, and the introduction of benevolent institutions; with the progress making towards the ultimate abolition of slavery :-these and many other social blessings, of high moment, have been the silent gift of Christianity to society, a temporal boon to confirm the promise of eternal life.

Another result of Christianity deserves more particular mention—its tendency to secure, advance and perfect the intellectual and moral education of man. When not most grossly corrupted, it must produce reading and reflection, and extend them among the lower classes of society. Hence, especially since the Reformation, and still more rapidly since the recentage of controversy, and gradual recurrence to its genuine spirit, the number of readers, and the quantity of general information, has been prodigiously multiplied. Much of this is owing to the simple fact, that Christianity exists in a book, avowedly for individual interpretation, and not neutralized, as in eastern superstitions, or in Popery, by traditions of equal authority, or privileged classes of authoritative interpreters. To make

ke any orde of men the depositaries and peculiar dispensers of truth, is saying, do not read, it is not neces

sary; do not think, it is done for you; do not inquire, doubt, compare, discuss, decide: bere are persons to whom all that is delegated-let there be only authority and submission; the privileged 'wise, and the subjugated ignorant. Christianity says the reverse of all this, and it has given a mighty impulse to the human mind. The interest and variety of the contents of the Bible seem designed by Providence for this end; they make it pre-eminently the people's bookthe book of the city and of the village, of the mechanic, labourer, artizan and cottager; of the aged poor and the infant poor; the cause why millions prize the ability to read, transmit it down to millions more, and harbinger the wide diffusion of knowledge, and gradual perfection of intellect.

While the influence of pure Christianity is good unmixed, and of the highest order, that of its various corruptions is as decidedly evil. So far as these additions or perversions relate to Trinitarian worship, and Ecclesiastical domination, their effects have been already exhibited. There are some other points which must now be noticed.

The Church of England retains so much ceremony, that but for the evangelical party, and the reaction produced by the activity of different classes of Dissenters, the prevailing character of the religion of its members would be that of

lifeless and ignorant formality. In practice, she rather requires submission than faith. Provided a heretic be a good churchman in other respects, and can make his own conscience easy, he may, so long as his clergyman is not evangelical, remain in her communion with but little annoyance compared with what he would be exposed to amongst orthodox Dissenters.

Amongst Methodists and some Methodistic Calvinists, there is more of an imaginative religion than perhaps has ever existed, (except where secluded situation, unincreasing information and aptness of local scenery, have preserved superstitions,) without being dissipated by inquiry, or calling in the aid of those sensible representations and daily ceremonies, which so commonly follow and supersede, and though intended as a fortress, remain as a monument. They have a vivid perception of that humanized Deity, whom the liturgic worshippers only describe in words. Liveried angels lackey them in their daily occupations, or wait at the gates of their chapels to carry to heaven intelligence of convictions and conversions. The very devil of their schoolbook pictures haunts their paths, whispers in their ears, and personally superintends their domestic troubles. Their hell is literally a brimstone lake; and their heaven the temple, or city, with the material glory of God, and the robes, palms, crowns and songs of the Apocalypse.

They lose the proselytes who take to thinking ; and the rest would speedily disband, did a splendid Catholic Establishment offer them an asylum. Happily a better destiny is prepared for them by Bell and Lancaster.

Genuine Calvinism is of a much more intellectual cast. It is framed for power and permanence. It despises ceremony, and rules the feelings with a rod of iron. It has all the energy of Mahometanism, in its most vigorous days, but without those seeds of weakness which so soon sprung up in its prosperity. The perpetual modifications of modern Calvinists have deprived the system of much of the gloomy grandeur, stern consistency, and almost omnipotent controul over the mind, which belonged to it originally. Those advocates have thereby shewn their own amiability, their respect for the Scriptures, and the approximation of their party towards pure Christianity. They have suffered reason to step beyond her allotted province in their creed, where she is treated as a slave, and employed to do the drudgery of completing and cementing parts, but not allowed to touch the foundations of the fabric. Calvinism is great only when taken as a whole; and then formidable because, on erroneous principles, and for perverted objects, it exercises so much the powers of the understanding, and so completely pervades the mind with its tyrannous influence. It does not enfeeble

or degrade, but embitter, darken and pervert the soul. The effects of this system on society are in strong contrast with those resulting from the milder and purer faith delineated in the last Lecture.

The character of God is exhibited in different lights. It may be said by all that he is supremely excellent, but the agreement is only verbal, for the details of this excellence display a complete contrariety. The opposite believers trace it in God as loving all his creatures, and as loving only a part; as forming all for happiness, and as foredooming numbers to misery; as making us individually responsible, and as both condemning and saving by moral substitution; as forgiving freely on repentance, and as dispensing mercy only after a satisfaction to his justice; as punishing to correct, and as condemning vindictively, and for

Have these opposite believers the same notion of goodness? If so, it is impossible, whatever be professed, that they should alike recognize it in their God. But if each believe in the absolute perfection of his God, their notions of moral excellence must be widely different, of that excellence to which they render their highest admiration, by which they form their own characters, and the imitation of which is the first principle of their religion. So far as this dark notion of the Deity is unchecked by the native movements of the heart, the unequivocal precepts

ever.

« AnteriorContinuar »