ePub 版

our observation, than some other species of evidence. The understanding easily gathers them up, renders them familiar, holds and weighs them. They are not of a perishable character, not temporary and fading. They multiply and strengthen with age. They have a sort of universal presence; they are felt, wherever Christianity is received. The evidence from miracles, however satisfactory, is by its nature more local and confined. It overpowers the understandings of spectators; but time takes something from its freshness and strength.

For ourselves, we are disposed to relymuch on the marks of a heavenly origin, which Christianity bears on the face of it. We think, that we may appeal with confidence to its internal evidences. They form one of our strong holds, which we do not fear ever being compelled to surrender. Should it be abanoned, Christianity would be in great danger of falling. Let it be admitted, that no marks of divinity are visibly stamped upon its form, we might feel some distrust of other evidence in its favour. If it could be shown to exhibit marks of imperfection, if its doctrines should appear weak or irrational, repugnant to the known character of God, and to the best sentiments and feelings, and noblest aspirations of human nature, we should feel compelled to reject it. No support it is capable of deriving from prophecy or miracles would be sufficient to preserve in our minds a veneration for it.

The importance we ascribe to this class of the evidences for Christianity renders us solicitous, that works designed to present them in a popular form should be free from gross deficiencies and errors. We wish to see them explained and illustrated in a forcible manner—in language fitted to reach the understanding and heart. There is much in them, we conceive, when faithfully stated, adapted to impress both.

The work of Jenyns does not satisfy us. It contains several very exceptionable passages, and is, in some respects, faulty in its general spirit, views and tendency.

Christianity has greatly assisted the reasonings of the moralist; and has, undoubtedly, had the effect of gradually introducing into the world a more pure and elevated tone of moral feeling, than it found at the time of its appearance. This it has accomplished, partly by forbidding gratifications, feelings, and pursuits, which were before fostered or permitted by public sentiment, and partly by strengthening and exalting dispositions, affections and habits, which had been overlooked or neglected.

Among the 'false virtues' rejected by Christianity, Jenyns, it is well known, places patriotism and friendship. But as his reasoning on the subject of these virtues, has, we suppose, few abettors, and has been often enough censured, we shall take little further notice of it than merely to say, that it affords one among numerous proofs the author has left us of great defect of judgment. One or two observations occur on the subject, which we cannot forbear stating.

Christianity, we know, inculcates 'extensive benevolence.' It is in some sense true, that' a Christian is of no country, he is a citizen of the world; and his neighbours and countrymen are the inhabitants of the remotest regions, whenever their distresses demand his friendly assistance.' But we are not aware, that universal benevolence excludes affection for individuals, or local collective bodies of men. We should think just the reverse. It is idle to talk of love for the whole, where there is no love of parts; or love of the species, where there is no love of individuals. Our good will should embrace the whole family of man. But there are parts of that family with which we come in more immediate contact, and which are therefore more within the reach of our good offices. There are parts, too, which, from the nature of social relations, have stronger claims on us than others. We are connected with our country by more intimate ties than with other nations. We owe it more gratitude. We have greater opportunities of contributing to its prosperity and happiness, and of thus augmenting the general stock of human enjoyment. It ought then to share most of our affections and cares.

Patriotism, we are told, commands us to 'oppress all other countries to advance the imaginary prosperity of our own.' This is not true. Patriotism, we conceive, no more than other feelings, should be left wild and uncontroled. It has its laws and is subject to restraints. Those laws and restraints are the everlasting and unchangeable obligations of rectitude. The desire to confer 'imaginary' or real benefit on our country does not sanction injustice and oppression. We suppose, that few better patriots have lived in ancient or modern times than the Athenian Aristides. Yet Aristides, in a well known instance, opposed a project admitted to be advantageous to his country, alleging as his sole reason, that it was unjust

Our author's reasoning on the subject of patriotism, if it prove any thing, proves too much. It is equally applicable to all the relations of social life. It goes to show, if it is worth anything, that all particular affection for our associates, our connexions, and families, all paternal, filial, and conjugal affection —more than this, all particular regard to ourselves, is forbidden as criminal. But we have already bestowed more time on it than it deserves. The remarks on friendship are liable to the same objections as those on patriotism; and their fallacy may be shown by a similar train of observations.

With the enumeration of the distinguishing virtues of Christianity, 'poorness of spirit, forgiveness of injuries, and charity to all men; repentance, faith, self-abasement, and a detachment from the world,' we are not disposed to find much fault. It is accompanied with several pages of remarks, most of which are just, though we occasionally meet with language and illustrations, with which we are not quite satisfied. The picture, we think, is a little overcharged. There is a little exaggeration and extravagance in some of the author's statements.

On the subject of the doctrines of Christianity, we find more to censure in the work before us. We object to the assertion, that Christianity ' exhibits distinct pictures of the joys of another world.' We have always regarded it as one proof of the excellence, and one mark of the truth of Christianity, that, while it asserts explicitly, that the feelings and habits, which are formed and strengthened now, extend an influence beyond the grave, it does not attempt to remove the veil, which hides from our view the condition of the spiritual world. Impostors and enthusiasts, from Mahomet down to our own times, have yielded to the temptation of indulging the imagination in picturing out the invisible and bodiless future. The poets set the example. Homer was followed by Virgil and Dante. But the theme was too alluring, and thought to be too important to be abandoned to the poets. It was soon forced, by piety, or fraud, or fanaticism, into the service of religion.

All pictures designed to present distinct images of a future life, however, it may be superfluous to say, must from the nature of the case be inadequate. They can never exalt and can hardly fail of degrading our conceptions. They are adapted only to rude minds in the infancy of civilization and refinement.—We suppose few, at the present day, have so gross ideas of heaven as to imagine, that we surround a gorgeous throne, and are occupied solely in chaunting hallelujahs there, or that we shall find 'white robes,' and 'palms,' and sceptres necessary to our happiness. We view heaven as a condition of spiritual natures, furnishing rich, intellectual and moral gratifications. Of the nature of those gratifications we can hardly be supposed, at present, immersed as we are amid surrounding matter, capable of forming any distinct conceptions. Christianity does not attempt to reveal it. The representations it furnishes of a future state are popular and figurative; they hold out certain forms to the imagination; but those forms are dim, vague and shadowy. This feature of the religion of Jesus is of some importance. It goes to illustrate the pleasing fact of which every day is furnishing additional confirmation, that Christianity is fitted not merely for rude and ignorant times; it is suited to the human mind after the largest advances made in knowledge and refinement. It is suited to those lofty and undefined aspirations, those mysterious and far-stretching hopes, those fond longings after a more intellectual form of being, which characterise a thinking and contemplative age. The world has not stood still since the time of its appearance. Much has been learnt; and the human intellect has on the whole gone forward. But the value of Christianity has not been impaired. No parts of it appear obsolete. We detect in its doctrines none of that narrowness and imperfection, which time usually brings to view in the productions of man.

Our author proceeds to point out some further characteristics of Christianity. 'No other religion,' he observes, 'has attempted to reconcile those seeming contradictory, but both true propositions, the contingency of future events, and the foreknowledge of God, or the free will of the creature with the over ruling grace of the Creator.' Does Christianity, we would ask, attempt this? We remember no passage in the New Testament, no passage in the whole Bible, which bears the semblance of any such attempt. Of the truth of the propositions alluded to we say nothing. A discussion of it would plunge us into the deepest abstractions of metaphysics, and demand more time than we feel willing to bestow. Besides, we do not think such discussions generally either very instructive or useful. Theologians have been too fond of obtruding them on the world. The consequence has been, they have perplexed their own understandings without benefiting the understandings or hearts of others. While they have been employed in vain, futile reasonings on points of the most abstruse nature,

'And found no end, in wandering mazes lost,' the simple instructions of the Gospel have been forgotten or neglected. Christianity has been robbed of all its richer and more attractive attributes, its air of heavenly majesty and loveliness; the whole of religion has been reduced to a few meagre, pedantic and frigid doctrines, which neither satisfy the intellect, nor warm and expand the affections.

The sacred writers, with very few exceptions, are characterized by great simplicity. They resort to no nice reasoning; they never go out of their way to obviate objections, or remove difficulties, never interrupt their narratives by attempts to define and explain; never stop to point out in what manner doctrines or views, apparently repugnant to each other, are capable of being so modified and restrained as to harmonize. They claim not to be philosophers or metaphysicians. They relate in simple and unstudied, though often figurative expressions, what they saw and heard; they employ the language of feeling and sentiment, and their narratives partake of that indefinite character, uncertain extent and vagueness, which are inseparable from a popular, warm, and figurative style. Some expressions they employ in reference to the doctrines specified by our author, and others of a similar character, if taken in their literal and most obvious sense, are embarrassed with numerous difficulties. The question is still open to discussion, how far and under what modifications those doctrines are meant to be asserted. Whether or not they are found in the bible, is an inquiry with which we have, at present, no concern. All which we contend for is, that in the whole compass of the Old and New Testaments, no one argument is employed with a view to reduce them to harmony. No attempts are made to explain them in language of technical accuracy, to show in what sense they are repugnant and overthrow each other, and in what sense they are capable of standing, and afford mutual confirmation and support. Christianity is intended for the use of plain understandings, and does not therefore concern itself with those airy speculations, which few can comprehend, and by which none are made better. It was designed, not to correct an er

Vol. in.—No. II. 19

« 上一頁繼續 »