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UNDER favour of an indulgent Providence, the editor of the Christian Advocate is permitted to greet its patrons on the completion of a third volume. His work shall be left, as heretofore, to proclaim its own merits or defects. He will only say, that he is conscious of having laboured faithfully in his vocation, and that he has received some encouraging indications that he has not laboured altogether in vain.
Subscriptions to this miscellany have steadily increased, through the year which is closing; and contributions of literary aid, greater in amount and variety than at any former period, have been received. To the friends who have promoted, or who have made, subscriptions, and to those who have assisted in furnishing the contents of the successive numbers of the miscellany, the editor's best thanks are due, and are very sincerely offered. He still needs their countenance and aid: for notwithstanding an increased patronage has been gained by the Christian Advocate, and although it now goes into nearly every state of the American Union, it cannot yet boast of the number of its subscribers. It would seem, indeed, that this number ought to be either less or greater; less, if the work is not worthy of a liberal support-greater, if it is. The amount of subscriptions, at present, but little exceeds a thousand-in a church which reckons as her own, at least eleven hundred ordained ministers, and more than three hundred licentiates and candidates for licensure: and the pecuniary avails of the work, including the tenth set apart to charity, are far less than many a mechanic, in the neighbourhood of the editor, derives from his handicraft industry. Ought these things so to be? The question is left to the consideration and conscience of the ministers and members of the Presbyterian church, at whose instance the publication was undertaken, and to whose service it is, and has been, faithfully devoted.
But while the editor would certainly be gratified in seeing the Christian Advocate more extensively patronized, he has neither wish nor expectation that it should ever become a national work. Such a wish he regards as improper, and all such expectation as visionary. In reference to a religious miscellany, let us be permitted to ask, what is meant by a national work, of which we perceive that some have lately spoken ? Can it be expected that writers of the best talents, in all the religious denominations of our country, will combine and put forth their energies, to furnish essays, discussions, and information, for such a miscellany? Were this to take place, it would surely be “a new thing under the sun.” We have no national church, and we devoutly pray that we may never have one: for the union of church and state has, in our judgment, always been the source of the most baneful corruption of that religion whose Divine Author declared “my kingdom is not of this world.”
But even in countries where a national church is established, as in England for example, there is no religious miscellany that can with any propriety be called a national work. The Christian Observer is, we believe, and we certainly think deservedly, the most popular monthly publication, of a religious kind, in the established charch of South Britain. But this publication is not favoured, even by a majority of those who possess both the power and the influence, and probably the learning and talent too, of the national establishment. There are other religious magazines that may certainly vie with it; some in talent, and several in piety. The Evangelical Magazine is probably supported by a larger subscription, than any religious periodical publication in the British dominions perhaps in the whole world. At the commencement of the new series in 1823, the editors say—“At times, 22,000 copies have been sold: and notwithstanding the present number and diversity of religious magazines, the sale of 20,000 continues.” And afterwards they ask“What may we not hope hereafter to discover, of benefits arising from the perusal of 200,000 numbers of such a publication annually!" The Congregational Magazine, avowedly a dissenting miscellany, has enlisted much talent, as well as piety, in its support. It has occasionally engaged in polemical conflict with the Christian Observer, so as to claim a victory, with at least plausible pretensions. In Scotland, which also has its national church, there are several religious magazines; to which some of the ablest writers in North Britain contribute, and which some of the ablest clergymen conduct.
Now can any body tell which, of all the religious miscellanies to which we have referred, or have not referred, is a national work? Not one of them, we confidently believe, can make any just claim to be of this character. And can it be expected that we should have one of such a character in this country, where all religious denominations are, in the eye of our civil constitutions and laws, perfectly on the same footing? Where any claim to national favour of one over another, would immediately be repelled with warm and just indignation ? Where the very editorship of a work, when known to be in the hands of a particular denomination, although confessedly conducted with delicacy and catholicism, uniformly operates as a reason why others favour it cautiously and scantily-if they favour it at all? Where almost every denomination also, has at least one religious miscellany of its own, which ensures in its behalf, the zeal and talents of those of its members who take the most interest in periodical publications ? Leaving these interrogatories to such answers as our readers may think proper to give them, we say for ourselves, that we do not believe it is desirable, even if it were practicable, that we should have a national publication of the kind contemplated. We believe that any such publication, when once secure of its inposing character, would not long remain the vehicle of sound doctrine; and that when become corrupt, its influence would be injurious to a most alarming extent. Orerbearing influence of any kind, political, literary, or religious-we appeal to the history of the world-has never long remained salutary and beneficial.-. The corruption of human nature, as we believe, has förbidden it, and till the millennial age at least, will always forbid it. We regard the various religious sects as exceedingly useful, as sentinels on each other. Protestanism has taken from Popery itself, half its abominations, even in Popish countries; especially where these countries have been contiguous to Protestant states.
Or is a publication that shall do honour to us as a nation, all that is uneant by a national work ? If so, we have to say, in the first place, that this is an unauthorized use of terms.- Nothing can be called with propriety a national work, which a nation does not, in some sense or form, patronize or favour; and this, we think we have shown, is not to be expected for a religious magazine. In the next place, we affirm that publications which have done honour to nations, have much more fre. any
quently proceeded from individuals than from large combinations of
kind. We agree with Johnson,* " that the chief glory of every people arises from its authors," and we ask any one, capable of the survey, to look over Britain, France, and Germany, the three nations of Europe whose authors are the most distinguished, and say whether the glory in question, is not to be almost entirely ascribed to the productions of individuals-aided only by the voluntary contributions of their learned friends, and very often with no assistance whatever. Johnson himself declares, that his Dictionary “was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great;” and yet it is believed, by his countrymen at least, to excel a similar production of the embodied criticks of France; who, when fifty years had been spent on their work, were obliged to change its economy, and to give their second edition another form.”
It is our firm conviction, therefore, grounded, as we believe, on uniform experience, that if it is wished to raise our reputation for able writing in religious publications, as well as in those of any other character, this will most probably be accomplished by a number of similar works, each endeavouring to excel the others; each sustained by its particular friends; and each superior, it may be, in certain particulars, and in others inferior, to its rivals. We would certainly desire that this rivalship should be conducted, not only in what the world calls a liberal or generous competition, but in a manner truly Christian--"coveting earnestly the best gifts,” and yet regarding love to God and man, as “more excellent” than them all. Here, in our apprehension, is at once the true ground of charity, and the true system for doing the greatest honour to our country; and what is of infinitely more importance, for doing the most good to the world.
Let us be indulged with a few words, on a subject closely related to that which we have been considering. We are satisfied, by the personal observation and experience of many years, that the most effectual method to preserve brotherly affection and good neighbourhood among the various religious sects of our country, as well as to extend their usefulness, is, to forbear all attempts to press them too closely together. Their peculiarities are like so many thorny points, which are harmless and inoffensive while they remain at a small distance from each other; but which, when the bodies that present them are brought into contact, prick sorely, and produce unavoidable restiveness and contention. It seems most for the benefit of all, therefore, that each denomination should retain, undisturbed, its peculiar opinions and its distinguishing and favourite forms; that each should cherish a spirit of forbearance, good will, and Christian affection, toward all who are believed to hold the essentials of religion ; that each should rejoice sincerely in all the good that is done by every other; and that each, in its appropriate sphere, should oppose the inroads of fundamental and destructive error, and the machinations of all who are manifestly hostile to our common christianity.
We would not, however, be understood as intimating that the system we have mentioned should be carried so far as to prevent all union, and all direct co-operation, of different religious denominations. We believe that among some sects there are only shades of difference; and these more in semblance than in reality. We think that such sects may and ought to unite, because they can do it cordially. Yet even here, a union ought not to be precipitated; for if this be attempted, the effect will commonly be, to procrastinate, and not to hasten the desired event.
* Preface to his large Dictionary.
The parties must come together by a kind of mutual attraction, drawing them gradually and kindly toward each other.-Farther, we rejoice as inuch as any, in the co-operation which exists in Bible societies; and desire as sincerely as any, that this co-operation may be carefully cherished and forever maintained; and we heartily felicitate our country, on the establishment and growing prosperity, of what is called our national Bible Society. Bible societies, however, we regard as almost unique in their nature. But if Sabbath schools, and tract societies, and mariners? societies, or any similar associations, can advantageously assume a general, or a national character, we have not a word to object. We do believe, nevertheless, that it is not enough considered, that there is a maximum, as well as a minimum, in the advantage to be derived from combination. A body may be too large, as well as too small, to act with the greatest effect. We think that a confederation of societies, would sometimes be better than an amalgamation of them.
Within the year past, one combination has taken place in the old world, of the most singular nature, and the most portentous aspect. It is the combination of anti-christian powers to stop the general diffusion of the Holy Scriptures, and the influence of evangelical missions. In this combination, the Pope, the Grand Seignior, and the Emperor of Russia, and probably the whole of the powers composing the miscalled Holy Alliance, seem to be parties.—The Pope appears to be the prime mover of the whole. We believe it is capable of undeniable proof, that he has stirred up the Grand Seignior, to prohibit the sale or donation of the Bible, throughout his dominions. We do not indeed know what degree of formal concert, in reference to this business, has taken place among the powers we have named.—This, of course, was not likely to be immediately divulged. But that they are all concerned to put a stop to the operations and influence of the Bible and missionary associations which originated in Britain, there appears good reason to believe. It is well known that some of the most pious and erudite interpreters of Scripture prophecy have been decidedly of the opinion, that shortly before the commencement of the millennial age, a time of awful trial and bloody conflict must be expected, between anti-christ and the real friends of the gospel of Christ. We have never, hitherto, adopted this opinion for ourselves. But we confess it seems to us to receive some countenance from the existing state of the world. Be this as it may, the friends of truth and piety ought to be awake to their situation and their duty. We are not sure, as we hinted in one of our numbers a few months since, but that this is one of the cases in which all the friends of the Bible and of evangelical truth, ought to form some plan for acting in concert. But whether such a plan be formed or not, every one, in his place, ought to be active; and those who conduct religious publications in our country, ought not only to give full and seasonable information of any new movements of the enemy, but to use their best endeavours to animate their fellow Christians to withstand, both in their individual and associated capacity, this embodied host -the allies of the powers of darkness. Formidable as it may appear, we know that it will'ultinately be defeated; and every "good soldier of Jesus Christ,” ought to cherish a holy emulation, to have as large a share as he may, in defending the cause of God and truth. The Saviour's message to the angel of the church of Smyrna, is addressed to us all* Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”