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Four parts, each divided into six books, compose the whole of our work. The first treats of the tenets and doctrine: the second and third comprehend the poetic of Christianity, or the connexion of Christianity with literature and the arts: the fourth contains the worship, that is to say, whatever relates to the ceremonies of the church, and to the clergy both secular and regular. p. 11, &c.
From a prospectus indicating such width in the compass of the subject, the reader must indeed begin to apprehend that the Christian religion has many associations not commonly taken into account by its disciples. If the work were coming among us with some authoritative prescription, appointing it (as might be done in the author's country, if the master so pleased) to be the text-book of divinity in the colleges and academies, enjoining it to be read in schools, and placed on the table of every Vestry, and exacting some pledge of coinciding with it from the teachers of religion, there would be an inconceivable alarm throughout the religious portion of our community. That our sober theological course through catechisms, compendiums, a few standard volumes of sermons, with a few treatises' on the church, on ordinances, and severally on the few leading topics of religion---crowned possibly with a quarto, or even a folio body of divinity,---that this plain quiet progress should be suddenly turned into a vast adventure of what may be denominated intellectual foreign travel, into a rhapsodical, poetical, romantic, excursion through all science, history, polite literature, and arts---and that among the temporary residences for study in so many regions, a rather protracted one should be in the schools of the distinguished painters and statuaries;---this would awaken us with a vengeance; this would be as capital a rousing almost as that given to the Christian world by Luther. The more áged, austere, and jealously orthodox of our instructed believers, who have long settled their system of opinions, would be moved with an indignation which we hope no sanction of civil or eeclesiastical power would be able to intimidate into silence. And we should suppose that the youngest, the most inquisitive, the most lax, or the most liberal among us, would feel no small degree of hesitation and apprehension at the view of such an innoyation.
We cannot pretend to give any thing like a methodical account of a work so multifarious, and itself so destitute of
any real method, though it is cast into books and sections. All we shall attempt will be some very slight notices with a considerable number of extracts.
The title of the first part, which fills the first volume, Tenets and Doctrine,' seems of very indistinct import. And if this part could really have been intended for any thing like a display, in order, of the most essential doctrines of Christianity, no attempt in all literature was ever more incompetent to its purpose.
It begins with some observations on the subject of mysteries, strongly expressive of poetical, and in a certain degree of philosophical feelings; but not at all adapted to instruct us how much of our religion we ought to be reverently satisfied to leave under the shade of awful mystery.
No circumstance of life is pleasing, beautiful, or grand, except mysterious things. The most wonderful sentiments are those which produce impressions difficult to be explained.'—' Is not innocence, which is no other than holy ignorance, the most ineffable of mysteries? If infancy is so happy, it is because it knows nothing, and if old age is so wretched, it is because it has nothing to learn; but fortunately for the latter, when the mysteries of life are at an end, those of death commence. If this be the case with sentiments, it is the same with regard to virtues: the most angelic are those which, emanating immediately from God, such as charity, studiously conceal themselves, like their source, from mortal view. If we proceed to the qualities of the mind, we shall find that the pleasures of the understanding are in like manner secrets. Mystery is of a nature so divine, that the early inhabitants of Asia conversed only by symbols. To what science do we continually recur, unless to that which always leaves something to be divined, and which sets before our eyes an unbounded prospect? If we wander in the desert, a kind of in. stinct impels us to avoid the plains, where we can embrace every object at a single glance; we repair to those forests, the cradles of religion ; those forests whose shades, whose sounds, and whose silence, are full of wonders; those solitudes to which the first fathers of the church retired, and where those holy men tasted inexpressible delight. We do not pause at the foot of a modern monument; but if in a desert island, in the midst of the wide ocean, we come all at once to a statue of bronze, whose extended arm points to the region to where the sun retires, and whose base, covered with hieroglyphics, attests the united ravages of the billows and of time--what a fertile source of meditation is here opened to the traveller! There is nothing in the universe but what is hidden, but what is unknown. Is not an himself an inexplicable mystery? Whence proceeds that flash of lightning which we call existence, and in what night is it about to be extinguished? The Almighty bus placed birth and death, under the form of veiled phantoms, at the two extremities of our career; the one produces the incomprehensible moment of lfe, which the other uses every exertion to destroy. Considering, then, the natural partiality of mankind to mysteries, it cannot appear surprizing that the religions of all nations should have had their impene. trable secrets, &c.'
This is one of several liundreds of passages that prove our author has perceptions and refiections of a much deeper kind than ordinary men, and that shew with how little precision he is
content, often, to make them bear illustratively on his subject. They are meant as introductory to two chapters on the Trinity and Redemption, which, we think, are singularly crude, fanciful, and ineffective. It is wonderful that a man so learned, and 80 zealous to reclaim'unbelievers, could persuade himself to demand the submission of their understandings to such reasonings.
· The Trinity,' he says, "opens an immense field for philosophic Studies, whether we consider it in the attributes of God, or collect the vestiges of this dogma diffused throughout the ancient East: for so far from being the invention of a modern age, it bears that antique stamp which imparts exquisite beauty to every thing upon which it is impressed.
He follows the traces of the doctrine, or an analogous doctrine, among various ancient and modern heathens, and quotes from Bossuet and Tertullian some obscure and unavailing attempts at explaining the mystery; or at least to shew why it may rationally be believed independently of evidence from divine rerelation. This, though most honestly intended on the part of our author, is an injudicious, and, in effecti
, treacherous way of defending the doctrine. When the appeal to the reason and to the taste of unbelievers, in favour of a Christian doctrine, is rested on dogmas and dreams of the Grecian, Persian, or Indian schools of philosophy, it will soon be seen how light they will make of the wisdom of those schools, though they might have been talking of it with affected reverence or rapture a moment before. He had better lave entirely let the subject alone, if, while he was bringing so many unexceptionable corrohoratives and illustrations of other Christian doctrines from the scenes of nature and the structure and sentiments of the human mind, he could not venture to demand for one doctrine' a submissive unspeculating faith, on the pure exclusive authority of that revelation which he was doing so much to establish as a communication from the Deity. We repeat, however, that there is evidently nothing insidious in his vindication of the doctrine. He adverts to it in other parts of the work with the unquestionable signs of sincere belief. But his belief is accompanied by the fantastie adjunet which has injured its sobriety and simplicity in the writings of some of our own divines, the notion of a certain trinity to be descried also in the system of nature, and in the constitution of man.
The chapter on Redemption asserts, in plain language, the fall and depravity of man; but this is almost all that is plain in it, excepting a just and very pointed reproach of the unreasonable and disengenuous conduct of the infidels, , whe, if you offer them animated images and sentiments, hear them with scorn, and are all for arguments; and then, if you accordingly begin
to argue, are just as loud for something animated, interesting; eloquent. There is the strange assertion that redemption is a natural consequence of the state into which . human nature has fallen ;' there are the strange expressions, affirmatively used, of
God dying,' God expiring for sinners; and there is such an unaccountably careless sentence as this, Without pretending to decide in this place whether God is right or wrong in making us sureties for each other, all that we know is, &c. That it is the language of Massillon is taken as a sufficient warrant for saying, that there were accumulated upon the head of Christ all the physical torments that might be supposed to attend the punishment of all the sins committed since the beginning of time, and all the moral anguish, all the remorse, which sinners must have experienced for crimes committed.' It is said that Christ was born of a virgin that he might not partake of original sin.' In the most monstrous style of French rhetoric, man, as originally created, is actually called the sovereign of the universe.' Death is pronounced to have been a penal invention of God after the fall of man. The gospel is asserted, in the most unqualified expression, to be the plainest book that exists;' and yet the following is a statement of some of its contents !
• For our parts, setting aside whatever is direct and sacred in our mysteries, we think we can discover under their veils the most exquisite truths in nature. We are persuaded that these three secrets of heaven," (trinity, redemption, incarnation) exclusively of their inexplicable and mystic parts, contain all created things, and are the prototype of the moral and physical laws of the world: this is highly worthy of the glory of God, for hence we discern the reason why he has been pleased to manifest himself in these mysteries rather than in any other mode. Jesus Christ, who may be compared to the moral world, taking our nature upon him, teaches us the prodigy of the physical creation, and represents the universe framed in the bosom of celestial love. The parables and the figures of this mystery are then engraved upon every object around us. Strength universally proceeds from grace ; the river issues from the spring : the lion is first nourished by milk like that which is sucked by the lamb; and lastly, among mankind, the Almighty has promised ineffable glory to those who practise the humblest virtues. Vol. I.
39. The general title, Tenets and Doctrine,' is of such comprehensive import as to include the sacraments, baptism, the communion, and marriage; and, with some dexterous management, to bring it in as a circumstance, merely, in a representation of a Christian dying, the other sacrament of extreme unction. Poetry had been waiting and accumulating for the introduction of the two former of these subjects :
• Behold the new convert standing amidst the waves of Jordan; the hermit of the rock pours the consecrated water on his head;
while the reeds of the river, the camels on its banks, the cedars of Lebanon, seem to pay attention. Or rather, * behold the babe before the sacred font! A joyous family surrounds him, in his behalf renounces sin, and gives him the name of his grandfather, thus renewed by love from generation to generation. Already the father, whose heart throbs with delight, eagerly receives back his child, to 'carry him home to an impatient wife. The relatives assemble; tears of tenderness and of religion bedew every eye; the new name of the pretty infant, the ancient appellation of his ancestor, passes from mouth to mouth, and every one, mingling the recollections of the past with present joys, discovers the fancied resemblance of the good old man in the child by which his memory is revived. But religion, ever moral, ever serious, even when the most chearful smile irradiates her countenance, also shews us the son of kings, in his purple mantle, renouncing the works of Satan, at the same font to which the infant of the cottage is equally brought to abjure the pomps and vanities of the world.'
He reverts with great delight to the primitive administration of baptism, as described by St. Ambrose, and to the sacred retirements of Anchorites in the wilderness of the Holy Land; and he exclaims,
Days tờo soon passed away! No longer is there a St. John in the desert, and on the happy convert will not again be poured those waters of Jordan which removed all his stains, and conveyed the pole luted stream to the bosom of the ocean.'
This appearing to be expressed with the gravity of a literal description of a physical fact, and there having been a vast number of converts baptized in the Jordan, though not in recent times, might we start the suggestion whether any aggravation of the known qualities of the Dead Sea may have accrued from this cause?
He becomes much more lavishly poetical in his celebration, popish, historical, philosophical, and mystical, of the Eucharist. In what we call the philosophical part there is the proposition that the Holy Communion constitutes a complete system of legislation.' And on such a subject he consents, and surely is the only pious man alive that would do so, to accept the polluted assistance of Voltaire, who condescends, in his sneering hypocrisy, to pervert to the subject a few French opera phrases.
“ Here then are people,” says he," who partake of the communion, amid an august ceremony, by the light of a hundred tapers, after solemn music has enchanted their senses, at the foot of an altar resplendent with gold. The imagination is subdued and the soul powerfully affected. We scarce breathe; we forget all earthly consi. derations; we are united with God. Who durst, who could, after this, be guilty of a single crime, or only conceive the idea of one!
* Here is a trial for the poet and painter!