Imagens das páginas

remarks that some men have formed to themselves a system of Christianity, which seems to wage war with all our most natural feelings. Seizing upon certain views of scripture, to which they confine their whole attention, they appear to think that man, as he comes out of the hands of nature, is wholly detestable and wicked ; that none of our affections or principles of conduct are at all to be approved of, unless they can stand the test of their peculiar dogmas; and, forgetting that the gospel is a religion of liberty, they narrow and depress all the vigour of the human understanding, and throw a melancholy cloud over all the images of faith. As long as this spirit prevails, (and it seems to be making no inconsiderable progress) religion cannot be hailed as the friend and comforter of man, as his affectionate guide through the dangers and snares of his way; but she will rather seem to be the cruel task mistress, who drives him forward to unprofitable duties with her unrelenting lash. With this view, therefore, he continues, of fixing religion upon a right basis, nothing is of more importance than to point out those aspects of the Gospel, which are animating and ennobling to human nature; and surely it is impossible to study with attention, and without some unfortunate bias, the mild and unaffected tenor of the sacred history, and not at the same time to see that the utmost purity is consistent with the most entire absence of austerity; and that it is much less in severe doctrine than in holy, gentle, and charitable affections, that the true spirit of chris tianity consists.

This, however, is not the only peculiarity of religion in the present age, for while, from a horror at licentiousness and infidelity, one description of men have entrenched themselves among the most thorny doctrines that have ever been engrafted on the Christian system, others have thought that the only way of rendering Revelation acceptable to men of enlightened and li. beral views, was to strip it of every thing impenetrable to human reason; and in so doing, they bave indeed, as the author observes, “ but too often laid the axe to the root of the tree," and bave not scrupled to throw down indiscriminately what have been accounted, in all ages, the most fundamental doctrines of the gospel. It is certainly not to be desired that any obstacle should be put to the freedom of enquiry; but, as our author again justly remarks, there is frequently a great degree of pertinacity and narrow-minded dogmatism among those who account themselves the only enlightened Christians, which is equally remote from the humility of the Gospel, and from the true character of philosophical research. He who really wishes to discover what christianity is, ought to raise his mind above the litLI

tleness VOL. VI, NOVEMBER, 1816.

tleness of controversial petulance and the “ oppositions of science, falsely so called.'

Since we are on the “ character of religion in the present age,” which Mr. Morehead seems to have studied and appreciated with considerable attention, we shall give an extract from his serion on “ Christian Faith," wherein be contrasts with much effect, the reasonableness and composure of sound religion, as manifested in the conduct of our Redeemer, with the presumption of the modern enthusiast, or of the new-made convert. The man out of whom the legion of devils was expelled, after expressing in a very natural way his gratitude to Christ, prayed that he might be allowed to be with him, and to become one of his disciples. “ How beit, saith the evangelist, Jesus suffered him uot, but said unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion upou thee.”

“ Thus,” observes our author, “ it is not at all uncommun for men, particularly of susceptible imaginations, whenever they have 'acquired any strong impressions of the truth and importance of christianity, immediately to suppose that it is their duty to give up all their customary connections and occupations in society, and to take upon themselves some spiritual mission, for the general good of the human race. This is thought by many to be the truest sign of a strong and lively faith, and they will scarcely admit any to be really christians, who do not at the same time attempt to become apostles. In the passage before us, our Saviour gives a very instructive admonition to persons of this character. In the warmth of his gratitude, the poor man, who had been possessed, was desirous to quit all his original pursuits, and to dedicate himself solely to the ministry of Christ ; but his gracious master saw, probably, that a person whose mind had suffered so severe a shock, was not the fittest instrument that could be chosen for a service, which, while it required men to be harmless as doves,' required them likewise to be wise as serpents. At all events, he saw that this individual would both be happier in the quiet of domestic society, and might likewise be much more useful, while to those who could sympathize with all his feelings, and had suffered so much from the spectacle of his calamity, he would often relate, with tears of grateful faith, how great things the Lord had done for him, and what compassion he had on him. It is by a departure from this simple line of conduct, that many men of sensibility and of warm imaginations, who receive perhaps sudden impulses respecting diyine truth, so often run into enthusiastic delusions, and apparently do al they can to render themselves and their religion objects of ridicule to all the world. They are too apt to conceive that their sudden convictions are of a miraculous nature, and contain a call them to forsake all, and to follow Christ. They thus set out

upon upon extravagant schemes, to which the situation of society is no adapted; they degrade religion, by mistaking their own low and grovelling conceptions for the inspiration of heaven ; and in the mean time, they give up all the mighty opportunities of doing good, which they might have pursued in a quiet and gentle course, by insinuating into the hearts of those with whom they are connected, throughout the silent progress of a good life, a sense of the great things which the Lord had done for them, and of the compassion which he had on them.')

This is very well said, and yet it seems not to have struck Mr. Morehead with sufficient force, that of all the devils wbich are cast out of men, pride and self-conceit go the last. The unfortunate person in the Gospel, who had been possessed by a whole legion of demons, could not in a moment so far recover the balance of his mind and the use of common sense, as to perceive the impropriety of becoming a preacher of the Gospel; and his case is precisely that of thousands in these very times, who go themselves, or send others on spiritual missions, to the ends of the earth; with this essential difference, however, that the cured maniac, of whom we are now speaking, asked permission of our Lord to enter into this service, and desisted when he was forbidden, whereas the enthusiasts of our days listen to 'no voice but that of their own madness and self-suffi. ciency. These enthusiastic delusions, too, are the more intense and operative in the human mind, in proportion as a man, either from a bad education at first, or useless habits thereafter, hias passed his life in ignorance of religion, and of the important doctrines upon which it rests. New views flushing upon the imagination of an adult, who had never seriously studied chris tianity at an earlier period, naturally enough appear to himn in the light of supernatural communications; and when these are aided either by sorrow or by fear, by the death of a near relative, or by the feeling of personal danger, the impression takes the character of a divine impulse, and frequently ends in a settled conviction, that he hath been specially wrought upon by the spirit of God. The light, which in other people, who are regularly instructed in the Christian faith, opens with their opening aninds, and shineth more and more unto the perfect day of their improved knowledge, breaks in, all at once, into the dark chambers of an ignorant or sceptical brain, and in some instances has the effect of serivusly disturbing its functions, ever after, on all matters connected with religion. Such people think they know more than others, merely because they have learned, in a shorter time; and that their feelihgs are inore elevated than those of ordinary Christians, merely because they had never felt like Christians before. At all events, the phenomenon is not rare, 1 !2


which exhibits a very wicked character, immediately upon getting rid of some of his evil spirits, setting up as a preacher of holiness, or a very thoughtless man, upon being struck with a little serious reflection, becoming extremely officious as a monitor to all around him. The advice of our Saviour to all such patients, whatever be the nature or the number of devils from wbich they bave been delivered, is, “ Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and that he hath had compassion upon thee.”

Leaving this subject, however, we turn to the sermon on “ Miracles.” It is not to be expected that, in a field wherein so much controversy has been maintained, and so many men of first-rate genius have displayed their talents, there should remain any thing of novelty to be brought forward by a modern writer. Nor is there any occasion for new arguments to support the credibility of the evangelical history, in relation to the wonderful works of our Saviour. All that the most inquisitive student could desire to coufirm bis belief, has been supplied by the in dustry of one class of authors; and all that good reasoning could achieve iu arranging their knowledge, in removing doubts, and în answering objections, has been most satisfactorily accomplished by their not less learned successors. Mr. Morehead's observations, therefore, are not meant by him to bear upon the main question, usually agitated on this subject, as if it were still open to controversy, to decide whether our Saviour's miracles were, or were not, actually performed; on the contrary, he confines his remarks on these manifestations of divine power, to the character of the times in which they were wrought, to the habits and views of the people to whom they were addressed, suggesting as he proceeds, certain reasons which, in the given circumstances of the case, might render that species of evidence more suitable than any other for answering the purpose of corviction. In these days, men are strongly inclined to suspect the truth of every narrative which bears the most distant reference to a miraculous transaction. Whatever is related as inconsistent with the common course of nature, is instantly pronounced superstitious or false ; and we may add, that neither the philosopher nor the divine will find fault with the priuciples upon which such judgments are formed. There is one evil to be apprehended, however, as almost inseparably accompanying such views of nature, and it is principally to guard the young reasoner against its deceitful influence, that we quote our author's re warks. We allude to the prejudice which is so apt to be created in the mind respecting miraculous interpositions in general. We allow ourselves to forget that, in different ages of the world and in different states of society, the divine administration has accommodated itself, so to speak, to the degree of knowledge and to the habits of thinking, which prevailed among particular nations, and moreover, that the evidence which would satisfy a philosophical enquirer in modern Europe, as to the existence of any fact, or as to the mission of a superior being to teach mankind, would have produced no impression whatever upon the mind of an ancient Jew.


“ We ought to recollect,” says Mr. Morehead, “ that it is a very confined manner of judging, to examine the dispensations of Providence with a reference solely to ourselves and our own habits of thinking. Were a revelation introduced into the world in the present age, it is possible that it might be unaccompanied with any multiplicity of miraculous circumstances; the understandings of men might be appealed to rather than their senses; the Divine Teacher, perhaps, would deliver his instructions in a systematical form; and, instead of proving his authority, by suspending the laws of nature, might display a more than human knowledge of all their hidden operations. One of the leading distinctions between the present age and that which preceded the introduction of christianity, is this, that from the progress of knowledge and enquiry, men have learned to consider the order of nature as established upon general laws, and there is no pursuit justly accounted more liberal than the investigation of those laws and arrangements. Facts, the most apparently disjointed and irregular, have thus been found to be harmoniously connected, and even to the eyes of the vulgar and unlearned, Nature now seems to be one stupendous Whole, the temple of the Deity, whose presence is much rather to be discovered in its regularity than in its deviations. To the Gentile nations the universe seemed to be parcelled out among an infinite number of deities, and it was not to the harmony of the whole system, that they looked for proofs of the divine agency, but to extraordinary changes in its subordinate parts. Even the Jews, to whom the knowledge of one God had been revealedi, were yet inclined to regard him rather as the God of their own nation, than as the universal Ruler of nature ; and it was not when

day uttered speech unto day, and night shewed unto night wisdom, that they were so sensible of his presence, as when they read in the records of their history, that · when the Lord fought for Israel, the sun stood still upon.Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon.' In such a state of society, it is natural to think that the proofs necessary for establishing the truth of a Revelation, would not be exactly the same with those which we should look for in the present age. When our Saviour appeared, no regular exposition of moral and religious duty, however clear and convincing, and no discoveries of the order of the universe, however magnificent and sublime, would have greatly affected the minds of his hearers, whereas sensible demonstrations of his power were no less suited to gain their belief, than the simplicity and artlessness



« AnteriorContinuar »